Potato nachos and beer

Randy slid into the booth opposite Laurene, and mumbled hello.
Laurene smiled at Randy. “Well hey there Randy! I wasn’t sure you’d come. ”
Randy shook his head, bemused. “Laurene, I haven’t seen you in near on three months. Of course I was gonna come. ”
Laurene laughed. “I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way. You know me, never thinking things all the way through. By the way, feel free to dig in. I ordered your favorites, potato nachos and Red Dog beer. ”
Robotically, Randy ate some potato nachos and drank some of the beer, even though the nachos tasted like burnt plastic to him and the beer tasted like cold piss. He looked at Laurene expectantly.
“Oh Randy, you look so sad. Like a puppy that hopes to be pet but expects to get kicked. ” Laurene patted the space next to her in the booth. “Come on over here to Mama, sugar. ”
Randy gingerly sat down next to Laurene, and Laurene took him in her arms and stroked his long blond hair.
“See? I’m not here to hurt you, Randy. We just need to talk about a few things, that’s all. ”
Randy nodded, only half-listening. Laurene’s touch could always calm him down. Well, almost always.
“Laurene, I am so sorry that I ever raised a hand to… ”
“Hush, Randy. We’re not here to talk about that. I have heard a lot of apologies from you over the years, and they haven’t done either of us any good. ”
Randy looked up at Laurene. “But I am sorry, Laurene. You have got to believe that. ”
“Oh, I know you’re sorry, Randy honey. Ever time it happens, you are just about the sorriest man in the county. But being sorry doesn’t make things any better. It don’t fix nothing. ”
Randy took Laurene’s hand and looked deep into her eyes. “Laurene, I promise that if you take me back, I will never, ever..”
“You stop right there, Randy Saunders. Being sorry don’t fix nothing, but making promises you can’t keep makes things worse.”
“But it’s different this time, I swear, Laurene! All this time apart has really taught me a lesson. I’m a changed man, Laurene, and if you take me back just one more time, I will prove it to you. ”
Laurene smiled as she stroked Randy’s hair back from his forehead. “You really believe that, don’t you Randy? But Randy, how are you gonna stop what you don’t even understand? Do you even know why you end up hitting me?”
Randy looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know…. I get so het up about things, and it’s like I can’t think any more.. anyhow, it doesn’t matter why I do it because I ain’t gonna do it no more. ”
“That’s the problem, Randy. You don’t know why you do it. And saying you won’t do it when you don’t even know why it happens is like saying you can fix a car when you have no idea what’s wrong with it. It just doesn’t work, Randy. ”
Randy shifted in his seat nervously. “Well uh…. I guess I could… I dunno… ”
“What are you gonna do, Randy, to keep from getting all het up? You gonna quit your job at Eddy’s? You gonna stop visiting your folks? You gonna stop going out with the boys and getting liquored up on beer and riled up on politics? You gonna do all that, Randy Saunders, just to get me back? ”
Randy looked like he wanted to throw up. Or run away. “Well there’s only so much you can ask of a man…. ”
“That’s what I thought. But don’t feel bad, Randy. Even if you did all that, it wouldn’t change a thing. ”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve learned a lot of things from the girls at the Center, Randy. I understand you better now than I ever did before. And I know that abuse doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a need you have, Randy. An itch you just gotta scratch. So no matter what, sooner or later, it will happen again, and I just can’t take that any more. I can’t take any more late nights waiting up for you, not knowing what I will get when you come home. I can’t take any more of not feeling safe in my own home. I can’t take any more of watching your eyes to see when you are gonna turn on me. I am just plain wore out, Randy, and I just can’t bear to be around you no more. ”
Randy got up and looked Laurene in the eye. “So this is it. You don’t love me any more. ”
“Oh Randy honey, of course not. I still love you. I love you now just as much as I loved you that day we kissed under the bleachers at the Panthers game. Maybe even more. But loving someone and being around them are two different things. I would be so happy if I could be around you and love you and feel safe doing it. But we both know that can’t ever happen. Not after what we’ve been through together. ”
“I guess… I guess I got some growin’ up to do. ”
“That you do, Randy Saunders, that you do. And maybe, some day, if you get your growin’ up done and make a man of yourself, you will find some sweet little honey and love her the right way and make her the happiest woman in the world. But I know one thing for sure, Randy. It won’t be me. You understand? It can never be me. ”
Laurene got up from the table, and hugged Randy. “I will always love you, Randy Saunders. Remember that. And remember that you drove me away. Have a good life, Randy. We most likely won’t see each other again. ”
With that, she left, leaving just the smell of her baby powder perfume behind.
Randy sat down at the table, fingered but did not eat any of the potato nachos, and did his best to think.

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