Hi guys! Check out the latest draft of a story I am working on for my Advanced Creative Writing course at SNHU.
Letters to Serah
By Nick Christian
The bar was unusually packed for a Saturday night. There was new music, new people, new smells – why was there new smells? I was just here yesterday and everything smelled normal. It all smells so different now.
Paul and George were in the corner booth watching Kami do a lap around the room. Paul, a divorced 38-year old surfer with a penchant for high-quality weed, works in the English department with me at state. George, a travel writer whose age I have never really been sure about, has been in town for a couple months after doing a year-long stint following a Sherpa around central Asia. When they saw me they were loud.
“Taren!” the two screamed in drunken unison. I made my way through the insufferable menagerie of men and women in form fitting clothes, doused in a selection of various fragrances, rationalizing their intentions with every sip of overpriced booze and pharmaceutical grade drugs. After losing all faith in humanity, I got to the booth.
“What’s Kami doing?” I asked, sitting down.
“He’s pulling a Hitch” said George.
“Remember that scene in Hitch when Will Smith talks to Eva Mendes for the first time by posing as her husband so she doesn’t have to talk to the dude that’s trying to hit on her?” began Paul.
“Well, that girl in the booth next to us has been knocking pucks out of her crease all night like she was a good goalie on a bad hockey team. He’s gonna try and make his move soon.” Paul finished and we all looked over at Kami who suddenly was walking towards the woman. Kami, a first-year math teacher at state, was just out of grad school and had horrible luck with women despite a natural rapport with everyone and his countless attempts to hook up.
Kami walked next to the booth and watched the red-haired woman subtly disregard the latest random guy to sit opposite her. After an extended breath, he made his move.
“Hey baby, sorry I’m late. How was the meeting?” Kami handed her a new drink and stood beside the table.
“It went great, thank you for asking” the woman looked over and smiled but winked at the other man. The man across from her rolled his eyes, got up and began to walk away. Before Kami could get a word in the man came back to the table.
“I’m going to go call the kids and order the pizza” the man said and proceeded to walk away once more.
“He’s your husband” Kami stated blithely.
“Yep” smiled the woman.
Kami, dejected, finally made his way back to our table and sat down, drawing a ceremoniously well-spirited slow golf clap.
“I thought you had her buddy,” George said reassuringly.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kami, taking a sip from his beer, “What’s going on here?” After a moment of nothings, I relented.
“I got her first letter today.” A deft silence overtook the three for a brief moment as if the energy of our friendship crashed and had to be restarted by some sort of backup generator from within each of us.
“You should have gotten married” George blurted out.
“He so shouldn’t have” retorted Paul.
“They’re perfect for each other” George volleyed.
“He should have dumped her” Kami overlapped George.
“That doesn’t mean they should’ve gotten married” returned Paul.
“He’s the marrying type” asserted George.
“I’m what?” I questioned.
“No such thing” said Paul.
“You teach co-eds” Kami stated, working his way into a daze.
“You’re the marrying type – you are built for marriage,” replied George.
“How so?” I inquired further.
“All the tight t-shirts…” Kami spoke into his beer.
George sighed, picked up his glass and looked at me. “She is your best friend, right?”
“And you find yourself doing things for her that you wouldn’t otherwise do? Like watching her shows, going to her stores, stuff you wouldn’t think of doing if she wasn’t with you.”
“I would do that with Gina,” chimed in Paul.
“Yeah, but you’re an addict,” Kami returned to the conversation, causing Paul to punch him in the shoulder.
“I like a lot of her stuff” I said to George.
“Even better, you two are compatible in the way so many people are not these days. You don’t care about each other’s nasty smells or odd habits. You enjoy them. You indulge in them. You should have gotten married,” George sat his drink down and we all paused for a moment and processed George’s theory. Across the bar a woman slapped a guy on the dance floor and started screaming for the bouncers. She seemed to be in earnest.
“What the fuck did it say?” demanded Paul.
“What?” we all looked to Paul.
“The letter, T,” Paul asked.
“I haven’t opened it yet.”
“Why not?” chirped George.
“I honestly don’t know. I’ve been moving all day and wanted to wait until I was in a place where I can have some privacy to read it – just to respect and contemplate the whole process.”
“Your agreement was fucking stupid, man” Kami blurted and waived the waitress over for another shot and a round.
“Maybe it is stupid. When Serah got offered the teaching/fellowship gig in London we talked, at length, about what it would mean for our relationship. Neither of us wanted to be waiting by a phone or a computer for the mere chance that the other might call and the waiting for each letter would only build the passion and yearning towards each other.”
“Yeah, we know, you talked to us about it too.” Paul said lighting up a joint.
“Dude, we’re inside” George has Paul put it out and told me to continue.
“It would be so easy to call her, so easy to message her on one of the infinite devices that are exceedingly readily available, but would each communication be meaningful if it was that easy?” I took a sip from my beer. “The fact that we agreed to write these letters makes every damn syllable special.”
“Just read it already” Kami said. I pulled the envelope from my pocket and took the letter out. It smelled like her. It smelled like normal. Like lilacs.
“You’re going to read it aloud right?” Paul asked as I was opening the fold.
“Why would I do that?”
“We’re her friends too.”
He had a point. When I landed the fellowship at state a couple of years back Paul was the one to introduce me to Serah. George edited her earlier papers and Kami, well Kami was just a Lothario we lovingly laughed at – like Barney, Stinson, not the dinosaur.
“What if it’s personal?”
“Then summarize” added George.
I looked at the paper and looked up at the eagerly awaiting faces and Kami, who was already planning his next failed conquest. Screw it.
“Taren,” I started, “All I wanted to do for the first three days I got to London was post pictures to Instagram. You should see some of the cool things I’ve taken pictures of. The sunset from my apartment is insane. I have this patio outside my apartment and my favorite thing about London is sitting outside and watching the sunset. You would love it. You’d sit out there and write your shitty poetry in that old brown notebook. It sucks you aren’t here. I miss you.”
“Why aren’t you there again?” interrupted George.
“I had just gotten tenure. I’m 29 and a tenured professor at a university. I couldn’t give up all of that and she didn’t want me to do that. Serah had the chance to learn from one of her favorite authors, her time there will only last a year and then she will be back here, back to me. I guess I wanted to keep a home for her.”
“How Norman Rockwell like,” quipped Paul.
With that I started reading again. “The campus is so beautiful. There is this tree that has these lovely pink petals that seem to fall down to create a blanket around me every afternoon. I like to sit there, sip coffee between classes and watch the freshman flirt with each other. It’s rather funny. They suck at it.
“Bullet points, please, bullet points,” pleaded Kami. George and Paul let out a muffled laugh and I scanned the letter for things they might be interested in.
“She likes the faculty – talks a little bit about what it’s like to work with Joan Tillings, hates the food, and mentions a pub and how she can’t wait to actually have cold beer again.”
“Oh that would suck” overlapped Paul.
“Then she goes on to list some people that she has met and talks about missing me.”
“Any dudes?” asked Kami.
“One or two.”
“How much detail does she go into about them?” Paul added.
“Not much, just a list of people she hangs out with really. It isn’t much more than that.” I turned my beer over nervously and scratched at the back of the label.
“Don’t worry about it. If she doesn’t go into detail about any particular guy then there is nothing to worry about” Kami said, backtracking. We all paused for a moment afterward, internally convincing ourselves of the probabilities. It wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. She and I are stronger than that.
“Get more wine Serah!” Amy yelled to me from the patio. How have we already gone through five bottles in two hours? These Brits can drink. I grabbed the last bottle from the table and made my way outside to the crescent moon hovering over London and a select group of female members from the English department at university. There was Bridgett, the 39-year old frantic single mother whose husband died in one of those tragically random car crashes you see on the 11:00 p.m. news. She spends the majority of her time teaching freshmen how to dot and cross their letters. Before her husband died she was working on some analysis of Shakespeare that would have given greater clarity to who he actually was. Ever since then she says she just wants to keep focusing on the people around her. She said the priorities changed.
To her right sat Joan Tillings. The writer I always wanted to be. I had to pause at the patio door to make sure it was actually her. She was sitting on my outdoor furniture ten feet away from me. I was having one of those moments every writer wants to have – the chance to get to hang out with your favorite author and learn from them. I was psyched to get a chance to work with her when I took the teaching gig, I never really realized I’d have a shot to drink with her.
The last one was Amy, of the two people who got to work with Joan this school year she was the other. We shared an office, ate together and were going through similar situations with relationships and family back home. It was gratifying to have someone to feel intimate with so far away from home. She was quieter than usual tonight.
“Here we go ladies, it’s the last bottle of red so savor it.” I poured everyone a glass and leaned back to enjoy the setting and conversation.
“You’re just in time Serah,” began Joan. “I was about to talk about my time in the Caribbean back in the winter of 98.”
“The Rum Diary trip?” I asked.
“Yes!” savored Joan, indulging in the correct answer to her personal life. “I had just written my fourth novel and had enough money to go write and do whatever I wanted to do. So I decided to do a bit of a salute to Hunter S. Thompson and go write in the area.”
“Didn’t that happen in San Juan?” Bridgett questioned.
“Well, yes. But my tickets said Havanna,” Joan replied and took a sip of her wine. She came back with much more force in her next words, “I learned one major thing during that trip.”
All of us found ourselves drawing forward, anticipating the words we’ve probably already read.
“Life, but more importantly, writing, is about experiences. The great masses of people do not want mundane. They don’t want five days of work and weekends spent by electronic candle light at the Olive Garden. They want sensational. They want epic and grand.” She paused for a moment. She looked at her glass and pushed forward.
“I looked over at Harry, my husband at the time, and kept thinking, ‘what the fuck am I experiencing with him? Am I the person I can be at my own optimum levels?’ And I wasn’t. Every night I went home to boring old Harry. Every night we did the same damn things. Yeah, we were in Havanna, and yeah, sex on the beach is invigorating – but it was still Harry. I couldn’t keep writing Harry.”
The horns from the street below grew louder and suddenly stopped. Amy shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“You left him so you could find something else to write about? What about love?” I asked.
“You write romance novels” said Bridgett, pouring her second glass from the bottle.
“It goes back to the one old trope” Joan calmly stated. “How could I write what I didn’t know? It probably would have happened anyways. I ended it on a high note so I could keep having high notes.”
I couldn’t help but linger at Joan’s speech. Would I get so tired of the people I draw from that I eventually leave them? Could I ever do that to Taren? Her words have always rang so true to me. Bridgett banged her hand on the table.
“I disagree.” For a moment there was a clarity to Bridgett that disregarded the wine stains on her teeth. “He – he was my best friend. He made everything, the mundane and the everyday, so much better. When you find that you don’t let it escape. You protect it.” She leaned back and tried connecting the stars with her finger. “It didn’t matter that he was a he, a she, or an it. Everyone needs someone in their life to push them. There are people in life that will have positive and negative impacts on you. If you can find a person who is nice, funny and fuckable, then you keep that person around.”
Oddly Joan didn’t have a retort. She had something to say to everyone all night. But to that, we all just sat there and smiled into the distance. After a minute, Bridgett banged her hand on the table again.
“Dude” I looked over at her.
“We have to do something, we need an experience. Maybe Joan’s right. I have a sitter all night and I need action.” Bridgett declared to the unwilling brood. She quickly realized she was in the minority and altered her stand. “Or stories. You two,” Bridgett said pointing to Amy and me while guzzling her wine, “You are young and unburdened and must have stories. How do your significant others feel about you being here?”
“Have you gotten a letter yet Serah?” asked Joan, with a hint of condescension that lingered on my lips.
I had. Taren’s first letter came in three days ago. There wasn’t anything substantial in it but it was the first letter and I had it in my room. I liked to reread it.
“Yeah, I got one on Wednesday. He misses me. Nothing really crazy is going on. Just work stuff, funny friend antics and quirky neighbors.”
“Like what?” asked Joan.
“Well, I guess our friend Kami – who is a bit of a sleeze in the sweetest way possible – planned a double date for our friend George and himself. They met the women at a bar and went to a Polynesian place down the street from the university.”
“Are there many Polynesian places in the northeast?” Joan questioned.
“No,” I replied, “But that’s why this one is so popular. The dinner went fine. They talked, they laughed, the whole nine yards. But at the end of the night, when they were walking back to the parking lot, their dates jumped them.” Everyone let out a bit of laughter. “They took their cars, phones, money and the clothes off of their backs. They had to take cardboard boxes, like it was a freaking cartoon, from the dumpster to walk home.” I paused and laugh at the thought. “I kind of wish Taren would have followed them so I could see pictures.”
“Did you live in a sit-com?” Bridgett managed between sips, drawing a laugh from the four of us.
“We always had something going on, something to laugh at. I guess if that qualifies a sit-com, then yeah. I never thought of it that way.” I laugh.
“And you, miss mysterious? You’ve been quiet over there” Joan motioned to Amy. She was quiet. Amy was the first person I met when I moved into the city and she has been the closest friend I’ve had since I got here. I know she was dating a guy back in the states but she never really went into it more than that. We both worked our asses off to get to here. We were both fiction writers and we both loved Joan’s work. But she always had a respect for her that was visible. Anyone could see it. It seemed like everything Joan had said stewed within her with unfathomable measure.
Amy sipped her glass and looked as if she was trying to search for the right words. She wanted to say something but wasn’t ready to admit it to herself.
She paused and finally spoke.
“I haven’t talked to Damon in six days. I didn’t leave on good terms. He wanted me to stay and figure out something to do there. We tried talking about it when I first got here but it just stopped – without warning. Finally I logged on to his Facebook this morning and saw pictures of him at a party last night – pictures he hid from me so I couldn’t see them on my feed. He was with a woman from his office and they weren’t working on anything.”
There was a pause.
“What a fucking wanker,” exclaimed Bridgett. “Bastard!”
“I’m sorry Amy,” Joan added.
“Me too,” I added and placed my hand on her knee. “Maybe we should go out tonight, go get you some cheap and meaningless fling and a leg up on that asshole.”
It was at that moment that Bridgett’s phone rang, the babysitter was freaking out about something the kids had done. Bridgett shakily rose and bid her farewells. Joan went with her. She said it was because she had promised some guy she would be at a bar by a certain hour but it was fairly obvious that she was going to get Bridgett home safe – especially since she whispered it over her shoulder as I helped Bridgett with her coat. When I turned around Amy was three inches from my face.
Amy pushed me against the wall and overtook my lips with the fervor of someone who hadn’t seen a lover in ages. I was so shocked I had no response but to give in. To engage. To strike her autumn hair and savor the shine of sweat running down her neck that was highlighted from the moonlight. We made way back to the patio through a series of awkward gropes that served as a prelude of everything to come when we hit the hammock. Her saliva tasted of every glass of wine and the feel of her soft skin grew with weight the longer she was on top of me. She reminded me of Taren: the way she grabbed my breast, the pressure from her thighs and the force in which she entered. The longer I moaned, the harder the stars shined and I understood place and time and pleasure.
Amy rose while I was writhing and picked up her clothes. She watched me for a moment, so overcome in the instant and unaware of my life outside that rooftop that I couldn’t see her watching me convulse. She smiled, in an almost devious delight, and walked over to me.
“Write that” She whispered in my ear, causing my ecstasy and euphoria to crash back down to the common place. She put on her clothes, slowly, as if to make me watch every fiber of cloth be put back in its proper position. Then, as quick as she came, she was gone. Fuck.
“Uncle Taren!” My brother Hank’s kids Jake and Sally bull rushed me as I opened the door and they ran off into the living room, diving on the floor and staring up at the Lions game on the flat screen.
“Happy Turkey Day, Taren” Hank and his wife Daisy followed behind and I hugged each of them as they entered.
“It’s so nice to see you guys,” I started, “Everyone is in the living room watching football.”
“Are we still going to read Serah’s letter later?” asked Daisy. Serah and Daisy were undergrads together. Sorority sisters, actually. Phi-Beta-something. It was a bit surprising to find out. I never pictured either of them for the type. No one had any idea they knew each other for the longest time.
“Yes, of course,” I took their coats, “It’s our evening’s entertainment. After football, obviously.” Everyone wanted to know how Serah was doing. And who she was doing it with.
This Thanksgiving was a little more packed than usual. My mom worked with Serah’s step mom in the kitchen and our dad’s sat with pants unzipped in front of the television, exchanging mild pleasantries with eyes focused on the action. Serah’s sister’s kids sat with Hank’s and took turns playing some game on a either a Wii or a PSP – I never got too close to notice. Kami was entertaining some of Serah’s single friends on one of the couches and Paul and George were in the backyard making my porch smell like a Snoop Dogg B-Side. For a moment I stood there watching everyone and the little world Serah and I created.
About 30 minutes later I finished constructing the additional tables and the moms started putting the food in the proper pre-discussed setting arrangement. Serah would have yelled at them just to put it down. I added two more TVs so no one would miss the respective games they cared about and then started herding everyone to their spots while throwing a can of febreeze to Willie Nelson’s tour bus that was gathering on my back porch. And, after a couple more moments, everything stopped and all of them were looking at me, electric knife in hand, about to carve the bird.
“All night I’ve been having these little asides in my head – just vignettes of what Serah would be doing if she was here. For instance I pictured her yelling at the moms to stop arguing and just put the food on the table,” the moms looked at each other from across the table and smiled, “telling her friends that if Kami was bugging them to come get her – by the way we keep a spray bottle on the book shelf, if he is ever bugging one of you just spray a little bit of water on him” I pointed the bottle out which drew the laughter of the room, even Kami, “and I also saw her on the couch, yelling at the game while playing with the kids” I paused. “She would have loved this because she loves all of you.” The room grew silent. Everyone looked at each other for a moment and smiled, somberly, as if they were mourning a lack of a presence they collectively desired. I joined them for an instant, but shook out of that. “We shouldn’t fret. She is going to be here next year. And we can even send her a video of us reading her letter so she can see everyone and we all can say hello. Enough talking. Let’s eat this bird!”
Dinner passed quickly. Before we knew it we were all crammed in the living room watching the last five minutes of the last game and anxiously awaiting the words Serah scribed on the piece of paper that I held in my hands.
“This is such a blowout” George commented, referencing the score of the game.
“Yeah, let’s break out the letter!” Daisy enthusiastically chimed in, drawing approval from the rest of the group. I muted the television and stood up in front of everyone, letter in hand, as if it was an eighth grade book report.
“You can’t read it” objected Kami.
“Why?” I looked at him perplexed.
“Because if she says anything you don’t want us to know you are going to skip over it. You have to pick someone else.”
I sighed, “Fine, George, get up here.” I handed George the letter and sat on the couch, taking the video camera from Paul and turning it on. After a moment I gave George a countdown and he began.
“Taren, I feel as if it is always raining here. It’s gotten too cold to sit out on the patio like we used to at the start of the semester. I miss that. Everything was new and fresh in August and September. Things feel damp now. There’s a heaviness to everything. Maybe I’m a bit homesick.
George stopped, took a sip of his beer and then began again.
“Work’s still good. I don’t sit by the tree as much as I did when classes started but I still find a bit of solace in my lecture hall. I should really send you a picture in my next letter. You would love it. I have this big oak podium where I can lay two to three books out unbounded. The acoustics are so excellent – you can hear a whisper from opposite ends of the room. It’s amazing for catching people who cannot be bothered to listen to my lecture – the little bastards,” George paused and looked up. “She wrote in parenthesis ha ha.” The room laughed.
George began again: “As for me and the small group of friends I’ve made since I got here, it’s odd. We are very much together but isolated in our own little ways. Joan has all of these stories about times and places, but when she goes home it is just her. No one should have to go home to a house where the only company are your memories. The good times are the good times because you get to remember them with someone. As for Bridgett, ever since her husband died it has been her and her kids facing the world. Even though they have each other, she is the one parent left in their life. She’s become more parent than person. And Amy; Amy is doing better, she had some bad nights after she broke up with her boyfriend, but I still see her dealing with the loneliness in her own ways – she’s always on her phone, trying to talk to anyone and everyone who will listen. As if spending the night alone would be the worst thing ever. Should we feel that way? I miss you like crazy and there are so many minute things that I yearn to tell you, but it’s going to be better when I can say it to your face. Right? I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have these letters. They remind me of everything I feel for you. Of the way we relate. I love you more than I know how. Serah.” The room looked around at each other, as if we were awash in the same feeling that overtook us at dinner. We were so happy just to hear her words.
“There’s something else,” said George. “A post script.”
“Well, read it” I said, with a combination of curiosity and anxiety that I could not properly name.
George looked back down at the letter and started: “One more thing, Taren. If I know you, you’re going to want to talk about this more, too. So I saved it for the end. I …” George stopped. He looked at all of us, dumbfounded. “Umm.”
“What is it?” asked Kami.
“I, uh, Paul.” George motioned for Paul to come up and finish where he left off. Paul rose off the couch and took the letter from George.
“I…” Paul’s eyes grew large as he read the words on the page and he looked to George. “That’s real, right? I’m not that high?”
Kami, not letting George answer, got up and took the letter from Paul. “Do I have to do everything around here?” Kami exulted, shaking his head. Without thinking of the words he was reading, Kami boldly stated, “I fucked Amy.”
The room and quite possibly time stopped while one or more glasses shattered on the living room floor. My mouth dropped and I grew oblivious to everything that was happening around me in the moment. My brother made Kami give the kids a dollar for cussing and slowly, one by one, the guests left with awkward handshakes and little to no eye contact.
A couple of minutes after everyone left it was me and the boys in the living room. The silence was still there but we were all very aware of each other. George got up and brought back beers. Kami was the first to speak.
“It’s kinda hot.” Kami spouted.
“Dude,” Paul overlapped.
“It is!” Kami asserted and looked to me. “You can’t tell me that you never thought about that.”
“Why don’t you just think of it as some hot new thing you two can add in on a Tuesday?”
“It’s more than that,” I finally managed words.
“Taren, don’t over-think it.” Kami beat back with his reply. “If you let this get at you, it’ll…”
“She cheated.” My words assaulted the room and no one had the power to discredit them. “She cheated. It doesn’t matter if it was with a chick or a dude or a dude and a chick – she cheated. We don’t cheat. That’s not us. None of you can say that you would think we would do that to each other.”
“I have to call her.” I rose and made my way towards the phone. George jumped up and swiped it from the table before I got there.
“You can’t call her.” He solemnly stated.
“George, give me my phone.” I grew agitated and was about to try to take it from him before Kami pulled me back down to the couch.
“You can’t call her, T” Kami emphasized can’t.
“You wanted this Taren.” George stated.
“I didn’t want her to fucking cheat on me,” my words flew like daggers at them and missed.
“You wanted the letters, T. You wanted to be Abelard and she wanted to be Heloise. You have to write her.” George hovered over me like a grade school teacher.
“She didn’t have to cut his balls off.” Paul finally chimed in.
“She didn’t cut his balls off,” George answered the new voice.
“How didn’t she cut his balls off? She castrated him in front of his friends and family. Everyone here heard her words – even if they were not intended to hear them. He deserves answers. He should demand satisfaction. He needs to call her.” Paul then looked to me. “Call her.”
Paul and I then made our way towards George and tried to maneuver the phone away from him. George flipped the phone away to Kami, who jumped over the couch and stared back at us.
“Wait!” Kami nearly shouted. “I can’t believe I’m going to agree with George again, but you can’t call her. She doesn’t owe you anything. You can ask and it’s her choice to tell you. But she doesn’t owe you a thing. You know that Taren. The two of you don’t have the type of relationship and you’re not the type of dude that would think otherwise. You have to write her.” Kami got a piece of paper from the printer and brought me a pen.
“Write it, T.” George added.
Paul was silent for a second but visibly agreed with the two when I looked at him. The three of them stood in waiting as I stared at the paper. Finally I penned my thought.
“Is that what you want to do?” Kami looked at me as I handed him the message.
“Yes” I answered in earnest.
“Fine. I’m taking your phone for the night and will send this off in the morning.” The three of them lingered for a couple of minutes, unsure if they should leave or stay, but eventually went to their own homes.
After about an hour passed it was just me, alone, sitting in the living room with the still-running video camera. I deleted the clip.
“I’m shocked, Amy.” I boldly stated while playing with the stirrer in my glass. Amy looked up from her papers, put down her pen and took a sip from her beer.
“What’s wrong Serah?”
“It’s just so surprising” I paused, looked at my glass and the empty glasses that surrounded my current somewhat full glass.
“Every time I go up to the bar, and ask the bartender for a Long Island, he makes it. Ha ha ha. Like, every time. Such a small world.” I sigh and notice the pen atop the blank letter in front of me. It’s so daunting. “You would think they would have a name for it here. You would think, right? Such a small, small world.”
“I’m not holding your hair.” Amy looked back down at her paper and started grading.
“I doubt that.” Amy’s eyes rose back up to meet my gaze but retreated back to her paper.
For a moment I am able to focus on my paper. I pick up the pen and write Taren’s name like I typically do. I looked at it and all the remorse came rushing back. It took everything in my power to hold back each of the words. A moment was all I had in me.
“I want cheese fries!” I declared to Amy.
“They don’t serve that here, Serah.” Amy said without looking up from what she was doing.
“How can they not serve that?” I bemoaned. “They have things with fries, they have things with cheese, and how hard is it to just put them together?”
Amy didn’t respond. I looked around at the empty dark bar. No one was here. If it was earlier in the semester there would be kids packed in here to carouse into various types of debauchery. It was too late now. The semester was over and they were waiting. Resting. Curious what grade we were going to give them. Suddenly the song changed and I jumped up.
“Barkeep!” I get the attention of the bartender by standing on my seat in the booth. “One more!”
The bartender looks to Amy. “She’s going home with you, right?”
“Yep!” Amy still didn’t look up but took responsibility for me. How nice.
The waitress brought over my drink and cleared off the remnants of my past enterprises. I kept the stirrer though. It was the link to all those endeavors.
“One paper left!” Amy triumphantly sighed. I didn’t respond. I just kept staring at my drink. Eventually I looked up and Amy managed to catch my eyes. “You should just say it, Serah.”
“Say what?” My body was heavy from the alcohol and I rested my head on the table. All I could do was look at Taren’s name on the paper. I knew what she wanted me to say but I wasn’t going to let her dictate the timing of the question.
“It’s holding you back from writing the letter.”
“He wants answers.”
“He deserves answers.”
“Stop it!” I must have been too loud because the quiet bar suddenly became overcome by deafening silence. “Stop it.” I repeated, defeated. Amy sat there, smiling, rimming her finger around the top of her beer bottle. With each rotation the energy built within me. With each stroke of her damn finger I found myself growing enraged with a singular spite that I never knew I could feel.
“Why did you fuck me?” I wailed. She didn’t respond but the natives of the room looked over at us for a moment. Everything stopped and all I could hear were the heavy, alcohol laden breaths enter and exit my body. She took a sip of her beer and brought it back down with her pinky in its dry mouth. I’d had enough.
“You were jealous,” A sobering shot of adrenaline ran through me as I uttered the words. “You felt alone. You feel alone – otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to do all of that again. I love Taren. I’m going to marry him. I’m not gay!”
The room grew silent once more, glancing at us in uneven attempts, and Amy and I just looked at each other. Her eyes were furious and before she even said a thing I could tell that I said the wrong words.
“You think this was about some hyper-defined sense of orientation?” Amy’s eyes worked over me as if she was planning her next five moves.
“I…” Amy cut me off before I could get out other words.
“Did you listen to anything she said that night?”
“I…” She did it again.
“Life is about experiences Serah. We are in a foreign country. We know no one here and you and I see the world so similarly. You heard Joan’s words and you wanted it too. Because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have given in. So why not fuck? We’re good at it.”
“Because I love him.”
“Awe, you love him? Do you? Well shucks pudding, fucking someone else one time destroys all of that, doesn’t it?” She was patronizing me.
“How come you can’t tell him anything?”
“Why haven’t you written him Serah?”
The reason swirled around in my head and I could barely see anything else in the room outside of Amy and the letter.
“He wrote me one fucking word!” The words shrilled in my voice in a way I didn’t know to be possible.
A bewilderment came across Amy’s face and I just kept talking.
“One word, Amy. One. Word.” I take a sip of my drink. “He knows me better than anyone in this fucking world Amy. Better than anyone. An all he can fucking muster up is one damned word.”
“What did he write?” Amy asked, seemingly legitimately concerned.
“Because I care, Serah. I actually do fucking care.”
“No, Amy, he fucking wrote ‘why?’” I grabbed my bag, searched for his letter and threw it to Amy in a fit of disgust. “He wrote why, in the middle of the page like some fucking bad post-modern poet trying to be metaphysical. Fucking pretentious douche.
“You don’t mean that.” She knew me better than I thought.
“Why wasn’t he pissed? Why didn’t he plead and beg for questions?” I stopped for a moment and stopped caring. “Why didn’t he come?”
“Serah” Amy tried to calm me down.
“He couldn’t back me? He couldn’t find some way to work here? I couldn’t feel some sense of fucking support for advancing my career in this monumentally awesome way?” I shotgunned the rest of my drink and stared at Amy.
“Would you have come out here if the roles were reversed?”
“Serah.” She knew I was lying.
“Why do they – we – make it look so simple? All of those fucking stories. All of them. We’re liars, Amy. We are fucking Liars. We lie to them and they just eat it off of the conveyor belt.
“Because it isn’t simple,” Amy spoke with a clarity I couldn’t comprehend at my current level of inebriation. They need to see it be simple and we need to write it simple so we can believe, just for a minute, that it is simple. Guys do the same thing. Why do you think women are stereotyped in the ways they are? Because we all want it to be simple. Men and women. We all want someone just to give in to us. But life’s not like that. It all comes down to finding someone you like to work through the hard stuff with. I thought I had that. You do. I think that’s why I gravitated to you.”
“What do I tell him? What do I say? How can I make this right?” I hiccupped in the middle of the word right and both of us broke down laughing. It was as if the air couldn’t hold the emotional tension that had manifested. All we could do was laugh. It wasn’t until five minutes later that Amy and I finally stopped making fun of each other. Amy assessed the table and started to pack up.
“I can do this last one at home.” She said, rising.
I got up and put on my coat. Amy went and paid the tab and we walked out to the street. I started to stumble but regained my balance by help of a street lamp. Regaining my composure I looked at Amy.
“I’m not holding your hair.” Amy said, smiling.
I took two steps further. She ended up holding my hair. Called it.
It was a week before Christmas. Taren’s phone sat on his night stand and, across the room, Taren sat on the floor, with a bottle of whisky and Serah’s letter in his hands. He wasn’t drinking. He wanted to. He wanted to drink the entire bottle and stumble into the kitchen to get one more. But he couldn’t.
Serah flicked through old photos on her phone while she sat at her kitchen table. She knew she probably shouldn’t but she didn’t care. Rain pounded the patio aggressively, drowning out the music that was playing on her stereo. She sent her last letter to Taren three weeks ago. She apologized. She pleaded. She explained how it was and how it happened. She hadn’t heard a thing in three weeks.
Taren knew he had to write something. He knew he had to forgive her. He did forgive her. But he couldn’t say that yet. He was made a cuckhold in front of everyone he knew. Every time he picked up the pen, painful pinpoints of flashbacks came into his head. Every time he thought, “I love her and I don’t care” all he could see were the eyes of everyone who was at the party and the silence that came from the moment. He just wanted to hear her voice. That was the cure he so desperately needed.
Serah poured herself a glass of red and stared at the phone. “Call” she thought. She wanted him to call. She wanted to hear his voice. She wanted to know she was forgiven. The guilt she was feeling was overcoming her and she needed to be saved. This was their first big thing. It was unknown territory. She’d always thought they would go through unknown territory together.
The low battery message popped up on her phone so she decided to go into her bedroom to get her charger. She weaved her way in and out of her living room furniture and down the hallway into her room. She saw the wire on her night stand and crawled atop her bed, reaching her arm down to the wall socket. It was at that moment she heard something she hadn’t heard in close to six months.
“Is that Taren’s ring?” she whispered aloud to herself. She took a moment to listen to the song, almost as if she was indulging in a treat she hadn’t had in too long. Like a bolt of lightning, she realized she had to answer the phone.
Grabbing the charger’s plug with her full hand she yanked it from the wall with such vigor that she smashed her hand against the nightstand. “Fuck” she ejaculated the words forcefully while pulling the wire from the crevice and rolling off the bed on to the floor. She managed to get to her feet by use of her left hand but jammed the same shoulder on the door frame as she ran through it. Groaning, she sprinted down the hallway with her feet ignoring the wood and going from carpet to carpet as she progressed towards the living room. As she made the corner to the living room the carpet underneath her slid, causing her to lose her footing and crash into the wall. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she yelped and regained her feet. With all the form of a track and field athlete she attempted to save time and leap over the couches that obstructed her path to the phone. Ignoring all the pain in her upper body she planted her arms atop the back of the couch and thrust her body over the furniture. In mid-air she heard the ringtone ending and with all the elasticity her arms allowed, she reached out to the phone and knocked it off the table as she crashed into a chair. With the little bit of energy she had left she pawed out to the fading noise and blindly pressed a button she thought was answer. Pulling the phone to her ear, she spoke.
“Taren? Taren? I’m so sorry. Say something, are you there?” Serah looked back at her phone’s screen. She sent the call to voicemail.
“Voicemail?” Taren said aloud, putting down his phone. “Bitch.”
Serah crawled to the closest outlet and connected her charger. With unrelenting speed she made way to her speed dial and phoned Taren. She never thought the sound of a ring tone could be anxiety-riddled and soothing at the same time. After the third ring, he answered.
“You let it go to voicemail?”
“I think I broke my hand.”
“I was in the other room getting my charger because the phone was dying as I was looking at pictures.”
“Serah!” Taren interrupted with the pictures comment.
“I know, I know. But that’s not the point. I heard your ring when I was in my room and I freaked out. I sprung up and caught my hand from behind my nightstand, separated my shoulder in a doorway and probably bruised a couple of organs trying to make it back to this damn phone.” Serah rolled over on her back and realized the wine was still on the table. “And I can’t reach the wine.”
“What’s 911 in London? I’ll call for you.” Taren made his way to his computer and tried to search for the answer.
“I don’t know. But did you know Long Islands’ are called the same thing here?”
“Are they really? Wouldn’t they name after something over there?”
“That’s what I said!” Serah excitedly breathed into the phone. She paused. “Why haven’t you written?”
“Serah it doesn’t matter anymore. Are you ok?” Taren couldn’t find anything on his laptop and devoted his full attention back the phone.
“Shit, it’s starting to swell.”
“Can you get to the ice tray?”
“I’ll try.” Serah got to her knees and managed to figure out a way to stand up and get to the freezer. She loosely gripped the ice tray and pulled it back to the floor.
“It’s so cold,” Serah shivered into the phone.
“Serah, go to the hospital. We’re fine. I love you more than I know how. I don’t care what happened. Go get yourself ok.” Taren pleaded with her from the other end of the line.
“Let me call them and I will call you back.” Serah hung up the phone and dialed emergency services. After telling them where she was she unlatched her apartment door and called Taren.
“I have them coming.” She said.
“How long will they take?”
“The dispatcher said ten minutes.”
“Good so they will be there soon. Is the ice hurting?”
“A little – in a good way. Taren …”
“It’s ok Serah. I swear it’s ok.”
“You have to get what you’re feeling out there.”
“I’m fine, Serah, honestly.”
“You’re not. You wrote me one fucking word, Taren. And then you didn’t send anything in three weeks. You have to be mad about it.”
Taren paused and thought about everything that had happened.
“It all kept coming back to that, Serah.”
“Everything I wanted to know started with why. Why her? Why cheat? Why tell me in a damn post script so fucking casually? I was mad. You didn’t expect me to be happy about it?”
Serah sat up and shimmed the wine bottle off of the table.
“I should have written more. I know that. I should have written you sooner. I know I have to be able to express myself to you because otherwise we can’t work” Taren dropped the bottle of whiskey and stared out the window and watched a storm start to develop outside. “But I have to trust you.”
Serah took a sip from her wine, “You’re right. I broke your trust and I addressed it in such a nonchalant way. I should have told you differently.
“There’s probably one thing I should tell you about that letter,” Taren began, “I had everyone over for Thanksgiving so they could hear from you.”
“No, no no, no no no. You’re kidding, Taren, Tell me you’re kidding.”
“We wanted to send you a video of us reading the letter. Everyone missed you.”
“So my parents and my friends?”
Taren let out a laugh and quickly stifled it. “Yep.”
“God, that’s so embarrassing. I was drunk. We all were. We were so drunk. It was stupid. It didn’t even matter.”
“I know. It’s fine. I don’t care anymore.”
“Oh my god!” Serah exclaimed in a moment of realization.
“What are you ok? Are they there?”
“No, it just makes sense about why the boys sent me Birkenstocks.”
Taren laughed. “That makes me feel a little bit better.”
A knock came from Serah’s door and emergency services made their way into the room. She told Taren that she would call him from the hospital. With that she hung up and let the EMTs attend to her.
Taren put down his phone and surveyed the room. She was fine. He was fine. A calming peacefulness overcame him and even the storm raging outside now had some beauty to it. Maybe he had a revelation or maybe he just took a hit of a drug he thought he detoxed from, but he knew he had to see her. He went to his computer and bought the first plane tickets he could fine.
Three days later Taren stepped off the plane at Heathrow and took a cab to where Serah’s hospital was. She had to have surgery on her shoulder so he thought he would surprise her when she would wake up. He walked to information and told the attendant Serah’s name.
Taren looked around and saw the gift shop. He knew Serah loved mint M&M’s so he thought he would find her a bag. After getting her the candy, roses and a little bear with “Get well soon” inscribed on it, he finally found an elevator.
Just as he entered Bridgett and Joan called out from behind him.
“Hold the door!” they said in unison.
Taren held the door and closed it when the women entered.
“Thank you,” Joan said to Taren.
“No problem,” he replied.
“It looks like someone is going to have a nice visit,” Bridgett said, commenting on all the gifts Taren was carrying.
“Yeah, my girlfriend is getting out of surgery.” He smiled at the two women who he knew more about than he realized.
“Awe, how sweet,” she said. “We are seeing our friend. She’s in surgery too. She broke something. Her wrist, I think?”
“It was her shoulder,” Joan added.
The elevator rang five and the three of them exited.
“Well I hope your friend is ok,” Taren said, stopping for a sip of water from the water fountain.
“Same to your girlfriend!” said Bridgett, giving a little waive.
After a moment at the fountain Taren made his way to Serah’s room. He navigated the maze-like hallways and finally found himself staring at her door. When he entered he saw the two women from the elevator, blocking his view of the person I the bed.
“Sorry, I must have the wrong room,” Taren went back outside and looked at the door. He looked at the number and went back inside. “I guess I don’t.”
“Oh my god, you’re Taren!” Bridgett exulted.
“You just upped and flew across the Atlantic?” Joan said in disbelief before introducing herself.
“I needed to see her. Who are you two?”
“I’m Bridgett and this is Joan, we work with Serah at university. It’s so nice to meet you,” Bridgett took the gifts from Taren and put them on the table. “Serah talks so much about you. We love your letters idea. It’s very sweet.”
“It’s so nice to put some faces to the names,” Taren shook each of the ladies’ hands. “She really enjoys all of you.” Taren went over to the seat by the window and kissed Serah on the cheek. Joan stood by the curtain divider and Bridgett looked at the charts in the front of Serah’s bed.
“We have enjoyed getting to know her,” Joan smiled.
A knock at the door happened and Amy peered inside.
“We’re in here! And there is someone you have to meet!” Bridgett beckoned Amy over. Taren got up and walked over to Bridgett to meet the new woman. “Taren, this is Amy. Amy, this is Taren.”
Taren and Amy’s faces lost all color and the two of them stared silently into each other’s eyes for a second. Before they could exchange the mild pleasantries they were destined to, everyone looked at the bed as Serah stirred awake.
“Hey, everybody,” she groggily greeted them. She looked at all of the faces staring at her and took a moment to place each person. Her eyes grew wide when she saw Taren and Amy standing side by side and realized the gravity of the situation. Without anything else left to do, she faked falling back asleep.
END OF PART ONE