“The Girl that Got Away”
As the car sped from the driveway, mental images of the last three years flashed through his mind. Thoughts of expensive dinners and cheap ice cream came and went like lightning. Pictures of the past hovered out of reach, haunting him with the ghostly hope that he knew he would never again grasp. They mocked him with their silent pictures, invisible to everything but dreams. He stood there on that cold pavement, trying to touch those mental images. But he felt nothing on his fingertips. Just a phantom pain in the making. When his reverie exploded and his thoughts evaporated into afterimages, he found himself staring across the void at the fancy burgundy ’98 Toyota Camry disappearing from the street into darkness. The pit of his stomach lurched. He knew he was likely to never see her again.
Then his body shook. He pitched himself forward at the waist to stifle the real pain he was feeling in his gut. If this moment were true and not a game, then he was experiencing his first minutes of an indefinite heartbreak. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do about that.
Gary waited by the curb to see if she would turn around. Hope was fleeting now, but as long as a trace of it existed, there was still a chance. Her heart could’ve changed as she got further away; her thoughts could’ve longed for him at least one more time.
But he wasn’t about to kid himself. Even as he pictured her vehicle reemerging from the darkness, headlights beaming through the mysterious shroud that now separated them, he knew that scene would only ever be fiction in his overactive imagination. Nikki was not the type of girl who believed she was wrong, nor the type who ever changed her mind. If she was out of his life now, she was out of his life for good.
But hope still lingered in the particles that formed the dark cloud over his head. There was always a chance she could turn around.
He sat on the pavement to figure out what had happened. Until a few minutes ago, everything had seemed okay with them, for the most part, as far as he knew. If he were being honest with himself, he’d agree that things were never perfect, which is what Nikki had often said she wanted in the relationship, but he’d always figured it was good enough—he’d always assumed she was happier with “good enough” than with nothing at all. Now he wasn’t so sure. He’d done his part to wow her with flowers and to remind her how beautiful she was, and she’d always seemed to appreciate it. Seemed. In his mind everything was going just fine. But then she sprang this devastating piece of info on him, that things were not fine at all. And that was it. That was the end. Everything he’d thought that was working out had in fact fallen apart.
The trouble with believing in something that was no longer relevant, no matter how much he wanted it, no matter how strong he held on to hope, was that he would look like a complete idiot the moment he’d try to get her back. Sure, he could’ve played the heroic lead in a romantic epic, rip off his shirt, and go chasing after his lady love like a lunatic in the night, screaming out her name. But that wasn’t his style. He was a closet lunatic with the kind of body that didn’t need undressing in public. His path to idiocy would play out more subtly. In fact, the odds were high that the only person to notice would’ve been himself.
Which was why he caught himself completely off-guard when he reached his fingers down to his belt, grabbed the hem of his T-shirt, yanked it up and over his head, and started running down the street, shouting Nikki’s name. He was about halfway down the road when he managed to pull the shirt off completely.
Even as he covered two blocks in just over a minute, he knew he was fighting a pointless battle. Not only could she not hear him, but she was so far away by now that he’d never catch her. Yet, he continued to run after her, as if tomorrow had no meaning if he couldn’t win her back.
Her echo didn’t shout back from the dark. The only voice to respond was the gentle howling of a dog on the next street over. But it didn’t stop him from crying out every minute, hoping that maybe this time she’d hear him, and maybe this time she’d respond, and maybe this time she’d admit she was wrong, change her mind, and come running back for him, even though she was driving, not running, and driving into his arms would’ve been more painful than the pain he felt from her abandonment, most likely.
By the time he got to the end of his neighborhood, he was winded. Then he glanced to his left and to his right. Nikki would’ve been long gone down the highway by now.
He shuffled his feet as he headed back home, now facing the curious stares of neighbors who had come outside to see who was causing the commotion. He gave each of them a gentle wave, but he was not at all feeling sociable. After he would flick his fingers in their directions and curl his lips in a weak smile, he would lower his head and watch the asphalt passing under his shoes. None of them asked what was wrong.
As soon as he got home, he fell to his knees beside the back tires of his car and wept. His impromptu plan didn’t work, and now he was out of sensible ideas.