29 January 2010

"Telling Tales Out of School"

By Curtis C. Chen

"I can't tell you who actually shot JFK. But I can say this: Yes, the Company was involved, and the money came from Texas."

That was Nick. I don't know how he found out about the party. I had made a point of not inviting any of his friends, who we'd hardly seen anyway since he broke up with Michelle.

She had been avoiding him all night, and I had been running interference. I was actually relieved to see Nick hitting on some random blonde.

"Think about it," he said. "The driver—sorry, can you excuse me for one second?"

I followed his gaze and saw Michelle heading to our bedroom with a couple of jackets. Nick was elbowing his way toward her. I caught him before he reached the hallway.

"Looking for the little boys' room?" I said.


I grabbed his arm and pushed him out the front door, onto the lawn. The sun had gone down hours ago, and it was cold outside. California's a desert.

"What the hell are you doing here, Nick?" I asked.

He folded his arms. "It's a party, right? Free beer."

"If you came here to harass Michelle—"

"I came to say good-bye."

"You had that chance two years ago," I said. "You blew it. She got over it. End of story."

"This is none of your business, Gloria."

That made me angry. "It becomes my business when you break my best friend's heart! When you dump her over e-mail and move to the other side of the country? It's my business when I have to make excuses for you, so she doesn't think it's all her fault!"

He stared at my shoes. "I'm leaving the country tonight. For a long time. Maybe forever. I wanted to..." He shrugged. "To make things right, I guess."

"Michelle wanted you to stay," I said. "She didn't get what she wanted. Why should you?"

He shook his head. "I wish I could explain."

"Why don't you just send her an e-mail?"

I regretted saying it as soon as I saw his eyes.

"Just tell her I'm sorry," he said. "Will you do that?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Thank you." He turned and walked toward the street.

I heard blood rushing in my ears. Maybe I had been a little too hard on him. I'd had at least four drinks that night, and they had all come out of shot glasses. I was just starting to say something when Nick stopped on the sidewalk and spoke into his wristwatch.

"One four tango," he said. "Yes. I'm alone."

The air around him shimmered and glowed like a fluorescent mirage. I heard a soft whut sound, and Nick vanished. One second he was there, and then he wasn't. I ran out to where he had been standing and looked up and down the street. Nothing.

I wasn't drunk. I'm sure Nick knew I was still watching when he left. He wanted me to see. And he knew I could never tell Michelle any of it.

What a bastard.


Photo: Recyclables left behind in hotel room, Falls Church, Virginia, July, 2008.