Paul could pinpoint the exact moment it struck him during their next morning breakfast date. He had been leaving little bread crumbs, watching the mouse like some Pavlovian doctor who had selected the entirely wrong animal to test. One of his pieces of bait had been especially deceptive; he had garnished it with the word “tradition.”
The conversation ambled to his family in Mississippi, racism, and by association, the confederacy—the word “conversation” used very loosely though, since their tableside chatter was almost always heavily monopolized by Paul (which should have already been a warning sign but in the beginning Paul hedged his bets that maybe Sheila was just overly quiet---she had, after all, been through a lot.)
“Well, if it’s tradition,” she said with a shrug.
The trap slammed shut and she never knew the less. Paul looked out the overly bright windows toward the upper corner of the restaurant and felt their entire relationship pass through him in a single instant. Relationship---did he need an entirely new word for that idea as well? They had slept together four times, and the first was a drunken one night stand that needed to have stayed that way. Except Paul was lonely. His previous girlfriend had invaded his life so fervently that now he required someone to sleep next to him on a bi-weekly basis, as if he was a heroin addict who now required some form of a withdrawal pill.
He thought of sleeping with Sheila the first time. The two of them could not even remember how they had met, only that Paul had eyed her greedily (and somehow, immediately) at the bar. “Patience,” she replied, as if she could hear the look perfectly. They returned to her apartment and had sex twice while Paul at one point whispered like a fool, “I want to keep you.” Looking back, he had made the proclamation to a complete and utter stranger. Now at breakfast, she was no longer a stranger but things had somehow grown worse still.
When the two left to the parking lot, Sheila casually mentioned some friends meeting later that night for pizza and beers. Paul agreed that the idea sounded good, mentioned that he would check to see what his friends were doing as well, but then said, “and I’ll let you know.” Once again, as if picking up on another invisible cue, she replied “oh, I’ll let you know too.”
Driving home, Paul’s mind wandered to his ex-girlfriend again. He thought of a time when they had been drinking heavily alcoholic drinks and ended up passionately fighting right there in front of his third wheel roommate over something senseless like the whole idea of the paparazzi. “They’re like cockroaches,” Paul laid his gavel down. And then, as if in a need to always one up him, Lory countered that it was really, in truth, systemic.
But even after his roommate calmed the both of them down by taking up neutral ground, Paul returned to the argument on their drive home, so much so that by the end of it, his girlfriend was weeping hysterically for Paul admitted that he would drive everything into the ground to prove that he was right, to prove that his ideas were the most important.