Flash Fiction: The Oldest Story

I meet Eric in the cafe two blocks from my house. It’s quiet here. The vibe is faintly Parisian – snooty but somehow still warm. Eric is not my boyfriend. Eric, I know, should not even be my friend, and yet we continue to find ourselves here, in this faintly Parisian cafe two blocks from my house, sipping lattes and pretending that the small talk we are making is what our friendship is made of.

James is my boyfriend. I don’t love James but his mother has been losing an uphill battle with breast cancer for the last six months and how could I, being a compassionate and cowardly human being, leave him when he’s relied on me so much? When I’ve been there for him and provided him with a dry shoulder, made him cookies and sang him a tearful happy birthday when his mother went into chemo the same day. The simple answer is that I can’t.

Eric leans over the table, looking into my eyes. “I saw a girl who looked exactly like you today,” he says. “It was so strange.”

“And what gave her away?” I ask, laughing at his boyish grin. He looks down at his empty mug. Something in him breaks.

“I think I need another one, you?” I shake my head, knowing that we have stumbled upon the flaw in our relationship, the part of the conversation that inevitably leads to a nervous moment in which we both stare at one another and in our minds we embrace, vigorously and with need, and I rain kisses upon his face without ever touching him. Eric stands and goes to the counter.

James calls.”Hey,” he says quietly. Something is wrong. “Can you come over?”

“Why, what’s wrong?” I ask worriedly. He is suppressing tears.

“She’s just…she’s just not doing…” he let’s out a choking sob and I can feel my own tears rising.

“It’s okay, I’ll be right there.” I hang up the phone and I look at Eric. He tells me he understands, even though he wishes he didn’t. From across the room, I standing in the doorway and he at the counter, we stare at each other and in our minds we say good bye with our fumbling hands, our sloppy mouths, our insistent bodies. From across the room I wave good bye to him, and leave the cafe.

Twenty minutes later I am standing on James’ porch. I don’t bother knocking on the door. I enter the house cautiously. It’s dark. Silent.

James is sitting on his bed when I come into the dim room. His body is outlined in an orange glow from the streetlight outside.

“Thanks for coming.” His voice is hoarse from crying. I nod and sit down next to him. I hug him and he pulls me in, holding me hard and fast as though he’s afraid I might float away.

“I love you,” he says. My throat tightens.

“I love you too,” I say, knowing it’s true. Knowing it isn’t. We sit there for a very long time.


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