Home > While I Was Away

While I Was Away
Author: Stylo Fantome

1

“What are you smiling about?”

Her boyfriend of almost three years, Charlie Kassen, turned at the sound of her voice.

“I'm sorry, I was spacing out,” he sighed, shaking his head.

Adele Reins turned and glanced around. They were alone on a balcony, but behind them, a lot of people were milling about inside a spacious loft, celebrating a birthday. No one was looking at them, though, she couldn't see anything worth smiling about.

“Been spacing out a lot lately, huh,” her voice was soft when she spoke to him again. He nodded, staring off into the distance over her shoulder.

“Uh huh.”

Almost three years ...

And yet they were dull. Adele felt like screaming, she was so bored. Something had happened along the way, somewhere in the middle of being lovers and friends, and they'd slipped into a strange gap. Great friends who happened to live together and have sex occasionally.

And she was positive he felt it, too. Over the past year, he'd grown more and more distant. Charlie had owned and operated a nightclub when she'd first met him. Since then, he'd opened three more, and was scouting a fourth. It wasn't like he needed the money – all his businesses were successful. Lately, she'd begun to wonder if it was just an excuse to get away from their apartment.

She'd also begun to wonder if he was cheating on her, and couldn't quite decide if she'd even care.

This is not normal. We both deserve better. We both deserve ... more. Something ... else.

It was a feeling Adele had been having a lot lately, that something was missing from her life. She couldn't quite put her finger on what it was, it was just out of reach, but it was definitely there. A ridiculous sentiment, really, because she had a great job and a great boyfriend and great friends. What more could she ask for?

Nothing, and yet ... she wanted more. It was like a piece of her had been missing for a long time, and she was just noticing, and she carried the feeling around all the time. And just now, right that moment, outside on that balcony, the weight of it became too much.

I don't want this anymore. I want something else, and I'm going to go out and find it.

“Charlie,” she sighed, resting her elbows on the balcony railing. He snapped to attention again.

“Yeah, babe, what's up? Need another drink?” he asked, gesturing to the empty wine glass next to her.

“No. But I think we need to talk.”

He opened his mouth, then closed it and seemed to really absorb what she'd said and the tone she'd used. He gave a furtive glance around the space, obviously double checking that they were still alone outside.

“Alright ...” he spoke slowly. Nervously. “About what?”

“About us.”

He groaned and rubbed his hand across his face.

“Does it have to be now, Adele? We're here for someone's birthday,” he reminded her. She nodded.

“Yes, it has to be now, because if we don't do it now, now will never happen.”

“That doesn't make sense.”

“We always say we're going to talk 'later', but 'later' never happens. When is a good time, Char? Six weeks from now? Eight months? A year? I'm ... I'm tired. I feel like I've been tired for a very long time, and I just ... I can't go one more step. I just can't.”

He stared at her for a long time, and Adele stared right back. At this amazing man – a man with a future so bright, it practically blinded her. She stared, and she willed him to take the next step with her.

Please, Charlie. Please don't make me do this alone.

Finally, he heaved a sigh, then moved so he was standing right next to her. His arm brushed hers as he mimicked her pose, his elbows on the railing, hands clasped together.

“I'm exhausted, Adele.”

They both chuckled.

“When did we become so ... so ... so ...” she searched for the right words, not wanting to insult him.

“So fucking boring?” he finished for her, and she laughed outright.

“God, yes! We're so boring, Charlie. Sometimes, when you're reading the paper, I just stare at the back of it and wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life.”

“When you're in the shower, I stare at the ceiling, thinking of how easy it would be to run away and start over again under an assumed identity.”

“I do love you, Charlie,” she continued, bowing her head to rest against his shoulder.

“And I'll always love you, chick,” he replied, and she felt his cheek on top of her head.

“But I just don't think I can do this anymore,” she whispered. There was a long pause, then she felt his lips against her hair.

“I'm sorry I made you say it first,” he whispered back.

She was surprised to find she was crying. A large tear drop splattered on his dark shirt, then another. She gave a watery laugh and pulled away so she could wipe at her face.

“What does this mean? I mean, should we ... try? Therapy?” she asked, tracing her fingers under her eyes. He grimaced.

“We could ... if you want to, I'll do it,” he offered.

“Translation – you don't want to.”

“... no, I don't. But I'd do it for you.”

“God, Charlie,” she laughed louder, then she reached out to grab his hands. “You are gonna make some woman so happy, some day.”

“I tried with you, you know.”

“You succeeded. I wouldn't trade any of our time together. We just weren't meant to be forever,” she said, smoothing her thumbs over his skin. It was so bizarre to think this might be one of the last times she touched him so intimately.

“So ... did we just break up?” he asked, and when she finally looked him in the face, he was staring down at the busy street below them. He wasn't crying, but his eyes were glistening with unshed tears.

“Yes,” she said, then she took a deep breath. “And at my friend's birthday party, no less. Horrible man, I'm going to tell everyone you dumped me at my bestie's party. They'll all hate you.”

He barked out a laugh, and suddenly the tense moment was over. Like surgery on a battlefield – no anesthesia, but a sharp knife and a clean wound meant a quick heal.

“Tabitha isn't your best friend,” he snorted. “She's just someone you work with.”

“Hey, we're friends outside of work – she goes out to drinks with Zoey and me, I invited her to my birthday,” Adele reminded him. “And she obviously invited me to her party, so clearly she thinks we're friends, too.”

“Us.”

“Huh?”

“She invited us.”

She thought over what he was saying for a moment, then the wheels in her brain started to roll. Adele looked across the room again, in the direction he'd been smiling earlier. Sure enough, birthday-girl-Tabitha was standing there, leaning up against a wall. She was laughing and talking to some guy, but every now and then she glanced their way.

Adele and Tabitha worked for the same marketing firm – Adele in design, Tabitha in new accounts. Charlie had recently hired their firm for all his business marketing. Recently. So he was a new account.

One plus one equals two.

“'Us',” Adele breathed. Then she cleared her throat. “She likes you. You like her. She invited me so you'd come.”

“It's not like that,” Charlie held up his hands. “I said I loved you, and I meant it, and you know I respect you. I have never cheated on you.”

“Of course, I'm sorry, I know that,” Adele assured him. “All I meant was ... she likes you. You like her.”

He was frowning, and he didn't look happy at all, but he nodded his head.

“Yeah. I like her,” he admitted. “I didn't ... is this how this is supposed to happen? We just calmly talk about ending a three year relationship like it was just a bad dinner date, and then I ride off into the sunset with your coworker?”

“Hey! It was a pretty good dinner date, as far as three-year-relationships go,” Adele argued. “And though I want you to be happy, please don't ride off into the sunset just yet. After all, you and I came together, and all my coworkers are here. It would be a little awkward.”

Charlie's frown lasted a second longer, then he finally smiled again. He clasped her hand between both of his, then lifted it to his lips for a kiss.

“I'm gonna regret this some day, aren't I?” he chuckled. “Let's get the hell out of here. If this is our last night together as a couple, let's go out big style.”

“What does 'big style' mean?”

“We're gonna finish binge watching our show, then we're going to dramatically fight over who gets the apartment,” he informed her. “And then we'll cry and hug it out and agree to both move out. There's also the possibility of some for-old-time's-sake sex, as well.”

“No, there isn't.”

“And then in the morning, I'll call Tabitha and ask her out while you call all our friends and tell them we've broken up.”

“Why me!?”

“Because this was your idea,” he teased, and before she could argue some more, he leaned in quick and kissed her cheek. “I'm gonna go get our coats, be back soon.”

Watching Charlie walk away, it was a bittersweet moment. This really was the end to their story. The kiss on the cheek had sealed it – any other time, it would've been on the lips. The gap between them was now a gulf.

It was sad, but at the same time, it was exciting. She hadn't been single since college. She'd never lived on her own. She'd never really been in love. There was a whole new horizon full of experiences waiting for her.

And whatever is missing, now I can finally go out and look for it.

When she saw him heading back across the party, Adele left the balcony and met him halfway. She wanted to make their exit as quick as possible, and he seemed to feel the same way.

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