At 3:00 in the morning, Renée woke up and felt the grip of a familiar enemy tighten around her sense of well-being. She rose out of her bed, walked down the hall to the bathroom, and gargled with a glass of water. She looked at herself in the medicine cabinet mirror.
“Happy birthday, Renée,” she whispered. “Never thought your pasty-white ass would make it to 49.”
She returned to bed, where the man who looked like Jerry Garcia and who sang so lustily at her birthday party last night gently snored.
Oscar? Or is it Oliver?
She gently kicked him and Oscar/Oliver surrendered the middle of the bed and sank into silence. Renée lay down next to him and fell asleep, wondering if he would be willing to go to brunch with her sisters.
Renée does not like April 20, her birthday, except when she absolutely loves it. Since she turned 21 and her sisters and their friends surprised her at their favorite bar with her first and next nine legal drinks, she has loved celebrating with loud music, fuss, and impairment. Plied with enough Pinot Noir, she has played the piano and sung Broadway show tunes with enough skill well into middle age to lure even the hipsters and data geeks from across the room to join in for the choruses.
For more than two decades, she would wake the next morning sleeping in between her sisters Charlotte and Alice in Charlotte’s king-sized bed. Charlotte taught math in the public high school and Alice was a CFO for a grocery store chain. Boyfriends – later husbands – knew not to come between the Pelletier sisters.
However, for the last three years, she has been celebrating over a quiet dinner at the favorite restaurant of her boyfriend, Carl. He is an English professor who wooed her by talking about Erica Jong’s novel, Fear of Flying. Renée loves the way Jong wrote about sex. She had a poster made of her favorite quote from the novel and placed it above her bed:
The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving.” No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is.
Renée likes Carl. In warm weather months, she even convinces herself that she loves Carl.
Charlotte and Alice Pelletier have learned not to come between Renée and the man they call the Inattentive Alcoholic. They think that Carl does not focus on the people around him; rather, that he spends his time thinking about the characters and plots of the novelists he studies and the fiction that he writes. And that he drinks the way writers drink.
“Writers are terrible people,” Alice once said at Sunday brunch.
“Academics, too,” Charlotte piled on.
“I do not like the nickname,” Renée answered. “And your husbands seem to like Carl just fine. They have a great time at baseball games in the city.”
“Carl and our husbands take an Uber to the city and get drunk at the games,” Charlotte replied. “And we don’t like them when they’re drunk.”
“They only go to, like, five games a year,” Renée said. “It’s manageable.”
“Awesome sauce,” Charlotte huffed and Alice nodded in agreement. It was the phrase that they chose to use like a safe word to end all their arguments.
The first time they celebrated Renée’s birthday, Carl told her that he had been coming to this restaurant for special occasions for more than a decade.
“I love the service here,” he said. “You can always tell about a restaurant by the service.”
Tonight, they are celebrating her birthday for the fourth time. Renée agreed that the service was excellent, the wine list extensive, and the atmosphere oppressive and very old-fashioned.
“How’s the dick?” Carl asked as they slid into a banquette together. Renée liked to sit next to Carl and connect with his legs and hands. Sometimes, they even remove their shoes and rub their feet together. She likes the touching. She admits to anyone who wants to know that she is very physical.
It’s early and a weekday. There are only two other couples in the dining room.
“How about wishing me a happy birthday instead of asking about my ex-husband?” Renée laughed when she said this. It’s her mechanism to make a thrust seem more like a parry.
“Happy birthday, darling,” he responded after a pause, leaning over to kiss Renée on the cheek. “Now, how’s the dick?”
Renée worked up to a smile and said, “Late with the child support, as usual. I had to call the dick, as you call him, when I got home from work and didn’t find the check waiting in the day’s mail. I think he does this to get a rise out of me. I am not proud of this, but I rose to the bait. We got into a haymaker over the phone. It’s like we are still fighting about issues in our marriage. We all have some perversion, and this must be his: starting fights with his ex-wife. I think the neighbors could hear me shouting. My kids had to hear it, too. I hope Drew and Julia don’t end up like us. God damn him!”
Carl placed his hand on hers, looked into her eyes, and silently nodded. Renée liked that Carl listened to her complaints about her ex-husband. She found him a good listener.
Renée believed that Carl was not going to give her a birthday present. He is very unsentimental in this way. “I don’t see the need for more crap in your life,” he has explained. “You have what you need. Wouldn’t you rather have a really good dinner with a great bottle of wine and superb conversation?”
They way Carl says it makes it hard to disagree. He has a real Cary Grant way about him, even though he looks more like Nick Offerman. He makes paying for her steak au poivre and a bottle from the Château Mouton Rothschild vineyard sound like winning at Powerball. The passion he can extol on any subject is why his students give him such high ratings, as well as how he lured Renée into his bed. He has kept her there because he listens and follows her instructions.
“My orgasm is important to me,” she told him on their first date.
He looked her in the eyes and nodded.
“I am in charge of my own orgasm,” she told him before they ever had sex.
He looked her in the eyes again and nodded.
“Just do what I say,” she told him the second time they had sex, which was after they had sobered up the morning after the first time they had sex, “and we’ll be just fine.”
She was relieved when he looked her in the eyes again and nodded without saying a word.
Carl exuded the kind of confidence possessed by a tenured university professor who held an endowed chair and whose last book had been a critical and commercial success. Which Carl was. Renée felt in every fiber of her body that he knew what he was doing.
They finished off an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon before dessert, which is when Carl ordered his first Old Fashion. It was his signal to Renée that she was to switch to a Cosmopolitan. After three Old Fashions and two Cosmopolitans, they had stopped talking. The dining room by then had mostly filled up and Carl and Renée were surrounded by its wall of conversation. They mostly listened to the clink of the ice against Carl’s tumbler.
And then he handed Renée a small box.
“I thought that you might like a surprise for your birthday,” he said.
The box contained a pair of earrings that he had purchased at a small jeweler. They had been designed by an artist from New Mexico. Small. Elegant. Silver. Carl believed they were almost certainly one of a kind. At that very moment, Renée realized that Carl had stopped talking to her about Erica Jong weeks ago, and that she could not remember the last time they had sex.
Renée felt sad, but she forced a smile and told Carl they were beautiful.
I just spent my birthday watching Carl get drunk, she thought.
“I think I’m going to drive myself home,” Carl announced when he had finished his fourth Old Fashioned. “Happy Birthday, dear.”
Carl kissed Renée chastely on the cheek and staggered out of the restaurant. Renée, understanding that she was also drunk, called herself an Uber to take her home.
Renée had last heard from Carl in a lengthy email, in which he shared his plans for spending July at his parents’ house in Wellfleet, working on his new novel. Alone. It was early June and she had not actually seen Carl in five weeks. They had been communicating through texts and emails. They had touched on many subjects, except what was going on between them. She concluded that he had not so much broken up with her as just let her go. And that she was going to be a character in his book.
In those five weeks, she had barely missed Carl. She was consumed with a new job as executive director of family foundation that supported arts, music, and literature programs in underfunded schools. Her favorite saying was “art, music, and literature can’t hurt you.” She was dizzy and exhilarated after all the meetings, solicitations, and interviews with the three siblings who controlled the foundation’s finances, seven groups of critical donors, a dozen school district superintendents, nearly 30 school principals, parent and student groups, elected officials, reporters, staff, and consultants. She had not had a drink in those five weeks, started exercising, and had lost five pounds.
In late July, she had Saturday brunch with her sisters.
“I love your earrings,” Alice said. “I haven’t seen them before. Have you started spending money on yourself?”
“Actually, Carl gave them to me for my birthday,” Renée answered. “I haven’t worn them until today.”
Care and Alice shared a knowing glance.
“Well, they make you look like the actress Glenda Jackson,” Charlotte told her.
“You look like a young Glenda Jackson,” Alice chimed in.
“Well, whatever you are doing is working for you,” Charlotte said. “I’d sleep with you if it weren’t for the, you know, incest thing.”
“And you not being a lesbian,” Alice chirped.
Charlotte shrugged off the comment.
“I have started seeing someone,” Renée announced.
“Someone, as in not Carl?” Charlotte asked.
“Did you and Carl actually break up?” Alice asked. “Is that why you are wearing his earrings?”
“They are my earrings, not Carl’s,” Renée said, with a touch of annoyance. “And, no, it’s not Carl, although I hear from him every once in a while. He’s on Cape Cod working on that novel of his. We don’t have any plans is probably the best way I can describe what’s going on with Carl and me. But Jerry…for Jerry I can make plans.”
“Awesome sauce,” Charlotte huffed.
Renée met Jerry when he was installing an art exhibit in the lobby of the building where her foundation’s offices were located. She thought he looked like if George Clooney had an older and chunkier brother.
“How does one get into this kind of work?” she asked him.
He told her that he had some family money going back to an ice cream and confections dynasty. “It allows me to work as a freelance art curator and live in the manner of my choosing in expensive real estate,” he said.
They talked about the paintings he was hanging and one sculpture that was shaped like a giant kite. She asked him a question about arts education, which led to them having lunch the next day to discuss linking his work to the foundation and the school districts the foundation supported. And his recent divorce, which led to her texting him later that day. And again that night. And again the next day. Which led her to email him lengthy disquisitions on art, literature, and music.
Renée felt something growing inside her, something like an obsession mixed with pure exhilaration. When she thought about Jerry, she felt a rush. Not a sexual attraction, at least not a first, but a surge of pure energy focused on her bright, shiny new toy.
Jerry seemed to respond to her messages with enthusiasm.
And then Renée came down with a cold. She called Jerry.
“Jerry, honey, I’m sick,” she announced.
“Never mind. I got a free ticket through work to the Ed Sheeran concert Friday night, but don’t think that I will be up for it,” Renée continued. “My kids are going with their dad. I don’t know if you like his music, but you can go on my ticket if you’re free. You should go.”
Jerry thought for a moment.
“He’s not my thing. I’m more of an oldies guy. Not to humble brag, but I met him a few years ago through my ex’s work,” he said. “My two daughters are going to the concert with their mother and her new boyfriend. Fuck the boyfriend, I’d love to go.”
Jerry had done several art installations at the theater, so he called the manager to get backstage access. After the concert, he brought Sheeran’s latest CD to the green room, and asked the singer to the sign the case for Renée.
“I remember when you, your wife, and I were talking at that party for the environmental cause,” Sheeran said.
Jerry nodded, happy to be remembered from years ago.
“Sorry, mate. Yeah, a fistfight broke out between some drunken activist dude and a some drunk who said he worked in the White House,” Sheeran continue. “Too much booze, too much at stake, too much passion, not enough age.”
Jerry chuckled over the memory.
To Renée: I hope you defeat the phlegm that kept us apart. Love and kisses, Ed, he inscribed on the CD case.
The next morning, Jerry called Renée.
“I actually had a great time at the concert, and no run-ins with the new boyfriend. I have a gift for you to express my thanks,” he announced. “If you are feeling better, I would like to deliver it in person, but I must confess ignorance of which city you call home, much less your address.”
Renée assured him that she was well enough and gave him her address. When Jerry arrived at her house an hour later, Renée invited him in. She, Drew, and Julia were eating hot dogs for lunch while watching the Washington Nationals playing the New York Mets in New York in the living room. Drew and Julia’s father grew up in Queens and had been able to pass along his rabid fandom of the Mets to his children. Renée was silently rooting for the Nationals.
“This is kind of weird for me,” he told her in the kitchen.
“What’s weird?” she asked.
“Well, you know, you’re a single woman and I’m a single man and what are your kids going to think?”
“That you might be a suitor?” Renée responded. “I get it. Would you like a hot dog?”
He accepted the offer and handed her the autographed CD.
“I can’t believe Ed Sheeran used the word ‘phlegm’ about me! This is, like, the most unusual gift I’ve ever received. I should frame it. I will treasure it, Jerry,” she said. “Forever.”
Jerry joined Renée and her children in the living room and ate his hot dog. The Mets were winning. Drew and Julia were happy. Jerry stayed an inning and left.
Later that day, Renée called Jerry and invited him to dinner.
“My kids will be with their dad. Nothing weird this time.”
Jerry brought a bouquet of irises. Over chicken enchiladas, Jerry and Renée talked about their divorces, their children, feminist literature, Jerry’s childhood in San Francisco, her sisters and his being an only child, his love of the painter Mark Rothko, and the romantic concept of whether there is just one person for each of us.
“I was romantic when I got married,” he said. “Now, I see love differently. It’s not just a feeling or attraction. There must be some cold-blooded calculation involved. I believe that it’s possible to find success in a relationship with countless numbers of people spread over the globe.”
“Jerry, I think you are so wrong. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! When you find love again, and you will, you’ll understand being ‘the one’ better,” Renée said as her eyes twinkled. “I got it wrong on my first rodeo, but I will believe to my dying day that there is just one man who is right for me.”
“Renée, never change.”
She served him Rocky Road ice cream for dessert, and they sat on her on the back porch. They looked at the constellations. Renée asked her Echo to play songs by James Taylor.
“My ex-husband would never let me play James Taylor in the house,” she said.
They sang together when “Sweet Baby James” came on.
At the end of the evening, Renée walked Jerry to the front door.
Jerry said “I’ve had a lovely evening. Thank you.”
“I hope we can do this again,” she said.
It’s happening again, she thought. Just go along for the ride. You love it. Never mind what Charlotte and Alice will say. They’re always so concerned about you. Our father taught us to “live, love, learn, and laugh.” I’m an independent woman. I am going to love until I can’t love anymore.
When he called her in the morning to thank her for dinner, Renée asked him to dinner again in two days. “My kids may be in and out, but no big deal,” she said.
Drew and Julia had eaten dinner before Jerry arrived.
“Drew likes to stay to himself and play guitar in his room,” Renée said, “and Julia is working on a poem that she wants to submit to a contest for teenagers.”
Renée made linguini with mussels, butter, and garlic. Jerry had brought a bottle of Pinot Grigio for dinner. They ate in the kitchen. Drew and Julia interrupted them for brownies and sodas. They both finally sat down long enough to ask Jerry questions about his baseball loyalties, Ed Sheeran, his children, and his job.
“Is this the Inquisition?” he asked Renée after they returned to their rooms.
“What if it were?” she responded.
While they were alone and he was answering one of her questions about his ex-wife, a subject that was clearly a wound not scabbed over, Renée reached over and placed her hand on top of his, looked him in the eye, and nodded.
At the end of the evening, Jerry said “I’ve had another lovely evening. Your kids are delightful. Thank you.”
“I’m really glad that I met you,” Renée said.
Instead of turning to walk out the front door, Jerry gazed into her eyes. She returned his gaze. Which led to Jerry kissing her flush on the lips, hard as if he hadn’t kissed a woman in a while.
He called her the next morning to tell her that he liked kissing her and wanted to do it again.
“I’d like that, too,” she responded.
Hop on your surfboard, she thought to herself. This could be a big wave.
For about 45 minutes, Renée and Jerry hit the tennis ball back and forth. Jerry, a skilled player, worked to extend the rallies and keep them interesting. Renée, a terrible player, displayed enthusiasm. Renée appreciated the patience he displayed. Finally, out of breath and with all three balls on her side of the net, Renée announced that they are finished by wordlessly picking up the balls, putting them in the can, and placing the top on the can.
“So, we’re done?” Jerry observed.
“Obviously, Einstein,” she answered. “I’m sweaty and a mess and I need to get home, cool off, and prepare myself for the Halloween party at my sister Charlotte’s tonight. You do remember that we are going, non?
They had agreed to dress as Gomez and Morticia Addams.
Renée and Jerry arrived at Charlotte’s early for dinner with Charlotte, her husband Matt, Alice, and her husband, Andre. Matt is a doctor originally from Chicago, Andre is a hydrologist from a suburb outside of Paris.
Over a dessert of kiwi and rhubarb tarts, Renée asked about Alice and Andre’s recent vacation to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Did you guys get to, you know, relax?” she asked.
“Sure,” Alice answered.
“No, I mean, really relax.”
“What are you getting at Renée?” Alice asked. “Everyone goes on vacation to relax.”
“Sex, stupid!” Renée laughed. “How was the sex? You get away from us, you get away from work, you’re in an exotic location, not a worry in the world. You just let go, right?”
“Renée, you know I’m in the room and can hear you, right?” Andre interjected.
“Renée, we’ve talked about this,” Charlotte interjected. “There are boundaries, and you just crossed one.”
“You are just a couple of uptight bitches!” Renée shouted. “Jesus, Charlotte, you’ve told me about how Matt whimpers after he comes. And Alice, you’ve told me about how many times Andre has tried to stick his dick up your ass without success.”
Renée was greeted with silence.
Charlotte and Alice shared a knowing glance. At the same time, they said “Awesome sauce.”
Matt and Andre hung their heads. Jerry looked around the room, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone.
“Ah, Charlotte…” Jerry started to say.
“Don’t!” Charlotte stopped him. “Just don’t. Jerry, this is not going to get better here tonight. I think you and Morticia here might be better off celebrating Halloween some place where Renée doesn’t know anyone.”
Renée pursed her lips and looked at Jerry. She cocked her head toward the door, and he took the hint. They drove to the city and spent the rest of the evening at a bar on top of a tall hotel. Renée worked on Cosmopolitans, Jerry on Diet Coke. He planned to run in a 5K race the next morning.
Later that night in Renée ’s bedroom, when they had finished undressing, they stood naked in front of each other. Renée reached toward Jerry’s torso and held him closely. She gazed into his eyes, smiled, and said, “Jerry, I love you.”
They got into bed and Renée put her hand on Jerry’s chest.
“I just want to hold you close, Jerry,” she said. “My sex drive has not been strong lately. I think it’s perimenopause.”
“Renée, never change.”
When Jerry woke up the morning, Renée was talking quietly on the phone in the kitchen. When she saw Jerry, she ended the call.
“You remember me telling you about Carl, my last boyfriend? That was Carl,” she said
Jerry sat down across the table from her. “He just wanted to check in and ask how I was doing.”
“He does that, doesn’t he?”
“Doesn’t really let go. You’ve told me all about Carl. He calls you at least once a week,” Jerry said. “Don’t you think it’s a little bit of a control thing?”
Renée turned and looked out the window.
“Look, Renée, before I go, I have something for you,” Jerry said. “It’s not a big deal, but it’s what couples do.”
“What do couples do, Jerry?” Renée asked.
“They do nice things for each other. Like surprising each other with small tokens of affection. I love you, too, Renée. I want you to know that I am not taking what we’ve got for granted.”
“Jerry, you need to be careful about using language like that. It can cause a lot of confusion.”
Jerry sat up straight like he had received a small electric shock.
“Renée, you told me last night that you loved me,” he said. “We were alone, we were naked, you looked in my eyes, you said it, and we held each other. I don’t know that there are a lot of ways to interpret that.”
“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. I do love you. I love you as a human being. I love your humanity. You’re a great person. But I can’t say that I’m in love with you. At least not yet.”
An awkward 30 seconds passed between them.
“Honey, don’t you have to get ready for that 5K?” Renée asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Jerry said as he stood up. “Anyway, here’s this.”
He handed Renée a bag custom-made for a local small jeweler. Inside the bag was a small box.
I know that box, Renée thought.
The box contained a pair of earrings. They had been designed by an artist from New Mexico. Small. Elegant. Silver.
“I think they are one of a kind,” said Jerry, sounding pleased.
Merde, thought Renée. Merde, merde, merde.
She held the earrings in her hand for a moment too long, while she struggled to form a smile on her face.
“They’re lovely,” Renée said unconvincingly. “Thank you very much.”
“Is there something wrong with them?” Jerry asked.
“No, no. They’re beautiful, Jerry. I love them.”
“Something in your reaction makes me think there’s something wrong with them.”
“Yes,” Renée said. “I have to admit it. There is.”
Jerry sat back down at the kitchen table and waited for the next words out of Renée ’s mouth. He waited for about five minutes.
“The thing is, Jerry,” Renée sputtered, “I have another pair of these earrings. The very same ones from the very same jewelry store. Probably sold to you by Inez, who also sold them to Carl last April as a birthday gift for me.”
“You both have really good taste,” Renée said. “Really. Good. Men. With. Good. Taste.”
“Renée, were you in love with Carl? Did you think he was the one for you?”
“I don’t know, Jerry,” she answered. “There were certainly times when I thought he was.”
“And now? Do you think that you still love Carl?”
“Jerry, love’s not a thing that you can put in a box with a bow and hide it in the closet and take it out when you want it,” Renée said. “It’s in you and runs through your veins. Always and always. Sometimes it runs stronger, sometimes weaker, but it always runs through you.”
“What about me?” Jerry asked. “Is your love for me – as friend or lover or whatever – running strong or weak in your veins?”
“It’s there, Jerry,” she said. “All I can tell you is that it’s there and that it will always be there no matter what.”
“No matter what?” Jerry repeated. “Does this mean that you are breaking up with me?”
Charlotte and Alice had called Jerry. They had dinner with him in early January to explain how things worked with their sister.
“She has been dealing with depression for years,” Charlotte said.
“She has these manic highs when she is the most charismatic and energetic person you would ever know. Men and women fall in love with her because she puts all her talents and graces out there on display,” Alice said. “Those highs are followed by lows that scare the bejeezus out of us. She becomes listless. Aimless. Like she’s cradled in the arms of ennui. She stops thinking about the future. And she’s terrified to be around her kids, and she loves her kids more than anything.”
“It almost seems to ebb and flow with the seasons,” Alice says.
“She was with Carl for, what, almost five years,” Charlotte says. “I think they really loved each other, but she must have broken up with him a half dozen times. In the end, I think her struggles just wore him out.”
“I think you will hear from her again,” Charlotte says. “You just have to figure out for yourself whether you can surf her waves or be wiped out by them. Or if you even want to try to get on that surfboard.”
“Alice and I like you, Jerry,” she said. “We want to keep seeing you.”
Early one morning about a month later, Renée called Jerry. She did not sound well. He had never heard her voice tremble like this.
“Jerry, it feels like I am swimming in a pool of swirling water being sucked down a drain and I can’t…,” she gasped. “Jerry…help…me…please.”
“Renée,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “Hang on. I am coming to you right now. Immediately. I am walking out my door to the car right now. Hang on.”
Through the morning rush hour, it took Jerry a half hour to drive to her house. When he drove into Renée’s driveway, he could see that the front door was open. He found Renée dressed and standing by the kitchen sink, peeling a clementine.
“I’m feeling a lot better now,” she said. “I think I will go to work today.”
“Jerry, I really appreciate you coming to help me,” she said in a calm voice. I’m sorry if I scared you. It used to drive Carl crazy. He started to ignore these episodes after a while.”
“Jerry, you’re a real friend,” she said gaily as they walked to her car. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.
“Renée, never change,” he said, without conviction.
Renée smiled and waved to him as she drove off.
Renée called Jerry two weeks later. He thought she sounded slightly drunk.
“I’m with some friends celebrating one of their friend’s birthday,” she yelled into the phone over the noise of the bar.
“Renée, I’m in the city finishing up some work for a client,” he said.
“I think it would be good for you to get out of the city. When you’re done, c’mon down!”
Jerry arrived at the bar an hour later to find Renée seated across a booth from a man he did not recognize, watching the Los Angeles Lakers/San Antonio Spurs game on one of the big screens. Jerry slid next to Renée in the booth.
“You just missed everyone else,” she explains. “Jerry, I’d like you to meet Carl. It’s Carl’s birthday.”
The two men eyed each other and nodded from across the table.
“Well, Carl, happy birthday.”
Renée was smoking. He had never seen her smoke. She placed her hand on Jerry’s shoulder and said, “Carl and I are talking about a proposal to inject more women’s literature into the schools my foundation covers.”
Jerry ordered a round for the three of them while they talked about art, literature, and education. Renée was at the top of her game, drawing Jerry and Carl into what seemed like a serious philanthropic discussion.
“Also, I have slept with both of you,” she said nonchalantly, as she patted Jerry’s leg. “Just so that’s out there.”
“Awesome sauce,” Jerry huffed.
“What did you just say, Jerry?” She seems surprised to hear the Pelletier sisters’ code word come out of his mouth.
“Awesome sauce,” he repeated. “It’s been fun and illuminating, but I have to go. Sorry to bug out. Big day tomorrow with a new client. Happy birthday, Carl.”
Jerry left the two of them and drove home.
As he was getting into bed later that evening, Jerry’s phone rang. It was Renée, sounding even more drunk.
“I have something to tell you, but it has to be in person,” she said.
“Can it wait until tomorrow?”
“No, and I think you will want to hear it. I’m driving home. Can you come over?”
When Jerry pulled into Renée’s driveway, he saw that she was still in her car. She was asleep in the driver’s seat. Jerry opened the driver’s door, found Renée’s keys, and helped her into the house. She lay down on the sofa in her living room. Jerry reached into the storage cube next to the television and pulled out comforter, which he laid over her. She opened her eyes and focused on Jerry standing in the doorway.
“Jerry, remember when I called you that morning and you came to rescue me?”
“What I want to tell you is that I may have been on the verge of killing myself,” she said. “I held the phone in one hand and a bottle of pills in the other. If you had not answered the phone and promised to come see me, I don’t know what I was going to do.”
“I’d never done anything like that,” she said. “It scared me. I want to assure you that I will never do it again. I haven’t told anyone, not even my sisters. Just you, and I want to keep it that way.”
“Jerry, you saved my life, and I will always be grateful to you and thankful that you came into my life.”
“Jerry, I really did love you,” she said. “I mean that I still love you. You are running through my veins, but— “
“I’m not the one.”
“You aren’t the one. You know, the one who is meant to be with me forever. Remember when we talked about that? Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I think I do,” he answered. “And you know what’s funny? I think you had me believing in that silly, romanticized notion of ‘the one.’ Because you had me believing that you were the one for me.”
“But even though you broke my heart into a million pieces when you broke up with me, and even though you broke those million pieces into another million pieces earlier tonight every time you touched me in the bar…I am still grateful that we met and feeling blessed that you shared your life with mine for a few, very intense months. You are running through my veins, too.”
Renée pulled the comforter up to her chin. She would be waking up in the morning on the sofa.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll talk again soon,” she said, somewhat sadly.
“Brunch?” he suggested, using her magic word.
“I would love brunch,” she said, smiling. “Brunch is my favorite thing in the whole world!”
“Yes,” she said, closing her eyes. “I do so love what spring brings to me.”
As he closed the front door behind him, Jerry said, “Renée, never change.”