I fell in love first with Doug’s nose, thinking, this is a guy who can handle me. Crooked and knobby, his left nostril was noticeably higher than the right. Otherwise, it was perfectly proportional on a face composed of warm brown eyes, an untroubled grin, and a clean shave. His nose was an outlier.
I could spend all day gazing at it, and on our first date, over beer and cheeseburgers, I asked, “What’s up with your nose?”
Smiling, he mimed punching someone. “I used to be a boxer.”
“Yeah. It kept me out of trouble growing up. I was good – even got a scholarship to college.”
He took a ravenous bite of his cheeseburger, ketchup dripping down his chin like blood. “I didn’t know you could get a scholarship for boxing.”
“Oh, yeah,” replied Doug. “You can get a scholarship for pretty much anything.”
Except, not for what I had done.
Doug and I met at the insurance agency where we both worked. I did customer service, which meant I was paid to be abused. Doug was an actuary. He’d attended school for nearly a decade and passed a bunch of extremely hard tests. “It’s good I was never hit too hard in the head,” Doug would joke. I tried to imagine him young, hanging out at the boxing gym, sporting his tough-guy edge.
Doug was upfront about his past. I told lie after lie, and then I’d swallow them back – little balls of acid nestled in my gut. Like when we had dinner at Harbor House. Other diners stared and held their collective breaths as Doug got down on one knee, presented a ring, and said, “Trish, I love you completely. Will you please be my wife?”
Through buoyant tears I gushed, “Yes! Of course! I love you so much!”
I was able to delay our wedding for nearly three years. But every summer we went to Door County, and that last year the sun shone each day, warming the sand on the rocky beaches of Lake Michigan.
“Are you okay?” Doug asked, as we waded through shallow waters, sand oozing between our toes. We lapped up our ice cream cones before they melted down our hands. “I can tell something’s bugging you.”
My fingers and lips were sticky, like a little kid. “I’m fine,” I lied.
I longed for rain. It was mid-July, and the sun’s rays exposed everything – all my flaws and all my secrets.
Then, it was evening, and the sun had set. Doug and I played pirate-themed mini golf, walking by manufactured waterfalls and through man made caves, trying to get a hole in one. I failed miserably.
Before, I was good at stuff. I knew how to manufacture pipe bombs and how to write a manifesto. But away from my radical roots, I was lost. Not Doug. He managed hole eight on his second try.
He beamed. “Did you see?”
“Yeah. Good job!”
Doug took the tiny little pencil and held the flimsy paper scorecard against his thigh, clumsily writing down his score.
From the speakers, that song, “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,” blared. “Maybe we should get married at someplace like this,” Doug said.
“You want to get married at a mini-golf course?”
“I like the waterfalls and the caves.”
But they’re not real. None of this is real.
Doug noticed my scowl. “What’s wrong?”
“Please, just tell me.”
“It’s not the time or place.”
“That sounds bad, Trish.”
I looked around. Behind us, a family of four waited. The dad wore a golf shirt, the mom in shorts and a tank top over her bathing suit. Their two kids looked like white, sidekick characters from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Maybe someday Doug and I could have a family like that.
The song continued, something about having it your way or nothing at all, and not moving too fast.
I tugged on Doug’s arm. “Let’s move to the next hole.”
“But you haven’t putted yet.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
We reached hole number nine, right by the waterfall where no one else would hear. In the shadow of a fake palm tree and close enough to catch the waterfall’s spray, my moment of truth had come.
“Do you remember the Symbionese Liberation Army – you know, who kidnapped Patty Hearst fifteen years ago?” I paused. Doug narrowed his eyes. “Well,” I continued, “I was seventeen, but I was married to this guy who was heavily involved, and he sort of brainwashed me. The police charged me with planting bombs that never went off during a bank robbery. I would have been tried as an adult, so I took off. I’ve been living under a false name ever since.”
The moment was heavy, like an undulating water balloon destined to explode against hot pavement. He let out an uneasy laugh. “You’re joking.”
“No.” I inhaled as if plunging underwater. “But I was a teenager and people make mistakes. I had a crappy childhood. When Bo came along, he offered security, though now I realize I had Stockholm Syndrome. Also, that’s why I keep postponing our wedding, what with my fake name and me already married to someone else.”
Doug’s mouth dropped open. “You’re still married? To a terrorist named Bo?! And you’re a terrorist too?!”
I gulped. Moments ago, the words came tumbling out. Now they were lodged in my throat. I bit my lower lip and nodded.
Doug’s jaw set. “I don’t even know what to say.”
I laughed feebly. “Couldn’t you just say, ‘It’s cool, Trish,’?”
“Excuse me?” The dad in the golf shirt said. “Are you two still playing?”
Doug looked from him to me and back to him again. Then Doug threw his mini-golf club down on the ground, which was very unsportsmanlike, if you ask me. A single tear made its jagged path down the beat-up slope of his nose.
“No,” Doug said. “She and I are done.”
Laurel Osterkamp’s short fiction was recently featured in Tangled Locks Literary Journal, Bright Flash Literary Journal, Cafe Lit, and Sledgehammer Lit. In August, her novel Favorite Daughters will be released by Black Rose Writing. Find her on her blog, www.laurellit.com, or www.facebook.com/authorlaurelosterkamp, or on Twitter – @laurellit1.