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A Change of Heart

A year had passed since Hal suffered the humiliation of returning the wedding gifts.  Less than a week before their marriage, Laurel had left Hal to explain the situation to friends and family.

For months, he imagined himself choking Laurel’s tiny, bird-like neck until her eyeballs popped.  In another fantasy, he considered taking a shotgun to his own head, if he could be assured his remains would be sent to her as a keepsake.

But time passed.  Hal returned to his job as a financial planner and learned to live with the embarrassment.   He thought he had finally relegated the experience to the part of the brain that filed away nightmares and embarrassing moments, like the time he was de-pantsed during a coed high school gym class.

Then he checked the caller ID on his ringing cell phone and saw her name.  His immediate reaction was to ignore the call, but curiosity got the better of him.

She chirped, “Hi, Hal.”  Her high-pitched voice, which he once likened to that of a songbird, now sounded more like the squawk of a vulture.

It sent him spiraling back.  Despite his anger, part of him still thrilled to her twittering.  He hated himself for it.

“How have you been?” she asked.

What a stupid fucking question, he thought.

“Fine.” He hoped his monotone would create distance.

He managed to say nothing more than, “Mmm,” as she spoke excitedly of her recent success at work, making regional salesperson of the quarter as a pharmaceutical representative.  It was while pill pushing that she met Dr. Prince Charming, spent the weekend before the wedding with him at a medical convention and informed Hal she had found her life mate.

Keeping his voice as even as possible, he managed, “So how’s the good doctor?”  He hoped it stung like a slap to the face.

She went silent.  Hal thought she had hung up.

“It didn’t work out,” she whispered.

He fought the urge to say, ‘Good.  I hope he broke your heart and stomped on it so bad Reba McEntire wouldn’t even sing about it.’  But she sounded so sad, he also suppressed a desire to say, ‘I’m sorry.’  Instead, he offered another, “Mmm.”

He even managed to remain mute as she uttered the words he had once longed to hear:  “Hal, I made a mistake.  I need to see you.”

This was his chance to gloat, to twist the knife, but he feared his voice would crack if he spoke.

He wanted to tell her he’d found someone else. So what if it weren’t true.

She wore him down with her chirping and twittering.  He agreed to meet for drinks.

After all, he reasoned, revenge would be sweeter in person.  He could watch her perpetual smile vanish and her eyes tear when he told her he was no longer the least bit interested in her.  Like a gentleman, he’d extend his hand, wish her a good life and walk away without looking back.

What a great movie scene that would make.  If only he had the strength to pull it off.

Like a fourteen year-old preparing to ask a girl out on a date, he practiced his lines and   studied his reflection in the mirror for telltale signs of weakness or regret.  Hal knew there was something so foolish about his antics, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Instead, he stopped at The Gap and bought a pair of medium-blue Levis that the saleswoman assured him looked flattering.  She also convinced him to wear it with a simple white cotton shirt, untucked.  He had to overcome the voice of his father telling him he looked like a slob, but the attractive saleswoman’s advice won out.

He and Laurel had arranged to meet at the Crown Tavern, which was located near her office.  They’d often meet there for food and drinks and then go back to her place.  He hadn’t been to the Crown since their break-op, and, against his better judgment, he tingled with anticipation.

Of course, she was late.  He nursed a scotch at the bar, wondering what in the hell he was doing dressing like a Brad Pitt while looking like Lyle Lovett.

The bartender was new, a college-age, surfer type with the kind of natural good looks that made Hal uncomfortable.  Surfer dude wiped the dark wood bar and asked if he wanted another drink.

Giving up on the idea of going easy on the booze, Hal downed what was in his glass and said, “Make it a double.”

When the barkeep returned with his drink, he told him he was waiting for someone, as if surfer dude needed an explanation.

“Sure, man” the bartender said.  “Aren’t we all?”

A few minutes later, Hal watched her enter, scan the crowd and walk towards him with a toothy grin.  Her blond hair hung loose over one shoulder, longer than he remembered.  She wore an almost sheer, loose-fitting top, allowing her small breasts to jiggle braless.  The blouse stopped just above her hip-hugging jeans.  A navel ring flashed, despite the dim light of the bar.  That’s new, he thought.

He watched a man crane his neck to check out what Hal knew to be her firm, round ass.  An old mix of jealousy and pride filled the spot where anger and betrayal had long taken hold.

Hal remained seated as she approached, wanting to show his control of the situation and also because, feeling the effects of the alcohol, he didn’t want to risk a Jim Carrey pratfall.

She, perky as ever, threw her arms around him, nearly knocking him off his stool.  Inhaling the familiar fruity scent of her hair, memories flashed like a movie montage.  A sigh, like the sound of a tire going flat, escaped his lips.

“You look wonderful,” she sang.  “You’ve lost weight, haven’t you?”

Flattered, but not wanting to give up control, he changed the subject.  “Do you still drink apple martinis?” he asked, gesturing with his open hand to the available stool next to him.  He signaled the bartender.

“Let’s get a table,” she cooed, already leading the way.

Hal left a generous tip, but the bartender’s eyes never left Laurel.  “Have a good night,” he said, raising the empty scotch glass in an admiring salute.

Hal nodded, feeling his heart pump.  In spite of himself, he smiled.

As usual, it took a few minutes for Laurel to decide on a table.  The first one wobbled, the next too close to the kitchen.  When she finally appeared satisfied, a server took their drink orders.  “A scotch on the rocks and an apple martini,” Hal said.

“Instead of the appletini,” she said, smiling as she spoke, “make mine a tequila sunrise.”  She turned to Hal and squeaked, “It’s my new favorite drink.  I could have about a million of them.”

Hal’s annoyance returned.  Would it kill her to let him control the moment?

She covered his hands with hers and squeezed.  “It’s so good seeing you again, my sweet Hal.  I’ve missed you.”

Instantly, he recalled how she’d call him ‘my sweet Hal’ after making love, their heads sharing one pillow.

He felt blood pulsating through his body, the bulk of which headed southward.  Maybe, just maybe, things could be different.  After all, he’d have the upper hand this time.  He wouldn’t just be Hal, the glorified accountant, grateful that someone as sexy as Laurel wanted him.  This time he’d be the one agreeing to take her back.

By the time their drinks arrived, he had fallen in love again.

They small talked about work and mutual acquaintances, both avoiding any mention of their breakup or the circumstances leading to it.  They shared a cheese platter, as they had done many times before.  Although Hal never cared for cheese, he munched happily on the crusts of bread and apple slices that accompanied the plate.

She listened as he spoke about his own recent promotion at work, which came with an office he still needed to decorate.

“I’d be happy to help,” she said, without him asking.

It seemed like old times, comfortable conversation with the promise of torrid sex.

They ordered another round of drinks.  Hal sipped carefully, not wanting the alcohol to alter his mood.

He watched her furrow her forehead and run her tongue over her lips.  He knew this meant she had something serious to share.

“Hal, I need you.”

He fought to remain calm, imagining himself the star of a play.  All eyes focused on his every gesture and facial expression.

He tried recalling the lines he had practiced.  This was his chance to have the final word, but now it all seemed irrelevant, even the pain she had caused him.  He’d make sure she apologized–he deserved that.  He decided to let her speak, flounder about, grasping for the words he needed to hear.  Then they’d go back to her place.

Laurel fidgeted with her napkin.  Her lips tightened.  She took a deep breath.  “Here’s the situation in a nutshell, Hal.  I’ve maxed out my credit cards and can’t meet my house payments.  I need to show my creditors that I’ve worked out a payment plan with a CPA.  Will you help me?”  Again, she reached out for his hand.

Hal sat motionless, staring into her deep gray eyes and feeling her circle her index finger on the back of his hand.

He inhaled deeply and exhaled through puffed cheeks.  Instead of making a sound like a tire going flat, this time it sounded more like a man blowing up a balloon.  He popped it with a sudden, explosive, “No!”  Pulling away and rising from his seat, he repeated, “No. I won’t help you.”

He stood up and placed money on the table to cover the drinks and food.  “It’s your mess, Laurel. You fix it.”  He saw her smile disappear and her eyes tear.

Walking away, his head held high, he resisted the urge to look back.


Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net.  He’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, published by Thumbscrews Press.  A film adaptation of his short story, “Zen and the Art of House Painting,” can be viewed at   Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at

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