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Drama Holiday Sad

Doug sat in the coffee shop, phone out on the Formica table, white paper cup of hot coffee nearby as the snow lodged between the treads of his worn tan Army-issued boots melted onto the shop’s tiled floor. Across the table from him sat an identical paper cup, that one though was a black dark roast; much different than his extra creamed, four-sugared beverage. He thumbed the power button of his cellphone and the screen lit, displaying the time in large white digital numbers. Five minutes late. Probably wasn’t coming, he thought. And really, who could blame her, he shrugged inwardly. Doug smoothed his jeans with his hands. It was one of many tics he had when he was uncomfortable. He tugged the arms of his parka down. It was chilled in the shop as the outside air swept in every time the door opened. This morning, a week before Christmas, the foot traffic in and out was constant. Doug raised his cup to take a sip and put it back down on the table untasted. He thumbed the power of his phone again. Still showing five minutes, but surely minute six would pass soon. He shifted in the wooden chair. Patted the deep pockets of his parka. Felt for his keys. Smoothed his jeans once again. The glass door of the shop swung open, Doug looked up as she entered. Cheryl was dressed in black leather pants with matching black knee high boots, a gray turtleneck poking up from underneath a black pea coat. Her hair, curled and red, sat under a purple beanie, and her cheeks were ruddy from the winter wind. She looked around, and seeing Doug, raised her hand in a small half wave and walked over to the table.  

Doug started to rise as she began to sit and they ended at the table at the same time.  

“Hi” Doug said, fidgeting with his coffee, and clearing his throat. “You look nice.” Inwardly, he groaned. Nice? That’s all you got? Winter was always her best season, and she was beautiful. 

“Thanks, Doug. You too.” Her hands were in her lap, the coffee in front of her remained untouched.  

Silence drew out the moments between them. 

“Okay, well, thanks for the coffee, but if you’re just going to sit there, I have other places to be,” she said after a minute and started to get up. 

“No, wait, please.” Doug reached out across the table. “Please stay. I’m just.... not sure what to say.”  

A sigh. “Okay, fine. But I can only be here a few minutes. Lila is with the babysitter, and I need to get back to her.” Cheryl sat back down, crossed her legs. She took the paper cup from the table and took a sip. Her lipstick left a red circle on the lip of the cup. She smudged this away with her thumb. 

“She’s good, yeah? Lila?” Doug sipped from his cup. 

“She is. She’s always good. Excited for Christmas. You know how she is.”  

“I do.”  

They both sipped from their coffees as once more silence came in the space between them.  

Doug cleared his throat. “I don’t know where to start, Che. I guess I’ll start with I’m sorry.” Her green eyes rolled at this, and Doug counted a five count to himself before he continued. “I am. I really am.”  

Cheryl chuckled, green eyes turned to steel. “That’s why you asked me here? The same old bullshit?” 

“It’s not bullshit, Che, it’s...” 

“Don't call me that. You lost that when you left.” Cheryl crossed her arms and stared Doug down. “You lost everything.” 

Doug lowered his gaze, and slowly rolled his coffee cup between his palms. After a moment, he looked back up at her, “I know, Cheryl. I know. And that’s what I’m trying to say, if you’d let me have my say.” He took another sip, and was acutely aware of how the warm liquid washed over his tongue; traveled down his throat. 

Cheryl leaned back in her chair, her arms still crossed. “Go ahead, Doug. Say what you, clearly, need to say.” It was clipped and hard,

matching the steel in her eyes.  

“Okay, thanks.” Another moment of awkward silence and he filled this with another long draught of his coffee, as if by taking its warmth it would fortify him against the cold of her indifference.  

“Like I said, I’m sorry Cheryl.” He saw the almost imperceptible sneer flash across her lips. “And I don’t know how to apologize for it. I don’t. And I’m sorry for that as well. This past year has been hard. And I know it’s been hard for you as well,” he rushed through, seeing Cheryl beginning to wind up a retort. “It’s been hard for everyone. I know.” Doug sipped his coffee. More strength. “It’s just, and I don’t know if I can say this properly, but I’ve realized I’m broken. And I’ve been broken for a while. Maybe even always.” He shrugged and smoothed his hands over the legs of his jeans. “I also have realized that I have never given you any proper chance to help me get better. Be better. Or whatever. Not that it’s your responsibility, it’s not. But I know I’ve blamed you for not being there, and it’s just taken me this time to realize I’ve never really tried to let you in.” 

“That’s for sure,” Cheryl said, not quite unkindly. “China hasn’t seen even half the walls you put up, Doug.”  

He smiled wryly. “That’s true. I know.” He picked absentmindedly at the plastic lid of his cup. “I hate myself for what I have put you and Lila through. And if I could make it better, I would. But I don’t know how to. Or if I can.” Another sip of coffee. Another moment of silence between them.  

“I’m not happy, Cheryl, not with this. I want you to know that. Not that you asked.” 

“I didn't.” Cheryl thought for a moment. “And I’m not sure I care or not. To be honest.”  

“I get that.” 

“Do you, Doug? Because that’s all I ever hear rom you, ‘I’m not happy’. You weren’t happy with me, and you weren't happy when Lila came. And you left, Doug. You just...left.” She abruptly brushed away a single tear that threatened to escape the edge of her eye. “Do you even know what makes you happy?” 

“I didn’t. No. But I know what makes me feel wholer. If that’s a word. It’s family. Being a part of a family. Being one that is called on to change the lights in the bathroom. Cooking, helping clean the house when it’s become Spring. Those trips we used to take to the library, when Lila was three, watching her together as she danced with the other toddlers during the children's Storytime.” Doug took another drink from his cup. “It’s things like that that help me. Things I want back.” 

“Then why did you leave, Doug? Why not stay and work it out? That’s what marriage is, sticking it out.” 

“I know Cheryl. In the intellectual way. But it seemed better that I leave.” He shrugged again. “It just seemed the best way for me to protect you. Both of you. I saw it in your eyes. Heard it in the silence when I was in the room. All my angry outbursts, my frustrations, anxieties that I took out on you guys. I could see how you hated that part of me. Hated me.” He looked out the windows of the coffee shop. It had started snowing again. Turning back to Cheryl, he continued, “In my calculations, I was the problem, so I removed myself.” 

Cheryl sighed. “I didn’t hate you, Doug. I don’t hate you.” She took her coffee in her hand, swirled it around on the table. “God knows I was mad at you though. Still am mad, if I’m honest. And I don’t know what you want from me now. I don’t.” Exasperated, her hands slammed down on the table, causing both drinks to jump a little. “What, am I just to take you back? Is that it? Here, right at Christmas? Like you’re some sort of miracle that we need?” Cheryl fumed, color back high in her cheeks. “You aren’t Doug. You're not a miracle. And we don’t need you.”  

They sat in silence.  

“I hear you, Cheryl,” Doug said finally, chagrined. He tilted his cup to his lips, and finding it empty, set it back down on the table. “Thank you for coming today. I’m sorry. For today, for everything.” He reached into the pocket of his parka and withdrew a small, thin square. It was wrapped in silver foil paper and tied with thin red ribbon. He slid it across the Formica. “I was able to make one this year. If you listen to it, I hope you enjoy it.” Doug stood up, pushing back his chair which scraped along the tile floor. “I’ll be by on Friday to pick up Lila, as usual.” He ran the zipper of his parka up and turned its collar up against his neck. “And Cheryl?” he asked.  

“Yes, Doug?” she responded, eyes on the silver package in front of her.  

“Merry Christmas.”  

Cheryl looked up, meeting Doug’s gaze. “Merry Christmas, Doug.” He offered a thin smile, and then turned to walk out of the shop, and out of her life. Again. As he walked away, Cheryl raised her coffee and sipped. It had gone cold. 

Cheryl left the coffee shop several minutes later. She left the silver wrapped gift laying on the table. The cold outside was biting, and her boots scrunched in the layer of newly fallen snow as she walked across the parking lot to her Grand Cherokee. She pushed the button on her key fob, popping the locks open, and climbed inside the SUV. She slid the key into the ignition and turned the Jeep on. The trucks heater kicked on, as did the entertainment display in the center of the dash. Wild Man Fischer came forth from the Harmon Kardon speakers, expounding a belief that he was, in fact, a Hanukkah bush as Cheryl dropped the Grand Cherokee into gear, and pulled out of the parking space. As she drove out of the lot, onto the main street, the song trailed off, and the compact disc in the machine cycled around, the digital display showing “track 1” on the screen. The Carpenters began singing “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” In the center console of the truck sat a thin cd jewel case. Hand-written on the front, in green and red sharpie, it read “X-Mas Mix 2015.”  

November 20, 2021 04:11

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1 comment

Eric Rogers
10:05 Nov 23, 2021

Vivid imagery, and the emotions are very clear.

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