Short Fiction 3rd Place (tied) – Literary LEO 2015

Why I Did Not Accept Your Invitation

by Erin Fitzgerald

I know. You’re mad. Or hurt. Or disappointed. Perhaps all of the above. It’s not personal. Really, it’s not. Or maybe it is. Too personal, perhaps. But not in the way you think.

Oh, hell – before I dig myself in deeper, just let me explain.

It’s not that I didn’t want to meet you for coffee. I like you, and I love coffee, and a little break in the routine is always nice. But it’s not about that. It’s bigger than that. It’s complicated.

The truth is, I did want to sit out by the sidewalk of some funny café and feel the breeze on my face, and listen to you talk about your most recent trip, or your daughter, or your big ideas.

I did want to fiddle with the sugar packets I would never use, and swirl the little pitcher of creamer I always assure the waiter I will not need (and always seem to get anyway), and watch the way you cup your hands around the mug as though it held some impossibly delicate secret.

I did want to laugh and swap stories about how things used to be back in the good old days, before the world became a different place.

And yes, I do realize this may be confusing – me telling you all the things I did want, even though I did not accept your invitation.
Let me just put it out there for you.

I did not want to sit in the middle of the night at some roadside diner, all red-faced and puffy-eyed and too tired to cry anymore.
I did not want to walk out in the pouring rain to my car – our car – the one we bought when the other one died and we needed a new one right away and so you convinced me to cash in my retirement (against my better judgment), which now sat with two flat tires and a back seat full of reminders of our last fight.

I did not want to dig in the depths of the trunk of that car in search of a single slip of paper containing the phone number of an old friend I had recently run into at a conference, to call and ask for a ride, and Oh, it was so nice to see you again! And do you happen to have a couch I could crash on for, like, a week? Because my good-for-nothing soon-to-be-ex has done me wrong one time too many.

And yes, I do realize that none of that stuff actually happened – that you simply . . . asked me to coffee.
But I wasn’t born yesterday. I know how it works. A fine line between coffee and all that other stuff. Just a matter of time, really.
And honey, I do like you, but I just don’t have that kind of time.