By Karin Carstens.
George lay still after he awoke from a nightmare. He wished he could get up, dress and go for a midnight walk. He couldn’t take a deep breath for fear of waking Camila, who lay sprawled over three-fourth of the bed. Her sleeping patterns resembled her waking moments; when awake she spread her presence everywhere, pressing into him, demanding of him what he would freely give, had she given him a choice.
Tonight was one of those nights when he wished he had never met her. After a drawn-out discussion over an addition to the house, so she could have her own space for—he couldn’t remember what she had in mind this time–there had been so many things she had put her hand to and soon gave it up because she changed her mind or became bored.
The more he thought of her the more he felt hemmed in on the narrow space left to him after she stretched her leg in his direction. He didn’t want her touching him. He didn’t want to soften toward her as he always did when she came to him with that innocent, childish smile and draped her arms around his waist.
George inched toward the edge of the bed and slid off. He slipped on his jogging suit, shoes and another coat, to warm him against the cold night. Outside, the crisp autumn air made him gasp for a moment, until he closed his mouth and breathed through his nose. He was free.
The moon was small compared to its brightness. He could see dark shadows of trees falling across lighter shades of grass. He loved nights like that and anticipated a good, brisk walk of two miles to Willey’s, a deli that was open all night and served the best coffee in town.
“You want the usual, George?” Rosie asked. “A coffee and bagel, toasted medium brown, with lots of butter?”
“Thanks, Rosie, that’ll do fine,” he said. Her dark eyes had lost their usual sparkle and his oppressive mood returned. He had anticipated a pleasant visit, but it seemed even Rosie moved about under a cloud. He had always admired her courage and laughing eyes, in spite of her troubled life. She was a pretty, petite brunette in her early thirties. He knew her well from other nightly visits when the deli was empty, as it was tonight, and bit by bit, they shared their life stories. She had survived a teen pregnancy and a failed, abusive marriage and had vowed to stay single the rest of her life, unless she found her perfect man.
George settled into the booth, ready for her to slide in opposite him and share her troubles. How different she made him feel. He felt strong, protective, and ready to do anything to help her. Rosie appeared, and the extra cup of coffee she brought meant she would take her break and sit with him. They were quiet for a time; he felt she wanted to talk but needed time to collect her thoughts.
“Chilly out tonight,” he started with a lame smile. The weather was always a safe way to begin a conversation. “I couldn’t sleep again, dreaming about the Apocalypse, the end of the world. I saw the movie the other night in 3D. Man it scared even me, the giant killer.”
Rosie didn’t laugh, she just looked at him absently and the silence thickened.
“Something wrong?” George finally asked, subdued.
Her eyes filled with tears as she swallowed hard. He leaned toward her and put his hand on hers. “You can talk to me about anything, Hon,” he said softly. He drew a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped her eyes. Rosie gave a weak smile and took it out of his hand.
“Yeah,” she said low, mournful, “I have to go home in a couple days. My mom had a stroke, and the family wants me to come home to take care of her.”
George didn’t have to ask because he knew her story. He took his time to answer. Anger welled up in him. Her family would condemn her to a life of servitude to a mother who had shunned and disowned Rosie when she divorced her husband. Her family had caused her to leave her home and start her life over in New Castle. His heart gave out at the thought that she wouldn’t be here anymore to cheer him on his restless nights. How should he answer her?
Please don’t go, I need you–! What was he thinking, had it come to this, a need? I don’t care, this is the real thing, I’ll never have this with Camila, and I can deal with her as long as I have this time with a real woman, tender and caring.
Rosie’s questioning gaze made him aware he had to answer her. He opened his mouth then closed it and shook his head. She reached across the table and held his hand.
“You know, don’t you?” she said as tears rolled unashamedly down her cheeks and her grip tightened on his hand for a moment and then released it.
“I know, Rosie…,” George said. There was nothing else to say because if he did their worlds might begin to spin out of control.
KARIN CARSTENS has written 3 novels and a selection of short stories and poems. She has published her stories in Spectrum, a collection of short stories for the last 6 years. She is a member of a local writing group and has been published several times per year in the Royal Palm Beach Forum, a weekly magazine.