the short story project


Susana McArthur

The Coin Toss

         Memories of that last year at the University came flooding back as he sat on the hard bed. Closing his eyes, his mind re-lived that fateful last year. He admitted to himself that those four years at the University had been the happiest days of his life. He saw her in Sociology class, asked her out for coffee; they were inseparable for four years. Their senior year was bittersweet, full of decisions of their future; should they stay together or break up? He asked her, not thinking about future consequences “How ‘bout the usual way we make decisions, let’s flip for it.” Juliette looked at him as if he were crazy, flipping a coin to decide something this important. It wasn’t like flipping for which movie to go see, or what restaurant to go for dinner. She wanted to slap him but stifled herself. Her heart already breaking, she agreed and asked, “Ok, when do we do it then?” Shocked, Conrad replied “After finals next week” “That sounds good,” she replied. She turned and walked out of the room. In the hallway, she almost collapsed to the floor with disappointment.

     Wow, he could not believe she agreed. He was sure that she would have argued against such a rash and final decision with a heads or tails outcome. Thinking, maybe she didn’t love him as he loved her, he then quickly thought better of that. He had been working hard this last year for acceptance to Brown University for graduate studies, which he achieved. The unfortunate string of events meant that one of them had to give up on their dreams. He could not do that. At the thought of never seeing her again, his heart felt like a herd of buffalo was stampeding through it. When he told her two weeks ago, she was elated for him. He thought that she would throw herself at him, asking him to take her with him.  But she had news of her own though, the job she had interviewed for, not once, but three times-the dream job she wanted so badly, offered her a position after graduation.  It would take her to the other side of the country-this was absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

      That late spring night, they went to their favorite restaurant, ordered champagne and with congratulating toasts, and high fives celebrated their achievements. Afterward they drunkenly walked to her dorm and made love as if it was their last night together. The next morning, they went to their classes, each one knowing that one of them had to give in. Juliette in good conscience could not ask him to give up on his studies and Conrad could not bring himself to ask her to choose between him and her dream. Sure, they could attempt a long-distance relationship. Each had their own thoughts on the proposal, but neither would contemplate having a serious conversation about other possibilities. It was what it was and it was up to the luck of the toss.

     He clearly remembered sitting on the worn-out couch in his dorm room, looking at Juliette- he threw the coin up, caught it, and placed it on the coffee table. His hand covering the quarter, meeting her sky blue eyes, “You Sure?” he asked “Yes” she answered. They always picked the opposite of what was the norm. To them, tails were a ‘yes’ and heads were a ‘no’. He lifted his hand. It was heads. In shock, neither said anything. It was a done deal as far as either of them was concerned, no discussion needed. Each with their pride, would not part with humility. They spent the last week of school savoring every minute together. They talked about staying in touch and visiting whenever possible. She could take a weekend, he could visit when school was out for Christmas, spring, and maybe even long weekends. It wasn’t as if they were on opposite sides of the world. It was only a six-hour flight for goodness sakes. Laying in each other’s arms after arduous lovemaking by the silver light of a full moon -whispering promises to each other that they would work through the tribulations of separation.  They spent many days just lounging in the afternoons when the leaves were beginning to bud in the trees, the birds began chirping, knowing that spring was underway and their time together was coming to an end. Silently they held each other. In retrospect, he wished that he would have just told her how much his soul and heart hurt at the thought of leaving her, but he knew that both had to pursue their futures, even if they were going in separate places. It was only a place, wasn’t it?

            Juliette was the first to leave, he remembered it was hot and she was crying. He tasted her tears as he kissed her goodbye. Juliette vowed not to cry, but the tears flowed heavily. She almost succumbed into giving up the opportunity but remembered that her mother gave up her dreams for love and came to regret it. Juliette was not willing to do the same. Both with their own ache, promising that they would visit and call each other – Conrad watched her drive away.       

            They tried to keep in touch, but his studies kept him in school and her job got more demanding. Days turned into weeks and months into years. Eventually, they decided that it wasn’t possible to keep the relationship going and broke up shortly after he graduated from Brown. It was the last time they saw each other. At that time, even with his heartbroken, he let her go. He already accepted a position in New York and wasn’t willing to give it up. He worked hard for it, he did ask her to come to New York. She said that she had just gotten a promotion. She begged him to come to California, he could easily get a job there. He refused – he should have taken her in his arms. Should have asked her to marry him and never let her go, if he had done what was in his heart, he wouldn’t be so devastated right now. You cannot look into the future and predict the hurt that ensues after a love that he now knows completed him. Why didn’t she come to New York? Both, in their own stubbornness – let go of each other. Although they did have the intention of staying in touch if nothing else.

             They kept in touch with phone calls and Christmas cards. Eventually, they lost contact with each other.  He didn’t even know that she moved back to her small hometown of Illinois, they had already drifted so far apart that there was no returning to what they had in the past. Three years passed quickly, he dated other women, but it was not Juliette. After many failed relationships and heartache, he knew Juliette was the only one that could make him happy. He could no longer live without her, that is when he made up his mind and decided to surprise her with his undying love and ask her to marry him.

            Now it was too late, it was surreal that a coin toss changed his life forever. It wasn’t the coin toss that did it though, it was pride, it was stubbornness and it was selfishness.  Wiping tears with the back of his hand, folding the cut out newspaper obituary, he slowly stood up. Sluggishly walked into the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face, adjusted his tie, took a cleansing breath, and walked out of the motel room. The heat enveloped him, evoking memories of her tears on his lips. He now tasted his own. He got into his car and drove to her funeral.


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