Living Out Loud: : Paybacks Are Hell

The old girlfriend encounter

(Excerpt from Larry Gross' work in progress, The Hurricane Cafe: a Novel)

I got through the morning as best I could. Since I'll be out of town next week, I submitted another column to Greg. It's damn good, if I do say so myself.

I'm looking at my watch. It's 1 in the afternoon and I'm hungry. I've still got that book to finish up, still need to write the review. I'm heading over to Poppie's with the book. I'll have a sandwich, maybe get the thing finished.

The small restaurant is fairly busy. I order a chicken salad sandwich and a diet Coke from my favorite waitress, Sally, and start to read.

When I look up, I see a familiar face sitting at another table, far to my left.

She's with someone — with another man. Susan hasn't seen me yet and I wish I could walk out, but I've already ordered my food.

The man she's with has short black hair, is well tanned and he's wearing a light colored suit. He must be the new boyfriend.

When Sally brings over my diet Coke, I quietly tell her to make my sandwich to go. She nods her head yes; and when I look over at Susan, she's staring at me. I pretend not to notice.

I have my nose in the book and I'm sipping my drink. I feel a touch on my shoulder and, when I look up, it's Susan.

"Well, imagine meeting you here, Tommy," she says with a smirk on her face.

"Hi — what's going on, Susan?"

"I got your e-mail a few days ago. Sorry, haven't had time to respond to it."

I sheepishly look at her and feel the blood rushing to my head. I don't know what to say. I just stare at her.

"I would introduce you to Matt," she says. "He's my friend who moved here from Maine, but something tells me that wouldn't go over too well."

"It's all right," I reply. "I just ordered a sandwich to go. I'll be leaving soon."

"Your fucking e-mail was pretty insulting, you know? You didn't come out and call me a cunt, but you came pretty damn close."

People are now staring at us, and so is Matt, her new boyfriend.

"I was drunk when I sent that e-mail," I say. "I'm sorry; it was really poor judgment on my part."

"It was pretty low, Tommy. I could tell you were drunk, but you didn't even call and apologize later. What's up with that? Why are you being such a prick?"

"I'll call you later and we'll ..."

"Hardly. What a hurtful man you are. I thought I knew you, thought you respected me. What kind of jerk would send me an e-mail like that?"

I'm becoming angry. Why is she starting to make a scene — to embarrass me in front of her new boyfriend? I'm trying to keep my cool.

"I said I was drinking," I say. "I can't take back what I've already done."

"No, you sure can't," she replies. "What? Drinking makes it just fine to insult me — to belittle me? I'm so disappointed in you. I felt like throwing up after reading what you wrote. I feel almost sorry for you, you know? But it's better for me to find out who you really are now rather than later. I didn't know you had so much hate in you."

I take out my wallet from my back pocket and throw some money down on the table. Fuck the sandwich.

"I don't have hate in me," I say much too loudly. "I'm a good person, was good to you — better to you than your porn-loving ex-husband ever was."

Susan's mouth drops open, and she starts crying.

"How dare you say that to me!" she says through her tears. "Who the fuck do you think you are?"

I watch her new boyfriend get up from his table. He starts walking toward us. There's no doubt in my mind it's time for me to leave.

"Susan, I'm sorry," I say. "Look, I'll call you tonight and we'll talk this out. I don't have hate in me. I was just drunk and ..."

Susan turns away and goes into the arms of her new boyfriend, who looks like he's ready to punch me in the face. As I quickly walk out the door, I hear Susan yelling.

"Don't ever call me again. Fuck you!"

I'm finally outside and turn the corner. I get past Poppie's window and stop and light a cigarette.

My face feels hot. I'm sweating. Sally comes out the door and hands me a bag with my chicken salad sandwich in it.

"Man, Tommy. Sorry," she says.

I'm taking my book and sandwich and walking to the park. I'll try to eat, but I'm really not hungry. I'll try to read, but my mind isn't on the book. My mind's on Susan.

I should have never sent that goddamn e-mail. Paybacks are hell.

Larry Gross' book Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories is in bookstores now or can be ordered through