Loralee, Chapter Two, Oh Henry

Loralee: The Dimestore Novella
Chapter Two, Oh Henry
Originally published on October 27, 2011

 

Static crackled through the radioโ€™s old speakers mixed with the fading strains of โ€œAll Shook Up,โ€ part of the New Yearโ€™s Day Golden Hits of Rock and Roll countdown, the low volume created an odd background noise in the afternoon quiet of Henryโ€™s bedroom. The house was rented, not far from the ranch. Loralee was wrapped in the new robe Henry had given her for Christmas.

โ€œThis is wonderful, this is my new favorite thing.โ€ She ran her fingers over the edges of the lapel. โ€œDid you buy her one of these too?โ€ Loralee asked quietly.

โ€œYou know I did.โ€

โ€œOh, Henry, I know you didnโ€™t.โ€

โ€œThen why did you ask?โ€ Henry sat leaning against the headboard, one leg stretched out in front of him, one leg bent, foot on the floor, jeans unbuttoned, no shirt, and a glass of tequila in his hand.

โ€œIโ€™m sorry. Things are, well, things are no worse than usual. I hate feeling jealous, makes me feel like Iโ€™m weak. It feels unnatural to me.โ€ Loralee was walking around the room, her fingers lighting on his comb, his wallet, his keys, touching the edge of a picture frame that contained an old photo of him.

โ€œSheโ€™s gone. I ran her off.โ€ He drained the glass. โ€œThe only reason I was ever with her is that you havenโ€™t left him yet.โ€

โ€œHenry, I left him in every way that matters, the first time that he cheated on me. Do you think that I could be with you this way? Do you think thatโ€™s who I am? I was faithful for years. Iโ€™d have never been with another man. Why get married? I wasnโ€™t just faithful, I was loyal.โ€ Loralee collapsed into the chair where he threw his laundry. โ€œMalcolm was barely home for Christmas.โ€ She never wanted to talk about this.

โ€œHouston?โ€

โ€œAbout a month ago, I wanted to get this Cuisinart thing for Billy and his wife.โ€ The words caught in her throat. She washed them down with the tequila theyโ€™d been drinking all afternoon. Talking like this to him, it made her feel bad. It made her feel old. It made the reality of the situation undeniable. โ€œWell, he came home with three Cuisinarts, one for Billy and Melanie, one for Jan and Bob, and one for me. Of course, I already have one, but I didnโ€™t say anything. I was kind of surprised he remembered Iโ€™d said anything at all. There was no card, there was nothing. His phone rang in the middle of dinner. He didnโ€™t get up and walk away until after he said her name, and I just, I was stunned. The kids were right there and I, well, Billy, he knows. Or he knew before that. Malcolm barely excused himself from the table. He went to Houston that night. I donโ€™t know if it even matters or if it just caught me off guard.โ€

โ€œHas he come home since?โ€ Henry was refilling the glasses.

โ€œNo. Somehow, the pretense of our routine was a comfort. I donโ€™t care one bit about a glorified blender. Itโ€™s that it was so cold of him. You know? Then it was just so cold in that house. I kept thinking you were here, that you were with her. I fought all day to keep myself together. I donโ€™t know what Iโ€™m doing most of the time anymore, Henry.โ€

โ€œI was here, alone, thinking you were with your family. You should have called me.โ€ He sipped his drink, it was the last of the bottle.

โ€œAnd then what?โ€ Loralee emptied her glass. โ€œI tear myself apart, Henry. Every goddamn thing I can find that I know is wrong with me, every flaw, and then I go over them again. Every reason why I donโ€™t deserve love and every reason why no one would ever want me.โ€

โ€œStop this,โ€ Henry said, his jaw tightened. โ€œHis going to Houston is not because of some flaw of yours.โ€

โ€œOh, Henry. Iโ€™m not critical of myself because of Malcolm. It was wondering where you were. It was that he was thoughtless, careless, maybe unintentionally mean, and he didnโ€™t care. I thought, for the first time, I thought, I deserve better. And I know that that kind of thinking is nothing but trouble.โ€

She didnโ€™t say it, but what she was thinking was not just what Malcolm had done, but Paul. She was thinking about her first love, about every heartbreak she had ever endured. She was thinking about all the gossip over Paul, and how happy she had been before sheโ€™d found out. How she had to try to find some way to deal with it with some sense of dignity and how long it had hurt. How long it had been, while Malcolm kept that apartment in Houston, and everyone knew it, and no one said a word. She was tired of feeling like love was a game, or a con job, or an obligation, like it was anything other than love. Her body ached with the want of something she had barely been able to remember until Henry.

โ€œI tear myself apart because of you.โ€ Loralee twisted her hair around her index finger so tightly it was cutting off the circulation, a bad habit sheโ€™d picked up when she had given up cigarettes.

โ€œYouโ€™re not making any sense, Loralee. You have no reason to beat the hell out of yourself because of me.โ€ He got up, started looking for his smokes.

โ€œTheyโ€™re in your pocket, shirt on the back of the door.โ€ Her response was nearly monotone. She always knew where those cigarettes were because she always wanted one.

โ€œLoralee, I donโ€™t understand.โ€

โ€œI know you donโ€™t, and that makes it worse.โ€ She stood up, started picking up her clothes.

Henry grabbed her hands, stopped her. โ€œThen tell me.โ€

โ€œI want to hate you, Henry. I look out the window every morning to see you show up at work. When youโ€™ve been late, Iโ€™ve wondered if it was her. I donโ€™t have a right to wonder about you like that. Iโ€™ve never been jealous before in my life. I know what it means, it means Iโ€™m insecure because I feel like I donโ€™t have a claim on you, or to this, how good it is. I want something with you that I donโ€™t even know if I believe anymore. I want something I donโ€™t have a right to want. He goes to Houston, and heโ€™s with her and doesnโ€™t give it a second thought, but I hold back because I canโ€™t afford to feel anything, Henry. Can you understand that? Iโ€™m not like him. Henry, you were seeing another woman, and I… Oh, damn it.โ€

โ€œI know you donโ€™t hate me, Loralee.โ€ He brushed the hair away from her face and kissed her. โ€œI know you donโ€™t hate me.โ€ He kissed her again, pushing the robe off her shoulders. โ€œI know you donโ€™t hate me.โ€ He lowered his voice to a whisper.

โ€œYouโ€™re going to mess up my life.โ€

โ€œYour life was already a mess. Say it, Loralee, trust me, say it.โ€

โ€œI love you, Henry.โ€

 

 

 

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