Words Through a Vent
Lauren’s happiness is shattered when the need to retrieve her comb lets her hear a conversation between the two most important people in her life.
If Lauren hadn’t gone back for her comb, her world would still be vertical, not slanting horribly sideways.
She clutched at the door of the stall with a shaky hand and held her stomach with the other, hoping to keep down the bile trying to explode to the surface. The only thing stopping her from giving into the tilt and collapsing on the public toilet floor was the realization she would hit the public toilet first. Someone had neglected to flush it thoroughly.
Desperate to gulp in air from somewhere other than the fetid space shrinking around her, she used every ounce of her willpower to get the door open and stumble out of the bathroom. She pulled herself together enough to breeze past the lockers without drawing attention and slipped through the back door of the cycling studio where she leaned against the wall under the blue sky and focused all her energy on breathing.
As her heart settled its erratic pounding, she became aware of something digging into her hand, and she stared at the purple object she’d gripped through the whole awful episode. Her favorite comb. A bubble of hysteria escaped her lips. Hot tears threatened next, and that’s when she got angry. Was everything a lie? Could she be that blind?
The act of shoving the comb in her bag brought forth the bitter irony. She would still be blissfully ignorant if not for her compulsion to rescue such a trivial possession. She let out another embarrassing squeak of hysteria and glanced around the parking lot to make sure she was alone.
Alone. That hated word rang in her head and brought tears to the surface again. She let a few squeeze out, then straightened, smoothed her Lycra shirt over her bike shorts, and walked with purposeful strides to her car. The overheard conversation that precipitated the nauseating tilt to her universe played through her head as she climbed in.
It was a cool day, so she sealed herself inside, clicked on the power, blasted her favorite XM station, and let herself belabor the truth she could not unhear. James and Danika were in love, passionately, with no reservations, in a way that left no room for Lauren to believe it was a passing thing. When did it happen?
That didn’t matter because it was clear she just lost the love of her life and her best friend in one moment of fateful eavesdropping. And the devastating truth had been revealed because her comb had slipped from her bag and landed near a vent, which turned out to be the perfect sound conductor to the door of the men’s locker room.
As she crouched under the sink to reach for the wayward piece of plastic, Danika’s honeyed tones floated to her. “James.” In the loaded pause that followed, the first cracks in Lauren’s illusion of happiness appeared at the sound of lips traveling over soft skin, so clear they might be standing right in front of her.
“Please, James. She’s only down the hall. We need to be careful until we can figure out a way to break this to her. It’s going crush her.”
“She’ll see the truth of it, Danika. We’ve been hiding this for too long, and it’s unhealthy, for all three of us. It’s time.”
“But James. We’re all she has. How can we do this? I love you, and I want to spend my time with you openly, but I love her, too.”
There was regret in his sigh and the words that followed. “If she cares about us, and you know she does, she won’t be selfish. We didn’t ask for this to happen and even tried to stop it.” More sounds of passion punctuated his angst while they drove nails into Lauren’s heart. Then he continued. “It will hurt at first, but she’s a reasonable human being. We can’t continue living a lie and wasting our lives trapped in the wrong combination.”
Danika’s breathless voice rose slightly. “You’re delusional if you believe this won’t ruin the friendships we’ve treasured since high school. You’ve known her the longest. Do you really think she’ll stick around after being faced with our betrayal?” That’s when Lauren reached her threshold of pain, when the bile started its molten rise to her throat, choking her, and her first reaction was to head to a toilet.
Lauren realized her skin was clammy, and she touched her hot face with icy fingers. Was this shock? She drew on the relief from making it to her car without being noticed to speed up her circulation as she sank into the leather seat, rubbing absently at her heart. She thanked the heavens the cycling studio had designed the locker room with a back exit. How was she going to face them again? Should she confront them? She didn’t see that going well. She would make a fool out of herself and accomplish nothing.
The unreality kept reverberating. James had been her friend since kindergarten. He understood her better than anyone, even Danika. They were both aware of their importance in her life. The three of them were inseparable, working, partying, traveling together, and cycling twice a week at this studio she would never be able to return to.
Her resentment flared. They were the ones who hid behind their lies. It should be them facing her and suffering through a confession. But her heart wouldn’t hold onto the anger, filling instead with hollow devastation, even as she attempted to contemplate a different future. Could she leave and start over somewhere else? None of them had lived anywhere but this small town. She didn’t think she had the skills to make new friends, find a new lover, because she had only ever needed the two people she left whispering together in the studio.
She texted Danika with trembling fingers. The screen of her phone blurred through the stubborn tears she could no longer stem. It took her a few minutes to reread her message. It was important to get it right because she did care deeply for them, and always would.
“I’m not feeling well, my love. I’ll see you at home later. Enjoy dinner out with James, for both of us.”
About the author
I enjoy life and writing from my high desert valley on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There is nothing better than these stunning backdrops for creating fantasy worlds and inspiring the diverse characters in my fiction.