Novelette/Novelina/Shortish Story: The Date (Part 1 of 5)

So I found a competition that did not prevent me from posting a story I recently finished. I’m entering it into a 10k words max competition, and since I don’t think I’m likely to win I may as well post it here so it gets some hawt readin’
For the next few days I’ll post a part a day. Thanks for reading all.
The Date (Part 1 of 5)

1

The phone is slick against my clammy palm. I rearrange it against my ear to keep it from slipping. Something Tom just said has jacked up my pulse. Triggered something bad. He asked, “How long did you know Jann for?” He prefaced the question with, “No offence man.” He shouldn’t have done that. If he hadn’t done that I might not have taken offence. His question has pried open a gate. A torrent of anger floods my system.
Tom says something else, I miss it. Then he says “Time heals all wounds, dude.” with the gravitas of a complete stoner.  My tongue forms words, lashes out with,
“The fuck are you, a fucking self-help book? I can’t help the fact that I fucking care. Life isn’t a goddamn Disney film!”

My careless words hit silence on the other side of the line. 

Ricochet back as guilt. I shouldn’t be so angry. Tom exhales, says other words. My anger is what ruined everything. Shame settles inside my stomach. Tom says “Dude, I understand you’re upset man, maybe you should take a walk you know? You like walks right?” Somewhere in the past Jann says,

“Yeah, I’ll see you at the park on Saturday.” Somewhere in the past I felt like a winner.

I even swore I wouldn’t get angry again, and now- lasted less than two months. “Dude?” Tom says. I’m no longer here. I’m just going through the motions. My room is an empty space. The phone is a plastic box, heavy and cold. From a distance I say “Yeah Tom.” Calm and placid like a robot free from emotions. “I’m going to go for a walk Tom.” I hang up before he can respond.

I get up from the chair, try to keep a distance from reality. I’m just director, of an actor, in a movie, about nothing important. Which is why I don’t really look at the turned down photo by my bedroom door. I grab my jacket that lies on top of unopened letters. Step around the mounting graveyard of styrofoam boxes that litter my floor. Touch the cold handle and leave my apartment.

Once out the door I feel a bit better. There’s a foundation of misery somewhere at the bottom of my head, but for the most part I’m a nice kind of empty. So I check my emails. Inside the lift I preen my inbox of all the job rejections. Fuck it- it’s a good thing. I deserve to suffer. Downstairs in the lobby, fists clenched, I tell myself to go right, towards the running track where I like to wander in pointless circles. Instead, once on the pavement my feet choose left. Towards the park. 

The gainfully employed flood against me in lunchtime numbers. It feels like I’m going back in time. I suppose I am. In a dull haze my flip-flops slap against the current. Eventually I cross the same road that led to the beginning fo that perfect date. I enter by the very same path, run my hand across the same steel railing. I trundle under and past ranks of trees till I reach the pond. There over the water I gaze at the space where the ice cream guy had been, two months ago, on a less cloudy day. I stand and stare and dive for memories.

Two months ago Jann stands with me as I gesture towards the ice-cream guy like a corny game show host. What did she say again? Close my eyes, concentrate. A silken says “Woooow, when you said let’s get ice-cream, you literally meant ice-cream!” Then she chortled in that unaffected way of hers. I remember my face getting warm, and then she touched my arm and said “Don’t be embarrassed, I love ice-cream!” And her dark eyes smiled, and I nearly dropped my cone. Why am I doing this to myself?

Gazing at my solitary reflection in the pond, I stop touching my own arm. Why do I care so much? Is it just trauma? Tom is right- we had so little time together, I shouldn’t care so damn much. What is wrong with me? Jann, though, she said something. She was different. I close my eyes, seal away my reflection. Picture the white dress she wore. What flavor did she have? I had mint chocolate chip. She had lemon sorbet. We started talking about my day, I unloaded it all on her, then apologised profusely. She didn’t care, somehow she reassured me, and then she said some things- they reverberate inside my head. Something about how everyone had a right to be bothered by the little things. Then she pointed to the other side of that coin. 

She said “No one has the right to belittle the things that make us sad, just like no can take away the things that we adore- no matter how inexplicable, it’s what makes us human. You can’t weigh the connection between two people, even if they just met. OH!” She had covered her mouth in embarrassment, as if to contain all her spontaneous wisdom. Her turn to redden. I remember laughing, and unfolding her hands. I kissed her in that one, insane moment. We had been dating for less than an hour.

I had almost forgotten she said all that. Now, the pond melds with my tears, which shake to a sudden peal of laughter, from me, throaty and cracked. I feel, I know, she knew how much we cared about each other, despite the brevity. It was real. 

The revelation escorts me home, emboldens me as I send out more job applications.
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