Nicki took the job in Washington state in the ninth month of their relationship.
She broke the news over dinner. “I’m sorry, Mitch. I’ll probably never get an offer like this again. It feels like it’s now or never.”
“It’s okay, Nick. I would have done the same.” Mitch was relieved at how reasonable he sounded, though he regretted saying that last part–he would never have done this. But he looked at her and smiled.
Nicki reached for his hands from across the table, her elbows pulling the white linen tablecloth and tottering their water glasses. He pulled his hands away to steady the glasses.
“I really hope we’ll stay in touch,” She said.
“Me too,” He said back. But his head was echoing with blurred memories that forced themselves to the forefront of his vision, clouding his ability to respond to her. The rest of the meal was a blur, and he was barely aware of paying the check, out of habit, he didn’t remember her response or if she tried to pay her half, stumbling outside, finding his car, driving home, untying his tie, taking off socks and shoes, falling into bed and instinctively feeling for her warmth.
The next few months were a painful blur of too much wine, not enough sleep, and trying to not think about her. Of course he helped her pack up, move, and even offered to help in the long drive out West, to which she politely declined with sincere gratitude. His smiles and nods must have fit the role of whatever she was expecting of him, because she not once questioned his state of mind.
After she was gone, he started talking to her when he was alone in her apartment. He found pictures of her, pictures of them, pictures she took, and taped them to the wall next to the window in his apartment. The collection slowly overtook the window, and now only slivers of light sliced through the cracks of the memories he enshrined.
“You should try running,” His neighbor said to him one afternoon as Mitch wrestled with the key in his mailbox.
“What do you mean?” Mitch couldn’t remember this neighbor’s name–Al, or Andrew, or something. They had talked about board games at the last apartment social.
“Running,” Al or Andrew said again. “Nicki left you, right?”
The words hit Mitch like a punch in the stomach, and he felt the air in lungs leave in what he hoped sounded like a sigh.
“Yyyyyes.” It was hard to say.
“Pick up running,” Al or Andrew said. “Trust me.” He patted the back of his shoulder, and walked away.
Mitch felt of his shoulder that had been touched. He didn’t realize how long it had been since he had a friendly, normal interaction with someone. The spot on his shoulder felt warm, and the heat slowly spread across his back, through his arms, and into his fingertips.
“Running,” Mitch tried it out outloud. What did he have to lose?