Carla’s gloved hands fumbled her cell phone as she awkwardly attempted to dial home while walking down the icy city sidewalk. After four rings, Jerry’s voicemail finally picked up.
“Hey Jer, it’s me. I’m running late but I still gotta pick up Melanie’s present -- anyway, should be home soon. Can you pick up Amber? Thanks. Love ya.”
Carla closed her phone and stuffed it into her coat pocket. She was irritated with herself for adding “love ya” out of mere habit. Twelve years and three kids later, habit and routine seemed to dominate their relationship making life resonate at one steady, monotonous hum that had, on more than one occasion, reminded Carla of her dishwasher.
She had married Jerry right out of college before they really knew themselves; afterward, she had learned a lot about herself and him. Jerry was a good provider, a loving father, and a deacon in their church. He thrived on their quiet, uneventful life. He was nothing like her.
But she tried to connect with him, and he tried to understand her. When she talked animatedly about a book she was reading, he listened politely and asked questions. This especially frustrated Carla. Real soul mates, she thought, don’t have to try so hard. She wondered if Jerry felt caught too, overwhelmed by her spontaneity, her talkativeness, her enthusiasm. If he did, it would be just like him never to mention it.
“Carla! Hey, Carla - wait up!”
Carla stopped walking when she heard her name and turned to scan the people hurrying up the sidewalk, their faces obscured by hats and scarves, bodies bent forward sheltering themselves from the wind. Suddenly she saw Daniel Myers.
Daniel had been Jerry’s college roommate. Carla had met him after she and Jerry had already started dating, but she had often wondered what might have happened if they had met earlier. From the first moment, she and Daniel were entirely at ease with each other; they read the same authors, liked similar music, and both dreamed of seeing the world. They simply understood each other.
“Daniel,” she began, trying to hide her excitement, “I-I didn’t know you were in town.”
Daniel looked at her. Time had been an improvement; her body was perfectly curved, soft and feminine, no longer girlish but womanly. She was a better, more complete version of herself.
“Just for a few days – my sister Trish is getting married. I’m working up in Canada – you know, flying…. even got my own company now.”
Carla immediately remembered that Daniel had studied aviation in college and had flown mission flights during their summers off. She wondered how she could have forgotten something that now seemed so important.
“Little baby Trish – getting married?” Carla laughed, “Well I guess it happens to all of us eventually.”
Daniel watched her eyes as she laughed and noticed that they didn’t laugh too. Instead, he saw loneliness, as if something or someone were missing. That knowledge excited him and sent a surge of energy pulsing through his body.
Carla went on, “Give her my best though – she’s in for a real trip.” She paused, debating whether to ask what she desperately wanted to know. “And what about you, did you ever get married?”
“No, no, I never got lucky like Jerry.” He drew out the words, letting their full effect sink in.
Just as she always had, Carla knew exactly what he meant and blushed; he, in return, understood exactly why she blushed.
“Look,” he continued, “it’s pretty cold out here. Let’s go grab a cup of coffee.”
She didn’t answer immediately, but let his words hang in the icy air. She lowered her eyes, trying not to notice how attractive his strong, weathered features were.
“Carla?” He paused, “So…you wanna get some coffee?”
When he said her name, a dangerous thrill raced through her; she was shocked by how much she enjoyed it.
“Daniel – I –“
Suddenly the buzzing of her phone interrupted them. She pulled it out and immediately saw Jerry’s name. She stared at it, and in that brief moment, caught between what might have been and what was, Carla realized the significance of those five letters, of all they represented – her home, her daughters, her first love. Sighing silently to herself, she pushed mute on her cell and looked up at Daniel.
“You know, Daniel, I’d really love to… but I’m gonna pass. I need to go home to Jerry and the girls - I know you’ll understand.”
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