The Story on the Page

Sandra unlocks her apartment door. She removes her shoes after a long day on her feet. Doubles at the diner always take everything out of her. The apartment is quiet. She sits down and lies on the couch. She pulls out her phone and it is lit up with a text from her fiancé.

Joseph
gonna b out late. with charlie.

Sandra sighs. Joseph has a habit of not working at all. He also has a habit of staying out late and spending what money he does have drinking and doing drugs with Charlie. Joseph has become increasingly distant. Sandra texts back : ok… i love u. be safe. She puts down her phone and grabs the remote. She turns on the TV. A television show she enjoys is on Netflix. She watches it for about 25 minutes. No response from Joseph.

She decides she is hungry. She goes into the kitchen and makes a sandwich. She had never been one much for cooking and neither had Joseph. But, she enjoyed making him sandwiches. She savored the few moments where he would be present while she made the sandwich. Sometimes, she took too long to make the sandwich because she wanted Joseph to stay around a while longer. Unfortunately, he was always in a hurry and would get aggravated with her when she did that. But, she still did it. She sits in the chair Joseph usually sits in. In that chair, he blew her off when she wanted him to have dinner with her family. He had plans with Charlie that night. She often wondered why Charlie took priority.

Charlie was one of Joseph’s long-time friends. She wasn’t quite sure how they met. All she knew was that they had lived together a while before she met Joseph. Charlie was a good guy. But, he was a little immature. Although he meant no ill-will, he indulged Joseph’s proclivities simply because he thought it was fun. Sandra often wondered if Charlie was aware of the damage he was having on their relationship.

A text pops up on her phone. But it isn’t from Joseph. It’s from her coworker, James. James had worked at the diner long before Sandra and became her mentor. He is a little older. A single father. He has no interest in relationships or most people in general. He just likes to smoke weed when his daughter is with her mother. He is one of the more good-natured man he had ever met.

James
Hey! I just got some GAS. Do you wanna smoke? 🙂

She only hung out with James when Joseph was out. James was ok with that. There was no attraction between the two, but James always did nice things for her. He bought her a rose for Valentine’s Day. He smoked her out almost daily. Joseph didn’t really do anything for her. Sandra pretended to be ok with it. Sandra often wondered why James was a better boyfriend than her actual boyfriend.

“sure! ^,^” She texts him back relatively quickly. She goes down the hall and changes into more comfortable clothing: sweats. She grabs her bong and heads into the living room. The television show she enjoys is still on. She sits down and watches it and looks over at Joseph’s chair.

In that chair, he casually told her he had quit his job that day. It was ok, he insisted. He had money saved. But, as time dragged on, he was unmotivated in his job search. That was when he started hanging out with Charlie again. Charlie was around a lot after that. He was in the apartment all the time. Sandra often wondered why Charlie had to be around all the time.

James knocks on the door. Sandra opens the door and he is standing in the hallway with a cigarette in his mouth. He walks in and sits down on the couch. He was at the house often, so he habitually made himself comfortable. The show Sandra enjoys is still on.

“Man, I love this show!” James says, chuckling. He’s already a little high.

“Me, too.” Sandra says, smiling. James pulls out his weed and breaks it down to pack into the bong. He takes a hit, clears it, and passes it to Sandra.

“How was your day?” He asks on his exhale.

“It was good. Made decent money. Billy came in tonight.”

“Did he get his normal two coffees?”

“Of course.” Billy was a regular who always came in and ordered two coffees: one for him and one for his wife who passed away. Sandra often wondered what a love like that was like.

“I love that dude… He’s been doing that ever since I started at the diner. So, about 3 years now. His love is just so pure. It’s beautiful.”

“Mhm…” Sandra secretly wished Billy would one day not order the second coffee and would turn to her and profess his love to her. She secretly wished that of a lot of the men in her life who appeared to love so much. Sandra often wondered why she wished this.

She and James hit the bong a few more times and continue to watch TV. Her phone lights up.

Joseph
ok

“What the fuck?!” James looks at her strangely. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

“What?”

She sighs. She doesn’t like to tell him about her relationship troubles. “I told Joe I loved him and to be safe and all he said was ‘ok.’ Who does that?”

“Joe, apparently.” He laughs. “You know, you really deserve better than him.”

James had never voiced this thought, but always felt it. The same goes for Sandra. But, still she says, “I love him, though.”

“Yeah, but if he’s not putting in the same effort as you, does he love you?”

“I mean, he-“

“No, seriously. It’s great that you love him. And I’m sure he loves you, too. But… That feeling isn’t enough, ya know? It’s not really love if there’s no mutual effort there.” Even though he’s high, James is still the same deep, caring guy. Sandra looks at him. She knows that she can’t say anything to James to change his perspective. But, he doesn’t know Joseph like she does. Sandra often wondered why she couldn’t just listen to James.

After a few more episodes of the show they enjoy, James leaves. He tells her to have a good night and she says she’ll try. She turns off the TV and gets on Facebook. Joseph was tagged by Charlie in a photo. They’re drunk. She notices a girl in the background who’s tagged. Her name’s Charlie. Sandra thinks that’s a funny coincidence. She browses some articles that her friends have shared. She has been home for a couple hours now. She heads down the hallway into her bedroom and gets ready for bed. As she lies down, she hears the door open. Joseph was home. He rustles around noisily in the kitchen. He makes his way into the room with a bag of chips.

“How was it?” Sandra asks.

“Fine.” He lies down beside her, crunching his chips. He grabs his bowl from the nightstand and takes a couple hits. “I gotta take shit.” He gets up and heads up the hall to the bathroom. Sandra cries a little. She wonders if things will ever change. She often wonders if Joseph is ok. Or that he’s ever been ok. Or that he ever will be.

She hears puking in the bathroom. She sighs… She rolls over in her bed and notices his phone light up. To resist temptation, she grabs a book from the nightstand. She hears more retching. She tries to enjoy her book and become engulfed. But, the story on the page seemed to pale in comparison to the story currently being written in her own life. She feels sweaty and nervous. She hears a flush. He had finished puking and was about to finally take his shit. He groans loudly. She feels flush. The phone lights up again to remind her that there’s an unread text. It’s meant to remind Joseph, but at this point, she is more curious about it than he is. As she reaches over to put her book back in the night stand, she peeks at the notification. He has a text from Charlie…

Charlie
hey cutie. had a great time tonight. again. lol. do it again soon? ;-*

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Let’s Get Lost

“Let’s get lost.”

She said to me, passing the half-spent joint. I inhaled.

“Uhm. Ok.” I said on my exhale. I sped past the driveway of my house and turned out of our neighborhood and onto the long country road behind it. We had just made a beer stop. The 12-rack of PBR seemed like it wouldn’t make it past the night. I grabbed one and cracked it open. I handed it to her. I grabbed one for myself. We lit cigarettes and rolled down the windows to let the oddly-warm Ohio summer night air roll through our fibers. She held the joint up to her lips and flashed me a smile. She looked away bashfully. We had only just started dating. We were in that phase where she took photos of me in my bedhead and pajamas and showed her friends how “cute I am.”

She wants to get lost. That soft twinkle in her sky-eyes told me she knew where we were going. I didn’t. I don’t think she knew the location. But she definitely knew the destination. And that’s what I love about her. She is so not-me. I am the pragmatist to her whimsy. Sometimes, I’m the downwind to her upwind. I stop her in her tracks when she’s trying to soar. And in those moments, I am more lost than I care to be.

~~~
“I got the art internship!” Upwind. She had applied for one in California. She’s so excited, eyes twinkling. I am not.

“Can you even afford to do that?” Downwind. She is worse with her money than I am with mine. And I once spent an entire paycheck in one weekend. But that wasn’t my concern. I know she could get help from people. I know I would help her. Yet I harass her over her lack of money. For weeks, I point out every pointless thing she buys — even the gifts she buys for me that I actually cherish — as an illustration of how she can’t do it.

“I turned it down.” I feel conflicted. The twinkle in her sky-eyes had faded. I am happy she will remain here in Ohio. But, deep down, sad that I have crushed her dreams.

~~~
I took a turn onto a backroad I had never been down. I looked over at her. The wind was blowing her hair around behind her head. Her eyes were closed and she had a content grin on her face. We were high. We were young. We were happy. We were free. She looked at me.

“Do you want to hear a story?”

“Sure,” I said. She recalled a memory in fondness:

“When I was a kid, I watched an old Bob Ross tape my parents had… I know it’s cheesy as fuck, but… He was actually so happy to be painting. And I was just like, a kid. And I just liked being happy. Like a kid. So, I started painting. I realized I was actually pretty good at it! And then, when my parents got divorced, I kinda threw myself into it. The whole time they were arguing and fighting and in court… I was just painting. I spent a lot of my free time in the art room at school. The art teacher really pushed my art. She told me I really had potential. No one had ever encouraged me like that. Art kept me on the ups throughout high school. I never really thought about that until just now…”

“That’s awesome, babe.” I smiled at her. She smiled back and stuck her cigarette between her teeth. She turned up the music and we traveled down the road. It was just me, her, and the open road. We were going nowhere of importance, yet we were going somewhere important. We wanted to get lost.

~~~
In the weeks since she turned down the internship, she stopped painting. She just watches TV now. We don’t talk as much. I can tell that my presence reminds her of her missed opportunity. But, she loves me too much to ever harass me about it. She loves me too much…

I know that I’m causing her so much pain. And it causes me pain. But, she’s genuinely convinced she can’t do it now.
And I don’t know what to do. I want to help her.

~~~
“Let’s turn here.” She pointed at a side road that went up a hill. We went up the hill. It plateaued off into a clearing. The clearing then dipped down into a grassy shoreline for a lake. We had no idea where we were. We were high. We were young. We were happy. We were free.

“Let’s get out of the car.” She stepped out of the car and I did, too. I admired the car as I stepped out. I had just finished repairing it a few weeks ago. It was a ’55 Porsche Spyder — the kind James Dean drove — that my father and I had found relatively cheap (it was a replica) and fixed up. We modernized the interior as much as we could and fixed it up to run like a champ. There were a lot of memories in that car. It was my dream car. I grabbed a blanket from the back seat.

We trekked downhill to the grassy shore she had the beer in her hand and I had the blunts in mine, blanket tossed over my shoulder. We found a nice place where the full moon reflected in the lake beautifully. I laid out the blanket and we sat down. I lit up a blunt. We looked at the view of the lake through the perfect frame of trees and foliage that nature had so generously put on display. It was like it was just for us. I looked at her. She looked at me.

“It’s so beautiful,” we both said simultaneously. I kissed her. We made love for the first time that night. Right there. At that lake. On that shore. We lied there for a while in the moonlight.We talked about life. I learned so much about her that night. After a while, we headed back to the car. The car that had gained yet another memory. I kissed her on the cheek and held the door open for her. I got in the car and looked into her twinkling sky-eyes. I was lost.

~~~
I love her. The memory of that moment from almost four years ago hits me as I walk out and look at my Porsche. I get in it and begin to drive. I want her to do what she loves. Because I love her. She deserves the world and I can give it to her. She can still get the internship. I called them and told them she would take it. I pull into the long driveway I was searching for. I get out of the car and shake hands with a man in a nice suit. He looks at me. He looks at the car.

“I will give you $35,000 for it,” he says after carefully inspecting my cherished car. That’s more than enough for me and her to move to California together and live for the duration of her internship. I feel conflicted. But, I know what I have to do.

“That sounds fantastic! I need a favor, though. Can I have it for one more night?” He obliges my request and I leave. I drive around a while and stumble upon the lake again. I look out at it and I rush to her place. I pull in the driveway. I can’t wait to tell her. I get out of my car and rush to the door. She answers it and she looks confused. I’m going to tell her tonight. But first, we have to do something. Before we can begin our adventure together in California, I think we need to put a cap on our adventures here. At the same lake we started. I look at her:

“Let’s get lost.”