Couples and Partners, Lovers and Friends

Chris Stuck

In the spring, at their monthly double date, Derrick and Naomi told Jake and Jenny they were splitting up after twenty-five years. The four of them were sitting in a booth at a new high-end Chinese restaurant they’d all been meaning to try, a big pot of jasmine tea steeping in the middle of the table. Jake and Jenny couldn’t say they were completely shocked by the divorce, but they acted like they were. Derrick and Naomi had both cheated numerous times over the years, almost left each other on a few occasions, but they’d somehow weathered the storms. Derrick had told Jake about his many escapades, and Naomi had told Jenny about hers. But Jake and Jenny had never told each other those stories.

Jenny put her hand to her chest and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. You two have always been the perfect couple. Like, what the hell happened?” Jake tried to look astonished, too. “Yeah,” he said, “not you guys. I mean, shit.” But all those graphic sex stories each one had told them played in their heads, and they thought, Yeah, this seems about right. Jake didn’t know what else to say so he popped Derrick on his shoulder and gave him a wink, as if to say, “It’ll be fine.”

Initially, Derrick and Naomi both looked like they were letting the world down, like they’d been defeated by marriage, yet another couple in a long line to go kaput. But somehow, they were still affectionate with each other. They held hands on top of the table and smiled like it was all for the best.

“It’s mutual,” Derrick said. “The counseling just isn’t working.”

“We need to start a new chapter,” Naomi added. “Luckily, we don’t have kids so we can make a clean break.”

Jake and Jenny both glanced at Derrick and Naomi’s handholding and then at each other. Jenny then looked at Derrick’s muscled forearms and Jake at Naomi’s pretty face. Jake and Jenny hadn’t held hands in at least a decade, really hadn’t kissed or done much else. Like Derrick and Naomi and all their other friends, they were in their early fifties, but unlike their friends, they seemed to be done with affection. Maybe too much of it led to divorce. They’d thought about going to counseling, too, but then they just got caught up in the day-to-day of life and work. They’d made it this far into the relationship. They might as well just ride it out.

There was a long uncomfortable pause. Their server brought over a big platter of sizzling dishes, some of them popping and crackling with hot oil like firecrackers, and everyone smiled.

It rained that night. At home, Jake and Jenny sat on opposite sides of their bed, with their backs to each other. He was taking off his shoes, pulling off his socks, lifting his cheek to cut one of his tiny but energetic farts that she’d learned to ignore. She was removing her earrings, taking off her necklace and bangles, peeling the fake lashes from her eyelids.

She was really quiet so after a moment he said, “What?”

“Nothing. I didn’t say a word.” She laughed that funny bothered way she did sometimes, as though he was nothing but an idiot who always said the wrong thing.

the young white girls at work envied her curves, and just the other day at the grocery store she overheard two young Black guys say, as she passed, that she was thicker than a bowl of oatmeal, she sometimes ran a hand over her tummy and hulking ass and wondered. “She screwed around, too, you know.”

“Really?” Jake did a crunch, and his head popped up on his side of the bed. “Well, she is pretty fine.”

“No, but you’re thinking something. What is it?”

“Just forget it.”

Whenever she said that, it wasn’t good. “What did I do now?”

She let out a heavy breath through her nose. “I just kind of can’t believe they’re going through with it.” She and Naomi once talked about splitting with their husbands but then said no, they shouldn’t. Now, here she’d up and done it without consulting her. They used to go on trips to Aruba together, just the two of them, and they’d flirt with some of the men down there. They’d even messed around with each other once. Now the bitch done got divorced and left her in marriage limbo with this flatulent fool.

Jake cracked his back and then his neck. He got down on the floor and started doing a few sit-ups, as though some weakass exercises would shrink his belly. “It was bound to happen. You know how many women he’s slept with?”

Jenny looked over at him with surprise.

“I know you think he’s Mr. Perfect, Mr. In-Shape, but he’s far from it. He was with a lot of women. He wasn’t too particular either. Dude would hit anything. I’m surprised he didn’t pick up any barnacles along the way.”

While Jake was hidden on the other side of the bed, Jenny quickly took off her clothes and slipped on her nighty. She didn’t like him seeing her naked anymore. She wasn’t even sure why. Maybe her stretch marks and flabby arms. Even though the young white girls at work envied her curves, and just the other day at the grocery store she overheard two young Black guys say, as she passed, that she was thicker than a bowl of oatmeal, she sometimes ran a hand over her tummy and hulking ass and wondered. “She screwed around, too, you know.”

“Really?” Jake did a crunch, and his head popped up on his side of the bed. “Well, she is pretty fine.”

Jenny didn’t like him saying that. “Pretty skinny, you mean.” She was under the covers now, leaning against their numerous decorative pillows. “It was men — and women, by the way.”

He got under the covers and knocked all the big ass decorative pillows on his side to the floor like he always did. “Wow, didn’t see her as the type.”

“What, bisexual?”

“Well, yeah, it doesn’t often occur with Black folks our age. I’m just saying, since we come from church people and all.”

“Are you against it?”

“No, not one bit. I just mean most Black folks our age repress shit like that. We were taught to. That’s all.”

Jenny was still quiet, staring at the brown spot on the ceiling. She thought about Naomi going down on her that one time in Aruba. They’d had a good amount to drink. Right when it started feeling really fucking good, Jenny pushed her away and went off to the bathroom to finish it herself. She came back into their shared bedroom drained, and Naomi was still reclining on her bed, drunk, dying laughing at her.

“You seem like you’re jealous,” Jake said.

She shrugged. Jake had fucked around on her, too, but she found out, and it was kind of a big deal. Then she fucked around on him as revenge and eventually fessed up. But that was two decades ago. Either way, they moved on and buried those things. They didn’t even feel any of those old resentments. Really, they were probably just bored with each other.

“Shit, you are jealous.”

She shrugged again. “They’re free. I want to be free, too.” “Of what? Me?” Jenny nodded slowly at first and then much quicker. “You and a lot of things. But don’t take it personally. Don’t you want to be free of me? See what else is out there?”

“I don’t know. Kinda, I guess. I mean, it’s crossed my mind.” Jake looked at the ceiling now, too, at the roof leak she’d been on him about fixing. The brown stain on the drywall marred the otherwise perfect ceiling over their bed. It just happened to be shaped like a butcher knife.

“I guess we’re getting divorced, too, then,” Jenny said.

That was when the rain started to pick up. The stain seemed to grow before their eyes. And a moment later, Jake simply said, “Well, fuck.”

Jake and Jenny had always said that when they’d outlasted all their friends’ relationships, they could finally split up. But Jake didn’t think they’d actually go through with it. It was a joke, maybe one he never should’ve made. They were childless and had time to be competitive and petty with everyone they knew. So, they took a little satisfaction as they watched all their friends’ and acquaintances’ relationships explode or fizzle out. It was a spectator sport for them. They felt superior and enjoyed the gossip.

In their younger days, it even fueled some of their lust for each other. Hey, we’re still together, and they’re not. So, let’s get it on. It used to be once a day, then every few days, then once a week, then every two weeks, the fucking. Then, after a lot of years, almost thirty, it went away, and their nights ended with them falling asleep in bed to late night television, their reading glasses perched on their foreheads and the remote sitting on one of their chests. Now, they were older and still still-together. Once, they’d gone on a couples’ weekend with a friend who’d recently remarried. And they’d had to listen to him and his new wife screw like animals in the next room while Jake and Jenny couldn’t even get good head from each other anymore. Neither of them did it the way the other wanted. Most times, it was easier and quicker to masturbate when the other wasn’t around.

But now, divorce. It was as if they didn’t want to miss out on this new train everyone had hopped on. Jenny had even read an article about couples their age having trial separations just to spice up their marriages. So, they went into this the same way they went into physical fitness and ballroom dancing in their forties, just another hobby. They shopped for lawyers together, as though for furniture. They consulted each other and made pro and con lists.

They were civil. They split things evenly, the savings, the assets, and even chose to leave each other’s retirements alone since they both had the same amount in their respective accounts. They sold their house since neither of them wanted to stay there and feel as though they’d been left behind. They got good money. There’d been a bidding war, and they both bought smaller houses in nearby neighborhoods since neither really wanted to leave the area. Jake even helped Jenny move in and unpack. After, he said, “Welp, guess I’ll take off now.”

She walked him out, thought about giving him a peck on the cheek but just let him go. She watched him back out of her driveway in his SUV, her old other car, the one they used for hauling groceries. Then, she watched him disappear.

Months passed, the first few quite boringly for the both of them. They tried online dating. They went through the rigmarole of coffee dates that progressed into dinner dates with complete strangers. Meeting people through an app on their phones was bizarre for people who remembered 8-track tapes and VCRs. They had weird anticlimactic sex with a few folks. Jenny screwed some lawyer named Ken, and the condom broke. Jake somehow got it on with a realtor named Diane, and the condom came off, but she was able to find it up in there and fish it out. Jake and Jenny hadn’t used condoms since the eighties, not even during their affairs.

Things ended in a panic for both of them, and somehow all this having of sex seemed pretty boring and unnecessary. It was once again easier to masturbate. For companionship, Jake and Jenny both got cats. Unbeknownst to each other, they named them after old soul singers, Marvin Gaye for her, Tammi Terrell for him. Jake and Jenny worked and spent nights alone somewhat contentedly. They still saw each other for lunch once a month, eating hamburgers and fries at the old hole-in-the-wall fast-food restaurant that they’d first met at years ago, something they used to do every Saturday without fail when they were married. Then they’d go back to their small houses alone and wind down the weekend with a buzz, her a bottle of white wine and a pack of cigarettes and him his tiny glass weed pipe.

Soon it had been a year since they’d split. Jake and Jenny slowly stopped with the monthly lunches, and they barely saw each other. One night, purely by chance, Jake bumped into Naomi at a bar, and they started talking. They’d both run the dating gauntlet and were bored with it now. They traded stories of bad dates and awkward sex. It was the first time they’d actually hung out just the two of them, and they bonded pretty easily. She’d always been Jenny’s friend, and he’d always been Derrick’s. Neither Jake nor Naomi seemed all that interested in the other, which was good. It was like they were starting anew.

At some point, during a lull in the conversation, she asked if he’d seen Derrick.

“No. Weirdly, I haven’t seen anyone. Everyone got divorced and vanished. It’s like that universe just exploded.” He asked if she’d seen or talked to Jenny. She said no, too. Neither one of them had seen their exes either. It was like they didn’t exist anymore.

Jake and Naomi made a pact to not mention Jenny or Derrick again, and instead of getting drunk, they ended up going to a new Greek restaurant they’d both been meaning to try, and then they went back to her place, where they fell asleep next to each other on her couch, watching a Black rom-com. Things progressed from there, and they were soon seeing each other full-time, movies, comedy shows, jazz clubs. Jake watched what he ate and slimmed down without really trying. They started sleeping over at each other’s houses.

Conversely, Naomi, who’d always been an exercise freak and a calorie counter, loosened up. She gained a little weight and looked less sinewy and gaunt. Her breasts got bigger. Jake kept telling her she looked better all filled out. She seemed to appreciate it since she was in therapy now and learning to control her OCD, allowing herself to eat what she wanted. She somehow knew exactly how to go down on him, and since she was easy to orgasm, his technique down there made him feel like a wizard for once. They asked each other if they’d just been with the wrong people the entire time.

They took up yoga and stopped drinking all together, their only buzz a hit or two of ganja once a week. Their sex felt more like lovemaking and not just fucking. It was a combination of yoga and intercourse. Freaky Pilates, Jake liked to call it. They were limber and flexible. He didn’t have a gut to get in the way anymore. His dick could get so hard now, too, and he could last longer, and all those cramps he used to get in his arms and legs and back during any sort of physical activity had somehow disappeared. He felt stronger, and when Naomi thought they should step their relationship up, he agreed. “Yes, lets.”

They were talking about moving in with each other, discussing it as they looked at a website for a new spa resort.

“Wow, this place sounds so cool,” Naomi said. “It’s holistic and spiritual.”

“That means it’s white.” Jake looked at the pictures, and it seemed familiar, but he couldn’t remember why.

“It’s clothing optional, too. You wanna go?” She patted his crotch.

Jake rubbed her neck. This would be his first weekend trip with Naomi, a trial outing, and he was hopeful and horny. He’d never been naked in front of complete strangers before, but he said, “Hell yeah. Let’s get freaky. Why not?”

The spa was downstate in the woods by a large gushing river. Jake and Naomi drove the three hours, telling jokes and pointing at streams and mountain peaks, stopping occasionally to look at historical markers and scenic lookouts. Pretty soon, the big river appeared next to the dirt road that led to the spa. They parked in the rustic gravel lot and went inside the small bungalow that was the front office. Two dreadlocked white people, a man and a woman, were behind the front desk, dealing with two other dreadlocked white people who’d gotten there before Naomi and Jake.

“It’s definitely spiritual here,” she said. Incense was burning in various spots of the office. The barest hint of syrupy New Age dripped out of speakers hidden around the room.

“Definitely holistic, too,” Jake whispered. “These people smell like circus animals. Dern hippies.”

Naomi giggled and squeezed his ass.

They’d known this going in. She’d said it would be “crunchy” and “granola.” The spa didn’t allow aluminum deodorant or alcohol and didn’t provide any caffeine, not even black tea, with the included meals. Jake and Naomi checked in and hiked their bags into the forest to their cabin with wheelbarrows the spa provided. They locked up their cabin and explored the grounds, following the directions on the spa’s illustrated map as they strolled through the cool woods, past little creeks and streams and tent camping areas. The main lodge was a huge log cabin with totem poles out front and a deep wraparound porch. Over the door, there was a whittled sign that said, A Place to Bring Life into Perspective. Jake and Naomi went inside, and in the large back main room, they could see a bunch of people lying quietly on their stomachs, facing a large picture window.

At first, it looked like a room of dead people, but Jake saw they were on yoga mats. It was the end of a class, the final relaxation. Just as he realized it, everyone seemed to awaken slowly. It was all white folks except for a man and a woman, Black like him and Naomi. As that couple stood and stretched and started rolling up their mats, they saw it was Jenny and Derrick.

“Oh, my god.” Naomi clutched Jake’s arm.

“Aww, shit.” That was when he realized why the spa had looked familiar. Jenny had talked about it once. It crossed his mind to grab Naomi and make a run for it. But they just stood there staring at them, and soon Jenny and Derrick were looking at them the same way.

“Oh,” Derrick said. “Hey.” He looked at Naomi with shock. Jenny looked at Jake, her mouth hanging open.

“Well, this is fucking awkward,” Jake said. “You guys are together?” He looked at Naomi, as if to say, Can you believe this shit?

“We should be asking you the same thing,” Jenny said.

Derrick put his hand on her shoulder to calm her. “Everyone, let’s just chill out, okay?” He laughed and looked at Jake and Naomi. He even had the nerve to smile. “Everything’s been turned inside out, it appears.”

They all looked around and realized these white folks were watching them now. “Outside,” Jake said, throwing a thumb toward the entrance. They were not going to be the Black folks who acted a fool in this place, among all these white hippies. They all went to a picnic area and sat at a table away from everyone. The only people nearby were two white women strumming guitars, yodeling a song about being soul sisters. Jake sat across from Jenny, Naomi across from Derrick. Looking at each other, they all had a déjà vu moment back to their old double dates.

“How the hell did you end up together?” Jake looked at Derrick and couldn’t help but think of him as an old ass gigolo, doing who-knew-what with his wife. He remembered all those nasty stories the freak had told him.

“He popped up on my dating app, okay?” Jenny crossed her arms, as if she’d been caught.

“And you just figured, why not? Let me fuck Jake’s friend.”

Jenny narrowed her eyes at him. “Sure. That’s exactly what I thought. What about you?”

“Yeah, how’d you two get together?” Derrick was looking at Naomi accusingly.

“We bumped into each other at a bar, my brother,” Jake said, ready to fight. “It was organic, not through some stupid app.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Okay, tough man. Mr. Organic guy.”

“Hey,” Naomi said. “What the hell’s that about?”

Jenny rolled her neck and looked away. “Girl, fuck you.”

Derrick gently patted the table, always trying to be the smooth mediator. “Hey. Listen, we don’t want to be together anymore,” he said to Naomi. To Jake, he said, “And you don’t want to be with Jenny either.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who wanted the divorce. Maybe you should speak on shit you actually know.”

Derrick’s hairline had receded significantly in the year since Jake had seen him. Derrick now bit his lip and flexed his fist like he wanted to throw hands.

“Keep flexing that fist, baldy,” Jake said.

Naomi laughed.

Jenny didn’t particularly like that. “I told you she fucked around a lot, didn’t I?” she said to Jake.

“And I told you Derrick fucked around a lot, too.”

This prompted Naomi and Derrick to look each other up and down and then at Jake and Jenny. Finally, Derrick glared at them both and said they were leaving anyhow. “This is our last day.” He checked his watch and said they were slated to leave right then.

“Slated. Great.” Naomi reached down and brought up Jake’s hand and held it on the table, their fingers tightly intertwined.

“Kick rocks, then,” Jake said.

Derrick and Jenny stood and both looked at Jake and Naomi’s handholding, seemingly in shock.

“You know, you two really deserve each other,” Jenny said.

Jake almost stood up. “You’re right. And you know what else? We’re getting married.” He gave them an ironic salute and sarcastically told them to drive safe. “It’d be a pity if you two had an accident or something.”

With them gone, Jake and Naomi had a great time. They felt like they’d won. All their comebacks were better. They basked in the glory. They realized being naked in front of other people didn’t bother them at all. They actually enjoyed the freedom. Naomi liked having her breasts out in the air. Jake felt the same about his man parts. A few white couples actually did doubletakes when he and Naomi walked by in the nude, making them feel like impressive physical specimens. They didn’t mind the vegan food and lack of caffeine. They could even hold their own doing yoga with all these young hippies. And, because of that, they befriended a few of them in the process. At the nightly sing-along, Jake got them to do some Marvin Gaye and Percy Sledge. They even met a nice older white couple named Arlo and Janice. They messed around with them in one of the hot spring pools, Arlo and Naomi with a little kissing, Jake and Janice with some playful petting.

Later, Jake said, “Shit, I might have to become a hippie. They don’t allow alcohol or coffee up in here, but there’s plenty of weed. And it’s good, too. These people got me high as hell.”

He and Naomi were sharing a pin joint, soaking in a pool by themselves.

“I bet they didn’t have this much fun. From what I’ve heard, they were a little stuck-up about the nudity.”

“They?” Jake knew she meant Derrick and Jenny, but he said, “I have no idea who you’re referring to.”

She slapped his ass. “I bet it was Derrick.”

“Yeah, well, you could do better. And you did.” He passed her the joint. He almost said something about Jenny since she was uptight, too, but kept his mouth shut. He still felt some kind of emotion for her that he didn’t want to explore.

“Were you really serious about us getting married?”

“Sure,” he said. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss. “Would you be receptive to it?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask and find out?”

He leaned in and gave her another kiss and said it.

Really, Derrick and Jenny weren’t supposed to leave then, but it was obvious they couldn’t stay at the spa with Jake and Naomi there. Neither of them really liked the nudity. Who wanted to see naked people all the time? Wasn’t that why clothes were invented? The whole time they were there, they didn’t know where to place their eyes. Some of the other guests had their naked kids with them, too. “White people,” Derrick and Jenny said. “Sometimes, they’re just too weird. Boundaries aren’t always a bad thing.”

They drove farther south and went to wine country instead. Neither one of them really wanted to drink much anymore. They did some wine tasting, though, the only people there to actually use the spittoons. They stayed at a few bed and breakfasts and spent their nights simply watching TV. Jenny knew they were forcing this. They’d only been going out for a few months, and even though she always had a mild attraction to Derrick, now that they were both divorced and he was in front of her, she wasn’t feeling him like that. It felt like they were married.

He was actually kind of uptight for someone who’d fucked around so much. He’d let himself go, too, eating like a teenager, farting ten times as much as Jake ever did, and for some reason never flushing the toilet after taking a sturdy movement. Jenny knew she’d always been a bit uptight herself, that she wasn’t perfect either, but this guy was something else. How did Naomi deal with this? Two uptight people tended to just get on each other’s nerves. She briefly wondered how Jake ever dealt with her.

She and Derrick didn’t talk about seeing Jake and Naomi or their marriage announcement, but it was obvious they were both thinking about it. She was almost willing to marry Derrick just to prove a point. At one time in her life, she would’ve been that petty. But now, with this guy? She just couldn’t go there. Their last night in wine country, while she was showering, he slipped into the stall, sliding in behind her. He rubbed her back, fingered her, and for a moment she thought maybe they could be together. Their relationship just had to mature.

She got him going with her hand, and he eased himself inside of her. He was gentle enough. He didn’t say anything stupid at least. She held onto him tightly. He went faster. And pretty soon she was close. An orgasm was brewing, and they both were letting out uncontrollable sounds, something she hadn’t done in so long. But the shower stall was really slippery. They both slid a little. She lost her footing and fell. He tried to catch her and pulled something in his back. He let out a yelp and then he fell, too. They were a wet, soapy mess on the floor. She got up, but he just lay there on his back like a stunned turtle. He couldn’t move so she called an ambulance.

He had to be put in traction for a few days at the local hospital, and she stayed by his side. When he was well enough to go, she drove them back to the city with him lying flat in the back of his station wagon. She stood by him, nursing him, feeding him, sleeping at his apartment. The man didn’t even buy a house after he divorced Naomi. Once, after he was feeling a little better, he asked for a hand job, saying he really, really needed it. “The stress,” he said. “The pain.” So, she gave him one.

When his back was okay, she immediately ended the relationship. Jenny deleted the dating app from her phone. A whole six months had passed since that day at the spa, and she tried to forget about it.

For the next few years, she focused on herself. She quit smoking full-time, but she could have one ciggie on special occasions. She joined the gym and got a personal trainer, a buff young white boy named Darren who she occasionally thought about when she masturbated. She fixed up her house, became a master gardener, and started volunteering at soup kitchens and food banks. She occasionally ran across men her age, Black and white, who took an interest in her, but for whatever reason, things never went very far with them. She got cool with a whole new crew of women and went on trips to casinos and resorts, to Jamaica, Argentina, and Mexico.

Her last trip was to Cabo San Lucas, and on the very last day, she saw Naomi sitting at an outdoor tiki bar with a color-ful drink and a tower of seafood in front of her. Jenny was just passing the bar with her friends, and there the bitch was. Jenny hung back and watched her, almost sick to her stomach. Naomi perked up as a man came toward her from the bathroom. Jenny expected it to be Jake, felt herself go even more nauseous, but she almost couldn’t believe it was Derrick. He bent down and kissed her. He sat and tucked a crumpled napkin on the table back into the collar of his shirt and started eating large shrimp after large shrimp like a glutton. Naomi looked up and was about to turn her way, but Jenny moved along, catching up to her friends.

At the airport the next morning, she looked up Jake online and found a social media account with his face. His status said single. His account was pretty typical for a man of his age, a lot of old guy memes and pictures of him with sunglasses, sitting in his car. In every picture, the camera was too close to his face, making his head look twice as big. She actually touched the screen with her finger, ran it along his perfectly trimmed white stubble and white hair, his white waves. He was always a relentless groomer. She and her friends were sitting at one of the airport bars, drinking daiquiris. It’d been five years since she and Jake had split, damn near four since she’d kicked Derrick to the curb. Jenny’s friends said, “Girl, what’re you looking at on that damn phone? Put that thing away.”

Four or five months passed since that trip, and purely by chance, she saw her and Jake’s old house was up for sale. The people they’d sold it to hadn’t done much to it, short of painting a few rooms. She heard from some of her old neighbors that the new owners were splitting up just like she and Jake had. On a Saturday, Jenny drove over there and sat outside. There was an open house going on, and a real estate agent was standing in the doorway. She waved at Jenny to come in since she was sitting right out front. So, instead of driving off like some weirdo, Jenny got out and went inside, pretending it wasn’t her old house.

The place had been staged and painted, but Jenny remembered every square inch, everything she’d added to it, the crown molding, the chair and picture rails, the lilies and water feature in the yard. She went into the master bedroom and could make out the faintest outline of the stain on the ceiling. But the bed wasn’t under it. It was on the other side of the room. She asked if the house had its roof replaced recently, and the realtor lied through her teeth. “Actually, it’s brand new. No leaks.”

On the way home, she stopped at the little hole-in-the-wall burger joint she and Jake used to go to. She got a cheeseburger and fries and a coke mixed with root beer. The place was still mildly disgusting and avoided the no-smoking laws, somehow being grandfathered in, it being some kind of local landmark. There were small aluminum disposable ashtrays on all the Formica booths, just like the old days. Jenny took a bite of her burger and then took out her pack of ciggies. She lit one, and a man sat in the booth next to hers. She looked over at him and almost wasn’t surprised to see it was Jake.

He didn’t even notice her sitting there so she watched him for a moment. He had a newspaper. Even after the divorce, he’d probably never stopped coming here. Finally, she said, “You a regular?” She blew smoke in his direction.

He looked over in surprise. Then his face relaxed, and he started giggling. “Back in the old neighborhood, too, are you?” He was genuinely happy to see her.

She told him she went by the old house, and he said he did, too.

“They didn’t change a goddamn thing, not even the leak.”

“New roof, my ass.” Jake took a bite of his burger.

After another pull from her ciggie, she said, “So, you and Naomi…”

He cut her off. “Biggest mistake of my life. Well, the second biggest.”

She didn’t know how to respond at first. “Did you get married?”

“Nope.” He said he ended it, sensing she had eyes for someone else.

“Once a cheat,” Jenny said.

“You ain’t lying.” Jake apologized for what happened at the spa. “I shouldn’t have said all that shit. I was jealous.” He studied his burger and then took a small bite. He ate a single fry and looked at her bashfully. “I heard she got back with Derrick a couple years after that.”

Jenny told him about Cabo, how she almost shit her pants seeing them there.

Jake laughed. He looked good for his age, still trim, still as thin as that day at the spa. She wanted to tell him that, but then she thought better of it. She watched him look her up and down the way he used to, when they were first together, when anything she wore made him hot for her, especially when it was nothing at all. She smoked her cigarette, thinking of their shared past, remembering all the good things, all the things worth remembering.

“Hey,” he said. “I can do you one better.”

“How so?”

He turned to her, as though he had some gossip. “One of my buddies told me old Derrick and Naomi split up again. They were messing around on each other.”

“Still? At this age?”

He nodded and snickered and sucked on his soda.

“Once a cheat,” Jenny said. Then they both looked out the window, at their old neighborhood, at all the things they used to look at together, and they thought, Good. I’m glad.

Chris Stuck is the author of Give My Love to the Savages: Stories (Amistad/ HarperCollins). He earned an MFA from George Mason University, and his work has been published in American Literary Review, Bennington Review, Cagibi, Callaloo, Meridian, Natural Bridge, and StoryQuarterly. He lives in Portland, Oregon.