Wednesday, 11 October 2017


Melissa was already at the restaurant, sat at a table near the front windows.  The hallmark of blonde perfection, she stood up and greeted me with a big hug.  If I hadn’t known she was four months pregnant I never would have guessed.  When I remarked on this she protested, “I’m as big as a house!  But I can’t believe how much you’ve changed.  You aren’t Bryan’s little girl anymore, are you?”

It was all I could do to not choke on my feeble laugh.  “I don’t know.  I never did seem to get tall.”

“It hasn’t hurt you.” 

“Thank you.  So  tell me about your pregnancy," I said.  If I didn't redirect her now Melissa might go on about Bryan for the next two hours, and I couldn't take that.  My nerves were shredded enough as it was.  

Like most expectant mothers she seemed happy to answer my rapid-fire questions about the baby.  I even managed to laugh a few times at her stories about bizarre food cravings.  But she must have been waiting for an opportunity to bring the topic back round, because when I paused for a breath she seized the moment.  “Bryan was in a terrible place while you were gone," she told me.  "After you left he made me promise to let him know if you contacted me.”


“I can just imagine how he felt to have you back again.”

“...Yeah."  I cleared my throat.  “So what do you want, a boy or a girl?”

“Oh, either one is fine, although I think Todd is hoping for a girl.”

Grateful for the chance to heap praise on her husband, I said, “He sounds so sweet”—only for Melissa to reply, somewhat cryptically I thought, “At times.  Is Bryan seeing anyone right now?”

“Not that I know of.”  In the half-beat pause that followed, I waited for God to strike me dead, or for my nose to grow a foot longer.  When neither happened I continued, “I don’t think he’s in that head space right now.”

“I suppose not.  I’m not surprised it ended with Pauline.”

“Pauline?” I repeated.  “You must mean Amanda.”  It was completely understandable that Melissa would mix up the names.  Not even the most sophisticated of database packages could accurately catalogue Bryan’s conquests.

Melissa, however, shook her head.  “Pauline is the one he dated after he broke up with Amanda.”

So there had been another girlfriend.  Interesting that Bryan had neglected to mention this little titbit to me.  “I didn’t realize,” I said stiffly.  “When did you find out about her?”

“Last September, when I called to tell him about my marriage.”

“I see.”  Pauline. Why couldn’t Bryan ever date someone with a sensible name, like Myrtle?  Why did it always have to be someone with a name like Pauline?  Hating how much I cared, yet cognizant that I could give myself away here if I weren’t careful, I forced myself to joke, “Well, whoever she was, she had to be a lot better than Amanda.” 

“That I can’t say, but from how he talked about her I knew she wouldn’t last.  He obviously wasn’t in love with her.”  Melissa lowered her gaze to her half-eaten salad.  “Sometimes I think he doesn’t have room in his heart for anyone but you.”

I felt my face blanch.  

“I’m sorry," Melissa said.  "I’m not trying to complain, or make you feel bad.  But I have to wonder if he’s capable of loving any woman.”

Ha!  She wasn’t the only one.  “You came the closest.  He was never with anyone for even a fraction as long as he was with you.”

 “I used to believe that, too.  But now I’m convinced he just kept me around for your sake."  At my only half-stifled gasp she reached over and patted my hand.  "It’s okay," she said.  "It's not your fault.  He was trying to be good to you.  But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that once you were basically an adult he ended the relationship.  At the time I wanted to believe otherwise, but when I saw how destroyed he was after you left I couldn’t deny the truth anymore.  He never loved me.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“I saw it in his eyes, after I got married.  He was so pleased—relieved, almost, as if he didn’t have to feel guilty anymore.  There was no trace of regret.  He was fond of me, but that was it.  I was never special to him.” 

I’d of course figured this out years ago.  I’d just hoped she never would.  “Oh, Melissa," I sighed.  "I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be.  It’s my own fault.  He never really tried to hide it.  Besides, I got to spend all of that time with you." She smiled, even though both of us were now on the verge of tears.  “That made it all worthwhile.”

“I don’t know about that.  What I do know is that he didn’t deserve you.  You’re better off with Todd.”

"Maybe," Melissa said softly.  "I don't know.  But whether he deserved me or not, Bryan Jennings is a hard man to get over."

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