GIVEN UP ON LOVE
Bard Valentine Invitational 2013
“Tell me again why I’m doing this,” Katherine Palmer asked herself when her car crested the mountain pass midway between where she had come from and where she was going.
Because you haven’t been out of the house in two months, a voice in her head answered.
“And that’s a problem why?”
It’s a problem because you can’t continue like that.
Me… and, therefore, you.
“I’m perfectly happy to continue like that.”
Ha. You forget I know you better than you do.
“Is that possible?”
Don’t change the subject. You have to get back into circulation.
“Nope. Been there, done that. Not interested.”
One relationship goes bad and you’re ready to give up on love?
The first doesn’t count… she was just using you.
Even you have to agree that all she wanted was someone to take care of her house and her dogs when she flew back and forth to California to be with her “friends”.
“Why do you say it like that?”
You know why.
“Okay, I admit that one was a mistake, but I prefer to think I was in love and she wasn’t.”
You just made my point. Now do you want to talk about number two? At least that one was good while it lasted.
“I wanted more… I wanted a lifetime.
Sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way.
“Saying that doesn’t make it any easier.”
Look, I know you loved her and she hurt you. I know you didn’t want it to end but it has. She’s gone on with her life and now you need to get on with yours.
“I’m not ready.”
You can’t mope around forever.
Staring out the windshield at the mountain highway curving around a turn in front of her, Katherine fought back the tears threatening to blur her vision. “It just really still hurts,” she whispered.
I know. But it’s good that you’re taking this first step. And it’s not like you’re actually going on a date. You’re just getting out and around people again.
“I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”
It’s one evening and chances are you won’t know anyone at this thing. Just enjoy it for what it is—a good excuse to get out of the house.
Katherine sighed. “All right. But can we call a truce for the night? I just want to go, see the paintings, and leave. No checking out other women. Okay?”
You’re the boss.
You can do this, Katherine told herself climbing out of her car. Standing, she straightened her jacket, shut the door and confirmed it was locked, then started across the parking lot to an imposing brick and sandstone building. Walking up the path that led to the entrance, she couldn’t help but notice an extremely large, multi-colored banner hanging over the front doors— WELCOME ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONSERVATION SOCIETY LIFETIME MEMBERS. “That’s a bit much,” she muttered pulling open one of the doors to step into the brightly lit lobby.
“Welcome, welcome,” a tall, blond woman immediately greeted Katherine. “Ah, Ms. Palmer, so nice to finally meet you,” the woman said after reading the name on the invitation Katherine had handed her. “Thank you for coming. My name is Heidi and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have this evening. You will find information on our current projects displayed here in the lobby and the Randolph paintings are in the gallery located through those doors.”
Katherine looked across the vestibule crowded with tables and clusters of talking people to where Heidi was pointing at the rear of the room. Great, I have to walk through a gauntlet of propaganda before I can see what I came for. She turned back to Heidi and smiled. “Thank you,” she said refraining from adding her unspoken thoughts.
“And do help yourself to the hors d’oeuvres. I’ll look you up later when I finish greeting all of our guests,” Heidi said quickly before stepping away to welcome a couple entering the building.
Left alone, Katherine looked about the lobby and the multitude of tables set around its perimeter. Each table displayed oversized prints of beautiful landscapes with various printed materials spread out before them. Paying little attention to these exhibits, she focused her attention on the area where trays of hors d’oeuvres were waiting to be consumed and, instead, headed for them. “Do you have anything else to drink?” she asked one of the servers behind the bar when she saw only bottles of wine and hard liquor on the shelves behind him. “I’d prefer water… or even a soda,” she explained.
“They keep the non-alcoholic stuff hidden.”
Katherine turned to find a woman standing a few feet away with a bemused look on her face. “The organizers prefer us to drink; they think it helps to open up our wallets. Shannon Thompson,” she said holding out her hand.
Katherine grasped the offered hand and laughed. “If that’s the case, they’re going to be surprised at how little there is in mine.”
“Ma’am,” the server had placed a wine glass full of clear liquid on the bar.
“Thank you,” Katherine smiled then picked up the glass.
“You might want to make sure that’s just water.”
“Miss Tiffany!” the server protested. “You don’t think I’d spike it, do you?”
Shannon laughed. “I know you wouldn’t, David. But I wouldn’t put it past Heidi.”
David grinned. “No comment,” he said before moving down the bar to serve another patron.
“I take it you’ve been to more than a few of these,” Katherine commented.
“Unfortunately, yes. It seems when you pay for a lifetime membership, the organization’s fund raisers think you’re willing to hand over a chunk of change whenever their coffers run short. Your first?”
Katherine nodded. “But I only came because I love western art and the chance to see Randolph’s collection in one place was too good to pass up. I’m afraid I’ll be a major disappointment to the fund raisers tonight.” Katherine took a sip from her glass then grinned. “Water,” she assured Shannon.
“Ah, good news.” Holding up her own glass, Shannon called to the server, “David, another if you please. I stick to ginger ale myself,” she explained to Katherine. “And I agree with you about Randolph; I think he’s one of the best… right up there with Charlie Russell. And since you are such a fan, I won’t keep you any longer. Please go and enjoy.”
Slowly moving from one oversize canvas to the next, Katherine quickly lost track of time as she enjoyed the painted depictions of life in the west in the 1800s. A particular canvas had grabbed her attention and she was seated on a well-placed bench to study and enjoy the panorama. Unlike most of the paintings in the room which displayed scenes of action, this canvas was dominated by an Indian village at sunset. The vanishing sun reflected off the buffalo hide-covered tepees and cooking fires glowed brightly in the fading light.
“Would you mind some company?”
The voice interrupted Katherine’s contemplations and she turned to find Shannon standing beside her. “Absolutely,” she said with a smile.
“It’s beautiful,” Shannon said as she sat on the bench.
“Yes, it is. And so peaceful… it draws you in.”
“So true. I sometimes forget it’s just a painting when I look at it; I actually begin to believe that I’m in that village. There are times that I would even swear I could smell the smoke and the horses; and hear the fires snapping and the children laughing as they play.”
“It is mesmerizing,” Katherine agreed. “The photographs I’ve seen of it don’t come close to doing it justice.”
“No, it’s definitely a painting you have to see in person.”
“I’m so glad I talked myself into coming tonight; this painting made the whole day worth the effort.”
“Effort? You’re not from Helena?”
“That’s not too long of a drive.”
“Oh, it wasn’t the drive. It was convincing myself that I needed to get out of the house.”
“Not really. It’s just… well, it’s a long sad story and I’m sure you don’t want to hear it.”
“I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good listener.”
“It’s um… a little embarrassing,” Katherine said self-effacingly. “My girlfriend suddenly broke up with me a few months ago and it really knocked me for a loop.”
“Been there, done that. Breakups can be a real bitch. Were you with her very long?”
“Almost six years. Of course, I thought it would be for a lifetime.”
“I’m sorry. Hopefully, she had a good reason… if there is such a thing.”
“If you call falling in love with another woman a good reason.”
“Well, if you don’t mind me saying… I’m sorry it happened but I’m glad it got you here.”
Katherine blinked back the tears forming in her eyes then turned to look at Shannon quizzically.
“It’s rare that I get to meet other Randolph admirers,” Shannon continued, “and, especially, someone who truly appreciates his talent like you do.”
Katherine smiled, glad for the change of subject. “I could say the same about you.”
Shannon laughed. “Yes, we are a rare breed.” A distinctive voice was heard coming from the opposite side of the gallery. “Uh oh. Heidi’s looking for prey. Has she cornered you yet?”
“Signing up for the Legacy Project.”
“Leaving a substantial donation to the Conservancy in your will.”
Katherine laughed out loud. “If by substantial you mean about forty three dollars… which is what is in my checking account right now—”
“Ah, Miss Palmer, I’ve been looking all over for you,” Heidi said rushed toward her.
“Good evening, Heidi,” Shannon greeted the woman. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Would you excuse us,” Heidi responded with a forced smile.
“That won’t be necessary,” Katherine quickly informed Heidi. “Let me save you some time; I know what you want and—”
“Good, good, good,” Heidi said pulling a form out of the attaché she carried. “I’ll just need some information and a signature.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m sorry but I have nothing to donate.”
“My aunt paid for my membership,” Katherine told Heidi. “I can assure you that I could have never afforded it on my own.”
Heidi shoved the form back into the attaché. “I see,” she snapped. “Well, then I won’t waste any more of your time.” She spun abruptly about and, zeroing in on her next target, hurried away.
“Wow. She’s intense; I’d hate to be the one she goes home to.”
“Believe it or not, she can be pretty nice when she isn’t in fund raising mode,” Shannon said wistfully.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult her. If she’s a friend…”
“She’s my ex. And, don’t worry about it, you’re right… she is high maintenance.”
Katherine took a few moments to study Heidi, now standing with an older couple and dominating a rather animated conversation. Then she turned back to Shannon and grinned.
“Am I missing something?” Shannon asked seeing the look of bemusement on Katherine’s face.
“I’m sorry but she really doesn’t seem to be your type.”
“Oh? And my type would be?”
“I know I’m out on a limb here… but I would say a tad more laid back?”
Shannon chuckled. “That’s funny… and it’s exactly what most of my friends said when we first hooked up. But what can I say… I fell head over heels for her.”
“I think me wanting to focus on a long-term relationship got in the way of her wanting to focus on advancing her career. One day I asked her to switch up her schedule so we could spend time together and she told me that she wasn’t going to be inconvenienced by my needs.”
“Ow, that’s harsh.”
“Yeah. It really stung; still does when I think about it. Our relationship fell apart soon after.”
“I would have never guessed she was your ex… she was pretty cold to you.”
“One thing about Heidi— when she moves on, she moves on.”
“What about you?”
“It took me about six months before I could talk about her without crying my eyes out. I really thought she was the one; I was even seriously thinking of proposing.”
Shannon shrugged. “It’s been three years and, well, as the saying goes… life goes on.”
“So, you’re over her?”
Shannon smiled sadly. “I tell myself that.”
“I haven’t found anyone to replace her,” Shannon said. “What about you?”
“I’m still in the crying-whenever-I-think-of-her stage.” Katherine’s eyes dropped to the floor. “It still really hurts,” she whispered. “I miss her so much.”
“The worst time for me was late at night when the house was quiet and I would lay in bed and think of all the what-could-have-beens,” Shannon said knowingly.
“It’s when I see something that reminds me of a place we had talked about visiting… it’s hard to realize all those plans will never happen. Ack!” Katherine cried out, startled by the momentary darkness as the lights in the gallery went dark before returning to their normal state. “Did they forget to pay the power bill?”
Shannon laughed. “That’s our warning that they plan to shut this shindig down in an hour.”
“Oh, my goodness, it can’t be that late,” Katherine blurted out. “I was planning to drive home tonight.” She glanced at her watch then jumped up. “Oh, damn, it’s too late for that now. I better go find a motel room and hope I can afford it.”
Shannon stood then chewed on her lower lip for a few moments as Katherine collected her purse and jacket from the bench. “I hesitate to say this, because I don’t want to embarrass or insult you, but if you’re really short of money, I could—”
“I’ll be fine,” Katherine interrupted the offer. “I enjoyed meeting you, Shannon. Maybe we’ll meet again at another Randolph showing.” She held out her hand.
“I really enjoyed tonight,” Shannon told Katherine reaching for her hand. “Hang in there, I’m sure you’ll find love again,” she added squeezing the hand she held gently.
Katherine shook her head. “Two broken hearts is my limit; I’m not sure I could survive another one,” she said dejectedly.
“You can’t give up on love. At least, that’s what my friends keep telling me.”
“There’s nothing like well meaning friends,” Katherine said withdrawing her hand.
Shannon watched Katherine walked across the gallery and disappear into the crowded lobby. Sighing, she dropped back down onto the bench.
Katherine backed carefully out of her parking spot then turned the car toward the exit. She slammed on the brakes when a form rushed out from the shadows and into her path. “I could have hit you,” she barked angrily after rolling down her window.
“Sorry,” Shannon apologized. “I wanted to make sure you saw me.”
Katherine threw the car into neutral then dropped her head onto the steering wheel with a thud. “I think you gave me a heart attack,” she muttered.
“Should I call an ambulance?”
“Not yet.” After a few moments, and only when her heart settled back to a normal rhythm, Katherine lifted her head. “Are you in the habit of jumping in front of moving cars?” she asked disconcertedly.
“No, not really. But, um… I… well, it’s…” Shannon stammered.
Katherine peered out the window, her anger giving way to amusement at the befuddled look on Shannon’s face.
“All right, I know I just made a fool of myself but give me a chance to say what I want to say.”
“Okay,” Katherine agreed.
“I travel to Missoula a couple of times a month for my job and I… um… Look, I know you aren’t ready for a new relationship and I’m okay with that but I was wondering…” The words tumbled from Shannon’s mouth. “I mean just as friends, nothing more… well, would it be okay if I called you the next time I’m in town? Just as friends,” she emphasized again.
Enchanted, Katherine smiled at her. “Do you have a cell phone?”
“Cell phone?” Katherine asked holding up her own phone that she had just removed from her jacket pocket.
“Oh… yeah, I do… somewhere,” Shannon said fumbling to find it in her purse.
“Number?” Katherine asked then punched the numbers into her keypad as Shannon provided them. When a muffled ring sounded in Shannon’s purse, she ended the call. “Now, you have mine in your missed call box, and I have yours. And to answer your question, yes, you can call me. But, only as—”
“Friends… just friends,” Shannon assured her, a grin spreading across her face. She stepped back from the car. “Drive safe,” she called out when Katherine put the car into gear and started forward.
Katherine reached the lot’s exit and stopped. A glance into the rear view mirror confirmed what she had surprisingly found herself wishing for – Shannon was still standing where she had left her. As she looked, Shannon raised a hand to wave.
Looks like my idea to come tonight wasn’t as bad as you thought, the voice in her head piped up for the first time all evening.
“What do you mean?” Katherine asked.
Oh, you can’t fool me. You like her.
“She’s nice. But I doubt I’ll ever hear from her.”
Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that.
With a smile, Katherine focused back on the task at hand and drove out of the parking lot.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY