TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
By Barbara Chartier
Beth charged out of the office and punched the elevator button with a manicured finger. She glanced at her watch and grumbled at the late hour. Beth looked out the window only to notice her reflection staring back. She had taken care with her appearance today, wanting him to regret losing her. But after the marathon session, Beth appeared as frazzled as she felt.
If the elevator didn’t arrive quickly, Beth was certain she’d be stuck riding down with him. She spied the “STAIRS” sign and considered walking the 12 flights down, but the throbbing pain of her feet--held captive in teetering pumps all day--had nixed that notion.
She lifted her foot and began to slide a stiletto off when, suddenly, she heard the click of a door. Beth saw the young woman who was mediating their divorce hold the door for Jason, her soon-to-be-ex, while he hobbled out, a crutch under each arm. Not wanting to show signs of weakness, Beth shoved the offending shoe back on.
As if an answer from heaven, the elevator ‘dinged’ and the doors split apart. Beth hurried inside and frantically tapped the “CLOSE DOOR” button. Her heart beat rapidly while she desperately summoned the doors to shut. She realized she hadn’t pressed the “L” button and quickly did so. The stubborn doors began to close.
Beth exhaled a relieved sigh--she couldn’t fathom spending another second with Jason.
The doors slid back open when the mediator placed her hand between them. “Don’t rush,” she told Jason. “I’ll hold them for you.” Then she looked at Beth. “You don’t mind waiting a few seconds, right?”
When Jason approached, Beth averted her eyes to the lighted floor display, her jaws tightly clenched.
“After you,” Jason told the mediator.
She pointed to the sneakers on her feet.
“Thank you but I always take the stairs. Being cooped up in here all day, it’s the only exercise I get. You two have a great evening.” She waved and headed toward the stairwell.
“Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable in an elevator of your own?” a peeved Beth asked.
“Trust me,” Jason answered, “if it weren’t for these crutches, I’d be taking the stairs with her.”
Beth pursed her lips and nodded. “Which is exactly how we ended up in divorce court. You’ll follow any pretty young thing.”
Jason hobbled in. “Technically, it’s not divorce court. It’s mediation.”
“Whatever,” Beth replied. “Wouldn’t you rather ride down alone?”
“Yes, why don’t you exit?” Jason suggested as he held the doors open.
Beth crossed her arms and staked her claim in the back corner. Jason let the doors shut and together they began their descent.
They rode in silence while the fragrance of Jason’s cologne filled the confined space. Beth remembered the first time she brought it home to him. He dabbed it on and the alluring scent drew her to him resulting in an afternoon tryst. Beth felt her face flush with the memory.
Suddenly the elevator jolted and stopped.
“What happened?” Beth asked.
“Give it a minute, it’ll probably start back up.” When it didn’t, Jason pushed the “OPEN DOOR” button. The doors remained sealed.
“Are we stuck?” Beth whined.
Jason pressed the “ALARM” button. “It looks that way. Hopefully, someone will hear the alarm.”
Beth’s feet were in so much pain and it didn’t look as if they were going anywhere soon. She kicked her shoes off, slid her back down the wall and planted herself on the floor. “Great,” she conceded. “I’m stranded in an elevator with my ex.”
“I can see the headline now,” Jason chided, “Husband doesn’t survive night with angry, soon-to-be ex-wife.”
“I’m not angry,” she protested.
He leaned his crutches against the wall and joined her on the floor. “Then why’d you bolt out of the mediator’s office tonight?”
“To get away from you.”
“See? I told you you’re angry.”
“I’m not angry, I’m…I’m…,” she searched for the appropriate word. “…hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” Jason said, reaching for Beth’s hand.
Beth pulled away. “How did we end up here, Jason, in mediation?”
“I don’t know. We were good in the beginning,” Jason offered. “Maybe we took each other for granted. I know I believed that you’d always be there for me, no matter what. For better or worse, in sickness and in health.”
He smiled that darn smile that melted Beth’s heart and made her knees weak. She couldn’t help but smile back.
“I love it when you smile,” he confessed. “I thought you’d lost it. Actually, I thought I had taken it from you.”
Beth stared at the speckled linoleum floor. “You hurt me, Jason, with the other women.”
Jason exhaled. “It’s not what you think, as cliché as that sounds, it really isn’t.”
“What do I think, Jason? That you chased every skirt in your office or on the volleyball court?” She pointed an accusing finger at him. “It was karma when you broke your ankle during that last volleyball game.”
Jason fumed, “Don’t you get it? I was desperately trying to get your attention!” His shoulders dropped as he sighed in resignation. “I disappeared from your radar a long time ago.”
Beth winced. “I filed for divorce to get your attention, Jason. When you called my bluff, I thought you must have wanted one all along.” Her bottom lip quivered as she swallowed a deeply-buried sob.
Jason gently lifted her chin and gazed deep into Beth’s eyes. “I love you. I don’t want another woman. I don’t want mediation. I want you.” He came in closer and their lips touched ever so softly.
Beth and Jason were startled apart by a loud sound and they watched as the elevator doors began to separate. Beth peeked down between the doors. A fireman was prying the doors open with his axe, as the elevator hadn’t quite made it all the way to the floor below.
“Is everybody okay in there?” the fireman bellowed.
“Yes,” Beth shouted. “There’s two of us.”
“You’re going to have to jump,” the fireman instructed.
Beth grabbed her shoes and threw them out in front of her. Jason whispered in her ear, “Ask them to come back later.”
Beth playfully slapped his shoulder. The fireman helped her down where she recognized the lobby. Several tense minutes and three firemen later, Jason was also rescued.
As the firemen departed, one called out, “You two were lucky tonight. Some people get stuck for hours.”
Jason looked at Beth. “That wouldn’t have been so bad.”
“We should do that more often,” Beth teased. Her shoes dangled from her fingertips as they walked outside into the cool evening air.
“Would you like to join me for a late dinner?” Jason asked.
Beth smiled. “Yes, Jason, I’d love to join you.”
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