It is a big day – it would have to be since I’m actually cooking a meal from scratch. There are bowls and cutting boards in the sink and pots bubbling on the stove. This is the first time Hunter, my boyfriend of one week, is coming to my house for dinner. We’ve known each through a mutual acquaintance other for a while and have gone out with friends on multiple occasions. I suppose there had always been a mutual attraction but either he, or I, had been previously involved with other people, until now.
The phone rings and my heart pounds. Is he going to cancel? Is he having second thoughts already? I wipe my trembling hands on a dishtowel, pick up the cordless, and press the button.
“Is this Miss Walters?” a female voice asks.
Relief washes over me. “It is.”
“Miss Dena Walters?”
“Yes, that’s me.” Relief is quickly being replaced by impatience. “I’m a little busy right now.”
“He’s already there, isn’t he?” The question came out more emotional than the last two.
“Hunter. My boyfriend, Hunter Runke. He’s there right now. A friend of mine told me he was having dinner with you tonight.”
The voice is suddenly recognizable. Nancy Behr and I work in the same office. She’s also Hunter’s ex-girlfriend. “No, he’s not here. And he’s not your boyfriend anymore.”
“Really? This is the first time anyone has mentioned that to me.”
Rewind. I’m in high school again. My boyfriend, Dave, buys me a chocolate milkshake at the roller rink, our favourite hangout. We’ve been coming here for more than a year with various groups of friends, or just on our own, though we’ve been dating less than twenty-four hours. It always amazes me that he can carry a large milkshake, on roller skates, without spilling.
The next day his ex-girlfriend confronts me, accuses me of being a tramp, of stealing her boyfriend after swearing to her that I wasn’t a threat to her relationship. I apologize, tell her I thought they’d broken up already.
She laughs. “Watch yourself. He’s a rat.”
Fast forward two weeks. Dave has smoothed things over, convinced me that his ex-girlfriend was a misunderstanding. I go to his locker to leave him the sub-sandwich I bought him for lunch and I find the pack of cigarettes. My grandfather, the most important person in my life, died of lung cancer caused by smoking. I hate cigarettes. Dave knows this. I confront him and he tells me they’re his locker partner’s.
Fast forward eighteen months. I’ve bought my dress for the prom. Dave has explained away cigarettes in his backpack, cigarette smoke on his clothes and breath, and the lacy underwear on his bedroom floor. And with every explanation I rationalized what he was telling me, filling in the blanks with plausible excuses, excepting that it was all okay because he loved me.
Two days before prom Dave calls and breaks up with me over the phone. He’s taking a ninth grader to the dance. At that moment I regret not sleeping with him. Maybe then he would have stayed.
Nancy is still yelling on the phone. “I’m sorry,” I say. “He told me he’d broken up with you. It wasn’t my intention ...”
“Not your intention? You’ve had your eye on him since the first time he brought me lunch at work. I’ve seen you two flirt with each other.”
“I’m sorry. I ...”
“Yeah. Whatever.” The line goes dead.
I busy myself tending pots and setting the table until the emotions get too strong. I sink to the floor, back against the cupboards, and cry.
Rewind. I’m in college. Enter the string of boys I dated. The ones who lied to me about their girlfriend, their boyfriend, their drug addiction, or even their age. Here are all their lame explanations. Here are all the excuses I made for them. Here is all the blame I took for misunderstandings that I wanted desperately to be simple misunderstandings.
Rewind. I’m in the eighth grade. My parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce. My father leaves us for a younger woman. The pity of my classmates is unbearable. I make excuses for my father whom I loved and admired and missed terribly. He’s not a traitor, not the bad guy. His leaving was not his fault. I blame a lot of people that year, even myself, but never my beloved father.
Hunter knocks on the door, exactly two minutes early. I’ve collected my emotions and dried my tears. He kisses me at the door and hands me a bottle of red wine. Shiraz. My favourite.
“It smells delicious,” he says. “I didn’t know you could cook.”
“Of course I can,” I reply, trying to sound as happy as I should. “I just don’t often choose to.”
All through dinner I tell myself that Nancy’s phone call was a misunderstanding. Nancy misunderstood Hunter when he broke up with her. I misunderstood the phone call. Nancy’s just jealous, upset, clingy. She just wants him back. She can’t accept things.
After supper he says, “You look worried, hun. What’s on your mind?”
“Nancy called me.” It just slipped out. I fiddle with my wine glass. “You told me you broke up with her last week. She seemed surprised when I said that.”
“Oh, Dena. I tried to tell her. I wanted to. But Nancy’s very fragile. I didn’t want to push her over the edge. I haven’t seen her all week. I’m not seeing her anymore.”
“But you couldn’t tell her that?”
“Come on Dena. I love you. I’m all yours.”
Misunderstandings. Explanations. All reasonable. All excusable. Flashbacks to every reasonable, excusable, explanation. Flashback to my father whom I haven’t seen since the eighth grade.
“It’s not my dad’s fault, he had to leave ...”
I shake my head. “I think you should leave.”
I shake my head again. “If you wanted to be with me you should have broken up with Nancy first.”
Hunter reaches across the table to take my hand, pleading with big brown eyes. “Dena, don’t do this. It’s just a misunderstanding.”
I move my hand. “No, Hunter. I think I understand perfectly now.”
Casia Schreyer is a writer living in Manitoba, Canada.