Recap: In his own words, Lyle reminisced about his ex-girlfriend, Annabelle, and wondered if she’s been able to move on after their breakup. “I think it’s better to feel too much than too little,” he meditated. “And I can’t just sweep it all away as if you were only a footnote to my existence. The emotions are still too real — too vivid and intense.”
The cab pulled in front of a nondescript nightclub, depositing Lyle and Shep on the curb. The evening was cool and breezy, with the wind whipping through their hair. The muffled bass of a techno beat pulsated from the building.
“You sure you’re feeling all right?” Shep asked.
“Because we can head home if you want.”
“No, I’m good. I just drank my scotch too fast back there.”
“Well, you know what they say: ‘Beer before liquor will make you sicker.’”
“I’m not sure the liquor was at fault. I was just expressing my feelings on life.”
“By puking all over the sidewalk?”
“Yep. That pretty much summed up my feelings.”
“Whatever.” Shep rolled his eyes, digging in his pocket for money. “You ready to dance and meet some women?”
“I’m not sure the two go together. You ever seen me dance?”
“Men with moves get all the chicks.”
“My signature move is staggering out of a bar and puking on the sidewalk. Does that count?”
“I think you need to get a little more coordinated.” Shep motioned toward the entrance. “C’mon, let’s go.”
“You go ahead. I’m going to hang out here for a sec.”
“Why? It’s windy.”
“I need some air. I’m still dizzy from the cab ride.”
Shep looked at him. “You’re sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine. It’s good.”
“If you want to go home, just say so.”
“I wouldn’t want to ruin your evening.”
“Why stop now? You’ve been ruining my life since the day you moved in.”
“I don’t need to burden you with my problems. We came here to have fun.”
“Yeah, but half the fun for me is laughing at your problems.”
Lyle waved him off. “I’m serious, man. You go ahead; I’ll be right behind you.”
“Whatever. If you’re sure.” Shep dug in his pocket and handed Lyle a twenty. “Here — you’ll need this for the cover. Don’t be too long, all right? I don’t want to come looking for you and find you face-planted on the sidewalk.”
“Don’t worry; I might not be coordinated, but I think I can walk fifteen feet.”
“With each step following a different line, maybe.” Shep grinned. “All right, man. See you in there.” He turned and trekked toward the entrance.
Lyle waited until Shep was gone, then dug in his pocket for his iPhone. He scrolled through his contacts, landing on a familiar name. His spine stiffened, and he hesitated, his thumb hovering over the screen.
The seconds ticked by, and with each one Lyle’s resolve grew weaker and weaker. Finally, sucking in a deep breath and closing his eyes, he pushed the button to call.
The line rang several times. Lyle paced back and forth along the sidewalk, holding the phone to his ear. He clicked off the second Annabelle’s voicemail answered.
“This was stupid,” he said aloud, mumbling, staring at the phone cupped in his palm. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now she knows you called.”
He was about to slide the iPhone back into his pocket when it started buzzing. Lyle jumped. He looked down and saw Annabelle’s name and picture lit up on the screen.
He let it ring three times before swiping the screen to answer. “Yeah? I mean … hello?”
His throat tightened at the sound of Annabelle’s voice. “Uh-huh.” Suddenly, his mouth and tongue were parched.
There was silence for a couple of seconds, and for a moment he thought he lost her. “Yeah,” he said, louder, holding the phone to his ear. “Annabelle? It’s me.”
“Did you just call me?” Her voice was wavering, tense.
He forced a laugh. “Yeah. Um. The thing is … I think I pocket-dialed you. I just pulled out my phone and saw the screen was lit up.”
“Where are you? Your voice sounds hollow.”
“I’m … outside.”
“What’s that noise?”
“A garbage truck just drove past.”
“It sounds like you’re on a freeway. You’re all tinny. I can’t hear you very well.”
He walked farther into the parking lot. “Can you hear me now? Is that better?”
“Lyle?” Annabelle’s voice was fainter.
“Wait.” Lyle crossed the parking lot, moving away from the building and into an open area. “How about now? Annabelle?”
“Yeah. That’s a little better.”
“Sorry about that. Must be a weird part of town.”
“Lyle, do you know what time it is?”
He looked at his watch. It was well after ten. “Sorry. I guess it’s late.”
“What are you doing, anyway?”
“I’m just out. With Shep,” he added quickly.
“Where are you?”
“At a bar. A sports bar. We were getting a late dinner.” He swallowed, trying to moisten his dry throat. “Where are you?”
“Oh. I hope you weren’t in bed. I mean – I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Me and Karen were watching TV.”
“Oh, yeah. You have a roommate now. Irene told me.”
“I know she did. She wants you two to hook up.”
“Well….” Lyle let his voice trail off. “You know Irene. She gets weird ideas when she starts drinking.”
“I know she does. And speaking of drinking, your voice sounds different.”
“We have a bad connection.”
“No – you’re slurring. Are you drunk, Lyle?”
“Well, I am at a bar. I might have had a couple of beers, to celebrate Shep’s success.”
“What did Shep do?”
“He finally convinced me to get out of the apartment. I think he’s afraid I’ll get attached to the place and never leave.” Lyle tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a hiccup.
Silence. After a moment, Annabelle asked, “Have you found a job yet?”
“Well, still looking. Damn things are getting harder to find these days. I’m starting to regret not finishing college.”
“I thought you did finish college?”
“No – I got a journalism degree, so it doesn’t count. In fact, I think it falls under the realm of pissing your life away.”
“You must be drunk. You’re being self-deprecating.”
“Oh, come on now. You know I don’t need a reason to hate myself.”
“Lyle, where’s Shep? Maybe he should take you home.”
“I think he ditched me while I was talking to you. He seized the opportunity to flee into the night. Look! That’s his car screaming down the back alley as we speak. It’s got a flame shooting out the tailpipe, like the Batmobile.”
“Lyle, I’m going to hang up. I’m missing my show.”
A pause. “Yes?”
“I just wanted to say ‘hi.’”
“And I’m going to say ‘bye.’ Goodnight, Lyle.”
“No, wait. Please don’t hang up. Annabelle?”
“Lyle, go home. It’s late.”
“Annabelle, I … it just seems like we never get to talk anymore.”
“That’s because we broke up. That’s what couples do when they break up, Lyle. They stop talking.”
“Well … maybe we didn’t say everything that needs to be said.”
Annabelle was silent for a couple of seconds. “What more needs to be said?”
Lyle crossed the expansive parking lot and leaned his back against a chain-link fence. “Do you think we did the right thing?” he asked.
“I … I don’t know how to respond to that. We broke up.”
“But maybe we shouldn’t have. That’s what I’m saying. Maybe we could … I don’t know — talk about it some more?”
Annabelle took a deep breath. “I don’t think we should be having this conversation, Lyle. Especially when you’re drunk.”
“Don’t use my drinking as an excuse. We used to do plenty when I was drunk.”
“I know we did — but only because you were drunk every other day.”
“Don’t sell me short — I was drunk every day. You know how much I hated my job.”
“Lyle, please. You call me out of the blue after all these months. What am I supposed to say?”
“I’m hoping for three little words. And preferably not ‘Hang up, jerk.’”
To be continued…