Character Vignette – Tethys

She’s about to start crying.

This is always the awkward part. I’m never quite sure what to do. She’s sitting at the edge of the bed, still in her nightgown. She’s picking at the cuticles of her nails, but she’s looking dead at me. Tears have brimmed up on the bottom lid of her eyes. They’re a soft brown color, like when autumn has just broken into its full bloom, but long before it starts to die out. Her dark brown hair is disheveled around her shoulders, and she has her toes scrunched up in the rug.

It’s just past one in the morning. She woke up because she heard the door creak.

Her name is Isabella.

She’s just realized that she’s about to become a one night stand.

I’m leaned up against the wall, my fingers steepled together just under my nose. I’m already dressed and have retrieved my things: pants, wallet, undershirt… The jacket of my uniform is undone, and my hair loose behind and over my shoulders. I’m standing just next to the door to her room. I never bring them home; it’s too hard to get rid of them that way.

“…Why?” Her voice is soft, and it trembles as she tries to presumably reconcile what’s going on in her mind with whatever picture she had in her head of how this was going to work out. Probably breakfast in the morning, we’d make small talk and then make plans for another date. She’d wear her favorite dress, and I’d pick her up wearing something more casual. I look away, toward her nightstand. On it lie perfumes and lotions; next to those is her diary, which lies open next to her name badge.

It says Isabella.

Not like I’d forgotten her name; Isabella is a waitress at the bar I’ve been going to for the last few months. Week after week, she’s watched me come in with different girls, come in by myself and leave with different girls… For lack of a more perfect word, I have a reputation as a playboy.

But Isabella was always sweet and friendly. She was working and serving – that was the capacity of our interactions. She’s a hardworking girl from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, or send their sons and daughters off to war. She knows my usual – a hard pear cider in a frosted glass, but I won’t drink the cider itself cold. She also knows to make sure there’s a pen and paper ready, in case I need to take down a phone number. She looks good in sky blue, and she cares about doing her job well. She always helped me when I got caught in a pinch, but she never hovered. She always knew to keep her distance.

At least, she did until tonight. Tonight she wasn’t working, and so we had a few drinks together. I owed her at least that for the fight she prevented when Girl Tuesday and Girl Thursday both decided to show up on Wednesday two weeks ago. She’d snuck me out through the kitchen. Tonight we talked about the things she’d noticed, the girls who had come and gone. We talked about work, my family, her family, the war… We found out that we both liked the same kinds of music, but that she couldn’t swim to save her life. She showed me the scar she’d gotten falling off a boat — she’d seen my more famous scars already from me showing them off to the others.

We had lots of things in common, we found out. She played cello, I played violin.

She asked if I’d like to come over. She’d play me a song.

Next to the diary, filled with hopes and dreams that she’d shared with me tonight, lie empty condom wrappers.

The silence still hangs there between us. Tears roll down her face, but she’s silent, too. She’s still waiting for an answer, and I won’t get out of here without one. I push myself away from the wall, and I cross my arms across my chest. The medals of decoration on the jacket’s breast jingle softly, the only sound in the room.

“You knew how I was before you invited me here.” I keep the tone of my voice level; I see her wince. Just slightly. The truth is never comfortable. “You knew about me the moment I stepped foot in the bar. You’re the one who invited me over.”

“I know.”

“Then why are you asking why?” Her eyes close, and I see her begin to tremble. She shrugs. “Did you think that somehow you were different? That you would change me?”

She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t move. She sits there, now with her arms wrapped around her waist, hugging herself tight.

Then she nods her head slowly. “I thought I’d be enough…”

I furrow my brows together in confusion. I don’t know what she means by that. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, either. I’m not sure that there’s any such thing as enough, to me. There’s nothing wrong with any of them. They all seem to think that, though; that the ones before must not have been pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, stacked enough… Then when they realize that I’m not going to change for them either, then they’re not beautiful enough, that they weren’t sexy enough, or that they didn’t try hard enough.

I run my hand across my hair. “It has nothing to do with you. This is all me. This is just what I do, and you knew that.”

She shakes her head.

“There must have been something –”

“Do me a favor.” Her eyes snap open when I interrupt her, and I have to force myself not to look away. The pain in her eyes is searing. She starts to sniffle now, scrunching her nightgown in her fingers as she hugs herself harder. “Hate me.” She starts to open her mouth to protest, but I rush on, not giving her room to speak. “Find someone else, some stable guy with a house and savings and a future… Make him fall in love with you. With the way you put x’s instead of dots over your I’s, your dimples when you smile, the way your nails are always perfectly trimmed.” I can see the beginnings of a smile, one that crosses her lips but doesn’t reach her eyes. “Lose yourself in him, marry him and think about how much better off you are without me. You deserve at least that.”

I cross the short yet incredibly long gap between us, and all motion in her body — the squeezing, the fidgeting, all of it — it all stops. I get down on my knees before her, looking at those soft brown eyes that, with a slight sliver of hope starting to return, plead for me not to leave. I reach forward to cup her face in my hands, and I tip her head downward to kiss her forehead. Just after that, I lean around, kissing her lightly behind her ear.

“Goodbye, Isabella. Have a beautiful life.”

I release her and stand, quickly turning a sharp about face on my heel and heading toward the door. Faltering, she stands too, trying to find something to say to me. Something to convince me that I’m wrong. I don’t turn around. I’ve said what I had to say, and I open the door and head out. Without turning, I swiftly shut the door. As the latch clicks, I hear the sob she’s been holding in this whole time finally free it’s way from her throat. I feel myself freeze, listening as she tries to put together words and finds nothing but more tears and sobs. After a moment I snap to, continuing on down the hall and thrusting my hands in my pockets. I try to focus on the sound of my boots scraping against the carpet as her cries fade into the distance.

I decide to take the stairs down, even though she lives on the fifth floor. I don’t have the time to wait on the elevator. Too much time doing nothing, and I’ll start to think about what just happened.

As I reach the door to the exit on the first floor landing, I hear my phone chirp. I pull it out, finding that I’ve gotten a text message. I open the message.

<< Tethys, where are you? Did you go home with that waitress??? Please tell me you didn’t.. I like that place!>>

It’s from my friend, Titan. Damn; I guess he really had liked that bar. I decide I’ll talk to him when I get home. He’ll give me a lecture about how I always screw up things for him, why can’t I be more discreet, his usual… He’ll forgive me in a few weeks. I open the door to the brisk winter air outside and begin to walk back to the base.

This piece is copyright 2012 to Tearyne Glover. All rights reserved.