Rumble Strips, Part IV

The Finale!

Link to Part III.

Close to four months later, I was walking into a restaurant, gazing around the room for the sight of Alex’s unruly hair.  We had decided to get together and catch up on recent events in each others’ lives, and I knew that he had arrived first, as always, at the location we had selected.

I was especially looking forward to this get-together so that I could thank him for his gift.  The watch had buzzed several more times over the last few months, and each time it had ended up saving me from various problems.  One time, it had forced me to pull over to the side of the road, just in time to see a semi truck run through the red light in front of me.  Another time, it had prevented me from eating a “home-made” dish that left my flatmate puking for two days.  Once, it had even prevented me from leaving a friend I had been chatting with.  My insistence on staying forced him to reveal that he was in a deep depression and had been considering taking his own life.  I managed to convince him to talk to his doctor instead.

In short, the watch had proved its value many times over.  It was, quite literally, the best present I had ever received, and I wanted to make sure that Alex was properly thanked.  I also was curious about where he had acquired it; the watch didn’t seem to have any brand markings or logos that I could identify, and my searches on the internet for similar devices had found nothing.

Spotting the shock of mussed hair sitting at one of the tables, I made my way through the restaurant to Alex.  “Hey, sorry I’m late,” I said as I sank into the seat across from him.

“No problem,” he grinned, passing over a menu.  “I’m just glad that we were able to find this time to get together.”

After a brief pause while we both inspected the menus, we placed our orders and resumed talking.  Alex filled me in on his recent developments – he had earned another raise at work, and he elaborated on several pranks that he had gotten away with.  He was always so creative with his revenge stories, and by the end, I was in stitches.

“So, how’s the watch working out?” he asked, after the laughter had subsided.

I smiled back at him.  “I don’t know where you found this thing, but it’s amazing,” I told him.  “It somehow knows about bad things before they happen, and warns me!  It’s saved me from so many bad things, you wouldn’t even believe it.  But I haven’t found anything else like it!  Where did you get it?”

Alex, surprisingly, looked uncomfortable at the question.  “Um, it was actually a gift to me,” he said sheepishly.

“A gift?  From whom?”

“From my dad,” he continued.  “I asked him for a good present idea for a girl, because I know that most of my other ideas from other years haven’t worked out so well.”  I nodded in agreement at this, picturing the robot floor cleaner still sulking in one corner of my apartment.  “And he said that I should get you a watch, and that he had an old one sitting around from someplace.  So I gave it to you.”

I ran my hand over the watch.  This still didn’t tell me much about where it was from, but I had met Alex’s dad before, and knew that he was a kook who accumulated all sorts of odd things.  “Really broke the bank on this present then, huh?” I joked.

This broke the tension, and he narrowed his eyes back at me in a mock glare.  “Hey, you said it’s the best one yet!” he shot back.  But then, his expression grew serious once again.  “Although, this does sort of lead to something that I’ve wanted to talk to you about for a long time.”

I braced myself.  I had a fairly good idea of what was going to come next, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for it to happen.  Alex, however, was still talking.  “Look, Sue, I’ve known you for a long time,” he started.

“Alex,” I tried to break in, but he held up a hand to forestall me.

“I like you,” he said, the words pouring out in a rush.  “I like you as more than just a friend.  I’ve felt so for ages, but I’ve never been able to tell you, because I was scared of how you’d react.  But now, I’d rather at least say it than continue not knowing whether anything could happen between us or not.”  As he finished this, he stared at me, clearly scared but waiting for an answer.

I stared at him, my mouth possibly hanging open, not sure how to respond.  Of course I had known that he liked me – I had known it so long that it had all but faded from my memory, merely one more bit of background information like the color of his hair or the way that he would rub his ear whenever he was upset and searching for the right words to express his anger.  But I had never planned for how I would respond when he told me, when he changed our relationship from implied to actual.

Finally, my brain kicked into gear, my fight-or-flight response seizing control of my upper functions.  “I’m sorry,” I stammered, jumping to my feet, “but I have to go.” Ignoring Alex’s voice behind me, I hurried towards the door of the restaurant, stretching out my hand for the handle, already finding it hard to see through a veil of tears.

Buzz.  I looked down at my wrist; I could feel, rather than see, my watch going off.  I reached down, hit a couple buttons in an effort to make the buzzing stop, and then reached for the door handle once more.  If anything, the vibrations doubled in intensity, the watch shaking until I could feel my whole arm being shifted back and forth.

I stopped, stunned.  What was the watch trying to tell me?  Lost and confused, I turned around.  Alex was standing there, a few steps away, frozen as my eyes locked on to him.  “Sue,” he said softly.

I took a step back.  The watch buzzed angrily.  I took a step forward.  The buzzing stopped.  Was it really so simple?

Hesitantly, slowly, step by step, I moved forward towards Alex.  He said nothing more, but held out his arms, letting me step forward and into them.  As I felt them curl around me, for one last moment, I held out.  Was this right?  Was I making the right choice?

The watch buzzed once more, a short sharp zing, as though it was able to read my mind and disapproved of what it was seeing.  “Fine,” I said aloud, and turned back to Alex’s smile as he gazed down at me.  “Now what?” I asked him, my words coming out sharper than I had intended.

Alex’s grin grew wider.  “Now this,” he said, and he kissed me.

The watch was silent.  Somehow, I knew that it would be silent for a while.  I was done making bad decisions.

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