A little bit of backstory since last snippet. Jeff has tracked down her phone number from her parents. They gave it to him since she had called him. Jeff accuses her of ducking the whole issue, trying to pretend it never happened. They exchange some heated words about commitment and expectations.
Rhea hated going to restaurants alone. Something about sitting at a table in lonely splendor while families flowed and dined around her struck her as sad.
She called her friend Mary and arranged to meet her at their favorite place after work. The commute dragged, and she walked into a crowded restaurant. That annoyed her, and the annoyance clung as she searched the crowd for Mary's face.
Instead, she found another face. The top of his head and his eyes were all that she could see of him. The pit of her stomach knotted and her eyes burned. Intellectually, she knew this man couldn't be Charles--that if she moved to where she could see his entire face, she would be looking into the face of a stranger. Her head knew this. Her heart didn't.
Rhea dug her fingernails into her palms. The little pain distracted her from the larger one, helping her control the urge to burst into noisy tears. Too much. These last few days, seeing Charles in a walk or a turn of the head, the weird, unexplained events surrounding her, all culminated in this moment of intense emotional distress.
The awful finality of her brother's death hit her like a slap. Maybe what Jeff had said was true. Maybe she had left Stillwater to pretend nothing had happened--that Charles still lived and laughed and hadn't shot himself over a girl.
Rhea turned, nearly bowling over a young couple walking behind her. With a muttered apology, Rhea made her way out of the restaurant before the tears flooded her vision.
She cried for awhile in her car before again joining the queue of homeward-bound cars. She called Mary enroute and gave her a story about not feeling well. When she entered her apartment and flipped on the lights, the sight of her notebook, somehow retrieved from the trash and now prominently displayed in her chair, didn't surprise her.
Rhea looked at the notebook, and the words, help her covered the page.
"What do you want from me, Charles?" she said.
And once she started talking, the logjam broke.
"What could you possibly want from me? You made your decision all by yourself five years ago. You didn't need my help then. You never asked for anybody's help. Did you even stop to think about what pain you would cause? No, you didn't, because you never did. Because that's the way you lived your life. All about Charles."
A sense of great sadness rushed over her. Rhea couldn't tell if the sadness belonged to her or to Charles. Or if she had just gone completely around the bend.
Rhea threw her purse on the chair, dislodging the notebook, which fell to the floor. The pages flipped to an older scribbling she'd done weeks ago. Rhea had written "Stillwater," and drawn a heavy black box around the name.
"You want me to go home to Stillwater," she said.
The feeling of sadness lightened. Her phone rang. Rhea looked at the caller id. Her mother.
Around the bend. Definitely.