There was only one open stool at the bar, so Glenn took it. It was at the short L on the bar’s far end. Two women about his age sat next to him on the last two stools of the long section. They each had an empty martini glass and a full, cloudy one in front them. They were leaned into one another in conversation.
The woman closest to him had brown, shoulder length hair like his wife’s. “We never fought,” she told the other woman. “There was nothing he did wrong. I still respect and admire him. I just don’t love him anymore. I felt dead inside.”
“I know,” the other woman said. She had short blonde hair cut around her ears like a cap. She nodded. “I could see it for months.”
“He couldn’t, or didn’t. So he claims.”
“I thought it was pretty obvious. But, Tom isn’t the most observant or intuitive guy.”
“No, he isn’t.”
Listening to them, a flush had spread over Glenn. He signaled to the bartender, who walked over to him. Glenn ordered a draft beer.
“And I didn’t ask for things to develop the way they did with Alan,” the brown-haired woman continued. “They just happened. He understands me at a different level. Our souls, I don’t know…they connect.”
“How are things with Tom?”
The brown-haired woman waved her hand. “The same. He still leaves me messages every day. Long, pleading ones. I don’t respond.”
“Hasn’t it been something like six weeks since you left?”
“He needs to move on.”
“He does. It’s becoming a bit pathetic.”
Glenn watched them both sip their drinks. When the bartender set the beer down in front of him, he took a long swallow.
“It took courage to do what you did,” the short-haired woman said.
Her friend sighed. “I was done being a martyr. I deserved to be happy.”
“Yes, you did. And with Alan, you are.”
“I am. Very much so.”
Glenn winced and took another swallow of beer. He kept the fingertips of both hands on the glass.
A cell phone buzzed on the bar in front of the short-haired woman. She picked it up and looked at the screen. “My husband,” she said. “I’m going to take this outside.”
She climbed off her stool and walked behind Glenn out the back door onto the patio. He watched the brown-haired woman lift the toothpick from her glass and slide one of the olives from it into her mouth with her teeth. As she chewed, he shook his head. When she glanced over at him, he continued to shake it.
In an even voice, she asked, “What’s the matter?”
“No, you’re scowling at me. Why?”
He took a swallow of beer and studied her. “Well,” he said finally, “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation just now. My wife left me last year. Just about everything you said could have been about us.”
Her eyes blinked rapidly a few times, but her expression didn’t change. She said, “I’m sorry.”
Glenn gave a little laugh. “Sure.”
“I am. Truly.”
“About what? Me hearing you or my wife leaving?”
“What about your husband? Are you sorry about that?”
She looked at her drink and turned the stem of the glass. “I’m sorry he’s in pain. I’m sorry he’s hurting.”
“But not about leaving him. Not about your affair.”
“No,” she said. “Not about that. I’m afraid not.”
She took another sip of her martini with her eyes on the glass. He shook his head again, the old ache spreading through his gut.
“I hope you’ve moved on by now,” she said. “Better than my husband, at least.”
“Not really,” Glenn said. “I don’t think so. As much as I’ve tried.”
She turned and looked at him. Something had changed in her eyes. “What’s the hardest part? If I may ask?”
He held her gaze for a long moment, then said, “The irretrievable opportunity, I think. If she had just told me beforehand, let me know she was unhappy, we may have been able to do something about it together.”
“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t think so.”
Quiet voices laughed at a table nearby while they looked at each other. Glenn felt a hardness in his throat.
The short-haired woman came back inside and returned to her stool smiling. “Well,” she said. “He was calling to see if I was up for a little get-away this weekend. A bed and breakfast on the coast.”
Slowly, the brown-haired woman turned back to her and said, “That sounds nice.”
“It does. He just keeps surprising me with things like that. After six years.”
Glenn finished his beer in a long gulp. He took his wallet out. The brown-haired woman looked over at him and said, “I’ll take care of that.”
“No.” His eyes met hers. “I don’t think so.”
He put money on the bar and left through the back door. He walked across the patio and through a gate into an alley. Evening was falling, and the early spring air was cool. Glenn crossed the street at the end of the alley to a park where he sat on a small pebbly beach that fronted a pond. He took a handful of stones and began tossing them one at a time into the water. No one else was around. He didn’t have any reason to go home; there wasn’t anyone waiting for him there. As he had many times before, he slowly tossed the stones watching the circles they made in the water widen until they met the shore where he sat.
William Cass has had over a hundred short stories appear in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Conium Review. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a Pushcart nomination, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.
© 2017, William Cass