Second Best

Fiction

“I can’t do this anymore” she said quietly.
“Well, if you want to, we can do something else,” He looked up from the puzzle they were working on, “Monopoly is always fun.”
“No.” Her eyes were sad.
“We could watch a movie, maybe?”
“Stop.” He knew the moment she said it. He looked down at the pieces covering the table, wildflowers strewn everywhere. There was a long silence before he spoke again.
“Why?” He spoke after a strained breath.
She looked around, searching for something in the room to look at as she paused to find the right words.
“I can’t be second best.”
His face turned red, all the blood rushing up like a tidal wave.
“I don’t understand–” She interrupted his all-too-obvious lie.
“Please don’t make it worse.” Her breath caught in her throat, “Please don’t. Lies won’t help.”
For a few moments there were no words to be said. He looked out the window, watching the very last bits of dusk fade into black. The only sound was the ceiling fan rotating with a loud hum. Her voice was a bit wobbly as she finally spoke.
“I just can’t pretend like it’ll be ok, or things will get better with time. They haven’t. They won’t.”
“But we’re fine! Everything has been ok! We’re fine!” The last exclamation was punctuated with a self-convincing forcefulness.
“But the thing is, we don’t dream of fine. And as much as I have tried to be good for you, tried my hardest to ignore what was really going on, it wasn’t enough to make this beautiful. Relationships can’t be one-sided.” Her voice was tired.
“Are you saying I wasn’t in this?” He was becoming defensive, his head still pounding and hot from all the blood.
“No. Not at all. You’ve been in it. You would have been done a long time ago if you weren’t. Believe me, I know I’m a handful.”
“But you’re not! You’re absolutely wonderful!” His voice had a bit of pleading in it.
She grimaced a bit at his words. She opened her mouth to respond, but instead picked up a puzzle piece and started spinning it around. It was awhile before she spoke again.
“But even though I might be wonderful, I’m not her.”
“What are you talking about?” He leaned forward anxiously, his eyes finally trying to look deep into hers.
The tears that threatened earlier started spilling down her face. She tried to speak but the words that began to come out were unintelligible. She took a shuddering breath and tried again.
“I know that at the end of the day, no matter how loving you are or how many nice things you say or even if you put a ring on my finger, you will look at me and you feel like you’re settling.”
She paused to give him room to speak, but he simply looked out at the now dark night. She continued,
“And the worst part is that you do care about me, I know you do. You are sweet and romantic and have never treated me badly. You are a good man. A really good man.” Her voice started cracking again, “And the awful, awful truth is that you’re my best friend, and I kind of think I’m in love with you.”
He took a sharp breath and looked at her, his face startled and confused. She continued.
“But you’re not in love with me. I know you’re not. You shouldn’t pretend that you are.” He sat silently in shocked response as she searched his face for signs of confirmation or denial.
He finally spoke with a soft voice.
“You’re right.”
She tried to keep her composure but her eyes couldn’t help but overflow.
“As much as I want to see if love will grow with time, I can’t. It’s not supposed to work like this. I can’t be the other woman to your dream girl.” With that she placed the tightly-grasped puzzle piece she had been holding back on the table and dropped her head, letting the tears fall freely.
He swallowed back tears as he sat helplessly watching her cry. They sat in silence for a few minutes until she finally took two shuddering breaths, her tears beginning to stop.
“What do we do?” His voice was raw. She looked up at him and answered.
“I’ll leave. And I’ll cry some more. And I’ll ache and grieve and you’ll ache and grieve. And we’ll not be able to talk to each other for awhile and it’ll hurt. Our friends will ask why and we’ll tell only a few the truth. We will tuck away pictures and I’ll give you back your sweatshirt.” She spoke with the finality that came with having made a decision long ago. “And eventually? You’ll find that girl that isn’t second best.”
“And you?”
She smiled wistfully.
“Maybe someday there will be someone who will discover that I’m actually the girl he’s been looking for his whole life.”
He spoke then, tilting his head with a compassionate gaze.
“I wish that I–”
She interrupted his regret-filled words.
“Don’t do that. Please don’t.”
He stopped, trying to figure out how to say what needed to be said. She spoke first.
“I’m going to go.”
She gathered her things as he stood up slowly. She grabbed her coat and turned to leave. As she opened the door to exit he called her name one last time.
“I’m sorry.” He said it without pretense or feigned emotion.
“I know.” She nodded and took a deep breath. “Me too.”

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