“So why aren’t you with someone by now?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” Her arched eyebrow provoked further explanation. “Honestly, I really don’t know.”
“You don’t seem worried about it. Do you care?”
He felt lucky to have her as a friend. He had a penchant for gravitating to truth-tellers. People who would say the truth, sometimes harshly but always with affection. They hadn’t seen each other for a few months, and had chosen the cafeteria at his workplace to catch up.
“Sure I care. I’d like to share my life with someone.” Even as he said it, he wondered if it was true.
He had been separated from his wife for twelve years now, and divorced for seven, with only a handful of romances to show for it. Nothing that stuck.
“Maybe I’m too comfortable” he offered. She smiled and sat back, looking at him.
“You know, there are some women around here who’ve been talking about you, wondering what your story is.”
That was news. He sat forward, brown eyes piercing hers. “Yeah? What are they saying?”
She grinned. “Oh you know. The usual. Is he gay or something?’
He laughed. “No worries there. I’m not. I checked.”
“You did?” Her eyes sparkled, teasing. “Now how would you check something like that?”
“How do you think? I watch the flag to see which scenery makes it flap in the breeze.”
She laughed. “Yeah okay. I’ve got it. A little too much information though.”
“So what’s the problem then?”
He frowned. “Who says there’s a problem?”
“No, no. That’s not what I meant. You know what I’m getting at. Why aren’t you with someone?”
As usual, he was a little uncomfortable with this train of thought. He couldn’t deny her though – which made it worse. They’d been friends for years. He thought about that. He mostly had married friends – women who were unavailable. He knew it was a source of comfort, safety.
“I really don’t know. Every time I think about being with someone I look first for the potential pitfalls. That turns me off right away.”
“You know you can’t ever expect the perfect mate, right?”
He nodded. “Of course. I know that here.” He pointed to his head. “There’s a slight problem getting this to pay attention though.” He pointed to his chest.
“So what is it? ” She persisted.
He scrambled, knowing that it was likely that the first thing that occurred to him would probably be correct. “Fear” he blurted.
“Good” she said, ever the pragmatist. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“What are you? My counsellor or something?” Despite the joking tone, he was serious. Again, they both knew it. It was one of the reasons their friendship worked.
“It matters to me. I don’t know why. Seems to me you’re a caring person – such a shame to see that potential get lost.”
“Yeah” he agreed. “But then, potential isn’t romance is it?”
“No….” she began. Then the silence drifted in, pulled up a chair, and sat there, content and peaceful.
“I guess…” he began. “After years of nothing but shouting and miscommunication… I’m probably a little gun-shy.”
“Okay. A lot.” He looked up, thinking. She waited.
“I’ve had so many years of being by myself. I like my apartment, and my routine. I like being selfish. Staying out till all hours of the night if I want. Going where I want without having to worry about anyone else.”
“Is that why you haven’t replaced your cat?” she wondered.
“Probably. I like the freedom.”
“Not everyone is like your ex-wife you know.” She had been privy to his history. There wasn’t any need to re-hash any of it.
“I know, I know.” He said. “I guess I can’t help thinking that they’re all like her though.”
“You realize how crazy that is right?”
“I do. Doesn’t change much of anything though.”
She shook her head. “My God. You’re damaged aren’t you?”
“I hope not. If I accepted that diagnosis, doctor, it would suggest it couldn’t be fixed.”
She laughed. “It wouldn’t suggest any such thing. But you know – if you start there, maybe you can figure out how to shake things up.”
He smiled again. “So what’s your prescription?”
There was no hesitation. “Get out there. Swim in strange and weird waters.”
“Oh it’s that easy is it?”
“And how would you know this? You’ve been married for quite a few years now.”
“I just know. Trust me.”
He did trust her. But he couldn’t bring himself to trust that it was that easy.