The phone rang at an obscenely late hour.
John didn't want to answer. He was dreaming of her. Again. They were in a field of wild flowers of some kind. She looked like an angel. He had to see her face. He reached out for her, called her name. “Susan...” He followed her but she kept moving. He needed her. He needed her saving grace. He called to her again, but she did not respond. He began to run, all the while calling her name. “Susan! Susan...” He began to run faster. However it was fruitless. No matter how fast he chased her, she continued to glide away from him. Then she stopped. She glanced over her shoulder, but her hair still covered her face. He stood there afraid that if he moved she would also. She said his name.
He stared at her, confused for a second, and then smiled, “What is it love?”
“John,” she said again, but her voice sounded different.
“Is everything alright?” he asked.
“John! Pick up the phone!”
That woke him up.
“John, it’s Liz! I know you’re there pick up the phone!”
Angry that once again, his dream wasn’t complete, in sleep or reality, he rolled over to catch the phone before the answering machine cut his best friend off.
“Elizabeth,” he said her full name to show her how annoyed he was with her. “It’s after midnight. What is it?”
“She’s getting married.”
He shot straight up out of the bed.
“Who’s getting married?”
Somehow he’d know that’s who “she” was.
“Are you o-”
“Who is it?”
“Does it really mat-”
“Who is he?”
“Some big hot shot nobody. I don’t really know. He works in financing. Or real estate.”
He sat there, thinking about how his dream would never come true now, how he’d thought he’d find a way to get her to give him a second chance. He’d waited too long.
“Johnny?” Liz said her voice full of concern.
He shook his head trying to clear it.
“Wait, how do you know this?” Liz and John hadn’t known each other when Susan had left him.
“I met her.”
“The art exhibit.”
Liz was an up and coming artist. She had several pieces of her work at local art galleries.
“Tell me everything.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“Ok ok…” she sighed deeply. He recognized the sigh. He rolled his eyes knowing she was about to start talking extremely fast.
“I was circulating, you know, meeting potential buyers, and then she came in with him. I immediately recognized her from the pictures you showed me. She came to me, told me how exquisite my work was. Then a waiter walked by with those little appetizer things, which I must say John, they were incredible! You did a great job!”
“Thank you,” he dryly replied. John owned a few restaurants and also did catering. He hadn’t gone to the art exhibit because he was swamped at his restaurant, and Liz had given him a personal tour the night before after everything had been set up. Now he was even gladder he hadn’t gone.
She continued. “So she also commented on the food, and asked who catered. I was hesitant, and all I said at first was, ‘a friend’ and she said, ‘A “friend”? Honey you’re holding out on me!’ Then she asked what the name of the restaurant was. I told her Caliente. Something flashed across her face. Did you ever tell her what you wanted to name one of your restaurants?”
“Yes.” She’d left him before she could see his dream of owning a restaurant come true. Now he owned several. His Mexican style restaurant had catered that particular art show.
“She tried to act cool, but I saw the look of surprise in her eyes. She then asked for the name of the owner of the restaurant. I had evaded for so long that I couldn’t anymore so I told her. Then she said, ‘John Parker owns the restaurant that catered this food?’ and I said ‘Oh yes, one of several, we’re good good friends.’ She looked mortified!” He could practically see the smug look on her face.
“What?!” He could hear the fiery anger quickly surface in her voice. “Johnny this woman left you, left you at the altar on your wedding day. Don’t you dare feel sorry for her because I rubbed in the fact that I knew you and don’t expect me to be nice to her.”
He could have imagined how Liz would have been. She would have rubbed in the fact that he was highly successful in her face like salt on an open wound.
“What else happened?”
“The guy came over, a real full of himself kind of dude. Said my work was nice.” She sounded irritated by the use of the word 'nice'. “Then we began to talk about the food again. She told him how an ‘old friend’ of hers had catered the gallery opening.”
He clutched the sheets. ‘Old friend'. Friends didn’t do the things they’d done.
“He did say the food was excellent. Then he said he wanted to look around some more. They went to the sculpture Entangled.” Elizabeth was an artistic force to be reckoned with. She painted and sculpted. She was foreseen to be the next big thing in the art world.
“Did he buy it?” John asked her.
There was silence for a moment. “Liz?”
“Yes, they bought it.” He’d noticed that she said “they” rather than “he”.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“This is the part you aren’t going to like.”
She sighed, this time deep and slow. She knew she was about to say something that would hurt her best friend. She was taking the time to let him prepare himself, and preparing herself to tell him.
“They were standing in front of the sculpture and he asked her, ‘What do you think of this?’ She turned to look at the piece and began to talk about it. He asked her if she wanted it, and she said it was way too much and she couldn’t. And then he told her to look at it again and think about it. He said he wanted her to pick anything she wanted for the house they’d spend the rest of their lives in.”
He felt his gut clench. Liz continued, “She looked shocked and turned back to him. By then he was on one knee with the ring in his hand. He spouted off how he loved her and all of that other crap.” She’d finished.
He leaned back against the headboard.
“Are you alright? I can come right over.”
“No I’m fine, don’t come over.”
“Johnny,” she sighed.
“Liz, it’s two in the morning. Get some rest.”
“I’ll only be able to rest knowing you’re alright.”
“I told you I’m fine.”
“Ok, well I’ll see you tomorrow for breakfast?”
“Of course, I’ll have it ready for you.”
“Bye Liz .”
He hung up the phone.
He sat there in silence. He wasn't sure what to do. He shouldn’t have been too surprised that she would move on. It had almost been five years since the disastrous wedding day.
Not being able to sit anymore, he got up and went to the shower. After quickly washing, he threw on some jeans, a black t-shirt and his shoes. He grabbed his keys and headed out the door. The elevator ride down felt like it took forever. He decided to walk. He thought about Susan, and how happy they’d been and how everything came crashing down around him on his wedding day. And with no real explanation. Just a note:
I’m sorry, I can’t do this. Please forgive me.
By the time he went to find her she was gone. For the longest time she wouldn’t answer his calls, return his emails, or answer the door when he went to see her.
When she had finally spoken to him, all she said was that she wasn’t ready to get married like she thought she was. He’d even been ok with that. He told her they could start again and take things slow. All she said back was that she hoped they could find some kind of way to be friends again.
He’d left, angry and hurt. He devoted all of his time and attention to working on getting his restaurant off the ground. Once it was a hit, it didn’t take long to open two more. Splitting his time between the three restaurants was sometimes daunting, but invigorating. He stopped a block away from his first pride and joy. The one that had made him successful.
Then he saw her. He couldn’t help but smile as he continued to walk.
She was bundled up, bouncing up and down to stay warm, her big curls bobbing around all over the place. As she was hopping she turned and saw him and gave him a sympathetic smile. When he stopped in front of her, she playfully smacked his arm.
“Well, it took you long enough.”
He shook his head, “What are you doing here Peaches?” She loved eating peaches and ate them almost every day. John once told her, “If you keep eating peaches so much you're going to turn into one.” Apparently she did, more or less, since she'd inherited the nickname from him.
Continuing to bounce from one booted foot to the other she looked up at him. “I knew you’d come here.”
He gave a skeptical look and asked, “How did you know that I wouldn’t have gone to one of the other restaurants?”
She rolled her eyes, “You and I both know that this is the one you come to when you’re upset.”
Her eyes widened as she looked at him, “You’re not cold?”
He’d forgotten his jacket. “I guess I didn’t think about it,” he answered shrugging.
She unfolded her arms and began tugging his arm. “Come on let’s go in.”
He took out his keys and unlocked the door. As they entered, he flicked on the switch. Everything was in its place. She walked behind the bar. She grabbed two small glasses and a bottle of liquor then poured each of them a drink. She placed one in front of him.
“Drink,” she demanded.
They both tossed the shot back at the same time.
“How did she look?” he asked, feeling the liquid burn his throat, then warm his chest.
“Skinny,” she answered not meaning it in a good way. She poured them another shot.
They both drank again slamming the glasses on the bar.
“What about him?”
She stopped pouring for a second gave him a sly smile and continued to pour as she said, “Not nearly as devastatingly handsome as you.”
“You’re too kind.”
“Ok,” she said, “What are you going to cook for me?”
He laughed. She came from around the bar and grabbed his hand dragging him to the kitchen. “Come on! I know you were going to cook anyway, so I figured I’d reap the benefits.”
“How about a salad?”
She stopped and looked at him horrified. “It’s three in the morning! Now’s not the time to be healthy. Give me something deep fried. Make me some of that shrimp! The tequila lime shrimp!”
He looked at her and laughed. “Why would you even ask me what I was going to cook for you if you were going to tell me anyway?”
She looked over her shoulder flashing him a smile. “I was just giving you a chance to guess correctly.”
He went to the fridge to get the food. She went and grabbed the tequila they'd been drinking earlier, then stopped in front of the stereo system.
He looked up, “What are you doing Liz ?”
“I brought my iPod.”
“I don’t want to hear that song.”
“You need to,” she simply replied.
Before he could stop her, it was playing and she was dancing. Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” was blasting through the restaurant. Whenever he started thinking about her, and Liz always had an uncanny knack for knowing when, she’d play the song. She poured him another shot. “Here, drink this then start cooking.”
He took the shot. She continued dancing around. He smiled, thankful for such a great friend.