Maya Sabatino | Art by Katherine S. Li
A tricky business, love . . .
This thought preoccupied Kyle while he hoped Jane would answer her door. Euphoria was anticipated. Sorrow was predictable. Anger was inevitable and desire undoubtedly present. Happier sides exist too; friendship, trust, and respect all at the top of the list. Love is strong like the bonds between a family after Sunday gatherings. It is sweeter than marmalade kisses between children picnicking in a secret garden. Warmer than hugs by fireplaces where marshmallows toast. More nurturing than new mothers with sweetly smelling infants cuddled in blankets of hope. But so many other emotions hide underneath the simple word love, ready to pursue the lover at any moment in time. Love sparks an infatuation so strong that separation is deadly. The lover will do anything to bury the feeling of lost love. Creating a need that won’t be stopped, a need that can’t be stopped until love is found. Surely, greedy love could rest once its goal was achieved? But no. The thought of losing love was worse than not having loved at all. Holding on to this overwhelming love and never letting go is irresistible. And in this way love can be a parasite that spreads from hiding spots in the dark caves of hurtful conversation, the inky wells of disinterested embrace and the haunted crevices of deceitful kisses.
Suddenly startled by a feeling, Kyle took another listen at the door. He couldn’t tell if she was home. Kyle spoke loudly through the door, hoping that he might coax her out, “Jane? You home?” He eyed her door longingly for a moment, prayed it would open and she’d come to greet him. Was she even in there? He couldn’t tell. Maybe if he waited for a second longer, or said something else she would come out and be with him. But he needed to go. Waiting here looked pathetic. Pausing a moment, again he listened at the door. His heart pounded a little faster. He wanted to speak to her again as they did at the market. It would be so sweet and hopefully less brief. He wanted to know her. But she didn’t respond to his voice through the door.
He peeked through the peephole in the door, determined to quench a need to see her. All he could see was her very small kitchen, her little red couch and some of her tiny stools. But those things weren’t her and, therefore, they were significantly less satisfying. Was she in another room where she couldn’t hear him? The thought made Kyle discouraged. He couldn’t be sure she was there. Feeling dejected, he reluctantly left.
He wandered, meandering up and down streets and lanes. Having nowhere to go he walked aimlessly and with each directionless step he became more consumed with his fabricated notion of Jane’s apparent rejection. The disappointments lead to loneliness. A loneliness like being lost on the peak of a barren mountain. After he walked for some time, Kyle found a local dive and strode in, resolved to not let Jane’s supposed rebuff get to him. And he was going to do whatever possible to not be alone that night.
All heads turned to him and Kyle felt it: heads swiveled to him and conversations stopped. If the patrons’ eyes weren’t glued to him the minute he confidently walked in then they were definitely oblivious introverts. Everything from his powerful walk to his straight white-toothed smile radiated charisma and charm. He was comfortable with their fascination and their desire to know him and be him. As a long time hustler, this was his goal. He intentionally made eye contact with many of the people in the joint. The heels of his heavy boots thumped as he walked, bringing even more attention to his commanding presence. He coolly asked for a cup of coffee but not before talking up the waiter.
“Looks like a busy night? And the Spartans are doing good too, huh?” Kyle said observing the waiter’s sports t-shirt underneath his apron and the TV on the wall.
“Yeah not too bad. They’re doing alright despite all the injuries this year?”
“The teams putting out a good effort,” Kyle said while speed-reading the captions of the screen out of the corner of his eye, “Johnson is coming back soon, have you heard? That should put ‘em back in the line for the playoffs.”
Then Kyle situated himself alone at a table in the middle of the room. It was one of his usual calculated moves.
It took ten, maybe fifteen minutes, for a woman to walk up to him. They often approached him first. It took getting over their initial shyness but once overcame they could not resist trying to get to know him. It also meant that everyone in the room became very interested in knowing what would happen next.
The woman was a brunette with long hair and light eyes. From Kyle’s glimpse of her precisely organized handbag and how her bangs were pushed out of her face, Kyle knew she had an independence. She was someone he’d consider on his level with striking symmetrical features and intelligence, which he concluded from the keychain on her bag from a renowned college. Kyle chose to immediately acknowledge her. He saw her get up and start to approach. He glanced at her subtly but obvious enough so she would notice his looks. By the time she said “hey,” they already exchanged glances several times.
“Hey,” Kyle said nice and slow but with a firmness that showed his confidence.
“Can I buy you a drink?” she said, shyly touching a bang.
Kyle smiled a smile that no one ever resisted. “No,” he responded.
She blushed red with embarrassment.
“I’ll buy you one.” Kyle got up and pulled out her chair, he knew that women loved being made to feel special. Looking into her eyes, he again tried to make a connection.
Going up to the counter and as the waiter poured the drinks, Kyle made a joke about the Spartans. The waiter gave him a smile, Kyle knew he didn’t have to pay for the drinks — they were on the house. Again with a swagger he walked back to his table with the drink for her and another cup of coffee for himself.
The loneliness suddenly flooded over him again. Refocused on the woman, Kyle pushed his sad thoughts away.
He placed her glass down and then his, being careful to brush her arm as he sat down. He immediately asked her questions about herself, aiming to interest her in staying with him. Kyle knew more than anything, people liked talking about themselves and their interests.
He moved his chair closer to hers and leaned in. He listened intently, nodding and commenting at all the right times. When the conversation allowed, he touched her arm or her shoulder for comfort. She gossiped about people and together they laughed at bad hairstyles and funny clothes, not that Kyle cared about either. He was in control and yet she thought she was. He made sure to always look into her eyes. They both laughed. His pursuit was deliberate.
The evening was looking promising but when Kyle suddenly noticed a figure in the background, the evening took a turn for the worse. Someone he recognized, someone from his past. He became unsettled feeling his heart rate increase and the temperature in the room seemed to go up ten degrees. The man nodded at Kyle and moved to a table in the back corner.
Easily and painlessly, Kyle would let the woman go away. Kyle gradually made himself less appealing. He appeared less interested in her, less responsive and didn’t stare into her eyes deeply. Kyle leaned slightly back in his chair. The conversation became more and more one-sided. Eventually, she decided that she wasn’t interested in Kyle. And that’s what Kyle wanted.
She finally said, “It’s getting late, I have to get up early to work in the morning. I had a nice time getting to know you. See you later.” She stared at him a moment longer. Suddenly thinking of Jane again, Kyle didn’t offer up his number. He frowned and watched as she walked out the door acknowledging his target wouldn’t have made him forget his loneliness.
He grabbed his coat and strode over to his unwelcomed past.
“I barely recognized you, Smiley,” Kyle joked as he walked to the corner table.
“Kyle Felix Becker! Nobody’s called me Smiley in ages. I think almost ten years.” They shook hands forcefully and jerked into a hug with a shoulder smash. Perry Dempsey smiled at Kyle, looking fairly nostalgic. It was a jagged sort of smile. A smile that went up and across the whole of his face. One that had deep dimples and dark lips. The smile would inch nearly to his ears when he laughed. His teeth weren’t particularly straight and Kyle always noticed that. He acknowledged the crookedness of his teeth gave his grin more character. And it was this smile that gave him his nickname, Smiley.
“Really ten years?” Kyle asked, despite knowing for a fact it had been ten years. He wished it had been longer. “You’ll always be Smiley to me.” Kyle grinned. It was false. He was unnerved to see Smiley again. How did he find me?
“Sorry if I was interrupting somethin’ pal. She looked fine. She someone special?” Smiley raised his eyebrows at Kyle who smiled cautiously.
“Nah, don’t worry about it.”
“Always good with ladies, weren’t you? Could always sell stuff to the pretty ones. Why couldn’t I have such a gift?” Smiley said looking sentimental for a moment.
Kyle got up. “I’ll get ya a beer, alright.” When he came back Kyle studied Smiley’s face. Aged since they were together last, he wasn’t a boy any longer. A question crept into his mind again and he decided he would ask discreetly after the alcohol was consumed.
“So friend, I was sure I had hidden pretty well. How’d ya find me anyway?”
Smiley laughed. Even though Kyle’s manner was joking, his question was quite serious. Kyle watched closely.
“You attract a considerable amount of attention, my friend.” Kyle knew Smiley had lied when he turned to look away from him. The Smiley Kyle used to know never would’ve risked lying to him.
“Sure. A kid told me to check here and some guy told me to check there, both kept talkin’ ‘bout how charmin’ ya are. Some lady finally pointed me here.” It’s not that easy to find me, Kyle thought, and because of this he decided that Smiley found him purposefully and with great effort. Smiley wanted something and Kyle didn’t want to find out. He waited patiently as an hour passed and more drinks were consumed.
“Man . . .” Kyle reverted to his old slang. He stared at Smiley firmly in the eyes, “somethin’ up. You came here for a reason.”
Smiley grimaced. “I need your help, man.”
“With what?” Kyle tried to sound friendly and relaxed even though he had no intention of helping.
“I think my girl is cheating on me. I love her so much I couldn’t bear it if she was with someone else.” Smiley spilled the problem out like an unstoppable leak.
Kyle stared expectantly for him to explain what he wanted Kyle to do about it. Smiley got the hint and continued, “She works in the warehouse district doing metal work for the trains and whatnot. She’s been distant lately. Staying out late with friends.” Smiley paused trying to stop the panicked quiver in his voice. He continued, “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her. She won’t talk to me; she says everythin’s fine. I’d like you to go there, get to know her and get her to tell ya stuff. I know how you were when we were younger. Genius, you are with people.”
“Ya know I can’t. My boss keeps me on a tight shift and I’m pretty busy. I just can’t right now, you . . .” Kyle tried to place the blame away from himself, hoping Smiley would be sympathetic.
“No!” Smiley cuts in forcefully.
Kyle forced a smile, trying to evade again. “I really . . .”
“Stop talking like that. You’ll have time. Don’t try to pull on me what you do with everyone. Don’t sell me marked-up goods like you used to sell to all the pretty girls. I know your game.” Kyle started to realize how desperate Smiley was. He’d lost the upper hand and that made Kyle uncomfortable.
“You didn’t forget what I did for you?” Kyle had forgotten. He remembered now. The fact Smiley had the upper hand infuriated him. Smiley raised an eyebrow. “I did you a favor ten years ago, with the girl and that mix-up at that party.”
With a nervous panic, Kyle faked a smile. “I was joking. I can’t believe how seriously you took me. Of course I’ll help you, friend.”
“Oh, you had me goin’ for a minute. It’s just this is important. I love ‘er so much I can’t bear not to be with her.” Kyle was frustrated. How love and jealousy changed a good-natured person was unforgivable in Kyle’s eyes. Paranoia caused Smiley to resort to spying and extortion and that made Kyle indignant. What people do for love is shameless.
“Alright. Don’t worry, pal. Write down her name and address. I’ll work this out for you. It’s really no problem.” Soon after, Smiley left pleased. Kyle tried to calm himself as he thought about Smiley’s record with past girlfriends. He always fussed about his girls and nothing ever came of it. His jealousy never proved to be true. Kyle decided that he’d just get to know Smiley’s girl and then get back to his old friend. It really was no problem.
Kyle debated getting another drink from the waiter but decided not to and walked out the door.
Again Kyle’s walk was directionless and he was even lonelier than before. All and all his day was a bad one. The dimming of the day’s light made Kyle even more pessimistic. He wasn’t sure the day had time to improve. He headed home retracing his steps but not before passing Jane’s street. He began feeling hopeful. The hope took the form of a question: Is she home? Kyle decided to take a chance and walk to Jane’s apartment. His heart raced, as he got closer. He tried to stop himself from walking faster and getting too excited. She was probably ignoring him. Maybe she thinks he’s annoying and completely dislikes him — even hates him.
Kyle took a deep breath and raised his hand to knock on the door, but his fist didn’t make it there. He chickened out. Kyle took another deep breath and tried again but before his knuckles could hit the panel, the door opened and Jane in a distracted state nearly walked straight into him.
“Oh hey!” she said smiling, and Kyle nearly fell over.
“I was gonna come and . . . Hi. I was here earlier. Wanna go out tonight?” He stammered stumbling back a little. He wanted to smack his head against the wall.
She laughed, clearly somewhat surprised, and then smiled kindly, “I was out all day and must have missed you earlier. I’d really like to go out.”
“Yeah. Okay. Do you wanna do something now? How about dinner?” Kyle said, beaming.
“Sounds great I’m starving. I’ll get my coat.”
Love is fickle and Kyle knew it. Love is filled with many shattered dreams. It crushes hearts. Love is all consuming to the point of obsession. So desirable that people will lie and manipulate for it. And it makes the purest in nature jealous. People go to extremes for it. People can’t help but want it. For its kindness, its joy and its wonder. The thrill of dancing together to a favorite song only the couple shares. The chatter of old friends rekindling caring feelings. The warmth of holding hands on chilly evenings. All this love wouldn’t exist without awkward phone calls and embarrassing first kisses. Love is built on hopeful risks that could end terribly but also could end blissfully. And even with all those risks, Kyle still wanted to take that chance.