“I think we should break up.”
“Seconded,” he told her, juggling three pomegranates. Nimbly he stuck two back into their crate and set the other in their cart.
“I agree. We should break up. That’s, uh…” he swept his hand across the cart. “That’s what this was for. Although I guess now we don’t have to go through the hassle of checkout. You feel like Arby’s?”
“Wait. You wanted to break up too?”
“Well, we’ve been over for awhile now. It’s only just recently become clear to me this isn’t a hump we’re going to get over.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean…wait, what do you mean what do I mean? You just said you wanted to break up with me too. I was there, remember?”
“The fact that we don’t love each other anymore. Or rather that you don’t love me. I think I might still love you, though. I mean, I could just be fixated, but I think I still love you.”
“And you want to break up anyway?”
“Well yeah. Did you miss the part where I said you don’t love me?”
She was quiet at that part. Almost seemed ashamed. “I’m sorry.”
He just shrugged. “That’s how these things end. One of us stops loving the other. I mean, we weren’t in love when we started out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you told me, the year we became exclusive, that you realized you were in love with me right after New Year. I didn’t have that thought about you till the summer.”
“So we were together almost half a year, and you didn’t love me?”
“Sometimes love just grows. I figured it would with me. Guess I figured right.”
“That’s awfully cynical.”
“Nope. I said love, remember?”
“Stop saying that! Stop saying remember like you’re mocking me!”
“I’m sorry. That was pretty shitty of me just now.” He looked her in the eye. “I’m sincerely sorry. My…feelings are hurt, and I was sublimating it by being a douche bag, I guess. I really am sorry.”
“But you said you wanted to break up.”
“I agreed we should break up.”
“You were planning to break up with me tonight.”
“And pack my things in the morning. I know. It doesn’t mean I’m not so petty that being dumped first doesn’t hurt.”
He had a small fantasy of just tilting the cart over and dumping everything on her sparkling ballet flats. He was somewhat comforted by the surge of guilt he felt when the imagery passed. She reciprocated with a fantasy of her own, a simple one where she beat her fists against the back of his head, until the smugness was replaced with a pitiful beg for her to please stop hurting him.
But was that what he was saying already?
“Plus, I’m still in love with you, like I said.”
How much were they not saying to each other? How much had gone unsaid in the three years they’d been together?
They were still standing by the fucking pomegranates. Those things always took so much work to peel and eat.
“So,” and she had to stop to swallow a lump in her throat, “so what do we…Ben, I don’t wanna hurt you like this.”
“Then don’t. Dump me. Or I can dump you. Either way I should be fine, so long as we end it by tonight.”
Ben turned the cart around and nodded for Callie to follow. “I think I need some wine. We’ll feel better about this once one or both of us is drunk.”
He grabbed two bottles of the dirt cheap Merlot he always drank, then grabbed a mid-grade Moscato he knew she favored. “I’m not being a hog, I swear,” he told her, nodding to his own bottles. “The pomegranate glaze I wanna make needs to be boiled in a red.”
“Are you sure you’re still in love with me?”
“Pretty sure. But after awhile I’ll be running around somewhere, and it’ll hit me that I’m not in love with you anymore. It’s okay. That’s how it works. You fall in, you fall out.”
“Not always, though.”
“Oh, God no, not always. Only chumps get that pessimistic. Love can be forever, it just usually isn’t.”
She chewed her pinkie nail. “I should’ve ended this sooner. It wasn’t fair to you.”
“What do you mean? You been out of love with me for awhile now?”
She couldn’t think of any other way to phrase it other than: “I think so.”
“How long now? If you don’t mind me asking, I mean.”
“Like,” and she bit her lips. “Like…a long time now. I haven’t had that fluttery feeling for…years, I think.”
“Ooooh.” He paused, like he was considering something. “So not New Year, then.”
“You weren’t in love with me on New Year’s. You had a crush on me.” He waved his hand like he was clearing smoke. “Love’s the other thing. The…the steady part that comes after. The quiet thing.”
“You don’t think I loved you?”
“No, I think you did. Longer than you think you did, anyway. You just…didn’t know which part the love was.”
There came a cold edge of certainty in her. “You’re a fucking patronizing bastard.”
“Oh, fuck you.” He sounded tired when he said it. “Do you realize how much restraint I’m showing by not climbing in the car and leaving your ass to walk?”
He imagined her walking, and again there came the guilt over how much pleasure the idea of her discomfort gave him. She imagined not talking to him as he moved his things into the U-Haul trailer. Thing was, between the two of them, her fantasy was more likely to come true.
They checked out without a word, and they were halfway home before Ben broke the silence. “Hey, look, I’m sorry for what I said.”
“I started it.”
“No, no. I had that coming. You were completely right. I was baiting you and I didn’t like that you’d caught on.” He bopped her knee. “I’m sorry. I really am.”
She glanced down at where he’d touched her. Once it would have made her breath catch, for his hand to have been so close to the hem of her skirt. Now the December night only felt cooler.
“Hey,” he said then. “Let’s just stuff our faces and get drunk. I’ll sleep on the couch. This’ll all be over by tomorrow.” He reached over and squeezed her arm above the wrist. “It’s like a band-aid, see? We just gotta do it all at once. It’ll be alright.”
They drove home, together, each heading further and further away.