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  • Amanda Aksel

Love & San Francisco (The Commitment Test | Chapter One)


Commitment begins with the best of intentions. That’s what I thought as I sat across from the couple in their early thirties. Both were dressed to perfection in expensive suits. They looked perfect for each other. But looks could be deceiving. Silence hung between them in a reflective moment. Tick, tock, tick, tock. It was like the two were playing a game of honesty chicken, each hoping the other would speak first. I was tempted to break the silence, but held on a moment longer. Finally, she opened her mouth, but before she could summon the words, her husband jumped in. “I’m just going to say it,” he said. “I think marriage ruined our relationship.” Dun, dun, dun—Now we were getting somewhere. She scoffed. “How can you say that? Marriage doesn’t ruin relationships.” “Of course it does, we’ve seen it over and over again. Remember when we first got married? All of our friends were getting married too. How many couples did we hang out with? Five? Five other couples. It’s been eight years, and how many of them are now divorced?” “That’s different!” she said. “Three. Half of us couldn’t even make it to ten years. Remember Janet and Danny? Those two were crazy about each other until they got married. And now they’re divorced.” “Why don’t you just say what you really mean? You want out. Stop using our friends’ failed marriages as an excuse for why ours isn’t working.” Tears slid down her cheeks. “Then you tell me, why isn’t it working?” He raised his voice. “I don’t know. That’s why we’re here!” “Okay, okay,” I interrupted. “He’s right. Some relationships fail after marriage. However, marriage doesn’t ruin relationships, people ruin them and sometimes relationships ruin themselves.” She sniffled with sorrow filled eyes, and he pulled a tissue from the floral box on the table. His eyes harbored something else. Something that looked an awful lot like regret. No husband wants to be the bad guy, hurting his wife with words and feelings he couldn’t help but let go of, if only to unhinge the chains enough to breathe a little more. I caught the wife’s gaze. “You really don’t know why you’re here, do you?” I asked. She shook her head. “I thought everything was fine.” “I thought so too,” he said and dropped his head. “What are we going to do now?” she asked. “You two did the right thing by seeking help,” I said. “This is your opportunity to find out what’s really going on. Is that what you both want?” They nodded. “Good,” I continued. “We’re going to work on your communication and get to the root of the problem. And trust me, what’s in the best interest of each of you, is the best interest of both of you. Okay?” The broken lovers agreed, and I sighed, anticipating an arduous journey. Then, he gently took her hand in his. I smiled at the sweet gesture. There was hope for this couple. By the time they left, it was the end of the day. I pulled my dark hair back into a neat ponytail and finished some office odds and ends. Just as I was packing up to leave, I noticed a missed call from James. That’s right, my boyfriend, James. Almost a year and a half ago, he’d rescued me for the second time from yet another preventable tumble. That was the day he gave me a second chance, and I promised myself in that moment that I wouldn’t screw it up. Or at least I wouldn’t repeat any of my same mistakes, which included being cunningly deceitful and setting him up to cheat. As the saying goes, I turned a new leaf that day. “You’re still here?” Andy popped in. “Yeah, what’s up?” “You and James wanna meet me for a drink in a bit?” Andy was one of the partners in our three-therapist practice. Somehow after years of my contempt for him and the stint in which he was my emotional drill sergeant, a.k.a. my therapist, I started to see him as a human being and not just an egotistical, know-it-all prick who only cared about himself. Andy was actually a nice guy with a big heart, but I was sure I was sworn to secrecy. He had a reputation to protect. In fact, we became the kind of friends that met for drinks with our significant others. Though, Andy never really had a significant other. They were more like insignificant others. We became so friendly that I even suggested a date with Telly. They went out, of course. Once . . . that I knew of anyway. Neither of them would tell me what happened that night. In fact, they get a little weird whenever I mention it. Both use the same answer as if they were contracted to do so. “It could never work between us.” Sure . . . After asking a dozen more times, I let it go. “I wish we could, but we’ve got to get ready to leave tomorrow. I’m still not packed.” He snapped his fingers. “That’s right, you’re going to Montana.” I confirmed with a smile. “Are you nervous about meeting the parents?” Andy asked. “No, I’ve video chatted with them lots of times.” “They have internet in Montana?” I smirked and swatted his shoulder. Truthfully, the question had crossed my mind before too. “Well, enjoy it. I’ll see you next week.” “I will. Ciao!” I swung my five-pound purse over my shoulder. Downstairs, pairs of run-of-the-mill push and pull doors had replaced the untrustworthy revolving door during the remodel. As I made my way out of the building, a chilly breeze brushed my cheeks. All winter long, I never got used to slightly freezing while walking the six blocks home in the evenings. Though the city lights illuminated the street, I couldn’t wait for daylight savings time and warmer San Francisco air. I dug my leather gloves and phone out of my tote purse and called James. “Hey, baby doll,” James’ voice crooned on the line. I blushed. “Hey, you,” I said, slipping on my gloves. Much better. “I just dropped Marvin off at David and Rachel’s. You wanna sleep at my place or yours tonight?” Hmm . . . his place or mine . . . our favorite dilemma. We hadn’t moved in together, but we spent enough time at each other’s places to be considered cohabiters. At least that’s what I told myself to ease the pain that it had been over a year and we hadn’t yet made the move. To be honest, I feared a Chad repeat, or at least a version of it, if James moved in. Chad, my ex-fiancé, hadn’t even unpacked his boxes when I caught him in bed with another woman. Most of the time, I strongly advised couples to live together before marriage, but in my case with James, I wanted to wait. In case I was cursed. “My place is closer to the airport, and my bed is nicer,” I said. “So you say.” “It’s a fact, James. MapQuest it.” I covered my nose with my hand and breathed out hot air to warm my face. “I was referring to your insult about my bed.” “Babe, you can’t argue with a Tempur-Pedic and Vera Wang sheets.” I could use those cozy sheets right about now. “Uh, I only understood half of that.” Men. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “My place it is.” He chuckled. “I’ll pick up dinner and be there in an hour.” “See ya then, love you.” “Love you too.” Later, I discovered that expensive bedding did not always result in luxurious sleep. I usually fell asleep on my left side, but I couldn’t get comfortable so I switched to the right. Same thing. I flattened on my back and glanced at the clock. Only four more hours before the alarm would go off. James breathed wispy sleep sounds next to me. His warm body heated the bed like an oven. I kicked off the covers and stirred him in the process. “You okay?” James mumbled. “I can’t sleep.” I shoved my pillow deeper into the pillowcase. “How come?” I sighed. “I’m anxious.” “About what?” James rubbed the sleep out of his blue eyes. “About meeting your family. Your entire family.” James’ cousin, Emily, was getting married and all of the Young clan were gathering in Montana for the event. “Why?” he asked. “I’m a half-Chinese girl from California. I don’t know anything about life in the mountains.” He scrunched his face and scratched the stubble on his cheek. “Mar, it’s Montana, not the old west.” “I know. I just want to fit in. I want them to know I’m Young material, ya know?” “Shhh . . . you’re over thinking it.” He pulled me in and swaddled me with his strong arms. They were like a protective shield; nothing physical, emotional or otherwise could hurt me. “My family adores you, and the rest are gonna love you because I love you.” “Okay,” I said and snuggled into him even though it was too warm. Within minutes, he fell asleep. Eventually, I did too.

Wanna know what happens to Marin in Montana? Get your copy of The Commitment Test and find out now!



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© 2020 Amanda Aksel

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