This is a draft I knocked out on the airplane coming back from New York. The dialog doesn't really work and the POV is all over the place, but I was in an emotional place and I really wanted to write from that for the first draft. I hadn't originally envisioned this as a cycle, but, at least in this form, it appears to be heading that way. Curious...
An Ed and Dawn Story
Ed stared alternately at the receipt he’d recently pulled from his wallet and his cell phone. It was rally too early to call on this hazy-filled Sunday morning. It felt oppressively muggy to Ed, sitting Indian-style on his bed, surrounded by a ginger tabby, a matte-black laptop, and the aforementioned receipt and cell phone. It wasn’t, he suspected, really humid at all, but lack of sleep and nerves always played hell with his body’s ability to adjust to the climate, even in his home town.
His gaze went back and forth between the white slip of paper and the thick, black phone. He’d called after he played a game of solitaire and beat it. Or maybe he’d call after he checked the soccer results from six time zones away. Or perhaps after he…well, it didn’t matter. This was the game he played to distract himself from facing up to unpleasant tasks. In happier times, when he was only looking for a job, he’d become so good at manufacturing distractions and excuses that he could burn the entire day without ever having to do whatever he was avoiding. He was good at it. But in time, he’d become too aware of the man behind the curtain for the game to work in a satisfactory fashion.
The red, LED-ish, digits on his bedside alarm clock read 9:46. He’d been awake for two hours without leaving the bed. He woke up, fired up the laptop, took a look at his wallet, and his heart stopped. It had a funny way of stopping, in that it felt like it was trying to burst from his chest via the shortest route available, ribs be damned. But stop it did. He could neither move, nor think, nor stop thinking. It was a stasis that a programmer might describe as an endless loop, He closed his eyes and simulated an uncountable number of responses to what had just happened, found none of them to be acceptable, and ran them all again. After an eternity, he looked to his right: 9:48.
There was no point in avoiding it. He would be here until he made the call.
Dawn hadn’t been a morning person for long so, while she did routinely awaken before 8:00 on weekends, she hadn’t developed the routines that a natural-born morning person would have to use those early hours when her past self would have still been cuddled up in the bedroom. Instead, unable to sleep despite, or perhaps because of, the gentle, nagging reminder that she’d had one margarita more than she ought the previous night, she popped open one of her laptops and caught up with her online world.
She had just finished responding to the overnight traffic on her social networking sites and was about to dive into celebrity gossip and jump in the tub when her phone started to vibrate. She looked at the number and frowned slightly. She hadn’t spoken to Ed in weeks. She’d been slowly pruning their mutual networking connections, not entirely sure whose benefit she was doing it for, and she hadn’t seen him face to face in two months. Their contact had been limited to various forms of text in brief, awkward spasms that she suspected he felt compelled to draw out even though they obviously cost him dearly.
Her feelings on the subject were, to say the last, complicated. She’d told him that it would be easier on her if she could hate him, which she realized was a curious thing to say to the person you’d just left. She knew she wasn’t very good at breaking up, but she was trying, and there are bound to be a few missed notes when you’re learning a new song.
There was no evidence of Ed being online, so she suspected he probably wasn’t at home. They’d been playing a weird sort of hide and seek in the Yahoo chat. She’d appear online, he’d pop up, and then she’d suddenly disappear. It was awkward but, honestly, there wasn’t much they could do that wouldn’t be awkward. She was playing it by ear, trying to do her best and having no clear idea of what that meant.
So, it was unusual that Ed would be calling.
She picked up that phone and tried out her latest pleasant-but-emotionally-neutral greeting.
“Hey you,” said Ed, also attempting a Swiss neutrality mixed with normality. If Dawn was struggling finding the right notes, Ed wasn’t even on the right page.
“Sup? You sound like shit.” Dawn was deservedly well known for her lack of diplomacy with people who were close to her, but in this case, she was just stating a fact. Ed did sound like shit.
“We need to talk.”
“Ok, we’re talking.”
“No, in person. We need to talk face-to-face.”
“Ed, I don’t think that’s a good idea. It won’t do any good. I know you want to talk, but drawing it out like this won’t do either of us any good. We need to move on.” She only called him by his name when she was irritated, although she didn’t appear to be aware of this.
“I don’t want to talk, but we need to talk. We need to talk face-to-face. I don’t care if we do it at your place, or my place, or some neutral ground.”
“Why do we need to talk, Ed?”
“Something happened last night. I haven’t told anyone else. I need to talk to you first.”
“Ed, no. Just no. I’m not your girlfriend anymore, Ed. I’m not the person you need to be going to with your problems. You need to get past that.” Ed almost laughed. Maybe he did a little, but no phone yet invented would have picked up a sound that faint.
“Babe, we need to talk. You know me. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important. You know that.” Dawn paused for a long time. She didn’t want to do this. She knew it was a bad idea and that this would just reopen some wounds that she imagined had been healing, although the damned things still felt pretty fresh.
But he was right. He hadn’t asked before, even when he was at rock bottom.
“Ok, Ed. Let’s meet at the Denny’s on 35. Can you give me an hour to get ready? I just woke up.”
“No worries, and thank you.”
“Would you like me to bring your stuff and your key?”
“I don’t care. You don’t need to.” That last bit jarred Dawn more than a little. The two of them had a weird and prickly history with keys. She knew that the fact that she hadn’t returned his key any of the times she’d said she would was a sore subject with him.
“Ok Ed, I’ll see you there at 11:00.”
When Dawn arrived, it looked as though Ed had been there since they hung up the phone. He was parked sideways on a booth, feet hanging off the edge, with his perpetually untied shoelaces brushing the formerly-colorful carpet. He smiled weakly but warmly at her, got up, and made a body movement that could have either indicated a hug or a handshake. Dawn made the call and gave him a quick but sincere hug and sat down.
“Ed, you look like you sound.”
“Sorry about that. Long night. Or long morning. You look lovely.” She did, in fact, look lovely. There was just enough pink in her cheeks to bring out her round, hazel eyes. Her hair hung in loose brown tendrils around her face and her lips shone with the glow that said “Burt’s Bee’s addict” to those who knew what to look for. She briefly thought about just putting her hair up and going. There was a slight worry that Ed might think that, if she dressed up, Ed might take that as A Sign that she was still interested. She thought about it, though, and decided it was even more of a sign that she was Over It if she didn’t take such things into consideration.
Ed, on the other hand, looked miserable. She groaned a little bit inside. His eyes were watery and beseeching, although he did seem calm. Her “this was a bad idea” radar was fully engaged. Ed looked at her sideways and just said:
“What is it, Ed? What did you want to tell me?” She took pains to sound strong and direct and firm. She wasn’t good at it yet, but she was getting there. Ed looked down at his lap and mumbled something. Oh fuck, he was crying. The radar was flashing code red now.
“What is it? I can’t hear you.” He looked up and, yes, he was crying.
“I won the lottery, Dawn.”
Dawn laughed a little. Not only was it a ridiculous thing to say, but people who win the lottery don’t cry. At last, they don’t cry like Ed was crying. His look wasn’t budging from miserable.
“What do you mean, Ed?”
“I won the lottery. Six out of six, babe.”
“How much?” she stalled, not sure where this was going but it seemed like a reasonable question.
“Ten million.” It wasn’t a lot for winning the lottery, but it was a lot.
“Holy fuck, Ed. You’re serious? You won the lottery?”
“Mm hmm.” His look still didn’t say “I just won ten million dollars.” It said “Someone ran over my puppy.”
“What the fuck? Ed. If you won the lottery, what the fuck? What’s so bad about winning the lottery?” At this point, her radar had completely shut down. The signal didn’t match any known pattern, so it just started flashing the internal-monologue-radar-metaphor version of “TILT.”
Ed sighed and didn’t say anything.
“Fuck babe, I don’t know. I’m rich. Yay me. I can call and quit my job any time I want now. I can travel. Woo hoo...” he let it tail off. He wasn’t crying so much now, but his beseeching stare more than made up for it.
Dawn was not completely stupid.
“Yeah babe, it’s the sort of thing that Alanis would mistakenly call ‘ironic.’ O. Henry would do a better job with it, huh?” Dawn didn’t completely follow, but, as previously noted, she wasn’t completely stupid.
Now she looked a little miserable. He might have ten million dollars, but was still Ed, and that was complicated. They’d had years and years to determine that it didn’t work. They weren’t in agreement as to why, or even whether or not it didn’t work for just her or for both of them (she’d made the mistake of saying ‘you’ll be better off without me’ to him a few times). But, the undeniable conclusion was, it hadn’t worked. Ed looked back down and spoke a little louder.
“I want to pay off your student loans. All of ‘em.”
“Ed, you don’t have to do that. You shouldn’t do that.” She meant it, too, but there might have been one lone voice in the back of her head that said “Is that all?”
“No babe, I do have to. There’s something else that I want to do but can’t. I understand that. Ok, I don’t understand it, but at least I accept it. Or, I, fuck, I don’t know, I get it at least.”
The silence that followed would typically be described as awkward, but this was a silence that would make awkward silences blush and look away. There were probably other people in the restaurant. Neither of them would have been able to say for sure.
“I know babe. That time’s passed, and I can't buy that feeling back. It just makes me think of what we would have done, you know?”
“Yeah, I do. I’m sorry.”
“I know you are babe.” Ed paused. Every word had to be forced up and out of his throat, struggling to hold down the words he really wanted to say. “Just let me have the info on your loan. Or loans. Whatever.”
“Yeah, ok. I’ll do that.”
“And babe…” he paused again. The words he wanted to say were going to come out anyway. “If you ever change your mind. Ever. Just say the word and it's yours.”
“I don’t…I’m sorry…I don’t feel that way about you anymore.” Dawn looked almost as miserable as Ed, and, as much as she would have been happy to have seen a way around it, her heart wasn’t budging.
“I know. I know babe. But if you ever change you mind…I love you, and that’s not going to change.”
And that was that. He’d said it, and it hadn’t changed anything, just like he knew it wouldn’t. But he also knew he couldn’t have kept from saying it.
They hugged, sincerely, but without passion, and parted. Driving back home, Ed passed the Vespa store and decided to get on the road knowing it was going to be a long, long time before he could set foot in his home town again.