(The following story was inspired by the Rascal Flatts song “Winner at a Losing Game”. I’ll post the video next.)
The train station was almost empty. Matthew Davis sat quietly watching the cars pull in and out of the parking lot of the restaurant behind the station. He still had forty-five minutes to wait before his train came. He looked at his watch again, and then picked up the newspaper he had bought ten minutes ago. Most people on the platform now were also quietly occupying themselves, and he took a last look around him before lowering his eyes to the front page. More casualties in Iraq. A woman and her child go missing. The Dow Jones shakes itself after the recent rash of poor endings. Storms over the English Channel. The Knicks lose again.
He swallowed the sigh that rose in his throat, and opened the paper to the Lifestyles page. Rental housing booms, house buying busts. He smiled. He had been fortunate to get a good price for his house…the one he had bought two years ago. He’d paid his debts, settled with the mortgage company, and put the rest in the bank. He didn’t know where he would live now, but he could not stay there a moment more.
A woman came and sat down, a little way off, on the platform. She had long black hair, and she was very young. Italian, if that nose was anything to judge by. Pretty, thin, cheerful-looking. Young enough to be his daughter. Old enough to be his “bit of stuff”. He smiled inwardly…maybe that’s what he needed to get his mind of his troubles – a “bit of stuff”. He loved the English and their odd expressions. Right now, he was glad he had been raised in an English household. It was that reserve, that stiff upper lip, which had carried him through these last few weeks. His armor had not cracked, not once, even after that last disastrous evening, when she had finally said the words he had dreaded hearing.
Even now, as he sat quietly looking inward on that train platform, he could feel the sharp bite of her words. Oh, she had been kind enough, and he could see she was sad that she had to hurt him, but he could also see her determination. Nothing he might have said would have made any difference, so he had not tried. All that remained had been to speak his goodbyes and leave.
Suddenly, the pain was unbearable. He stood up, trying to blunt the piercing ache in his heart. The last time he had taken a train had been the first time he had met her. The Cher song burst in on his consciousness unexpectedly. But he could not turn back time, and it would not have made a difference, unless he had chosen to remain in his seat and let her move to another spot.
He walked over to the vending machine and pushed a dollar in. He surveyed the choices, and drew a tired hand over his face. He didn’t really want anything there, but he had committed himself to this course now, and he must choose. He chose a granola bar, and stuck his hand in to retrieve it. It was dry, and hard, as though it had been made back when Noah built the Ark. He walked to the nearest garbage bin and tossed it in. Maybe he needed a drink. He pushed another dollar into the soda machine next to the first one, and pulled a Coke from the slot. It was cold, and though he was trying to wean himself off the sweet drink, he welcomed the sharp tingling on his tongue and the cold wetness against his throat. He tossed the empty bottle into the trash as the train pulled into the station. Time to get on with it…
The apartment was airy, well-ventilated, bright, and held all his furniture comfortably. In short, it was everything a single man could wish for in a dwelling place. He stood at the picture window, looking out over the roofs of the houses across the street. The park beyond that was a study in serenity, alive with lights at this time of day. The microwave beeped, and he walked back into the kitchen to retrieve his ready-made meal. It smelled good, and he carefully removed the plastic covering and threw it in the trash under the sink. He served the meal on a plate, and took his dinner and a beer out to the living room.
A game was on, and he ate slowly, watching the teams fight for supremacy. She loved watching games with him, and they argued moves and strategy. She was tough, smart, wild and crazy. He loved her. He always would. Nothing about their situation had ever been “right”, and yet he had fallen helplessly in love with her – all six feet of her. They had worked side by side for three years, and he knew more about her than he knew about the woman he had promised himself to years before that.
He sighed and shut the TV off. The food was ashes in his mouth – he could eat no more. He threw out the rest, swallowed the rest of the beer, and took another from the fridge. At least he could drink…
Today had been a bad day. When he had asked for a transfer, his boss had been nonplussed, to say the least. No one, not even his best friend, knew of his feelings for her. In the end, that had probably been the best thing he could have done, under the circumstances. His new post was challenging, his new boss demanding, his new hours exhausting. All in the name of forgetfulness.
He sank into the soft cushions of his sofa, loosening the tie at his throat. He had been a bear at work, and his new workmates were beginning to think he was just misanthropic. Well, what the hell, he didn’t care what they thought. He had a day off tomorrow, and he’d take it. It would be the first day off he took in three years. And the irony of it was that this time, he had no one to share it with.
He must have fallen asleep, because when the phone rang, he jerked and sat up. It rang insistently, and he scrambled to get to it, to answer, so it could stop that shrill noise.
“Davis,” he said gruffly.
“Matt, it’s Jerry. Up for a game of pool?” His little brother’s voice sounded unusually loud in his ears. He realized there was background, and Jerry had been shouting.
“Where ARE you? It’s midnight!”
“My place. The guys wanna know if you’re up for a game or two!”
Matt hesitated. He had avoided company after hours these past few weeks, needing to brood silently on his own, without having to explain his mood to anyone. But he was growing tired of his own company. What would it hurt?
“Sure, okay!’ he answered. “See you in a bit!”
The game, when he got there, became four, then five, liberally watered by beer. He was buzzed, and when his brother’s friends finally left, Matt took a sixth beer and sat in the couch across from Jerry, who eyed him speculatively.
“It’s over, isn’t it?’ he said, and Matt’s head swung up.
“What?’ he asked, although he knew.
“You and Sydney,” Jerry replied.
Matt regarded his little brother thoughtfully. “It had never begun, Jer,” he said and swallowed some beer. “It had all been an illusion.” He tipped the bottle to his lips again and Jerry looked worriedly at him.
“You’re in no condition to drive home, Matt!”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Matt answered. “I’ll crash here.”
Matt placed the half empty beer bottle on the glass coffee table and turned so he was lying on the couch, his legs stretched out before him. He fell asleep almost immediately, a deep, dead sleep.
…Sydney looked at him. He looked at her. Their eyes met, and then he lowered his gaze to her mouth. He wished he could kiss her. Even once.
“We can’t go there, Matt!” she said, seeing where he looked. “We’d hurt each other, and the ones we’re supposed to love.” She looked into his eyes, and he into hers. “Jake loves me,” she said, a pleading in her voice, a needing him to understand.
“You always knew how I felt.” Her voice was desperate, as though she wished it could be otherwise. Matt felt the pain building up inside him as she spoke. It was over now. He had loved her for three years, and he knew he always would. And now he had to leave her.
“Yes,” he admitted, his voice calmer than he felt. “But I hoped against hope…” He saw the sheen of tears in her eyes, and wondered if his echoed hers. He steeled himself to say the words that came next. “I’m sorry, Syd. I can’t live like this anymore. I’ve asked for a transfer. It’s better for me this way.” He swallowed hard, and ended, “Be happy, sweetheart. And if you ever need me, call me!”
She let him hug her…and he did not want to let her go.
Matt woke with a start. He was shivering. He was exhausted. His head hurt. His heart broke…again.
And it was raining…
Copyright © 2008