When Life Hands You Lemons

This is Chapter 5 for my attempt at National Novel Writing Month. Feel free to comment below.


Collin’s Matrix pulled up outside of his old home. Lyla’s Saturn was parked outside. The curtains to the front window were drawn, but the light in the living room was on. He parked on the street not to block the car in the driveway. Also, for some reason, it didn’t feel right for him to be parking in a familiar spot. This is where he waited for his sons on the days he came and got them, either to spend a few hours with them after school or with him in Wanetta on the weekends.

Collin got of his car and approached the house. It was a little after 9pm when he arrived. The boys were probably asleep, so he didn’t ring the doorbell, he knocked on the door lightly. The curtain cracked open—Lyla was peeking out the window, seeing who was outside at this hour. She must have seen Collin’s car on the street. She unlocked the door. She was a little surprised, “What’s going on?”

“Can I come in so we can talk?” Collin asked.

A little guarded, Lyla responded, “Sure.”

– – – –

Collin’s Matrix pulled up outside of Al’s Bar a little after 10pm. It was on the edge of downtown Wanetta, the last or first bar on the street with all the other college bars. Al’s was a fairly new bar, and its owner, Al, was trying to create an establishment that served good drinks and hosted cool musical acts. So far, Al’s was popular with Wanetta’s hip crowd. Tonight, it was wino Wednesday, two-for-one on glasses of wine or bottles of wine.

As Collin approached the bar, he was able to see Ana and two other women drinking inside at a table. He went to the bar at the front and ordered a beer. Ana saw him and excused herself from the conversation with her friends. She approached Collin. 

“Hey, Collin, everything ok?” Lyla inquired.

Everything was not ok, but how did Lyla know. “Not really, but how can you tell?”

“Your energy is way off. Also, the way you walked to the bar. Do you want to talk? We can go outside and have a smoke.”

“Yeah. I would really like that.” Collin responded.

“Do you have any cigarettes? Because I didn’t bring mine. I told my roommate that I was trying to quit.”

“Yeah, I have a pack.” He paid for his beer and followed Ana to back of the bar to the door that led to the fenced in yard where people sat outside and could smoke.” 

– – – –

Collin’s Matrix pulled up outside of Raf’s house a little after midnight. Raf had finished watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall and was sitting in his living room. He had smoked a little bit of weed during the movie and was now finishing his beer while he read before retiring for the night. 

His classes weren’t until the afternoon tomorrow, so he could wake up a little later, take his time heading to classes, and still have time to prep. Besides after years spent as an avid reader and armchair scholar, he could skim through an article he assigned for class and have twenty analyses and arguments to discuss during the class period. Also, during his time as an Evangelical, he got good at talking in front of people in order to preach the gospel. Even if Raf’s lectures were above the head of most first semester freshmen, they were captivated by the way he held court.

Collin came in through the front door. Raf asked. “Everything, ok? I thought you were going to prep tonight. Then I heard you slip out through the back door earlier.”

“Not really, Raf. Lyla called. I went and saw her. Then I stopped by Al’s. Ana was there. We talked.” Collin seemed bothered but a little sedated as he reported his whereabouts for the night, but the series of events piqued Raf’s interests. 

“Do you want to talk about what happened?” Raf asked.

“Let me get a beer first.” Collin said.

“Get another one for me too.” Raf told his friend.

– – – –

Collin sat down in his old living room. He had paid for the love seat and couch set. He had paid for the Ikea coffee table, side table, and entertainment stand. Now, even though he had only been moved out a little over a month, this space did not seem like his anymore, Lyla had made the space her own.

She was wearing her pajamas, and a makeup mirror was sitting on the side table. Her makeup kit was out. She must have been in the middle of plucking her eyebrows. Also, there was a book bag on the ground and some textbooks in a pile. Maybe Lyla was going to do some studying before bed. 

“Can I get you something to drink?” Lyla offered, “I don’t have any beer, but I can offer you mineral water or a Fresca.”

“Mineral water would be fine.” Collin said.

Lyla got up and headed over the kitchen. The first floor of the apartment was open concept. The front door led directly to the stairs and the living room, which led into the dining room, and then wrapped 90 degrees into the kitchen with the stairs to the basement and the garage. Lyla disappeared around the corner, and Collin heard her open the refrigerator door.

“What flavor do you want?” Lyla’s voice asked.

“It doesn’t matter.” Collin responded.

Lyla came back and offered Collin his drink. Her mannerism towards him were softer than she had been towards him in the last few months but still a little wary. This made Collin hopeful.

“Why did you call me earlier?” Collin asked.

Lyla took a breath as if she was about to deal with something troubling. “Last night, I had a dream, like I told you. In the dream, you, me, and the boys were riding our bikes. It was sunny. They were laughing. And….” Lyla paused; her eyes became watery. “You and I were happy. Like we had been before.”

Collin’s heart raced. His eyes welled up too. Even though he was so weary from all he had been through, hearing Lyla’s dream made him hopeful.

Lyla was looking off in the distance as she was struggling to get a handle of her emotions, to maintain some struggle of her resolve.

Collin moved next to her and held her. She did not resist him. Instead, she went limp in his embrace, and she cried. Her crying made him cry too. He was awash in emotions, yet holding her again, comforting her. After being away from her for so long, this felt so good, so familiar.   

– – – –

“So, Lyla had a change of heart?” Ana asked. They were sitting in the back of Al’s smoking a cigarette together. Before Collin could answer, “That’s pretty common during the breakup of a long relationship. When Laurence and I were separating, there were days when I was certain that we were over, and then I would remember something sentimental from our past. A refrigerator magnet from a trip we took down to Tennessee, a random email I would find from him buried in my inbox—” Ana realized she had interrupted Collin’s story. He was starting to withdraw into his pain. “Sorry, go on.”

– – – –

It felt so good to hold Lyla again. The familiar feel of her form. The smell of her body lotion and hair. The familiarity of 10 years of life they share together. Collin kissed Lyla. Lyla didn’t resist.

– – – –

Collin was fighting back tears and had paused in the telling of his story.  

Raf listened intently to Collin’s story. He was starting to get worried. If Collin took Lyla back, all of this would be for naught. Raf understood the emotional pull of wanting to reconnect with the ex. He had been there too. If Zoe would have expressed remorse early in the relationship and wanted to work things out with him for the dream of them being a family again—even after she had moved in with her boyfriend—Raf would have been a fool and taken her back, despite all the pain and disruption she had caused in his life. That was before. Now he didn’t care. She had betrayed him. She had abandoned him and the kids. And he would always love her because she was the mother of his children. However, Raf was grateful that she had been strong and ended things because he would not have and would be miserable to this day if Zoe had not been firm.

Collin resumed talking.

– – – –

Collin and Lyla continued to kiss and embrace one another. It had been so long since they had been intimate with one another that Collin was quickly filled with desire for her. She seemed to also desire him as well. Their hands both explored the other’s body.

Collin lifted Lyla’s t-shirt off of her. It came off. She wasn’t wearing a bra. He kissed her breasts. He kissed her neck. She breathed deeply. She leaned back on the couch. He kissed down her sternum. He kissed her stomach that was loose with belly, that displayed the stretch marks of the children that she bore him. He pulled down her pajama pants and was about to kiss her pelvis.

Lyla went stiff. “No.” She said. Collin tried kissing her pelvis. She held his head in place, keeping him from going any further. “No.”

Collin was taken aback. Things had been progressing in one direction but had suddenly, inexplicably halter. “What’s the matter? His head nuzzled her thigh.”

Lyla took a breath. Tried to compose herself. Tried to regain control of the situation. She gently pushed Collin away. He sat up. She retrieved her shirt and put it on.

“Listen,” she said looking at Collin. “If we do this, this won’t change anything. This won’t change the summer. This won’t change the past year.”

Collin’s heart sunk again. “But your dream?” He weakly reminded Lyla. She shook her head.

“Maybe the dream was just to tell me what I was closing the door on.” She stoically reflected. 

Collin was staggered. The encounter with Lyla had been so promising and then a barrier had gone up just as he was about to reach the reconciliation that he had been hoping for since this awful nightmare with Lyla had begun. And now it had all been an illusion? This had been a very cruel dalliance by Lyla.

Lyla good see the emotions shifting in Collin. She became a little concerned and did not want to deal with a situation that might awaken the boys.

“Collin, I think you need to go.” Lyla said quietly but firmly.

Collin didn’t have words. He was so overwrought by a mixture of competing and confusing emotions. Collin picked up his can and went to the kitchen. Lyla trailed him into the kitchen, uncertain what he was about to do. Collin dumped the contents of the can down the kitchen drain and went to put the can in the blue recycling bin near the garage door. 

However, as he went to dispose of the can, he noticed something peculiar in the bin: he noticed several crushed cans of Natural Ice beer. Lyla didn’t drink cheap beer, she drank sweeter alcoholic beverages. Collin did know someone who drank Natural Ice though, someone who brought over a six pack with him the one time Lyla had invited him over to have dinner with her and Collin, as a way of thanking him for all he had done for the boys. The boys Taekwondo instructor, Tony Nunez, drank Natural Ice beer.

Collin asked Lyla flatly to her face, “Has Tony been over to see you?”

Lyla was taken off guard. 

– – – –

“Oh, shit!” Ana said. “No way.”

Raf nodded his head. Things were finally making sense. The end of Collin’s relationship was following a pattern very reminiscent of Raf’s very own relationship.

– – – –

The boys started Taekwodo lessons after Lyla had read a profile about an instructor who was opening a new school in the city. He was an older man that was originally from the Bay area but settled in the Midwest with his second wife and her kids. The Taekwondo studio was in a rougher part of town and was compact and had a small group of students by the time Lyla brought the boys there for lesson. Most of the classes were comprised of children.

Tony was a short older man with lots of energy and was always making jokes. Collin never really cared for him because Collin was more serious and educated, and it was unclear if Tony had even graduated from high school. Tony had made a living in the area working as a shift manager at various restaurants and teaching at the different martial art schools.

Over the past year, Collin had felt that Lyla was spending an unusual amount of time with the boys at their lessons, even deciding to take lessons herself. Then she started to become more involved in activities that Tony was organizing to promote the studio, agreeing to work on a newsletter for the studio. Collin thought this was strange because he wrote the family Christmas letter every year because Lyla was very self-conscious about her writing and failed a freshman writing course because she experienced extreme anxiety and writer’s block putting her ideas into word.   

Collin asked Lyla flatly to her face, “Has Tony been over to see you?”

Lyla was taken off guard. 

She then said, “He came over as a friend. He’s going through a divorce too, and we’re helping each other out.”

Collin became extremely angry by this revelation. All this time, he had taken Lyla at her word. He had placed the onus of them growing apart on him going to graduate school, on wanting to improve his station and what he could provide for the family, on leaving Lyla alone with the boys. Now, it seemed like he was right to suspect that there was another person in the picture. Lyla had been having an emotional affair and had been using their sons as a ruse to spend more time with this man.

“You cunt!” was all Collin could say. “I trusted you.”

Lyla acted indignantly, not knowing to what extent Collin had deduced the situation. “I think you should leave” was all she could say.

Not wanting to awaken the boys because his childhood had been marred by his parents yelling and arguing while he and his brothers lied awake in bed at night, he walked out silently with a new clarity to the situation. That’s when he drove straight to Al’s and then back to Raf’s.

– – – –

The next day, Collin was sitting in his office on campus processing the full extent of Lyla’s deceit. He had managed to pull himself together enough to teach his morning classes and to find some distraction in his interaction with students, but when he finished his last class for the day, the anger was waiting for him outside of the classroom door. It was his office hour, and he had meant to use it grade some student papers, but he was unable to focus his attention on 800-word literacy narratives. Instead, he decided that he would Google “Tony Nunes” and see what he could discover about this man.

Collin’s Google search led him to some items printed in the local papers, including run ins with the law and, ultimately, to the Wisconsin Court System database, where a user could search for the court records of a particular person, as long as you had the first and last name of a person and their approximate age. Oh, Collin learned that Tony is 48, about 15 years older than Lyla. Collin also learned that Tony had had some troubles with the law.

– – – –

Collin was back at Raf’s place sitting at the desk in his room. He had printed out various court cases that he had found in the database that had involved Tony. He was now calling Lyla landline at home to share with her what he had found. It was a little after 1pm, and he didn’t know if she would be home or not. The phone rang, and she picked up.

“Hello.” She answered.

“So, I did a little research today. Seems like Tony has had some trouble with the law. Were you aware of that?”

Lyla was a little surprised by the directness of Collin’s allegation, but she didn’t back pedal. “He told me that he had been in some trouble, but he had changed his life around.”

“Oh, really?” Lyla was coming clean. “So, public intoxication, assault and battery, domestic abuse, that doesn’t concern you?”

“What?” Lyla was surprised by the specificity of the charges. Then she was silent, she was talking to someone else in the room. Someone else got on the phone.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” It was Tony.

“Oh, hello. Surprised that you’re over there.” Collin was livid, but he kept his cool. “So, you didn’t tell Lyla about the details of your troubles?”

Tony was on the defensive. “Listen, the police and judges are racist. You make the smallest mistake and you aren’t treated fairly.”

“I know about systemic racism. Don’t blame domestic abuse on racist police.” 

Tony was likely confused by Collin’s jargon and rebuttal of his argument.

“Hope you enjoyed spending $100 on my background check!” Tony’s countered.

“I didn’t.” Collin replied. “I went to the Wisconsin Court database and looked up the information. It didn’t cost me anything.”

“What?” Tony seemed surprised that this information was publicly accessible. 

“Yeah. I just had to enter your name. And all your court cases were free for me to read.”

“Look,” Tony sidestepped, “You and Lyla are over. You and her have been over for a long time. In fact her and me, have been talking all summer. I’ve been helping her build up the courage to leave you, to do what is right for her so that she can be happy.”

“Oh really?” Collin was kind of happy that this loudmouth was on the phone telling him everything Lyla had not.

“Yeah. You didn’t realize what you had. And now she’s gone. Face it you lost. Be a man and walk away.”

Tony then gave the phone to Lyla. “Hello?” She said.

Collin’s adrenaline was pumping, but he was glad that he saw the situation for what it was. “That all true?” He pointedly asked Lyla.

“Yeah.” She sounded annoyed.

“Glad to finally hear the truth. By the way, you’re not in control.” And he hung up.

Collin grabbed his coat and went outside to smoke a cigarette in the alley. Collin’s hand was shaking. Soon Raf appeared in the alley, walking back from campus. He was wearing a green overcoat and wearing a newsboy hat. It was starting to get brisk in Wanetta.

Raf could see that Collin was agitated. He grabbed a plastic chair from the backyard and turned it over to drain the rainwater from its seat. He placed the chair next to Collin.

“What’s up?” Raf asked.

Collin then regaled Raf with the research that he done on campus and the phone conversation that he just had with Lyla and Tony.

“Sounds like a winner.” Raf quipped.

“Yeah.” Collin agreed.

“What are you going now? Raf asked.

“I’m going to protect myself because Lyla is clearly not in control.”

The next day Collin talked to the Chair of the English Department. Her husband was a divorce attorney. She gave Collin her husband’s number.

– – – –

“When life hands you lemons, just say fuck the lemons and bail.”

—From Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Photo by m on Unsplash

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