AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here's a piece for this week's Three Word Wednesday. Be sure to drop by Three Word Wednesday for more fun.
It had been intended as harmless banter - the sort of meaningless flirtation one carries on in a club where everyone is dancing and having a good time. Jen hadn't intended him to take it seriously, but now here they were sitting awkwardly on a park bench while her friend, who was genuinely interested in the guy she had met, snuggled with her new beau on a bench nearby.
Todd draped an arm across the back of the bench and Jen stood up. "Let's go for a walk."
With a good-natured grin he offered her his arm, which she took reluctantly. "This is a nice place," he said as they walked the decorative paths. "I didn't even know it was here."
"I found it a few years ago. This whole area is great - very quiet and pretty."
"Come here often, then?"
"I live just a few blocks away."
She ignored the hopeful tone in his voice. "It's safe and I like it here."
At the edge of the park, they turned into the neighborhood, at Todd's insistence. Jen was skeptical at his claim that he liked old houses but relaxed when she found he could talk about architecture with moderate skill. For half an hour they discussed houses, travel, books and music as they wandered the neighborhood, enjoying the cool night breeze.
Then he stopped and asked if they were near her place.
"I'd just like a glass of water."
Jen was skeptical but oddly reluctant to tell him no. She took him to her little apartment, where he obediently drank a few sips of the offered water, then kissed her. The kisses led to fumbling on the sofa, with Jen still unsure if this was what she wanted. Todd was acceptable company, but she felt no particular attraction to him, only a benign indifference.
Suddenly Todd pulled away and stood up. "I'm sorry."
For a moment, Jen thought he had picked up on her lack of enthusiasm, but then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a ring.
"I don't know why I took it off." He slipped it onto the finger of his left hand.
Liar, Jen thought. "Where's your wife?"
"China. She's spending a semester there. It's part of her Master's program."
"You got lonely." She said it without judgment.
He nodded and refused to meet her eyes. "Do you think maybe you and I...just this once?"
In spite of all the ways Jen knew it was wrong, she sensed the moment had passed for moral outrage. She didn't dislike him, and she was a little lonely, herself. One night, and forget about it. "We'll be more comfortable in the bedroom."
In the pale light of early morning, they left in her car. He kept his eyes closed as she wound through the tree-lined streets, emerging into the strange quiet of a major thoroughfare on a Sunday dawn.
Todd named a grocery store a few blocks away. "You can drop me off there."
Jen smiled. "I can take you home. I'm not going to stalk you."
"It's right by my house and I don't have anything in my fridge for breakfast."
It was all the same to Jen, who pulled into the parking lot and ignored his look of alarm when she cut the engine and got out. "I don't have anything to eat at home, either."
They split up in the store but found themselves together again at the lone checker on duty. By unspoken agreement, they ignored each other as they made their purchases, then Todd left without a backward glance as Jen waited impatiently for her change. She dumped the coins in her purse and hurried out the door, but Todd was already a distant figure heading toward a nearby warren of apartments.
She watched him until he was out of sight, wondering what the rest of his life would be like. She would never know. She hadn't even thought to ask his last name. With a small sigh, she went to her car and headed home.