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Turning Five to Zero

Ben and Robin have been sweethearts since high school. These have been the best years of their lives, and it seems impossible for things to get better than this. They certainly have it all. What more could they want?

Ben checked the clock again and looked at the unopened menus on the table and then to the empty seat across from him. Robin’s only a half-hour late and had mentioned being in a hurry, he reasoned to himself. Robin had often been late in the past few months, various meetings seeming to take precedence over quality time with Ben. He wasn’t bothered, however. The passion from when they had first met in high school five years earlier had changed into a comfortable familiarity, and Ben almost relished this bond more than their frenzied inseparability of that first year, knowing that what they shared now was built upon trust and understanding and not simply teenaged hormones. Now he thought it seemed that they knew each other better than they knew themselves. Still anxious to see Robin, Ben tried to distract himself by straightening his silverware for the sixth time and continuing to occasionally nibble at the inside of his lip.

I hope Robin’s alright, he fretted before quickly dismissing the thought. What am I worrying about? Robin has always been able to handle problems without hesitation. I should do so well, Ben thought to himself.

"Hi, Ben," said the only person he had loved since high school, breaking Ben’s reverie and pulling back strands of long blond hair before sinking into the seat across from him.

"Hi, baby," Ben smilingly returned the greeting. "I was getting worried –"

"Look, Ben – we need to talk."

Ben’s smile faded slightly. These were not the words any boyfriend ever wanted to hear. He swallowed hard but said nothing, waiting expectantly for Robin to continue.

"I could spend a lot of time trying to ease you through this, but it won't change anything. Just let me just say it – I’ve found someone else. I don’t want to be with you anymore." Robin delivered the news dispassionately, watching Ben for his reaction.

For Ben this was not simply like the possibility of losing a casual lover. This was a love of five devoted years. The unexpected revelation caused Ben to shake slightly and grip the edges of the table with both hands. His entire sense of stability, trust, and completeness was being ripped away painfully and without warning. He looked up at Robin, then looked quickly around the entire restaurant, sure that all eyes were upon him. All of the happiness and comfort, the contentment and the plans for the future – everything he had wanted and held for five years was suddenly in jeopardy. Can I still save this? Can I hold on to Robin and survive our first threat from an outside temptation? Will Robin listen? Ben looked back to the unreadable face across from him for answers and didn’t know what to think.

"I … you … I love you. I … We need each other."

"No, Ben. You may need me, but I’ve found much more satisfaction from someone else." Robin retained the same detached demeanor and glanced away from Ben to the clock on the wall.

"You told me you loved me," Ben continued, confusion and despair contorting his face. "You said …wait – what do you mean you found more satisfaction? You didn’t –"

"Look, Ben, it’s not important. It’s just over. It’s not like I hate you or anything; we can still be friends."

Ben's jaw tightened in anger and frustration. "I can’t believe you would say that – you know I hate it when people use that line." Ben began turning red through his whole face and neck. As he grew more upset, his eyes developed a matching hue from unshed tears. "You sleep with someone else and then you think you can make it all better by offering to still be my friend. Do you seriously think –"

"Look, Ben, I have to go." Robin stood and glanced again at the clock on the wall, no longer looking in Ben’s direction. "I’ll call you some time and we can talk more."

What? Ben thought. No offer of a shoulder to cry on; no comment of "I’m sorry" or "I didn’t plan on this;" no explanation of how this could happen? Just the cliché offer of friendship without any sincerity or honesty; an offer to forgive and then completely forget each other? Is that it? No single emotion could account for all of this. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

Ben choked out a startled, "But …" but it was too late to make a difference. The last five years of his life had already walked out the door.


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Turning Five to Zero, by Paul Cales, © October 2001