Lost in Translation
  Nine Stories by Laura Ruth Loomis
  1  The Sign
2  A Bird and a Picture Window
3  Trying Again
4  Tested
5  The Mermaid
6  Practicing
7  China
8  The Hostage
9  Like Riding a Bike
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  November 2016 Fiction Issue
 
 

Like Riding a Bike

Roy

Julie’s been crying for half an hour now, and she’s almost cried out. She’s exhausted, and so am I, but she tries to give me a smile. “Thanks for coming over, Roy.”

“You know I’ll always be there for you.” Besides, it’s probably a good thing that Julie pried me out of my office; I’ve been spending too many late nights there in the past few weeks. Tonight I’m here as her best friend instead of ex-husband, if the two can be separated. Her fiancé just dumped her for another woman. Julie was the only one who didn’t see it coming.

Earlier I came over and cooked her favorite comfort food, lasagna, plus chocolate custard for our son Andy. Now Andy’s in bed, and I’ve stayed for a glass of wine and the unedited version of what happened. We’re on the couch, the utilitarian beige one that we bought while I still lived here. The rest of the living room has been redecorated in the jewel tones that she prefers. I’m still stinging from my own recent breakup, so hearing Julie’s angry recriminations feels like watching the same bad movie twice.

“And there he is, I’ve just gotten him to admit he was cheating, and then he starts yelling at me like I’m the one who did something wrong.” Julie finishes her second glass of chardonnay. I pour her another. “You were so right about that asshole. You warned me about him, and so did—”

“It’s all right,” I say, interrupting so that she won’t say my ex-lover’s name out loud. I just don’t want to hear it yet. I’m not used to dramatic breakups; my divorce from Julie was terribly civilized, just like the marriage. I slide an arm around Julie, and she gives me an odd half-smile. “You’ll find the right guy,” I tell her.

“We both will.” She sets the glass down and lays her head on my shoulder. It feels comfortable, fitting together as if the last three years hadn’t happened. This isn’t where either of us expected to be when we hit forty. “If I could just figure out what I’m doing wrong.”

“It’s not you,” I tell her.

She giggles, though she’s not really tipsy yet. “It’s not you, it’s me. I love you but I’m not in love with you. It’s just not working out.”

“You forgot, ‘Honey, we need to talk.’” That one was deadly for us.

“Can we still be friends?”

I try to think of another cliché. “You’re too good for me.”

And then she kisses me, not the way she usually does. I know she’s just feeling vulnerable, but it’s so sweet, her open mouth against mine, her hand caressing my hair. I’m not sure if it would be more unkind to succumb or refuse. She looks up at me and her need is so strong, and it’s been so long since anyone wanted me like that. It’s my need, not hers, that wins out.

My tongue plays softly at her ear. “I hope I still remember what I’m doing.”

“Like riding a bike,” she says, and it turns out she’s right. It’s mechanical, repetitious, soothing. I slide into the gears of memory, knowing how she likes to be touched.

She tells me she loves me, and I don’t know what to say. I do love her, my best friend, the one who’s shared so much of my life. We brought a child into the world together. But that’s not the love she needs from me, and I’m not going to lie. Not anymore.

She finally falls asleep on my chest, and I adjust so that I can hold her without my arms going numb. I want her to wake up feeling safe.

It’s not that I feel sorry for her. That would be presumptuous. Julie deserves to be loved: she has a warm forgiving heart and a generous smile. Some people were meant to be married and don’t thrive alone. It was one of the things we had in common.

She and the ex-fiancé used to fight about me; he was sure she loved me more than she loved him. He was right. I pretend not to notice, but Julie loves me unreasonably. The way I should have loved her, but I couldn’t.

I wake first in the morning. The cherry tree outside our window—her window, now—still shades most of the sun this early. It’s never produced cherries; we learned after planting it that they only bear fruit if there’s another one nearby. Even among trees, some are the marrying kind.

Julie’s warm in my arms, her brown hair straying into my face, tickling. I give a moment’s thought to leaving now and sparing us both the awkward conversation where we reassure ourselves that our friendship won’t change. Instead I stroke her hair and inhale its familiar herbal scent, thinking of how our life together might have been, if things had been different. If I’d been different.

Julie opens her eyes, and the confusion only lasts a moment. With the ease of the long-married, she sits up and says, “I forgot to tell you, Andy’s parent-teacher conference is next week. Thursday.”

“Okay.” I suppress a ridiculous urge to pull the sheet up, as if she hadn’t seen me undressed every night for fourteen years. “Feel any better?”

“Yeah. Thanks for staying.” She stretches and reaches for an embroidered robe. I think I bought it for her, a birthday or anniversary or something.

I can’t quite clear my throat. “I guess we’ll just tell Andy I fell asleep on the couch. I don’t want to confuse him, thinking we’re getting back together or anything.”

Julie has no trouble seeing where I’m going. “It’s all right. You went above and beyond the call of best friends.” She ties the robe. “Have you heard from Jesse, since…?”

Since I called Jesse an immature self-centered commitment-phobe, all of which was true, and Jesse stomped out of my life after calling me an overbearing workaholic control freak, all of which was true. “No.”

“You should call him, then.”

This disturbs me. Julie has a way of seeing things that I’ve missed. “Why?”

She leans on the door frame, not meeting my eyes. “Roy, I know you better than you think. I didn’t want to see it when our marriage was a mess, but we never had a chance. I stopped blaming you for that a long time ago. I thought if I just loved you enough, you’d have to love me the same way.”

“Julie—”

“We never had a chance. But you and Jesse do. You love him the way I loved you.” The way I still love you, she doesn’t say, but I hear it as clearly as if she’d spoken aloud.

I cross the room and put my arms around her, feel her hot tears against my naked shoulder. “I’m all right,” she says, and I know she isn’t, but I love her for saying it, and I wish one more time that love had been enough.

divider

  First published in On the Premises, Issue 21
© Laura Loomis, 2013

   

FIRST  >> 

Back to top