Never Too Late : A Romantic Story

BOOK: Never Too Late : A Romantic Story
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Amy sat on the steps leading up to the side exit of The R
abbit Hole, and did her best not t
o
cry. She found it difficult. Her arms wrapped around her legs, which were brought up to he
r
chest. Her forehead rested against her kneecaps.

She knew others - namely the group that was smoking right next to her - were watching an
d
commenting, but she didn't care. Let them say whatever they wanted. Let them think whateve
r
they wanted. Let them make their rash judgments. It made no difference to her. She was here
,
and she was alone, and she welcomed whatever harshness would follow. At least it offere
d
something to bite back at.

Brad wasn't even here. He was inside The Rabbit Hole, talking to someone prettier than her
.
He always spoke to people prettier than her. "You can't expect me to not talk to them," h
e
would yell at her. Amy tried to explain that her problem wasn't that he spoke to them, bu
t
involved what he would later do with them, but he wouldn't listen. "You're just jealous.

Jealous and clingy." She would insist she wasn't, but Brad would just tell her off and g
o
back to his good time.

This was how things worked with them. How they had always worked, and - in a fit of col
d
realization which stung more than any of Brad's words, Amy realized - how they always would.

She'd met Brad two years ago, and he had been everything she wanted and needed. Someon
e
solid, someone unfazed by anything or anyone. Strong, confident; full of life and action an
d
passion. Only as the months had ticked by did Amy realize that those were convenient covers.

Brad was nothing but a spoiled, head up his own butt, brat. He looked down on anyone o
r
anything that didn't match with how he viewed the world. There was no empathy in him, just
a
desire to do things that made himself happy. Even Amy knew she amounted to little more tha
n
something he interacted with, and had no real feelings for.

She knew, but she returned to him like an addict to their fixer. She knew what he would do
,
even if she sometimes had difficulty making herself realize it. Brad was an abuser, no
t
physically but emotionally, and all the magazines and articles she read on the internet tol
d
her those kinds of people were just as dangerous.

What was worse, Amy knew she'd go back to him. It was as if she didn't have a choice. The ma
n
was a vampire, and Amy his thrall. It sunk through her, as it had so many other times; th
e
deep, bottomless sensation of hopelessness mixed with unhappiness. It bled her out, exhauste
d
her, and made her lethargic. Nothing would change, she told herself. Nothing ever would. Sh
e
said these things even as she ignored the small part of her logical brain that screamed a
t
her to get herself together. It told her not to fall into this trap, to not beat hersel
f
down. But she ignored it.

It was easier. Simpler.

"You okay?"

She looked up. Someone had walked out the side exit and stood next to her on the steps. H
e
wasn't particularly tall, but he was handsome. Not in the Brad Pitt kind of way, but in th
e
nice smile, decent hair kind of way. He had deep green eyes, and they regarded her wit
h
something short of pity, but not quite worry. He wore what she guessed was supposed to be
a
cheerful smile. His dark grey shirt was pressed, and his pants fit well. His shoes wer
e
dressy, but not too classy. He held himself well, she thought. Or rather, felt, since all o
f
these observations were made in the space of a few seconds.

"What?" She asked.

"I asked if you were okay?" He leaned against the rails of the steps. "You don't look s
o
great."

She frowned up at him. "Thanks."

"Hey, I'm just saying," he said with a shrug. "Crying on the steps isn't the best place to d
o
it, you know."

"Leave me alone," she snapped.

He held up his hands defensively. "Sorry, sorry. Sometimes I don't think before I talk.
I
just saw you and thought you might need help or something. Are you okay?" He looked back a
t
the door he had just left. "Did anyone in there hurt you or something?"

She shook her head and unconsciously sniffed. "No, no one. I'm alright, just-I'm alright."

He nodded slowly, as if he didn't believe her. "Do you have any friends in there? Want me t
o
go find them?" The only people she knew inside were Brad and his new object of charm. Sh
e
shook her head. "Well, you're not here alone, are you?"

"No. Someone I know is inside."

"Ah, guy trouble." She shifted away from him as he planted himself next to her. "I know tha
t
game."

"You do?"

He laughed. "No, not really. We guys can be real dicks sometimes though."

"Yeah, you can."

"It's all about our egos. We can't get enough of ourselves, so we don't think about how ou
r
actions affect others. Plus we only think about sex all day long."

Amy found herself blushing, and tried to fight down the heat in her cheeks. "Sometimes
I
think that's all you people think about."

The guy shrugged. "It pretty much is." He smiled at her. "My name's Cale."

"Amy," she said after a few seconds.

"Nice to meet you, Amy." He held out his hand and she took it. It was warm but not sweaty
,
and the shake he gave her was firm but not too hard. She smiled back at him.

For all the strangeness of the encounter, and for all the horror stories of meeting strang
e
men at clubs and in alleys, Amy found herself feeling better as she spoke to Cale. He didn'
t
seem to have any expectations or issues. Of course, she knew that she only saw the bares
t
part of his surface, and that below it existed all the insecurities and compulsions peopl
e
had. But for the time being, she realized, she enjoyed being with him. He told bad jokes, h
e
laughed at himself, and he made her laugh. 

Within a few minutes of sitting on those steps together, she had forgotten Brad. She forgo
t
how she felt about everything in general. She found like she had found someone who got her.

Someone who neither validated her nor rejected her. Just another person she could spend tim
e
with, and feel good with. It was nice.

Then the door opened behind them, and a voice - curt and rough - broke into their rapport.

"What's this?" Brad asked.

Amy, kicking in some sort of natural reaction, turned and spun around. Brad didn't have a lo
t
of muscles, but he'd been known to fight people before. He wore an Ed Hardy shirt and glare
d
down at both Cale and Amy. Cale stood slowly and smiled right back at him. The two wer
e
evenly sized, but Amy immediately felt worried that Brad would attack.

"Hey man," Cale said, still smiling. "I'm Cale. You're Amy's friend, right?"

"You know this guy?" Brad asked, turning to Amy and sticking his thumb in Cale's direction.

Though frightened, Amy couldn't help but mentally sigh a bit. The man was such a walkin
g
cliché.

"We just met," she said. Now that she thought about it, where was the girl she'd seen Bra
d
hitting on earlier? She tried to convince herself that this wasn't one of those times wher
e
Brad struck out and so settled for Amy. Of course, she knew it was, but she shoved tha
t
thought aside.

Cale stuck his hand out, but Brad didn't go for it. He stood there, motionless, a face of ho
t
rage and maybe embarrassment. He looked as if he were about to hit something. Amy slid pas
t
Cale and walked up the two steps until she was eye-level with him. "Brad, are you ready t
o
go?" She asked.

"You know," Cale started, "you don't have-"

"Yeah," Brad cut in, swinging his arm around her waist possessively. He pulled her a bi
t
closer than she needed to be, and looked down at Cale with a smug grin on his face. Cale'
s
smile never left. "What'd you do for a living, bro?"

Cale laughed. "I work for a bank, bro."

"Corporate pig," Brad said. "It's people like you who ruined this country."

"Wow, we're already going there, huh?" Cale shrugged. "Well, say what you will." He turne
d
his back, did something with his hands, and turned back. He held out his hand to Amy. "It wa
s
nice to meet you, Amy."

Amy wasn't going to reach for the hand, but some small bit of rebellion inside her lashe
d
out, and she reached across the small gap between them and shook it. She felt something slid
e
into her palm. She didn't say anything to Brad, but closed her hand into a fist when sh
e
broke grips with Cale. "You too."

Cale gave a mock salute and walked away. Brad shook his head as he left. "What a loser." Am
y
couldn't help but groan a little in her throat, but Brad didn't hear.

As he led her away, into what would be a night of dispassionate sex and a morning of Am
y
hating herself, she snuck a peek at the piece of paper Cale had slid into her hand.

"Seriously, it was nice to meet you." It was followed by a phone number. She crumpled it up
,
but rather than dropping it as she walked away, slid it into her pocket.

#

The weeks had all cycled around her and blurred together. In the midst of one her self-pit
y
sessions, she came to the conclusion that her life meant very little. She had few friends,
a
boyfriend that was mentally absent and horrible, a family that stayed out of her way and als
o
offered little advice or conciliation. Her part-time job at the coffee store gave her no rea
l
joy other than a sometimes steady paycheck, which she blew on things she didn't need or o
n
nights out with Brad.

Everything felt so crushed and dejected. She was stuck in the mind-loop of a truly hopeles
s
person, someone who couldn't even see the light at the end of the tunnel because they didn'
t
know which direction they were walking in, or were standing stark still.

Her time had deteriorated into a vast amount of worrying, stress, and insecurities. So sh
e
had taken to the Internet to find out how to change things. She scrolled through websites an
d
read about exercise or following passions or anything she could about taking control of he
r
life.

She despised the sites that told her to follow her dreams. Though she recognized her ow
n
cynical nature, she knew that those people were only in it to sell their own products. No on
e
was perfectly happy, it wasn't possible. Even those who made their living by following thei
r
dreams, like writers or painters, had to deal with the day to day stresses that everyone els
e
did. Even more than some. The term, "starving artist" cropped up in her mind. No one wante
d
to live a remarkable life more than her, but when she really thought about it, she had n
o
passions. No dreams, no skills, no hopes.

So, more out of desperation than charity, she volunteered to work at a good wil
l
establishment. Called, "Carrie Cares" - she had blanched at the name - the place handle
d
visitations to soup kitchens, clothing distributions, and social programs designed to hel
p
those less fortunate. She stood outside the headquarters, a rather ramshackle lookin
g
building that looked like a converted school or warehouse, made of red bricks and blackto
p
for a parking lot. This was the first change she had initiated in herself in a long time, an
d
before she could quit or convince herself to leave, she ran up the steps and into th
e
building.

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