“We’re no threat, people, we’re not dirty, we’re not mean.
We love everybody, but we do as we please.
When the weather’s fine, we go fishin’ or go swimmin’ in the sea.
We’re always happy, life’s for livin’, yeah, that’s our philosophy.”
-Mungo Jerry, [i]”In The Summertime”[/i]
Troy and Julie Equals joined hands as they crossed the street; a habit born of a shared childhood that, now that they were sharing their lives completely, had grown into a reflex whereby they unconsciously sought out each other’s hand before crossing.
They stopped at the entrance of the park. Julie produced a rolled-up reusable shopping bag from her purse and tucked it between the purse’s handles for easy access.
“Big crowd today,” Julie told her husband as she hoisted up the purse’s strap higher on her shoulder, next to the strap of her purple sundress.
“Open air bazaar and flea market? Yeah, figured one or two people would show up. The same procedure as last year, Mistress?”
“The same procedure as every year, Master.”
“The same procedure ... as every year...” he muttered, opening his wallet and doing a quick count. “Ok, so buy whatever you think will help, but don’t just give anyone money. Phone charge?”
Both produced their phones and checked the battery.
“Full.” Julie said before putting hers away. Troy nodded and did the same. The two of them entered the park, kissed each other goodbye, and walked away in different directions.
Karen stormed away from Joe; or she tried to. Joe was a couple feet behind her, trying to tell her she was over-reacting; which, of course, had the opposite effect of getting her to stop. Troy was buying a bag of popcorn from a cart and learned their names the same way everyone else in the vicinity did: By Joe repeatedly asking Karen to just stop and listen to him and Karen shouting at Joe to fuck off. Troy popped a couple pieces of popcorn into his mouth and moved to intercept her.
“Everything all right,” he asked Karen, seeming to fill her entire field of vision. Not in a scary way, Gina thought; but like in movies where someone’s lost in the desert and passes out and when they wake up, their rescuer is looming over them. He held the bag of popcorn out slightly as if he were offering, though he hadn’t actually said the words. Like Karen was an old pal and he didn’t have to say the words “Here, bought some popcorn, want some?” If she’d felt like taking some, she thought that this strange man would be completely ok with it.
“Fine,” she sputtered before the unusualness of the moment hit her and she was back to anger. “Hey, this isn’t any of your business!”
“Well, my name’s Troy and I’m guessing you’re Karen and the guy trailing after you is Joe based on the yelling that I and everyone in earshot heard, so the bits that you saw fit to shout out in the middle of a crowded park are sort of my business in a way. But I’m guessing there’s more to it. Why don’t you sit down and tell me about it?”
Karen’s anger seemed to melt away as if the idea of being upset at this man who was stepping forward and offering to help in a park full of people who’d tried their best to ignore the argument didn’t exist anymore. She couldn’t think of any reason NOT to sit down with this man she’d just met and tell him everything that was going on in her life. As they sat, Joe stomped up to them.
“Oh, and who’s this,” he accused her. “I can’t thank a waitress for a compliment but you can just walk up to some guy and start talking?” Troy looked over at him.
“Joe, is it? Hi, I’m Troy. You two are obviously having a problem; the kind that might benefit from talking to someone who’s not emotionally involved and can see something from the outside that you can’t. So, I’m going to have a word with Karen here. Why don’t you go sit on that other bench across the way and I’ll come see you in a moment.” It wasn’t a question, but Joe felt what Karen had felt in his presence and decided that he couldn’t think of a reason not to wait patiently over on the other bench while this stranger had a private conversation with his girlfriend. He walked over to the other bench, sat down, and looked over at them as Troy turned to face Karen.
“Now, I know some of the story, Karen; something about a waitress. I’ll be listening to Joe’s version too, but I’d like to hear yours first. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Karen took a deep breath and, feeling no need not to tell Troy, began.
“We went out for breakfast and the waitress said something about his shirt being nice and he’s all ‘Thanks, babe, wore it just for you!’ All right in front of me.” Her outrage at the situation started to fade as she heard herself tell the story out loud to this incredibly nice man.
“I can see that being a little upsetting. My girlfriend was a waitress for years and she’s told me how they learn to do that for better tips. Eventually it just comes without thinking. She got a better job last year; but when it was her turn to make the coffee the other morning, she brought it to my desk, set it down, and actually gave me a ‘here ya go, hon; anything else I can get for you, sweetie’ without noticing that she was doing it until afterwards. We laughed at that.”
“Yeah, that IS pretty funny,” Karen said with a smile that faded quickly. “But he didn’t have to respond,” she replied, realizing that her anger wasn’t going to stand up in the light of reason, but still trying to defend her position.
“Well, has Joe gone there before without you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“And was he checking her out before this happened?”
“No. I don’t think he was, anyway. I wasn’t looking right at him the whole time.”
“I see,” Troy said, offering the bag to her, but making it clear that’s what he was doing this time. She took a bit as he continued. “So, there’s nothing but your own suspicions to support the conclusion that it was anything more than ‘She flirted with a customer hoping for a better tip and he tried to deflect it with a cute little joke?’ That’s all it really was, wasn’t it, Karen?”
Karen looked down at the ground and shook her head yes. “That’s all it really was.” Troy leaned in a bit closer, but not close enough to touch.
“I admit, Karen, that I’ve only known Joe for less than two minutes; I don’t have the kind of long, rich history with him as the two minutes and fifteen seconds that you and me go back.” Karen looked up and smiled at that. “But based on what I’ve seen, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d try to hurt you like that. Is he?” A nod in the negative came. Troy bent down to look her in the eye and continued.
“Karen, that level of paranoid jealousy toward someone you know wouldn’t hurt you exists for one purpose: to mask a guilty conscience. There’s something going on that you haven’t told Joe about, isn’t there? Be honest with me.” She sighed.
“Don’t know why I’m telling you this, but we went out to the club a couple nights ago and I ran into an ex. We talked for a few minutes and ended up trading numbers. We’ve talked a couple of times since. He texted me before we left this morning.”
“I’m going to take a shot in the dark here, Karen: The ex was the one who ended things because some other girl came along and turned his head, didn’t he?” Karen nodded yes again, looking back down at the ground. “And some time in between the club and this morning’s text, one of you called the other and you talked for a little bit, laughed about how some former mutual friends that either of you lost in the split are doing now, and soon it was ‘Hey, why DID we ever break up, anyway, ‘ wasn’t it?”
Karen gave another nod yes, followed by the beginning of sobbing. Troy took the paper napkins he’d picked up with the popcorn and offered one to her. When she took it, he put his hand on her shoulder and gave Joe a look that said “I’m just trying to comfort her, ok?” Joe got the message and nodded his understanding, remembering that Troy was going to talk to her privately and get to him soon.
“So, did anything happen, Karen? Did you meet up with him somewhere? Or make plans to? Be honest, now.”
“No,” she responded, feeling the overwhelming need to be honest to Troy and fighting back tears, using the napkin to take care of the ones that had already come from her eyes. “It’s come up, but not yet.”
“Well, that’s good, Karen. Except for the part where you punished Joe for the ex’s crimes just now because you’re looking for a justification to call him up and arrange that meeting. The fact that you had to reach that far for it tells me that maybe Joe’s not a bad ... you know, I didn’t even ask if he’s your boyfriend or husband or...”
“Boyfriend,” Karen said as the sobbing stopped. “We’ve been going out for three months, we just moved in together two weeks ago.”
“Ok, so maybe he’s not a BAD boyfriend, but he could be better. And maybe some quirk that bugged you a little is now something that you have to live with every day and it’s making you think how the ex never did that?” Karen thought for a moment, then agreed. “I know I’m lucky in that regard. My wife has been my best friend all our lives, so we entered into the relationship and marriage fully aware of, and ok with, all those annoying little things about each other.”
“I thought you said you had a girlfriend.”
.... There is more of this story ...