Author's note: I've written quite a bit lately, though I haven't shared any of it publicly. This story was written based on a single word prompt ("Solve") and it's quite different than most of the other stories I've written. I hope you enjoy it!
Five more months went by before I heard anything more about Sherri. I had just arrived home from a new client’s office just when the phone rang.
“Jack,” the voice said. It was her. I turned up the volume, straining to hear more than her voice. Any background noise would help figure out where she was calling from, but instead I only heard a slight crackle of static.
“Sherri, I -- “
“I just wanted you to know I’m alright,” she interrupted. “I’m pretty sure that everyone’s gone crazy looking for me, but I couldn’t do it.”
“What couldn’t you do?” I asked her.
“Oh, all of it. Staying with you, moving in with Sam, the whole thing. I was just sick of living a life that I thought I should have and I assumed you would be the one to make that for me. But you’re too damaged to be any good for anyone.”
I almost objected, but I could see her point. “What about Sam?”
“Oh, Sam is sweet and I know he would treat me well. But he was only going to be my rebound from you and I didn’t think that was fair to him. So I just took off.”
“You know the cops are looking for you. Good old Sam told them I must’ve done something bad to you because you never showed up. Does he know you’re okay?”
She hesitated for a moment. “Yes, I talked to him this morning.”
“Where are you?”
“That doesn’t matter, Jack, it’s over. I’m not coming back to California again, ever.”
I considered her words. Sherri turned her back on a state she said was the garden paradise of the world at one time. She must’ve been really unhappy with her life to leave it all behind like this and I was the only one to blame.
“I’m painting again,” I told her, hoping that would sway her.
“Good, I’m glad. You’re a talented artist, Jack, you need to paint.”
“I’ve gotten my life back on track, too. No more drinking, at least like I used to. No more feeling sorry for myself, either.”
“That’s wonderful. Sounds like my leaving helped you break through your blockage and now you can move on, too.”
I wanted to jump through the phone and shake her. “No, no!” I insisted. “Sure, I needed a wake-up call, but I didn’t need you out of my life and I still don’t. Damnit, Sherri, I miss you! I miss us. I have no interest in meeting another woman and starting over. You’re ‘it’ for me. Can’t we try again?”
I give her credit. She stayed silent long enough to convince me she was really thinking about it, but instead she uttered a quiet, but firm, “No, Jack” and without another word, she hung up.Right then, I saw the entire picture. Just like that crossword I childishly ruined all those months ago, Sherri only wanted to come up with a solution to our future, but I blocked her at every turn. Instead of continuing to struggle, she chose a puzzle she knew she could solve and left me to figure out my own, whether I wanted to or not. Maybe someday I’ll do just that.