Liz calls me from the platform at South Station. I hear the echo of a boarding announcement sizzle in the background as she says, “He’s at it again.” She’s on her way to Providence for a friend’s wedding, alone. Her husband, Marc, is staying home, which doesn’t bode well for their own marriage.

    “You know how he always wants me to call him on his cell?” Liz continues. “He says it’s because it’s the only phone he answers. But I know it’s so I’ll never know exactly where he is.”

    I’m sitting in my tiny studio, feet propped up on the secondhand coffee table that also serves as my dining room table and writing desk. A flash of lightning turns the dark, cavelike space into a glaring valley of white light.

    “Story of my life,” she says. “It’s like these new books we’re acquiring. Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? The ones we read when we were kids?”

    “Not really,” I say.

    “Oh, you know—after each chapter, you get to decide your own fate,” she explains. “Say you arrive at a haunted house or something. The book says, ‘If you decide to open the door, turn to page ten. If you want to turn around and walk away, turn to page twelve.’”


    “So we’re publishing a knock-off series,” she says, “and when I was working on one of the manuscripts today, it struck me that I made the wrong decision. You know—that one time.”

    “That was months ago,” I say, “and you’re married now. Everything’s different.”

    “I read every one of those damn books as a kid,” she says. “I always chose to turn around and walk away. The path of least resistance.”

    “I never should have told you.” I think about her situation, as I had back when I’d debated making the call. She hadn’t been in a good spot. If you decide to confront your fiancé, turn to Humiliating Breakup and Cancellation of Nuptials. If you decide to keep quiet, turn to A Life of Misery and Repressed Anger.

    “I wouldn’t have said anything at all,” I continue, “if I’d known you weren’t going to do anything about it.”

    “I’ve done plenty,” she says.

    “Spying on him and opening his mail doesn’t count.”

    “Did I tell you he keeps his phone in his pocket now?” she says. “That he undresses in the bathroom, so I can’t check it while he’s in the shower?”

    “Well, whose fault is that?”

    “God, I should have said something. I just didn’t know what the hell to say. ‘Gee, Marc, I didn’t know you were such a fan of women’s tennis’? I mean, what do you say at a time like that?” She sighs. “It just seemed so much easier. The path of least resistance.”

    “You walk it with your eyes closed.”

It all began a month before their wedding. I’d been in San Diego for a story on marines at Camp Pendleton, about to be deployed to Iraq. I write for the Globe, and with the recent cutbacks, I didn’t think I’d ever get to travel again, let alone to California. Still, it wasn’t what I expected. I interviewed four young guys, their shaved heads like well-worn tennis balls, and a woman preparing her three-year-old daughter for life with her grandmother. The interviews left me with a lump in my throat, but the photographer wasn’t interested in talking, or grabbing dinner with me. So I headed back to my hotel room alone.

    It was nine o’clock on a summer evening, the sun having barely set, and I’d just pushed the room service tray out my door and locked it behind me. I started channel surfing, and that’s when I saw it. I immediately dialed Liz’s number, forgetting that it was close to midnight in Boston.

    “Oh,” I said when she picked up, “were you asleep?”

    “Kelly? Is that you? What’s wrong?” Her voice awakened into alarm.

    “I’m fine,” I said. “I didn’t realize it was so late there.”

    “What’s going on?”

    That’s when I hesitated, a moment I’ve gone back to ever since. “Well,” I began, “I think you should turn on your television. I think I might have seen something.”

    I directed her to the Tennis Channel, to the women’s quarterfinals at the Acura Classic in Carlsbad. 

    “Look,” I said slowly, as a game ended and the players headed to their chairs. “Do you see, just a couple rows up, behind Mary Pierce?”

    “I don’t—” Then she stopped. The silence on her end told me she’d seen what I had: Marc, then her fiancé, in one of the box seats.

    “It is him, isn’t it?” I asked. “I wasn’t completely sure—”

    “It’s him,” she said. “He’s wearing the Tommy Bahama shirt I bought him for our trip to Barbados. The trip on which he fucking proposed.”

    It was just like her to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, even at a time like that. I didn’t know what to say. On the screen, just beyond Mary Pierce’s tight, braided ponytail, Marc was nuzzling a blonde woman I’d never seen before. We both watched in silence as he kissed her, then put his hand possessively on her bare, tanned knee. Then the next match started, and we lost the view.

    “Liz?” I worried she was no longer there. “You okay?”

    “I’m just trying to figure out what’s more fake, her boobs or her bleached-out hair.”

    “I shouldn’t have called.”

    “No. You should have.”

    “I thought he was in San Francisco.”

    “He was,” she said. “I mean, I thought so too. He called me just a couple hours ago. Said he was heading out for dinner with clients, then going straight to bed.” She barked out a humorless laugh. “Well, that part’s true. He’s certainly looks eager to get to bed, doesn’t he?”

    I stayed on the phone with her for another two hours. It’s what best friends do. I didn’t wonder until later what kind of friend offers up this sort of news and what sort of friend keeps it to herself.

We’d met in college and then moved to Boston together, sharing a two-bedroom conversion in Brighton, with cold, high-ceilinged rooms and a wood-burning fireplace. Three years later, when Liz moved in with Marc, I advertised for another roommate and interviewed five people, among them a sixty-year-old cat lady and an eighteen-year-old college student with either blood or spaghetti sauce on her sleeve; I didn’t want to know which. In the end, I gave up. By then, I couldn’t imagine living with anyone else.

    I moved into what I thought would be my dream neighborhood, Beacon Hill, renting an overpriced fourth-floor walk-up with no parking. After getting ticketed six times in two months, then towed, I finally leased a parking space in a garage nearby, nearly crippling my already meager budget. Why don’t you just move? Liz finally asked. But it wasn’t the apartment I hated.

    Finding someone who fills a gap in your life is a lot like falling in love: you spend all your time together, talk every few hours, share everything. Liz and I had the same taste in music, books, and men, though back when we met, we’d experienced only two out of three. We’d both been shy, hiding behind Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas, always painfully aware of what we were missing.

    I still remember the moment our friendship began—on a Friday night outside our college library, where we’d both been trying to study. It was snowing, and as the storm whipped into a bigger rage, the librarian announced an early closing. Liz and I stood outside the door, watching the drifts pile up: dunes of clean, sparkling snow that changed shape every few seconds in the wind. We shared a look, then dropped our books and ran out into the snow. Struggling against the wind, we built a snowperson, giving it a slender androgynous body, unearthing stones and gravel for its eyes and mouth, picking up pine needles for its longish hair. I donated my hat, and then we went for coffee at the student center.

    We both felt out of place at school; she’d come from a small town and found the other students snobby and closed off. I grew up in New York and chose a rural college as an antidote to the battery of noise and people, later discovering that even within the intimacy of a small college, I was as invisible as I’d been in the city.

    Liz and I decided to divide and conquer; she’d join the literary magazine, I’d write for the student newspaper. But the lit mag didn’t work out; she quit after a couple of weeks. I thought she might join the paper, and when she didn’t, I had a hard time admitting that I was relieved. I was writing daily, going to parties, and though I always invited her along, I could tell she felt out of place. And I felt as though I were looking after an awkward younger sister, explaining her away to new friends—She’s just a little shy. No one was meeting the Liz I knew, the spirited, goofy wordsmith who in so many ways had been my rescuer. Eventually she began to fade from my own memory as well.

    We grew apart during our last years at school, but after graduation, when we both decided to move to Boston, where the jobs were, it still felt natural to rent an apartment together. And soon after we settled in, things changed. She dropped weight and got a sleek new wardrobe for her job in publishing. As I worked longer and more irregular hours, I began to skip happy hours and weekends altogether. I’d come home to find new people at the apartment for cocktails or brunch, and most weekends I woke to find a guy in our kitchen—Liz’s now, not mine. For the first time in years, whenever we stood together on the street or sat at a bar, I could feel men looking at her instead of me, and I felt something shift between us, a crack in our foundation that widened and split as time passed. She began to make me feel greedy.

    We met Marc at a party thrown by a friend of Liz’s. I saw him across the room, then arranged to bump into him at the makeshift bar. Already a little drunk, I poured him a shot of tequila, then another. We raised our glasses and licked the salt off each other’s hands. Then he grinned, grabbed three beers, and said, Catch you later. But when later arrived, when I caught his eye and waved him over, he honed in on Liz, apparently having forgotten me completely. Easy come, easy go, I told myself. But I resented it when he took her number. When he called her the next week. When he turned out to be The One.

    A part of me knows why I’d made the call. If you pretend you saw nothing on the Tennis Channel, turn to A Sense of Superiority and Guilty Pleasure. If you decide to let your best friend witness her fiancé’s infidelity, turn to The Lowest Form of Revenge. 

“I think I have a ghost.”

    “Oh, come on,” Liz says.

    “Seriously. Bess was hissing at the wall for no apparent reason. And then it got really cold in here.”

    “First of all, that cat is psychotic,” she says. “Second, it’s forty degrees out.”

    “Bess only hisses at people, not walls,” I say. “And the heat is the one thing in here that actually works.” My apartment is on the top floor of two-hundred-year-old building. The roof slopes, and there are only two spots in the entire unit where I can stand up straight. My landlady looks two hundred years old herself; she knows where all the creaks are and walks around the building without making a sound.

    “Well, I’m sure it’s nothing,” she says. “What’re you doing tonight?”    

    “Having a séance,” I say. “Want to come over?”

    “Come out for a drink,” she says.

    “I thought you had plans with Marc.”

    “He’s still at the office. Let’s have a cocktail before I meet him for dinner.”

    As usual, she doesn’t invite me to join them. I’m not in the mood to have a drink, then come home to spend Friday night alone, tipsy, while she dines with her husband. But I don’t have anything else to do.

    So I agree to meet her at No. 9 Park, then hang up and head into the bathroom to get ready. Bess is already in there, staring at the wall behind the bathtub, every inch of her black-and-white coat on end. When I nudge her out with my foot, she growls from deep in her throat.

    Her behavior puts me on edge, as if something’s about to happen and she already knows what it is. As I plug in my flat iron and rummage through my makeup bag, I try to forget about Bess and ghosts, and I remember last night’s dream.

    It’s a recurring dream, a little different every time, in which I discover a new room in my apartment, one I’d never known was there. Sometimes it’s a door off the kitchen that leads to an enormous pantry, or a hallway that opens up into a guest suite. Last night, I dreamed of opening a hidden door in my closet and discovering a bedroom. It was larger and neater than my combination bedroom, living room, and dining room—no papers and books strewn about, no clothes hanging off every surface. It seemed simple and clean and uncluttered, though I can’t remember much detail. I only took a few steps in before I was called back by my alarm clock.

    Leaving the bathroom, I glance around, trying to recapture the dream. A few months ago, I did a feature on sleep and dreaming for the paper, and I mentioned my dreams to the shrink I interviewed. She said that in dreams, a home represents the different aspects of your personality, and that finding a new room is like discovering a new part of yourself. But while I always seem to be discovering new rooms in my sleep, my dreams only allow me one or two steps through the door.

At the restaurant, I take a seat in the window to wait for Liz. I order a lemon drop martini. It strikes me as funny that she needs a drink before meeting Marc, that I want a drink before meeting her. Soon we’ll all be carrying flasks of vodka under our coats.

    I look out at the streets. The temperature’s lower now, and I can almost see it; for some reason, I’ve always been able to sense the weather without opening a window. I can see brutal cold reflected in sidewalks, incipient rain in the leaves of trees.

    Liz arrives, and as she sheds her coat, I notice the new dress, the dipping neckline. “Whoa,” I say. “What’s next, implants? Botox?”

    “I’m not competing with the bimbo, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she says. “I found it on sale.”


    She orders a cosmopolitan, and we talk about work, about friends in common. Marc is late, so we order another round.

    “Remember how I told you how Marc kisses with his eyes open?” she says. “Was he doing that on the Tennis Channel?”

    She did pretty well, waiting until the second round. “I don’t know,” I tell her.

    “I used to want to say something about it,” she says. “But then I knew he’d say, ‘Well, the only way you can know I’m kissing with my eyes open is if you’re kissing with your eyes open.’”

    “I was with a guy like that.” I don’t tell her who it was.

    “Did it drive you crazy or what?”

    “Not really,” I say. “I like being looked at.”

    “Yeah, except he’s looking at you and every other woman out there at the same time,” she says. She finishes her cosmo. “I should’ve started kissing with my eyes open a little sooner.”

    She orders a third. “So I’m still editing these choose-your-adventure books,” she says. “And here’s the thing. At some point, even if you choose the path of least resistance, you’ll end up in a freaky situation.”

    “How’s that?”

    “If you turn away from the haunted house, for example, you’ll still run into a goblin on the street,” she says. “That’s the way they work. There’s no happy ending. You get dragged into the chaos no matter what.”

    Through the window, I see a jacket I recognize, and I stand up. “Marc’s here.” I hand her some money and put on my coat.

    “Finish your drink, at least,” she says.

    I down the rest of my martini in one gulp.

    She gives me a look. “You know, he’s going to get suspicious if you keep avoiding him.”

    “Maybe he should.” I lean over to embrace her in a quick half-hug. Marc has already spotted us, and as he approaches, my shoulder brushes against his.

    I walk home, thinking about the adventure series. Liz had never wanted to work on children’s books, but I suppose, at twenty-eight, we’re both past realizing we can have everything we want. I still can’t recall having read those books as a kid, but the choose-your-adventure idea seems even more foreign to me now. Books for adults are not constructed that way. In the books we read now, one page follows another, and we turn them in the expected order, with no thought to the story having more than one ending, and no recollection of ever having done it differently.

Days later, I find myself staring at the phone in my hand, wondering if I should make the call. If you call, turn to A Pathetic and Misguided Attempt to Regain a Sense of Self-Worth. If you don’t call, turn to Leaving the Past in the Past.

    I pour a glass of wine and think about what Liz had said—that no matter what path you choose, you end up in a bad situation. And as I dial, I feel a tremble in my fingers, as if I’m holding the corner of a page.

    I have to leave a message, wondering all the while whether he’ll buy it—a mouse is a flimsy excuse, especially for someone with a cat. But I think he probably doesn’t remember the cat.

    He shows up at the door an hour later. He knows it’s not about the mouse. For once, it feels nice not to pretend. His arms around me reignite the spark that I’d felt when he’d brushed my shoulder at the restaurant.

    Afterward, I leave him dozing in bed and look out the window. It’s beginning to snow—soft thick wet flakes on the edge of rain. A few minutes later, he gets up and stands behind me. It’s dark outside, and I shift my gaze to our reflections in the glass. He looks different, his features distorted, and it’s jarring, though I know it’s only because I’m not used to seeing him this way. A photojournalism professor once told me to remember one thing about portraits: If you want satisfied subjects, he said, flip the image. They need to see themselves they way they think they look, like they’re in front of a mirror. No one wants to see reality.

    I turn around. “You’d better go.”

    “I know.”

    “This is the last time.”

    “That’s what you said before.”

    “It’s different now.” I don’t tell him why. But maybe he already knows.

    I walk him downstairs. I see the blur of my lipstick on his shirt sleeve as it disappears into the arm of his jacket. I don’t mention it. Liz may see it; she may not. She may confront him, or she may again choose the path of least resistance. I watch Marc hurry down the street, the wet snow sticking to the ground, his shoes melting prints into the sidewalk, marking his trail. I stand in the doorway until his footprints disappear.

Midge Raymond's short-story collection, Forgetting English (Eastern Washington University Press, 2009), received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. She lives and writes in Seattle, where she teaches creative writing at Richard Hugo House.

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Midge Raymond