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Ryan awkwardly waltzed up to Melissa, and while bracing the lemons, said in a rehearsed cheerful voice, “Well if life gives you lemons….” Melissa sighed and shrugged Ryan off and muttered “….ok so I’ll make lemonade.” Ryan still attempted feverishly and with a chuckle offered to help Melissa with the mixed drink. She declined abrasively and coaxed Ryan to the living room where he would wait until Melissa was done preparing the poison. Defeated, he plopped down on the couch while Melissa busily added bottle after bottle to her famous poison. Ryan’s long branch like legs not only reached the floor when he sat but could lay straight across the floor, if he let them. He bent his left leg at the knee in preparation for sitting his drink there. His right was the one he would relax and let conquer the floor.
With nothing to do but wait, Ryan decided to take a hard stare around her living room. He wanted to get a mental snapshot of all the décor, every pattern on every piece of furniture, every posed or candid photo, every fiber of wool that lay on her afghan blankets. However, Ryan wasn’t able to stare at any photos. All the picture frames, and there were many of every shape and size, were empty. Rather peculiar Ryan thought to himself. Why even display frames if you had the intention of putting no pictures in them? As if Melissa no longer wanted her guest to have any pitiful thoughts of her, a glass broke in the kitchen, startling Ryan and causing him to stop pondering for a moment. “Everything ok in there?” Ryan politely enquired. Even though he had heard her swear under breathe, she urged Ryan to stay in the living room. “….Came out from out of nowhere…I shouldn’t try to be so creative and stack my glasses in a pyramid anymore.” Melissa said loudly. Ryan smirked and shook his head. Again he turned to the barren frames. He felt his tongue, as if controlled by something other then him, run itself across his thin graying lips. These lips didn’t do much nowadays. His lips were only good for helping keep the alcohol he so often consumed into his mouth. It would then start sliding down his throat like a venomous snake slithering to its nest, where it would then finally rest comfortably in his stomach. Ryan reminisced on the nights he spent driving with one bony hand on the steering wheel of his Oldsmobile and a beer in the other. These nights occurred as far back as he could remember. Trying to think about the times where he wasn’t constantly inebriated always drew his thoughts to the night of The Mistake. He couldn’t help playing the scene over and over in his mind. The actions would creep into his thoughts like a sly cat, first just one moment of it and then the whole ordeal. Though The Mistake isn’t clear to him, what he does remember was the worst part. The sudden figure, the thud, the screech of his tires when he realized what he hit was living and breathing, and the sick feeling in his stomach when he realize what he hit wasn’t someone’s pet. And those eyes- one minute filled with fear, then with water, then nothing. Ryan knows no matter how hard he tries he won’t be able to forget but drinking helped dull it and the emotions it entailed.
Melissa suddenly entered the room holding a wooden tray with a pitcher and tall plastic cups from various restaurants. She noticed Ryan’s somewhat sullen expression and inquired about it. “Just fine” he tried with a thin smile. He watched her in silence as she setup the drinks on the table that was in front of him. No longer able to take it, he stuttered first, and then was finally able to ask “Melissa, why do you have empty frames on display?” Melissa paused, her face still directly above the table. After a brief moment she continued to load the contents of the tray on to the table. “I…didn’t mean to pry.” Ryan started “I know we only just met the other night. But I thought it was….just….” “Completely foolish and depressing?” Melissa snapped. “Well…yes.” Ryan said sheepishly. “Well Ryan…these frames, in a way, shows how my life has become just that” she said as she sat with a sigh on the couch adjacent from Ryan. Ryan suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He didn’t come to her house to pry into her life and selfishly didn’t care about anyone’s besides his own. He doubted anyone’s was worse then The Mistake. “I know you didn’t come to hear any of this. But you’ve entered my home and were curious so you asked a question. You can’t go back and not ask it, just like I can’t go forward without answering it.”
Ryan leaned forward a little, ready to hear…well he didn’t know what. “You see, I didn’t always live alone. I had a husband who was everything I could’ve ever asked for. We were going to become the perfect American family. I thought we were infinite and nothing could break our love, that this was God’s plan and he would let nothing break my happiness with him.” She paused to grab the pitcher and slowly pour it into the plastic cup that read “Friendlys”. “But even if God had those plans, others did not. We were coming home from a Thanksgiving party during our fifth year of marriage. It was very early about three in the morning. I know because me and my husband both kept playfully fighting for the chance to change radio stations.” As Ryan listened to Melissa speak he wondered where this story was going and how many people she had told this story too or if he somehow was the first. “All of a sudden, we felt one of our tires begin to wobble and my husband quickly pulled over. He urged me to stay inside the car while he checked if we had a flat.” She paused, sighed, looked at the ceiling. “ And then I glanced up. And I saw lights rushing toward us.” Ryan’s throat began to become dry. “And it took a few seconds for it to register in my head….register why lights were coming toward us in the same lane. Rite toward my husband. No sign of slowing or adverting out of the way, just bellowing toward him.” Ryan’s lips became numb and the tips of his fingers started tingling. “I screamed for him to jump inside, but it was too late. The car ran him down like he was a paper bag.” By now Ryan felt his stomach acid churning and threatening to travel upward. Melissa was completely calm and dry eyed. Ryan felt like his tear ducts were going to overflow any second. It was as if he had trusted someone with his biggest secret but somehow the whole school found out. Except instead of his secret being a school crush, it was the murder of a man. “if you were wondering he died. And that was it for me. As grateful as I am to my family and friends, his death took everything out of me. I didn’t want to be reminded of a life I could never have again so I changed my life completely. And that meant destroying every photo and drinking every day”. She placed the now empty “Friendlys” cup back on the tray. Ryan couldn’t help but crying now. Melissa cocked her head suddenly at Ryan in surprise. “ Are you…ok?” Ryan peered out the window where the sun was suddenly setting, making everything in the room the color of fire. He looked her in the eyes, the first time he had since he met her. And in that moment, he decided to tell her.





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