Page 23 of Arrogant Devil

I drive to the closest Whataburger, order my favorite combo, sit in the parking lot, and eat by myself. The food tastes so good, it makes up for the fact that Christine’s words have made a mess of my psyche.

I’ve never shouted at you.


I know. That’s exactly why we’re breaking up.

I’m clever enough to read between the lines. Christine didn’t want me abusing her, she wanted me to give a shit. It was a running theme in all of our arguments, and ultimately it was the reason she broke up with me earlier tonight. Love, jealousy, fear, anger—those are all emotions she would have gladly dealt with from me, yet for some reason I just couldn’t give them to her. For two years, I was gentle and levelheaded, logical and distant. It’s the way I’ve always preferred it. A wiser man would take the problem to a therapist, but maybe I’m not ready to admit I need help.

Besides, I do have emotions.

I’ve experienced anger. Jesus, I’ve shouted at Meredith so much this week my throat should be sore.

I’ve experienced love. It’s the feeling I get every morning when Alfred props his head up on my pillow and licks my cheek until I wake up.

I’ve even experienced fear and loss, and maybe I’m not so eager to relive that pain any time soon.

So, I process my breakup with Christine over a double cheeseburger and fries, and by the time I drive out of the parking lot, I’ve already come to terms with it, just like that.

Damn, I am heartless.

Maybe Christine really is better off without me.

13

Meredith

I’m not spying, per se, when I hear Jack and Christine get back from their date. I just have the windows open because I’m still living without A/C (so far I’ve lost four pounds in water weight, and I’ve only had several hallucinations!). I hear them pull up on the gravel drive because there are no other noises in the country. None. I mean, there are cicadas and the occasional moo from a cow, an oink from a pig, but all in all, I’m shocked at how quiet it is out here in the evenings. I’m not quite used to it, and that’s why I get so excited when Jack and Christine pull up the gravel drive. It’s not that I think they will ask me to hang out with them. I mean, Jack definitely won’t want to, but Christine seemed really nice and she liked my jeans, and OH MY GOD I AM GETTING SO BORED IN THIS SHACK I’LL DISCUSS AMNESTY WITH THE SPIDERS IF THEY’LL JUST BE MY FRIENDS!

The first few nights here were great, like an LA detox. I was satisfied letting the last few loose threads of my old life fall away in the balmy air, but now I need some companionship. I’d bother Edith, but she’s out with friends. She has more of those than I do even though she’s 104. Meanwhile, I’m here, alone, pretending to do yoga—which, by the way, is extremely difficult to do considering I have no yoga mat. Not only are there a few gaps in the floorboards, there are splinters too. It’s hard enough convincing myself to work out on a Friday night without having to worry about being impaled by a jagged piece of timber.

So, yes, I’m very eager to run out and become a third wheel on their date, but then I remind myself that they probably want their alone time. Christine drove in to visit him, and more than likely they’re going to head up to Jack’s room and have wild, haven’t-seen-you-in-weeks sex. Oh god, what if I can hear them? I don’t even have a TV or radio I can blast to drown it out. I’ll have to sing hymns to myself. Oh please no.

I’m still in the middle of yoga, wondering if it’s worth risking another drive in the clunker-mobile just to escape the imminent sounds of sweaty copulation, when I catch their voices and realize something is off. They aren’t laughing and teasing. They just sound…sad.

For the record, I want to be a good person. I want to close the windows and let them argue privately, but it’s hot, and I’m bored, and as long as I angle myself against the side of the window just so and keep most of my face hidden, they should never even realize I’m here. I feel like a child with one eye open, watching TV during naptime.

I spot Christine as she steps out of his truck and shakes her head.

“God, this is the weirdest breakup ever,” she says. “We’re supposed to be shouting at one another.”

Say whaa?

And then Jack says, “I’ve never shouted at you.”

My mouth drops open. Is that a joke? How is that possible?! I’ve been here a week and he’s shouted at me so much I’m not even sure he can speak at a socially acceptable volume.

She dabs at her eyes, wiping away tears, and Jack pulls her into a hug.

Oh wow, this is sad. I lean forward. Poor, poor Christine. I wish I had binoculars.

It’s such an awkward exchange, and still, I can’t look away. Mostly, I’m amazed at how gentle he’s being with her. He’s rubbing her hair! It’s like the moment you bump into your teacher at the grocery store—all of a sudden, he seems like a normal guy.

After a little more back and forth I can’t really hear—I think it’s boring logistics about the breakup—they hug again and then he opens her door for her. I have never in my life witnessed such maturity, such restraint! They’re smiling, for crying out loud! Christine is laughing, and Jack makes her promise she’ll text him when she gets home safe! This must be one of those “truly mutual” breakups I’ve only heard about in books. I wouldn’t know how that feels. I left my husband in the middle of the night and didn’t even have the sense to pack two pair of underwear. Compared to them, I’m a petulant child running from her problems.

Christine drives off after that and then Jack stands outside of his farmhouse, momentarily frozen. I have no clue what he’s thinking. I have no clue if he initiated the split or if he was just dumped out of the blue. All I know is that in this moment, my heart goes out to him. I stand by the window watching him for a few seconds, waiting to see what he’ll do. Then, without thinking of the consequences, I decide I’m going to go make sure he’s okay. I was just talking to myself about how I needed to make some friends, and consolation is what friends do best!

I change into my jeans and the white blouse I haven’t worn since first arriving on the farm. I check my reflection in the mirror over the sink and am pleasantly surprised by what I find. My tan skin is even and slightly flushed from yoga, my hair is up in a high ponytail, and a few wisps soften the look. I check my teeth: straight, white, and mostly free of the food I had for dinner. I could probably use some mascara or something, but there’s no way I’m dolling myself up just to go check on Jack.

I turn, heart racing. I have no clue what I’ll say when I see him. Do I act oblivious about his breakup? Or do I cut to the chase, admit I heard it all, and offer my condolences? It’s not like it really matters what I decide to say—chances are, I won’t even have time to get any words out before he storms off and slams the door in my face.

I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans then head outside, surprised by the little pep in my step. The world always seems so much more pleasant after spending time in the shack. I’m excited to see Jack, and maybe he’ll actually be friendly for once. I glance to the spot where he was frozen a few minutes ago, but he isn’t there anymore. Then I hear gravel pinging off metal and jerk my gaze in the direction of the main road. He’s in his truck, heading back down the gravel drive. His red tail lights fade in the distance, and then he’s gone.

Shit.

I wonder if he’s going after her. Maybe. At the very least, he’s leaving here. He probably has other places to be on a Friday night, a local drinking hole or something. I am back to square one, alone and bored, and worse, I am now fully dressed. Thank God I didn’t fuss with my hair or do my makeup.

I laugh it off and look around, cheeks burning. It’s one thing to know I almost put myself out there, quite another to do it in front of anyone else. My gaze snags on a cow standing near the pasture fence, staring at me, probably embarrassed to be near me.

“No worries! I didn’t really want to talk to him anyway!” I shout over to it. “False alarm.”

It doesn’t move, just keeps slowly munching on some grass, judging me.

“Oh, because your Friday night is so much better. Pfff. Yeah, okay,” I taunt.

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