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by Charles C. Cole

Two large, packed boxes sat in the middle of the sofa. Senya, restless and twenty-one, dragged an empty bookcase across the carpet as Burchard, her ex-boyfriend, entered unseen.

Burchard, unwilling to deal with the events unfolding, responded with surprising whimsy, as if he were a hotel “dick” from a cheesy 1930’s movie. “Need help with your luggage, miss?”

Though expecting a confrontation, Senya caught on quickly. They had role-played before. “That’s not my luggage.”

“Thought not,” said Burchard, picking at his nails.

“I wanted to take a towel, but it clashed with the color of my eyes. Do you like my eyes? Most men do.”

“Maybe you should put things back,” said Burchard with mock menace, “before there’s any misunderstanding.”

“Is this where you handcuff me?” asked Senya, batting her long lashes playfully.

Burchard stopped role-playing immediately. He never appreciated flirting. “You’re very convincing.”

Senya dropped her act. “I didn’t expect you. Don’t you have school till six?”

“They closed up due to the big nasty storm,” said Burchard. “My class actually applauded. Imagine what they’d have done if the dean had been in an accident.”

“Everyone enjoys time off, especially when it’s a surprise,” Senya reasoned. “Don’t hold it against them.”

“I guess I just don’t like surprises. Speaking of which, what’s going on?”

“I’m leaving. Surprise!”

“If you need help, I’m here, as it ‘snow’ happens. How’s that for a surprise?”

“That’s your reaction?”

“You could stay rent-free, if it made a difference, until the end of the semester. Maybe my dad would pick up your half, to keep you in the family. You’re the rebellious, foul-mouthed daughter he never had.”

“You sure know the way to my heart, but I’ve already packed and said farewell to the creepy mouse in the wall. In fact, this is the last of it. I found my James Taylor CD and some mushy letter you wrote me after one of our juicier fights. You’ve got quite a way with words. No wonder we lasted so long.”

“Let me hold the door for you. Wouldn’t want it to hit you on your way out.”

“Glad you’re not bitter,” said Senya dryly. “As much as you wanted me to stay, I figure you’ve already Superglued the door shut. You’re just stalling until the glue dries.”

“I’ve come to terms with the breakup,” said Burchard, “but, for closure, it would help if I participated somehow.”

Senya resisted. “I’d rather do this alone.”

Burchard caught an unrecognizable odor. “Were you burning something?”

“Sage, for you, for a fresh start.”

“You call that fresh?”

She relented, de-escalating before he escalated, hoping to end on good terms. “Fine: you can watch, but no smartass comments.”

“Maybe I’ll take a picture of you in action,” said Burchard, framing her with his thumbs and forefingers. “Call it The Last Moments of a Dying Relationship.”

“Your house, your rules,” said Senya, smiling bitterly. “I’ve got one: Preamble to Independence. Flip side of the same coin.”

“Your title sounds like a guaranteed happy ending,” said Burchard, amazed at her guilt-free perspective. “You could put a smiley face on roadkill and sell it on Craigslist.”

“No offense, but I think coming to terms may take longer than you think.”

Burchard changed the subject. “Don’t tell me, your mom wants the bookcase back? The cats really did a job on it. Where are the cats? They’re not in the car? It’s freezing out there.”

“They’re fine. Someone’s watching them.”

“Is that who’s taking the bookcase?” he probed.

“I really expected you to not be here,” she said, candidly.

“It wasn’t like we didn’t see this coming: winter tends to be chilly.”

“You can’t have perfect weather every day.”

“Some places do,” Burchard argued philosophically, “but they have poisonous bugs that hide in your house.”

“The important thing,” said Senya, “is parting amicably. No hard feelings?”

“I’m probably not the best person to ask,” he said.

“It takes a lot of courage to do this.”

“I bet you didn’t sleep much last night,” he offered.

“Only because I was packing.”

“I’m trying to compliment you,” said Burchard. “You were always braver than me.”

“Moving in together was brave, and that was your bright idea.”

Burchard grunted like a caveman. “Stupid man always thinking with wrong head.”

“For what it’s worth, you were right,” she admitted. “You said I was waiting for you to get mad enough to kick me out so I wouldn’t have to make the decision myself. That wasn’t fair. Anyway, I wrote you a note. It’s on the dresser. I also left my new number, which probably wasn’t wise. Call if you need to.”

“Understood, mixed-message and all,” he said. “What about mail, if I need to forward something?”

“All handled. I filled out a forwarding address card at the post office. Now that’s a crazy place!”

“You’re good at this sort of thing,” he noted.

“I should go before the roads get worse,” she said.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if you had to spend the night because the streets weren’t plowed?”

“And the power went out, so we ended up sleeping together one more time, just to keep warm? Tempting.”

“You’d miss the cats,” Burchard said.

“It would have to be one crazy storm,” Senya conceded.

“At least let me help you unload. I could stay outside and pass things to you, so you don’t track snow everywhere at your new place.”

“Someone’s meeting me. A friend.”

“We were friends,” he said. “We should have stopped there. You warned me.”

“I finally win an argument, on the day we break up!”

“I like being right,” Burchard allowed.

“All the time. And winning and making decisions for everybody.”

“I’ll go read your note,” he said. “You can finish without me in the way.”

“So long, Burchard. It was never boring.”

“Senya,” he began, back to her, “if you get stuck in deep snow and need help...”

“Call someone else.”

Burchard turned back and flashed her an enthusiastic, if sardonic, thumbs-up.

Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole

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