It’d been two years now without Merle. Though, it felt more like four. Maybe even ten. A lost love is much like catching herpes: the pain never really goes away. And a flareup, even though you know it’s to be expected, always burns; no matter how much you try soothing it. They say that time heals all wounds. Clearly, anyone who’s said that is either stupid, has never been in love, or is trying to fool themselves. Much like herpes, there is no cure for a broken heart.
And, since Merle’s disappearance, Jamie's wounds still hadn’t healed. They’d barely even begun to scab. The days, months, and years continued to trickle by, but her pain never lessened. Seriously, how does someone forget the only love they’ve ever known? Their soulmate. Each long, tiring day without him was a mockery of the happiness she’d never feel again. Millions of wasted minutes thinking of him. Endless fantasies of his return. Each night a tease of what she could never have again.
Her dreams were tortured by memories, real and unreal. The torture had eventually bled into her mind. I suppose once a soul becomes so saturated with worry and heartache that the blood must go somewhere. And, from time to time, Jamie swore that she’d seen Merle. In a passing car on the interstate as she made her commute each morning to the waffle house where she waitressed. Strolling by the end of an aisle as she bought groceries at the dollar store. Drinking a cup of coffee over in the new girl’s section. But, it never was.
After he hadn’t come home for a full twenty-four hours, she filed the police report. But really, she’d felt it in her heart way before then. If the police had looked for Merle, they’d still be no closer to finding him. She knew.
The biggest piece of her was never coming back.
With Merle gone, Jamie had lots time to mourn and to think. She sifted through the pages of their shared memories for any kind of clue or precursor. It didn’t take much reminiscing to get a little bit of that big picture. His late-night hikes in the woods across the river. The constant backpain he’d complain about to avoid sex. The odd smell and loose strands of auburn hair on his clothes when he came home. The fresh bruises on his neck and back. How could she have been so stupid? None of these were like Merle at all. Noticing all too late, Jamie realized that she’d missed all the signs.
As the weeks went on, her curiosity grew. She had to know why he left. Was he mad at her for something? Bored? Depressed? She searched the all-mighty Google for signs of depression. Lo and behold, they were all there. The insomnia. The pain.
It was true. Merle had needed help. He needed help and Jaime hadn’t even known.
The rational, more reasonable part of Jaime told her the sightings were a consequence of the guilt and the emptiness that gnawed at her subconsciousness. The Other held onto the thought that maybe — just maybe — he would return to her.
And now, walking into her trailer from a twelve-hour shift slinging hash and coffee, she stood facing Merle slumped forward on the couch. The Other rejoiced while The Rational puked all over its shit-kickers.
Like in her dreams, Merle had come back to her.
But, he was... different. Like milk about to sour, something was slightly off. Even in the way his body sagged over, hands clasped between his knees like a kid who got caught pissing in the kitchen sink. Yes, the dirt-stained Carhartt Shirt hanging from his shoulders was typical Merle (was that the same shirt he’d worn the last day she’d seen him?), but something in his eyes had changed. A shift almost too subtle to the normal passerby. Not to her.
This was not Jamie’s Merle.
The reminder of Maine author A. Mangina's story "Somethin' Better" can be found in The Muse and The Flame: A Collection of Bizarre Romance -- now on presale!
Check out A. Mangina's satirical romantic-comedy The Heart of the Hydra while you're at it!
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