In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

Dinner is perfection. After my hard cry yesterday, and lunch today, I feel fully present with Eric for the first time in a long time.

 

“How’s your food?” Eric asks as he sips his scotch.

 

I grin. “It’s excellent. How’s the scotch? It’s been a long time since you’ve had anything good.”

 

“It’s great.” He smiles and holds his hand out across the table. I grab it and rub my thumb across the back of his hand.

 

“I’m sorry for the past few days, Babe.” I take a deep breath, “The boys have just been extra challenging lately and, honestly? I can’t wait for kindergarten.” I hold my breath and wait for his reaction, as the “kindergarten” bit sort of flew out there. He smiles.

 

“Natalie, I’m sorry. After the day I had with them yesterday, I can’t believe you haven’t gone crazy by now.”

 

Ha.

 

“I appreciate you saying sorry. I need you around more, and that’s just the bottom line, Eric. I’m not cut out to be a full-time mom—I never was. God, that sounds awful.” I sit back in my chair and finish my second glass of wine.

 

“It’s not awful, Nat,” he pauses when he calls me Nat and I shrug, waving him on, “it’s honest. You’ve always been honest and that’s why I fell in love with you.”

 

He’s right, that’s why he fell in love with me. My honesty . . .

 

*

 

“Third date with Fluid Mechanics, huh?” Tosha puckered her lips and kissed my cheek.

 

“He has a name, Tosha.” I laughed.

 

“Sorry. Third date with Hottie-McEric?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Eric and I had been out twice in the two weeks since he chased me down on the sidewalk and gave me his number. After seven days of sufficient Myspace stalking, I decided to call him. We went to Judie’s on our first date and sat at a table overlooking the bench where we first met. It was supposed to be funny, but I realize now that both of us were full-on committed before we even finished our first conversation on that bench. The second date we watched a baseball game at UMass under the lights.

 

“What are you two going to do tonight?”

 

“Casablanca is playing at the Amherst Cinema. Neither one of us have seen it, so we’re gonna check it out.”

 

“Has he kissed you yet?” Tosha took a while to get to her favorite question.

 

“Not yet,” I shake my head, “he’s a total gentleman.”

 

I didn’t miss the flicker of bittersweet that crossed her face. She knew better than to compare Eric to Ryker; she never tried, she just knew there could never be a comparison sufficient enough.

 

I met Eric at his apartment and we walked hand-in-hand to the Amherst Cinema.

 

“I was thinking,” Eric slightly tightened his grip as he talked, “you’re a year older than me.”

 

“Yeah, and?”

 

He shyly bit his lip. “I’m a year ahead of you in school.”

 

“You finished your undergrad a year early, genius,” I teased.

 

“Right, but then that should make us in the same year. Right?”

 

Shit.

 

“Well,” I sighed nonchalantly, “you caught me. I took a semester off, and had been behind before that. I should have graduated last year, but here I am.” I shrugged and smiled.

 

“Did you have an internship or something?”

 

Yeah, in the psych ward near my parents’ house.

 

“Or something.” I shot him a coy smile and squeezed his hand back, hoping he’d drop it.

 

He did.

 

A few weeks later, however, I wasn’t so lucky. I introduced my parents to Eric at my graduation. He was cute; I watched him wring his hands during the whole ceremony as he sat next to my tweed-coated father. Yeah, tweed in May. Cue the eye-roll.

 

Anyway, during the milling-about after the ceremony, my world froze. Standing with Eric, my parents, and Tosha’s family, I saw Ryker out of the corner of my eye. We hadn’t seen each other in almost two years. He was standing across the grass with shaggy blonde hair I’d never seen before. He was alone.

 

“Natalie, Honey, are you okay? You look pale.” My mom touched my wrist and all eyes were on me as I instinctively pulled away and edged my way through the crowd.

 

When I got to the other side of the well-wishers, Ryker wasn’t there.

 

“Ryker?” I called across the vacant space. “Ry?”

 

Tosha ran up behind me and grabbed my arm. “Jesus, Nat, what are you doing?”

 

“Ryker was just standing right here.” I held out my arms.

 

“No, he wasn’t.” She swallowed, trying to believe herself. “Besides, even if he was, what were you going to do, run up and hug him in front of your parents and Eric? Would you even talk to him? It’s been too long, Natalie, fucking let it go. This is our day, not his.”

 

My pulse was racing through my body and a cold sweat overtook my forehead.

 

In through your nose, out through your mouth. Don’t freak out. Not here. Not now.

 

I repeated my breathing mantra over and over for what felt like several minutes, but it was only a few seconds. One more cleansing breath later, we linked arms and turned to walk back to my parents.

 

Eric was standing right in front of us.

 

“Who’s Ryker?” he asked, looking at the grass.