This is an original short story. A version was published as “Days with Rob… and Sherri” in Bewildering Stories #591, http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue591/index.html
My Best Friend
“Morning, Sherri! What do you want to do today?”
Sherri looked up from the skillet. “My Rob, you’re up early!”
Rob grinned, walked over, and kissed her on the cheek. “Gives me more time to be with you.” She giggled as he took a seat at the table. “So what’s for breakfast?”
“Oh, I’m just frying some eggs.”
“Perfect! Save a couple for me.”
“You can have as many as you want.” She turned back to the skillet. “Oh, don’t you like them scrambled?”
“If I have a choice, yes, but I’ll eat whatever you have fixed. It really doesn’t matter.”
Sherri slide two eggs on a plate and presented them to Rob. “Here you go. Sorry they aren’t scrambled.”
“Hey, no problem.” He grabbed a bagel from a plate in the center of the table and dug in.
“So what are we doing today?” Sherri queried as she placed the dirty skillet in the sink.
“Well, let’s see. We could spend a quiet morning reading,” Rob mumbled between mouthfuls, “then go down to the beach, grab some lunch on the pier, go to the Galleria…,” another bite, “look around, maybe do some shopping, have a nice dinner at one of the restaurants there, then catch a movie.”
Sherri smiled. “Isn’t that what we do every Saturday?”
“Pretty much, yea.” Rob displayed a clean plate. “But that’s what we both like to do, right? And the important thing is we’ll be together. C’mon, I’ll help you clean up.”
Free at last! It had been a long day. Rob couldn’t wait to get home. He grabbed his briefcase and headed out the door, almost running when he got to the parking lot. He would go straight home. First he would take a nap, then have a glass of wine. He had a special treat saved for dinner. All he had to do was…
What’s this? The car parked next to his had its hood up. Beside it stood a slim young lady, stylishly dressed in business attire. Her short blonde hair had been perfectly coiffed, but now it was unraveling as she glanced around anxiously, occasionally putting her right hand to her forehead.
Then she saw Rob. “Oh, could you help me? My car won’t start. Please?” She had the biggest blue eyes Rob had ever seen.
Rob inspected the situation. She had a nice car, an Infiniti, although some subtle dents and scratches betrayed its age. “How old is it?”
“I’ve had it for only a year. But I got it used. From my father, who had it, I don’t know, about three years I guess.”
“Hummm. Has anyone replaced the battery in that time?”
“I don’t know. As far as I know, no.”
Rob quickly slid behind the wheel and turned the key. Nothing. “My guess is you have a dead battery.”
The young lady looked stunned. “But isn’t supposed to give a warning or something?”
“Not necessarily. In some of these cars, batteries die a quick and painless death.”
“Oh, great.” She was too distraught to catch the joke. “Now what?”
“Well, I have a set of jumper cables.” As she looked on anxiously, Rob walked to the back of his car and opened the trunk. He grabbed the jumper cables, opened his hood, and began connecting as she studied his every move. “Let’s see, red clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery, then…” The cables were just long enough. “And finally black to ground of the dead car. That should do it. I’ll start mine. Wait about ten seconds, then try to start yours, okay?”
She nodded expectantly. Rob jumped into the driver’s seat, turned the key and his car roared to life. He looked up to see her watching him, her lips moving, then she dashed into her car. In a couple of seconds he heard a second engine. Great! Now he could start home.
They both climbed out and he began disconnecting cables. “There you go. And I would stop at a garage on the way home and have them check that battery. My guess is you need a new one right away.”
She approached him, practically glowing. “I realllly appreciate this. I can’t thank you enough.” Her voice was honey smooth.
“Oh, that’s okay. Happy to help.” Rob tried to coil the cables around his arm, but he couldn’t help staring at those soft blue eyes.
“I don’t have any money with me, but tell you what, I’m having a party Friday night. Just a few friends. Drop by and maybe I can find a way to thank you then,” she cooed.
“A party? Oh, I… gee, I…” Rob took a deep breath, ignored the blue eyes and coy smile and found his voice. “That’s very nice of you, but to tell you the truth, I’m in a relationship now.”
“Oh.” Her face fell. “Well, I was hoping…Tell you what,… .”
Rob glanced at his watch. “Oh, look at the time! I’d better get going. Nice seeing you. And have that battery checked.”
Rob jumped into his car, backed out, and was gone.
“Nice evening to sit on the porch. May I join you?”
“Sure. Come on out. I‘m just reading,” Sherri quickly replied.
“My favorite pastime!” Rob opened the screen door and walked over to a well-worn lounge, a twin of the one she was sitting in. He opened the book he was carrying and settled in.
“Comfy?” Sherri giggled.
Rob looked at her and smiled. “Oh, yea!”
“So what you reading tonight?” she asked.
“Oh, I found this biography of Ben Franklin at the half-price bookstore. He’s someone I’ve always been curious about. And you?”
“Eleanor Roosevelt. You know, she was practically the eyes and ears of FDR when we was president.”
Rob smiled. “I should have guessed it would be something about history.” He laid down his book and stared into the distance. “Isn’t it amazing how much alike we are? I mean, we both like to read history, we like the same movies, the same music, the same foods. We’re quite a match, huh?”
Sherri laid back in her lounge, and was quiet a moment. “Yea, I guess you’re right. We have so much in common, we could be brother and sister!”
“Naw, siblings fight too much.” Rob went back to his reading.
It had happened ten years ago, but to Rob it was still like yesterday.
It began with a ringing phone. ”Hello, this is Rob.”
“Rob, we have to talk.”
“Is this Sherri?” There was such a strain in her voice he hardly recognized her. “What’s the matter, dear?”
“I… I’m moving.”
Rob paused before answering. Surely there was more.
But there wasn’t. “Moving? What do you mean?”
“Look, I don’t think this is going to work out, okay?” Sherri sounded on the verge of tears. “We’ve been seeing each other for two years, and I… I just don’t feel it any more. I need to keep growing. And this promotion came up. They offered it to me and it’s a wonderful opportunity. So I’m going to take it. But I have to go right away…”
“Wait, wait. What do you mean right away?”
“I have to be there in two days. So I cleaned out the apartment and I’ve got the car loaded, and…”
“And you just found out about this? Straight out of the blue?”
“Well, yes. Pretty much. And it’s such a wonderful opportunity…”
“And when are you leaving?”
There was a pause. Then Sherri replied in a barely audible voice. “This afternoon.”
“This…” Rob took a deep breath. Just try to remain calm. “When do I get to say goodbye?”
“I’m calling to say goodbye.” Sherri’s voice was weak and timid.
Rob fought the urge to throw the phone. “ Two years, and this is goodbye? I don‘t get to see you? You don‘t need my help?”
“Look, I know this is tough and I’m grateful for everything you’ve done. I really am. We’ve had some fun times. But this is such a great opportunity, and I didn’t know how to tell you, and I really think it’s better this way. I really, really do.” Another pause. Rob groped for words but they just didn’t come. “I knew you’d be upset, and I’m really sorry, but I have to do this. I just have to. I need to keep moving forward and I don’t know when I’ll get another chance like this. And I know you wouldn’t be able to come along. So this is the best way, right? … Rob, are you still there?”
Rob was in zombie mode. “So this is how you break up with guys,” he said, almost to himself.
“No, no, it’s not… I really don’t think of it that way. It’s just a wonderful opportunity and I knew you wouldn’t be able to come along. So why drag things out and everything? I really, really think this is best.”
“And you’ll stay in touch?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, when I get settled and figure out the new job, I’ll let you know how I’m doing.”
“But I don’t get to see you before you leave.”
“No, really, there just isn’t time. I hope you can understand. Okay? In fact, I’m late as it is. I really do have to go. So thanks for all the great memories and I’ll be in touch. As soon as I get settled. Promise. Okay?”
“Okay,” Rob repeated automatically, mechanically.
“Good. Take care. Goodbye, Rob.” <click>
The phone went flying across the room
“There’s one more person I’d like you to meet. This is his cubicle here.” Tom stepped into the workspace and motioned for Raj to follow. “ Rob, this is Raj, he’s a new….”
Tom suddenly realized he was talking to an empty chair. “Oh, I guess he stepped out. Well, Rob’s been here for longer than I have. A great asset to the company. Has helped me out of jams many a time, so I need to introduce you to him eventually.”
Raj took a step forward and looked around. “Tom, this is the most interesting cubicle I have ever seen.”
Tom followed Raj’s gaze, then looked puzzled. “Oh?”
“Yes. Do you see what I see?”
Tom looked again. “I’m… not really sure.”
“All of the other cubicles have something personal. There are family photos, sports photos, bowling trophies, children’s drawings. This man displays nothing but work. Does he have a family?”
“Rob? No, he doesn’t, actually.”
“Is there no girlfriend? Is this a question of, how do you say, sexual orientation?”
Tom frowned. “No, I don’t think so. I really don’t. He has mentioned being in a relationship with a girl, I think her name is Sharon. Or something.” Tom looked around again, then spoke almost to himself. “But you know, I’ve never seen her. Don’t know where she lives or what she does. She never comes to company parties. Never even seen a picture of her.”
Raj nodded. “That is strange.”
Tom stuck his head into the corridor for a second, glanced around, then continued. “To tell you the truth, I’ve sometimes wondered if she really exists.”
“Why would anyone have an imaginary girlfriend?” Raj mumbled.
Tom couldn’t help but smile. “I can see some advantages. No arguments, for one thing. No jealous rages. No messy breakups…”
“There would be no help with the dishes, either. No, I think I prefer my girlfriends real,” Raj interjected.
Tom shrugged. “Some people just aren’t good at relationships. Whatever works, I guess. This is the kind of business where nobody cares about your personal life as long as the work gets done. And Rob’s been really good at that.”
Tom abruptly stepped into the corridor and motioned Raj to follow. “Well c’mon, let me show you the cafeteria..”