Lance sat alone, stirring his Jack and Coke with his finger, gazing morosely at the clock above the bar. He would have preferred to have stayed home, not wanting to meet the woman whom had already kept him waiting almost half an hour, but she had begged and pleaded until at last, in exasperation, he gave in. He regretted his weakness.
After waiting another five minutes, Vanessa finally showed up, looking slightly harried, but otherwise unapologetic for being more than thirty minutes late. She walked to the table and waited for him to acknowledge him, but he continued to play with his drink. Finally she cleared her throat. “Lance?” she said inquiringly.
“Vanessa,” he retorted flatly, keeping his eye resolutely on his drink. “Have a seat, I guess.”
She waited for him to stand, thinking he would at least do that one gentlemanly duty that common courtesy demanded, but seeing that he had no intention to do anything but keep his attention focused on the glass in his hand, she pulled the seat out and sat down.
“Thanks for agreeing to see me. I thought for sure you’d turn me down.”
“I did,” he grumbled, “repeatedly. I only agreed to shut you up.”
“Oh,” she look embarrassed. “Sorry.
He shrugged. He finally looked up at her, and the years had taken their toll. It had been more than fifteen years since they last met, and he remembered it well. They had been on a few dates over the course of a few months, and he adored her. For her part, she pretended to be interested in him, at least until he arrived.
Kenny was his polar opposite. While Lance was academic, Kenny was athletic. Lance was artistic and Kenny was unimaginative. Lance was quiet, shy, and introverted, and Kenny was loud and the life of the party. Lance had trouble finding a woman to date while Kenny had women begging for his attention.
Lance didn’t give him much thought, though he should have. She had dated him a few times, but he tried not to let it get to him. They weren’t exclusive, yet. That last time he saw her, he had wanted to get her to agree to go steady, which he later regretted as well. They hadn’t even slept with each other. He had barely gotten a swift kiss good night. He discovered later from a friend that Vanessa had slept with him even before they had gone on their first date.
“I like you, Lance,” he remembered her telling him. “You’re a nice guy, a real sweetheart, but you’re too good for me. You deserve better.”
The seemingly gentle rejection still rankled, even all that time. How many times had he been called a nice guy but some girl rejecting him? A dozen? More? He had lost count even before going out with Vanessa. After her, well he had about given up.
Her relationship with Kenny had been volatile from the start. He drank too much, cheated on her, and rumor had it, he had physically assaulted her a few times. Still, after a few months they married, and she had two kids with him before leaving him after he had tried to strangle her in a fit of rage.
Then came Karl, who was of the same mold as Kenny. Then there was James, Freddie, and too many more too keep track. Lance hadn’t wanted to know, but his friend kept bringing her up, unaware that he was digging the knife further into his gut, and pouring salt into the still gaping wound.
“Are you listening to me?” Vanessa asked, breaking into his dark thoughts.
“What? Oh, yeah,” he stammered before asking, “What were you saying?”
“I was asking you what you had been up to? I can’t believe you’re still single. I would have thought someone would have snatched you up ages ago. You’re such a nice guy. A real catch.”
He shrugged. “That’s the thing about being such a nice guy, I suppose. No one wants one. They all rather date abusers and rapists and the like. I’m done being the nice guy no one wants, so I gave up. Haven’t really dated in years. I don’t see the point.”
“Don’t be like that,” Vanessa scolded him. “I don’t see why anyone would reject you for being a nice guy.”
“You did,” Lance said, barely containing his rage. “So has just about ever other bitch I tried to date. Might as well have called me a fucking unlovable loser. It would have been more honest.”
Vanessa sighed. “You need to stop this. You’re not….”
“What the hell do you want?” Lance interrupted her.
“You begged to see me. I want to know why.”
“So were’re not going to catch up?”
“You lost you chance by being over thirty minutes late. Now, what the fuck do you want?”
She looked annoyed by his rude behavior but shook it off. With difficulty she looked at him, and replied. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have rejected you. Truth is, I thought you were cute and a great guy, but I was stupid, and naive, and I thought I wanted something more.”
“What do you mean by something more?”
“No offence, but I thought you were safe, and maybe even a little boring.”
“Oh, why should that fucking offend me?” Lance scowled before gulping down his drink in one go.
“I said I was sorry,” Vanessa said weakly, tears welling up in her eyes. “I was wrong. He wasn’t exciting. Kenny was an abusive prick. He was a lying, cheating, manipulative alcoholic. He almost killed me and the kids several times before I worked up the courage to get away.”
“Yeah, and straight to another abusive prick’s bed.”
“You don’t have to be so rude!”
He shrugged and began to play with the fresh drink the bartender set before him. “Is that it? You’re sorry? Kind of a waste of time, if you ask me.”
“No, there was more, but under the circumstances.”
“Oh-ho! There’s more! Then pray tell, what could be so important that you would want to see me after all these years?”
“I was hoping, maybe, to make up for a mistake.”
“What mistake could that be?”
“Not choosing you in the first place.”
He glanced up and scrutinized her. There was no hint of anything but sincerity in her tone and demeanor. It didn’t surprise her. He had expected it the moment she called him. He knew it was coming and had never hoped so hard to be wrong.
“I liked you, and I know that I could have loved you, but I was young and stupid. I chose excitement over stability. I preferred flash over substance. I’ve suffered for years because of it. I want to make it right.”
“I know it’s a long shot, but I never got over you. Not really. You are my biggest regret. You’re the one I wanted to be with, the one I wish I could have married. I knew it the moment me an Kenny got together.”
“And yet you married him.”
“I know,” Vanessa squirmed.
“And then you went out with one loser after another,” Lance continued bitterly.
“I know,” Vanessa replied uncomfortably.
“And you expect me to believe that you wanted to be with me the entire time? You wanted to be with me, but how many did you fuck in the meantime? Yeah, one after another, but here I was, alone, with no fucking prospects, because I’m some fucking noble loser nobody wants. Yeah, you wanted me alright. You wanted me so much that you slept though half the town.”
“Yeah, I did,” she snapped angrily. “I did, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want you. I was so ashamed of my actions, and too proud to say I’m sorry. I knew I hurt you. I couldn’t get the memory of the way you looked at me the last time we met, and I couldn’t forgive myself. I fucked up, okay? I loved you and I let that slip though my fingers because I was too stupid to realize the truth.”
“And what? You think this makes up for anything? It doesn’t. Not by a long shot. If you’re hoping for some tearful reunion, you can go fuck yourself. Everyone else has. Well, everyone but me.”
“You’re such an ass. What happened to you? You changed.”
“What happened?” Lance laughed. “What happened is you. You and all the other bitches like you, that’s what happened. Nice guy, huh? Fuck you. I’m done being nice. If no one wants me, well dammit, I’ll give you an even better reason to not want me. Fuck you. Fuck all of you.”
“And I thought, maybe we could at least be friends.”
“Don’t. Don’t pretend to give a shit. I know the real reason you’re here.”
“Oh? And what is that.”
“You were hoping I was stupid enough to take you in.”
“What gave you that ridiculous idea?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s the cancer currently killing you. Yeah,” he leaned in, a sneer appearing on his face, “I know all about it. You’re dying and you have no one to take care of you. No one wants you. You don’t really have much of a reputation left to salvage. Town skank isn’t really much to trade on, especially with death looming over you. No one wants you. I know I don’t.”
Vanessa blanched as she straightened up. “Who told you?”
“I have my ways. Don’t think that just because I no longer live in town that the gossip doesn’t reach my ears. You’re only here because you’re dying. I’m your last resort. That’s all I am, so don’t insult me by pretending otherwise. You didn’t care about me then, and you don’t care about me now. Goodbye.”
“That’s it? Goodbye?”
“That’s it. I won’t good guy you like you did me. No, I’ll tell you the truth. You’re beneath me. I’ll agree with you, that I deserve better than you, not that I’ll ever find anyone. Better alone than be some bitch’s no other choice. Goodbye.
The next morning Lance was woken by a phone call. “Hello,” he yawned.
“What the fuck happened last night?” A female’s voice came on the other line, sounding frantic.
“Who else? What happened with Vanessa?”
“What makes you think something happened with her?”
“Because, they just found her.”
“Who found her?”
“Her parents. They found her in the garage, with her children, dead. The drugged them, and then herself, turned on the car with the garage door down, and killed herself and the kids. What the hell happened?”
“I refused to take her back.”
“She wanted to meet, hoping I would take her back. She thought I was stupid enough to forget that she rejected me, and forget the parade of men she ran through after her marriage ended. She though I’d take her in just to watch her wither away and die. Fuck that!”
“Yeah, okay, but you understand that she’s dead?”
“So? Are you really that callous that her suicide doesn’t affect you?”
“Maybe I am. She killed herself. I didn’t do it. Why should I care?”
“Because, she murdered her children.”
“They’re not mine. I mean it’s sad, I guess, but they’re not mine. What should I feel sad? She didn’t give a damn about me.”
“Whatever. I’m going back to sleep. I had a long night.”
He didn’t wait for a response before hanging up. He smiled. She was dead. Of course, she hadn’t killed herself, but at least people were believing it. It had taken a while to convince her that he was sorry, and to get her to let him in. From there, it was a simple matter of drugging her first, and then the kids, with allergy medication and sleeping pills, carrying them to the car, and turning it on.
He had been a nice guy once, but something had broken long ago, something her arrival stirred up. No, she hadn’t loved him, and damn her for thinking he’d let her waltz back into her life when she had nowhere else to go. Revenge was sweet, a delicacy to savor. Whatever happens next, he knew that he’d never be a nice guy again, and began to wonder who he could do in next.
Next story – Fortitude
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