The man sat very still in the passenger seat, thinking on the sorry sequence of events that had led him here. As rain pattered against the roof of the car, he felt a sort of removal from the whole thing, like watching an old re-run. Inside the Chili’s, the work party rolled on without them. The little blonde in the driver’s seat continued to sob, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre continued over her speakers:
“You should be picking me up…”
“Hey now,” he reached out a hesitant hand and placed it on her shoulder. “Come on now.” She undid her seat belt and laid her head in his lap.
“Instead you’re dragging me down…”
Hm, he thought. Not ideal. “Shouldn’t we go inside? The crying shuddered slowly to a stop. She sniffled, then said something muffled into his crotch. “What?” he asked.
“I don’t want to.”
“Then why did you come?”
There was a long silence down there, and some more sniffling and inaudible mumbling. That would be quite a thing to explain if anybody asked, that raccoon face of wet across his front. Finally it came, in a tiny mouse voice, just barely audible over the music, “I miss him.”
“Christ.” He sighed. “Fair enough.”
She sat up and smeared a hand across her face, wiping equal parts make-up and snot, before reaching again for the bottle. He’d already said his piece about the bottle, there was nothing more to add. She took a pull, used the back of her hand at the corner of each eye, then leaned against the window.
“Listen,” he said, “I get it, trust me, I really do. But this is terrible. You need to either let me drive you home, or go inside.” She rolled her eyes and groaned. “Look, if you go in there and get what you want, it’ll happen immediately. If you don’t, and you’re brave enough to see it, you’ll know that immediately as well.”
He reached across and pulled the handle of her car door. “Well?” he asked, as the door swung open. “Either I’m driving, or you’re going inside. Gotta get out, one way or the other.”
She looked her chin down into her chest, then tilted her face to the side, then slowly up to look at him. Her blue eyes, bleary with crying and drink, ringed with smeared mascara, half hidden behind the strands of blonde fringe, were surprisingly lucid. “Alright.” She screwed the lid on the bottle, tucked it under her seat, and dabbed at her makeup in the rear-view mirror. “Alright,” she said again. Then she took a deep breath.
He watched her walk across the parking lot, more poised on those black heels than he would have expected. She stopped before the door, tossed her hair over her shoulder, and looked back at the car. His heart hurt a little in his chest. Good luck, he mouthed, knowing she couldn’t see him. She went inside. He got into the driver’s seat and turned up the music:
“Now that you’re not around… Now that you’re not around… Glad that you’re not around…”
And there she was again. The door slammed shut behind her, and she went fishing under his seat for the bottle. “You were right,” she said, “I could tell.” She took a long, gulping drink. “Let’s go.“ He pulled out of the parking lot.
“Which way is home?” he asked. She pointed. After a while they left the street lights behind, and the country road began meandering through alternating vistas of darkened forest, then corn fields, then forest again. “There,” she said, as they entered another break in the trees. He pulled up in front of a little one-story house with an over-grown lawn and some rusted junk out back. The kind of house that looks like a trailer, but with a cement foundation. Lights were on inside.
“I’ll take your car back to mine and leave it there. You can get a ride in tomorrow?” She nodded. “You mind if I talk for a minute?” She shook her head.
“What you’re feeling? That sensation in your gut, like it’s about to split you open and spill out your intestines? I don’t know what it is, specifically, but it’s not love. Not really. It’s rejection, and it’s fear, and it’s self-loathing, and it’s loneliness, and more than anything it’s the loss of a savior. But that pain isn’t love, and there are no saviors. You have to save yourself.”
She looked at him for a long moment, those blood-shot eyes — rimmed by mascara, half-hidden by the fringe — older than they seemed. “You’re wrong,” she said, “And what’s more, you’re kind of an asshole. But thanks, I guess, for trying.” She got out and let the door click shut behind her.
“I’ve got some pills, I’ve got a bottle of wine… and I’m feeling fine… I don’t miss you, no, I don’t miss you at all…”
He sat there parked by the road, listening, rubbing a hand over the stubble on his chin. Rain drummed softly against the roof, and in the distance lightning lit the sky. As he counted seconds and waited for the thunder, he suddenly felt very alone.