(First, stop right there! Did you read Chapter 6 of our South Boston romance serial novella yet? If not, read this first! )
OLIVIA’S HEART was beginning to sink. She stood outside the three-decker on Seventh Street, phone in hand waiting for Paul’s response. The cool ocean air from the beach just a few blocks away blew her hair around her face. As she waited in the quiet, she could hear the waves crashing on the shore. A small rabbit emerged from inside a tree pit and then scurried across the asphalt street into a neighbors yard. She glanced at her phone again. No response.
She looked up to the second floor of Paul’s apartment – their old apartment. She could see the light on in the living room. She imagined Paul in a pair of mesh basketball shorts, sipping a beer and watching the game. Her text to him, tucked inside the phone that sat on top of the teak wood coffee table.
The front door opened in a rush. Light from the hallway, washed over the stoop and she could see Paul’s large shadow in the doorway. She struggled to read his expression. His face was dark and blank.
“Hey,” he said flatly.
He shifted his weight from one leg to the other.
“Sorry, I texted so late. Did I wake you?”
“It’s 9:30. It’s not too late. Is everything okay?” Should could hear the concern in his tone.
“I’m not sure. I just wanted to talk to you.”
Paul had fallen victim too many times to count to what he would describe as Olivia’s “craziness”. Irrational outburst usually brought on by alcohol consumption. Insecurities rising to the surface of her consciousness causing her to lash out and hurt. This craziness would be replaced the next day with apologies and empty promises of never repeating old habits but a pattern was already etched deeply in the foundation of their relationship.
Paul let out a long an audible sign meant for her benefit.
“Listen, Olivia. I don’t think there’s anything left to talk about.” Paul stepped down from the doorway and onto the top of the stoop. His face looked more defined than she remembered. His cheekbones more distinct his lips fuller and softer. His waist seemed thinner and his shoulders broader. His voice even seemed deeper and smoother.
“You seem different,” said Olivia giggled.
“You look different.”
“I think you’re just remembering me wrong. I look the same.”
“How do I look?” When the question escaped her lips, she wanted to pull the words out the air and swallow them up along with the neediness and insecurities. Leaving no evidence to trace. Olivia thought she could hear a bell ringing far away.
Paul stared at Olivia for a moment, his answer weighing heavy between them.
“You look beautiful.” He smiled and added, “You always look beautiful.”
Emotions tightened her chest, pushing feelings up to the surface. Tears spilled over the rims of her eyes involuntary.
Paul was looking at her as she wiped away tears. Olivia couldn’t determine if the look was that of relief that she was standing there in front of him or if it was a look of pity. Maybe he had moved on.
She had invested three years in a relationship with Paul. She had thought of their relationship as slightly vanilla. Yes, it was a perfectly good flavor but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. When she was with Paul, she was always looking for something more. But maybe Paul was it. He was steady and secure. He loved her with every ounce of himself. Maybe that was enough.
“I think I screwed up,” she said beginning to tread water. Paul looked up above at the April sky. She wanted him to look at her right then, but he didn’t. That was his tell. Lack of direct eye contact when he didn’t want to handle the situation in front of him. Avoidance at all cost.
A YEAR into their relationship, Paul and Olivia were invited to cookout at his cousin’s house in the suburbs. Olivia didn’t want to go and her attitude reflected just that. To waste an entire Sunday in some hot yard, filled with strangers was less than ideal. She’d rather be a the beach or maybe on Paul’s brother’s boat.
“It’s my family,” said Paul standing up for the bedrock of his core values.
Olivia reluctantly went and blended into the sea of Paul’s relatives. Cousins, uncles, aunts, and even Nana. An above ground pool filled with nieces and nephews. Paul drank a few beer in the sunshine, talking with relatives. She would watch him from a distance eating a hot dog or swallowing beer from a bottle and having a conversation.
Occasionally, she would idle up next to him, listening in on childhood memories to which she had no connection. But for the most part, she observed him like anthropologist would study the people of a native village in a foreign land. Her own issues with her family had deep roots, holding her motionless beneath the surface. She was never surrounded by familial love like this. It loomed heavy and began to press down on her, causing her to feel suffocated. She drank cups of sangria until the discomfort lost its edge. On the ride home, Olivia was silent and drunk. Paul’s eyes were focused on the horizon ahead. She wanted him to ask if she was okay. If she was alright. But he was silent. Olivia could feel the fear swelling up in the front seat of the car surrounding them. If he made a sudden move, she would attack. He tried to remain under the radar and hidden from her line of fire. Olivia began to cry. Not loud sobbing. But crying enough that she would sniffle intermittently, hoping to draw his attention but it never did.
OLIVIA STOOD in front of Paul waiting for him to look in her direction. She could hear the wind blowing through the leaves in the tree in front of the house. It was soothing. She could see the pink crescent moon in the sky between the branches. When she looked back at Paul he was staring at her.
Olivia floated up the steps and latched onto him. Her arms gripped around his muscular trunk. His strong arms reached around her holding her steady. His hug was familiar and comforting. She breathed him in. A combination of soap and a faint scent of citrus. Olivia gripped him tighter feeling him pull away.
“Take a seat,” he said guiding her to sit on the stairs. The stone step was cold and hard.
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” said Paul.
Olivia nodded her head.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” he sat down next to her and put her hand in his own. He looked down at his feet and Olivia could feel his trepidation on the. She knew what was coming. Gripping the sides of her leather clutch, she braced herself for impact.
“I’m seeing someone.”
Her chest tightened and her spirit sank. The waves began to crash over her head as she struggled to stay above water.
Okay, we need your help! Paul is going to tell Olivia about who he is dating. Is it Marianne -a nurse and a friend from childhood who lives a block away? Or is it Dana Mitchell – a marketing executive who he recently met at L Street Tavern. Go to our Instagram story to vote!