Heather grimaced as she looked at her entreé salad. “These are supposed to be shrimp?”
Ryan, about to take a bite out of one of the ribs on his plate, paused as his angry gaze fell on his girlfriend’s plate.
“And there’s only like six of these little things on the salad,” Heather continued.
Ryan pursed his lips.
She then said, “I see why you left this city.”
Ryan tossed the rib onto his plate as he sat back from the table.
“They didn’t even have parking at the hotel, Ryan. We had to park at the river six blocks away. I’m just saying,” Heather said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Yeah, well you’ve been just saying since we got to town. Can we let it go?”
“Fine,” Heather said with a smirk as she picked at her food.
After a few seconds, Ryan said, “And I left this damn city to be with you.”
“Damn it, Heather…”
“I’m just saying, there are better places to live than here.”
“This is my hometown. This is where I grew up. Can’t you understand that and give it some respect?”
“OK. I’m just saying. I’ll be glad to get back to my hometown.”
“Do you want to leave tonight?” Ryan asked.
“Ryan. I’m from LA. I’m not going to be impressed by anything in a dinky little southern town.”
“Do you want to leave tonight?” Ryan repeated.
“So I can’t be honest with you now?”
“I don’t mind you being honest. I mind you being an ass.”
“Excuse me?” Heather said, sitting straight up in her seat.
“I planned this trip to share part of my past with you. This city made me who I am. When you slam it you slam me.”
“Why are you so fucking sensitive?”
“Because I thought you would want to share this experience with me. Not take shots at me all week.”
“Look, I’m sorry. But I don’t like it here in this city. The food sucks, the people are stuck in the past…”
“You know what? Let’s go,” Ryan said, signaling for their server.
Heather motioned toward Ryan’s plate. “You didn’t eat.”
“It’s no big deal. This is just my favorite restaurant from my childhood that I haven’t visited in five years. It’s just a huge piece of my past that I wanted to share with you, but it’s cool. Let’s go.”
Ryan paid the check and abandoned his food as he and Heather departed the restaurant.
Lori finished brushing her horse before climbing back into the front of her carriage. She examined the back, where her passengers would be sitting, and ensured it was tidy. She then sat and stared into the distance, waiting with the other carriage drivers lined up on the downtown street curb just off the river for her first ride of the night.
Shawn, another carriage operator, watched Lori for a couple of minutes as he and the other drivers stood outside of their carriages and chatted with one another. He then left the group and walked over to her.
“Hey, are you OK?”
Lori turned to Shawn and nodded, her morose expression not changing. She then set her gaze out on the river as her eyes began to water.
Shawn climbed onto the side of her carriage. “Lori, what’s going on?”
Lori wiped her eyes as tears began to fall. “Today is the first anniversary of my mom’s death. And it’s just been rough.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you sure you should be at work tonight?”
She nodded. “Sitting at home isn’t going to help. It just reminds me of her.”
Shawn nodded. Lori then took a deep breath and cleared most of the tears from her eyes with her palms. “I’ll be fine. I just need to… I’ll be fine.” She then turned and smiled at her friend.
“OK. But if you need to take the night off you know Mark won’t mind,” Shawn said of the owner of the carriages as he climbed back down. “Besides, it’s kind of slow tonight.”
Lori nodded as Shawn rejoined the other drivers.
“Look. I’m sorry,” Heather said to Ryan as they walked along the sidewalk tracing the river. “I don’t like your city… ” Ryan stopped walking and stared at her in disbelief. “… but,” she said, holding her hand up, “… I can still try to have a good time while we are here.”
Ryan nodded as he turned to look at the river.
Heather smiled and grabbed Ryan’s arm as they continued along the river.
After a couple of minutes Heather turned toward the street. “Oh look. Horse and carriage rides. How quaint.”
Ryan’s head fell backward before he turned and glared at Heather.
“I mean… it’s nice,” Heather said. She then pulled Ryan toward the carriages. “Come on. Let’s go for a ride. We can walk back to the hotel afterwards.”
Heather then pointed toward the horses, “See, that thick young lady sitting in the carriage is already… “
“Thick?” Ryan said.
“Well… You know… Her legs. Besides, just about everyone in this town is… “
“Is what?” Ryan said. “She isn’t fat.”
“I didn’t say she was. She’s just not… “
“What? You want her to be LA thin like you?”
“Look, I’m sorry I brought it up, Ryan. I’m not trying to insult your city or anything.”
Heather turned and rolled her eyes before greeting Lori. “Hi. How much are rides?”
“$60 almanbahis for an hour,” Lori said as she saw Heather retrieving her debit card from her purse. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we only take cash.”
Heather sighed in frustration as Ryan reached for his wallet. “You can’t take payments on your iPhone or iPad?” Heather asked.
Lori smiled. “I don’t have an iPhone.”
Ryan gave Lori the cash for the ride. “Thank you,” he said. He then, without looking at Heather, stepped back to allow her to climb into the carriage. Heather looked at Ryan and then back at Lori in disbelief. She shook her head before ascending the carriage stairs to take her seat.
Ryan joined her and Lori began their ride, giving them details about the history of the city and it’s growth along the riverfront. Heather and Ryan didn’t speak to – or look at – one another as Lori turned toward the financial district. “The small side street to your right – May 18th street – was so named because it was the first day basic cable was available to the city.”
“What the fuck is your problem now?” Ryan asked.
“They named a street after the date the city got cable? That’s the goofiest shit I have ever heard.”
Ryan sat still and stared ahead, attempting to contain his anger.
Heather then said, “I’m sorry. I am from LA and…”
“Why don’t you go back to LA?” Ryan said as he turned to look at Heather.
She recoiled. Heather then chuckled before gathering her purse and yelling to Lori, “Stop this piece of shit now!”
Lori pulled to the side of the street.
“You can have this little crappy town.” Heather said as she exited. “Horse and carriage? It’s the 21st goddamn century!”
The click of Heather’s heels faded into the distance as she walked away. Lori sat frozen, wide eyed, and facing forward, not sure how to handle the situation. Ryan sat still, stewing in his disgust with Heather’s behavior.
Lori waited for a couple of minutes, even turning to see if Ryan would instruct her of his wishes. His head was down and his face was grimaced. Lori wasn’t even sure he realized someone was still in the carriage with him.
She finally decided to continue the tour Ryan had paid for, sans the quirky local facts. The carriage pulled off and the silence continued. Lori periodically turned to check on Ryan. After a few minutes he lifted his head and began looking around at the scenery, though his brow remained furrowed.
Ten minutes after that, at a stop light, Ryan abruptly rose and climbed out of the carriage.
“Thank you,” he said, handing Lori a $20 tip from the street. “I’ll walk from here.” He then headed toward his hotel.
Ryan put his hands into his pockets as he walked into the night. “Thank you,” Lori called out to him. Ryan could then hear the clomping of her horse’s hooves as Lori continued down the street.
After a few steps Ryan realized he was in no mood to see Heather. He decided to walk back toward the riverfront parking, retrieve his car, and drive to his mom’s house for the night.
Once Ryan reached the river he found an empty parking spot where his rental car had been parked. He then wondered whether Heather had actually left to go back to LA. The reality that his relationship might actually be over settled on him and left him with feelings of both melancholy and relief.
After standing for a little while and processing the situation, he began walking toward the hotel. As Ryan passed the carriages – where Lori was standing and talking to the other drivers – they saw one another. “Is everything OK?” Lori asked.
He nodded, continuing to walk. “Just headed to the hotel.”
Ryan stopped. “It’s about six blocks up the street.”
“Hop in,” Lori said as she climbed into her carriage. “I’ll take you. I owe you a ride anyway.”
Ryan paused for a few seconds, relishing the time alone on the long walk to gather his wits before possibly facing Heather… if she hadn’t left the city. He then decided his legs had endured enough exercise for one night and re-entered Lori’s carriage.
Lori attempted to break the ice, turning to Ryan and asking, “You’re from here?”
He nodded, staring at the back of the carriage seat. “Born and raised.”
Lori nodded. “Me, too.” After a long pause, she said, “It doesn’t seem like your lady friend likes our city.”
“Not really, no. She’s from LA.”
“They can be kind of abrasive out there.”
Ryan chuckled. “Some more than others.”
“I’m sure she was just not in a great mood tonight.”
“She’s never in a great mood. There’s always something wrong.”
Lori nodded. After a few seconds she turned back around and got her horse going, the two of them sitting in silence as they rode through the downtown night.
Stopping at a stop light, Lori asked Ryan, “How long have you two been together?”
“It would have been two years next month.”
She paused before asking, “So you think it’s over between you two?”
“If I’m smart,” he said. “Though I might not have a choice. She took the rental car and I assume I’m headed to an empty almanbahis giriş hotel room.”
The light then changed and Lori again turned to tend to the road.
“I thought I was having a bad night,” Ryan said as he and Lori sat side-by-side in the front of her carriage, which was parked on the side of the street.
Lori started laughing through her tears, which were significant. In telling Ryan about her mother she had started weeping so bitterly that she had to pull over.
Wiping her eyes with her sleeves, Lori said, “You are having a bad night. My bad night happened a year ago.”
“I can’t imagine losing my mom.” Ryan said. “She and I are really close. One of the main reasons for coming out here from LA was to introduce Heather to her.”
“Did your mom like her?”
“Umm… Mom was polite. But… “
Lori smiled. “Moms know.”
“They really do,” Ryan said. “Besides, she thought I should marry someone from here anyway. She likes local women.”
“Your mom has good taste,” Lori said with a big grin, touching her palm to her chest.
Ryan looked at Lori and chuckled. “I guess I should have listened to her.”
After a few seconds of smiling at one another, Lori said, “My mom didn’t like my ex. She was nice to him but… she just didn’t like his vibe.”
“And what vibe was that?”
“He liked himself. A lot. I guess he and I had that in common.”
“He didn’t like you?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah, he did… just not as much as he liked himself.”
“And your mom saw that?”
“Oh yeah. Right away. The first time she met him I asked her what she thought. She said, ‘He’s full of himself, isn’t he?’ She picked up on it after about 5 minutes. It took me another year to figure it out and leave.”
“And when did that happen?” Ryan asked.
“About three months ago.”
Ryan nodded. He then felt his phone vibrate. He checked the text message he had received. It said that one of his flights back to LA had been changed per his request. The new time of the flight was 90 minutes from when he received the message.
“Well, I guess I’ll be spending tonight alone,” Ryan said. He then showed Lori the text.
“Wow. She left? Are you OK?”
Ryan nodded. “It’s for the best. I should have ended things a long time ago.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Ryan shrugged. “I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Lori looked at Ryan and smiled. “I know the feeling.”
“I suppose we should both treat ourselves better.”
“Yeah,” Lori said. “And find people that will treat us better as well.”
“That would be nice.”
After a few seconds, Lori looked at the time on her phone. “Oh, I’m sorry. Let me get back on the road. This is supposed to be a tour.”
“Don’t apologize. This is exactly what I needed tonight. Thank you.”
“You’re thanking me for crying like a maniac?” Lori asked, chuckling.
“I’m thanking you for sharing something so intimate with me. It was nice hearing about your mom and how special she was to you.”
Lori smiled as her eyes glazed. “She was special. She was amazing.”
“Sounds like it.”
After a pause, Lori said, “This was nice. Talking about Mom. It helped. Especially today. Thanks.”
Ryan nodded before sighing. “This has been some trip.”
“Well, I hope the rest of it goes better for you.”
“Thanks,” Ryan said as they looked at one another.
“Oh, god. I’m so sorry,” Lori said, lifting the reins of her horse. “I really need to get you to your room. I’m sure you don’t want to spend your last night in town sitting in a carriage on the side of the street.”
Ryan smiled at Lori. “It’s not so bad here with you.”
Lori smiled. She moved to set the reins back down but then awkwardly lifted them back up. Her indecision, as well as her bright red cheeks, made Ryan chuckle. She finally picked up the reins and began to steer her horse back onto the street.
“How much longer will you be giving rides tonight?” Ryan asked.
“I’m probably done after this. It’s been a slow night. You were only my second ride tonight.”
Lori then shook her head. “I’m not looking forward to my night alone. I still live in the house my mother and I shared. It can be rough.”
“I would imagine.” Ryan said. “I’m glad I’m not going to be arguing with Heather tonight but… yeah, a night alone wasn’t what I was expecting.” After a pause, Ryan said, “I guess us hanging out together is the highlight of both of our nights.”
“For sure,” Lori said.
Ryan then gestured across the street. “That’s the hotel.”
“Oh,” Lori said. “We were close.”
“Yeah. I didn’t want to say anything. I was enjoying our talk.”
Lori smiled, maneuvering her horse and carriage along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street from the hotel entrance.
“Thank you,” Ryan said. “I appreciate you bringing me down here.”
“It’s fine. Curbside service.” Lori said, smiling. “Besides, it’s a long walk from the riverfront. And I did owe you a carriage ride.” Lori’s smile then faded. “You need to find someone that makes you laugh. That you can relax around.”
“But you don’t live almanbahis yeni giriş in LA,” Ryan said with a grin, causing Lori to blush as she averted her eyes. He then asked, “When do you need to have your horse back?”
Checking the time on her phone, Lori’s head dropped as she said, “Now.”
“Oh. I hope I didn’t get you in trouble.”
“No, but I’d better get going,” she said. Lori then somberly looked up at Ryan. “I really enjoyed talking to you tonight.”
“Yeah. I wish… well… yeah. It’s been nice. Much nicer than this night started out for me.”
Ryan took a deep breath. “OK. Here I go,” he said before climbing out of the carriage. Looking up at Lori from the street, he said, “Well, if you ever make it out to LA…”
Lori giggled, which made Ryan chuckle.
As the laughter faded, they continued to look at one another. Ryan then said, “I’ll let you go.”
The look on Lori’s face suggested to him that she wanted otherwise. Nevertheless, he waved to her before walking toward the hotel. Once he reached the entrance, he looked back to find Lori still watching him. She waved and he waved back. After a few awkward seconds, he reluctantly turned and entered the hotel.
When Ryan opened the door to he and Heather’s room he immediately saw that she was long gone. After a long sigh, he contemplated calling her. He decided he wanted to relax for at least one night of his trip. He would fly back the next day as planned and deal with the fallout once he reached LA.
Ryan’s mind then turned to his carriage ride. He hadn’t talked to Lori for long – maybe an hour – but there was definitely a connection between him and her. And it felt nice to be able to relax with a woman, which he hadn’t experienced in a long while.
Ryan’s heart raced as he spun back toward the hotel room door. He jogged through the lobby and back outside, stopping at the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Across the street was an empty space where Lori’s carriage had been parked. He looked toward the river and there was no sign of her. His hard beating heart sank.
Ryan emerged from the shower shirtless and wearing a pair of pajama pants. He grabbed the remote, sat on the edge of the bed, and flicked on the television. He then flipped through channels, not registering what he was seeing.
His mind was swimming. He had assumed he would spend most of the night consumed with thoughts of Heather and the end of a two year relationship. Ryan found himself thinking more and more about Lori.
He thought of getting dressed, running back down to the river and finding her. However, he assumed Lori would be long gone. Plus, what would he say to her if he did see her? What did he want to say to her? Ryan succumbed to his fears and continued his date with the hotel television. For a couple of minutes, anyway. Ryan couldn’t stop thinking about her.
His mind’s growing preoccupation with Lori drove him into action. He turned off the TV, went to his luggage, and grabbed a shirt and a pair of jeans. He then paused and shook his head. “This is stupid.”
Shaking off his reticence, he began searching for a pair of socks.
A knock at the door halted him as his heart seized in his chest. The fantasy of what might happen with Lori made him forget his reality with Heather. But with Heather on the other side of the door, all of the fresh and excited feelings Lori had stirred in him faded into dread.
Ryan stared at the door for a few – what seemed interminable – seconds. His shoulders then dropped.
“Coming,” he said, leaving his clothes on top of his luggage and walking to the door. He paused, staring at the handle and wishing it would disappear or in some other way make it impossible to allow Heather to enter.
“Damn it,” he said under his breath.
As he opened the door the dread in Ryan’s heart dissolved. It was replaced by shock. The first thing Ryan noticed was how tall Lori was. He was 6’1″ and she was almost looking him eye-to-eye. The second thing he noticed was her very red and puffy eyes. His brain finally got around to processing the obvious.
Why was she standing in front of him?
“Hi,” Ryan said. “Umm… What’s… Umm… Hi.”
“I’m sorry,” Lori said as her eyes began to water. “I can’t stay at my house tonight. It’s too… hard.” Her head then dropped as she began to cry.
Ryan stepped forward and embraced Lori, allowing her to cry on his bare shoulder. “You’re fine. Don’t worry about it.”
Once Lori calmed a bit she said, “I’m so sorry. I…”
“Don’t apologize. Did you want to come in?”
Lori nodded and the two of them entered the hotel room and sat on opposite corners of the bed. Ryan then reached for the complimentary box of tissues.
Lori took a couple and dabbed her eyes as she tried to compose herself. She then giggled. “You probably think I’m a crazy person.”
“You lost your mother, Lori. I think you’re human.”
Lori smiled as she looked at Ryan. “You’re sweet.” Wiping her eyes again, she said, “I actually packed a bag and got in the car intending on getting myself a hotel room. But I didn’t want to spend extra money with how slow it’s been at work lately. Then I was driving around and passed by this hotel and… ” Lori looked back at Ryan. “Oh my god! I am a mess,” she said, shaking her head; her eyes once again beginning to water. “Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”