… the world through the eyes of the rambler.
Evidently, time heals all wounds. And Jeffrey appears to be completely healed. I watch his chubby face on TV every night, anchoring a late night talk show on Channel 45.
He looks relaxed, well fed. His voice is strong and steady. None of that slight tremor that evince his hurt at my betrayal.
He has a new wardrobe, apparently got rid of all his colorful suits. Boy, talk about a makeover – dark suits, a clean shave, even sarcastic humor… Jeffrey, my Jeffrey, making jokes!
It’s been two years. So of course, he’s moved on. While I seat my lonely bum on the couch eating a microwaved dinner, he lights up the TV screens of millions of viewers.
Just the other day, my batty old neighbour commented that he reminded her of a young Bill Clinton. Shirley’s an Octogenarian, which means her opinions concerning the male of the species don’t exactly count.
I remember the day Jeffrey and I met. It was a weekend in Summer. The Lakeview Herald – a local newspaper – had carried a story about a certain balloon shooting competition taking place at the annual Lakeview Summer Carnival. A winner take all competition; players were given hunting rifles and in a one minute cycle, took turns to shoot down as many inflated balloons as they could. Whoever shoots down the highest number of balloons, wins!
I wanted the prize money – figured I could use a few hundred dollars in my savings account – so I put on my good luck red flannel top, matched with a skinny jean, and made my way to St Martins Park.
You have to know something about Lakeview, it’s a class-conscious community. A town of about fifty thousand people – made up of ten percent haves, and ninety percent have-nots. The have-nots were further divided into forty percent male chauvinists, fifty percent women and ten percent rancorous beasts.
My boyfriend Logan, fell into the latter category. I had told him about the competition earlier that morning, and we agreed to meet at the park. Logan is a good shot, he practices a lot with his father’s hand gun. Actually, most of that practice entails robbing a liquor store or snatching purses from helpless women who stray into dark alleys.
I hardly supported his clandestine activities of course, but Logan isn’t all bad. Come to think of it, he steals only when he’s broke… and at times when he’s jobless. He has never really hurt anyone, and he swore the gun was merely for dramatic effect.
That’s what he tells me anyway, and I believe him. I like to think I’m a good judge of character.
Anyway, Logan is not the point, Jeffrey is. Logan and I walked hand in hand through the park that afternoon, discussing how we would split the prize money if he won. All around us swirled the gaily sounds of local festivities: the street party, game booths, carnival rides, and a sizeable portion of the Lakeview younger population – some of the senior citizens too – taking it all in. Both haves and have-nots. People mingling, children playing, slimy old geezers getting drunk on booze taps; the boisterous young matching by with the colorful parade – rocking views for the most part.
I looked around smiling as we walked towards the registration booth. We eventually decided that both of us should enter the competition and if either of us won, split the prize money fifty-fifty. I was about to implement a curious brain wave to alter that percentage in my favor when suddenly, a wrinkled old lady pointed in our direction and screeched loudly:
“Himmmm… that’s him. That’s the man who stole my purse. Stop him… somebody stop him.”
Logan turned towards the pitchy sound and gasped. “Julie, this is bad. That’s Mrs Wingman.” he said to me and began to walk faster.
“Mrs Wingman? Did you steal her purse Logan?”
He couldn’t meet my eyes as he moved further ahead. “I might have taken it when I got here a while ago, but I really can’t remember.”
I glanced around to see if anyone was paying any attention to the old lady and jogged to keep up with Logan. He was taking the longest strides, and Mrs Wingman’s voice kept getting louder. “He stole my purse… “
“Are you crazy? Her son is a police officer. This is dumb Logan. If you have the purse, give it back.” I glanced back to see if anyone was following us. The old lady remained where she was, pointing a finger at Logan and attracting the attention of passers-by. I could hear other tongues wagging. “She’s talking about that man walking away.”
“They’re trying to run, somebody stop them…”
“Logan, we gotta move,” I said, snapping my face around. Logan was already far ahead, breaking into a sprint in the while. Ignoring him, I weaved through a mass of bodies and fell in with a crowd queuing to ride a Ferris wheel. I prayed I would blend in and no one would notice me.
A man grabbed my arm from behind. “Hey, what are you doing? You stole that woman’s purse.”
“I did not.” I sprouted indignantly and turned to face my accuser. The swear I planned to utter froze in my throat. I stared at him with wide eyes.
“Well, lady… what have you got to say for yourself.” He said with less aggression. I can only assume he was as impacted by the surprise of my beauty as I was by the unexpectedness of his opulence. Here was one of the haves, not on TV, but in the flesh.
His grip loosened. “Why is a pretty girl like you hanging out with a loser like that? What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Jeffrey. That old lady is my neighbor. Tell you what Julie, if you give me the name of your boyfriend and where I can find him, I’ll let you go.”
I considered the offer. Jeffrey looked like a man of influence. His wine-red suit had a fine cut that closely resembled the Italian piece worn by George Clooney at a recent red carpet event. Only the rich wore tailored suits in Lakeview.
“He’s not my boyfriend and I don’t know where he lives. We just met.”
“Really?” he asked incredulously and placed both hands on my shoulders. I grimaced as he shook me. What the hell? It’s just an old lady’s purse!
“Leave me alone.” I protested, shaking off his hands. I took one step backward and got a really good look at him. He was tall and clean shaven, had green eyes and a jutting chin. Handsome, but still a douche bag though, for grabbing my arm like that.
“What is it to you anyway? You’re rich!” I spat the words like an accusation. “You can always buy that old lady another purse. In fact, I bet she’s rich too for that matter, and can buy herself another purse.”
“Yes.” He said simply, sporting an amused smile. Folding both arms across his chest, he let his eyes wonder from my face to my legs.
“Like what you see?” I taunted in a mocking voice.
He laughed. “Yes, I do actually.” The old lady’s purse appeared to fall off his radar. I knew what was coming next, this dude was about to hit on me.
“I very much like what I see. Have lunch with me.”
“No.” I said sweetly. “I have a balloon shooting competition to win.”
“That?” He waved a hand dismissively at the registration booth a few feet away. “How much is the prize money? Four hundred? Five hundred dollars? I’ll give it to you right now Julie, if you agree to have lunch with me.”
“Yeah.” I turned away in disgust. I may wear cheap clothes but how stupid did he think I was? “Being poor doesn’t make me a prostitute you know. I don’t want your money.”
His eyes danced as he moved closer. “You misunderstand me Julie. I merely want the pleasure of your company.”
Yeah right, and I’m a bloody six year old! It was too bad really, just when I was beginning to like him.
His voice dropped to a low tenor, causing a strange quiver in the pit of my stomach. I was attracted to this man, and worst of all, he knew it.
“Now, come on Julie; I know you really want to try your luck at the shooting competition, but I bet not as much as I really want to have lunch with you. So, why not have a compromise that works for us both huh? I would love to give you the prize money …” he added quickly. “… not in exchange for the pleasure of your company mind you, but to restitute for depriving you of something you really want. What do you say?”
I hesitated for a moment. “You can keep your money. I don’t really really need to win the competition. My dad helps out at times, gives me an allowance…”
“At your age?” he interrupted with mock seriousness, and inserted quickly when I made to turn away. “Just kidding, please go on Julie.”
I sighed. “Do you have a car?” There was no way I was having lunch with him if he wouldn’t drive me home.
“Because if I don’t, you won’t have lunch with me?” he asked curiously. “Are you one of those girls Julie?”
“Yes.” I said frankly, and dared him to say a word. He lifted both hands in mock surrender.
“Okay. I do have a car. It’s at the car park. Will you pleeease have lunch with me Julie?”
I waited, just to savor the pleading expression on his face. He smiled and tucked my right arm in the nook of his left. Words were unnecessary, we went to lunch that day.
And then the next day. And then another. And another. And dinner. And movies. And one day, a sleep over in my dingy apartment.
Then a weekend at his house.
In two months, Jeffrey and I became an item. We hung out together all the time. Began completing each other’s sentences, and on occasion, even wore each other’s clothes. Then, the predictable happened. My alter ego – the naughty Julie – kicked in one cool evening.
You see, I’m that type of person who get’s easily bored with routine. After a while, I stop laughing at the unfunny jokes of the same man. Hell, I become bored with the whole tedious business of girlfriending. Frankly, by the time my relationship with Jeffrey hit the sixth month mark, I’d had enough.
So, I did what any warm blooded girl in my position would do.
I had an affair… With one of his friends… And flaunted it in his face…
Okay, I admit it. I lied. I didn’t have an affair. I merely told Jeffrey that because I felt choked in the relationship. Jeffrey – he choked me!
I remember his face when I broke the news. We were having dinner at George’s, a local diner situated in a close off Pine Street. Jeffrey loved to eat there, because the chef was an old soccer buddy of his from high school. They served the most delicious blend of asparagus and chopped liver.
We had finished our meal – a waiter was already serving desert – when I reached out to lay a hand on the palm he had flat on the table top.
“Jeffrey, we need to talk.” I said softly, striving to set the tone for a pleasant conversation.
He took a sip of martini from the wine glass he held in his other hand and nodded quickly. “Yes we do Julie, and I’ll like to go first.”
“No,” I protested, giving his hand a squeeze. “Let me go first.”
I wanted to control the direction of the conversation. Jeffrey sported a glint in his eye that I didn’t quite trust. The look on his face said he was altogether too pleased with himself.
I wasn’t sure what he intended, but I suspected the next words out of his mouth might be a proposal. Happy men tend to do that, and Jeffrey was happy … even if I wasn’t.
“Okay Julie, talk to me.”
I took a deep breath and began, all the while holding on tightly to his hand across the table. I told him of the restlessness I’d begun to feel. How it had nothing to do with him but was all on me. I think I actually said, “It’s not you Jeffrey, it’s me.”
“You’ve been a wonderful boyfriend, really you have. You do the right things, and I know I’m lucky to have someone like you in my life.”
Jeffrey’s face broke into a smile that showed he had completely missed the reservation in my voice, the sense of a ‘but’ that I had hoped he would immediately detect.
“I know how you feel Julie, nothing would please me more than to take our relationship to the next level.”
I cut in. “You don’t understand Jeffrey…”
“Say no more Julie, I understand completely. You want a commitment. It’s what I want too. I was hesitant to rush you before, but we’ve been dating for about six months now; so I think the timing’s exactly right. I want you to move in with me.”
“What?” I repeated doubtfully, “move in with you?”
I was surprised. And a little disappointed. I’d thought Jeffrey was about to propose, and vainly thought it would be nice to hear my first proposal, even if I was inevitably going to say no.
“I know your dad is a preacher, and he wouldn’t approve if you moved in with a man before you were married; but you’re twenty-two years old Julie… you don’t need his permission. Besides, you already sleep over at weekends anyway, so why don’t we make it a more permanent arrangement?
It was too much … this enthusiasm of his. I blurted out my intention less elegantly than I’d planned.
“I’m breaking up with you Jeffrey. I don’t want to move in with you, I want to move on with my life.”
“You …” The color left his face as my words registered. His eyes searched mine frantically as his mind struggled to process my declaration. It took a minute, but he recovered quickly enough.
“You don’t mean that,” he said dismissively and took another sip of his martini. His eyes were piercing as they continued to look into mine, seemingly reaching beyond the sockets, to a place deep within my soul. I tried to look normal – keep my expression blank and give nothing away.
He must have seen something in my eyes that reassured him, because his shoulders relaxed and a grin broke out on his face.
“You’re scared aren’t you Julie? I see the truth in your eyes. You’ve never been in this kind of relationship before have you?”
I sighed. I would have to try harder. It was now imperative that this date should end the way I planned.
It was Jeffrey’s turn to squeeze my fingers. His voice was gentle and soothing, reassuring. He spoke slowly as if he was talking to a little child … or trying to calm a distressed mind.
“The emotions you’re feeling that are making you scared … I feel them too Julie. The way I feel for you is completely new territory to me. It’s not a place I’ve been before.”
“Shush.” He placed a finger on my lips. “We’ll figure it out together. In the meantime, let’s have desert.”
He picked up a fork and cut out a slice of chocolate mousse. “Suddenly, I’m starving all over again.”
“Jeff, I’m not kidding.” I insisted, hardening my voice. My use of the short form of his name should have warned him, it was the version I resorted to when I wanted to annoy him or create an emotional distance between us. He quirked a brow expectantly, and the sides of his mouth thinned into an indulgent smile.
I hated what I was about to do, hated to hurt him in the way I invariably would. But I felt it was necessary, he wouldn’t walk away any other way.
The words came out of my mouth in a rush. “There’s someone else. I’ve been seeing someone else. I think I might be falling for him and …”
“No!” He interrupted vehemently, withdrawing his hand from mine and sitting up in the chair. An ominous look crept slowly into his eyes. I knew then that I had accomplished what I set out to do.
Ever since his parents divorce, and the long string of extra-marital affairs that led to it, Jeffrey had been unable to forgive his father. Often times, he would say that he wished his mother had gotten out of the marriage far earlier than she did. To his mind, nothing on earth justified breaking a love commitment.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t intend for it to happen Jeffrey, it just did. We’ve only been together once, but it was so much better than…”
“Stop!” He commanded, eyes aflame with a blinding rage.
“Get out of here, or I swear, I won’t be responsible for what I do to you.”
I blinked. “Jeffrey… ?” He looked murderous. What a transformation in the space of a few minutes … seconds; I fidgeted a bit on the seat. I hoped he wouldn’t make a scene.
“Who is it?” he asked fiercely. “Is it someone I know? It’s someone I know isn’t it?”
I nodded, too stunned to speak past the lump in my throat. I had never seen Jeffrey like this before …. so wild and on the brink of loosing control. I had bargained for his hurt and even some begging on his part, but not this angry being flashing daggers at me from furious eyes.
“You slut!” he hissed through clenched teeth.
He looked like he could reach across the table and deliver a slap to my face. “Am I not doing enough for you? Are my gifts not expensive enough … is that it? Who is warming your bed these days Julie? Is it Tom? Or Brad? Jeremy bought a car for his last whore, is that what you want Julie? Have you been spreading your legs for him?”
He stood up abruptly. “You disgust me. I can’t even bear to look at you right now. You’re no different from …”
“Jeffrey …” I interrupted. “Calm down! You’re making a scene.” I took an embarrassed glance across the diner. Several of the customers were openly eavesdropping on our conversation. I cringed at their curious faces; Lakeview was a small town, it wouldn’t take long for this to become a delicious tidbit of gossip.
“Bitch!” He cursed forcefully and stormed out of the restaurant. I drank some water quickly and pushed back my chair.
“Miss Julie… are you picking the bill?”
“What?” I sighed, and rummaged through my purse for some currency notes. It was a good thing I had come prepared, this particular outcome was always a possibility in my mind.
I handed the bills to the sympathetic looking waiter and walked out slowly on shaky feet.
I hadn’t known what to expect when I planned this break-up but it was not the virulent hatred I spied on Jeffrey’s face just before he stormed out of the diner. There seemed to be more going on with him internally than I had ever guessed or imagined.
We never spoke another word to each other after that day. Jeffrey put me out of his life so completely, it was like I never existed for him.
I didn’t mind in the ensuing months. After all, it was what I wanted, wasn’t it? My freedom? Some space?
Except, I hadn’t counted on the aching loneliness that snuck up on me as the months rolled by. Didn’t know how terribly I would miss having someone in my life who loved me and got many of my idiosyncrasies.
I went out on several dates to curb the feeling, but it seemed like nothing was capable of filling the void that had somehow made a huge gaping hole in my heart. I missed Jeffrey. Terribly.
In retrospect, I realize that I had a good thing with him before I blew it. Now, all the happy thoughts I used to have are gone. I put on the TV every night just to see his face one more time.
He’s leaner, and more athletic looking than I remember. Ever since he started the talk show, he’s become a celebrity of sorts in Lakeview. Suddenly, my Jeffrey was one of the most eligible bachelors in the whole town – if not the most eligible.
I can’t compare anyone to him, not really. Not Gordon, or Mark, or any of the other pathetic losers I hung out with post-Jeffrey. Anytime I went on a date with someone, I made subconscious comparisons. And the other fellow would always come up short. It was almost like Jeffrey had spoiled me for other men.
There’s nothing else for it, I want my Jeffrey back! He’s mine, and I want him back.
Written by Idowu Oluwatoyin. All rights reserved. Follow me @tee_hidee on twitter.
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... the world through the eyes of the rambler.