"When you love someone, you feel it deep inside, and
nothing else, could ever change your mind... you'll
risk it all, no matter what may come, when you love someone."
~ Bryan Adams, "When You Love Someone"
The bell rings for recess.
Inside my car, heater turned up to blasting, I watch as the children stream through the doors and onto the playground. It's 48 degrees out but no one's informed the elementary school of this. They shriek out their places at the swings, the bars, the foot of the slide ladder. Even from so far away, I can see the unmitigated joy on their faces. Ah, recess. Life doesn't get any better.
It doesn't, really. Fourth grade was probably the high point in my life.
'Well, little Timmy, when you grow up you're going to be a bank robber! Little Suzie, you're going to run away from home at 17 and become a drug addict! And little Billy... you're going to grow up to be just like your old Buddy Colonel Jack: an adulterer!'
Excuse me for being cynical.
I peer distrustfully at the radio dial. In the movies, whenever the character is immersed in unsociable self-hatred and doubt, he turns on the music and there's a song playing that makes them feel better, makes them see things in perspective. I reach forward and twist the knob.
"-other news, an earthquake hit..."
I groan and change the station.
"-has told police that he will not release the hostages..."
"-a deadly case of food poisoning in South Dakota..."
"-Hometown Furniture! Prices are slashed in half! That's right, half!"
I resist the urge to pummel my skull against the steering wheel, and instead turn off the radio. This kind of thing would never happen to Harrison Ford.
That's when I see him, in the rearview mirror. Rick Pike, strolling a-my way. I gulp. The keys are still in the ignition; I could drive away, quite effectively avoid him... but no... I can't. No matter what the outcome, I have to confront this, here and now. I can't run away or delude myself any longer.
Rick stoops down next to the car and knocks on the window. I hit down the power locks, and he opens the door. "This seat taken?"
"Not if you don't mind dog fur on your pants." Hey, can I help it if I'm the one elected to take Cassie's dog to the vet?
"Nah." Rick climbs inside and closes the door.
I brace myself for a beating or at least a tongue lashing, but for a long while we sit in silence, comforted only by the whir of the heater.
"Sam said I might find you here."
Looking out the window, I'm shocked to see that the terrain isn't flashing by. According to my stomach, I'm on a roller coaster. "You talked to Sam?"
There's such deep longing, hurt, and resignation in that one words that it finally trips me on my conscience. "I'm so sorry, Richard."
"Hey, no, don't be," he says shakily.
I look over at him with knitted brows. "What?" I was expecting to be beaten into a bloody mess, not forgiveness.
Rick's voice is faint, but it's there; he's actually saying the words that I'm hearing. "I knew when I married Sammie what I was going up against. I knew I'd have to live up to you, the way she sees you. I couldn't do that. Can't say I'm surprised."
My expression hasn't changed.
"The first day I met her, I knew, Jack. Maybe it's because I'm a 'big fancy psychiatrist', but... that first dinner we had together? I asked about her family and friends. And the first person she mentioned? Not her father, or brother, or even Janet. It was you."
"Yeah. She said you were an ass who couldn't calculate his way out of a paper bag."
I wonder if I should be offended by that, and then decide not to be. "Well, she was right."
"She talked about you for half that night... not always kindly but there was just this SOMETHING in her voice... in her eyes." He sighs deeply, as though he's very, very tired. "I don't know. Maybe that something's what made me ask her out again."
"Just good, old fashioned competition?"
"Your classic Alpha male behavior, yeah. The whole time we were going out, I waited, I just waited, every evening, for her to tell me that it was over, that the two of you had hooked up. She didn't. She never did. I didn't know what that meant... if nothing was going on or if she just wasn't telling me. When I proposed, I was flabbergasted. I hadn't expected her to say yes. Maybe I didn't even want her to. Maybe I just wanted to be able to tell myself that this beautiful, talented woman loved me."
"She does love you." I'm proud of my voice; it doesn't betray me.
"She thinks she does," answered Rick agreeably. When I look over at him, I see his eyes are closed, and again I'm shaken by how calm he is. It's almost unreal, and it's more understanding than I deserve. "How long have you loved her?"
"I don't know," I admit truthfully, and with a bitter little laugh. It seems that you should know something like this. "I didn't want to. I heard 'woman' and 'scientist' and I thought 'woman scientist' and I cringed. And then it turns out that she's insubordinate and... cheeky... and waaayy smarter than me... but she told me I'd like her, and she was right. I just don't know when I actually fell for her." Somewhere between Mongols and viruses and Antarctica and alternate worlds, perhaps?
Rick gives a worn smile. "Amen, brother." Finally, I start to relax. He smiles at my relief. "What'd you think? That I came here to kill you?"
"I figured it was a possibility."
"I guess I have underdeveloped homicidal tendencies. And I just can't make myself hate you when I made a huge mistake of my own. I narrow my eyes quizzically, and he explains. "I married a woman who was in love with someone else. Not smart."
"That doesn't make what I did right," I feel compelled to point out.
"No, it doesn't," he agrees shortly, and I remind myself that for all his serenity, I've been sleeping with his wife, and he is in fact human. "But I love Sammie and I want what's best for her. What makes her happy. And I guess that's you."
I stare at him. Damn... martyr. If I really loved Sam, would I feel the same way? Would I want what was best for her? Rick?
He seems to read my mind. "I might be better off... younger..." he pauses, and adds exaggeratedly. "Better LOOKING..."
I snicker. No he isn't.
"But you're the one she loves. I can't compete with that. Never could."
He turns in his seat and extends his hand to me. I stare at it, as though it's a snake and liable to bite my hand off. Then, slowly, I take it.
Rick shakes my hand. "Congratulations, Jack."
His voice breaks.
Then he leaves. He has dog fur all over his pants.
I stare out the windshield at the kids. Maybe little Suzie can get some counseling.
I turn on the radio.
"-A brisk fifty degrees tomorrow, cool and clear, not a cloud in the sky..."
Someone knocks on my front door.
I'm sprawled out on the couch, watching television, my untouched beer warming to room temperature, leaving a ring on the coffee table in the process. So long, Good Housekeeping.
I'm not all that surprised when Sam walks into the living room; sits down beside me. I turn off the TV and sit up. Despite my posture, my entire body is tense and strung, as through preparing myself for a blow from her, emotional or physical, whichever."I still love Rick."
My heart drops down around my ankles.
"But not the way I love you."
It rebounds into my throat.
She looks at me, eyes deep blue and earnest, and I can't help thinking again what I thought before: that if I truly loved her, I wouldn't want to keep her all to myself. "Are you sure?" I press. She's made one mistake in love, two if you count Jonas. I don't want to be the third. I don't want to help her make a third.
"I'm here, aren't I?" I have to acknowledge that fact. "I chose YOU."
I've never been in this situation before; I can't tell her that I understand what it's like to pick one person over another, your lover over your spouse. Once upon a time, still too attached to Sara in my own head, I thought I might have to, but it never came to that. She's the one taking this step, and though I can't sympathize with her, I can love her for it.
"I thought I was an ass?"
She flushes, but answers straight-faced. "You are."
"Who couldn't calculate his way out of a paper bag?"
"We'll work on that," she assures me.
I grin - I'd like to work on some other things - and pull her close before doubt reaches me again. "Do you want to... take things slower?" I ask.
"Sounds good to me."