I fluffed a small bouquet of tired-looking daisies and turned the ones with brown-edged petals away from the door. It wasn't much to look at, but it was all the grocery store had at 10:05 at night. I knocked three times – in the last six months, it had become my code – and let myself in.
Susan slouched on the sofa watching Lou James toss to Tommy Kay for the weather. She didn’t move as I entered the apartment. Instead of her usual skin-tight jeans and revealing blouse, she wore formless sweatpants. The neck of her oversized sweatshirt drooped across her shoulder revealing the strap of her lacy black bra.
“Oh, good. You’re watching the news. I want you to see the story I shot. It’s the kicker at the end of the show.”
She turned off the TV and hid her face as I bent to give her a hug.
“Hey, what’s the matter? I brought you some flowers for your birthday.”
She swung her head back to face me. Her golden eyes looked tarnished. Black mascara smudges ran down to her cheek bones. “Do you know what it’s like to be stood up on your birthday?”
“I . . . uh – ”
"I was worried sick. I just knew you were on the side of the road at some crime scene somewhere, dead." She stepped back and looked into my eyes. "I could kill you."
"Where do you get off not calling me?” Her tears dried. It must have been the flames forming in her eyes. “You were supposed to take me to dinner tonight."
"I know but –"
"It’s my birthday!"
"Yeah, but –"
"I got all dressed up.”
“Yeah, nice sweats.” I handed her the pitiful flowers and plopped down in the La-Z-Boy across the living room.
She took one look at my peace offering and slung it across the room. “Flowers ain’t gonna fix this.”
“I know I –”
“I was in the edit bay.” She mocked my feeble attempt at an explanation. “Can’t you come up with something more original?”
“I was in the edit bay, and what’s it to you?”
"Lemme guess." Susan closed the door and faced me, her hands on her hips and fury in her voice. "Another story! What was it this time, Bock? A cat in a tree? The school board set a new, longest meeting record? Or were you repairing the damage you did to another sports interview?"
That last one hurt. But she was right. This whole routine was getting old. We had moved in together just three weeks after Ernie punched my lights out on the Cotton Gin dance floor. It was quick – maybe too quick. But there was something between us that neither she nor I could deny. And the sex was great.
"A carhop." I mumbled.
"What?" Susan screamed and stared straight through me. "I missed a night in a fancy restaurant for a fast-food floozy on roller skates!” Her arms waved wildly over her spray-starched hair. “I'm getting tired of this, Bock."
"What's this make, seven, eight times we’ve canceled our plans because of your job?"
"I know. I'm sorry.” I hung my head. I didn’t have to try to look pitiful this time. I hated letting her down.
“I don’t want your damn apologies! I want steak Janon!”
The thought of the signature dish at the poshest restaurant in town made my mouth water.
“I want a night out with a boyfriend who wants to spend time with me!”
She was right. I had been spending too much time at the station, changing our plans at the whim of the ASSMAN. When we were together, it was perfect – except for when I screwed things up. It was a constant struggle to balance my love for my new job with my feelings for Susan. And it was not an explanation I wanted to tackle, especially with Susan this mad at me.
“I do want to spend time with you. You know that, but this is the way news works. I can't tell you when the next big story is going to happen."
"And what's big news about a carhop? I know,” Susan’s voice oozed sarcasm, “she ended world hunger with her serving tray!"
I had that one coming, I guess. My head sagged between my shoulders and I sighed in exasperation as I crossed the room and scooped the disheveled bouquet off the floor.
Susan’s eyes followed me almost daring me to speak.
"The carhop wasn't the big news part." I fought to keep a somber look on my face. I had to look contrite, but I could feel the edges of my lips giving away my true emotions. "It finally happened. It finally clicked! I told a good story!" I felt my face light up.
"Fan-fucking-tastic!" Susan stormed past me into the kitchen. I was sure she was headed for the knife drawer, but I followed her trailing limp flower petals anyway.
She spun to face me, the anger in her face tempered by desperation. "Let's stop the world because Bock has a good story.” Tears began to pool in the corners of her eyes. “What about us? What about our lives?” A fat tear cleared a fresh trail through her mascara, smearing a gray streak down her cheek.
I hadn’t really thought that much about us. I had it good. A job I loved. A girlfriend at home who loved me. She told me as much every time I left the apartment.
“We can't just put everything on hold every time someone has a story to tell.” Susan folded her arms across her chest and waited for me to say something.
I searched my brain. What was it that she wanted to hear? It wasn’t another apology. I love you? I wasn’t ready for that. I’ll move out? I wasn’t ready for that either.
I stood there staring back at her. Waiting. Hoping. Praying for an answer that would get me off the hook. I shifted my weight, first to my left foot, then to my right.
Susan didn’t budge. She wasn’t letting me off that easy tonight.