I've never liked those old love story movies where the girl decides she's had enough and
the guy has to chase her down at the bus stop, the train station, the airport to beg her to
come back and give him another chance. This was not one of those love stories.. First,
because neither Daniel nor I would ever cop to being the girl in this relationship, and
second, because I refuse to grovel. He can leave. He decided he's had enough. So fine. He
can fly back to Queven, or wherever the hell he came from and I will just go on with my life.
His plane will take off in thirty-six hours. I don't know where he is and I don't care. I know
where he's not. He's not at the apartment. And he's not at work. That's where I met him,
eight months, seven days, five hours ago. Not that I've been counting.
He works at the casino dealing blackjack. The way his fingers dance over the cards, slide
the chips around, it's something else. I don't have a hand fetish but when you're as far
back as I was that night, and the hands are dealing the cards that will determine the fate
of your kneecaps, you tend to notice. I noticed., And, I won. For the first time in I couldn't
remember how long, I won. I would have gone on, lost it all in the end, but he stopped
"You should cash in," he told me quietly.
I laughed and tried not to notice his eyes or his hands. I definitely ignored the accent
because that would send me off. I made a motion with my fingers over the table. "Just
deal." He hesitated. "Isn't telling a customer to cash in just a little bit against your job
He smiled, and jutted his chin out, past me to a knot of men at the far end of the room.
"They've been watching you."
I turned to look and had that dropping sensation in my stomach, complete with clamy
hands and sweat on my upper lip. My whole body turned jelly-like.
"Just cash in, give them what you owe them, and call it a night."
He nodded and dealt the rest of the table back into the game. I gathered up my winnings
and headed for the cashier. They met me there, collected all I had, which was just about
what I owed, and ushered me out into the street.
I might have lost my kneecaps, and my mobility anyway, if Daniel hadn't taken a smoke
break just then. He approached me with a smile and a nod to the 'gentlemen' with me, and
pulled out his wallet.
"Glad I ran into you, finally. Got paid, so, here." He handed me a wad of bills while I tried
not to look as confused as I felt. This guy I didn't know was hading me a handful of money.
"That money I borrowed? Might as well give it to you now, right? Who knows when I'll see
I didn't even get to touch it. A beefy hand reached past me and closed over the money.
"Now you see, Michael? That is how you pay off a debt in a timely manner. Imagine the
inconvenience to you if he had waited another month to pay up?"
I sneered. Probably not a great idea, but since he had his money, he seemed in a more
congenial mood than he had a minute ago. "I'm sure I wouldn't have threatened his
wellbeing if I had to wait a while longer."
"Perhaps not." The glare was back. "But he's saved you a lot of pain and suffering. You
should thank him."
The man shrugged and patted my shoulder, which sent me stumbling into Daniel "Much
obliged, Michael. It's been a pleasure doing business with you."
"Mutual," I muttered and stood there awkwardly as they rumbled off to their car, stuffed
themselves in, and drove smoothly away, encased in their sleek black steel and chrome.
On their own two feet, they lumber and lurch, like juggernauts, which is exactly what they
are if you can't pay your tab.
"I guess I owe you," I said at last, because Daniel just stood there, puffing on his smoke
and squinting into the bright lights of the strip.
"I guess so."
"I don't have anything to pay you back with."
He stumped out his cigarette on the sidewalk, smoothed his hands over the front of his red
vest, and tilted his head. I was surprised when he reached a hand over and used two
fingers to lift my chin. "Oh, I think we can come up with something."
He looked like a normal guy and not someone who'd pay for sex. "You want me to pay you
back in trade?" I stepped away from him. "I don't, I'm not- Look, I didn't ask for your help,"
I sputtered, and he laughed gently.
"Relax, Michael. It was joke. Buy me a coffee, somewhere off this damn strip, and let's just
I'd never been propositioned by someone who so clearly outclassed me. I could only nod
and agree. His eyes and his voice, and the rest of him, expectant, teasing, existing, made
it impossible to think of anything else.
That was eight months, seven days, six hours ago, and his plane takes off in 35 hours, but
I won't wander the strip now. It's too dangerous. The best place for me is the little café,
open all night, away from the lights and action, and quiet enough to hold a conversation in.
It's friendly enough to couples like Daniel and me, which is why we went there a lot,
especially in the early days. I want to see him sitting at one of the wobbbly Formica tables
waiting for me but the place is almost empty, and Daniel is not here.
This is where I took him for that first coffee when his shift was over. We sat for hours,
floating in caffeine, nibbling apple betty, talking. I could listen to him talk for hours. I did, in
fact, as he told me about growing up in France, coming across the ocean to make his
fortune, and learning it was no easier to be who he was here than anywhere else.
I'd grown up among the big lights, the noise, the fortune seekers, and I was as tacky as
anything you could find on the strip. I told him as much. I thought it was only fair he know
what he was getting into. He seemed not to care.
The sun was coming up when we finally thought it best to call it a night. Of course I didn't
have a penny on me. I couldn't even fork over the ten bucks for the coffee and pie. Daniel
shrugged, paid, and walked me home; a half hour stroll down barely lit streets past tawdry
curio shops, old motels turned to cheap housing and a few boarded up nightclubs. I waited
with him until his cab came to take him across town to where people didn't worry about
triple locking their doors. He kissed me goodnight before he got in. That was eight months,
seven days ago, and his plane takes off in 34 hours.
"Michael, you want anything else, Honey?"
I look up to find Janet, the red-haired waitress everyone knows, holding a half empty coffee
pot in one hand, her other balled up on her hip. She looks concerned and she already
knows what's happened. She's nice and she cares. Obnoxiously and too loudly, but always
"I want him back."
She's smiling sadly. "Then what are you doing sitting here?"
"If you want him back, what are you doing sitting here?"
Had I actually said that out loud? "I don't know where he is."
"Well you won't find him sitting here on your ass feeling sorry for yourself."
"I'm not going to beg him."
"Nobody's asking you to beg, Michael, just to talk. He always was a talker that one."
She doesn't know the half of it. Our first night together, I thought he would never stop
talking. By then, I knew it was his way of dealing with nerves, and I tried to put him at
ease. When I finally got around to the reasons for his skittishness, I almost called the
whole thing off. I was not interested in a relationship that came with so much baggage.
But with Daniel, baggage was the wrong word. He had been hurt, and was still smarting,
but he wanted to try again. The only other man he'd ever been with had been cruel to him.
Daniel had been too young, too vulnerable, and didn't speak the language; easy prey.
When I met him, he was older, and showed trust in me no one else ever had. Over the next
weeks I don't know who I had to convince: him or me that we could make it work. And
when we finally got it right there was no looking back.
Until now. That was six months, nine days, and twelve hours ago. And yes, believe me,
when you wait almost two months to share a bed with someone you care that much about,
you remember the details. At least I do because I never wanted to forget. I never wanted
that anniversary to come and go with me having forgotten. It would hurt him more than I
could bear to see him hurt. God, the last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt him.
Janet's long nails clipping against the table top bring me back.
"I have to go," I tell her.
She nods and holds out a hand. I need to carry more spare change. But as I told you,
Janet cares and she usually lets me off. So a free coffee and two hours of walking later, I
still have no idea where he is. Only where he's not.
Still, I make another stop, hoping to find him, knowing I won't.
"I'm sorry, Michael. He hasn't checked in."
"Please, check again. Daniel Aldaine."
"Mr. Aldaine has not stayed with us since," the man behind the desk smiles kindly at me
then consults the computer screen again, rat-tatting a few keys. Finally, he looks back. "Not
since January." He shakes his head and I want to slap the sympathetic look off his face.
January. That would be the last fight we had. It's hard to resist, but I don't slam my fist on
the pink marble countertop. "Thank you, Derek."
"He really hasn't been in, Michael. I'd tell you if he had."
I nod. I know he would. He's worked here for years and he's always at the counter. My feet
hurt and I have never been good at thinking on my feet. The delicious chairs in the lobby
are the reason Daniel picked this hotel to hole up in when we had that first fight.
It had been over a little thing. Just some vacation money I'd spent. We'd been saving it,
thinking to go away for our four month anniversary. I'd had a hard week at work, and
wanted a night out, so I used some of the money on a few games of Black Jack, nothing
much, and I did't spend all of it. Most, maybe, but not all. It took me too long to realize the
problem wasn't the money.
In fact, that fight, three months into our relationship, had only been the first. They were all
about the same thing, always disguised as something else. First, vacation money, next,
housework, then, too many days off work, and so it went. Never did we fight about the real
problem. He was too scared to mention it, and I didn't want to see it. Now, I sit here, 30
hours before his plane takes off rehashing in my head every fight we ever had.
He never understood why I did the things I did. I always tried to explain it, but he never
understood. Turns out, I never did either. I just thought I did.
The last fight was about the Jacuzzi, of all things. It needed to be fixed, and I hadn't called
the repair guy. I had a good reason for not calling; we couldn't afford it. Only Daniel didn't
know that, and I desperately didn't want him to find out.
"It's a simple phone call, Mike. What were you doing all day?"
I couldn't tell him I was at the casino trying to win some money back before he found out
what I'd done with the cushion he liked to keep in the bank for things like Jacuzzi repairs.
"I was out," I replied vaguely, and his lips went tight and hard at the corners.
"Do we have to do this every time I leave the house? Or do I need to leave you a signed
His arms chorded up and terminated in rigid fists, which made my stomach knot, not
because I thought he'd use them on me, but because they had been used on him so many
times in the past by the person who was supposed to love him. I stepped up to him, ran my
hands up and down his arms, trying to get him to relax a bit.
"I'm sorry, ok? It's just a Jacuzzi. We'll fix it next month." I picked up his hands, they
remained clenched and stiff in my palms, and he stared at them.
"You don't see it, do you?"
"See what?" I turned his hands over, and the white skin around his fingertips where his
nails dug into his palms alarmed me.
He was shaking. "It isn't about the Jacuzzi, Michael." He pulled away. "I want to help you,
but you don't even see your problem."
"I have a problem? What are you talking about?"
I remember the look on his face, and I can tell you the exact date and time I put it there.
That was January third, four in the afternoon. Exactly one month, one day and twelve hours
ago. It was my first moment of clarity.
I've had many since. I'm not going to tell you all about them. I will tell you, when you stand,
in one moment in time, and you can see clearly in all directions, it changes you. Everything
is there before you, and you can see exactly where you've come from, the roads taken, the
ones ignored, and where you're going. There is always a path you can follow. One month
ago, I took a path. I chose not to take Daniel down that path with me because I knew what
he would do. Like handing a wad of paper money to a burly man in a bad suit, his good
intentions would not have solved my problem, and my problem had been beating us, our
relationship, and most of all, him, senseless without leaving any marks. I couldn't do that to
him any more. I had promised him I was not going to be like the last guy, and I turned out
I never really did care much for those movies where someone chased someone to the
airport and begged them to stay. Real life doesn't work that way. So I've waited until I'm
sure he will be on the plane. Now I can see the planes as they taxi down the runway and I
wonder which one is his. He's flying back to Queven. Funny how I hardly remember
anything about anything before I met him. Everything I remember now is about him. I don't
have to look at my watch to know what time it is, or try to cement this moment in my mind.
It will be with me always. Right next to the moment I fell in love with him, this will stand out
as one time when I got something right. I let him go. And if it didn't hurt so damn much, I
might have doubted it was the right thing to do. I know I won't go back. I've come far
enough down the road to healing to know it's right. Maybe some day, I'll tell him he saved
me. Even though he didn't travel this road with me, I never would have had the courage to
do it without him. I will miss him, though.