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Fiction #426
(published March 19, 2009)
A Change of Heart
by Wayne Scheer
A year had passed since Hal returned the wedding gifts. Laurel had left him with the dubious honor of explaining matters to friends and relatives, although it was her infidelity that had ended things just days before the wedding. He thought he had finally relegated the horrid experience to the part of the brain that filed away nightmares and adolescent embarrassments, but when he heard her chirpy voice on the telephone, like a bird celebrating the start of a new day, (or was it chalk scratching a blackboard?), he realized how much he still hurt.

"I've been fine," he said, answering her question in a monotone he hoped suggested distance.

When she spoke excitedly of her advancement at work, he offered a disinterested, "Mmm." He even managed to remain mute as she uttered the words he had once longed to hear: "Hal, I made a mistake. I need to see you."

He tried desperately to offer a curt good-bye, imagining how poetically just it would be if he could cut her off by saying, "I've found someone else." So what if it wasn't true?

She continued chirping and twittering until he agreed to meet for drinks. After all, he reckoned, it would feel even better to exact revenge in person. What a pleasure it would be to watch her perpetual smile vanish. Like a gentleman, he'd extend his hand, wish her a good life and walk away without looking back.

It would make a great movie scene, he thought. But did moments like that ever happen in real life?

They arranged to meet at the Crown Tavern at eight. Of course, she arrived late. Nursing a scotch at the bar, he watched her enter, scan the crowd and walk towards him with a toothy grin. Her blond hair hung down to her shoulders, longer than he remembered. She wore an almost sheer, loose-fitting top, allowing her small breasts to jiggle braless. The blouse stopped just above her hip-hugging jeans. A navel ring flashed, despite the dim light of the bar. He watched a man crane his neck to check out what he knew to be her firm, round ass.

Hal remained seated. But she, perky as ever, threw her arms around him, nearly knocking him off his stool. Inhaling the familiar fruity scent of her shampoo, memories flashed like a movie in fast forward. A sigh, akin to the sound of a tire going flat, escaped his lips.

"Do you still drink apple martinis?" he asked, gesturing with his open hand to the available stool next to him. He signaled the bartender.

"Let's get a table," she said, already leading the way.

He left a tip, but the bartender's eyes never left Laurel. Hal felt a return of the familiar mixture of jealousy and pride.

It took a few minutes for Laurel to decide on a table. The first one wobbled, the next sat too close to the kitchen. When she finally appeared satisfied, a server took their drink orders. "A scotch on the rocks and an apple martini," Hal said.

"Instead of the martini," she smiled as she spoke, "make mine a tequila sunrise." She turned to Hal. "It's my new favorite drink. I could have about a million of them."

Hal grew annoyed. She had so many habits that irritated him, how could he ever have thought of marriage?

Then she covered his hands with hers and smiled. "It's so good seeing you again, my sweet Hal. I've missed you."

He recalled how she'd call him 'my sweet Hal' after making love, their heads sharing one pillow. Maybe, just maybe, things could be different. After all, he'd have the upper hand this time. He wouldn't just be Hal the accountant, grateful that someone as sexy as Laurel wanted him. She'd have to persuade him to take her back.

By the time their drinks arrived, he had fallen in love with her again.

"Hal," she cooed, after sucking the orange wedge that garnished her cocktail. "I need you."

He tried remaining cool, but her words aroused him. He imagined himself the star of a play, all eyes focused on him.

Laurel fidgeted with her napkin. "Here's the situation in a nutshell, Hal: I've maxed out my credit cards and I can't meet my house payments. I need to show my creditors that I've worked out a payment plan with a CPA. Could you help me? After all, you do this for a living, right?" Again, she reached out for Hal's hand.

Hal inhaled deeply and exhaled through puffed cheeks. Instead of making a sound like a tire going flat, this time it sounded more like a man blowing up a balloon. He then popped the imaginary balloon with a sudden, explosive, "No!" Pushing himself back in his seat, he repeated, "No. I won't help you."

He had once cared for Laurel, excited that she could love him. He would have done anything for her. Now he saw what a fool he had been.

He stood up and placed money on the table to cover the drinks. "It's your mess, Laurel." He watched her smile disappear and her eyes tear. Walking away, he resisted the urge to look back.

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