The game did not get better. No matter how he tried to focus, her laughter when she crippled his serves and groans when she lost a game made him ache. He had to get it together, but he could not muster the energy to care.
What would he do if she decided not to give him another chance? He had never considered the possibility. He always thought he had the time to get it together.
The number of unforced errors which showed up in the final stats at the end were disgraceful. She would never let him live this down and he was praying she would be around to tease him with this. Life without Bria in it had never been a part of the dreams he had since the day he met her.
Once the game was done, Riley excused himself to take a shower. Their virtual games always made him work up a sweat. He knew it did the same for Bria. She needed to keep busy as she was no longer able to go running. She had insisted that he not make her breakfast as he handled lunch and dinner daily. He planned to make a large quiche which they could share. He did not want to share it with a balcony between them.
He texted her that he would be working around the complex handling maintenance but promised to be back for lunch. All the ingredients were prepped, and he had only to combine them and bake once he returned.
Having to focus on repairing the plumbing in a townhouse was a welcome reprieve. He always enjoyed working with his hands. Since the island was in lockdown, the garage was closed, and he had run out of things to fix in his apartment.
“I don’t see that lovely wife of yours driving her car lately,” the shaky voice of Mr. Anderson interrupted the silence. He and his wife were retired teachers who had been the first to purchase a townhouse when they had gone on the market.
“She is in quarantine,” Riley replied looking at the man who had come to stand next to the sink which had been clogged with fat.
“Oh, she caught that dreaded virus then,” he said, shaking his head in pity.
“No, she tested negative, but she has to wait fourteen days to see if any symptoms develop.” Riley watched the water flow easily down the drain for several minutes before turning off the tap. “All done, sir.”
“Thank you, son. You know, this gives you time to woo her again.” The old man walked over and sat in the breakfast nook, tapping the table inviting Riley to join him.
“I think it’s too late now,” he replied, coming to sit opposite the elderly gentleman.
“No, it is not. That girl loves you. I see the way she looks at you when you are driving off. You, young people give up too easily.”
“I messed up badly sir,” Riley cracked his fingers one by one. “She is taking a job overseas when this is all over.”
“Do you want your wife back?”
Riley nodded. “Without a doubt.”
“What are you willing to give up so you can?”
Riley thought for a moment. “Anything. It would be easier if I knew what crime I committed. She won’t talk to me about it.”
“That’s a difficult one to fix.”
“I’ve been taking care of her since this quarantine began. I try to show her I care. Not much I can do when I can’t even kiss her, hug her, touch her even. What’s a man to do?”
The old man laughed. “You can do plenty. Sounds like you are off to a good start, but you are fooling yourself if you think you can fix this in two weeks. You will have to spend a lifetime making it up to her and she needs to know this.”
“I told her the same thing and that I was willing. What else is there?”
The man thought for a moment and then he said, “you’ve got to make her miss you.”
“Sir, this is what I think got me in trouble in the first place. Guess I haven’t been there enough for her. All the trips and parties.”
“I don’t believe that for a second. You worship the ground she walks on. Always have. Maybe you are not the problem.”
Riley looked at the man as if he had lost his mind.
Mr. Anderson laughed loudly and with gusto.
“I remember the first day you saw the future Mrs. Collymore. You were tuning my car and she walked up asking for help with a dead battery. You couldn’t string two words together to save your life.”
Riley laughed at the memory. He felt he had won the lottery when she decided to give him a chance. How had he screwed up so badly?
“If she wanted you out of her life, not even this quarantine would have changed that. She’s a smart and resourceful woman. Look at all the money she has brought to Saint Michaels. She expects you will always be hanging around waiting for the scraps she throws at you. She needs to see what life would really be like without you in it.”
“I can’t do that now. She is depending on me to take care of food and stuff.”
“Did she or did you give yourself that job? Call the delivery service and have them do her groceries. She can make her own meals, can’t she?”
“Yes, but. I promised I would…”
Riley could not believe what he was hearing. The old man had lost it.
“Joan,” he called out to his wife. “Come a minute please.”
Riley could hear the sprightly woman before he saw her. She wore brightly colored bangles which clinked as she moved.
“Yes dear. Oh, hello Riley. I did not know you were here.”
“He’s been here the better part of an hour, but you have been too busy watching your soaps.” He teased her even as he made room next to him.
“Whatever, old man.” She flipped her bangles in his face and turned her smile on Riley. “Why do you look as if you’ve lost your best friend?”
Riley looked at the couple and sighed.
What would it be like to be with Bria at their age?
“That’s the problem. He thinks he has. Tell him about the time I broke up with you dear,” Mr. Anderson elbowed his wife and nodded in Riley’s direction.
“The worse three days of my life,” was the elderly woman’s response.
Riley looked at her quizzically.
“This man and I just could not see eye to eye. No matter what, he did, I wasn’t having it. We had been married a couple of years by then. He brought me flowers, he took care of the car and the house. All my girlfriends envied me because he was so attentive. I hated it. He was everywhere.”
Joan laughed and continued.
“One day, I came home to tell him my good news. Our good news. I was pregnant. We had been trying since day one but no luck. I walk in and he is not there. There is a note however, and it says simply. I’ve had enough. Seems like you will be happier without me in your life. The house is paid up for the next three months. Bye.
“I swear to you my heart was in my stomach and my head, I thought it would explode. Here I was ready to share that we were finally pregnant, and he ups and leaves me. I didn’t know where he went, and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone if they knew where he was. I figured he would be back before nightfall. He wasn’t. First night we had slept apart for two plus years. I got up in the morning and had to make my own tea. Who does that?”
They all laughed.
“I went to work thinking I would see him there as our classes were not far from each other. He had taken a week off. I was devastated. By that second night, I was in tears and I had to figure out what to do to get my husband back. I reread his letter and it struck me when he said, ‘seems like you will be happier without me”. Why did he think that? What did I do to make him think I wasn’t happy with him? I had to have a come to Jesus moment with myself, a journal, and the mirror. I had made my husband miserable and the evidence I’d used to crucify him was his loyalty and care.”
“But this is different,” protested Riley. “I need to prepare myself to see her leave Saint Michaels and go after the dreams she had before me. I thought we both wanted a life here together but clearly I’m no longer enough.”
“Have you considered that maybe she feels she is not enough? A smart woman doesn’t just walk away from the best thing she’s got without a reason. Does she think you were cheating?”
“I had a reputation before her, but I’ve never given her a reason to believe that I have other women. I would be a fool to mess up what I have for a fix.”
“Smart man,” chimed in Mr. Anderson.
“Well, if you have not done anything that you are aware of to make her want to leave then you need to give her what she wants. Leave. She has no reason to fight because you are always there, and she knows this.”
Riley looked at the couple. “What happened? How did you get Mr. Anderson to come home?”
“I reflected on every moment when he did something loving or kind for me. What did he do and what was my response? By the time I was done with my list that night, I felt ashamed. This man had been consistently showing me kindness and I gave him ingratitude. I was never satisfied, and he kept going over and above what we would even afford at the time to make me happy, but it was never enough. I realized that if I lost him, not only was I losing out on a man that cared for me wholeheartedly, but I would be completely to blame. I made no effort to be appreciative or kind or loving. I went to sleep that night asking God for another chance to show him that he mattered to me. Not for what he gave me but for who he was. The next day, on my lunch break and then after work, I drove around to see if I could spot his car anywhere. I eventually found it at a bed and breakfast and then I saw him speaking to a woman. To say, I was upset was an understatement. Instead of confronting them I drove home.”
“Silly woman, I’d seen your car already,” her husband quipped.
“This is my story please,” she teased.
“I wasn’t looking my best and you know how women get morning sickness, well I got it in the evening. So, I went home and took a shower. I told myself I would lie down for a minute and promptly slept for the rest of the night. The next morning, I baked a banana bread, which he loves and went back to that B and B. Knocked and handed him the bread as soon as he opened the door. I said there is more where that came from. Just come home. He gave me an attitude and said he can bake his own bread. I didn’t have a comeback. He just stood there and stared at me. What was I supposed to do? Pour out my heart to him? Not gonna happen, I was saying inside. But then I remembered the note.
“I am not happier without you. I feel like the best part of me is missing, I confessed. I told him that I loved him and apologized for my lack of care about his feelings. I never did make it to school that day and that banana bread on hand made sure we did not get out of bed for hours to come.”
“TMI Mrs. A,” Riley groaned with embarrassment.
“Bria must come to a decision on her own that she wants a life with you. Otherwise, she will spend the entire time keeping you on standby. This quarantine is a good time for her to see what life is like without you in it at all. You two may live in separate apartments but in every way that matters your lives are still intertwined. Give her a minute to miss you, son.”
Riley looked at the couple and took a deep breath. He couldn’t think of anything else to say so he nodded and stood.
Mrs. Anderson gave him a tight squeeze and her husband shook his hand.