Only in the Movies
Susan let Melissa talk her into stopping for one quick drink after work. “Come on. I’ve had a hard week; let’s do something fun.”
“Okay, but just one.” Susan needed her routine.
After they ordered, a man sitting at the end of the bar smiled at Susan. She smiled back, then quickly looked away, embarrassed. He was gorgeous. He couldn’t possibly be looking at her. She grabbed another quick peek. Is that Mel Gibson? What would he be doing here? Then she laughed at herself. The Mel Gibson movies she loved were made over twenty years ago. He would be old by now, maybe sixty. She still thought of him as young and beautiful, the hero of Lethal Weapon, the fantasy man who saved her every night in her dreams.
“That guy at the bar keeps looking over here,” Melissa said.
“I’m sure he’s looking at you.” Men had been looking at Melissa since middle school when Susan and Melissa first became friends. Melissa looked like she was eighteen when she was twelve, and at thirty-one, she still looked eighteen, with the same long blonde hair, large breasts, and tiny hips that drew male attention wherever she went.
“I don’t think so,” Melissa said. “Every time I look over there, he’s staring at you.”
“Well, he’s way too cute to be interested in me.”
“You’re so hard on yourself,” Melissa said. “I think you’re too cute to be interested in him.”
“Yeah, right.” Susan grimaced. “Maybe if I lost twenty pounds.”
“Stop it.” Melissa’s voice was sharp. “You’ve been hung up on your weight forever. You have a nice body. Not everyone has to be a stick.” She put her hand on Susan’s arm. “Dammit, Jack really did a number on you, didn’t he?”
Susan shook her head, but her chest burned as she remembered going out to dinner with her ex-boyfriend. His words from almost two years ago still resonated. “You aren’t going to order the roast beef, are you?” or “Are you putting more sour cream on that potato?” or “Dessert?” He winked at the cute waitress wearing a size zero black uniform. “I don’t think her ass could hold any more dessert.”
The memories added fifty pounds to Susan’s picture of herself. “It doesn’t matter. I hardly ever think of him.”
Melissa started to say something, then stopped. “Hey, that cute guy’s coming over here.”
Susan licked her lips and smoothed her hair in a quick motion.
When Susan raised her head, he was looking directly at her, almost as if Melissa wasn’t at the table. “Hi.”
“Are you Susan Sheridan?”
“Yes.” Susan blinked in confusion. “Do I know you?”
“You probably don’t remember me. I was in English class with you last year – Comp 100.”
“I’m sorry,” Susan said. “That was a big class, and I didn’t really get to know anyone.” Going back to college when she was thirty was a challenge for Susan. She loved school, but kept to herself, feeling old and insecure as she watched the other students.
“I always sat in the back – it wasn’t my best subject,” he said. “I remember you, though, because the professor read two of your papers as examples. You’re really a good writer.”
Susan felt the compliment warm her cheeks. “Thank you.” She remembered how upset she was the first time the professor read her paper. The assignment was a personal experience essay, and hers had been very personal. She wrote about the pain of a nasty breakup and how mean her boyfriend was. Susan used the writing as therapy, feeling invisible to the instructor in the huge class. She hadn’t expected him to read it out loud, then to identify her as the author. Had she known he would do that, she would have chosen a different topic.
“I’m Kevin McConahey.” He held out his hand, bringing her attention back to him.
Susan shook his hand. It felt strong, with long, elegant fingers. “This is my friend, Melissa.” Susan dropped Kevin’s hand and touched Melissa’s shoulder.
“Nice to meet you.” Kevin and Melissa shook hands.
“You too,” Melissa pointed at an empty chair. “Join us?”
“I’d love to.” Kevin grinned at Susan and sat down.
Susan’s first date with Kevin was wonderful; she felt like she was living Crazy, Stupid Love, where the ordinary girl gets the super hot guy. And, Kevin was even hotter than Ryan Gosling.
She called Melissa. “We talked for hours. He’s so smart and sweet and gorgeous. I still can’t believe it.”
“Does he have a job?” Melissa asked.
“He’s a paramedic with H&T Ambulance,” Susan said.
“Sexy job,” Melissa said. “Almost as good as a fireman.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know,” Melissa explained. “There’s that whole hero/rescue thing going on. He doesn’t rush into burning buildings, but he goes out in the middle of the night to save lives. Pretty sexy.”
“Very sexy, and sweet, and charming.” Susan still felt the warmth of his good night kiss.
“You’re such a romantic.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Susan made a face at the phone.
“Sometimes I worry about you,” Melissa said. “This is real life, not a movie.”
“I know that. I don’t think life is like the movies.”
“But you want real life to be like the movies,” Melissa said.
“Well, why not? Who wouldn’t want life to be like the moves? Movies are so much better.”
They paused for a minute while Susan’s statement hung in the air. Then with the comfort of long-time friends, they laughed.
“Okay,” Susan said. “I’m being silly. I know I have to live in the actual world, not the movie world.”
“Yes, really.” But Susan was lying, and she knew Melissa was aware that she was lying. Susan’s whole life was spent waiting for Rhett Butler to carry her up the stairs, or Tom Hanks to meet her at the top of the Empire State Building, or Bradley Cooper to realize she was the one he loved in their own Silver Linings Playbook. “I had an amazing date; could you let me be happy?”
Melissa laughed again. “Did he ask you out again?”
“On Friday. I can’t wait.”
The next three months flew by for Susan in a blur of romance. She saw Kevin three or four times a week. They held hands as they walked through the park, then as the weather warmed up, on the beach. He asked questions and listened to her answers. He cooked her dinner and gazed into her eyes by candlelight. He didn’t flirt with other women when he was on a date with her. He told her she was beautiful, and Susan believed him. For the first time in her life, she didn’t feel fat. She smiled all the time. Only one thing marred the perfection of their relationship.
Kevin rarely talked about himself. In some men, that would be a positive trait, but Susan worried that he didn’t trust her, and if he didn’t trust her, their relationship was incomplete. As soon as he confided in her, their love would be whole. He’d sweep her up and carry her out of her boring, ordinary life into the happily-ever-after, just as Richard Gere carried Debra Winger out of the factory in An Officer and a Gentleman.
Three weeks later, the breakthrough Susan was waiting for happened. Susan cooked a romantic dinner filled with roast beef and red wine; they took a long walk, and when they got back to Susan’s apartment, Kevin told her he had something he wanted to share.
“We’re spending so much time together, and this is really important to me. I need to talk to you about it.”
Susan’s excitement throbbed - the moment so crucial, it was almost sexual. She nodded encouragement.
“I had a very hard relationship with my mother.” His voice was flat.
Excitement segued to anxiety. Please let me say the right thing. “I’m so sorry, Kevin. Do you want to tell me about it?”
He nodded slowly. “My father was a long distance truck driver, so his job required that he travel a lot. He was also an alcoholic, so when he wasn’t traveling, he was either in a bar or passed out.”
“Was he abusive?” She hoped it was okay to ask a question.
Kevin shrugged. “Not really. He yelled a lot, but mostly we learned to ignore him.”
Susan’s eyes never left his face.
“My mother and I were close. I was the oldest, and she depended on me for emotional support.”
“That’s not fair to a child,” Susan said.
“I know. It was so hard for me. I didn’t know how to take care of her. I tried and I tried, but I could never make things better for her.”
“How awful for you.”
“It was.” Kevin closed his eyes again. “It was awful.”
Susan hesitated. Her need to respond perfectly in tune with his need ached in her throat. But she had to ask. “Did she molest you?”
“No, not physically. But she was seductive with me. She walked around in her underwear and she said things sometimes. She talked to me about her problems, that she was lonely, that she missed having sex.”
“Oh, Kevin. How inappropriate. That must have been so hard for you.”
Kevin’s eyes opened. “Inappropriate. That’s an interesting word.”
“I’m sorry, what do you mean?” The stupidity of her remark roared through her head like a waterfall.
“Inappropriate doesn’t begin to describe what happened. It was traumatizing, and you say it was inappropriate. That’s an impersonal word, not a word you use when you’re talking with your boyfriend.” Kevin’s face closed.
“Honey, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. It was just a stupid word. I’m sure it was awful, terrible, traumatizing.” She couldn’t believe she’d screwed this up.
“It was.” He reached his arms out to her.
Oh, thank God, he was going to forgive her. The rushing water receded. She entwined herself with him.
“You’re such a good listener. I’ve never really talked to anyone about this before, well, except my therapist, of course. I’ve never told a girlfriend. I didn’t think I would ever find anyone I could talk to about this.” Her head rested on his chest and he pulled back; she lifted her head to look into his eyes. “But I can talk to you about anything. You always understand.” He leaned forward and kissed her gently. “I love you, Susan. Thank you for being there for me.”
“I love you, too,” Susan said.
They both had tears in their eyes as they kissed again. They made love for the first time that night.
Susan closed her eyes and floated on a wave of happiness. Their sex was amazing; hot, like Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham, and romantic, like Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost. Theirs would be the love that survived even death. She couldn’t believe this was finally happening for her. A gorgeous boyfriend. A true and forever love.
Susan and Kevin wrapped themselves in each other, only leaving Susan’s apartment for work and school. Kevin cooked for her; they watched old movies, made love, and talked. Their conversations ranged far and wide, covering current events, their childhoods, their future hopes and dreams. There was little room for anyone else in their lives, but that was fine with Susan. She was Allie in The Notebook, and he was her Noah. They only needed each other, and the rest of the world receded.
When Susan saw Melissa’s name on her caller ID, she realized they’d hardly talked in weeks.
“It’s been forever, and I have news.” Melissa jumped right into the conversation. “Anna called last night. She’s going to be in town next month, the weekend of your birthday. We’ll go out and party like rock stars.”
“You don’t sound very excited. We haven’t seen Anna in over a year,” Melissa said.
“I know. I can’t wait to see her, but I can’t go out with you guys on my birthday. Kevin made special plans. Could we go out Friday night instead?”
“Anna’s only going to be here on Saturday. Could you celebrate your birthday with Kevin on Friday night?”
Susan struggled to respond. “I don’t know. Kevin has kind of a hard time with changing plans at the last minute.”
“This is hardly the last minute,” Melissa said. “It’s a month away.”
“I’ll talk to him. Maybe he won’t mind.”
But he did mind; he minded very much.
“Susan, that’s your birthday. We’ve been talking about this for weeks. I want to be with you on your birthday. You know I have something special planned for that night, don’t you?”
“I know, honey, but couldn’t we celebrate on Friday? The special plans aren’t specific for Saturday, are they? I mean, you didn’t mention tickets to a play or anything like that,” Susan said.
“I don’t see how that matters,” Kevin said.
“I haven’t seen Anna in over a year. Since she moved to Michigan, I hardly ever get to see her. We were best friends all through high school. Melissa, Anna and I were together constantly.” Susan smiled at the memory until she saw the look on Kevin’s face. “Don’t be mad, please. Don’t you want to meet her?”
He sighed. “Of course I want to meet your friends. But not that weekend. I made special plans for your birthday.” Kevin said each word distinctly and emphatically. “I was looking forward to spending your birthday with you, on your birthday. I traded shifts to be sure I’d be off. The day is important to me and I thought it would be important to you, too. If you’d rather be with someone else, that’s fine, we can go out another time.”
“Of course I don’t want to be with someone else on my birthday. I want to be with you. But I won’t have a chance to see Anna again for months, probably.” Susan’s voice broke. “Please, honey, don’t make this hard for me.”
“Why is this so hard for you.” Kevin glared. “I’m the one who’s getting hurt.”
“No, no, honey.” Susan’s throat closed and she choked. Tears spilled down her cheeks. “You know I would never hurt you.”
Kevin’s eyes narrowed. “Why is it that when you wound me, you cry? I think it’s a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the fact that you’re causing me pain.”
Susan rocked back. “What?” The injustice of his statement stopped her tears. “That’s so unfair. I’m not trying to hurt you. I was just trying--”
“Look,” Kevin interrupted. “I’m not going to argue with you. Either you want to be with me on your birthday or you don’t. This is exhausting for me. You need to decide if I’m important to you or not.”
“Of course you’re important to me. You’re my soul mate, my destiny.”
“Then why don’t you want to spend your birthday with me?”
Susan wiped her eyes. She couldn’t stand this, couldn’t stand to fight any more. “I do want to. Being with you on my birthday is more important than anything else. I’ll let Anna know I’ll see her next time she’s in town.”
It was a hard decision, but eventually, Susan felt okay about it; like Sandy from Grease, she was willing to change for her Danny.
When Susan called, Melissa sounded angry. “Anna and I talked and we’re worried about you. Not just this weekend, but Kevin has really isolated you. Who else do you see?”
“I’m sorry about missing Anna, but I’m fine, really. Things with Kevin are great. I want to just spend my time with him.” Susan fled from the conversation. When she saw Anna’s name on her phone, she let the call go to voicemail and didn’t respond.
But, over time, Susan was forced to admit that things weren’t always perfect with Kevin. He could be difficult to deal with, and often she had to be careful about what she did. Kevin hated to wait; he explained that waiting reminded him of how his mother ignored him, so he got angry when Susan was late. The longer they were together, Kevin began showing his moody sides more often, but Susan told herself that was a small price to pay for being loved. He was so beautiful and romantic and he loved her. If Kevin was moody, it was only because he was sensitive. He’d had a hard life and he carried some of the damage with him. Like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, he trusted her with his inner-self, and she was determined to live up to that trust. She had the strength and love to help him through any hard times he might have.
One night, an accident on the expressway slowed traffic to a crawl, and Susan was late meeting Kevin for dinner. He was out of sorts all through the meal, so when they got to her apartment, she tried to talk to him. She sat beside him on the couch and tickled him gently, hoping to tease Kevin out of his bad mood. She looked down and realized she made a huge mistake. His fists were clenched; she could see them in his lap, tight against one another. She’d done it again, pushed too hard.
Dammit, when would she learn?
“I don’t know why we have to keep having this conversation over and over again,” he said, enunciating each word slowly and carefully. When Kevin was angry, he brought up every other fight they ever had.
“I know, I know, I’m so sorry, honey, please don’t be mad,” she said, reaching for his hands in an effort to loosen his fists.
He pulled away from her. “This is not a good time for me. You know that and you continue to ignore my feelings, continue to push. Why don’t you listen to me?”
“Honey, I am listening to you.” Her voice broke, but she kept herself from crying, knowing that would only anger him further.
“Dammit, Susan, you’re not.” He never raised his voice, but its steely cold made her shiver.
She stopped talking and sat back. She folded her hands in her lap, calm and submissive, and took a deep breath, her eyes never leaving his face.
He paused for a long moment before speaking again. “We’ve been over this and over this, and you just don’t seem to get it. I’ve told you many times how hard it is for me when you’re late; you continue to ignore my feelings.”
Susan opened her mouth, then changed her mind and continued to sit silently.
“You know how hard it is for me to wait; you know that it brings back terrible memories of my mother, yet you don’t seem to care at all.”
This injustice was too much for Susan. “You know that’s not true,” she burst out. “You know that I love you more than anything. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I didn’t know there would be an accident and so much traffic. I should have left earlier. I texted you, but your phone was off. I just made a mistake, and I thought if we could talk about it, you’d feel better. I love you so much. I was just trying to help.” Her voice rose on the last word, and the tears that had been threatening overflowed, spilling down her cheeks and into her lap. “Please don’t be mad at me anymore. Please, you know how much I love you. I just made a stupid mistake. I’m so so sorry.”
He sighed and stood up. “Tears, always tears. That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it?”
Susan shook her head. She lifted her hands, fingers still entwined, held them out toward him, a supplicant pleading for favor.
He glared down at her until she bowed her head against his anger. “I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this,” he said. Then he turned and left her house.
Her stomach heaved at the crack of the door closing. She made it to the bathroom just in time.
When Kevin didn’t answer her texts or phone calls for two days, Susan called Melissa for support. They hadn’t spoken much recently, so the conversation was stilted at first. But the veins of their friendship ran deep, and Susan bridged the current gap by pouring out her situation with miserable honesty. Almost immediately, she was sorry.
“Susan, he’s killing you. He’s eating you alive. Don’t you see it?”
“He is not. Kevin’s hurt; he can’t help that he gets angry. I’m the only one he trusts. I’m the only one who can help him.” Susan hung up as soon as she could, more upset and confused than before she called.
Susan sat for a long time with the phone in her lap, staring at nothing. She replayed scenes over and over in her head. Kevin yelling at her for being late, yelling at her for not listening. And, Susan crying. When did she start crying so much? When did the laughter and the romance become replaced by tears? She tried not to cry in front of Kevin; it made him so angry, but sometimes she couldn’t help it. Often, she was able to wait until she was alone, hiding in the shower to cry in private.
Susan blew her nose, hoping to clear her mind as much as her sinuses and remembered. Things were still good, sometimes. Last Tuesday, Kevin cooked for her and their conversation over dinner was easy, flowing with laughter and closeness. They made love and slept curled together, as close and comfortable as puppies, like Rose and Jack from Titanic. But Wednesday morning, Susan took too long in the shower, and Kevin’s mood grew cold; he spoke in words of one syllable until she left for work.
The changes in Kevin, the changes in their relationship happened so slowly and so intermittently, Susan didn’t notice for months. At first, Kevin’s occasional coldness just made him seem moody and romantic, and Susan’s tears felt like the passion that made their lives together more exciting. Crying over her lover completed her, and she felt more alive. But over time, little pieces of her disappeared, until now she was nothing but a shell, a dried-out casing like the wasps that get trapped between the window and the screen over the winter and in the spring are nothing but husks that she swept away.
The doorbell rang. Susan pulled herself up and opened the door.
Kevin stood on the steps, shoulders hunched forward. He lifted his head and looked at her, his eyes brilliant blue, shimmering with tears, love, and shame. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you back, baby. I had to have time to think.”
Susan held her hand up, a motion to push him away.
Kevin took her hand in both of his and held it over his heart. “You know how much I love you. I was missing you so much, I realized that I can’t live without you.” He softly stroked her cheek, a gesture so warm and romantic, she could never resist it. “I can be the man I’m meant to be with you. I can make you happy. Marry me, Susan. We’ll be together forever.”
Her world stopped, then tilted, then blew wide open, as Susan looked at Kevin and saw only love. She pushed deep into her soul and felt her strength return. Susan knew she’d done it. She was better than Cathy in Wuthering Heights; she was able to tame her Heathcliff. Finally, Susan would have her happy ending.
She took Kevin’s hand and pulled him inside.