Copyright© 2006 by DB.
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Author's Note: Here you'll encounter the nuts and bolts of making a committed relationship work, and the mistakes along the way. Lessons we usually learn by failing at them the first few times we attempt them. The problem is that most people never expose this side of themselves, making it hard to learn from their experiences. So take this chance to become a voyeur into other people's problems. It just might help you to learn more about your own.
A special thanks to Ian his excellent and much appreciated proofreading. All remaining mistakes are mine.
"Hi guys, come on in. Glad you could make it," Christy greeted, handing glasses of wine to Allison and Frank.
"Good to see you too," Allison replied, taking a sip of the Cabernet as she followed her hostess into the house.
A smell of incense was in the air. Some soft Celtic harp music played in the background. As they walked into the cozy living room of the small house the newcomers noticed that four appropriately colored candles were set at the four diagonal corners of the perimeter surrounding the rug, couch, coffee table, and straight-backed chair in the middle of the room.
"I'm purifying our space for truth," Christy said, tossing a pinch of sea salt, before lighting the candles with a long-handled gas lighter.
Allison nodded, while Frank said nothing. Anything to promote straight-talking was fine with him.
He put his glass down on the coffee table, before settling down into the corner of the couch. A moment later Allison joined him, leaning up against his chest as he wrapped his arms protectively around her, over her breasts. She smiled at this.
Christy took the straight chair opposite them, setting her half-empty glass on the low coffee table as well.
The small talk didn't continue for long before Allison got to the meat of the matter. "You sounded so unhappy over the phone."
"If you didn't, then why are we here?" Frank asked gently enough.
"I did," Christy admitted, struggling a bit now to keep everything light and upbeat, and not succeeding entirely. "It's about Dan."
"Let me guess," Allison said to her longtime, albeit infrequent of late, friend. "After all these years that you've known each other, you woke up one morning recently and realized he was gone." It wasn't a question.
After the tears subsided, and Christy had made the rounds refilling the mostly still full wine glasses, she nervously sat down again, hands folded in her lap.
"I hate to have you see me like this," Christy confessed.
"If it wasn't serious you wouldn't have called," Allison said, getting up to go over and hug her friend for a moment in support, before returning to her husband of two years now.
Frank remained content to let the two fifty-something women hash this one out. This was a woman's issue, and he was mostly along to support Allison with his male insights, when asked.
Although he was mid-fifties himself, he still had trouble envisioning either of these women as being over thirty-five, since with very little effort either could still easily pass for that. It was almost as though the twenty plus years each of them had wasted wasn't going to be charged against them. But that would be a lie. Days gone by can never be recovered again afterwards.
Frank was also here because he and Allison rarely did anything apart from each other. There'd already been too many years of it to want to add even another day to that total. Besides, what was the point of being married otherwise, if you weren't sharing your lives?
He conceded the likelihood that he wouldn't have a single thing to contribute today, but that wouldn't make it wasted time. He and Allison were together, and every such minute was precious to both of them now.
Frank clasped Allison's breasts a little tighter, knowing he was welcome there now. That hadn't always seemed the case.
Allison wiggled a little in acknowledging response, even though most of her attention remained with her friend.
"That's it exactly!" Christy exclaimed. "I just knew one morning."
"You've always had that special connection with Dan," Allison commented.
"Like the one you and Frank have."
"Your's was always much stronger."
"If you say so. Your's at least works for the two of you."
"Let me guess again and say that Dan didn't call you and announce it was over. In fact, he probably hadn't said anything at all to you for several months."
"How do you know so much?" Christy replied astonished, even though she'd called Allison for exactly this reason.
"And you've gone through a lot of stuff already. Like, how could he leave me? How dare he leave me. Why didn't I want him when I could have had him? So many questions, with no one to answer them."
"You're a mind reader!" Christy exclaimed.
"Not exactly. Let me tell you our story, and you can decide how much of it applies to you and Dan."
"We were like you guys, except that we met and dated a while after college instead of during it. We both felt an immediate connection, but we didn't hop into bed because of it. We were together for about nine months, broke up for four, got back together for three dates, and essentially broke up as romantic partners for good after that."
"Ahem," Frank said quietly.
"I broke up with him," Allison quickly clarified. "Every time. Frank always wanted us to be more, and I think he was truly confused by my actions when I'd talk about how special he was, at the same time that I was holding him away. Like with you, every psychic I ever saw said we were linked, and I've never questioned that. Over the years that followed he hung around, hoping I'd change my mind, while I moved on to ever newer relationships. We'd see each other on occasion, exchange letters and cards, but it was really Frank who ensured that we stayed in touch. Pretty much like clockwork, if we hadn't talked in a while I'd hear from him. Sharing some piece of news he knew would interest me, and reminding me that he was still alive out there. And I made sure he never got too close. How am I doing so far?"
"Right on target. But why did you hold him away? Everyone could see that you guys were great for each other. Far better than any of your other boyfriends I've known of."
"Easier to ask that question of someone else, than of yourself, isn't it?" Allison riposted deftly. She'd already been in Christy's position, and knew it too well.
Christy took that comeback like the physical jolt Allison had intended for it to be. Christy actually stopped to think about her reasons for what she'd done in the past, possibly for the first time. Allison and Frank each sipped their wine to give her time, while Christy's glass was already half empty again.
"It took me a long time to understand my reasons," Allison finally said, picking up the discussion again, before stopping and correcting herself. "Sorry, old habits. It took me a long time to admit my reasons for avoiding intimacy with Frank. I'd known them all along, but didn't like the answer. So I pretended I had all kinds of other reasons instead. That he wasn't sexually appealing. That he didn't turn me on. That he wasn't compatible with my intended career. That other, more exciting, people intrigued me. The truth was, I spent a whole lot of time with a lot of really lame men, none of who would ever be able to hold a candle to Frank when it came to knowing and caring about the real me."
"But what was your reason?" Christy wanted to know. "The real one?"
"I'll get to that in due time," Allison promised.
"Anyway, one morning I woke up and just knew Frank was gone. I don't know how to explain it otherwise, but I don't have to. Not to you. That's why we're talking now."
"Right. Go on."
"I was panicked. I felt he must have died somehow. I shot off a deliberately casual e-mail, and agonized over the hours until he finally replied."
"You could have just called him?" Christy offered helpfully.
"And how often have you called Dan recently — or ever?"
"Ouch. Point made."
"My point is, even after I got his brief reply — and I hadn't let on why I'd actually written him — I couldn't get over the feeling. Frank was still gone, even though he'd just e-mailed back to me."
"That's it exactly! Dan is still gone, even though he's alive and fine, at least as of the last couple of days."
"Well, girlfriend, I think what's happening to you is exactly what happened with us."
"Well don't keep me in suspense."
"Frank had left me." Allison still had trouble saying those exact words. "Love or hate, interest or antipathy, those all will maintain a relationship. Apathy and indifference won't. Not that he told me he'd left," Allison added, giving her husband a sharp jab with her elbow. It was kind of hard, however, to give any kind of effective jab from her current position.
"I'll own up to indifference, Allie Cat" Frank said quietly. "But the apathy was all yours. As for not telling you, why make a big announcement that a relationship that was barely a flickering candle flame any longer anyway, was now over. That's nothing but the artificial drama of manipulation, and a neurotic cry for attention. Besides..."
"Yeah, I know. When you leave, you just leave. I've left more than my own share of bad relationships in precisely that same way."
Frank reached for his wine glass before settling back again.
"So you didn't really know that he'd left yet?" Christy asked eagerly, sitting forward on the edge of her chair now.
"Oh, I knew. I just didn't realize what it meant. All I could say for sure was that a warm and comforting piece that had been part of me for seemingly forever was now missing."
"So what did you do?"
"I started e-mailing him. If I hadn't heard from him yet that month, I made sure to send him a little note by the last day of it. I even had an permanent entry in my calendar to remind me."
"Oh, he wrote back every time. It could take two days to a week for his reply to arrive, but there always was one."
"That would have driven me nuts!"
"It did. I swore every month that I wouldn't do this again. It was his turn to write first. I told myself that if he wanted to leave this way, then so be it! Every one of his replies was so unsatisfying. I wanted more the moment I'd finished reading each one. But I couldn't stop."
"Done that too. What did you do next?"
"Do you know my friend, Nancy? The one with a Master's Degree in Human Communication?"
"I've heard you talk about her."
"I called her up and rather cried to her over the phone. She had me come over right away, and bring all our e-mails."
Frank looked interested as well now. It seemed he hadn't heard this part of the tale before.
"She sat me down, handed me some wine, and looked them over. Then she told me a devastating truth: 'You're trying to continue this conversation, and he isn't.'"
"She could tell that from just a few e-mails?" Christy asked incredulously.
"She did," Allie confirmed. "And I bet all yours look the same as mine did."
"In what way?"
"I'd send out short snippets with a bit of news about me, and asking a related question in return. A short friendly note. Frank's replies weren't any longer than my notes to him. And while he'd briefly answer my questions, he never asked any of his own back in return. Additionally, Nancy pointed out that for a number of my e-mails, his replies had exactly the same number of words in them. And that wasn't good for a growing relationship."
That left Christy deep in thought. Frank and Allie could see she was mentally counting the words of her own electronic missives, and not liking the results.
"It seems so obvious," Christy finally admitted, "afterwards."
"I know the feeling. It was right in front of me for months, and I couldn't see it either until it was pointed out."
"So what did you do?" Christy asked hopefully.
"Made another boneheaded mistake," Allie admitted ruefully, setting down her nearly empty wine glass. Christy's was already empty. Only Frank had half a glass left.
"I assumed that what had always worked for me before, would work again now. Show him a little interest. Hint at how special he is to me as a friend. Suggest we might see each other again soon. A bit of this, and he'd come running back again with his tail wagging."
"And that didn't work?" Christy said in a brittle tone that spoke volumes about her own efforts in that direction.
Frank did the best to keep his face impassive. He knew the answer to this already.
"Not in the least," Allie confirmed.
Frank had to fight himself from smiling too broadly over this admission.
Allison continued, "I told him we really should get together again sometime. Nothing. I picked an event up here that I knew he'd like, and invited him to come do it with me. Told him that I needed a date I could trust. I learned a real lesson on that one."
"Frank opened up enough to tell me why he'd quit doing that type of activity with me years ago. Pointed out how when we were in public among other people I knew, how I ignored him — or really, whomever my date was that night — to play to the crowd instead."
"Did you really do that?" Christy asked.
"I used to," Allie replied, ashamed. "And you do too. I've been out with you on some of those occasions. I used to feel sorry for your dates."
For a moment Christy looked shocked.
"If you don't want the truth, girlfriend, we can talk about something else," Allie offered.
"No. Go ahead," Christy replied, visibly firming up her resolve. In her house, with her two close friends, she could manage to face this.
"When I told Nancy about how this was going, she pointed out that Frank had provided me useful information, which I had spaced on completely. He didn't like the way I treated him in crowds. Well duh! So I asked him out to a private dinner. He passed on that as well."
Christy gave Frank a sharp look, as though she could somehow look through him to see and understand Dan at this moment. But he just picked up his glass and took another sip. It was a good red.
When Christy returned her attention to Allie, Allie continued. "I finally bit the bullet and told him that maybe we should spend the night together. He passed on that as well."
Much as she tried to hide it, Christy's stunned expression said it all. That was the ultimate offer. The final fallback position. The one thing she could count on as the offer that would never be refused. How could that be refused, and the world still remain on its axis?
A moment later Allison was equally stunned to find out that Christy had never let Dan share her bed at all.
"What?! Not even once?! I mean, we only did it a couple times while we were first dating, but we'd tried it. How can you have never done it with Dan at all? Even if it was bad, that's better than not at all! If you both agreed it's bad, you might still be friends afterwards."
"Was it bad for you and Frank?"
"Frank never thought so," Allison replied quickly, forestalling any possibility of a more embarrassing revelation from Frank. "I just didn't think about it much at the time, which is probably why I was able to tell myself it wasn't that important. My problem," she said, quickly moving on, "was that I treated my relationship with Frank like a light switch. I believed I could turn it on or off any time I wanted, and that's a terrible way to think of another person."
"And now you found out that you couldn't turn it on again."
"You nailed it," Allie confirmed.
Christy suddenly redirected her attention to the only man in the room. She had a burning need to know something, and she realized she finally had someone she could actually ask for the answer, and likely get a real one.
"How did this happen for you, Frank?"
"How'd what happen?"
"What made you leave Allison after all those years?"
"Was walking by myself one afternoon and a small voice said to me, 'You're nothing special to her.'"
"That was it?"
"You never told me that," Allison said, turning now to look at him.
"You've never asked."
"I think I was afraid to ask."
"Well you know now. That was it. A simple five-word epiphany."
"I don't understand it," Christy said, breaking into their discussion. "How could you ever believe you were nothing special to Allison after all those years of friendship?"
"I guess that's why I'm here after all," Frank said, finally entering the main part of the conversation. "Allison does know the reasons why I'd had enough, even if she didn't know the trigger for them. But I might as well let you hear it straight from the horse's mouth."
"Go ahead, dear," Allison said, settling back more comfortably now. She knew what was coming next, and also knew it had to come from a man.
"You women like to make a lot out of friendship. Like it's the be-all and end-all of a relationship. Men don't see it that way. I was nothing special to Allison on that day because of all the people who had followed me into her life who were clearly more important to her than I was. People she dated. People she slept with. The one that she married..."
"That was a mistake, which was soon rectified," Allison said abruptly.
"But that didn't bring us back any closer together," Frank continued as though the interruption hadn't even happened.
"Ones you went in to various partnerships and business ventures with, and complained to me about afterwards. Basically, everyone who came after me who you chose to spend time with when you could have spent it with me instead. All of them mattered more to you than I did. Even when you were alone at times, that was better for you than being with me. No man will feel special under those circumstances, no matter how nice the words he hears each rare time we do talk."
The pain of those words showed on Allison's face. She knew it was true. She'd held Frank away, until he'd finally quit coming around. Although he never held this over her now, and spoke only for Christy's benefit, Allison knew she'd live with those actions in her past. The only good news was that she wasn't doing it any longer.
Having made his point, Frank fell silent once more. But Christy wasn't ready to let go of this go. She turned her attention back to Allison, hoping to find out by proxy what she didn't want to face up to directly.
"Didn't you ever ask him why he didn't want to see you again?"
"I finally did. It took a long time to get the answer. And even longer to come to terms with it."
"Well, what was it?"
"I told her," Frank finally said, as though he didn't want to be the one to have to tell Christy this, but Allison was clearly reluctant as well, "there wasn't anything to look forward to any longer. I already knew any time together would end up with her telling me 'No' at some point, after which it was essentially over."
Allison winced at that memory.
Christy pounced on Frank. "Is there a reason you didn't tell her this right up front?"
"I wasn't interested in being confrontational," Frank replied somewhat defensively. "It was over for me, so why start a fight now."
Christy gave him a look that seemed to say this was something that was supposed to be fought over.
"What would it have accomplished, really?" Frank continued, wondering why he had to defend this, before realizing that, for Christy, this was still a current issue. She didn't know Dan's specific reason for refusing her now. Especially since he'd never done it before. Frank was, in effect, speaking for Dan, who wasn't present to speak for himself.
"It would have given resolution," Christy ventured unsuccessfully, trying to justify a confrontation. No one in the room was willing to agree with her.
"Closure," she tried next. Still nothing.
"Aren't you just trying to find a way to make it his fault, so you can justify walking out on him for walking out on you?" Allison suggested insightfully.
Christy slumped at that. Bull's-eye!
In a defeated sounding tone that showed how much these last months had taken out of her, Christy turned back to Frank. Maybe it was like being able to ask Dan, without really asking him, what she wanted to ask.
"Did it really matter that Allison offered to sleep with you again after all that time? I mean, was that really necessary that she offered it?"
"Have you offered yourself yet to Dan?" Allison jumped in, forestalling any comment from Frank. "Or were you just getting ready to?"
Christy blushed a deep, revealing fuchsia at Allison's newest insight.
"I was... considering... it," was all she'd admit, looking down at her feet as she said it. "But I don't really have to, do I?"
"Yes you do!" both Frank and Allison said in quick unison, before turning to look at each other in surprise at their joint, heartfelt response.
"But you said he's going to refuse anyway."
"He will," Frank agreed. "At least I did, and most real men I know would. But it doesn't mean you've grown old and unattractive to him. I never would have even begun to take seriously anything else Allie said to me at the time until she offered that. Up to that point I just figured she wanted things back to where they'd been before, and I'd truly hated that situation for years!"
Allison seemed a bit surprised at Frank's vehemence over their past relationship state. She'd once thought things had been great with him for all that time. Even though she knew better now, it was a good reminder for her that this still carried strong emotions for him. She was also well aware that Frank was speaking honestly of what had been in the past, and was willing to leave it there where it belonged.
"And I had to go through with it too," Allison seconded. "Until I was ready to go that far with Frank, I was still playing a game with him. Trying to see how much could I get from him, without having to really give of myself in return. I would have totally blown it later, if I hadn't made that offer when I did. And I never in the world believed he'd actually turn me down for that, until he did."
True Story /