“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD – STOP!” The words escaped her mouth before she’d realized it, and they erupted into the room much louder than she’d intended. The circular logic had gone on too long, and there was no end in sight. The two men were in it to win it, and they seemed to be getting off on the back and forth. The looks they each gave her spoke volumes even though her outburst seemed to have robbed them both of the power of speech. She stood up from her seat and walked away, not giving them the chance to recover.
The rest of the people in the room had stopped talking, too, though they found ways to pick up their conversation threads more quickly than the arguers. As she walked through the rooms full of party-goers she noticed smiles and small nods directed her way. Mostly from the women, though there were a handful of men who silently indicated their pleasure at her choices. It was clear that, while other conversations were happening at the same time, there was a global awareness of the incessant arguing.
She reached the drink table and put both hands on the edge of it, surveying her options.
“The decent gin is in the back left corner.”
She turned towards the voice and felt her breath catch in her chest. “You-“
“Do you still take it on the rocks? With lime?”
She nodded, taking her turn at being speechless, while she stared at her bartender. It had been almost a year to the day since last she’d seen Ellen. The flush that creeped up her face made it clear that she hadn’t gotten over everything, while Ellen looked cool and collected, as if serving her ex-girlfriend a cocktail a year after leaving her in the middle of a deserted mall was normal.
“Thanks,” she said, taking the offered drink into both hands. “Um…what are you doing here?”
Ellen smiled as she wiped her hands on her jeans. “Saving you from yourself, it looks like. Before that I was getting to know the faculty while recovering from an interview.”
“You’re interviewing here? For a job at this university?” She could feel her hand wanting to shake as she took a long sip of gin.
Ellen put both hands into her back pockets before answering, “Yes, this university. And I was interviewing. They’ve made an offer already, so that part appears to have gone just fine.”
“UNBELIEVEABLE!” It, again, came out louder than she’d expected. This was too much for one day – one party. She took another big sip of her drink before she turned and walked away. She’d only taken a few steps when Frank, one of the arguers, appeared in front of her.
“Rhonda, I think you must have mis-“
She didn’t wait for him to finish. Instead, she made a sharp turn to her right and headed straight for the door. Outside was what she needed right now – the fresh air, the lack of people, and the peace and quiet that comes only from drinking outdoors. She walked to the side of the house and plopped down on a picnic table, putting her feet on the bench. She rested her elbows on her knees and took measured sips from her cup.
Ellen walked slowly towards her, clearly ready to stop if the yelling started again.
“Hey…I need to talk to you. I want to talk to you.”
She shook her head and looked off the other way. “Of course you do. Of course.”
Stopping about 10 feet away, Ellen put both hands back into her back pockets. “I shouldn’t have left the way I did. I get that – I get that now.” Ellen paused, waiting for eye contact that didn’t come. “Right. Ok. I totally deserve this. I left because I needed time and space to process –“
“YOU needed time and space to process? YOU? Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME?”
Ellen pulled her hands out of her pockets and held them up in front of her. “I know. You had more to deal with, and I chickened out. I ran away instead of being here for you- with you – while you worked through things. I get that now, and I didn’t before. I really felt like I needed the space. I get that I was wrong.”
“So now you’re back, and don’t need space anymore? And you went ahead and got yourself a job here, at MY university, before even thinking about reaching out? And you thought, ‘Hey, I know what will be best – I’ll show up at a party and pour her a drink and she’ll forget my little mistake and fall right into my arms again, and we can pick up right where we left off before I RAN THE FUCK AWAY AT HER MUST VULNERABLE MOMENT.’ Well, guess what? THAT’S NOT HOW THIS IS GOING TO PLAY OUT!”
* All 30-minute musings are fiction. Any resemblance to people or events is strictly coincidental. *