I don't know who started this absurd Christmas ritual, but it's become as essential to family get-togethers as pecan pie or honey-baked ham. As soon as the food is served and we're all seated around... [+]
He turned off the phone, sat back on his couch and let the last two hour's conversation sink in. Claire had gone off the grid, which for her was very uncharacteristic. It took Mark the better part of a month to track Claire down, finally hear from her, what was wrong. Mark still had questions that he wanted to ask.
He flipped through his cable channels twice, before he finally thought “To hell with this!” He got up, made a work phone call, shoved three days worth of clothes in a backpack, grabbed his iPod and walked out to his car. He was going to Claire's. She lived 9 hours away.
If Claire’s conversation with Mark the previous evening had helped clear her head, then her Saturday morning run had been a good dumping ground .As she propelled herself through the early morning, her thoughts had started to work themselves out. By her third mile she was in a zone. Mile six, she could start to feel the heat of the day radiate off the concrete sidewalks. She sprinted the last 300 yards to the front door of her apartment. She was winded, but felt good. She opened the door and entered the cool dark apartment.
In her room Claire peeled off her running clothes and threw them in the corner. Naked, she looked at herself at different angles in the full length closet mirror. She smiled and whispered “Peter could have had all this to himself...”
She showered and dressed in pink shorts and a black t-shirt. She padded barefoot to the kitchen poured coffee and made her way to the living room couch to paint her nails and watch cartoons. She flipped channels until she came across Looney Tunes.
Outside Mark was gathering his courage to leave his car. He had driven all night, but had 9 hours to figure out what he was going to do, and what to ask. He punched Claire's number into his phone and hit send. It rang.
Claire's phone buzzed. She reached over, picked it up from the end table and looked at the screen. It was Mark.
“Well good morning!”
“Same to you. Thanks for talking to me last night” he said
“It was good to get that out. I'm taking it day by day.”
So, I’m sitting outside your apartment-with a dozen doughnuts, and no one to share them with. Would you like one?”
“Um you’re outside?”
“Yeah, I just walked to your door.
Claire opened her front door and was met by Mark smiling with a box of Dunkin Donuts.
“Hi!” he said, opening the box “Bavarian crème or glazed?”
“One of each!” She paused “So, explain to me please why you just suddenly decided to come here.”
“That’s easy. I wanted to make sure that you truly were ok. Claire, I’ve know you too long. You don’t just disappear. Now, I did just drive nine hours, so if you have some coffee, I would greatly appreciate it.”
They moved into the kitchen. Claire went about getting napkins and plates, while Mark filled coffee. They each grabbed a donut and started eating.
Mark stood looking at her. It had been 2 years since he had last seen her. To Mark, her best feature were the blue eyes that starkly contrasted her black hair. He noticed that her hair was a lot shorter this time. Claire told him about Peter. Mark decided rather quickly that he didn’t like Peter. Mark talked about school and his job. They went back and forth for close to an hour, two friends taking up where they left off two years before.
“I want a shot”
She laughed- “Isn't it a little early for shots?”
“No, that's not what I'm talking about.”He moved towards the table, and grabbed a strawberry frosted donut from the box. Refilling his coffee, he looked at her, and took a deep breath.
“I want a shot. I want a shot at being your boyfriend.”
He could see the ends of her knuckles turning white as she gripped her cup. There was silence. He stood at the counter, looking down at the tile, waiting. She tried several times to speak, but couldn't find the words. She cupped her hands over her eyes and just sat.
“Why? Why now?”
“Look, I don't want to wake up next to somebody in twenty years and play this game of “just imagine” I'm doing that now. I'm 25, and I really don't feel like I have any direction. Maybe I'm hoping that with you, I'll find it. I had to give it a shot. If I wasn't serious, I would not have driven here last night. I would have just called you again.”
Mark's words continued to flow. He was going for broke. Claire sat deathly still at the table, her head was spinning and it was too much. She was crying now.
“MARK!” Claire slapped her hand on the table knocking her cup to the ground. The sound reverberated through the kitchen like an artillery shell. Claire’s world exploded at about the same moment her Starbucks mug exploded on the floor.
Wiping her eyes, she looked up at Mark.
“I’m pregnant. That’s why Peter left.”