You’d planned to meet Brett at the tea shop, but it closed at four. He texts you that he’s at the small park across the main street, a square of flattened grass, two benches, some unattended mums, a monument to WWII soldiers once living in the village.
You are suddenly stupid shy, as if you were fourteen instead of forty. You have texted one another for six days straight since you met online, talking about the sudden, sharp entrance of autumn, about your divorces, places in Ireland you’d love to visit one day, your shared affinity for pumpkins and chocolate. Brett admitted he sits on the floor and sings to his Pug, Max, during their morning lovefest, that he retired early because of bad knees, had anger issues when he was younger, that his overwhelming fear of being alone forever sometimes makes it impossible to breathe.
While Brett waits in the park, you are hidden by a parked car. You look through the windows and see a reflection of a man on a bench wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. For a moment, you consider running, but Brett has seen you. He is waving and walking towards you into the street. He is smiling.
He is not what you imagined from the one blurry photo on the dating site showing him holding a live Maine lobster at a roadside seafood stand.
Brett is bigger in the chest and solid, like a wrestler, with thick-framed black glasses that remind you of an old science teacher and a wild swath of hair that stands up in the wind.
You hug each other without any parts of your body touching except your arms. You grouse about the tea shop closing so early, but it is too cold to stand outside, so you go to the pub on the corner.
As you walk, you have the urge to take his hand, as if the two of you are a real couple.
Inside the bar, at a too-small table, you sit across from Brett and his club soda with lemon wedge, watching him wipe at the perfect circle of moisture his glass has sweated onto the table. His nails are cut too short – maybe even chewed on. You think about reaching over the table and patting his hand to let him know everything’s going to be fine, but you don’t want to lie.
His voice is oddly high-pitched, and there’s an overabundance of cadence to his dialogue; everything he says ends in a question mark, as if he thinks you might have the answers.
You order food and a glass of Riesling, but Brett says he’ll stick with his seltzer, that he had a late lunch with Max.
Brett tells you about his OCD, which he is working very hard to control, about taking up guitar and finding music his true calling. He talks about his journey, his years in therapy following a toxic marriage to his high school sweetheart, how he now fuels himself with love and the understanding that he is in touch with the universe and everything is unfolding as it should be. He tells you he is right with the world.
You wonder where the server is with your chicken pesto sandwich and side of slaw.
You want to join Brett in the moment, to understand his journey, to root for him and cheer him on, but you are restless and unable to come up with an authentic response this unforeseen soul-baring. You wish he would go back to talking about his music, his kids, why he was cradling the lobster in Maine.
‘Congratulations,’ the law clerk in the attorney’s office had said when your divorce became final four months before, like it was a cause for celebration, like she might toot a little horn and throw some confetti, present you with a cake festooned with pink frosting flowers.
Your ex’s copy of the divorce papers were mailed to him in North Carolina, where he moved to get out of the harsh New York winters, carve out his own life after 12 years with you.
‘I don’t think I love you anymore,’ he’d announced over coffee and buttered toast. ‘Maybe I don’t even know what love is anymore.’
You’d kept drinking the acidy coffee because you knew if you put your mug down, you would lose your shit.
Your heart is all messed up and twisted around. You dream of suffocating your ex with his pillow, still on his side of the bed. You dream of driving the 14 hours to Wilmington to find him lounging on the beach beneath a sun umbrella, but when he turns to you, his face is frozen, icy cold. You dream of walking down the middle of the street, following music that’s playing somewhere around the corner, only to find yourself naked when you get there, the music gone.
Pesto chicken was a bad idea; it sticks in your throat and you need a second glass of Riesling to wash it down. Brett says the pub is too loud; it needs some kind of fabric or cork in the walls to absorb the noise, which is funny, because the voices, including his, were muddled and sounded far away to you.
Brett picks up the tab and you let him.
The wind has died down as you leave the pub. Brett is parked further away, so you offer to drive him to his Subaru.
During the overly awkward moment meant for saying good night in your car, Brett tells you he is looking for ‘the one’. He tells you he will be dating other women, even though it goes against his deep-seeded belief in monogamy. He says he wants to sift through as many women as he can, to speed date, to hurry the process along so he can reach the finish line sooner.
Brett says he doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but he’ll know it when he sees it. He talks in circles. The circles widen until they become nonsensical.
You knew instantly, the moment you saw him sitting in the park, reflected in the windows of the car, that you are not the one.
In the park, there is an older couple on one of the benches drinking coffee out of paper cups. They are leaning towards one another, closing the space between them. The woman is talking and the man is laughing, and when they pause, he brushes her shoulder, touching her hair and you think, ‘I will never have that.’
You lean in for the good night kiss, and Brett gives a quick, uneventful peck on your lips.
Brett is talking again and all you can think is you will implode if you hear about his search any longer. The scary thing is, he’s beginning to make sense, and suddenly, you see a clear, straight path for him from this moment until he finds the one, shrugs off his anger and fear, and sits with her on a bench in a park having coffee beneath a maple tree with leaves just starting to turn gold.
You use your tongue for the next kiss. He tastes like lemons. He gropes for your left breast, a high-schoolish way of going to second base.
When you lower your face to his lap in the dimly lit, mostly empty parking lot by the park, he fumbles for the buttons on his 501 Levis. He makes happy noises as if he’d never known this was what he wanted all along. Not the one. Just you, this night, this misguided collision of a night, as you take him into your mouth, you know with certainty you are not the one, you will never be the one. But Brett is yours, this one night; this you know to be the truth.
The next day, Brett texts you a picture of his penis, with the message ‘I really enjoyed meeting you.’
It is the last you hear from him.
It is incomprehensibly painful.
CARI SCRIBNER is a freelance writer/journalist living in upstate New York. Her work has appeared in the new renaissance, Gravel, Fiction Southeast, Bartleby Snopes, Litro, Vending Machine Press, The Tishman Review, New World Writing, Drunk Monkeys, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. She is also an Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes. She is currently at work on a short story collection and a memoir, 6 CAROLINE, about growing up with a father with schizophrenia. Cari has been in 6 New York State Writers Workshops, where much of her work had its inception. She can be found writing with her little dog, Syd, at her feet, for hours on end. Her family knows to tipetoe around her when she’s working.