Aicha Zoubair

Jessica Bell

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Intoxicated by Alicia Renee Kline (Excerpt)

Chapter Four

The next few days passed in a blur.  I was overwhelmed with last minute arrangements in regards to the move.  Address changes, calling the utility companies, packing away more odds and ends until nothing remained but the clothes I needed and my toiletries.  I had conceded defeat and boxed up the remaining kitchen supplies, opting for carry out once the fridge had been emptied of its contents.

Blake had been in contact with me several times.  The first couple times had been strictly business.  Her lawyer had drawn up the lease.  She emailed it over to me and I signed and returned it.  Once formalities were out of the way, we chatted more like I imagined future college roommates would have.  I listed my inventory of household items; she checked off what she already had and what we could use.  From her responses I guessed that she wasn’t much of a chef.

I didn’t want to rent a storage unit, so anything that I wasn’t taking with me I needed to get rid of.  Gracie had first dibs.  After she had rifled through my unwanted stuff, I donated the rest.  My tiny apartment had never seemed so spacious.

Now that it was moving day, my excitement had grown to fever pitch.  Gracie and my father had insisted on coming over to help me load the Honda.  I suspected they wanted to see me off more than anything else.  I could cram the few boxes and bags I was keeping with me into my car with little effort, but the free labor was always appreciated.

When the doorbell buzzed, I pressed the intercom button and announced that whoever was there should come on up.  My visitor did not respond, but I heard footsteps in the hallway a short time after.  I truly expected it to be my dad since Gracie was rarely the first person to show up anywhere.

Instead, Eric stood before me.  We hadn’t really spoken since the argument.  He had caved and sent me a few brief texts, excusing his distance by explaining that he was swamped at work and when he got home he was exhausted.  Even though I sympathized with his plight, I felt slighted by his lack of consideration.  He could deny that the move was happening all he wanted to, but it still didn’t change the fact that our time in the same city was coming to a close.

“Hi,” he said simply, bringing out two steaming cups of coffee from behind his back, “I would have brought flowers, but they don’t travel well.”

I accepted his peace offering eagerly.  Taking a sip of the drink, I appraised him from head to toe.  Instead of his usual suit and tie he was dressed in khakis and a polo shirt.  For him, that was slumming.  Just once I wished he’d loosen up a bit.  His brown hair was cut very short; perfect for traveling and being nondescript.  His green eyes looked dull and tired.

Maybe he had been really busy.  I prayed that he was telling the truth.  It wouldn’t make sense for him to purposefully ignore me all week just to show up at my door to send me off.  Not when I hadn’t expected him to even make an appearance.  No, this was an apology in disguise.  He was truly sorry.

“I’m glad you came.”

“You really think I would miss my chance to give you a proper send-off?  I mean, look at you.”

I giggled, staring down at my baggy sweats and t-shirt.  Today was about comfort.  Even though I would have plenty of help loading the car here, unloading was a different story.  Blake didn’t appear as though she was used to manual labor.  She would just have to excuse my appearance; I was on a mission today.  There was no time like the present for her to get used to me in my natural state.

I ran my fingers through my tousled hair and pretended to strike a pose.  “Beautiful, right?”

“You are always beautiful, Lauren Marie Jefferies.”

The words brought color to my cheeks.  I set my coffee down on the empty kitchen counter, tears blurring my vision.  Eric did the same, taking me into his arms.  He brushed the moisture off my cheeks with his thumbs then pulled me closer to him.  I buried my face in the smooth cotton of his shirt.

“I’m going to miss you so much,” I whispered, my words muffled against his chest.

Somehow he still understood.  “I’ll miss you too.”

We stood in the middle of my apartment silently embracing each other.  Even though our history was filled of times spent apart, being the one doing the leaving didn’t make it any easier.  I wanted to commit every part of this moment to memory: his strong arms around me, his fingers stroking my hair, the smell of his aftershave, his warm breath against my neck, the steady beat of his heart.  This would be what I thought of when things seemed too difficult to bear.

“I am so proud of you, sweetheart,” he continued.  The sound of his voice echoed in his chest, under my ear.  “and I am so sorry for being selfish and wanting you to stay.  You were right.  This is your turn to shine.  We can make this work.  We’ll figure out the details as we go.”

I doubted he’d have had the courage to say those things if I had been looking him in the eye.  He was not one to admit fault, ever.  It was the best going away gift he could possibly have given me.

We stood there for either seconds or an eternity until the buzzer sounded again.  I couldn’t tell.  Wiping my eyes, I pulled away and turned to the intercom.  “Come on up; door’s open.”

Both my dad and Gracie entered the apartment shortly thereafter.  They must have met in the parking lot.  They attempted to hide their shock that Eric had shown up, my dad being far more successful than my best friend.  Dad obviously was used to the hot and cold nature of our relationship; Gracie not as much.  Dad also tolerated Eric’s outbursts far better.  I was convinced it was because I didn’t share the details of our arguments.  Since Gracie got only my side of the story, usually right after the heat of the moment, her opinion of Eric was not the best.

“Hi, Eric,” my dad greeted.

“Doug, Gracie,” Eric responded, turning on the salesman voice.

“Eric,” Gracie said, barely hiding her disgust.  She shot me a dirty look.  My response was a shrug.  She shook her head.

“So,” I said, rubbing together my hands, “who’s ready to move some boxes?”

Quick work was made of the task, and before I knew it my car had been loaded and the apartment was empty of my belongings.  Even Eric had made the comment that he likely hadn’t dressed for the job.  My father had laughed heartily; Gracie snorted.

We regrouped in the now totally depersonalized space, perching on the tiny sofa and the kitchen counter.  To be honest, four people was about all this square footage could handle comfortably.  Gracie had stopped at her car to grab a grocery bag and she now produced its contents.  She pulled out a fancy bottle of white grape juice and three red plastic cups.  She set to work uncorking the champagne style bottle and pouring glasses of juice.  She passed the cups out to me and my father, keeping the last one for herself.  Eric’s exclusion made the whole thing rather awkward.  Thankfully, he pretended not to care.

“I would like to propose a toast,” Gracie announced, raising her cup, “to the best mortgage underwriter the state of Indiana has ever seen.  May she follow her dreams and help others achieve the goal of homeownership.”

“Cheers,” we all said in unison, the three of us with cups touching them together.

I dissolved into a fit of giggles.

“Hey,” Gracie said with mock anger, “I worked really hard on that toast last night.  No, in all seriousness, I don’t think they could have picked a better lady for the job.  You have been one of the best coworkers and friends I could ever have met.  I already miss you terribly, and you haven’t even left yet.”

“Thanks, hon,” I said, blushing again.

“Gracie’s right,” my father confirmed.  “Your hard work and determination got you exactly what you wanted.  You’ve been groomed for that job, and no matter how much you think it is a surprise, everyone here saw it coming.  And to be here to see that my daughter has achieved her goals is probably one of the best moments of my life.  Your mother would be so happy for you.”

He brushed a tear from his eye, and the room got uncomfortably quiet.  My father didn’t bring up the subject of my mother often; it pained him too much.  And to mention her in front of other people was something I had never seen him do.  The gravity of the moment hit me hard, and I blinked back my own fresh tears.

Beside me, Eric fidgeted uncomfortably.  He kept checking his watch, and I knew he was concocting an excuse to leave.  Gracie also noticed, and her look could have shot daggers in his direction.  He cleared his throat before speaking.

“I have a plane to catch.”

Was that the truth, or just the best he could come up with?

“Oh, okay.  Let me walk you out.”  I set down my cup and excused myself, trailing behind Eric.

He stopped once we got into the hallway to allow me to catch up.  The visible tension in his body disappeared, and he reached over to take my hand.  We walked down the stairs and out to the parking lot in silence.  His BMW was parked beside the now overflowing Honda.  He stared at my car for a moment, a slow smile spreading across his features.

“You know,” he drawled, “you could always take your car over to my place and unload your stuff there.”

“Eric, I don’t want to fight about this anymore.”

“I know.  Just figured I would give it one last shot.  You know I’m serious, right?”

I nodded, my heart sinking.  After ten years of dating, the only way I would know he was serious was if he produced a diamond ring out of his pocket.  As often as he mentioned giving me the world, buying me a new car and letting me shack up in his high rise, he wasn’t yet willing to make it official.  He wouldn’t give me his commitment.

“Are you really leaving?”

“You mean was the plane an excuse to get out of there before Gracie bit my head off?  Only partially.  I can tell where I’m not wanted.  But I do have to be on a flight in about three hours.  Heading down to Atlanta for a conference.  Thought I might get a few hours of entertainment in before it starts bright and early Monday morning.”

“Oh.”

“So, I guess this is it then.  Be careful driving.  I’ll call you sometime tomorrow after we both get settled in.”

He turned away from me to open his car door, effectively putting the glass and metal between us.  Awkwardly, he gave me a small kiss while leaning over the door frame.  The gesture would have been sufficient if I was his grandmother, but not for a departing girlfriend.  Satisfied with his attempt at showing me affection, he lowered himself into the leather seat.  The door closed with a solid, well- engineered thud.  Eric started the ignition and the engine purred to life.  The power window lowered and I bent down to hear him better over the music that played over his premium sound system.

“Goodbye, Lauren.”

“Bye, Eric.”

He put the car into reverse and backed out of the space.  I watched his taillights disappear from my vision as the words I wanted him to say formed on my lips.

“I love you,”  I whispered to no one in particular.

Back upstairs, Gracie and my father were deep in conversation about what my new bedroom would look like.  I had shared with them that Blake would be decorating it especially for me, but that she had been very secretive about what modifications she had made.  In fact, even though we had been in contact nearly every day since I originally saw the place, she had refused to even give me a hint.  She only promised that I would be extremely happy.

“Unicorns?” my dad suggested.

“I think it will be rainbows,” Gracie said.

“You guys are silly,” I said, hoping I sounded lighthearted.

Truth be told, Eric’s abrupt departure had been a definite mood killer.  I knew that Gracie hadn’t anticipated him being here, but I really wished that she had brought a handful of cups instead of just bringing the exact number she thought had been needed.  That couldn’t have helped things.

“You okay?” Gracie asked.

“Yeah,” I lied.  “I just better get this show on the road.  I need to take the keys back to the leasing office, and they close at noon.  No time like the present.”

Gracie and my father exchanged a knowing glance, but didn’t press the issue.  Instead, they got busy cleaning up the small mess that they had created with the toast.  The trash was collected in the grocery bag, and everything was good to go.

“Just give me a moment,” I said.

“No problem,” my dad responded, “we’ll just take this out to the dumpster and wait for you at your car.  You can drop off your keys and then meet us in the parking lot.”

“Take your time,” Gracie said, squeezing my shoulder as my dad ushered her out the door.

I took a final lap around the space, knowing that I would never be back.  Within these walls, my adulthood had begun.  Even though it was small, rundown and in a less than savory neighborhood, it had still been my first place.  A small taste of freedom and success.  A tiny sanctuary.

My hand ran over the back of the tattered loveseat, remembering long discussions with Gracie.  Usually over something Eric had done to upset me.  Sometimes, though, we discussed her non-existent love life or her career aspirations.  Since she was a few years younger than me, I had stepped into the role of big sister and friend, able to dispense advice from my own experiences.

I moved to the kitchen area, pausing at the counter to remember my daily coffee routine.  I would perch on the counter with a freshly brewed cup and mentally prepare myself for the day ahead.  Since I also liked to cook, I had made many dishes here.  I typically packaged them up when done and transported them over to someone else’s place, my apartment not as suitable as some for entertaining.  Cooking for one had never really appealed to me.

The trundle bed had been closed up into the wall.  Of all the features here, this would be the one I would miss the least.  When I first moved in, I thought it was an interesting novelty item.  I quickly began to realize it was horribly impractical.  At the end of an exhausting day, the last thing I had ever wanted to do was fold out my bed and ready it for the night.  Occasionally, I had even fallen asleep on the couch and just stayed there.

The only room with an interior door was the bathroom, a tiny three piece with a shower designed only for someone my size.  Nothing special here.

I grasped the keys in my hand and shut the door softly behind me.  Part of me wanted to turn back and stay living in the safety that I had created here.  I kept walking, eyes firmly fixed ahead of me.  I dropped off the keys to the less than friendly lady at the leasing office then exited to the parking lot.

Hugs were exchanged all the way around.  Over the past year or so that Gracie and I had worked together, she had been a constant presence in my life.  Since I was so close with my dad, that relationship had also carried over to her.  I knew he considered Gracie to be his second daughter, and I doubted that would change just because I moved two hours away.

Knowing that they wouldn’t leave prior to me pulling away, I slid behind the wheel of the Honda.  As I turned the key in the ignition, I smiled in earnest.  I rolled down the window and said my goodbyes.  Ironically, neither my dad nor Gracie had an issue with telling me they loved me, a sentiment that I easily returned.  I wondered why Eric found it so hard.

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Genre – Romance / Chick Lit

Rating – PG13

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Website http://aliciareneekline.com/