(CONTINUED) I waited up for Ruben and told him about the phone call when he came home at 2 AM. He handed me a bottle of beer and sat down on the other end of the couch.
“Well, what do you want me to say?” he asked.
“I don’t know. What do you think about this guy?”
Ruben slugged down half his beer then started picking at the label. “What do I think? I don’t think it matters what I think. Or what you think. Anne can do what she wants and if you can’t live with it now, well, you should’ve thought of that sooner.” Then he smiled: “Hey, life’s a bitch.”
I took a pull off my bottle and nearly spit it out. Corona. I hated it. “But what about the code and using her maiden name and all that?”
He shook his head. “Your guess is as good as mine. But if you want my opinion...” He paused a moment, finished his beer, dropped the empty bottle on the floor, then pointed his finger at me. “If you want my opinion, I’d say that none of this is good. I’d suggest you just drop the whole thing and get back to writing. Hell, maybe you could use some of this stuff.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got to meet her for lunch tomorrow. She’s carrying my child.”
Ruben didn’t respond. He asked me if I wanted another beer, but I held up my bottle, still nearly full, and he walked back to the kitchen.
Ruben had two more beers. I barely finished my one. Then we hit the hay. I was up and out a little after ten. Ruben was still asleep.
“Sorry,” I said, trying to make room on the small wire table for my bag.
“You should have just got in line with me. No one would’ve cared.”
I waved my hand dismissively and sat down. I unwrapped my sandwich and took a bite. I had no idea what to say. Anne looked at me and narrowed her eyes.
“The guy that answered the phone was Steve. We’ve been seeing each other for more than a month now.”
“A month?” I picked up a chunk of mozzarella and popped it into my mouth. “Not wasting any time, eh?”
She put her sandwich down. “Do you want to talk or not?”
I stopped chewing. “I’m sorry. Does he know about the baby?”
“No, not yet.”
“Are you going to tell him?”
“Well, I won’t have much choice, will I?” She was angry. I backed off.
“I’m just trying to make some decisions. Only now they might involve you. Surprise, surprise.” I smiled, but she did not.
We ate in silence for a few minutes.
“Are you happy with him?”
“Yes.” She stuffed all the sandwich wrappings and crumbs and napkins back into the paper bag they’d come in. Then she picked up a cup of coffee from beside her and said, “I like him. We have fun. But am I happy? I don’t know. I don’t think like that anymore.”
“Does he know about me?”
She sighed. “No.”
She watched the traffic on Colombus Avenue. “I told him I’d been married. But I told him you were dead.”
I hadn’t expected that. “Dead?! Why?”
“Well, for all I knew it was true. You’d been acting totally insane and then you just disappeared. No one knew where you were.”
“But you knew I wasn’t dead. You must’ve known that.”
She bit down on her lip. “Yes, I knew that. But Steve…he asked a lot of questions at first. It was just easier. I said you died in a car crash.”
I crumpled the paper and napkins from my sandwich into a tight ball. I dropped the ball into the bag then crushed that up as well. “Easier, eh? Don’t you think that was kinda stupid? What are you going to tell him now? You’re going to have a baby. It’s not his.”
She began to cry a little. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. I was going to tell him it was his.”
I was speechless. My head started to ache. Anne wiped her fingers across her cheeks. A little mascara smudge was under her left eye.
“Tom, I needed someone. He was there and he was kind and he was…”
“Breathing?” I offered.
She stood up and ran her hand across her face again, crying harder. She took her sunglasses from out of her purse and put them on then started walking quickly down Colombus. I got up and followed her.
I grabbed her elbow before she could cross the first intersection. I squeezed harder than I wanted to and she tried to pull away. “I’m sorry,” I hissed. “I’m sorry and I know it doesn’t matter.”
She turned to me. “I wish you would’ve stayed away. Why didn’t you leave me alone?”
The light changed and everybody else walked across the street. Anne and I stood still as the pedestrians from the other side moved around us.
“I don’t know,” I finally said. “I don’t really know why I came back. It just suddenly seemed like the most important thing in the world, seeing you.”
The light turned red and people started to line up along the curb again. “Do you think you knew? Do you think that somehow you felt it?”
“Maybe,” I replied. “Maybe I did.” (CONTINUED)
All photos of San Francisco.