Darius sighed. “George … divorce.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, divorce is hard. I don’t know what to say other than that. I wanted one, then I didn’t want one, then I did. He thinks I’m a terrible person.”
“Things with exes get messy,” he agreed. “Mine still lives in the area. We see her sometimes when we’re out to dinner or something. Uncomfortable is a weak word to use for that sort of situation.”
I perked up at the information.
“Did it end messy?” I asked, peeking at him from the corner of my eye.
“Well, yes. Sort of. Definitely yes. We were engaged, and I called off the wedding because I wanted to be with Jolene.”
“Did your ex and Jolene know each other?” I asked.
“They were friends, yes.”
That’s all he said, and we were outside my door. I wanted to rewind, start over, know more.
“Hey, thanks for having me over. The meatloaf was perfection.”
He smiled and turned to walk back down the path.
“Hey,” he called back. “Have you ever heard that song by Miranda Dodson, “Try Again”?”
I shook my head.
I watched him walk back down the drive and along the sidewalk to his house before I unlocked my door and walked in. I found the song on Spotify right away and played it over and over while drinking tea at the dinette, and while brushing my teeth, and while climbing into bed. I went to sleep listening to the song Darius gave me. The greatest gift.
Barbra Streisand is my idol. “I Finally Found Someone” is probably the greatest song ever written. People my age were listening to that salty crap on the radio. Pop star voices gyrating and thrusting around like vocal whores. You don’t need all of that hoopla in music, you need raw honesty—the type of honesty Barbra Streisand delivered in songs like “Guilty”—and oh god—“Memory.” I sobbed like a baby in “Memory.” Darius liked her too, along with Jeff Bridges, who he emphatically said was the love of his life. Jolene always made a face at that. She made a lot of faces actually, all of them aimed at Darius. She was a completely different person with me, nurturing and attentive. She was dismissive of Darius and Jeff Bridges, and it seemed to me that they were a package deal.
“Couldn’t you choose someone better? He creeps me out,” she said. “We could both love Bradley Cooper together.” She hated anything that had vast popularity. Bradley Cooper was a joke; she didn’t actually love Bradley Cooper. She was annoyed with humor—that included comedies and Saturday Night Live. What kind of monster hated Saturday Night Live? There was a long list, in fact, of things she hated: Beyoncé, and pizza, baseball, and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, Bananagrams—which was our favorite game. We held our ground, teaming up against her to argue the merits of baseball, making fun of her for not having a sense of humor. She was unfazed and I wondered what it was like to not care about what people thought of you.
Darius loved the dude, and I loved Darius for loving the dude. I wasn’t an unsupportive cunt like Jolene. He would see that soon. l
“Leave him alone,” I’d say to her. “Let him love what he loves.” And the corners of her mouth would turn up in a little smile like she had a secret.
It bothered me that she rode him about stuff. She had no idea how lucky she was to be with someone like him. She had no idea how lucky she was, in general. If I had her life I’d do things differently, that’s for sure. Starting with Darius. I’d treat him like a man, show more interest in what he loved and who he was. I pictured her sucking his dick, pausing to say, “Has it always looked like this? I’m not sure I like it. Let’s both love something else together.” Selfish bitch.
People like Jolene should be in relationships only with themselves. What message was she relaying to Mercy about her father? That his meatloaf wasn’t good enough? That his idols were creepy? It was wrong, all of it. They were wrong together. And besides her disdain for everything he loved, Jolene was always bent over her phone texting. He’d have to say things two or three times before she’d look up, a baffled expression on her face. I would bet there was someone else, that’s why she was so disillusioned with Darius. You didn’t let go of one man without having another lined up to take his place.
I texted him every day just to check on him—because someone should. He was as broken and lonely as I was. We’d trade jokes and memes, urging each other through the hard days. I was always eagerly waiting for his next text, his words meant just for me. I filled in where Jolene slacked off, telling him what an awesome dad and husband he was, asking about his day. I was willing to do that. Pretty soon we had a camaraderie. He would text first, then I would text back and we’d go like that all day. I wondered if he told her how often we texted, or if this was just between the two of us. An almost lover secret. Did he think about me when he was with her? I didn’t feel guilty because I knew in my gut she was texting someone too. For Darius’s birthday I bought three tickets to see Jeff Bridges in concert at a steep six hundred dollars. I mentioned it casually to Jolene one afternoon to feel her out.
“An actual concert where Jeff Bridges sings?” she asked, incredulous. “That’s a thing?”
“Well yeah, dummy. What else happens at a concert?”
She took out her stainless steel spray and began polishing the dishwasher.