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Margaret and Teddy

Margaret walked into the bedroom with a soft, blue towel wrapped firmly around her damp body. The shower had reinvigorated her after a less-than-thrilling evening in with her fiancé. Teddy had pulled out his bar exam study books before she’d even had the dishes from their home-cooked meal in the sink. She knew then he wasn’t going to leave the apartment this late November evening. The whole purpose of his visit was to scope out neighbors for next year; so far, he’d only scoped out the burger place down the street and her new couch. The clock read 8:30 p.m., and Margaret considered ordering take-out from the Thai restaurant on the building’s first floor just to pass the time; tenants paid half price.

Instead, she put on a pair of her tightest jeans, chose a fitted, cream sweater and her favorite knee-length suede boots. She kept her make-up light because she didn’t normally wear any, and to get out the door, she would have to pass Teddy. He might notice. Maybe. Her hair was already halfway dry, so she left it down and massaged some mousse in to tame the brown curls.

Teddy didn’t speak until she was two-thirds of the way to the door. “Going out?” he asked, without looking up.

“I need some air. It’s such a clear night. I don’t want to waste it,” she replied. “You could come with me? It’s just a quick walk.”

“No, thanks. I’m done for the evening, I think.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll be back.”

“Don’t stay gone too long. I might miss you,” he responded, eyes never leaving the textbook.

Margaret wrapped a red scarf around her neck and considered whether or not she should tell him she hated him at times like these.

“Maggie?” Ted had finally lifted his face toward her.

“Yeah?” His voice snapped her out of her reverie.

“What are you doing?”

What do you care? she wondered.

“You’re letting all the heat out.”

“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking I won’t need my coat. It’s supposed to be mild out tonight.”

Before he could respond, if he would’ve responded, she grabbed her purse, an old Christmas gift from Ted, off the coat rack and headed out the door. She half-slammed the door when she pulled it closed behind her. While riding the elevator, she tried to slow her breathing. When she exited the building, she had to wait for the streetlight, which gave her time to wonder where to go. Margaret took walks all the time, but most of them had a purpose behind them.

As she stood there, she realized the coffee shop across the street had a fairly decent-sized crowd. One of the patrons was wearing an orange coat—an orange coat she’d seen before. It was the guy from her Common Diseases of the Western World class who’d hit on her twice and asked to borrow her case study notes double that number. He was floundering, and it was only their first year of medical school. Jackson, that was his name. He had a dark-haired friend with him who looked a little older. A woman in all black with a bored face was taking their order. Margaret waited a second longer, and when the green light flicked, she checked her posture and walked across the street. The table next to them was still open. She sat down and pretended to read the menu.

“Hey, don’t I know you? Megan, right?” It didn’t even take as long as she guessed.

“Sorry, I’m Stacey.” She smiled back politely.

“Oh,” he said, unconvinced. “You look like someone I know from class.”

“I haven’t been in school for a couple years now.” She stared at him again and slightly raised her eyebrows; a correction, not rejection.

He shook his head a little, as if confused, but didn’t give her away. “Oh, sorry. I’m really bad with names… and faces, too, I guess.”

“It happens,” she replied, eying his companion.

“Are you alone?”

“For the moment,” she responded, meeting his friend’s eye.

“Why don’t you join us? I’m Jackson, by the way, and this is Kevin.”

“Hi, Kevin.” Margaret greeted the stranger with straight teeth and olive skin.

His only response was a nod and brief smirk.

“So you always walk around the city alone at night?” Jackson asked. “Pretty girl like you?”

“Don’t tell me you’re a rapist,” Margaret answered, as she brushed her leg against Kevin’s under the table. “Have you guys already ordered?”

“Yeah, but if you tell me what you like, I’ll let them know,” Jackson replied brightly.

“Just coffee. I like it strong.”

“I would’ve guessed you had a sweet tooth, cute girl like you.”

He was persistent, but not the one she wanted. “You just don’t stop, do you?” she asked, still smiling.

“You can’t blame a guy for trying.”

As Jackson made his way to the counter, Margaret leaned over and placed her hand on top of Kevin’s. “I can be sweet.”

“So I see.” He slid his hand from beneath hers and placed it under the table.

“Why don’t we take a walk?” She was still leaning in.

That same lazy, half-smile returned to Kevin’s face as he answered, “No. But thank you for the offer.”

“Got better plans?”

“Different ones, you could say.”

“Another girl?”

“Does it really matter?”

“Not if it doesn’t change your answer.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. Before Margaret could make another go at him, Jackson reappeared holding three coffees.

“Here we are.” Jackson put down the coffees then sat down, returning his attention to Margaret. “So, Stacey, you’re from around here?”

“No, I’m originally from Chicago. I moved here for work two years ago.” She was really making an effort at lying tonight. “I’m in PR.”

“What company?” Kevin asked smugly. His face was turned toward her, but his expression wasn’t kind.

She could feel the look, but she didn’t return it; she ignored the question altogether. “What about you two? What’s your story?”

“I’m a native, but Kevin’s from all over. Been everywhere, right, buddy?”

“Everywhere?” Margaret echoed as she looked at him again, which was no problem to her at all.

“Some places: Brazil, New Zealand, Germany,” Kevin obliged.

“That’s just a few,” Jackson interjected, “right?”

“Yeah, just a few,” but now Kevin wanted to be persistent. “Why Seattle?”

“I told you,” she looked him in the eye. “Work.”

“What kind of work?”

“PR, can’t you hear?” Jackson turned to her. “He’s got a hearing problem, I guess.”

“I should go, I think.” Margaret rose.

“So soon?” Jackson’s disappointment was obvious.

“Yeah, I’ve got an early morning. Thanks for the company—both of you.” She shot Kevin one last glance as she turned to leave; he didn’t notice.

When she was a few steps away, Jackson shouted, “Hey, don’t forget your coffee.”

But she pretended not to hear and kept her pace even. She knew they were watching, so instead of crossing the street and returning to her apartment building immediately, she turned the corner and circled the block. Home, she should go home. Teddy was waiting. Teddy wanted her. Teddy. She picked up her pace. She didn’t hear the footsteps behind her.

“Hey, what’s your rush?” a voice whispered as someone touched her shoulder.

Surprised, Margaret whirled around. “Excuse me?... Oh, Jackson.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. You left your coffee.” He offered her the Styrofoam cup.

She stared at it for a few seconds before taking it from him. “Thank you.” The heat of the cup seemed to help her remember what she was doing. “I have to go. Someone’s expecting me.” But she remained there. On the street corner, holding a to-go coffee. She didn’t like coffee.

After a few silent moments, Jackson offered a truce. “So, Megan?”

“Margaret,” she conceded, with her eyes on the sidewalk. “Maggie. Thanks for not giving me away.”

“No problem. I mean, what’s the harm, right?”

“Right.” She nodded as her throat began to burn.

“Hey, don’t take it personally. My friend, he’s… he’s kind of a jerk sometimes. Not the kind of guy you want.”

“No, I like nice guys.” She blinked a little more than usual.

“That’s good to hear.” He didn’t push the matter. “Well, I really should go. Kevin’s waiting.” He gave her a parting smile. “See you in class, Maggie.” He turned and walked back the way he came.

“Yeah, I’m sure you will.” She turned away from Jackson and her attempted betrayal and headed home. It was almost 9:45 p.m., and if he noticed her return at all, Teddy would ask questions. She quickened her steps again and decided against waiting for the walk signal. She hurried across the intersection and was only two steps from the sidewalk, when a speeding Miata honked its horn. Her knees buckled, but she managed to throw herself forward to the white concrete in time for the impatient vehicle to miss her. Her coffee cup was crushed. Margaret sat on the sidewalk catching her breath; she pulled her knees up to her chest and held onto her ankles.

A man in a suit offered his hand to help her up. “Miss?”

But she couldn’t chain her thoughts together enough to accept or even to reply. Eventually, he moved on, bewildered. She just sat there until, finally, a middle-aged, heavily made-up woman bent down to her.

“Honey, people are staring at you.” The woman, dressed in an old pair of jeans and a dated wool sweater, grabbed her arm and helped hoist her off the concrete.

Margaret was vaguely aware of the people staring; couples walking arm-in-arm, friends huddled together, young, old, she could see their faces. She looked the woman in the eyes half a second before registering her words. “What do you care?” Margaret asked, her first sincere sentence all evening.

The woman stared at her for a moment, then pulled out her cigarettes and proceeded to light one before answering, “I don’t really, but everyone needs a lift now and then.” She silently offered her cigarette pack to Margaret.

“No, thanks. I don’t smoke.”

“Maybe you should try it.” The woman grinned. “Calms the nerves.”

Margaret snorted and gave a small smile back. “I’ll remember that.”

The woman nodded a goodbye and continued down her path.

Slowly, Margaret turned, and even more slowly, she walked to the entrance of her building. Some of the waitresses from the Thai restaurant were standing outside, taking a smoke break; they moved away from the door as she approached. When she gave them a polite smile, they grimaced and looked away.

She took the stairs for the first time since she moved in and found the upward motion of her feet soothing. After reaching her front door and fishing for her keys in her pocket, she realized she left her purse at the coffee shop.

She slouched against the door and let her knees lower the rest of her to the doormat. Teddy had given her that handbag for Christmas two years ago. He’d flown from Chicago to surprise her. She’d just moved to Seattle and didn’t know anyone yet, and all the Christmas spirit had been suffocating her with memories and loneliness. The purse was ugly, and she’d told her mother so in one of their Sunday afternoon phone calls. It was ugly, but it was touching, nonetheless. She’d carried the purse every day for six months to remind herself of Teddy’s love. Now, she only took it out of the closet when he was in town.

Margaret waited another fifteen minutes before knocking on the door. She would have to lie, but she needed a moment to recollect. There were only so many lies you could tell in so much time.

Cetoria Tomberlin is our Staff Book Reviewer and a poet and fiction writer who lives in Northwest Georgia. She received her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from Berry College. Her work has previously appeared in Fairy Tale Review, NonBinary Review, Southern Women’s Review, The Battered Suitcase, Spires, and online at LADYGUNN and HelloGiggles. She is also a book reviewer for Mixed Diversity Reads.

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