Chapter 3 (Part 2)
“I’m just picking up my friend…..,” she could hear Eric’s voice, but she wasn’t ready to look up just yet. She knew she had to. She knew she couldn’t stand there forever looking at her phone screen. Take a deep breath Lara. Look up.
“Eric, I’m over here,” she managed to say as she waved to Eric.
Eric was only slightly taller than Lara. She never said this to him, of course, but she rarely wore heels while dating him so she wouldn’t look taller than him. He was thin and had dark brown hair and hazel eyes, and wasn’t as attractive to Lara the way that Allen was. When Allen showed up in her life, he swept her off her feet— his charming personality was one thing— his broad muscular shoulders and his smile, another. It all seemed too good to be true to Lara. Can I actually have everything? A man who is good looking, kind, and is in love with me?
“He’s perfect,” she told her mother one day, “he really is.”
Her mother’s reservations about Allen were always clear. That day she had told Lara, “Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”
But Lara didn’t believe that. She believed that Allen was her happily ever after. It’s not that she was a hopeless romantic (although some people said she was), it was that she felt she knew herself well enough to know what she wanted— and Allen was what she wanted.
“Lara! See good to see you,” Eric said as he gave her a hug.
“It’s been so long!” Lara tried to sound enthusiastic, though all she could really think of was the picture she had seen on Facebook a few minutes ago.
“You look great— just as good as you did, what …. has been ten years now that I last saw you?”
“Thank you, Eric. Yea… I think it has. Since that alumni event we attended downtown….”
“Lots of catching up to do,” Eric said as he gave her a helmet, “you ready to go?”
“Yes,” Lara said hesitantly as she fixed the helmet.
“My friends won’t get there for another hour … gives us some time to talk,” Eric said.
“Great,” Lara smiled as she sat behind Eric on the scooter.
“Been on a scooter before?”
“No, to be honest,” Lara laughed, “does that make me really lame?”
Eric giggled, “No, you’re fine Lara. Just always been a bit scared of trying new things.”
Lara wrapped her arms around Eric, not too tightly that it felt awkward, but firmly enough that she felt safe.
While Eric was going slightly faster than Lara expected, there was something immediately exhilarating about it all. The narrow roads lined with trees, leading to a bigger street with coffee shops, small boutiques, and a couple of smaller hotels, and then they were back on a narrower road, overlooking a vast plantation. As they slowed down, Eric told her it was a Luwak coffee plantation, and that he’d take her to one the café’s there on a morning if she wanted.
“I took you the long way,” Eric said, “the beach is a lot closer. Just wanted you to see some places.”
“This is amazing,” Lara said, and almost wanted to add that she didn’t want the ride to ever end. The wind against her body, the speed that no longer felt like the pace of heartbreak, the comfort of being close to a kind man with no painful memories attached, and the sights of an island that was so incredibly beautiful that it was almost surreal. Everything seemed mesmerizing, even the smaller old huts on the sides, a path that was at times bumpy with some pot holes on the ground, a few surprising turns that made her heart leap– and that was the best part of it all, it wasn’t perfect, it was real, refreshing, empowering–
the sights and sounds of an island inviting her to live again.
“We’re here,” Eric said as they parked, “This hotel has a couple of nice restaurants. We come here for drinks in the evening.”
“Nice, haven’t been here. Haven’t been anywhere really, other than our hotel.”
They walked over and sat in the terrace of a restaurant, with dim lighting and fairy lights, overlooking a view of the beach.
They ordered their drinks as Lara thought of how grateful she was that Lisa had put her in touch with Eric. It felt like being with a good friend.
“I heard about the divorce,” Eric said finally.
“I feel like everyone has,” she smiled, “but I mean, it’s not exactly like Allen made any of this private. I’m pretty sure a lot of people know about the affair too.”
“Are you ok?” Eric asked, a look of concern on his face.
“I wouldn’t say, ok. But, I’m trying. It’s a little bit too much – and that’s an understatement.”
“I was very angry when I heard, especially about the affair. I mean I never really liked Allen very much,” he paused and added, “for obvious reasons, but didn’t think he would do that.”
“Well, he did. Mom thought he would. She said there was something about him that was too good to be true.”
“Right. Well, your mother’s usually right about people,” he smiled.
“Of course she is, she loved you. She was right about you. You were always good to me.”
“You deserve to be treated with respect Lara. I wasn’t doing you a favor by being good to you. It’s what you deserve. You’re a great person.”
“Thanks, Eric. I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” and as she said that her thoughts wandered back to that picture on Facebook. There must be more. What am I going to do tonight? Am I going to look through everything? All his pictures? Will I try to see if I can find pictures of him on her Facebook too? Probably the settings won’t let me. I am afraid of what will happen when I’m alone again.
“You’ll be fine, Lara.”
“Everyone says that. I don’t think I can be fine, especially not how it happened, the things he said to me.”
“He told you about the affair?”
“Yes. Very honest man,” Lara said sarcastically.
“Well, at least …..”
“No, there’s no at least here, Eric. There’s nothing that makes this better. He walked into our home, and came up to me like he was about to tell me something about his day, like we were going to have a husband and wife conversation about his day at work. Or he was going to ask me advice on something. It seemed so normal. That’s what I can’t forget. How normal it felt one second, and how my world shattered, the next. It was like admiring a painting on the wall, and then suddenly, a second later smashing it into pieces. And he said “thank you.” He said he was sorry that we weren’t as close as we had been for a while, and that there was someone else, and that he felt I should know from him, and he said “thank you”. He thanked me for all the years I spent with him. All my life with him was suddenly wrapped up, so neatly, in these two words. The way he was acting, he could have given me a thank-you card,” Lara shook her head as she took a deep breath, “I still can’t believe it.”
“I’m sorry Lara,” Eric seemed lost for words, as he placed a hand on her shoulder, “but I still know you’re going to be fine. I know you.”
“I’m glad you know me, because I feel like I don’t anymore.”
Eric’s friends joined them a while later. They were all very nice to Lara. A couple of them had been staying in Bali for months and were doing freelancing jobs to support themselves. One of the couples were English and it was their sixth time in Bali, and they told her that when she leaves she will always want to come back. Bali never leaves you, they told her.
As Eric and his friends chatted, Lara was thinking back on that last week with Allen before he told her about the affair. There was one evening that she remembered so clearly. They had made plans to go out for dinner. He had been away for another business trip, and had just come home the night before. She was excited about the dinner, thinking it could be a fresh start for them. Allen had seemed distant, even cold, for a while.
She picked a knee-length sleeveless black dress, strappy silver stilettos, and wore winged eyeliner, some tinted moisturizer, and a very light pink cream blush on her cheeks. She felt like her old self as she looked in the mirror, and reassured herself that everything would be alright. There was nothing ‘major’ in their life. There were no serious problems (none that she was aware of). There was some distance, and she had read articles on how distance can happen in marriages, and it didn’t always mean that the marriage was over. She avoided reading any articles on affairs, because she didn’t want to think about that. It’s not like Allen. Allen loves me.
When Allen walked in the door that evening, she was waiting impatiently to see the look on his face when he saw her. She felt good about herself— in a way that she hadn’t in a very long time.
“Hi babe,” she said as she went to greet him.
“Hi Lara,” it was almost a murmur.
“Everything ok?” she asked as her heart sank.
He had only just glanced at her and looked away.
“Yes, yes. Just really tired. We’re going for dinner…” there was a slight irritation in his voice.
“Yes, I’m ready… But take your time. Must’ve been a busy day…”
“Yea… Lara, can we do this dinner some other day?” he said as he sat down on the couch and looked up at her.
It would happen now. He would look at her the way he looked at her years ago. It would happen now. He would tell her she looked beautiful. He would apologize and promise to take her out another day. Or he would change his mind and take her out now. It would happen.
It never happened.
“Some other day,” Lara repeated. It was more of a statement than a question.
There was so much she wanted to say. Do you know how much it hurts, Allen? Do you know how good I felt about myself just five minutes before you walked through that door? I actually felt really pretty. And now, I feel so terrible. I feel embarrassed. I am embarrassed to be so dressed up and standing here in front of you. What happened? When did you become so cold? When did you stop seeing me? Can’t you see me, Allen? Can you really not see me anymore?
He was looking at her then, like he was waiting for her to say something, but she also felt that he didn’t want her to say anything at all. It was a strange look that she couldn’t understand.
Lara was silent. She walked to her room. She sat on the edge of the bed and could feel a surge of anger through her. She was shouting, on the inside, wanting to be heard, wanting to be seen. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t just walk back to the living room and demand an explanation for why he was being so distant. She had asked once in the past month if everything was ok, and he insisted it was just a lot of work and that she needed to patient. Be patient, Lara.
She couldn’t sleep much that night. The next morning, Allen acted like nothing had happened. It was simply a dinner that was cancelled, and the woman he shared a home with was just the same as she was the day before, and the day before that– nothing had changed.
But Lara could now see that something had changed after that night. It was what she saw when she looked in the mirror that morning. That hint of a glimmer in her eyes from the night before, a glimmer of something, right before Allen got back from work, right before he walked in the door.
That glimmer vanished.
There was nothing there.
As Lara said bye to Eric’s friends and fixed her helmet for the ride back, Eric asked her if she was ok.
“Yes, I’m fine.. you know ….”
“You know what I’ve always loved about you Lara…other than how beautiful you are of course …. that you were always so passionate about life. Spending time with you made me feel alive. You are an amazing person Lara.”
“That passion is what led me to Allen,” she found herself saying and quickly said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“No, it’s fine. You’re right. But it can also lead you somewhere else.”
“I’m trying, Eric. I really am. You know I’ve been daring myself to do something I’m afraid of every day.”
“Nice… what’s the dare for today?”
“To live the moment, or at least try.”
“You’re afraid of that?”
“I think I am. As strange as it seems, when I’m away from my phone or from thinking of Allen, I panic. It feels like I should be searching for something, I should be finding answers. So living the moment is kind of a big deal right now. I think I’ve failed though. Although I think I may have lived the moment on our way here on the scooter. I’m just not sure I could do it again. I’m not sure if that counts.”
“Hey, there’s a half hour left. It’s never too late. Let’s go for a ride.”
“You sure? You’re not tired or anything ….”
“I’m fine. Actually that orange juice I had was really good for me!”
They laughed as they got on the scooter.
Let go, Lara.
She lived that exhilarating moment again. The wind against her body, the sights and sounds, a speed that made her feel lighter. As she held tighter to Eric this time, she took a closer look at her surroundings— the lights, the people, the wording on the signs, the stalls, the coffee shops, all of it— taking it all in. She was there. She was in Bali, on a scooter, with Eric. And for a few minutes, that’s all that mattered.
When they got to her hotel entrance, Eric said he would let her know if there were any plans for the next few days.
She hugged him and walked back to her suite. She reached for her phone and decided it was alright to check her email. She was a freelancer after all, and she had to check her email for updates. She was justifying every move that related to her use of the phone. She wouldn’t go to her Facebook. Just her email.
She logged onto her email and as she she looked at her screen, she suddenly stopped walking. It was like her body had registered what she saw before her mind could even comprehend it.
There, in her inbox, was an email– from Allen.
End of Chapter 3