Failure to Communicate
a short story
by Pili Nathaniel
“You were married?” The question popped up at the bottom corner of her screen.
Lily plopped backwards onto the bed and giggled into her MacBook Air. She needed more caffeine if she was going reply to this question and her coffee was getting cold but she knew Jack wouldn’t wait long for her reply. Lily had been set up on a blind date with him the last time she was in New York City. It had been a refreshingly amazing date.
She typed, “Yeah. He was my first. We were high school drama-geek sweethearts. We were always cast as the leads together. He was the King of the fairies, Oberon, and I was his Queen, Titania. I was Juliet and he was my Romeo. He was my best friend. He was my first kiss. It was on stage during Romeo and Juliet. We started ‘going out’ during the play. We both got drunk on wine coolers after the cast party and ended up having sex in the costume shop. It was the first time for both of us and it hurt.
“We were in love. My mom and his parents took us to Olive Garden after graduation. Before dessert appeared and in front of our parents and the entire restaurant, he got down on one knee and asked to be my best friend and husband. I blubbered a happily tearful, ‘Yes’. We got married about a month later. It was a court and judge affair in which only my mom and his parents came. My mother was furious but reserved her judgement. His parents, on the other hand, were absolutely thrilled. They paid for our honeymoon and got us our first apartment. The same apartment I still live in, by the way. It was part of the settlement.
“We never made it to the honeymoon. We fought instead. His parents had just bought us a beautiful one bedroom apartment in a new building in the Sunset District near our new school. A day before our honeymoon he decides he wants to go to another school. We fought. So instead of skiing in Aspen we cashed in the tickets to pay for the transfer. A week later I began my English literature degree at San Francisco State University and he got to commute everyday to continue his passion for the theatre at the Academy of Art University. We hardly saw each other.
“Our first semester was almost at a close and I wanted to celebrate. I knew that my husband had Tuesdays off so I came home early to make dinner for us. I opened the door and smelled it before I realized someone else was in my house. The cologne in the air wasn’t my husband’s. Someone had broken in. I grabbed the baseball bat I hid under the couch for such a circumstance and crept further into the apartment, noiselessly. I heard some scuffling in the bedroom. It sounded like people were fighting. I didn’t think. I ran to the door and flung it open, bat raised to attack.
“The bat dropped out of my hand and my head cocked to the side. My first thought was that I hadn’t realized that my husband liked sex so dirty. My second thought was that he was having sex in our bed…” Lily hit send and stretched. Her computer toppled to the side onto the red quilt that had been a wedding gift from her Aunt Cheryl. She’d burnt the rest of the bedding but could not part with this one memento.
A few moments passed as Lily gulped at the remains of the lukewarm coffee. Her computer made a little “PING!” sound to announce the arrival of a new message.
“AND!?! Don’t keep me hanging like this!!! Did you kill the asshole?” Jack was not a very patient man.
“PING, PING!” Another few messages appeared before she could finish the last.
“Where are you!!! WHAT HAPPENED!”
“I’m gonna log off now if you don’t answer in five seconds…”
Lily took the last grainy gulp. The best bitter part of her morning coffee was the black grime that settled at the bottom of the cup. She laughed as she typed, “Okay! Geez! I needed some coffee! I am three hours behind you, Jack. It’s only eight here!”
“Well, you should move your cute butt to NYC.” Jack replied.
“Not this argument again.” Lily typed quickly and hit send. She needed more coffee. Computer in one hand, she grabbed another cupful from her old faithful coffee maker. There were only three electronics she needed in her life; her computer, her coffee maker and her…
“PING!!! PING!!! PING!!!”
“Shit. Ow! Crap.” Scalding black coffee dripped from her hands and splashed onto her camisole. Her stomach drew in, an effort to stop the coffee from getting on her skin. Thank heavens she hadn’t dropped her computer. She placed it gently on the counter. A small splatter had gotten on the screen. She placed the remains of her coffee on the counter, removed her soaking top and wiped at the computer with it.
Lily glanced at the screen.
“Move to NYC, pretty Lily! You’ll love it here!”
“Where are you?”
“Finish your story!”
“I’m going to tell Keith to drop your manuscript in the trash if you do not reply to me right now!” Jack was a feisty one.
Lily giggled. “Punk!” She typed quickly. “You made me spill my coffee! Now I’m all wet! Maybe when I get my next novel published, I’ll have the money to relocate.” She hit send, grabbed her computer and now half-cup of coffee and headed for her bedroom.
Lily carefully placed her mug on her nightstand and her computer on the bed. She wiggled into an old SFSU shirt and crawled back onto her bed.
Her date with Jack last month went well. She’d finally met a man who she could communicate with. He didn’t try try to change her and he didn’t put her and her wacky ideas down. He was well mannered and mouthwateringly beautiful. She had hoped the night would end with him coming up to her hotel room but there’d been an emergency at his restaurant.
Lily thought that was the end of that finished her wine and went back to her hotel, alone. The next morning she got a “Good Morning, pretty Lily” and a long funny scientific explanation about the intricate workings of a tap system and what happens when a new bartender messes with it. Since then Jack made every effort to keep in contact with her. For the past month, they’d swapped a ton of stories and had a great online friendship. She took a sip of coffee and looked at her computer.
And snorted coffee all over her clean shirt.
“Wet? I could think of other ways to get you wet…”
Lily typed, “How baby?” She quickly deleted it. Lily hardly knew the man. She replaced it with, “Do you want to read the rest of my story?”
“Yes, please.” Jack was ever the gentleman.
“My third thought was that my husband, was having dirty sex with a very cute individual with blond hair. Our bathroom mirror was propped up on the bed and he was straddling this individual from behind watching himself fuck.
“He reached around, dug in harder and was obviously about to come because he had his ‘I’m coming’ face on. When I dropped the bat he got distracted from his reflection and looked up into the mirror, his face a sweaty mess of extreme ecstasy, and right into my eyes.
“He toppled off his lover and squirted everywhere. He’d just gotten the shock of his life but not enough to stop the flood.
“I looked down at the little blond individual and I smiled. I started laughing. My fourth thought? My husband likes men.”
She sent that little tidbit. She wanted his reaction.
“OH! HA!!!!! He’s gay! You married a gay man?”
“Hey! He was my best friend. It seemed right at the time.”
“So that’s why you’re mom was upset and his parents were so happy. They all knew.”
“Yeah. My mom and I had a long talk after the divorce. I was mad at her for not telling me and she just shook her head and told me, ‘Sweetheart, I couldn’t tell you. You wouldn’t have listened to me. Plus, I didn’t need to tell you. You already knew.’ She was right, I did know.
“After my husband and Matt, the blond boy, straightened themselves up I took the merry liberty of tossing that blond floozy out of my apartment. I pushed him out of the door with an, “Now that my husband has finished fucking your brains out, I’d like to have a word with him.” The look on the poor boy’s face told me everything. The boy hadn’t known my husband was in the closet and married…to a woman. I think he may have cried a little outside the door after I slammed it in his pretty boy face. I felt sorry for the kid but I couldn’t worry about him. I turned to face my husband and laughed again.
“‘STOP IT!’ He cried, stomping his foot. That made all his naked bits jiggle.
“It made me laugh harder and he stomped once more. This time his feet took him back into our bedroom and he slammed the door. My giggles turned to hysterics. I couldn’t stop laughing. There were a bit of tears too. A good fifteen minutes passed in this manner.
“I did not know how to handle it. Here was my best friend and husband having sex with another person … a man … in our bed. If the blond kid had been a woman, I’d have thrown both of their naked sorry asses out on the street.
“This was different. I was mad at him for screwing around on me and he really should have told me if I wasn’t pleasing him. Then I realized that we hadn’t had sex in weeks now. I’d just assumed that we were busy but it was because I no longer wanted him in that fashion. I’d never had wanted him like that. The first time had been exciting but it had really all gone down hill from then on in. And our marriage? I almost began laughing again. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I shook my head, grabbed a glass of water and tanked it. I dug into our one of our sparse cupboards and found an oversized gallon bottle of cheap red wine. I didn’t bother getting glasses.
“I opened the bedroom door. The bed was stripped and the bathroom mirror was back in the bathroom. He was sitting in his faded blue boxers on the edge of the bed, sobbing into the laundry basket. His big brown eyes looked up, tears were cascading down his white cheeks as he said, ‘I’m sorry.’
“He tried to say more but I stopped him and uncorked the wine. ‘As your friend, you are going to tell me everything. As your wife, I am going to decide whether to bash your head in with this wine bottle after you’re finished. Either way … Let’s get drunk.’
Lily clicked the send button with a smile.
After a long moment, Jack replied, “Is he still alive?”
“LOL. Yeah. You know him. He’s my literary rep now.”
“NO SHIT! KEITH WHITE? You were married to Keith! Great guy, he comes into the restaurant all the time. Wait… he’s the one that set us up!” I could almost hear Jack’s laughter. I loved making him laugh.
“Yup! He’s great! And … he’s still my best friend. He told me everything that night. He cried and said knew he was gay in high school but thought that if he married me, ‘perfect and wonderful … you,’ he cried, that he’d be able to get over it. He thought our love would change him into the man his parents wanted him to be. I let him talk all night.
“Keith told me how he’d met Matt, the blond floozy, in a production class. Matt was out of the closet and enjoying life. He fell for him at once. But he didn’t need to tell me that. I could see it in his eyes as he spoke about him. Matt, who had absolutely no idea that I had existed, kissed him. It was an awakening. They had sex a few times but never in our apartment. They were only picking up extra clothes but Keith couldn’t help himself and well… that was when I walked in.
“He told me how much he loved me and I was so drunk by then that I’d started crying and I think I sobbed something about how he should have told me. We hugged and talked about high school. We went through two of those huge bottles and fell asleep together on our bed.
“In the morning I was all business. I gave him one last squeeze, got up and out of his arms and took a fast shower. When I came out my husband was up and playing thumb-wrestle with himself.
“I dried my hair and said, ‘I want a divorce.’
“He looked up at me and smiled, ‘Thank you.’ He thought I’d forgiven him.
“‘Don’t thank me yet.’ I smiled as I wiggled into a yellow cotton dress. My best friend and almost ex-husband looked frightened. I never wear dresses. ‘Take a shower and dress nice. We’re meeting your parents and my mother for brunch.’” Lily hit send tossed her coffee stained Art Institute tee in the laundry and grabbed a clean pair of jeans and a purple camisole.
Lily wiggled into the skin tight Lucky Brand Jeans. She was in the process of slipping on the camisole as she read, “That was a bitch thing to do… I guess he deserved it.”
Lily continued, “Damn straight he deserved it. I made Keith tell his parents that we were getting a divorce because he was gay. I didn’t make him tell them the circumstances in which I had found out, but he wouldn’t talk to me for three years after the papers were signed. His parents had let me keep our apartment but I let him take all the furniture. Especially the bed.
“After three years had gone by to the date, Keith called me. He said he had a bottle of wine with my name on it. When I met him at my favorite Italian restaurant he was all decked out in a Marc Jacobs suit. I could read ‘ulterior motive’ all over him. We hugged and exchanged a few pleasantries. When the wine appeared, the same gallon bottle two buck chuck we’d drank three years prior, I giggled myself silly. We both had a good laugh. Then he slapped a manuscript on the dinner table. My manuscript. I had finally found an agent. My ex-husband, Keith White, wanted to be my literary agent. He’d already found a publishing company who loved my novel and wanted to have it on the shelves before Christmas.
“I was stumped.
“Keith explained that after he’d quit acting he’d gone into the writing program. That didn’t satisfy him either. He quit school and moved to NYC. He’d taken an internship at a large literary agency and was hooked. He loved the sleaziness of it. He loved to play the part of the salesman, and he was good at it. Keith was one of the top agents.
My ex-husband got down on one knee and asked if he could be my agent. I said, ‘Yes,’ and we’ve been friends ever since.” Lily let a small giggle escape.
“Now it’s my turn,” Lily continued typing, the newest novel she was working on could wait. She asked, “How about you? When was your first time?”
Lily clicked ‘send’.