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Fiction Holiday Romance

Inside a booth at the Golden Temple Chinese restaurant, he had ordered his standard beef with broccoli and frozen daiquiri; she slurped her second bowl of won ton soup. A half-eaten PuPu platter sat between them.

 “A friend is a person with whom I can be sincere,” she said sipping her coconut drink. He ate with his mouth open. She avoided face-to-face contact even though they sat opposite each other.

“Sincere about what?” 

“Everything,” she said, thinking: Danger! Tread lightly.” She had deemed New Year’s eve the right occasion to move on. “My journal is the only true friend. Filters exist between me and others. Some topics are taboo, so I don’t go there. One fantasy or illusion I have is that a soul mate/best friend if I had one, would be better than the journal because I could have “feedback.” The depth of the friendship is a function of the ratio between the absence of filters or density of them.” 

“Maybe you’d better stop talking,” he said, reaching for the last pork strip.

“Self-slander is not a good idea. Even when you couch it in your self-deprecating humor. I don’t find it funny. Especially since you suffer from its opposite: thinking you’re better, smarter than everyone else.” The alcohol had dissolved her censor.

“That’s not true,” he said. “You never know what happens behind closed doors.”

“What’s that got to do with anything? And why do you say that over and over and over along with phrases like “the abundance of the universe” stealing things I’ve said to you?”

“Why are you so critical?”

“It irritates me that being “average” is such a hateful thing for you. You joke about yourself and yet secretly you’re competing with everyone. “Above average” is your curtain call.” She took the last egg roll, dipped it in duck sauce and crunched down on it in one large bite, swallowed, then continued, “Admit it. You feel superior and judge people all the time even though you say the opposite.”

“I’m a terrible person. I should try to swallow one of these chopsticks and choke myself to death!”

After a few moments, when the last won ton slipped down her throat, she said, “You can at least keep your voice down.”

“Why should I? It’s New Year’s Eve and everyone’s drunk. No one’s listening.”

“I’m listening,” she said, thinking, then said out loud, “My new year’s resolution: Be sincere with Jonah. Tell him what you’re really thinking.”

“Aren’t you already doing that?”

“Hardly. Sure. I tell you about problems I’m having with other people, but with you I have to watch what I say. If I say the wrong thing, you get wounded. As though I’ve taken one of those chopsticks and pierced your heart with it.”

“You don’t know what’s in my heart.”

“Right! Because you fill the silence with chatter and only the truth about your feelings when I interrupt your incessant nonstop talking. What’s so terrible about being quiet with each other?”

“My mother did the silent treatment with us when she was angry. Days went by ignored by her.”

“I didn’t know that.” She pushed the wonton soup bowl to the edge of the table, then used the chopsticks to retrieve a potsticker from the platter.

“There’s a lot about me you don’t know.” He finished his daiquiri and ordered another.

“Then tell me. Talk to me without the chatter about behind closed doors or the abundance of the universe.”

“Why should I?”

“So maybe I won’t feel so guarded. Like I can’t talk about old boyfriends or our sex life, or how much money you make. And those boxes! You got 40 of them stacked against the wall of your bedroom.”

“That’s private. Tax returns. Things I wouldn’t want to let anyone’s eye on.”

“You should shred it all! No one cares about your personal papers.”

“I do. Why are you being so cruel?”

“I’m not being cruel. I’m trying to help. Or make our conversation—"

“You’d miss me. I’ve been a good friend to you.”

“As you have, but . . .”

“What? But?”

“I can’t be truly honest with you. You’d feel attacked.”

“There’s no need to be hurtful.”

“I’m trying to be honest.”

“Maybe you’d better stop saying that.”

She was annoyed with the sense of hopelessness the circular merry-go-round of her feelings and emotions. “Our friendship isn’t working, Jonah. In honor of the new year, we should take a break.”

After a long silence, he said, “I’ve been a good friend to you.” He sucked the remaining drops out of his drink, handing it to the waitress who placed the third of the evening on the table.

“And I have been the same to you.” No regrets now. It was about time she said what she had to say. Stop protecting his fragile ego.

“You’ll never find anyone like me.”

“Yes. You’re one of a kind. But you do not share your deepest thoughts.”

“I told you about my mother. Doesn’t that count?”

“It’s too late, Jonah. You bring out my hyper-critical bitch personality when I’m with you and I don’t like myself or my thoughts. I just need more . . .”

“You have to be your own judge,” he said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I”

“You what? I’m telling you. I can’t fully be myself when I’m with you. I wait for your nervous chatter to stop so I can drill down and have a real conversation with you. I think you’re on the spectrum, Jonah. Maybe you’re incapable.”

“I’m in Mensa. I have, as you know, three advanced degrees.”

“I’m not questioning your brilliance. We all know you are way above average.”

“You’re using my words against me.”

“As you often do to me.”

“How did this all start? Why can’t we just accept each other?”

“That’s what I’m trying to do. Accept you. Accept myself and realize we really aren’t friends in the true sense.”

They sat in silence eating pineapple chunks from toothpicks and cracking open fortune cookies.

“What does yours say?” she asked.

“‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ You’ll miss me.”

“I probably will. But for now, I need to take a break.” She opened her fortune cookies and unfolded the tiny paper, “Your happiness is sitting right next to you.” You’re not next to me. You’re on the other side of the table,” she said.

“It’s only 10. Are you going to leave me before the New Year rings in?”

“Yes. I think it best.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not happy about this.”

“Nor am I but I need to move on and find someone who I can share more of myself with. Not having to be walking an emotional obstacle path around your emotional wounds or even my own. Taboos. Too many taboos. And it’s not about blame or anyone’s fault. It’s not the right match for me right now—even to just be friends.”

“You have to be your own judge,” he said again. 

“Wake up, Jonah! I know you’ve put your ad on match.com. You should listen to what I’m saying. Take it to heart.”

“Some ladies think my sense of humor is sexy.”

“It is, no doubt. But there comes a time in a friendship — relationship— when you’ve got to go deeper and . . .”

“And you think I can’t go deeper. I could tell you stories. But I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“You wouldn’t hurt my feelings. It’s just too late and let’s remember the silver linings.”

“You have ruined all of them!”

“That’s too bad you feel that way.”

They were standing outside the restaurant in the cold air. Revelers passed them with holiday hats and high-pitched horns.

She pulled him into a hug. “Thanks for our time together,” she said, her head muffled in his coat that he was unable to close over his ample belly. “I do love you.” She dropped her arms to pull away. “But I can’t do this anymore and I’m no longer in love with you. I’m trying to be in love with myself. I know it’s a new-agey cliché, but my resolution is to tell the truth and so I have.”

He held on tight. They made a tissue paper lip kiss and turned away from each other. He to his disheveled apartment and she to her sanctuary studio condo.

December 31, 2021 22:19

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3 comments

Kendall Defoe
23:40 Jan 06, 2022

Sad and true. A rather beautiful tale, I think. And I love 'tissue paper lip kiss'. You need to keep writing!

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Tricia Shulist
15:38 Jan 03, 2022

That was interesting. And hard. I feel for both of them. The new year — a time of new beginnings. It makes me wonder what’s going to happen to each of the. Thanks for this.

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15:52 Jan 03, 2022

Thanks, Trish for taking the time to read Fortune Cookies. Glad you liked it.

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