By ICanStopAnytime (pen name): posted with permission
The Longest Relationship
Gary sits on the bar stool and sighs. "Oh boy," he says.
"It didn't work out. I thought it would. I thought Ginger would be different. I don't know why."
"Gary," she says, laying her cane against the bar. "What's the longest relationship you've managed to have?"
He leaps the bar and grabs himself a shot glass. The Chicago street lights pattern the bar, but the lights inside are dim. He grabs the whisky and fills it up, and then comes and sits back next to Marissa again. "My ex-wife I guess."
"I mean, since the paper."
He shrugs. "Depending on when you start counting...Erica? I never could track her down again. And I guess if I did, I wouldn't be able to answer her question. About how my life was different because of her. I did love her though."
"I know you did."
"Not enough I guess." He sighs and drains his glass. Then he smiles.
Marissa can't see it, but she must sense it in that uncanny way of hers, because she smiles too. "What?" she asks.
"You're my longest relationship."
"I meant a romantic relationship, of course."
He swallows the rest of his whisky. "I know what you meant. But it's true. The longest relationship I've ever had with a woman is with you."
"Well, there's you mother," she reasons.
"Doesn't count. You're…my life would be completely different without you, Marissa." He runs a finger inside his empty shot glass. "Completely different. I don't know…I don't know how I'd do it, frankly. If I'm being honest."
She reaches out, fumbles, until she has her hand on his shoulder. She's smiling. "It's nice to be appreciated."
"Well you are. And I'm sorry if I don't say it often enough."
"I'm not sure you ever say it."
"Then that's…that's a failing on my part. And I'm sorry. Because when I think of all the women I've kind of loved – "
" – And there's been a lot."
He nods, "And there's been a lot." He turns the glass on the bar. "They've come and gone. You're the only one who's stuck."
"Well, but…you don't love me like that."
His breath comes in and out. A long sigh. "I've never thought of you like that." He slides the glass to the side. He looks at her, not looking at him, but looking past him, yet, somehow, into him at the same time. "I don't know why. You're amazing, Marissa. You're kind. And smart. And really…uh…very tolerant of me." She laughs a little. "And you're beautiful too. You can't see it. But you are. And you know all about the paper. You get it. Wouldn't it be so much easier if I could love you like that?"
She shrugs slowly. "Easier for who?"
"For me. And for…well, come on! I'm not so bad am I? It wouldn't be so awful for you."
She laughs. "No, Gary, you're not so bad. You're a good guy. And I hear you're very cute. You sound cute."
"How does cute sound?"
He leans toward her. She must know how near his lips are to hers, but she acts like she doesn't, like she doesn't see what he's about to do. "You ever wonder what it would feel like?" he asks. "Just…one kiss?" And then his lips are on hers. They linger briefly, and he pulls away. "So?" he asks.
"Acceptable," she says.
"Acceptable! Oh….I …acceptable."
She laughs. "I don't think it could ever work Gary."
He stands and reaches over the bar for the whisky and pours himself another. "Yeah, you're probably right. And it's a crying shame."
She pats him on the shoulder. He brings the whisky to his lips and then sets it down again. "You'll always be my friend, won't you? No matter what."
"You know I will, Gary."
He nods. "That's better than a whole parade of romances. Now what can I get you to drink?"