Keys

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
two ill-matched lovers must come to terms with the fact that their relationship is going nowhere. his actions aren't enough to prove he really loves her, and her ambitions make her feel trapped by staying with him

Submitted: August 13, 2015

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Submitted: August 13, 2015

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Walking slowly down the driveway, I fumble with the giant mess of keys in my hands, searching for the right one.  Why do I have so many keys?

“Do you love me?”

I pause mid-step.  My fingers still, their quest now interrupted.  I look back at him.  At first I only glance over my shoulder, but the way his eyes regard me so expectantly, his lower lip tucked in as if he wished he could pull the words back, makes me turn all the way around.  We just stand like that for a while; me hovering at the edge of the driveway, clutching the mismatched pile of metal to my chest, and him leaning against the driver’s side of his worn out Malibu, shoulders hunched up to brace against my response, us both awash in the yellow glare of the bare bulb mounted just above the front door.

I had feared– almost expected, really, this conversation, but standing out here at a quarter after two, weary and anxious to go home and take a hot shower, all I can think is why now?  My eyes lose focus as I probe my mind for the words to say.  Really, he probably only wants one word, but I’ve always hated vague responses.  Just one more difference between us.

“Forget it,” his voice almost cracks, and I snap back to the moment.  He lifts a cigarette to his mouth and lights it, turning away to stare at some unseen thing in the dark.  My stomach tightens.  Why did I hesitate?  I try to stuff the clanging ball of keys into my coat pocket, but it doesn’t quite fit.  I jam harder and they go in, but their bulky presence at my hip irritates me as I stiffly walk forward to close the gap between us.  I stand in front of him for a moment, the steam of my breath nearly reaching his face, but he still won’t look at me.  Quietly, unsure, I utter his name, but my throat feels dry and I wonder if he just hasn’t heard me.  I say it again louder, more pleading, and finally he meets my gaze.  His expression is impassive, but there’s a cold, guarded look in his eyes that makes me want to shrink away.

I clench my frigid hands into fists, trying to ignore the throbbing both in my fingers and my chest.  “I think about you all the time," I start.  "Every time an order comes in, I hold my breath because I hope that it will send me your way.  Every time I leave there, I’m always smiling back to the car because I got to see you.  Every time I come by after work is the best part of my evening.”

He starts to raise his cigarette again, but I steal it away.

“I care about what happens to you,” I say, throwing it on the ground.  “But I’m leaving. You’ve known that.”

His lips finally part after what feels like an eternity, and the strain in his voice is like sandpaper on my ears.  “But why do you have to go?”

“Because there’s nothing here for me.”

He swallows. “Nothing?”

I close my eyes.  I will not cry.  Will not.  “This town just isn’t big enough.  I didn’t earn my degree to stay here delivering carry-out for a living.”  I open my eyes, blinking up at the slivers of sky that peek through the snaking branches of the live oak that reach over from the yard across the street.  “But nothing is keeping you here either.  You could go anywhere you want.”

I lower my eyes back to him.  He’s looking off and away again, and he merely shrugs in response.

I clench my jaw.  “But that’s the thing of it, really.  It’s always me that comes to you.”

“You’ve never invited me to your place.”

“Bullshit,” I snap, “you didn’t want to.”

“Cause you live with your boss.”

I scoff.  “And you live with your boss!”

“He doesn’t care when you come over.”

“Mine don’t care if you come over either!”  I realize that I’ve raised my voice, and take a deep breath.  “And that’s not even what I meant.  I’m leaving to further my career.  I have ambitions.  You?  You’re a high school drop-out.  You work at a Chinese restaurant.  You could do that anywhere!  It’s not like you’re close to your family.  Why even stay?  Why are you trying to keep me here?”

He turns his head to look at me, but only shrugs again and my jaw sets a little more.   I notice my hands are shaking and I shove them down into my pockets to warm them.  The left one barely goes in with all of my keys in the way, but at their touch I remember why we’re out here in the first place.  By luck, my thumb skims the rhinestone-studded leather disk that connects to my car key.  I close my hand around it, and suddenly I find my bravery.

“This thing that we have– this pseudo-relationship somewhere between fuck buddies and ‘boyfriend-girlfriend’?  It’s not good enough and I don’t want it.  I don’t want to be with someone who would want me to give up on my dreams just for the sake of being with them when they would never come close to doing the same.  It’s a waste of my time and efforts and emotions.  So do I love you?”  I pause. I’m shouting again. With a sigh, I slip the keys out of my pocket with a soft jangle.  “No.  I don’t love you… Because it’s not worth it.”

I turn and walk purposefully down the driveway, crossing the dark street to the vacant house I always park beside.  Getting in, I start the engine and welcome the blast of lukewarm air left over from the heat that I had cranked all the way up on my way over.  I scroll through my iPod looking for something angry I can drive to.  I don’t bother looking up to see if he’s still out there.  It had only taken that first night to realize that he would never be waiting to watch me go, never follow after me if I stormed off mad or upset.  But back then it hadn’t mattered.  

It wasn’t supposed to go on this long. 

I find a good song and take off down the street.  As soon as I’m out of the neighborhood, I turn the volume all the way up and gun it to 80 as I pull onto the deserted freeway.  My knuckles are white against the steering wheel. The heavy bass exaggerates the rhythm that’s already slamming in my chest, and the longer of my key chains hangs down and brushes against my knee in a steady tap tap tap.

I feel more at ease by the time I reach my boss's place, having taken my aggression out on the gas pedal.  I free the key from the ignition, taking a moment to bask in the hot interior before I have to brave the cold again.  Briefly I wonder if he’s still thinking about me, but I know that it’s only me hoping.  In reality he’s probably long over it, absorbed in the latest game download from Steam.  And tomorrow if we happen to cross paths, we’ll both plaster on a mask of cheery professionalism and pretend that it never happened.

I swing the door open and a rush of icy air greets me like a slap in the face. I grab my bag and make sure all of the doors are locked before I go.  Walking slowly up the driveway, I fumble with the giant mess of keys in my hands, searching for the right one.  Why do I have so many keys?


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