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Part 1: The Guinea Pigs

Name: Cassie
Age: 25
Job: Teacher
Likes: Red roses, Bubble baths, Long walks on the beach
Dislikes: Being single, Screw drivers (the drink and the tool), Long lines at the super market
Personal Mantra: Tomorrow will be better.

Name: Tony
Age: 25
Job: Computer Programmer
Likes: His girlfriend Jill, Reading, Alcohol
Dislikes: Getting up early, Tripping over shoes in the middle of the night, Sleeping alone
Personal Mantra: Life is good.

Name: Jill
Age: 25
Job: CPA
Likes: Day dreaming, Running, Eating a lot of fatty foods on vacation
Dislikes: Routines, Scales, Her boss
Personal Mantra: A boring life is a pointless life.

Name: Mark
Age: 27
Job: Engineer
Likes: Sleeping, Eating, Breathing
Dislikes: His soon to be ex wife, His soon to be ex wife, His soon to be ex wife
Personal Mantra: Leave me alone.

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Part 2: Cassie’s Date

Cassie is getting ready for her date. She is very excited. It’s not only because he is good-looking, although that helps, it’s because she thinks he might be her future husband. She knows its silly to have such high hopes for a man she only talked to for five minutes, but when he wrote his number on her hand in green pen yesterday, she felt chills. Plus its nice to know that he is good-looking, because when she does Internet dating, this is not always the case.

She puts on her dark red lipsticks, slips on her black spiked heels, and heads out the door. Tonight she feels like Carrie Bradshaw, and she is pretending her purple dress is a Gucci, and not from the sales rack at Macy’s. By the time she reaches the restaurant  her feet are in pain, but she feels no sacrifice is too great for her future husband.

“Hello,” he says when he sees her. He is even more handsome than she remembers him; this will definitely be a good date. They sit down at a table near a window. “I have a joke for you ,” he says.

“okay”

“Knock Knock”

“Whose there “

“Chicken ”

“Chicken Who”

“Chickens don’t have last names”

She can barely manage a smile when she hears this joke. So he isn’t funny, she thinks. I don’t need a funny husband. However he proceeds to ask her what her favorite music is, and while she is in the middle of mentioning her favorite bands, he interrupts her to give her a list of all the country songs he’s listened to since age 6. So he’s not husband material, she thinks. Perhaps he’s second date material.

She starts telling him about her favorite movie, but he interrupts her again to tell her that he hates movies. “I mean they are good  for listening to during naps, but not much else.” For the first time that evening she is happy she is not wearing a Gucci dress, for she would not have wanted to waste a Gucci on a guy she will never see again.

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Part 3: Tony’s Book

Tony is reading a very interesting book. However, he cannot seem to concentrate. This is bothering him because he is enjoying the book, much more than the thoughts that will not leave his head, but he does not have the will power to clear his mind and continue reading. As always when he has thoughts, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, he thinks of his girlfriend Jill. He remembers the time the two of them went on vacation in California. He remembers how beautiful she looked while she drank her wine, and her hand subconsciously played with her silver dangling earring. Their relationship was different then , though how it was different he can’t seem to figure out.

Jill had gone to visit her cousin that day, and later she would go for a run in the park. Jill’s best friend Cassie had gone on a horrible date last night. Well it was probably horrible because recently all of Cassie’s dates were horrible. Cassie will be calling Jill today to tell her about this date, and Tony is glad Jill will be out of the house when she gets that call. It’s not that Tony does not like Cassie; he does; he thinks she a barrel of fun even of she is a bit flaky. It’s just he’s does not want to hear Jill tell Cassie how all men are morons. It bothers him. He knows Jill is not referring to him; he knows she is just saying this to make Cassie feel better, but it still bothers him. Why it bothers him he cannot figure out.

On days like these he wishes he was not an introvert. He desperately wants to get back to his book, but he can’t quiet the thoughts that are in his head. He thinks of Jill again, and of their relationship. He is happy with Jill, but; no there is no but; he is happy with Jill. However something has changed since that trip to California, and he wishes he could figure it out, because he wants to get back to his book.

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Part 4: Jill’s flirtation

“Bye.”

“Bye,” Jill yells at Scott as he runs towards the park exit. He stops running, looks at her as if he forgot something, and run towards her to give her a quick kiss on the mouth. “Bye again,” he says, and this time he runs without turning back.

Jill does not feel guilty about Scott. Why should she, they are not doing anything wrong. Yes Scott is married and his wife is pregnant, and yes Jill herself has lived with her boyfriend for two years, but all they are doing is meeting for lunch on Tuesdays and Saturdays to have harmless conversations. Yes, sometimes he kisses her on the mouth, but it’s the type of kiss you would give a drunken friend on new years. Jill does not feel she is doing anything wrong.

As she walks home, she starts imagining her next meeting with Scott. She wonders what he will say, what he will wear, if the tips of his fingers will caress her hand again. She used to be that excited about Tony, but that excitement had vanished somewhere. She wonders what went wrong with her relationship. Although nothing is actually wrong in her relationship. Jill gets along with Tony very well, they never fight, they have great sex, but the strong surge of emotion that convinced her to move in with him has dried out. She does not really care to figure out what happened because she would rather think of Scott. As she is walking home she sees a small cat attempting to eat a baby bird out of a tree, but the mother bird keeps hitting the cat with her beak. Jill laughs.

As she enters her apartment, she sees Tony lying on the couch and reading a book. “Hi,” he says.

“Hi, is the book any good ?”

“It’s pretty interesting.”

“Cool.”

“How was the run, how was your cousin, anything interesting happen?”

“Not really.”

“Want to go out to eat?”

“Okay, but let me shower first.”

Jill walks into the bathroom and prepares to shower. She thinks of Scott, remembers the delicious cheese sandwiches he bought her near the park, and she decides that next time she see him she will tell him the cat and bird story.

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Part 5: Mark’s Beer

Mark is drinking his beer. Dave had brought over the beer, and now the two of them are drinking it while watching trash on TV. “Do you think your brother will marry Jill,” Dave asks.

“Don’t know, Don’t care.”

“They have been together a long time right?”

“7 years.”

“Why haven’t they tied the knot yet?”

“Don’t know, Don’t care.”

Dave is very annoying, but Dave did bring the beer. Mark could have bought his own beer, but drinking alone on a Saturday evening is even more depressing than drinking with Dave on a Saturday evening. “I can’t believe you and Liz broke up, if you can’t make it who can,” Dave asks, although it more of a statement than a question.”Do you think you might patch things up?” Mark cringes every time he hears the name of his soon to be ex wife. He wishes they were divorced already, so people would realize that their relationship is un-fixable, would stop asking him if they would get back together. He ignores Dave’s question and instead says “What I don’t understand is why people get married when they know there is a 50% divorce rate. I mean if there was a 50% airplane falling rate or a 50% car crash rate, nobody would fly or drive anywhere. But people still get married.”

Dave does not reply to this, but instead gets up to open another beer. The phone rings. Mark picks up the phone, and he hears Liz’s vice on the other line. “Do you think I can come over tomorrow, “ she asks. “I have something to tell you.” The idea of spending Sunday with his soon to be ex wife is about as appealing as spending it with Satan, less appealing actually. However Mark replies “sure…”

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Part 6: Cassie and Emily

Cassie is helping Emily, her pregnant friend and coworker, clean up after a baby shower. As Emily is throwing away diapers filled with melted chocolate, she says “I have the perfect man for you. He is a moderately successful artist.”

“Does that mean he no longer eats Ramen noodles and has moved on to Chef Boyardee?”

“I hear he even orders from Pizza Hut occasionally. But all kidding aside, I think he would be perfect for you. He’s smart, good-looking, and witty; what more do you need?”

Cassie wonders why Emily is so intent on setting her up. Ever since she hit her 5th month of pregnancy, Emily has taken a keen interest in Cassie’s love life. Perhaps Emily views her as a threat, or if not her than women like her. Perhaps Emily feels that if she can find a single woman a boyfriend, then karma would keep other single woman away from Emily’s husband. Perhaps Emily is only being a helpful friend. Either way, Cassie is not going to complain about having a potential date.

“Are you sure he is not gay, he is an artist after all,” she asks Emily.

“Nah, you’re thinking of ballet dancers. He’s a painter, and painters aren’t gay”

“I thought teachers weren’t supposed to be stereotypical?”

“That’s only if they are within earshot of students.”

Both women laugh at this. Cassie finds it strange that she can have such a good time with a friend who is 7 years older. Before she started working, all her friends were within a two-year age difference from her. All of the sudden the there is a sound of jingling keys, and the front door of the house opens. Emily’s husband walks into the house.

“Hi Scott,” Emily says.

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Part 7: Tony’s Secret

Tony is lying in bed while watching Jill sleep. He remembers the first time he asked her out. He had known Jill about two months . They were both taking calculus, but because she was so beautiful, he was too intimidated to ask her on a date. Every time he tried he would ask about the class work instead. One day he ran into her while she was eating fries and reading a book at the university cafeteria. “Hi,” he said as he walked up to her. She briefly glanced at him and waved. “So what’s new?” she asked after her eyes had already returned to her book. “Well I’m having a bad day,” he replied. “I just came back from my great aunt’s funeral. We were really close.” When she heard that, she closed her book, and asked him if he wanted to sit with her.

Tony told Jill all about his great-aunt. He told her how he used to spend summers with her; how she used to buy him baseball caps for his birthday, and how sad he was when she got cancer. Jill told Tony about how hard it was for her when her grandpa died, and somehow the conversation took a life of its own. They were talking about glow in the dark sticker stars when they were kicked out of the cafeteria because it was closing. As they began going their separate ways, Tony asked Jill if she would want to see a movie with him sometime, and Jill said yes.

This would have been a great “how they met” story, except for the fact that Tony had lied about having a great-aunt that died. At first Tony did not feel any guilt about this lie because he had made up everything about this “great aunt”, even her name. So it was not as if he killed his actual relative. Also he had only expected to go on a few dates with Jill, but before he knew it he was dating her for a year, and he had invited her to a family reunion. He knew it was time to tell her the truth. However, he did not know where the appropriate place was to tell his girlfriend that he used a made up dead relative as a pick up line. So one Sunday morning he blurted it out during breakfast. Jill laughed, patted him on his arm, and said “you really should have gone into creative writing.” That was the moment he knew he loved Jill.

As Tony watches Jill sleep, he realizes the problem in his relationship is that Jill is bored. He remembers a joke about a husband who only proposed to his wife because he had run out of things to say, and he realizes perhaps there is some truth in that. He loves Jill, he does not want to be with anyone else, and so he decides that the time has come to propose. Tony decides that he will go ring shopping this week, or maybe he will go the next week. He knows there is no hurry, because the best thing about being in a committed relationship is not worrying about your girlfriend leaving you.

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Part 8: Jill’s Decision

Jill and Scott are eating lunch on a Tuesday afternoon. Scott says “Do you know what I would love to do with you?”

“What?” Jill asks.

“I would love to watch a movie with you.”

“We can do that. Let’s go to the theater this Saturday.”

“I don’t want to be surrounded by people when I watch a movie with you. All those annoying children and obsessive texters bother me. I was thinking about renting a hotel room. It will be very innocent, I promise.”

“I don’t think a hotel room is a good idea. We’ll be alone and there will be a bed…”

“Have I not been a perfect gentleman with you this whole time?”

“Yes…”

“Well I promise I will continue being a perfect gentleman. We’ll just watch a movie, nothing else. So what do you say?”

Jill takes a huge bite out of her sandwich, and she chews very slowly so that she can avoid answering the question for a few minutes. Jill has been deluding herself that her relationship with Scott is harmless, but she is not delusional enough to believe that nothing harmful will happen if she is alone with Scott in a hotel room. She wants to take her relationship with Scott to the next level, but she is not sure if she is ready to take the plunge. Jill knows that her and Scott have not done anything wrong yet, but if she says yes to Scott’s request, she will officially become a cheater. She looks at Scott’s twinkling eyes and muscular arms, and she imagines how Tony’s face will look if he finds out she is sleeping with someone else. She finishes chewing the last piece of food in her mouth, and replies “I don’t know. Let me think about it.”

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Part 9: Mark and Liz

Mark sits on his couch as he waits for Liz to come over. She was supposed to come over last Sunday, but at the last minute she canceled. He wonders what she wants to tell him. Maybe Liz decided that she wants to stop the divorce and remain married to him. He laughs at this thought. Liz had been quite adamant about wanting the divorce.

Mark finds it ironic that all his friends and relatives think that the divorce had been Mark’s idea. After all had it not been Mark who had constantly complained about Liz, and who used to call her the old ball and chain (and afterwards would explain to the listener that he was not joking). Had it not been Mark who had the “I am finally free” party after they officially announced their intention to divorce. Yes, their marriage had been an unhappy one, but Mark was perfectly content living in misery. It was Liz, who pulling at her hair one morning screamed “I can’t live like this anymore”, and it was Liz who ruined an amazing football game that he was watching on TV, by shoving divorce papers in his face during half-time. However, all their joint friends give Liz sympathetic smiles and hugs, while they shake their heads with disappointment at Mark, and ask him if there is still a chance him and Liz might get back together.

Mark has a horrible thought. What if Liz is pregnant? No, she cannot be pregnant, they had always been very careful, but he can’t seem to get rid of that fear. He imagines his life if he decides to stay together with Liz because of a baby. He sees them loudly arguing, having to scream over the baby’s crying. He imagines them divorcing when their child is ten. He envisions their child sitting in jail, and telling the reporter on TV that he turned to a life of crime after his parents divorced. No, Liz cannot be pregnant. For the first time in many years he looks forward to seeing his wife, because at the moment she is the only one who can put his fears to rest.

The doorbell rings and Mark opens the door. Before Liz even has a chance to enter the apartment, Mark blurts out “are you pregnant?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” Liz replies. Then she chuckles to herself and sits on the couch. Mark always hated the way Liz likes to bring suspense to situations. “So, are you pregnant?” he repeats.

“No,” she replies. “That would have been awful. That is why I’m glad you asked that question, because compared to my being pregnant, what I’m about to tell you won’t seem that bad. I got fired last week from my job, well not fired, laid off. I don’t really have enough money saved up to continue with this divorce; you know its going to end up being very expensive, because we are going to need a lot of mediation. Do not misunderstand; I don’t want to be married to you. But I was thinking, what if we put the divorce on hold for a few months, until I find another job. Would that be okay with you?”

Mark cannot imagine a worse idea. He had viewed the divorce as an atrocious journey he must go through to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He had convinced himself that once the divorce is finalized, he will transform himself from a pitiful divorcé to a charismatic bachelor. He will be able to go on dates without feeling guilty, and he will not have to lie to potential partners about his relationship status. Also his friends will stop harassing him with questions about Liz. The idea of stalling the finalization of the divorce makes him want to pour acid in his eyes; however, something about the pitiful expression on the face of the woman to whom he had been married to for five years, makes him say, “If it’s only for a few months, I don’t mind. We can put the divorce on hold.”

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Part 10: Cassie and the Painter

Half way through dinner, after the grilled shrimp, but before the Crème Brulee, Cassie realized she wants to go on a second date with the painter. The painter’s name is Max, and he specializes in painting rabbits that are dressed like Englishmen from the 19th century, and these rabbits are usually eating Ethiopian food with their hands or using chopsticks to eat sushi. She had seen one of these paintings before, and at the time she had thought the artist was high on acid when he painted it.

“It’s a cultural statement,” Max is explaining to her. “We are so obsessed with preserving our own culture that we are hesitant to form relationships with people  from other cultures. And I don’t just mean marriage, friendships too. My paintings are sending the message that assimilation can be fun, especially if food is involved.” Cassie does not agree with his statement, but she loves how he is passionate about his work. “You know I’ve been called a modern-day Salvador Dali,” Max says in between bites of his risotto. Cassie likes his cockiness too.

After dinner they go for a stroll, and Cassie becomes part of the conversation topic. “So what grade do you teach?” Max asks.

“7th,” she replies.

“What makes you enjoy teaching?”

“I view the students as empty vases. The knowledge they acquire, that’s like water being poured into them. I feel honored that part of that water comes from me, even if it’s only a few drops.”

“I think you just inspired my new painting.”

Cassie also likes his cockiness because at the end of the evening he takes the initiative and kisses her, and she does not have to lean in her head or give him any other subtle clues. “I have to see you again,” Max says, and Cassie simply nods her head and asks “when?” They make plans to see each other in two days.

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Part 11: Tony Goes Ring Shopping

Tony and Cassie are at jewelry store shopping for Jill’s engagement ring. “You should buy pink gold,” Cassie says. “It’s her favorite. She keeps that a secret because white gold is so popular now, but I know she would want her engagement ring to be made of pink gold.”

Tony feels a sense of relief when Cassie says that. He knows Jill prefers pink gold because she mentions it every time they see a jewelry commercial on TV. This morning Tony had felt apprehensive about asking Jill to marry him. He began to have second thoughts when Jill said bye to him without looking at him first, and then walking out the door before she could hear his reply. However, now that he realized he knew something about Jill that her best friend considered a secret, it made him think that perhaps the apprehension he had felt all day was just cold feet. He felt slightly grateful to Cassie for alleviating his fear.

“Is it strange for you to be proposing while your brother is in the middle of a divorce?” Cassie asks absent-mindedly.

“Not really,” Tony replies. “Liz and Mark are, well Liz and Mark…The thing is their relationship had always been very bipolar.” Tony uses the word bipolar because he lacks a better word. Mark and Liz always fought, and even though they tried to hide it, their fighting was evident  because of the snide remarks they made to each other in public. It was also evident by the screaming that was heard outside their doorway, that would cease as soon as someone rang their doorbell. But there had always been such passion in their arguments. Jill never got mad at Tony, although this was not always the case. When they started living together she was constantly irritated by him, but now it seemed that she did not care enough about him to get angry. Tony decides that he is being silly. After all Mark and Liz are divorcing, while him and Jill are about to start a new chapter of their life. Jill had gotten used to living with him, and he should view their lack of fights as proof their relationship was growing stronger, not weaker. Tony wishes he was not so introverted. He realizes he needs a distraction so he asks Cassie, “How was your date with the painter guy?”

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Part 12: Jill Finds Out

Jill decides to tell Cassie about her impending affair. She does not want to confide in Cassie because Cassie has low morals; in fact out of all her friends, Cassie has the one of the highest moral compasses. Jill knows Cassie will be disappointed that she is considering cheating on her “paperless husband”, the term Cassie uses when she talks about Tony. However; Cassie is a strong believer in love, so strong that she feels nothing should stand in the way of love, not wedding rings or pregnancies. Jill hopes that Cassie will give her the green light she needs to start her affair.

So one afternoon over coffee, Jill tells Cassie all about Scott. She tells her everything about him and her relationship with him, everything but his name. When Jill finishes her story Cassie looks at her with a strange look on her face.

“You know this story makes me think of my pregnant coworker,” Cassie says. “And I am imagining how she would feel if her husband was considering cheating.”

“Aren’t you the one who always said that there are usually casualties in love and war?”

“If you truly love this guy, why don’t you break up with Tony? This guy can divorce his wife, and then the two of you can start a love filled relationship.”

“I’m not sure it is love, and I would not want to hurt Tony for no reason.”

“Well..,” Cassie begins, and then she smiles. “Why don’t you just wait a month before you start the affair. Keep contact with this guy at a minimum, and then if you still want him in a month, you can start sleeping with him.”

“Why a month?”

“Because,” Cassie begins, and then she blurts out “Tony bought an engagement ring yesterday. He’s going to propose.” A wave of guilt floods Jill. Not because she is considering cheating on a man who is about to propose to her, but because the thought of Tony proposing, makes her want to sleep with Scott even more.

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Part 13: Mark’s Distraction

Mark goes on a date. Her name is Crystal and she has curly hair. The main reason he asked her out is because she has curly hair. He wants to go out with a woman who is the complete opposite of Liz, and Liz had pin straight hair. After dinner, he walks Crystal home, and his fingers are interlaced with her french manicured ones. That is another reason he asked her out. Liz never did a french manicure  because she felt that only porn stars did their nails that way, so she usually painted her nails blue or green.

Mark and Crystal are chatting while they stand in front of Crystal’s door. “I had a really nice time tonight,” Mark says, while he mentally scolds himself for not thinking of something more original to say. He leans in and gives her a kiss. It feels good to kiss someone who is not Liz. He’s kissed several woman since Liz decided life would be better without him, but each time he was too drunk to even remember the name of the woman, and the one time he was sober he felt a paralyzing surge of guilt. He enjoys this kiss though, and although he knows nothing more will happen tonight, he looks forward to the events that will follow after the kiss.

“Would you like to go out again?” he asks Crystal, and she nods yes in reply. “I have a secret to tell you,” she says, smiling. “I was hoping that once your divorce was finalized you would ask me out.”

“Actually it has not been finalized yet,” Mark says, and immediately regrets it. He has been mentally preparing himself all day for this moment, and he has failed miserably. He knows telling her the truth is not an option so he adds, “I’m not yet divorced because of legal mumbo jumbo. I don’t even understand it. It should happen any day now.”

Crystal does not believe his lies. She stops smiling; she twists her curly hair with her manicured finger, and she says “I think we should put the second date on hold.” She turns around, unlocks her door, walks into her apartment, and slams her door shut. Mark decides he hates Liz.

The next day Mark is still very angry at Liz, so he decides to go for a walk. He realizes that he is experiencing all the cons of being married and none of the benefits. Mark has never thought of himself as the altruistic type, and he decides that Liz should have thought about her finances when she decided to divorce him. He takes his cell phone out of his pocket, and he is about to call Liz and to tell her he no longer wants to put the divorce on hold, when something distracts him. On the other side of the street, he sees his brother’s girlfriend going into a hotel, with a man who is not his brother.

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Part 14: Cassie Gets a Phone Call

Cassie and Max have gone out on four dates, and Cassie is extremely happy with they way things are going. On their second date, Max bought Cassie ten different types of chocolate candy. “I was not sure which one was your favorite,” he explained. On their third date, Max bought Cassie a bouquet of red roses (her favorite flower). She accidentally dropped the vase they came in, and not only did Max help her clean up the mess, he also took her to a flower store after dinner, and bought her a new vase. On the fourth date, Max gave her personalized painting. It was a painting of a rabbit that looked like Cassie, and the rabbit was wearing a Prado dress while sipping a white russian. Cassie decided that if she ever chose to believe in reincarnation, she wanted to come back as a rabbit in her next life.

Cassie is very happy about Max, and when her phone rings after their fourth date, she assumes it’s him. She picks up the phone, her smile ready, and she does not even check the caller id.“Hi Cassie,” says a familiar, a familiar voice that does not belong to Max.

“Joe!” Cassie exclaims.

“I’ve been thinking about you Cassie.”

“Well that’s a first.”

“You were right; it was a mistake for us to break up.”

Cassie does not say anything. Joe is the one who got away. Well actually Joe is the one who pushed her away, and than sent her a box of her stuff. Cassie takes a big gulp of air, and says “What do you want Joe?”

“I want us to get back together.”

“Why?”

“I guess I realized the price of water once the well went dry. We were perfect together, completely in sync.”

“It’s too late, I’m dating some one else.” It feels good to say that, Cassie thinks. Her feelings for Max become a lot stronger.

“You could not have dated this guy that long. We had three wonderful years together. Do you really want to throw away a three-year investment?”

“I said the same thing when we broke up, and you did not have any trouble throwing three years away.”

“I already said you were right. I made a mistake, one that I hope I can fix. Let’s at least have lunch. I know a great place. Will you have lunch with me?”

Cassie nods her head, but then she realizes Joe can’t see her, so she says, “Okay, let’s have lunch.”

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Part 15: Tony and Mark

Tony is sitting on Mark’s couch, drinking a beer, and watching TV. Ever since he had told his brother that he was planning to propose to Jill, his brother had looked at him strangely. He figures Mark probably thinks anybody who gets married is a fool, and that is why he has that strange expression on his face. Tony knows his brother thinks long and hard before he says anything too negative, and he decides that Mark is probably debating whether he should call him a moron. Still, Mark’s piercing gaze is annoying, and Tony decides to distract his brother. “ So do you think you and Liz will get back together ?”

“Definitely not!”

Tony smiles and says, “then why are you prolonging the divorce?”

“I already explained it to you. Liz is having financial problems, and it’s the right thing to do.”

“I think a part of you is hoping this divorce will be prolonged forever. You must have forgotten that I witnessed you jumping up and screaming, ‘I’m free, I can finally get out of hell’, the day after you hired your divorce lawyer. That person would not have agreed to put their divorce on hold.”

“I’m saying this for the last time; I do not want to stay married to Liz. She does not want to stay married to me. We had a miserable marriage. However, she was part of my life for five years, longer if you count the time we were dating. You can’t turn feelings on and off like a switch. In honor of our marriage, I want to conduct this divorce with dignity. I’m doing her this favor, for the same reason boxers shake hands before they beat the crap out of each other. It’s a classy way of handling a barbaric ritual. You would act the same way if you were divorcing Jill.”

“No I wouldn’t,” Tony replies, but then he imagines Jill being sad, broke, and sitting in the dark because she cannot pay her electricity bill, so he adds, “I might loan her some money, but I would still continue with the divorce.”

Tony starts watching TV again, and Mark starts watching Tony. Since this morning, when Tony asked if he could stop by, Mark has debated whether he should tell his brother that he saw Jill with another man. Mark hopes he misunderstood what he saw. Perhaps Jill was just going to the hotel with a client, or maybe Tony and Jill had an open relationship. Perhaps Tony was waiting in the hotel room, so that they could have a threesome, and Mark certainly does not want to embarrass his brother by forcing him to explain. However, deep down, Mark knows he witnessed something that should not have been happening.

While Mark is deciding if he should tell his brother about his suspicions, Tony announces that he is going propose to Jill. At that moment Mark decides that he is not going to be the cause of his brother’s unhappiness. Mark has disappointed so many people by deciding to get a divorce, he is not about to add ruining Tony’s life to his list of sins. However, Mark feels that doing nothing is also wrong, so he decides that he will confront Jill about what he saw. He does not want Tony to start talking about Liz again so he asks, “What made you decide to propose?”

“It just feels right. I mean I have all my other ducks in a row, might as well add the last duck.”

“Mom will be so happy when she finds out. When I told her about the divorce, she said to me, ‘Just don’t make marriage sound too negative in front or your brother, I don’t want him getting cold feet.’”

“Are you anti-marriage now?”

“I’m only anti marriage if it concerns Liz. You are not marrying her, so I can support your decision!”

“Do you think Jill will be surprised when I propose?”

Mark does not enjoy lying to his brother, so he says; “she won’t know what hit her.”

Tony again feels apprehensive about proposing to Jill, because Mark had used that exact same phrase when he described how their dad would react, after he found out they had totaled his car.

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Part 16: Jill Does Not Buy Oranges

“Life changing events happen when you’re buying oranges,” is what Jill’s mother always said. This was true in the case of Jill’s mother, because when she met Jill’s father and later when she went into labor with Jill, she was buying oranges. However, Jill has yet to experience a life changing event while she is orange shopping. One time, when she was at the fruit market, she lost her driver license, but Jill does not think this qualifies for a life changing event, just an annoying one.

Jill is at the supermarket, putting oranges inside a plastic bag, when the phone rings. After she puts the oranges in her cart, she checks the phone, and finds out it was Mark who called her. She’s surprised because her and Mark don’t have a relationship outside of Tony. Sure she enjoys Mark’s company, the way one enjoys the company of a bitter sarcastic guy in an elevator, but one does not want to fraternize with the guy once the elevator ride ends. The only time Mark calls her is on her birthday, and since her birthday is six months away, she is shocked by his call. All of the sudden a terrible fear passes through her, because she thinks of another reason Mark might call her. She abandons her shopping cart and goes outside to call Tony.

“What’s up,” Tony says when he answers the phone.

“Where are you?”

“At home, are you checking up on me?” Tony asks playfully.

“You’re okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I saw a missed call from Mark. I was worried that something might have happened to you.”

“Mark called you, that’s strange, it’s not your birthday. I wonder what he wanted.”

“I wasn’t able to pick up because I was putting oranges in a bag.”

Tony laughs, “you were shopping for oranges. I suppose I should feel flattered that you think my death is a life changing event.”

“Of course I think it would be a life changing event. However, let me call you back after I finish shopping.”

“Bye.”

After Jill hangs up the phone, she realizes how much she loves the fact that Tony knows all of her stories. She’s grateful that he understands her thought process, and that she does not have to explain things to him. Although she enjoys telling Scott stories about her life, sometimes its nice to be around a person with whom she can have conversations that are made of short sentences. For the first time, since Cassie told her about the engagement, she is happy that Tony is going to propose.

After she finishes her shopping and loads the groceries in the car (she did not buy the oranges), she decides to call Mark back. Mark picks up the phone, and without even saying hello, he blurts out, “I know you’re having an affair.”

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Part 17: Cassie Has Lunch

Cassie is getting ready for her lunch with Joe. She has bought a new outfit and shoes for the occasion. She wishes she knew how to use an eyelash curler, because she feels curly lashes is exactly what this occasion calls for. Although she doesn’t know how to use an eyelash curler, she knows how to use a regular curling iron, and she curls her hair with no mercy. She needs to look stunning today, so stunning that Joe’s heart will ache with bitterness that he ever let her go.

Cassie has zero desire to restart things with Joe. She has their lunch all planned out. She will talk to him politely, but will not show any real interest in his life. She wants him to know that she has moved on, and that he no longer matters to her. However, her plan obliterates as soon as she sees him.

She had forced herself to forget how charming he could be. Now, as they sit across the table from each other, eating lunch and chatting, she is reminded that being with him feels as natural as breathing. She is so entranced by his banter that she eats three courses without even noticing it. “Remember that time we were in Mexico,” Joe says, “ and we had to stop the car because a giant lizard was crossing the road and you said”

“Stop,” Cassie interrupts him.

“That’s not what you said.”

“No, I meant stop talking. Why did you want me to have lunch with you?”

“I realized it was a mistake to break up with you. I never want to make that mistake again. I decided I want to marry you. Now all I need is your agreement. Do you want to marry me?”

Cassie has a strong desire to say yes, but she always tells her 7th graders, “even though the world is unfair, always try to be fair,” and she feels she needs to stay true to her principles. She decides to compare Joe to Max. Joe and Max are equals when it comes to conversation skills, however with Joe; she already knows his bad qualities. Max might like eating ants at midnight, and she certainly does not want to throw Joe away for an ant eater.

“Give me a week to decide,” she says.

“Okay. I’m glad you’re taking a week, because I’ll need that time to find you a ring.”

“Why are you so sure I’ll say yes?”

“I’m not,” Joe says, smiling. “However you seem to have forgotten Cass, I have always been an optimist.”

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Part 18: Tony Buys Soda

Tony has a strong craving for soda while he is at work. The vending machine in his company is broken, a fact Tony found out the day before, when the machine took his dollar, and refused to give Tony a soda even after he kicked it twice. Tony decides to give into his craving, and to go across the street to buy some soda from the corner store.

While Tony is standing in line to pay for his drink, he begins to think of the different ways he can propose to Jill. He would prefer to do it without any big gestures; perhaps he could present the ring to her in bed on a Thursday night. He knows better than to give her the ring in the morning, because Jill is so irritable before the sun comes up, she might refuse to marry him. However, he does not want to rob Jill of a romantic memory, so he thinks that maybe he should propose to her on the beach. They can have a picnic in the early evening, and when the sun starts setting on the other side of the ocean, he could present her with the ring. Tony decides he needs to propose as soon as the sun starts setting, so that there will be enough light to make the diamond sparkle.

Tony is so busy thinking about his proposal, that he doesn’t notice it’s his turn at the cash register. He is about to pay for his drink, when he notices a credit card lying on the counter, and a man walking out of the store. “Hey” he yells towards the man, but the man does not hear him, and he walks out of the store. Tony takes the card, glances at the name on the card, and walking out of the store (he left his drink on the counter), calls the man by name.

The man turns around, and seeing Tony’s outstretched hand holding a credit card, starts thanking Tony profusely.

“Thank you so much. I was about to have lunch with a very important person, and it would have been quite embarrassing if I did not have my card.”

“It was nothing,” Tony replies.

“It’s moments like these that give me hope for humanity,” the man says, as he waves goodbye.

“Bye Scott,” Tony says, because that was the name he saw on the card, and he walks back to the store to buy his soda.

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Part 19: Jill Thinks About The Future

Jill is sitting in a café waiting for Scott to arrive. She is replaying her conversation with Mark for the hundredth time that day.

“I know you’re having an affair,” Mark had said, and before she could interrupt, he continued, “I saw you walking into a hotel with a man. I’m not calling to lecture you or to threaten you. If you are having an affair because you’re bored, or because you had fallen victim to seduction, end it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell my brother, and I urge you not to tell him either because there is no need to hurt him. Tony is planning on proposing to you, and if you’re having an affair because you love this guy, you should break up with Tony before he proposes. My brother is a good guy, and he doesn’t deserve to have his fiancé or wife, walk out on him.”

Jill knew that she could have denied the affair. She could have said that the man had been a friend, and he had happened to leave his wallet in the hotel. She knew Mark would not ask Tony about it, because Mark was not the type of person to meddle in people’s lives. However, she felt relieved that Mark knew, because Mark’s knowledge of her affair would force her to ask herself all the questions she had been afraid of answering. Yes, she had told Cassie that she might be falling in love with Scott, but she had only said that because she wanted Cassie to condone her behavior. In reality, these past few months, she had used fifty percent of her will power to keep herself from analyzing her feelings for Scott, and the other fifty percent to keep herself from asking Scott how he felt about her.

Jill had answered Mark by saying “I’ll do what you told me by next week,” and Mark had said “thank you,” before he hung up the phone. About five minutes after the phone conversation ended, she realized that Mark had not asked her if she was going to stay with Tony.

Jill decided that before she made any rash decisions about Tony, she would have to find out how Scott felt about her. She had decided that today she would ask him all the questions they both had avoided. As she sees him walking into the café, she mentally prepares herself for the first question, “will you leave your wife for me?”

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Part 20: Mark’s First Boat Ride

Mark is sitting in his office, staring at his computer, but he is unable to concentrate. His mind keeps wondering, and for some strange reason he gets a flashback about his first boat ride.

He had been about five, and his parents had rented a boat. He was excited to be going out into the open water, watching the waves ripple in the ocean, and seeing where the edge of the light blue sky touched the dark blue water. “Let’s drive up to the sky so that we can touch it,”  he asked his dad. His dad laughed, and he explained to Mark that it was impossible to touch the sky. “Sometimes our eyes lie to us, and although it looks like the sky is touching the ocean, there is actually no place on earth where that happens.”

This disappointed Mark for a variety of reasons. For one thing he had wondered how the sky would feel; would it have been cold and wet like the ocean, or dry and scratchy like the sand? However, the main reason he was disappointed, was because something that he perceived to be a reality, had turned out to be an illusion. Of course at the time Mark did not know words like perception, reality, and illusion. He had simply been disappointed, and later in his life when he recalled that memory, he had added those words to explain his emotions. It seemed to Mark that he always perceived things wrong. Liz always chastised him for over analyzing everything, but Mark felt he did not analyze enough.

Mark remembers how he had once taken Liz to see a play. They had been dating for two months, and Mark had planned on ending things with Liz. However, that night, after the play ended, Liz had told him she had an amazing time, and she gave him the strongest hug he ever had in his entire life. At the time he decided that he did not want to end a relationship with a person that was so enamored by him. Thinking back now, perhaps Liz had not been enamored by him, but had simply really enjoyed the play, and she had given him that hug to show her gratitude to him for taking her. If he had read the signals right that day, maybe he would not be sitting in his office today, unable to work because he is trying to figure out at what moment their marriage had stopped making Liz happy.

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Part 21: Jill’s Conversation

“Will you leave your wife for me?”, Jill asks Scott as soon as the waitress brings them the soup.

“Will you leave your boyfriend for me?”

“I asked first.”

“Are you four years old today? Who cares who asked first. It’s not like my decision has nothing to do with yours.”

“Okay, you’re right, but I still want you to answer first.”

“My wife is pregnant.”

“I know that, but would you leave her for me.”

“My wife is pregnant.”

“I don’t understand, what does that mean?” Jill asks trying to hide the frustration in her voice.

“It means a baby is in her tummy, and in a few months it will come out.”

“Now who is being four?”

“You must have been a very smart four-year old, because when I was four I thought babies came from storks.”

“Scott, I’m being serious, this is something we have to discuss.”

“Okay. I have very strong feelings for you. However, although I don’t feel as strongly about my wife as I used to, I still care about her. I would never leave her while she is pregnant. That’s a pretty cruel thing to do to anyone. And I wouldn’t want my child asking me why I left mommy before they were even born. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know if I would leave her, but I won’t make any decisions until the baby is born. How about you, would you leave your boyfriend?”

“I don’t know,” Jill admits. “I enjoy being with you so much more than I do with Tony, but I’ve known him most of my adult life. Being without him is like cutting off an arm or a leg, and I’m not sure how to do that.”

“I guess now we both know where we stand, which is nowhere definite,” Scott says. “At least there is no hurry to make any decisions.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Jill replies, and she concentrates on her soup so she does not have to think about Tony’s impending proposal or her last conversation with Mark.

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Part 22: Cassie Decides

Joe or Max…..Max or Joe, this is the decision that has troubled Cassie all week. In reality she has made her choice five days ago, but Cassie likes to think of her self as fair, so for the past week she has made pro and con lists to compare the two guys. The problem is that it seems that both Joe and Max have the same amount of cons and pros. She shares this dilemma with Emily during her lunch break.

“I think this is a sign from your sub-conscience that you can’t use lists to make decisions,” Emily says. “Either you feel that a person is right for you, or you don’t. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.”

“I have a friend who is cheating on her long-term boyfriend. It’s not that she no longer loves him, it’s just that the excitement has been drained from the relationship. I don’t want to be stuck in a marriage that has lost its luster.”

“Well nobody can predict the future; you just have to have faith that everything will work out for the best.”

“Do you ever worry that Scott might leave you or cheat on you?”

“I try not to worry about things I can’t control.”

“Does that work? Because if it does, please tell me your secret.”

“It does not work very well,” Emily replies with a laugh. “The truth is Scott and I used to have many problems before I got pregnant. There was a moment in our marriage when I thought things would not work out. So even though we are getting along now, I do worry about the future. However, there are moments when I am with Scott that all that worry disappears. And I am just happy. This is quite an accomplishment because my hormones are out of whack now. So even if things don’t work out, the memories I’ll have of these worry free moments makes whatever happens in the future worth it.”

“Thank you for that speech,” Cassie says, with a small smile on her lips. “It helped me make my decision. I know which guy I’m going to choose.”

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Part 23: Tony Finds Out

Tony has bought a ring. He has a reservation in a fancy restaurant that sits on a lake. His doubts and fears have vanished. Now all he needs is a new tie, and he will be ready to propose. He goes to the mall to buy himself a new tie, and as he is thinking whether he should get a blue one to match Jill’s eyes or a green one to match his own, he sees a familiar face.

“Melissa” he yells, “what are you doing here?” The familiar face lights up at the sound of his voice and replies, “I never thought I would run into you at the mall. I thought you hated shopping.”

“I do, I do, but sometimes certain things are unavoidable.”

“Yeah, that’s true because right now I have to bid you adieu. The hubby and kids are waiting for me in the car. But, hey, tell that girlfriend of yours to give me a call sometime. I haven’t seen my cousin in over two months,” Melissa exclaims, as she walks fast towards the mall exit doors.

Tony’s body seems to be stuck in place after Melissa leaves. At first he feels numb, but then an awful realization hits him. It’s like the time he learned his favorite uncle died. At first his brain could not comprehend that something so awful could happen; however, about five minutes after he had gotten that phone call, his body had become flooded with unbearable sadness. So when Melissa had told him that she had not seen Jill in two months, his brain could not immediately remember (or maybe did not want to  immediately remember) that Jill had told him she was hanging out with her cousin at least four times in the past two months.

Now there are many reasons why Jill might lie to him, but Tony is an analytical and honest man, and he knows the only reason Jill would keep the truth from him. As the first feelings of shock fade away, he wonders if the guy Jill is with is taller than him.

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Part 24: Mark Makes a Phone Call

“Mark, I just found out Jill is cheating on me,” Tony’s voice says on Mark’s answering machine. “Call me back.”

Mark knows he needs to call his brother back, but his hands have become paralyzed. He stares at his phone and his immobile hands, and he cannot decide what he should say to Tony.

Mark does not remember a time before his brother was born. In his earliest memory, he is at the zoo running from exhibit to exhibit, and his brother is running behind him on his short legs. He recalls his mom telling him to slow down so his younger brother can catch up, and he remembers being surprised that he had forgotten that he was the older brother.

Mark never thinks of Tony as younger than him because he has never taken the older brother role in their relationship. Yes, Mark had driven Tony to his first date, and he had also bought him stylish clothes which their parents had not approved of. However, that was only because Tony had not been old enough to drive or work. Mark had never given Tony any brotherly advice, mainly because his brother never seemed to need it. Tony had this air of certainty surrounding his decisions which had always made Mark jealous. He recalls when Tony had told him about his decision to move in with Jill. Mark, who had been married for a couple of years at the time, was prepared to give Tony a plethora of advice. However, before Mark could offer one word of wisdom, Tony changed the subject.

He hopes that Tony had called only to inform him of Jill’s infidelity,  just as he had informed him about all the major events in his life, and not to ask for feedback.  Mark is scared Tony will ask “should I stay with Jill ?”, and he is terrified that he will hear on the other end of the phone, “did you suspect that Jill was having an affair?” Mark can barely make good decisions about his own life, and he does not want to be held responsible for the decisions in his brother’s life.  Mark keeps staring at the phone, and he knows he needs to call Tony. He wants to stare at the phone forever, but he realizes at  at some point he will need to eat, shower, and sleep.

Mark sighs, picks up the phone, and dials a familiar number. He wishes he could avoid making this call.  As soon as he hears “Hello” on the other end of the line, he says, “Hi Liz, I need some advice.”


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Part 25 : Cassie Talks to Jill

“I just don’t know what to do,” Cassie tells Jill over lunch in their favorite café. Jill had recently decided that she would be grateful for something every day. Today, she is grateful that she has a self-absorbed best friend,  because as long as Cassie talks, Jill does not have to think or answer questions about her own dilemma.

“I had it all figured out. I was going to pick Joe. Afterall, it was Joe who had made me believe in soul mates. We used to have these moments…, and I know the cynic inside of you will cringe when you hear this, but the only way I can describe it is magical. So I was getting ready to call Joe, and all of a sudden the phone rings, and it was Max.”

“What did Max want?”

“He called to invite me to spend a weekend in a beach house with him. I had told him on our last two dates how I always fantasized about having a secluded romantic weekend at the beach, and his proposal made me think that even though I had so much love for Joe, perhaps I could have even more love for Max. Not to mention Max’s actions have never caused me to sit in my bed, crying my eyes out, while eating 3-day old popcorn. Surely he should get some bonus points for that.”

“So you are leaning towards Max now.”

“I don’t know….When I was in highschool there was this girl, Marci, who always had  at least three guys in love her. She used to complain about how difficult it was for her to choose a boyfriend. I used to think that it was her way of modestly bragging about all the attention she had from guys. From my standpoint, a girl who had trouble getting attention from even one guy, I could not understand how anyone could complain about having an entire harem in love with them. However, now that I’m sorta of  in the same situation, I can understand where Marci was coming from. Having to choose between two great guys is a very difficult task.”

Cassie sighs, and looks piercingly at Jill. “I’m sorry Jill. I’ve just been blabbing about myself. Have you made your choice between the new lover and the paperless husband?”

Jill ponders about Cassie’s question before answering. She thinks of Scott and how electrifying his kisses are. She remembers his strong hearty laugh,  a laugh she hears every time she tells him a joke. She remembers the intense way he looks at her whenever she tells him something. As if she is telling him the secret of the universe. Jill inadvertently thinks of Tony.  She recalls how warm his body feels when she gets into bed at night. She remembers coming home from work, in a foul mood, because her boss and her coworkers had come up with a conspiracy to annoy her. Tony had been home, and he had made such entertaining comments about her coworkers, that by the end of the evening, in between giggles, she swore to Tony that she could not understand where her bad mood had disappeared to. She imagines Tony’s ears twitching if he finds out about Scott, the way they always twitch when Tony is disappointed because of her. Jill tells Cassie ” I have no idea who I am going to pick,” and this is the first time Jill had been honest about her situation.

“It’s difficult choosing between and an exciting new love and a comfortable old love,” Cassie says supportively. “That’s not the issue for me,” Jill replies. ” I know who I want. I want Scott. However, I do not know If  I love Scott enough to deal with the guilt of breaking Tony”s heart.

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Part 26: Tony Prepares to Confront Jill

Tony is pacing back and forth in his apartment. He stops every five minutes, glances at the phone with irritation, and wonders why Mark is not calling him back. Then he remembers how much his brother hates unpleasant conversations, and he continues to pace. Tony plans on confronting Jill about her infidelity as soon as she gets home, but Jill seems to have predicted this with her 6th sense, because she is over an hour late. Tony wonders if Jill is in the arms of her lover right now, and this makes Tony shudder. He remembers how much it hurt to get his wisdom teeth pulled, how he had thought that it was impossible to feel more pain, and he now understands why the nurse told him that it was it was possible to feel worse.

Tony knows exactly how his conversation with Jill will go. He knows what questions he will ask, and he has already decided that he will forgive her. What makes Tony an excellent computer programmer is that he plans all of life’s situations to the minute detail. However, this lack of spontaneity also makes him a boring boyfriend. Tony had planned many exciting dates for Jill, usually two weeks in advance; but he was never been the type of man who would come home from a long day of work, and decide to whisk his girlfriend to the beach, so that they can watch the sunset and pick seashells. He wonders if his incessant need to plan is what drove Jill into the arms of another man.

All of a sudden he has an awful thought. What if Jill does not want to be forgiven for her infidelity, but she has simply been waiting for the right time to tell him she wants to breakup. When Tony realized Jill was cheating, one of the first things he wondered about was whether he will break up with her for this. It took him less than two minutes to decide to stay with Jill; after all, Jill was the love of his life, and he could not imagine his life without her. However, now he is terrified that Jill can easily imagine a life without him. Especially while she is curled up in bed with  her lover. Tony starts to pace faster. He is grateful that the store he bought the engagement ring from has a money back guarantee. There is a jingle of keys outside, and the front door of the apartment begins to squeak. Before Jill can even get one foot inside their apartment, Tony says, “I know about the other man.”

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Part 27: Cassie and Joe

“You would rather be with the painter than with me,” Joe asks Cassie?

He does not seem hurt by the fact that Cassie does not want to be with him, and she thinks the only reason he seems upset is because he lost this competition. He puts his hand over hers, and Cassie notices how clean and shiny his nails are. His hands are strong, and she recalls how tightly they held her when they went on midnight walks together, and how firm they seemed when she had used them as a shield against scary movies. Joe’s hands are covered with smooth tan skin, and two years ago she had sat cross-legged on Joe’s couch, and she told him that he needs to become a hand model. Joe had laughed, given her a kiss, and told her that his hands were to rough and that her dainty hands would be perfect for modeling.

“Do you like him more than me,” Joe asks, as his expressionless eyes stare at her face.

She remembers how his eyes had the same expression when he told her he wanted to break up. She was crying and pulling at her hair, and he gave her an emotionless stare, while he told her to pull herself together. Between sobs she asked him why he wanted to end their relationship, and he looked into her eyes with the same hard look he had now, and told her he wanted to see what else was out there. She dreamed about those eyes for months, and now they were burning her face with their stare.

“That’s not a fair question,” Cassie says.

“Why not?”

“Because you and I have ten suitcases filled with memories together, and Max and I only have a wallet of memories. Quantity creates affection and love, and because of that I feel closer to you. If you ask me the same question a few years from now, I could easily say Max.”

“That’s a very pretty speech, but it’s not true” Joe says with a smirk, and Cassie wishes she could slap him. “You are only choosing him because you feel you need to punish me for breaking up with you. If it wasn’t for the list of moral rules you feel you have to follow, you would choose me.”

“I would not,” Cassie snaps, but she is hoping her face does not give away that she is lying. Cassie hates that Joe knows her so well. The night before she had gone though hours of inner dialogue, and she had decided that she should stay with Max. However, now that she heard her inner dialogue spoken out loud, she is unsure about her decision.

“Give me a month to decide,” she tells Joe.


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Part 28: Mark Argues with Liz

“So Jill is cheating on Tony,” Liz’s voice tells Mark through the phone. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

“Really? They always seemed so happy to me.”

“Tony maybe. And that’s a big maybe. But never Jill. She always seemed restless.”

“How so?”

“Well, she would always tap her fingers against the couch , table, or any nearby surface. Her toes were always wiggling. She always gave me the impression that she wanted to get up and run away.”

“So you’re saying that because Jill had a fidgeting problem, you knew she would cheat on my brother.” Mark is surprised at how sarcastic he sounds.

“Of course not. It wasn’t just that. It was lots of things. There were many clues….. It’s hard to explain. I’m just really good at reading people.”

“You always do this Liz. I hate it when you do this.”

“Do what?”

“When someone tells you a shocking fact, you pretend that you always suspected this would happen because of your super special spidey sense.”

“And you always do this!”

“Do what? Call you out on your B.S.”

“No, get angry for no reason.”

Mark sighs. This conversation is not going the way he planned. “You know, I called you to get some advice, not to have a fight,” he says.

“I don’t see why you called. All we did was fight in our marriage. I don’t see why the divorce would be any different. You always needed to pick a fight, even when there wasn’t a good reason. Remember the salt shaker incident?”

“I know we fought a lot Liz. I still think I’m partially deaf thanks to you. I just thought with the divorce on hold…”

“Mark, you remember that the divorce is only on hold because of financial reasons. I have no plans to reconcile with you. We had a miserable time together.”

“Not the first month. Remember that month? Thirty days of laughing and love-making.”

“Yes, only thirty good days out of five years of marriage!”

“We had other good moments too.”

“Yes, moments where we forced ourselves to keep our mouths shut.”

“That’s really what you think of our marriage? That all our good memories happened on days we had been too tired to argue.”

Mark hears heavy breathing on the other end of the line. Liz is silent for a good five minutes, and then she says “No, at least not for me. I did have some genuinely happy moments with you.”

“What do you think was the breaking point in our marriage? When did you realize we wouldn’t be celebrating our 50th anniversary?” Mark regrets asking this as soon as the words fly out of his mouth. He knows what she will say, he knows how much it will hurt, and he wonders when did he become a masochist.

“When you introduced me to Belle.”

“You know I never cheated on you.”

“ I know,” Liz says. “But it was at that moment that I wished you were cheating on me, because then I would have a good reason to leave you .”

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Part 29: Jill is Honest

Jill remembers the day she realized she loved Tony. It happened on a cold Tuesday afternoon, and that day Jill had been walking to a coffee shop to meet Tony. The chilly wind was blowing through her hair, and it caused goosebumps to appear on her neck. It was one of those days that was still considered summer, but the winds of fall had begun visiting. Jill had worn a summer outfit that day, and now that her bare legs and arms felt like ice, she was cursing everything in the world that she had left her jacket at home. When she arrived at the coffee shop, Tony was already there, and he was holding a blue jean jacket in his hands. “I brought this for you,” he said. “I knew you would not be dressed appropriately in this weather.” Jill put on the jacket on and felt warm both outside and inside her body. She knew that any man who knew her so well was a keeper.

When Jill was contemplating whether to have an affair with Scott, she would often recall this day. Tony’s jackets still protected her from the outside cold, but they had lost their ability to warm her insides. She wondered why this was. She still felt that it was important to be with a man who knew and understood her, but she no longer felt that it was enough. Although she could pinpoint the day when she knew she wanted to marry Tony, Jill had no idea what day she had changed her mind.

Jill snaps back to reality, and back to the first fight Tony and her have had in over a year. Except it’s not really a fight. Tony is berating her, and she is agreeing. She did cheat, she was selfish, she only thought about herself, and she is a liar. Tony is being harsh, but she deserves it. If Tony had cheated on her during the days when she would have cared, she would have thrown plates and forks at him(maybe even the ugly glass vase his mother gave them for a housewarming present). She would have cursed him, cursed his friends, and probably would have insulted his brother. Tony is simply stating facts about her, harsh sounding facts, but true ones.

All of the sudden she feels very tired. She wants this conversation to be over, and she wishes she was lying under her covers. “Do you even want to be with me,” Tony asks. Jill knows she should be diplomatic; she owes that to the man who always made sure she had a jacket on windy days. However, she is exhausted and she wants this discussion to end, so she replies honestly, “no, I don’t want to be with you anymore.”

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Part 30: Tony Argues with Mark

Tony is lying in Mark’s guest bedroom. He examines the walls around him, and he notices how the paint on the right wall is slightly chipped. The glass clock hanging in front of him is dirty, and the top right corner of the ABBA poster, which is hanging to the left of him, is ripped. This room, just like his life, is a mess. Tony stares at the dirty clock and realizes it is time to get up. He pushes himself out of the rock hard bed, and puts on a blue robe that has seen better days.

In the kitchen Mark is sitting at the table eating cereal, and he waves hello as Tony strolls in. “Your bed is so hard,” Tony says, because he wants to complain about something. “You shouldn’t have let Jill keep the apartment,” Mark replies, and he takes a sip of his orange juice. “Drop it,” Tony says, and starts to wash a bowl because there are no clean cereal bowls in the apartment.

Tony has always been proud of himself because of his ability to save money, and now that he is practically homeless, Tony feels proud that he has enough saved up to live an indefinite amount of time in an extended stay hotel. However, the idea of being completely alone,  upsets Tony more than the image of Jill making love to another man;   and although Tony did not want to be alone, he also did not want to sour his friendships with his bitterness. Living with Mark seemed like a perfect solution. He imagined them drinking beers every night, staring at the game on TV, and having a competition about who has the most annoying Ex.  After living with his brother for two weeks, the only part of the fantasy that became true was the alcohol consumption (but not even the type of alcohol). Now Tony wishes he had spent his hard-earned money at a hotel, because when his brother got drunk, he seemed to have a psychic ability to read his thoughts.

Two nights ago Mark informed Tony that he was pathetic for letting Jill have the apartment. “She cheats on you, breaks up with you, and you are the one who has to look for a new place to stay. That’s ridiculous,” Mark told Tony.

“I’m just being a gentleman,  like the way you are with Liz,” Tony replied, and he had hoped the mention of Liz would change the subject. Mark tended to rant anytime a word which even sounded like Liz was said.

“Liz never cheated on me. Not to mention you aren’t doing this to be nice. You are hoping she’ll get bored with this mystery man, and that she will come running back to you. Admit it. You hope she will remember how chivalrous you were about the apartment, that she will realize she threw a good thing away, and beg you to come back. And of course you’ll run back. Ridiculous!”

“The only thing ridiculous is this theory,” Tony replied angrily, and went into the guest room, slamming the door as soon as both feet were inside. However, Mark had been completely right. Every moment that Tony is not working or drinking, he imagines Jill calling him back and asking for forgiveness. As Tony pours the milk over his cereal his phone rings, and for about ten seconds he gets excited, but when he looks at his caller id, he sees that it’s his mom who is calling. He does not pick up the phone, because even though his mom has too much tact to say this out loud, Tony realizes that she probably also thinks he is pathetic.

 

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Part 31: Jill hates Karma

Something has changed in her relationship with Scott. Jill can’t figure it out, but it seems a few weeks after her break up with Tony, she and Scott stopped being equals in their affair. She went from being Scott’s illicit lover, to simply being the other woman. While she was with Tony, she did not feel any fear about her affair with Scott ending. In fact, if he had dumped her, it would have saved her from having to make any important decisions. However, as soon as she became unattached, Jill realized that if Tony decided to no longer be with her, she would be completely alone. The last time Jill was single she wasn’t allowed to drink legally, and she does not recall that time in her life fondly. She hopes he cannot smell the desperation on her.

The night she broke up with Tony she called Scott excitedly. She thought he would be happy that at least one of them didn’t have to sneak around, and that now it would be easier to arrange their trysts. While still high from the adrenaline that formed during her break up, she told Scott, “I’m finally a single woman. We can meet several days a week. It will be so much easier to sneak in a fake business trip. Remember how we always planned on taking one.”

She waited and waited and waited for Scott to say something, but he remained quiet. Her adrenaline began to seep out of her pores, and she started to feel very sleepy. “Say something,” she pleaded.

“I hope you understand that I have not decided if I want to leave my wife,” Scott told her calmly.

“I know, this isn’t about that.”

“So you are single now; we should celebrate by going to an Italian restaurant. Perhaps the one we ate at after our first time,” Scott tells her with forced cheerfulness.

“Definitely,” she replied while fighting the urge to fall asleep.

During the weeks that followed, their phone conversations, which had always occurred on a daily basis, began to dwindle. Although they still saw each other in person the same amount of time, Jill always felt that Scott was in a rush to be somewhere else. That magical connection, which had convinced Jill to give up a stable relationship, had disappeared. Now Jill has turned into the type of woman who stares at her cell phone hoping it will ring, and as she stares at at it for the 100th time this week, she realizes that Scott and her never went back to that Italian restaurant.

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Part 32: Cassie and Max

Cassie watches Max as he talks about his latest painting over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. His passion about his art is what Cassie admires most about him, and today is no exception. His hands are moving in a million different directions, his eyes are open wide and they have a fanatical blaze in them, and his voice is as smooth and strong as the voices of the great Greek orators (or as smooth and strong as Cassie imagines their voices to be). Cassie feels guilty that she is about suck that passion out of him.

“So these rabbits,” Max tell her excitedly, “ will be attached to to puppet strings, and the puppeteer will be a giant sloth. They will be dressed up as pilgrims and Indians, and they will all be eating doughnuts. Don’t you think it will be amazing?”

“Don’t you think some people will find the fact that the puppet is a sloth insulting?”

“Why, because you think they will assume the sloth is supposed to symbolize a higher power. I don’t necessarily think that it does. In my mind the sloth is every human’s desire to have a good nap! However, I can’t control the way this painting will be interpreted. The most interesting paintings are controversial, and every masterpiece has been disapproved of at one time. Remember Rembrandt?”

“I love how you are so full of yourself.”

“I love that too”

Cassie laughs. She wants to ask him to speak to her class; perhaps his zeal for art can motivate her students. Focus Cassie, she thinks, I just need to get it over with and tell him.

“Max,” she says, “I think we should take a break from each for a few weeks.”

“A break. Why ?” he asks her, as he gives her a strange stare.

“I had a very hard break up last time, and we are just moving so fast. I need time to think, to clear my head, to get used to the idea of trusting someone with my heart.”

“Is there some one else?”

“Of course not,” Cassie lies.

Max smiles at her. He takes her hands in his and says, “ listen I understand. Sometimes when I’m on the verge of getting an idea for a painting, I need to a break too. From people, from society, from mundane tasks. I understand how it can get difficult to think, and I don’t mind waiting a few weeks if that’s what you need be certain about our relationship. You’re worth the wait.”

Cassie squeezes his hand. She can’t believe how easy he is making this for her. She knows that if she had tried to take a break when she and Joe were dating, Joe would have yelled, screamed, and would have probably told her that he wouldn’t be around when she decided she wanted him back. Cassie begins to think that perhaps she does not need a few weeks to decide between Max and Joe. “Where did you learn to always say the right thing?” she asks him.

“My mom bought me a book when I was 15. It was called ‘how to always say the right thing’.”

Cassie laughs, and asks, “did you also get a book on how to be cocky?”

“Yes,” Max replies, “Only I was given that book at the age of three. I was considered a genius by many, you know.”

Cassie continues to laugh , and now that she is no longer nervous, she also gets a craving for a chocolate chip cookie. As she is about to tell Max about her purchasing plans, she hears a familiar voice say, “ hey Cass, what a small world.” All of her insides become frozen; she turns her head and sees Joe standing next to their table.

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Part 33: Mark’s Hobby

Ever since Mark was a teen, he’s had an unusual hobby. When he was feeling stressed or annoyed with life, he would go to a nearby park and watch the birds fly. He wasn’t a bird watcher in the technical sense. He did not care if it was robin or a cardinal, but he enjoyed watching them fly into the air. It made him feel  like he was free, and that he could do anything with his life. He felt his hobby was quite strange, so aside from a few trustworthy people, nobody knew about his passion for flying feathered creatures.

After his recent conversations with Tony and Liz, Mark has been feeling that he needs something to re-generate him. Alcohol only makes him more tired lately, so he decides to go to the park to watch the birds fly. As his eyes follow the flight a of a red tailed bird, he notices a woman with brown hair and a pink tank top jogging by. Although he has not seen her in a few years, he recognizes her immediately, and before he even stops to think, he yells “Dani”. The woman stops, stares at him, and slowly a smile of recognition spreads across her face.

“Mark, is that really you?” she asks him, as she walks towards the bench he is sitting on.

“It’s really me,” he answers her, while thinking how unbelievably good his former high school girlfriend looks.

“How have you been?” she asks.

“Okay, Liz and I are getting a divorcee.” As soon as those words leave his mouth he regrets them. There is a lot going on in his life aside from Liz. He had just gotten promoted at work, his brother is living with him, and he saw an awesome movie last night. He does not understand why the fact that Liz no longer wants to share his bed defines his life.

“I heard,” Dani tells him with a sympathetic smile. He wonders who had told her, and then decides it doesn’t really matter. “I’m not actually divorcing yet. I mean we both want to, but we are staying together for financial reasons at the moment. Together on paper I mean.”

He wishes he could glue his mouth shut. He doesn’t understand why is he telling this woman, who is barely his acquaintance now, the deep dark intricacies of his life. However, it does feel good to finally tell someone about his situation without having to justify it.

“Divorces are hard, I know,” she tells him reassuringly. “Bobby and I got a divorce last year. It was pretty amiable, well as amiable as divorces can be. Between me and you though, I still want to punch him. But the thing that non divorced people don’t understand, is how hard divorce is, how unnatural it is.

“Exactly! How are you supposed to go from talking to a person every day, to completely ignoring their existence.”

“It’s also hard feeling like your making a good decision, when you can still remember the vows you said to each other on your wedding day.”

“Or the fun you had on your honeymoon.”

“You know, Bobby and I never went on a honeymoon. Maybe that’s why the marriage didn’t last.”

“Liz and I went on a lavish honeymoon. We weren’t able to make the marriage work either.”

Dani stands silently, and Mark feels slightly uncomfortable. He realizes they don’t have much to say to each other. He ‘s about to steer the conversation to small talk by asking about the weather, but Dani, who must have also felt they had nothing to talk about, doesn’t give him a chance.

“It was really great running into you Mark,” she says. “But, I have to meet someone soon, and I need to finish my run. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.” She smiles at him, waves, and starts to jog away. He looks at her perfect body running farther and farther away from him, and he wonders how he ever let such a pretty and understanding woman get away. Then Mark remembers that Dani dumped him for the same reasons Liz wants a divorce . He sighs, and begins to stare at the sky again looking for flying birds.

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Part 34: Tony Thinks About Dating

Tony is ready to date. Actually, Mark thinks Tony is ready to date. “You need to get back on the saddle,” his brother tells him.

“It’s just like driving after a car accident. Sure it’s scary. Sure you’re covered in cold sweat, and your knees are shaking. But once you get in that car, get a feel for the steering wheel, turn the corner without dying, you realize that driving isn’t scary, and that it’s something you want to do on a daily basis.”

“I think your analogies are a bit mixed up. Am I a driver or a cowboy?”

“You’re a man that needs to go on a date. That’s what you are. You need to realize that not all women are out to hurt you.”

“You mean unless their names are Liz or Jill.”

Mark laughs and says, “well I have a great woman for you. Her name isn’t Liz or Jill, it’s Gloria. She’s perfect for you. She’s smart, pretty, and loves to talk about computers. What could be better?”

“If she ‘s so great, why don’t you date her.”

“I work with her, it’s always a bad idea to date your coworkers.”

“But having your brother date your coworkers is a genius idea?”

“More like an idiot savant idea. So what do you say, are you ready to try that horse again.”

‘You really need to decide if I’m a driver or a cowboy in your analogy,” Tony says with a sigh. “I’ll think about it.”

Tony  goes to his room, which is actually Mark’s guest room, and stares at the mirror. He sees the reflection of a young man, who has a good hair of head, and who he knows has the ability to be involved in witty date banter. His self-esteem, which had gotten bruised after Jill left, seems to have healed. However, he wonders if he wants to go on a date with a women who’s perfect for him.

Jill had been perfect for him. While his friends complained about their girlfriends, wishing they were hotter, smarter, funnier; Tony had never wanted Jill to change. She was the perfect combination of qualities that made him wake up in the morning and be glad that she was in the same bed as him. This perfect woman, who had chosen to share her life with him, had also broken his heart and forced him to live with his grumpy brother. A brother who could not even stick to one analogy when trying to convince him to date.

Tony sighs again, and decides to decline on the perfect date. His heart cannot handle another heartbreak. While on his way to the living room, to tell his brother that he does not want to go on a date with Gloria, he stops in the kitchen and pours himself some vodka.

 

 

 

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Part 35: Cassie Feels Ashamed

It takes Cassie five minutes to get inside her apartment. She seems to lack the mental ability to find the key on her key chain that will open her door. When she is finally able to get inside, she throws her purse on the floor and slumps on the couch. What am I doing with my life, she thinks. Loud chirping sounds interrupt her thoughts, and she stares at the direction they are coming from. Looking through her window she sees a large flock of birds, probably migrating away from the cold winds, flying over the nearby buildings. She knows it’s silly, but she can’t help but feel jealous. The only time these birds lose their mates is when their mates are eaten by cats or hit by airplanes. They never have to worry about these mates coming back into their life.

Cassie’s mind goes to the horrible experience she just had at Starbucks. Just as she was experiencing warm and fuzzy feelings for Max, Joe had shown up. “Hey Cass, what a small world,” Joe had said to her.

“I know right,” Cassie said, trying to keep her voice, and her hands, from shaking.

“Hi, I’m Joe,” her former lover told Max as he gave him his hand to shake.

“I’m Max,” her coffee date replied. “How do the two of you know each other?”

“Oh Cass and I go way back,” Joe replied. “We’ve known each other since college.”

“Do you want to join us,” Max suggested, his naive innocent eyes stared at a nearby chair.

“No, I really have to get going,” Joe replied, and with a smirk he added, “See you later Cass.”

“Are the two of you close,” Max asked as soon as Joe left, his voice void of suspicion.

“We were once, but you know how time and distance effects relationships. Now we are barely acquaintances.”

They finished their coffee date, and Max had kissed her before they went their separate ways.

Although Cassie feels relief that her lies to her current boyfriend had not been revealed, she also has another feeling, an unpleasant feeling. The way Max had acted, so trusting and innocent, had reminded her of this book she read in high school. It was about a mentally challenged man, who was constantly picked on by his coworkers. However, the man was not smart enough to realize this, and he thought his tormenters were also his friends. Although Cassie had felt bad for this man, she also felt contempt, and this fictional character, who she did not respect, seemed very similar to Max. It was as if he was too dumb to realize that he had just seen his competition. She could practically hear Joe’s thoughts, “Cassie boyfriend sure is a dunce, why would she date such an idiot.”

Cassie gets up and she goes to the bathroom to throw up. She is hoping that by expelling her insides, she is able to get rid of her feelings. She feels ashamed that Max’s trusting nature, a character trait that had attracted her to him, also makes her think of him as a moron. She tries to remember how kind he was when she asked for a break, and how horribly Joe sometimes treated her, but the only thing she can think of is how he had complied to Joe’s request to shake his hand. Cassie begins to cry. She knows she can never be with a man she cannot respect.

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Part 36: Jill Calls Tony

Jill is dialing Tony’s number. She had not planned on dialing his number. However, she had just gotten home after a busy work day, and after flinging her purse on the couch, eating a few peanuts that were in glass jar that stood on her kitchen table, taking a short glimpse at her reflection in the mirror before loosening the tight rubber band in her hair, and collapsing on her bed, she had pulled her phone out of her pant pocket, and before she could stop herself, her fingers were the dialing the familiar number. As soon she hears the ringing she regrets her subconscious move. However hanging up would be pointless, because after seeing a missed call from her, Tony would call her back. So she braces her self to hear his voice; a voice she had not heard in almost a month.

Hey is everything okay,” Tony asks her as soon as the ringing on the other end stops.

Yes, I’m fine. I’m just calling because, well…, you see…, to be honest I don’t know why I’m calling. My fingers just dialed the number automatically.”

I see we are taking the honest route today. Quite the change from the usual Jill repertoire.”

I deserve that….. So how are things,” Jill asks, in the hopes of diverting the conversation from her faults .Tony takes the bait.

Things are okay. Still alive, still breathing, and still living with Mark. Though the latter makes me wish the first two weren’t true.”

I guess it gives you a chance to complain about your exes. Plot murders.”

Yeah, we have an entire system in place. I’m going to kill Liz by boring her to death, and Mark has big plans of annoying you to death.”

I guess the only plus of us breaking up is that I have a valid excuse to avoid your brother.”

The only plus? What about that man you left me for?”

He left me.”

Wow, you’re really into this honesty thing today.”

I am, and in the spirit of my new found honesty, I will tell you that it’s a good thing he left me. His wife just gave birth.”

Really Jill,” Tony exclaims, his voice filled with astonishment, but not with disappointment.

I guess I’m not as nice as you thought.”

Well, in the spirit of the honesty that is so prevalent in this conversation, I’m going to admit that I never thought you were nice. That’s not why I loved you.”

So why did you love me?”

I have no idea. I don’t think it’s possible to know why we are attracted to who we are attracted to. However, it is possible to figure out what qualities you do not want your mate to have, or at the very least, what qualities they do not need to posses. That’s really the way you pick your mate. No one says, ‘I want someone faithful’. They always say, ‘I don’t want a cheater’. And I never cared if my wife was kind. I mean of course I don’t want someone who tortures kids and animals, but when it comes to everyday life, I always figured I was kind enough for the both of us.”

That’s such a pessimistic view of relationships.”

It’s a truthful view of relationships. By the way, do you want to have dinner sometime?”

Yes,” Jill replies, surprising herself with her answer. A few months ago dinner with Tony was something that she wished she could avoid, but now the thought of eating food with him excites her. She listens, as if outside her body, as her voice makes dinner plans with the man whose life she had completely altered. She begins to wonder if Tony was right, if the reason she is all of a sudden attracted to him again is because he does not posses any of the the bad qualities which Scott has.

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Part 37: Mark’s Accident

Mark is taking a stroll outside. It is a beautiful day and he felt a need to leave the dark apartment and his annoying brother. Mark has always admired Tony’s ability to make rational decisions, but that ability seems to have evaporated lately. He had trouble listening to his brother, the one who had always given him such sound advice, say such rubbish when it came to his own life. Tony has been meeting with Jill every few days in the hopes that she would take him back.

When his brother told him about these meetings, Mark had reminded Tony about the advice he had given him when his marriage had fallen part. “Remember how you told me that even though I was not the one who initiated this divorce, that it was really a blessing in disguise. That Liz and I were making each other unhappy, and that we were still young enough and did not have any kids to allow this marriage to ruin our lives. Remember how you told me that I could start over with someone who I was happier with, someone I didn’t have screaming fights with every day. Remember how you asked me when was the last time you laughed, and when I couldn’t remember you said, ‘don’t you want to be married to someone where you could answer that question with the word yesterday.’ That was such good advice. So now I’m going to repeat it to you. Don’t get back together with Jill. It will end unhappily.”

Tony had told him to mind his own business. He mentioned something about being perfectly happy with Jill, and compared her affair to a tiny bump on the road of life. He would not listen to any of the good advice Mark gave him, good advice that he himself would have given a friend in a similar situation. When Mark had told him that Jill is just using him as a rebound from the other guy, Tony said something so mean that Mark had stormed out, even though it was his apartment.

Mark knows that as soon as he comes home, Tony will apologize. He will apologize also, and the two of them will watch something silly on TV while drinking beers and eating bad tasting TV dinners. However, Mark isn’t ready to apologize just yet, and as his pacing gets faster and faster, he wonders if what his brother said was true. If the reason he is so against Tony getting back together with Jill is because Liz wants nothing to do with him. As he ponders this thought, a car swerves near him and knocks him over. Everything goes dark.

 

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Part 38: Tony Visits Mark

Tony watches Mark sleep on the hospital bed. His left leg is in a cast, he has small thin tubes connected to his arms, and his face is covered in red scratches. “That’s where his face hit the cement,” the doctor had told him. He seems so helpless in this bed, and Tony wonders how could he have ever said anything cruel to him. “After all,” Tony thinks, “I don’t need Mark to approve of my choices. He can hate Jill all he wants. It’s not as if Liz is my favorite person.” As he thinks this Mark’s eyes open,  he half smiles at Tony before his eyelids close again, and he goes back to his morphine induced dreams. Their parents are sitting on the couch; their mom laying her head on their dad’s shoulder while their dad is reading something on his Kindle. Tony likes the idea of his brother being surrounded by people who love him, and he steps out of the room to buy himself a soda.

As he walks down the long hospital hall, he remembers his first stay at the hospital. He had been seventeen and he had appendicitis. He did not mind the needles forced into his veins and the sight of his blood filling empty vials hypnotized him. However, once the medical procedures were over, and he was confined to his tiny computerless hospital room, he was consummated with boredom. Luckily, his boredom did not last long because Mark came home from college to stay with him. They watched movies together during the day, and made fun of infomercials at night. Mark also ate hospital food because he felt Tony should not be the only lucky one to enjoy the fine gourmet food provided for the healers of humans. After Tony was able to go home, he discovered that his brother had a missed a trip to Mexico in order to stay with him. His brother had never been good at expressing affection, and Tony felt that Mark’s sacrifice showed his love for him. He wonders if Liz left him because she was tired of seeing only actions and hearing no words.

As if he conjured her with his thoughts, Liz appears before him. “Tony,” she says, and although she does not actually ask him anything he replies to her, “Mark ‘s in room 255. His leg is broken, but he is okay. Our parents are with him right now.”

“I know,” Liz says. “Your dad just called me.”

Liz seems hesitant to go inside her soon to be ex husband’s room, and Tony, sensing her discomfort, asks “You want a soda? I was about to get one myself.”

Liz happily agrees and follows him to the soda machine. He buys two sodas, and as he watches Liz sip her drink, he notices that her eyeballs are tinted red and that her eyelids are puffy. “Are you really only staying married to Mark because of money troubles,” he suddenly asks her. He is surprised at his own question, and he is about to tell her she doesn’t have to answer, when she says, “mostly”. She stares at him with hard and unapologetic eyes, takes a sip of her soda and adds, “I know what you’re thinking. Of course I love him, but….” She takes another sip of her soda, and silently stares at her hands.

“But…,” Tony says to help her out.

“But loving him is not the same as loving to live with him. Marriage is different than dating.”

Tony thinks of his poor defenseless brother who has too much morphine is his system to defend himself from such accusations, and he says, “ I lived with Mark for almost two decades. It’s not so bad.”

Liz snorts, and replies with a half smile, “I think I’m ready to see him. You said room 255, right,” and she walks down the hallway before Tony has a chance to answer her. He half considers following her, but then he decides that his brother has enough visitors at the moment, and instead buys himself another soda.

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Part 39: Cassie Tells Max the Truth

Cassie is nervous. She feels slightly nauseous and she walks to her kitchen to find something to eat. A cracker catches her eye, and she picks it up, but instead of putting it in her mouth, she crumbles it to pieces. She is waiting for Max to come over, and she hopes he will not hate her forever when she tells him about Joe. All artists need to suffer to produce great art, she thinks, I’m really doing him a favor. However, these thoughts do not alleviate the spasms in her stomach, and she crumbles another cracker with her hand.

The door bell rings. Cassie runs to the door, almost knocking over a vase that stands on her table. A vase that Joe had gotten her years ago. She opens the door for Max, and when she sees his huge smile and the sparkle in his eyes, she almost throws up on his feet.

“Hi beautiful,” he says, and his lips move toward her. She lets them linger on her lips before she takes him by the hand and leads him to her couch.

“I haven’t been honest with you,” she tells him as she lets go of his hand. “ When I said I needed a break, it wasn’t because I needed time to think. Okay it was…but I wasn’t thinking about what you think I was thinking about. What I’m trying to say is, well, the thing is. Okay this is hard.”

She gives in to her nerves and begins to laugh;  in a few minutes she will need to go to the bathroom, she realizes, because she can feel last nights dinner rising up from her stomach. “The thing is,” she says, but she does not know how to continue. Why did she have to do the honorable thing and break up with Max face to face instead of the way she wanted, with a letter written on colorful perfumed stationery. Max takes her hand, gives it light squeeze and a kiss, and says “It’s okay. Whatever you have to say I’ll understand.”

“I want to get back together with my Ex,” She blurts out. “I’m sorry, I think you’re great. I really wanted this to work. I think you’re so nice and sweet and fun and good looking and you deserve someone who appreciates all this. I mean I appreciate this, but the thing is, I love my Ex. That love never went away, and now I have been given a second chance at it. I mean we haven’t been together that long, and it’s not like we were planning on getting married or even living together. We could have worked, but think I would be happier being with my ex. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I lied to you, and I hope you find someone great, and I really wish I didn’t have these feelings.”

Cassie takes a deep breath. Max is still holding her hand but he stares at her silently. He has the prettiest blue eyes, she thinks, and she wonders why she never noticed that his eyes look like the ocean in the middle of a hot summer day. “Do you hate me,” she asks him, and when he does not answer she pleads, “Say something, please.”

He gives her hand another kiss. “ I was just thinking about my next painting,” he replies. “It’s going to be two female rabbits dressed in the most exquisite ball gowns, but they are going to be eating sloppy Joes. I haven’t decided if I the ball gowns represent me or this other guy.

“You’re definitely the exquisite part of this painting,” Cassie replies with a sad smile on her lips, and she wonders the same she thing she wondered when she got drunk the night before her SAT exam: Why does she make decisions she knows she will regret later.

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