tagRomanceGoing On

Going On

byDwellerDark©

It's the night of my forty-sixth birthday, and I'm at the bar. Edwin let me off work early today so that I could celebrate. He's a good guy, Edwin is. He gave me the job at the motel as his maintenance guy, and as part of my pay he lets me live in one of the trailers on his property. His daughter is living in the other one, the one right in front of mine, so I know he must have some trust in me. And I know that's not easy, being as how I had just gotten out of prison before I answered his ad.

It's a slow night at Blue Dog's, but it's a Wednesday, so I guess that's to be expected. I need to drink less than I want to, because Edwin will expect me to be working tomorrow morning, and I don't want to disappoint him. I've had my fill of letting people down, and, fuck, I've probably still got another fourteen years or so left in me so that's a long time to be on my best behavior.

On Friday nights this place is pretty packed, especially after it hits eleven or so and the second shift from the auto factory lets out. But on Wednesdays most people have more important things to do. I guess I used to be like that, in better times.

I get up and flip through the songs in the jukebox. I'm looking for something in particular -a particular artist- but I can't find him and I give up halfway through. I've got a headache coming on and reading the tiny print is making it worse. I sit back down and rub my temples with the tips of my fingers.

"Y'okay, Devin?" a voice to my right says. My eyes are closed but I know the voice well enough. It's Suzanne, a young girl who has become a bit of a regular in here since she got rid of that boyfriend who was beating on her. She's probably twenty-six, I'd guess; long, dark hair; tall and thin. She's sweet to me, and I feel protective of her.

"Yeah, just got a headache," I say. Suzanne walks over to me and takes my big, rough hand in her tiny, smooth one, and gives me a sympathetic look.

"Had too much to drink already?" she says, but the look on her face lets me know she's just joking.

"Not there yet, girl," I say, and give her as close an approximation to a smile that I can muster at the moment. Truth is, I'm hurting inside, bad. Like I often do on my birthday, I've spent a lot of today thinking too much about the past. This is the first birthday in three years that I didn't spend in prison. I've got an estranged wife, Cynthia, who, during her first and only visit to me in prison, told me not to come home once I got out, and not to try to contact her or my daughter until Cynthia could figure out whether or not she still wanted to stay with me. I haven't spoken to her since, though she talks to my mom every week. I told my mom to make my phone number available if Cynthia decides she wants it, but so far I haven't heard anything. I would think at least on my birthday... well, I don't know. After all this time maybe I shouldn't even bother hoping.

"Todd told me it's your birthday," Suzanne says, tilting her head a little when she says the word "birthday."

"Damn," I say, "I told him not to tell anyone." I sigh and sit back in my chair. The last thing I want right now is someone feeling sorry for me. I do well enough with that myself. I look down at my checkered flannel shirt, my stained jeans, my hands now lying folded on my belly. A face flashes briefly in my mind: my little girl, Sarah. I haven't seen her since she was nine. Now she's twelve. I wonder how long it will be before I see her again, or hear her voice.

"You don't look like someone who's celebrating their birthday," Suzanne says. She's wincing a little. I can tell she feels kind of bad for bringing up the subject.

"I've never been much for celebrating getting older," I say with a small grin. It's enough to ease Suzanne's mind, and she relaxes and smiles.

"Maybe I can help you celebrate," Suzanne says, leaning in. "I can come back to your place. You've seen mine; I've never seen yours."

I smile and I'm vaguely aware that I'm blushing, but then a sickening thought comes to me that she is only speaking out of pity.

"Maybe sometime," I say, looking down at the table. "I think I'd rather be on my own tonight."

Suzanne puts her hand over mine and leans in to give me a kiss on the cheek.

"Anytime you want. I'll be here if you need me," she says, and then walks back over to her spot at the bar next to Karl, an older guy who spends most of his day here.

I watch Suzanne as she walks away, swaying in her jeans. One time last month she had too much to drink and I was at the bar later than usual -to be honest, emotionally I was having a particularly bad night- and I volunteered to walk her home. When we got back to her place she was all hands and I did my best to keep her hands off of me without offending her.

"Please, Suzanne," I had told her as she tried to pull me onto the couch she had just plopped down onto.

"Why not, Devin? Don't you like me?" she said, sounding hurt.

"I do, baby girl," I said, "But I can't do this with you when you're like this. Maybe sometime when you're sober."

She looked hurt and sulked a little on the couch, and I stepped away and began looking at the various collectibles she had on her shelves and counters. She had a thing for those Precious Moments figurines, I could tell. I think she had been collecting them her whole life.

"Dehhh-vin," she said in a low voice, and I turned back to see that she had unbuttoned her blouse and pulled down her bra. Her small, perfectly-shaped breasts were exposed, and she was swaying from side to side in an attempt to seduce me.

"Wow, that's very tempting, baby," I said, admittedly not able to keep my eyes off of her breasts, "but I've got to take a raincheck on this."

I did stay long enough to help her get to bed, but I didn't try anything. I left feeling kind of empty, but I know I would have felt worse if I had taken advantage of the girl.

As I sit here watching her back as she talks to Karl, I wonder if she even remembers that night. I wonder if it would have made any difference if I had taken her up on her drunken offer or not. Lord knows I haven't felt a woman's touch in a while. But I think it's gotta feel right. I've got enough guilt.

I leave Blue Dog's feeling a bit empty again, like I did that night when I left Suzanne's. There's a loneliness inside me that is eating away at me. Sometimes I wonder why I keep going on when it's clear that my real life ended a few years ago. Then I decide that life is too interesting to just cut and run without a really good reason, and I don't believe that there's anything other than this life we have. Still, I think about suicide every day. It's an impulse I constantly fight. I suppose eventually it will get the best of me.

I walk home. It's not long. I live about half a mile from Blue Dog's, so it only takes me about twenty minutes go walk home, unless I'm particularly drunk. Tonight I'm not even close, so I'm setting a good pace. I look around me. Nothing but cornfields and some scattered houses and businesses, and beyond that, the hills. Still, I like it here. It's quiet, and though it's only a county away from where I lived my old life, it's far enough to begin my second life. It's not a bad place. I'd feel pretty happy to die here.

It's mid-summer, so even though it's nine o'clock it's not close to being dark yet. The road shoulder is wide, so I'm reasonably safe from being hit by a passing car. I hear noises all around me. Maybe crickets. It bothers me that I don't know for sure. I live in kind of a rural area but I didn't grow up here. Until I went to prison I had spent my whole life in the suburbs. My wife and I had a nice house. I had a good job. I had a comfortable life. Then I managed to fuck it all up in one night. It's barely worth thinking about. It's done, and that's all.

I feel like I'm living a lie because I live out here and I don't know what anything is. I could see a tree in a field and not be able to tell you what kind of tree it is. I couldn't tell you what brand of tractor is being driven in a farm I walk by. Hell, if my car breaks down, I wouldn't know how to fix it, unless it turns out it just ran out of gas. I feel like I should know more about this stuff than I do. As my dad would say, I don't know shit about shit. And that bothers me.

When I get to the little dirt driveway where my trailer sits -about a hundred feet behind the trailer where Edwin's daughter Ashley lives with her four-year-old son, Russell- I stop and look up at the sky for a few moments. One of the benefits of living out here is being able to see so many stars. After several months of living here, I'm still in awe.

I turn back towards the trailers and I think I see a face peering out at me from one of the windows in Ashley's trailer. But, in an instant, it's gone, if it ever was there to begin with. Ashley's a nice girl. Mid-20's, short, a bit overweight, but with a really pretty face, freckles, and reddish-blonde hair that falls a few inches past her shoulders. She moved in about three months ago, having just left her abusive husband and seeking refuge at her daddy's place. Edwin had talked about the guy a few times. Ashley and the guy had dated in high school, and Edwin and his wife liked the guy, but just after they got married things went south and the guy took to drinking and beating on Ashley. How she stayed with him through six years of marriage is a mystery to me, but I guess the important thing is that she got out with her son.

The first night she spent in that trailer, Edwin sat outside her door just in case that son of a bitch soon-to-be-ex of hers made an appearance, and then he spent the next few nights sitting there, too. But the guy never showed. Either he didn't know where she ran off to or didn't care. Thinking that I might have seen Ashley peeking out the window, I wonder if, three months later, she's still keeping an eye out for the guy. I wonder if she feels protected at all having me close by. We've only talked a few times, because I mostly keep to myself. But our conversations have been light, friendly, so far. I figure Edwin probably told her about me, because she's never asked.

I open the door to my trailer and turn off the light. There's a slightly musty smell that hits me, but it's one I've gotten used to. The trailer is old, but it's clean and everything works. One time Edwin told me that if he'd known that his daughter would be coming home, he would have given her this one, because the one she's living in isn't in quite as good a shape. I know he didn't mean to, but him saying that made me feel pretty low for a while.

I take off my shoes and check my answering machine. It says that I got six phone calls, but when I listen to my messages, there's nobody talking. Just quick "clicks" of the phone being hung up. I wonder who would have called me six times since this afternoon.

There's a knock at my door. I get up and open it. It's Ashley, standing on the wooden steps that lead to my door, holding a birthday cake.

"Surprise, Devin," she says with a smile.

"Oh wow," I say. No other words come to me at that moment.

"You worried the shit outta me," Ashleys says.

"How so?"

"I didn't know you went out tonight. I wanted to give this cake to you earlier, and your lights were off. I banged on your door and you didn't answer. I tried to call you and you didn't answer. I was afraid maybe you were dead in there."

"You called me?" I say, unfazed by someone assuming I might have been dead in my trailer.

"Yeah," Ashley says, and she winces a little. "I got your number from Daddy a few weeks ago. I hope you don't mind. I thought maybe I could use it to call you, just in case."

"Oh," I say, knowing what she's talking about. I look past her, toward the road, for no particular reason.

We stand there in silence for a few moments, then my eyes return to the cake.

"Here, come inside," I say, holding the door open for Ashley. "Thank you so much for the cake. I can't remember the last time, uh, anyone's..."

Ashley holds the cake with one hand, and she places the other on my hand that's holding the door open. "I thought it might be nice for you to know someone's thinking of you today." She gives me that smile. Something in my heart melts. I find myself fighting back a few tears.

She comes inside and puts the cake on the little island between the dining and living room areas. She looks around at the trailer. It's pretty empty. I haven't had much time or money for decorating.

"Quaint," she says with a small giggle.

"I know," I say, feeling sheepish. "I've never been much of a decorator. That was Cynthia's department."

"Your ex-wife?" Ashley says.

"Well, not ex yet. Though I don't know what she's waiting for."

We stand silently, and Ashley continues to look around. Now that she's in the light, I notice she's wearing a pair of nice jeans and a blouse. I've never seen her this dressed-up before.

"You look really nice," I say, almost impulsively.

"Why, thank you," Ashley says, and her smile grows bigger. "I didn't want to look like a slob when I gave you the cake."

"You didn't have to go through all this trouble..."

"No, I wanted to," she says, interrupting me. "I can imagine it's not easy, you know... with your family... uh..."

"You're right," I say, giving her another sheepish grin, and holding up my hand as if to tell her I understand what she was trying to say.

Ashley notices the picture sitting on the island. She had put the cake down next to it and apparently hadn't seen it.

"Oh wow," she says, picking up the picture. "Is this your daughter?"

"Yeah," I say, feeling suddenly wistful. "That's my baby girl, Sarah."

"How old's she?"

"Twelve." My legs suddenly feel weak, and I sit -collapse, almost- on the couch.

"She's a beautiful girl," Ashley says, almost sadly.

"Where's your boy?" I say.

"He's spending the night with Grandma and Grandpa," she says.

"Oh," I say. There's something in the tone of her voice that reminds me of something, but I can't place it.

"Devin," Ashley says after some silence, "what do you think is going to happen? You know, with you and your wife, your kid? I don't mean to pry. I guess I'm just curious."

"It's okay," I say, "but I don't know how to answer your question. I haven't spoken to Cynthia since I got out."

"Does she know how to reach you?"

"Yeah," I said. "She still talks to my mom. She talks to my mom more than I do." I give her a small laugh.

"Have you... dated anyone? Anything like that?" There's that tone again. Ashley puts down the picture and sits on the other end of the couch, her hands in her lap. She suddenly looks nervous.

"Not really. There was one girl, but that didn't go anywhere," I say. I'm hoping she won't ask about the girl I'm talking about.

Six months ago, about a month after I moved in to this place, there was a woman I met at Blue Dog's. She was from Chicago, she said, and she was spending a week at a cabin on the lake that was owned by an old college friend. She was by herself, and I didn't ask any more questions about that. We talked for a lot of that evening, though she didn't really talk much about herself, except to tell me that she worked in the billing department of a credit card company.

She took me back to the cabin, which was more of a cottage, I'd say. It had electricity and all the niceities you wouldn't find in an average cabin around here. The lake was calm, and the night air was filled with the sound of frogs croaking. Somehow Christina and I ended up kissing on her bed. She was the first woman I kissed since the last kiss I shared with my wife before starting my prison sentence. I was feeling lonely and almost desperate.

Christina and I began pulling off each others' clothes and kissing each other all over. When I had her top off, I sucked on her nipples hungrily. It had been so long. The feelings washing over me were almost overwhelming. She had small, dark nipples, and they got hard in my mouth and hands. While I did this, both of her hands were in my unzipped jeans, in my underwear, stroking my cock, which was rock-hard from the moment she and I had started kissing.

I kissed my way down her stomach and then pulled off her jeans and thong underwear -a first for me- and I was surprised to see that she had a shaved pussy. I had only been with a few women in my lifetime, and all of them had had some quantity of hair between their legs. I can't say I preferred the look of hers, but it was certainly easy on my tongue when I stuck it inside her.

I spent several minutes licking her, exploring everything. It had been so long for me, it felt like heaven. I had forgotten the taste, the scent, the warmth of a woman. We fucked three times that night, and then several more times over the course of the week we spent together. By the night before she was supposed to return to Chicago, I was starting to have a strong attachment to her. I thought that she felt the same.

Then, the morning of the day she was going to return, she confessed to me that she was married and had a child. She said that she was taking a break from her life and that she had decided on the way down that she would have no rules for herself.

She was puzzled when I didn't seem happy with her confession. She said that she thought I would feel relieved, like I should be happy because I was able to have a week of commitment-free, consequence-free sex with a woman I would never have to see again. But this was a concept I wasn't really accustomed to. I didn't want to tell her this, but the whole experience had left me feeling broken-hearted. I think I was especially vulnerable under the circumstances. I guess I should have been thrilled with the experience. I'm not saying I'm sad that it happened. But to me it had felt like the start of something more, and then it was gone.

Ashley is staring at me, probably waiting for me to explain myself, but I look away without saying anything more.

"Daddy said you used to be a manager in an office, and that you had a big house in the suburbs somewhere," Ashley says.

"He's told you a lot about me, I guess," I say, feeling a little gloomy now. I don't really feel comfortable with Edwin telling his daughter things that I thought I was telling him in confidence.

"Not everything," she says. I figure she's implying all the stuff about prison.

"I had a whole different life," I say, hoping that she won't dig any deeper.

"Is it hard to move on like this?"

"Moving on? I wouldn't call it that," I say, aware that there's a shade of bitterness in my voice.

"What do you mean?" Ashley says.

"It doesn't feel like moving on. The world just moves on without me, I guess."

Ashley simply stares at me and blinks.

"I'm sorry," I say, "I'm just in a funk."

"It's okay. I've heard worse," she says.

"It's just that I don't like to talk like this. I know it brings people down."

"You're not bringing me down," Ashley says. She slides over on the couch and takes my hand from my lap. "The way I see it, you still have breath in your lungs, so it's not too late to rebuild. And, you never know, maybe you'll get your family back."

I blink away tears, but I don't say anything. I don't like being this vulnerable. I want to change the subject, but nothing comes to mind. I'm aware of how warm Ashley's hand is. How good it is to have this contact with her. I suddenly feel a longing for her.

"I thought my husband was going to kill me. I was just waiting for it to happen. Then one day I said to myself, 'I don't want to die this way,' and I got Russell and I left everything else behind. Now I can start building a new life, maybe find someone who will be good to me." Ashley grips my hand tighter. I don't know if she's implying me in that last sentence.

"I'm... not a good person," I say. I don't know where that came from. Some subconscious, wordless feeling that suddenly found itself a voice.

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