Mike breathed in a deep cleansing breath as the water he splashed on his face dripped slowly down his neck and chest. He stared into the mirror at the reflection of his light blue eyes.
They love those eyes, he thought. It gets ’em every time.
He smoothed his hair back, grabbed a towel to dry himself off, and moved quietly back into the bedroom, trying not to make a sound. The woman in the bed stirred as he pulled on his pants, but she didn’t wake. He continued to dress and tried to remember her name. While he was putting on his shoes, he considered leaving her a note until he was startled by her voice.
“Leaving so early?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah. I’ve got an early meeting. Wish I could stay, though.”
He walked over to her side of the bed and kissed her on the forehead, trying to avoid eye contact as he turned to walk away.
“I’ll call you,” he said, hoping she understood that he had no intention of calling. She didn’t say a thing.
As he walked out the door and down the street he thought, Was she number twenty-one or twenty-two? He couldn’t remember. It had been six months and either twenty-one or twenty-two women since his fiancé Jennifer had walked out on him. Most of it was a nightmarish blur. He moved through his life in a foggy daze, going from home to work to a bar, and then either home again to sleep alone or to some new woman’s home to share her bed for the night.
Mike checked the time on his phone and realized that if he went home to change, he’d be late for work. Work was the only thing in his life that had been going right lately. Not only shouldn’t he be late, but he didn’t want to be late, so he ran his fingers through his hair again, tucked in his shirt and pulled up the Uber app on his phone to get a ride to the office.
He arrived at the firm five minutes early. Within minutes of settling in at his desk, his friend and coworker Joe showed up at his door.
“Did you hear? You landed the Hofstedt account! Man, you are having a killer year!” Joe lifted his arm in a high five position and Mike stood, returning the gesture.
“Piece of cake, my friend. Piece of cake.”
“Well, I’m hoping some of your magic will rub off on me. Wanna grab a drink after work to celebrate?”
“Sure, why not?” Mike was planning to hit a bar later anyway.
Mercifully, the day passed quickly. One meeting led to another and another, and soon the work day was over.
Mike, Joe, and several other co-workers headed to the bar down the street. Mike’s mood was light and the woman from the night before and this morning was already forgotten.
Joe bought the first round. Mike bought the second. In-between jokes and work stories, Mike looked around the bar, trying to find number twenty-two, or twenty-three. He knew his striking good looks would make it easy. Even when he was a bit disheveled, he never seemed to have trouble finding a playmate for the night. Heck, it seemed like the women even liked him better that way.
He was laughing at one of Joe’s famous dumb jokes when he saw her.
She looked perfect, more beautiful than the last time he saw her. About five seconds later she turned and their eyes locked.
Mike gasped and held his breath. Jennifer smiled. Then she started walking toward him.
At first, he panicked. What would she say? What would he say? When she left six months ago, he never had the chance to say anything. She just left a note saying that she thought it was a mistake, and that was it. He never heard from her or saw her again. Until now.
It wasn’t for his lack of trying. He talked with her family and friends and work associates, but they had erected a wall of silence. No one would tell him anything. He could tell some of them felt sorry for him, but that didn’t matter. Jennifer was gone and they weren’t going to help him get her back.
She leaned in and spoke close to his ear to be heard above the noisy crowd.
“Hello to you. What has it been, six months?” He knew exactly how long it had been. Two hundred forty-seven days.
“You look good,” she said.
“Not as good as you.”
What followed was the first of several awkward silences punctuated by tortuous small talk. He wanted to apologize and beg her to come back, but all he could manage was to ask her to dinner and, to his great surprise, she agreed.
They went to a casual restaurant a few doors down. Within about 30 minutes, they both relaxed and seemed much more comfortable. She broached the subject of their breakup first.
“I’m really sorry I just disappeared on you. I know it must have been difficult, but I just couldn’t stay any longer.”
“It was hard. It still is,” Mike admitted, “but I understand. I’m just glad that we’re talking now.”
“Me, too. I’d forgotten how charming you are.” Mike smiled and he thought he saw her blush. He dared to let himself entertain the thought that maybe, just maybe, she’d come back to him. Maybe there wouldn’t have to be a number twenty-two or twenty-three. Maybe she really would be the last one.
Two hours later, they were at Mike’s house, clothes coming off, hands exploring once familiar territory. Just as they were about to consummate their reunion, Jennifer got up and walked quickly into the restroom without saying a word.
A few moments later, she came out and started gathering clothes.
“What’s wrong?” Mike asked, confused.
“I’m just not going to do this.”
“What? But why? I thought things were okay with us?”
Jennifer continued getting dressed.
Mike continued. “I said I was sorry. I said I’d never hit you again. You know that! I’m not the me guy I was before!”
“Oh, I know that,” Jennifer fired back. “My cousin works at your firm, remember? He’s told me all about the women and the drinking.”
Mike got out of bed, pulled on his underwear and walked over to her, getting down on one knee. “Please come back. I love you. I’ll never love anyone else. I need you in my life. I swear I’ll never raise a hand to you again. That guy is dead. Gone.”
Jennifer picked up her purse, took several steps toward the door, and stopped. She turned back toward Mike and said, “You said that before, but you…well, you know what happened. I loved you. I trusted you.”
“So why did you come back here with me? Why did you pretend that you had forgiven me?” Mike was both angry and devastated.
“I don’t know. I guess I got caught up remembering the good times, but it occurred to me that all of the good times are not worth any of the really bad times that inevitably come with you as a package deal.”
Now he was even angrier. He yelled back at her, “And that didn’t occur to you until we were about to have sex? Did it make you feel powerful to back out right at that moment, Bitch?” He regretted it as soon as he said it.
Jennifer just looked away and said, “I’m sorry.” She closed the door quietly behind her as she left.
Mike felt the anger being replaced rapidly by the pain he’d been fighting for the past six months. Then the thought hit him that sucked the air out of his lungs and drove a hole in his gut.
She left him again.