Sam hadn’t really expected to hear from Marie that night, but he was disappointed nonetheless. He knew he had screwed up badly, but he was hoping that one night didn’t erase their entire relationship. But clearly, his performance at dinner had given her some food for thought.
Work dragged more than usual the next day. Knowing he had Marie to look forward to usually made things a little more tolerable, but today Sam felt like strangling every student who attempted to check out a book. He tried to keep his temper in check, but it was no easy task. He didn’t remember being so irritable before he had his brain injury.
“These books are a day late,” Sam told a kid with a long goatee and wide-brimmed hat.
“No, they’re on time,” the kid argued.
Sam sighed and opened one of the three late books to the page where the due date was stamped in dark red ink. “November 13th, see?”
“Yeah, it’s November 13th today.”
“No, it was November 13th yesterday. Today is November 14th.”
The kid shook his head, “Nuh uh. Not possible.”
Are you freaking kidding me? Surprisingly, this happened a lot. Enough that Sam had hung a calendar up on the wall behind him. “Look at the calendar. It’s the 14th.”
Sam tapped his fingers against the desk impatiently as the kid examined the calendar. “Holy crap, you’re right,” he finally admitted.
“That’ll be 75 cents,” Sam said.
“That much? Really?”
“Really.” For a second, Sam hoped the kid would refuse to pay it. He wanted to cut up someone’s card today. He thought making someone else feel like shit might make him feel a little better.
But the kid reached into his pockets and pulled out a mountain of change mixed with paperclips and a lot of lint. He held up the line, but he managed to count out the 75 cents, mostly in pennies.
With each passing costumer, Sam felt his patience wearing thinner. He wondered how rude he would have to be to actually get fired from this job. He’d likely have to do something pretty extreme. It wasn’t like the library was counting on repeat business from customers. And sitting in a wheelchair bought him a lot of wiggle room.
Closing time came and Marie still hadn’t shown her face. He was about to give up when she came through the doors about two minutes before he was about to lock up. She seemed out of breath and her full cheeks were pink from the cold outside. “I need to talk to you,” she said.
Sam nodded. He herded out the last of the customers and locked the doors so they could be alone. He knew she couldn’t have anything good to tell him and he was scared to hear it. He had known from the start that break-up was inevitable, but he wished it didn’t have to come quite so soon.
Marie was sitting at one of the tables, where several newspapers on sticks had been abandoned and were lying in disarray. Ordinarily, the fact that people were too big slobs to manage to put back their papers would have irked him, but now that was the last thing on his mind. Sam wheeled over to the table, sliding his wheelchair into the gap between two of the wooden chairs. He immediately saw the tears in her eyes and felt sick. “You’re breaking up with me,” he acknowledged.
“Don’t say it like that,” Marie whispered.
“Like what?” He knew he seemed a lot calmer than he felt inside. “Either you are or you aren’t.”
She was silent.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I need time to think about this. Maybe we should take some time apart.”
“Stop playing games, Marie,” he sighed. “Come on, your parents are never going to like me. They’re never going to be okay with our relationship.”
“That’s not the only thing that matters.”
“Yeah, but it matters a lot to you.”
Tears spilled down Marie’s cheeks. Her shoulders shook. “I love you, Sam,” she sobbed. “I didn’t want it to end this way.”
Sam had thought he’d be in tears himself by now, but he felt only emptiness. This relationship had been the best thing in his life for the last five years, maybe ever. He couldn’t believe it was over, just like that. Marie was the one crying, but he knew she’d be able to move on. He wouldn’t.
Marie wiped her eyes self-consciously, “Maybe I should go.”
Sam nodded. He didn’t want her to go. He wanted her to say to him, Fuck my parents, I want to be with you. But it was obvious that she wasn’t going to say that. Marie was a good girl who did what she was told. If Daddy told her she couldn’t date the cripple, then she was going to have to find herself a nice, able-bodied boyfriend. And truth be told, her father was right. Marie could do better than him. A lot better.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.
“I’m not going to slit my wrists, if that’s what you’re asking.” Although the truth was, in the back of his mind, he was thinking about it. Now he was numb, but he knew at some point in the next few hours, it was really going to hit him that this relationship was over. He didn’t want to face another day of work where he didn’t have Marie to look forward to at the end of it.
Marie started crying again. “Can… can we still be friends?” she sniffled.
“Sure, of course,” Sam said. This was all bullshit though. No way were they going to be friends. He didn’t think he could even talk to her again. He could barely even look at her. It hurt too much.
Marie stood up. He remained at the table and didn’t watch her as she walked past him. For a second, he felt her fingers on his shoulder and his heart leapt: was she coming back? But then her touch disappeared and a few seconds later, he heard the door to the library slam shut. She was gone.
“She’s just a girl,” Sam whispered to himself. His words, although soft, echoed in the empty halls of the library.
He waited for a moment, then dropped his face into his palms and began to sob.
Breaking up with Sam was the hardest thing Marie had ever had to do in her entire life. He acted like it wasn’t getting to him, but she knew that if he cared about her a tenth of the way she did for him, he was breaking inside.
After the dinner with her parents, she did some soul searching. She knew she loved Sam, that much she was sure of, but she started to wonder if that was enough. Her parents were right: he had major issues. She was scared that as much as she loved him now, she might come to resent him for the things he could no longer do.
Sam joked about slitting his wrists, but it was something she was worried about. She knew he was on medications for depression and she was scared that he might do something horrible. But there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t insist on babysitting with him all night. She debated trying to reach his mother to ask her to check in on him, but she didn’t know what she’d say on the phone. Hi, I just dumped your son. Can you make sure he doesn’t kill himself tonight?
Soon after Marie got home from the library, she immediately called Sam’s home phone number to see if he had gotten back yet. He hadn’t. She waited twenty minutes, then called again. And again. With every answered ring, her anxiety grew.
Finally, around midnight, she heard the click of someone answering the other line. “Sam?” she gasped, before she heard a voice.
Sam’s voice: “Yeah?”
She almost cried with relief. “I was worried about you,” she whimpered.
She heard him sigh deeply. “Don’t worry. Go to sleep.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” he said. When he spoke this time, she could hear that his voice was slightly slurred. He’d been out drinking. He’d once told her that he couldn’t drink because of his medications and the risk of seizure. “Go to sleep.”
“Do you want me to come over?” she asked in a small voice.
“Don’t worry, go to sleep,” he said for the third time.
He would have been justified hanging up on her, but he didn’t. He let her hang on the line a little while longer, before they hung up. But she couldn’t go to sleep. She just thought about how she had blown her relationship with the best guy she’d ever meet.
To be continued...