“Well yes,” I reply. “But why split up? It’s not like we’re in a hurry, is it?”
“Speak for yourself,” Tyler says. He grins and moves closer so that he is whispering in my ear. “If my ass looked as good in my jeans as your ass looks in yours, believe me, you’d be in a hurry too.”
I laugh and shake my head, but I don’t really want us to split up all the same and I think Tyler knows it, even when he looks at his watch yet again.
“So, we’ll meet back at the car at three?” he says.
I nod my head and he kisses my cheek and then he hurries off. If I’d known he was going to do this, I would have just walked down to the shop on the block over from mine for the stuff for dinner.
I’m once more torn about Tyler. On the one hand, he seemed pretty determined to get rid of me, and he was definitely checking his watch in a weirdly obsessive way, like he was going to be late to meet someone. At the same time, he seemed pretty convincing when he made the comment about my jeans, and he wasn’t exactly worried about being seen with me if he is going to meet his bit on the side.
I make a spur of the moment decision. I need to put my mind at rest one way or the other and stop wondering about what’s going on. I decide to follow Tyler. He is still in sight, a few shops down. I start to walk in the same direction as him, being sure to keep people between us so I’m harder to spot if he looks back. I also make a point of looking in shop windows so if he does happen to turn around and spot me, he is much less likely to notice that I’m following him.
He reaches the end of the section of the mall we are in. It branches off to the left and to the right and I see him choose the right-hand side. I up my pace a little bit because I don’t want to lose him, but by the time I reach the end of the section, I’m already too late. I can’t see him anywhere.
I stop in place and spin around in a small circle, ignoring the tutting from people who have to step around me. Nope. I’ve lost him. I wasn’t that far behind him. He must have gone into one of the shops along here. Should I wait?
I decide I’ll wait but I don’t want it to be too obvious in case he sees me, so I go into the first clothing store I see and stand looking through the clothes nearest to the window where I can still see anyone coming or going from the nearby shops. He would have to be in one of the nearby ones. He wouldn’t have had time to get to the other end of this strip.
I feel like I’ve been in here looking at this one rack of clothes for ages and I’m sure the store assistants must be starting to think I’m up to something a bit more nefarious than watching for my boyfriend. I would definitely be suspicious of someone standing at one rack of clothing for this long, especially in the doorway where they could make a quick getaway.
I decide to leave the store. I must have missed Tyler altogether and he did get to one of the further away stores. He must have been mingled in with the crowd and I didn’t spot him when I reached the corner. Or maybe he realized he was going the wrong way and doubled back on himself without me seeing him. Whatever it is, I have to accept that I’ve failed in my mission to follow him. I’m just going to go and grab the few things I need for dinner and then go and sit in Starbucks with a latte until it's time for us to meet back up again. I might even treat myself to a new nail polish.
I am strolling along towards the indoor market area where I know they sell the freshest vegetables when I spot Tyler again. I duck behind a group of teenagers and peer around them. It’s definitely him. He’s just come out of a jewelry store.
Suddenly I feel so stupid. He was being a little bit secretive because he was buying me a gift. That has to be it. The text message was likely the store telling him whatever he had bought was ready for pick up and that’s why he hadn’t wanted me to tag along and then when I practically forced myself on him, why he was so insistent on us splitting up.
I make my mind up there and then to never ever doubt him again. But right as I make this decision, a woman appears, waving, and Tyler waves back at her. What the fuck is he playing at? She doesn’t look a day over twenty. Gross.
I try to slow down my racing thoughts. I have literally just said I will never doubt Tyler again and here I am doing it again straight away. He only waved at her for god’s sake. She could be one of his friends’ daughters or something.
But no, that’s not all he’s doing. They are walking towards each other, and Tyler is opening his arms and the woman is stepping into them and embracing him. I feel sick but I swallow down the bile that rises into my throat. The group of teenagers I ducked behind have moved on now and I’m frozen to the spot, unable to move. If Tyler was to turn around now, he would be looking right at me, but he doesn’t. He's too focused on his side chick.
He has released her from his hug now, but he’s still touching her. He’s holding her by her upper arms, holding her out and looking at her, drinking her in. Is he comparing her to me? Is he wondering why he is stuck with some old bird when he could have this younger model on his arm?
He finally releases her, and he holds out the small bag to her from the jewelry shop. She smiles at him and takes it and that’s it. I have seen enough. More than enough. There’s no way I can keep kidding myself into thinking she could be his friends’ daughter. He clearly had arranged to meet her here and he bought her jewelry. To me, that rules that possibility out.
The spell that is holding me frozen on the spot breaks and I turn around and hurry away from Tyler and his mistress. Mistress. Ha. She’s barely old enough to be legal. I force myself to walk at a normal pace because the last thing I want now is to draw attention to myself and have Tyler notice me.
I wait until I’ve turned the corner to the main drag we came from and then I up my pace and before I know it, I’m running, my eyes blurred with tears, nausea rolling through my stomach. I make it outside of the mall before I double over, retching, and throw up in the bushes next to the entrance. A woman walking towards the mall stares at me in disgust and shakes her head. She must think I’m drunk or something. I wish that was all it was.
I stand up and wipe my mouth and then I start walking away from the mall, towards the curb to hail a cab. I can taste something bitter in my mouth and I don’t know if it’s the after taste of the bile I brought up or the after taste of my broken relationship. Maybe it’s both.
I reach the curb, get into a cab and give him my address. Then I sit and stare out of the window, not really seeing anything, just trying not to cry. The journey seems to take forever, and I have to keep reminding myself none of what has happened is the cab driver’s fault and not to start yelling at him to hurry up because I’m angry at Tyler.
Finally, he pulls up outside of my apartment building. I pay him and tell him to keep the change. He thanks me as I get out of the cab and then I close the door and he pulls away. I go to my building and let myself in the main door and then I go up the stairs to my apartment. I’m lucky enough not to bump into any of my neighbors because I can’t stop the tears from coming now. They run down my face and drip off my chin. I reach up and wipe them away the first couple of times, but they just keep coming back and, in the end, I just leave them to drip off my face.
I let myself into my apartment, close the door, and then I lean back against it and slide down it until I’m sitting on the ground, my knees raised, and my arms wrapped around them. I let go then and I let myself sob until I find myself doing that hiccupping thing that people do when they have run out of tears, but they haven’t run out of hurt.
I push myself up off the ground and go to the living room. I check the time. I’m supposed to be meeting Tyler in half an hour. While it would give me great pleasure to just stand him up and let him hang around waiting for me, wasting some of his time like he’s wasted so much of mine, but I decide not to do it. Not because I’m being the bigger person, but because I think he will eventually show up here and I’m not ready to see him yet. Maybe I never will be. Although I know I’m going to have to see him at work, that’s a day and half away and I can avoid him for that time at least.
I pick my purse back up from where I put it on the ground beside the couch I’m sitting on. I get my cell phone out and write out a text to Tyler.
“Don’t contact me again, you cheating motherfucker. I hope she gives you herpes.”
I delete it quickly before I can press send. I know if I send that, Tyler will start with the explanations and explain all about how I have gotten it wrong and I can’t be dealing with that. I’m afraid that I will want to believe him so much that I will just allow myself to go along with his story and I can’t do that anymore. I have done it once but never again. I write out a new text message.
“Sorry to ditch on you. Felt sick so I came home. Maybe best we don’t see each other today.”