"I never loved you, you know." She examined his coffee cup-- light and sweet next to her black double-strong. He never could take it like a man.

"Horseshit." They sat in the break room over the New York Times and the perpetuation of a playful bickering that had gone on for months. She'd opened this particular afternoon's volley rather abruptly, he thought. "If I had a nickel for every time you've said that and actually meant it, I'd be broke." He produced a blue inkpen from his briefcase and flipped from Sports to the crossword puzzle.

"Broker than you already are?" It was no secret that his recent divorce court debacle had not treated him well. She fished for her pack of Marlboro Lights, grinning smugly at the thought of his now ex-wife taking him for all he had, deriving a tinge of sick satisfaction.

"Hmm. Touché." She stood to leave, lighter in hand. "Hey, I thought you quit."

"I did."

~~~

Leaning against the warm granite of the building, she lit her cigarette and wished for a pair of sunglasses. No shade in sight, she squinted and took a long, forgiving drag.

It hadn't started quite so flippantly. They had always just fucked their problems away, and once that lost its charm, what should have been a devastating confrontation devolved into an indiscrete throwaway vendetta after they realized that neither of them were very good with emotional gravity. Now it was an endless, futile battle of who-could-get-the-last-word. Every conversation they had was a string of relentless jabs, and it had gotten to the point that the fine line between jest and malevolence was beyond blurred.

She thought about the picture he still kept in his office, taken in Montreal on their whirlwind road trip through Canada two summers earlier... two smiles that infectiously leapt from the faces in the photograph and spread across the viewer's. He wanted to remember her that way, back when they could still delude themselves into happiness. Making love in the bed of his pickup truck where civilization couldn't see, no mind given to jobs, paperwork, lawsuits, spouses... tearing through miles and miles of highway with the windows down and Bob Seger blaring, hand in hand.

She stubbed out her neglected cigarette and lit another. Up until that morning, she'd still held onto the hope that she had, if only for a moment, been happy with him... but she was tired of clutching to an imaginary ghost.

Reaching into her purse, she dug through the coagulation of change at the bottom. There was unfinished business to attend to.





title challenge by etouffee. grazie, darlin'.