Short Story 6

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Over Christmas, mother and I went on a walk. Back in high school, we used to walk together all the time, thirty minutes a day around the neighborhood. We hadn’t walked together for some time, now that I was away at college. But a walk meant we would have time for a serious uninterrupted conversation.

“Do you like him?”

I watched my breath smoke as I released it in a long, controlled sigh. “I don’t know. Do I have to know?”

“No,” she answered.

“I don’t want to rush things. I’ve had enough of rushing things.” Another smoky sigh. “My heart’s too worn out to go through all of that again. Not now. Not ever.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I’m serious, Mom. I get sick every time I think about being with anyone.”

We didn’t look at each other, but kept our eyes ahead, watching for traffic. Even without her looking at me, I knew I was being carefully studied.

“Your father and I always wanted you to end up with someone nice.”

“Mom—”

“But we don’t want you settling for anyone either.”

“I’m not settling. You know how I feel about this. I’m happy on my own. My happiness doesn’t depend on anyone else for once, and I like it that way.”

A nod. Then a few paces of silence.

“If—and that’s a big ‘if’,” I said tentatively, “if anyone decides he loves me, he’s got his work cut out for him.”

“I don’t doubt that.” She smiled at me. “He’ll have to be someone really special for my beautiful girl.”

I smiled back.

“Do you suppose they’re fighting over you?” she asked after a longer silence.

“Who, Sam and his brother?”

“Yeah. He sent you chocolate, right?”

I laughed. “Well, it could have been David’s handwriting on the note. I have no way of knowing. Maybe it was Sam. Anyway, I don’t think they’re fighting over me. That doesn’t seem like something they’d put up with from each other. And I keep seeing David with some other girl.”

“I see.”

I laughed at a vivid image in my mind of those two skinny brothers putting up their fists in their dorm room, jabbing back and forth while glaring at each other with steely expressions.

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