The Unfortunate One
Of all the dates Leah Hempfield had been on, none of them ended by walking out of the police station. Sure, when she’d gone on dates with Mike their car broke down, the movie skipped at the theater, and it’d rained on their picnic, but nothing like this.
‘Our string of bad luck continues,’ Leah said.
She walked with her arms crossed careful not to step on any cracks. The night air made the hair on her arms stand up. It reminded her of the weather the night she graduated college two years ago, and the fearful dread of the unknown that followed. Instead of her early twenties cap and gown, tonight she wore a tight red dress with a high slit up her thigh. It was the perfect dinner tease, not suited for a late night walk through Pittsburgh.
‘You still look beautiful.’ Mike kissed her on the cheek.
Leah placed her hand on her cheek and smiled. ‘You always say that after something goes wrong.’
But that wasn’t true. Mike told her she was beautiful every time he saw her. Leah liked that about him. He treated her better than all the other guys in her past.
‘It’s just another adventure.’ Mike hit the walk button for the crosswalk even though there wasn’t any traffic.
He turned and pulled Leah in close giving her another kiss, this time on the lips, and squeezed her butt.
A car sped by and the passenger yelled WHORE out the window.
Mike flipped them off, but they were too far gone for it to matter.
‘I can’t believe that,’ Mike said.
‘It’s just our luck.’ Leah grabbed his hand and crossed the street.
They continued walking down the street until they got back to the restaurant. It wasn’t one that magazines would feature as to why you should visit Pittsburgh, but for locals, it was a good night out. They then grabbed the rest of their belongings that the kind officers wouldn’t let them take in the cruiser, and then left. The wait staff offered coupons for them to come back another time, but Leah refused.
Mike walked Leah back to his car. It was still sitting in the parking garage racking up a bigger bill by the hour.
‘At least the old Ford’s still here. I’m glad it’s not towed or something,’ Mike said.
‘After everything that’s happened to us, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did,’ Leah said.
Mike then opened the door for her and she got in. Not until she started riding with Mike had a man ever done that before for her. Leah didn’t even know she wanted that, but now she’d experienced it, she realized that she did. A few minutes later, and one long goodnight kiss, she was in her apartment.
Leah walked in and threw her handbag on the couch before slumping down. Her chest almost fell out of her dress, but she didn’t care anymore. They only person who could see her now was her roommate Steph, and she had her own boobs to look at.
‘Steph! We need to talk,’ Leah shouted.
Not even two seconds later her brown-haired roommate emerged from the kitchen, without pants, and eating a bowl of cereal.
‘Tell me everything!’ Steph said as she sat down beside Leah. The cereal in the bowl sloshed to the side but didn’t spill over. Steph muted the TV that had the hockey game on.
Leah sighed. “You’ll never believe what happened this time.’
‘A bird shit on you?’ Steph said.
‘Do you see any on me? No. We were accused of being accessories to theft. Arrested and taken downtown like criminals.’
Steph blinked a few times, and then it hit her.
‘Wow. That’s gotta be the top of the ladder for you,’ Steph said.
‘Don’t worry. The manager and security cameras cleared us. But I think Mike’s bad luck. I mean, something always goes wrong when I see him,’ Leah said.
She then kicked her shoes off and watched them spin through the air. They smacked the floor across the apartment with a loud THUD. One landed perfectly upright, while the other fell onto its side.
‘You guys get all the fun stories.’ Steph downed the milk in her cereal bowl and got up. She went back to the kitchen and returned with her phone.
‘I think the bad luck is a sign,’ Leah said.
‘Oh what?’ Steph set her phone down on her lap.
‘That maybe Mike and I aren’t meant to be. We’re bad luck for each other,’ Leah said. She curled up on the couch.
‘Have you asked him about it? I bet he just enjoys everything. He probably tells all of his friends everything that happens when you two meet up,’ Steph said.
‘Don’t be stubborn about it. You know he’s better than any other guy out there. I’d kill to have a guy like him.’ Steph said. She then got up and returned to the kitchen.
Leah sat on the couch and looked at her phone. Maybe this bad luck stuff was just nonsense after all. Maybe.
‘But look. I can get you back on Tinder too or whatever app you want. There’s tons of dick out there to get on. I just don’t think there’s better than Mike for you.’ Steph came back from the kitchen with a glass of wine this time.
But would those other guys want to see her? Would she be good enough for them? If the past was any indication of the future, Leah most certainly would not be. If she wasn’t good enough for Mike, the best guy she’d found thus far, she couldn’t be good enough for a swipe right. That’s why she was chronically single at age twenty-three.
Leah shook her head. ‘No. I just want things to go right. I’m getting tired of it all.’
‘Don’t be tired of it. Things are going right.’
‘That’s not what I’m starting to think. These smaller things are warning flags for bigger things down the road,’ Leah said. She looked down at her own phone. The background was a smiling picture of them laughing on their third date a month ago. That was when the movie projector slipped and they had to sit in the theatre for an hour waiting for repairs. She knew that all of her friends from school had wedding pictures as their backgrounds.
‘I don’t want to break up with him, but he’s totally bad luck,’ Leah said.
‘Then keep being stubborn and text him and be over it. Don’t let your fear of being an old maid stop you from finding something great. I think you’re your worst enemy here though.’ Steph stared at her phone swiping left and right.
But Leah couldn’t do that. She’d gone out too many times with Mike Aster to up and leave him so mercilessly. He’d given her a chance when so many other guys hadn’t. The strings keeping her attached to this man didn’t come from her head but from her heart.
She genuinely liked him, and if given the time, could grow into love.
Leah didn’t want to leave Mike. She wanted the leave the bad luck.
‘I think I’ll just talk to him about it,’ Leah said.
‘Would you want my grandma’s lucky rabbit foot? She gave it to me before I moved out of my parents’ house to keep me safe and I ended up with you as a roommate, but she had it when she met my grandfather, too. So I guess there’s a little bit of good juju in it. If you want I can let you use it the next time you see him,’ Steph said.
Leah smiled. ‘I’d like that.’
She got up from the couch and started to strip on her way to her bed. By the time she’d changed clothes, Leah had two Snapchats from Mike, one telling her she had a good night and one where he had no clothes on. Both made her smile.
Two days later on a sidewalk in Point State Park, Leah hugged Mike Aster. He scooped her up in his arms and swung her around like an Olympian throwing the hammer toss. He met her with a kiss at the end.
‘I’m so happy to see you,’ Mike whispered in her ear.
Leah smiled and took his hand. They started to walk down the sidewalk passing by older Pittsburghers walking their dogs. The rivers were high and dirty with springtime muck just a few feet from the sidewalk, but the sunshine falling down was warm.
Mike had on a simple outfit: t-shirt and shorts.
Leah had on a white long sleeve shirt with khaki capris. In her pocket was Steph’s lucky rabbit’s foot.
The park was green with the late April rains, and Leah loved the way the trees smelled. It was a nice break up from the urban concrete that lined the rest of the city.
‘So you said you wanted to chat a bit?’ Mike asked.
‘Yes,’ Leah added. ‘It has been a whole two days since we left the station together.’
She was careful not to step on any cracks in the sidewalk but tried to keep Mike from noticing. He hadn’t said anything yet so she figured she was in the clear.
Leah took a deep breath. ‘I’ve been thinking.’
‘Now that’s a scary way to start a conversation.’ Mike locked eyes with her.
‘Well, I’ve just been thinking that every time I see you, something bad happens. It just feels like we’re bad luck.’ Leah said.
‘Nah. I think it’s been fun. I’ve never had a boring time with you. Bad luck doesn’t exist anyway.’ Mike smiled.
‘It does. Luck, good and bad, really does exist out there,’ Leah said.
‘Yeah! Bad luck is a thing and we really have it.’ Leah said.
Mike shook his head. ‘No, I don’t agree with you.’
‘How? It’s like the universe is telling us to stop seeing each other,’ Leah said.
There. It was out. She could exhale.
Mike carved his face into a thinking man’s scowl and looked away. ‘I have to admit that things usually do go wrong when it’s the two of us, but as for luck? That’s bullshit. Luck doesn’t exist like that. The universe isn’t in complete control here either. It’s you and me.’
‘Luck had been pretty good for me until you came along,’ Leah said.
‘Luck’s like a saying. It doesn’t really exist though. Like when people say “oh my god!” They’re not really calling out to god.’ Mike said. He then stopped and grabbed Leah’s other hand. ‘I think we make a good couple. I was hoping you wanted to see me today to make things official.’
Leah felt a jolt inside her body. That was exactly what she wanted, but she wasn’t ready for the consequences of it. What more things could go wrong in her life? Would she potentially lose her job for this relationship? If she became Mike Aster’s girlfriend would their rent go up and she lose the apartment with Steph? It would all point her to the same thing: heartbreak.
But what if she did become his girlfriend? Her mind saw infinite smiles, endless kisses, and passionate sex. The positive possibilities all pointed to one thing: love.
Leah squirmed her hands out of Mike’s grip. ‘I think we should try a few more dates.’
‘A few more? Leah, we’ve been seeing each other multiple times for months now. I’m ready to go the next step.’ Mike said.
I’m not ready for my car to get repossessed or my mother to have a heart attack. I don’t know what’s going to go wrong today because I saw you, but I can’t even imagine what’ll go wrong if I go further with you like that. I think we should just stay friends for now.’
Leah crossed her arms. She had to let her thoughts out. She couldn’t risk all the bad luck in the world for a single lover. Even so, she could feel the heartstrings that connected her to Mike pulling tight, too tight.
‘Are you that scared of me?’ Mike asked. ‘Or just that crazy stubborn?’
Leah had to let a young man on a bicycle go by before she could answer. The biker sped by in a neon flash.
‘I’m not scared of you, Mike. Maybe I am stubborn, but I do really like you. I just think that bad things happen when we’re together,’ Leah said.
She leaned in to kiss him, but Mike turned his cheek. He then started to walk away.
‘Mike, please, say something,’ Leah asked. She wished now that she hadn’t let go of his hands.
Mike kept walking down the sidewalk under the shade of the trees. Leah knew that if she let him go in a city as big as Pittsburgh, she’d never see him again.He’d never answer her texts or Snaps. So she grabbed the rabbit foot in her pocket tight for second, squeezing all the good juju out of it she could. Then she went up behind Mike and wrapped him in a big hug.
She then heard a whisper, a faint, almost imagined whisper.
I love you.
Leah let go of Mike and waited for him to turn around. She didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure of what she heard, but Mike didn’t say anything more. He only began walking.
Right then a big, fat horsefly bit her neck. Leah slapped the bug and watched it fall to the sidewalk below. When she looked up, Mike Aster was gone and her heartstrings snapped. AQ