She didn’t remember ever feeling so exhausted, drained. As she looked out over the dark lake, illuminated only by the moonlight, she realized that she now understood the expression “tired to the bone” because she was convinced that her body had never felt this devoid of energy.
It was, in a surprising way, exhilarating. She knew that Dr. Nolan would label the events of this day a “breakthrough.” She could imagine the doctor smiling broadly with delight when she reported that she had spent the afternoon by herself, crying. Dr. Nolan had repeatedly encouraged her to “let go” and “process” her emotions, abandoning her normal reserve in favor of “feeling,” in the most visceral sense. Many times, listening to Dr. Nolan’s advice, she had resisted the urge to roll her eyes impatiently and attempt to change the topic of conversation. Now, however, she understood just why the doctor had been insistent that this simple exercise would be beneficial.
As relieved as she felt, however, she still had to make a decision and, of course, write the letter. Dr. Nolan’s pleasure would be short-lived . . . she would press for an update on her writing progress.
“Coffee,” she thought to herself as she shivered in the cold, dark vehicle. “And I really should get out of here. I don’t know how safe this place is these days.” After all, the nights that she had spent walking along the lakeside with him were many years ago.
She resisted the urge to drive to her favorite coffee shop, afraid that not only would the staff be concerned when they saw her red, swollen eyes, but because she did not want to encounter anyone else who would recognize her.
Rather, she drove out of the parking lot to a part of town where she was not likely to see anyone who knew her — and another place she had not visited in many years: The same quiet little coffee shop that had been their destination on so many nights as they drove out of that parking lot together. They had spent hours and hours there, talking and laughing, sharing their dreams for the future.
“Might as well give myself the benefit of the whole experience,” she thought to herself sardonically, as she again forged the route she had scrupulously avoided traveling for so many years.
The coffee shop had not changed at all. The booths were a little more worn and the staff members’ faces were different, but the coffee was delicious and she was surprised that being back in those familiar surroundings quickly helped her regain her strength — and resolve.
Naive and inexperienced. In her mind, those words largely summed up the character of the person she was then — and why she had lost him. She was naive, having never had a relationship with a man before. Every moment she spent with him was a completely new experience, and she knew, in retrospect, that she had been unequipped to understand, appreciate, or handle the responsibilities of being in a romantic relationship, even though she wanted nothing more in the world than to be with him.
She also knew, given the advantages gained only through hindsight and years of life experience, that she would approach her relationship with him — or any man — far differently today. She also knew that was precisely why she lived every day of her life filled with regret.
Her naivete had prevented her from recognizing that she was in competition with other women — one in particular — for his affection. By the time she realized that and figured out the rules of the game that women have played since the beginning of time, that woman had already won the competition for his boundless willingness to commit to one woman forever, gleefully galloping away with his heart. She was relegated to being a passive observer of his obsession with someone else.
Despite her own innocence, she knew that woman had a dark heart. But, of course, he could neither see nor accept that reality. The woman pretended to be her friend and she allowed the charade to continue because that was the only way she could be near him. She intuited, with equal conviction, that it was his destiny to be as heartbroken as she already was, the three of them entwined in a twisted, demoralizing, and ultimately tragic lover’s dance. But the woman was delighting — indeed, gloating — in the fact that she had already won the competition for his heart.
As the woman slowly broke his heart, she took no delight in having accurately predicted that the woman would merely string him along. Instead, she longed to ease his pain and spent hours listening to him talk about his feelings for someone else, many of them in that same booth in that same coffee shop, suppressing the urge to cry out, “What about me? I’m right here. I’m already yours. What’s wrong with me?”
But, of course, she never did.
The rain was falling again and broad gusts of wind were pounding the windows of the coffee shop. They were closing for the night, dimming the lights to gently urge their customers to pay their tabs and exit soon. The windows were fogging over in response to the contrast between the bitterly cold and wet air outside and the warm and cozy atmosphere inside.
Absently-mindedly, she reached up and drew a heart on the window beside the booth in which she was seated, a fleeting tribute to the exact place where she had hidden her own heart, to her own detriment, on so many long-ago nights.
Click here to read Chapter Six