Authors: M. X. Potter
“I Knew You Were Trouble”
© 2015 M.X. Potter
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or person, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Freedom. It was the only word that described the feeling. I stood outside the double doors of the courthouse and smiled up at the sky. It was a dreary gray, but for me, it felt like a bright blue. I breathed deeply, symbolically sucking in the court-ordered end of my private nightmare. My life was mine again. It would no longer involve lawyers, judges and hatred.
For four years, battle after battle, my ex dragged me through a divorce war. We had originally parted ways with the idea of splitting everything down the middle, because her salary was comparable to mine. It was her lawyer who found the arrangement unacceptable. My lawyer convinced me to go thermonuclear over it. In the end, I ended up with a quarter, she with another quarter. It was the lawyers who ended up with half. Financially, it would have been better to give in at the beginning.
There was a time when "hate" was not a word I used. Now, I hated Jessica Barrow. I would have shouted it from the roof tops if it would have ended the legal roller coaster. In my mind, I renamed her Bitch Barrow. I could only imagine what she called me. The four years took a large toll from my soul.
I was thankful there were no children. We had come close once; a miscarriage I thought a curse at the time -- now, a blessing. To drag a child through it all would have created monstrous therapist bills, and pain that would never go away. Nine years of marriage, four of it fighting a divorce, gone to waste. It was difficult to remember how we once felt, when we thought we would conquer the world together. 'I' had been replaced with 'we' and now back to 'I.'
Women were off my list, at least for the foreseeable future. I dated once during the separation, and it turned out badly. I had thought she knew I was in the middle of divorce. She had thought me unmarried in more than mind. 'Hate' was the word she used. It struck deep and scared me off the dating scene. It was an easy thing to forgo. I sucked at dating.
As I neared my car, my phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Oliver, a good friend; one of my true compatriots who suffered with me these last four years. He hated Bitch Barrow almost as much as I. Intellectually, I knew it was more of dislike on his part, but he spoke hate for my benefit and I loved him for it.
"Are you Barrowless?" Oliver asked when I said hello.
"Completely and legally," I answered with a swagger in my voice. I had not felt this happy in years. It was almost worth the four years of hell.
"Strip club, meat market, sports bar -- you pick, and I'll drink the memories away with you," Oliver offered. He sounded as happy as I. There was nothing I wanted more that moment.
"Sports. I need a friend and alcohol. It will be a few months before I can look at a woman without frowning." Of course, I was exaggerating, but I truly needed a testosterone night. There was a hockey game tonight. A few craft beers, and some zealous cross checking fit my mood. I wanted to forget the last four years. Forget Bitch Barrow.
"Sounds good, we'll catch the Blues game," Oliver agreed, "I'll leave work early and meet you at McGinty's at five. We'll eat crap, try a new brew and screw the past." I loved how he put things when he was in the mood to let go. I had a few fair-weather friends, but Oliver was my anchor when the shit hit the fan. There was no problem that a night out with him wouldn't ease.
"Five it is." The line went dead as I knew it would. Goodbyes were just not his thing. I drove home and grabbed some jeans and a gray pullover sweater to replace my suit.
"My man, Damon!" Oliver yelled from across the bar. He was in jeans with a Blues hockey jersey. The numbers were fading, it being a long-time, often-worn favorite of his. I could tell he left work really early because he had a half empty glass in front of him, and another completely empty one next to it. I smiled at his demeanor and waved my fist in the air. Oliver was exactly what I needed tonight.
I reached the table just as a waitress, somewhat cute and way too young, brought two tall glasses of a dark beer. I guess the empty glass was, at one time, originally for me. Oliver shook off my wallet. "The night is on me," he said, ripping a twenty out of a thick money clip.
"Come on, Oliver," I said, trying to feign insult, "I have no intention of drinking all night on your dollar."
"Round for round then," Oliver answered, "I'll get the first." He handed the waitress the money before I could disagree. It was going to be good night.
Oliver was not the person you would want to see at a funeral or any other solemn affair. He was too loud, and insisted everyone knew he was there. When I wanted to party, he was my go-to guy. He was too big for anyone to voice disapproval of and too nice to dislike. Above all, he was boisterous. Hockey was a good sport for him; all the fans were loud. After a few beers, I was loud with him. The tables next to us became loud as well. They all became Oliver tables.
I met Edith and Ralph Wilkerson, Frank and James and two rather butch looking older women named Mary and Thelma. We became a small party zone and our cheerleader, Oliver, kept us going as if we were on the ice itself. Bad calls were his favorite, unless it was against the opposing team. I found myself, as I fully expected, joining in his complaints and high fiving around the party zone when we scored.
Oliver only spilled one beer that night; a miracle if there ever was one. The man could not speak without waving his arms around. Tall beer glasses were just asking to get dumped. I was wearing some of the beer on my leg. It was pretty wet, but not so much I wanted to leave. We stayed well after the game ended.
"How does it feel to be single again?" Oliver asked as ESPN took over the screens, showing some soccer game from the other side of the planet.
"Like a huge weight has been lifted," I said taking a long draw of some wheat beer. I lost count of how many we had had. I had no idea what the name of the brew in my glass was anymore. It was sweet after all the dark beer we had chewed our way through. It didn't matter, I would finish it anyway.
"That's why I never married," Oliver said, tapping his glass against mine. I wasn't going to point out the obvious to him. He has been living with a woman, Debra, for over six years. They were married in all but the legal sense. She let him have a night out every week, knowing he wouldn't stray much past stuffing a few dollars in a stripper's g-string. I took another sip of my beer, wondering how you find such a tolerant woman. Jessica was never tolerant, that was for sure. I shook my head to remove Jessica from my brain. I was supposed to be forgetting her.
"You sure you don't want to run to the East side and throw some dollars away?" Oliver asked. I could see it in his eyes. He wanted an excuse to go stuff some g-strings.
"Next time," I answered. Jessica had sucked that desire out of me. I felt guilty not repaying his favor of celebrating my divorce. I just wouldn't appreciate it tonight. "I just want to sit here and forget the last four years." I waved the waitress over. The beer in my glass only had a few minutes left.
"What's the next one on the list?" I asked the waitress.
"You guys went through all ten," she answered, "unless you want to start on the lites." I looked at Oliver and his eyebrows raised.
"We don't drink piss," we said in unison. We laughed. An old joke between us that was lost on our waitress and anyone else in the world who wasn't us. I knew we had had too much to drink. So we did the only thing we could do.
"We'll just start at the top again, " I said, and Oliver smiled and tipped his empty glass to me. The waitress rolled her eyes and headed off to get us another pair of Brown Dead Eyes. I was feeling no pain.
"I don't want to hate her anymore," I slurred slightly to Oliver when we were halfway through the list the second time. My mind was functioning slowly, but my emotions seemed real enough.
"It's over," Oliver agreed, "let her go. You shouldn't hate anyone." I think that was Oliver's whole philosophy on life -- don't hate anyone.
"But I still don't like her."
"Nah, she dragged you through the mud," Oliver agreed, "just don't hate her. It's not her fault she's a bitch." I lost it there. A fit of laughing took over and Oliver joined in. I tried to stop when it struck me that Jessica probably had a friend telling her it wasn't her fault because I was an asshole. That brought on a private bout of laughing. I had definitely had too much to drink. It was Oliver who made my stupor happy instead of sullen.
It was sad, really. Jessica and I had loved each other once. There was no reason, but human idiocy, to move to hate. Some strange desire to find fault not our own, and, in time, making it our own. No -- I would not hate Jessica, the Bitch Barrow. I would move to indifference. It was over and hate would only hurt me more than her now.
"Oliver," I said with drunken truth, "I love you buddy." We clinked glasses and for some reason they didn't break. We definitely hit them hard enough. I drained my glass and ordered water. It was time for a little detox.
I thought carefully about getting into my car. I had stopped drinking almost an hour ago and was fully hydrated. I walked a straight line, when no one was looking, and didn't stumble. I probably shouldn't have gotten behind the wheel, but I didn't feel impaired. I had no trouble selecting the unlock button by feel on the key fob. Having to struggle to unlock the car was usually the sign that indicated my mind was off.
I started the car, pulled out my phone and synced with the onboard. I rolled through a bunch of songs until I found Jewel. Sometimes you just need a sweet voice to soothe you. Her voice always left me craving more, like a book you wished wouldn't end. She filled my car with sweetness as a I backed out of the parking slot and entered traffic.
Oliver had fixed me again. My heart was lighter, and, with the end of the divorce, I felt excited about the future. I turned down Travis street, going west, and passed my next turn. I had a desire to just drive and let the music fill me. I wrapped myself in the private little world of my car, my mouth moving in sync with the words of 'You Were Meant for Me.' So much for testosterone. I smiled at the irony.
I missed the green at Garnet road, a rather long light. I stopped and closed my eyes for a moment to fully enjoy the song. Jewel ended and the randomizer screwed up and started 'Magic Carpet Ride.' Not what I desired at the moment. I needed a mood phone, one that could sense that Steppenwolf was not what I needed. I looked down at my phone to readjust the selection list.
I was thrown forward, hard. The sound of crushing metal vibrated through me as my seat belt cut hard into my chest. My forehead clipped the steering wheel before I realized what happened. My car was now half into the intersection and a dark SUV, its left headlight and grill caved in, was sitting on my rear end. My head hurt and Steppenwolf was still blaring. Shit.
I turned off the engine and engaged the hazard lights. I stumbled out of the car; my head was swimming through molasses.
"The light was green!" That from the voice a of woman. I blinked long to get my bearing. 'She hit me,' I thought. "Your tail lights were out," she added. There was nothing wrong with my tail lights. I walked to the back of the car and both were a shattered mess, the SUV had come up over the top of my bumper and caved in the trunk. The vehicles were conjoined, and the left wheel of the SUV was an inch or so off the pavement.
"There was nothing wrong with my lights," I said, trying to remain calm. The taillights were both out now. Smashed beyond recognition. Only the left rear blinker seemed to be working.
"They were out, and the light was green," the lady insisted. I looked up into her scrunched up eyebrows. Her nostrils were flared and her lips were curved down. I had seen the expression before. She must have taken Bitch Barrow lessons. She moved her hands to her hips, daring me to disagree again.
"Look, it was an accident," I stated, "you don't need to dump it all on me. That's what insurance is for." It was a neutral statement. Four years of Bitch City and a guy becomes wary of entering unnecessary wars. Her nose moved strangely, and I saw a sly smile form.
"You smell like a brewery," she said as if it was some kind of victory. It was the damn drink Oliver spilled. I took a step back. I couldn't imagine it was that potent. It happened over an hour ago.
"Some beer spilled on my pants," I defended myself, pointing down my leg.
"We'll just call the cops and see how this plays out." She pulled her phone from her front pocket and began dialing. She stalled on the last number and looked up to me. "The light was green and your tail lights were out." I sighed.
"Fine," I said, not confident I could pass a breathalyzer test. That's what insurance was for anyway. She canceled the call.
"Boxers or briefs?" she asked me. I looked at her and tried to decipher what type of insanity had claimed her. Maybe I just attracted women who liked to torture men.
"Do you wear boxers or briefs?" she repeated, enunciating every word as if I didn't speak English. Her short blond hair jerked back and forth with every word, as if she needed more emphasis.
"Are you nuts?" I asked. Her car was mounting mine. The damage would be in the thousands. She had successfully blackmailed me into taking the blame, and now she wanted to survey my underwear. I was the one who had been drinking, so why did she sound stoned?
"Suit yourself," she said as she rolled her eyes at me. God, I hated when Jessica rolled her eyes at me. It felt worse from this woman, and I didn't even know her. She began to move back to her SUV.
"Why the hell do you care about my choice of underwear?" I called out, my hand waving in disgust. She turned to me with her hand on the driver side door.
"The cops are coming whether I call them or not," she stated with boredom, using an insulting you-are-an-idiot tone. "If they're boxers, you can toss your jeans in my car. We keep this as a simple accident that way." She opened the door, reached in and pulled out a small black purse. I heard sirens in the background. She had done this before.
"Are you setting me up?" I asked. Maybe some kind of insurance scam. More rolled eyes as she pulled her license from her purse.
"Look," she stalled, letting her arms drop to her sides, "if this is my fault, I'll lose my license for six months or worse, and my insurance will likely drop me. If it's yours, I live to drive another day." She shrugged her shoulders. Accidents were not new to her. The sirens were getting closer. "They are going to smell what I smelled," she added, shaking her head like she was trying to get a two-year-old to figure it out for himself.
I emptied my pockets onto the hood of my car and removed my jeans. Embarrassingly, I was wearing Ghostbusters boxers. They had been a gag gift, from Jessica, some time ago. I had no idea why I still had them, but I had a strange affinity to the movie. I hadn't planned on stripping in the street.
"Nice." The woman smiled. I would have preferred the eye roll. I handed her my jeans which she promptly threw over the seat into the back of her SUV. "You were on your way out for late-night tacos," she said as if an alibi was second nature to her. You threw on a sweater and headed for the drive thru." I nodded.
"Damon. Damon Richardson," I introduced myself, "Ghostbusters fan." I got a chuckle out of her at least. It was better than the eye roll.
"Adeline Morrison," she responded, "and the movie wasn't that good." She obviously had bad taste in movies. I could see flashing lights so I grabbed my wallet and keys off the hood and threw my phone in the front seat.
"Do you always blackmail your victims, Adeline?" I asked, trying to maintain some humor in my voice. It was easy; I was in the middle of dark street wearing Ghostbusters underwear. Thank God they didn't glow in the dark.
"Sorry," Adeline responded, "I'm desperate. You don't look like you have a string of priors to worry about." Priors? I was hoping she was talking about accidents. She was awfully cool about handling the situation. She retrieved a mint from her purse and handed it to me. I popped it in my mouth -- she seemed prepared for every contingency. I was wondering why I didn't hate her. I should, she was screwing up my night fairly well.
The police car pulled up behind us, lights spinning, illuminating my underwear. Our cars were blocking the lane and protruding into the intersection. Someone had called since we were an obvious hazard.
"Anyone hurt?" the officer asked loudly from behind his door, one foot still in the car. We both shook our heads and said no. "I'll be with you in a moment," he stated and ducked into his car, and shut the door.
"You'll need your registration," Adeline said as she leaned into the cab of her SUV. Her jeans were awfully tight, and she wore them well. I admired the view for a moment before the idiocy of it struck me. I was admiring the rear of a woman who was dumping her crap on me. I shook off the image and moved to retrieve my vehicle registration.
The officer was making us wait. I assumed he was clearing Adeline's license plate since mine was buried under the SUV. I leaned against the trunk of my poor car and waited.
"So, you drink a lot on weekdays?" Adeline asked as she moved closer to me. I assumed she felt as exposed as I did in the rolling police lights. I wasn't sure if I wished to share my life with her. I didn't peg her as a nice person, but I was a little exhausted with disliking people.
"It was a celebration of sorts," I answered, "I usually don't drink much at all." I gave her too much information.
"Birthday?" Adeline continued with a soft smile. It was the smile that pissed me off. It was fairly attractive and disarming. The defenses I had been practicing for four years kicked in. Nice was just her cover.
"Look," I replied with more strictness than needed, "we're not going to be friends. You're fucking me over pretty well -- just be happy I'm not fighting it." Her face looked like I had just slapped it. Her eyes shifted quickly away from mine. She hesitantly took a step back, then turned and walked quickly back to her vehicle. She leaned against it, facing away from me.
I convinced myself Adeline did it to herself. Then I convinced myself I was an asshole. Then I remembered she rear-ended me and blackmailed me into taking the blame. Then again, I probably should have called a cab from the bar. She did hide my jeans for me, but she lied about the tail lights -- I had no idea if the light was green; I was looking at my phone. I settled on the smile. No woman would smile like that unless she was trying to pull one over on me. I assigned her ninety percent culpability, and I accepted ten percent as an asshole. At least she would know I wasn't a complete sucker.
The officer climbed out of his squad car and donned a Stetson. He titled it forward then adjusted it slightly left and right. I sensed he was rather full of himself. He came forward toward Adeline so I began to approach.
"Stay with your vehicle, Sir," the officer commanded with his hand raised, "I will speak with her first." I didn't like the idea of Adeline talking without me. The story would get garbled between us. That, and I had kind of told her to fuck off. I wondered if a sobriety test was in my future.
The officer and Adeline had what I considered a rather long conversation. I couldn't hear any of it, but I did see her gesturing to me and my car then pointing down the street. She nodded a few times and shook her head in response to some questions. I saw what looked like pleading, then resignation set it. She turned away from the officer and put her hands behind her back. She looked over to me and mouthed 'I'm sorry' as cuffs found her wrists. I had never seen someone I knew get arrested before.
I started moving forward, but was held back by the officer again. "Stay with your vehicle, Sir. I will be with you in a moment." He led Adeline back to his car and placed her safely into the back seat. I figured I was next. She must have mentioned the beer. Why else would she be sorry? But, why would he arrest her? I stood in the road, like an idiot, in my Ghostbusters boxers.
"Mr. Richardson?" the officer queried as he approached me, reading my name off his notebook.
"I am going to need to see your license, registration and proof of insurance," the officer stated. He pulled a metal clipboard in front of him, accepted my documents and placed them under the clip. "I should be able to give you a report in fifteen minutes and get you on your way. There are tow trucks on the way." He walked to the front of my vehicle to get my license plate number.
"Why did you arrest Ms. Morrison?"
"She's operating on a restricted license," the officer said, never looking up from his clipboard, "to and from work only." He moved forward with a flashlight to read my VIN number through the windshield. "She will be charged with reckless driving for this accident. That and violating her court restrictions puts her in the felony category." He looked up at me, "Sit tight for a few moments while I run your information, and I'll get you a copy of my accident report for your insurance company."
"You don't want my side of the accident?"
"It won't be necessary," the officer responded, "Ms. Morrison has taken full responsibility for it. Texting while driving causes more of these than you know." He shrugged his shoulders and headed back to his vehicle. He stopped halfway and turned, "I would like to know what you're doing in your underwear."
"Ah..I had a taste for tacos." I fumbled. "I was just going to go through the drive-thru. Didn't figure I would get in an accident."
"No one ever does." He nodded with a half grin and continued on his way. I looked at the police car, but was unable to see Adeline inside. I realized I had hurt her when I snapped at her questions. I was feeling guilty she was taking responsibility. Damn it, she was responsible. The smile was real though -- I knew that now. She could have played the DUI card on me. She had the gall to apologize. Ten percent her fault, ninety percent pure asshole for me. I should have just driven straight home.