Room for Two By Rick McQuiston


It seems strange to me how one’s perception of another person could change so much over such a short period of time.

I sit alone in a corner booth of Hatherly Café. In a way, I feel that it is mine, that it belongs to me.

Only room for two in this booth.

Of course I fully realize that isn’t the case. The booth doesn’t belong to me, nor does it only seat two, but I still cling to these private notions like a man lost at sea would a life preserver. I need them to ground me in what I believe to be reality, my own personal reality.

Leaning back in the worn vinyl seat, hearing it squeak under my weight, I remember happier times. These too I hold close, refusing to let them slip through my fingers to disperse into the air like so much cigarette smoke on a warm summer night.

I love you, Beth had whispered into my ear. And I always will, no matter what happens, no matter who comes between us.

A sad smile crosses my face. I try to suppress it, even conceal it to a degree, but fail miserably. Whenever I think about Beth and those loving words she spoke I find it increasingly difficult to fully grasp what really happened between us.

And then the memories flood back into my head like hungry snakes unleashed in a room full of rats.

She betrayed me. She lied to me. She gripped my heart in her cold hands and squeezed with all her strength, wringing whatever humanity I still had out onto the floor to be wiped away like so much trash.

“Beth,” I find myself moaning under my breath again and again as the memories crash into me. Each and every one feels like a blade in my heart. “I love you. I always will”. I grimace as the words she said to me dribble out of my slack mouth.

I take a sip of my tea (I never cared for coffee) and watch the plumes of steam drift off into the stagnant air of the café. There aren’t many others in the place so I feel a little more at ease with the harsh realities I’m dealing with. The love between a man and woman is a sacred thing, the most powerful force on Earth, the cement that holds everything else together. Without it the meaning of life itself would be lost.

I thought Beth was meant for me, and I for her, but apparently I was wrong. She threw it all away, tearing open my heart in the process.

To love and to have lost is better than to have never loved at all.

God, how I hate those words. Whoever said them obviously isn’t in my shoes.

“Ray? Are you listening to me?”

I snap out of my thoughts and stare across the table.

Beth smiles back at me. Her soft lips stretch toward each ear, revealing just a hint of perfect white teeth, and a glint in her sparkling blue eyes immediately lights up the room. I feel lost in those eyes, adrift in an endless sea.


“Beth? I have missed you so much. I love…”

I slam my mouth shut, cutting the words off in midsentence and notice Beth isn’t smiling anymore. Her expression is slipping into something darker, something that I don’t particularly care for.

She frightens me.

“Ray, you didn’t answer me.”

Her voice sounds like someone’s dying moans.

I stare at her, trying to find something there, anything that I can latch onto to keep me above water, to convince myself that I’m not losing my mind. .

“Beth? I… I don’t know…”

“You killed me, don’t you remember? You wrapped your strong hands, the same hands I used to love caressing my face, around my neck and squeezed until I couldn’t breathe anymore. So now I’m here, with you in your own personal reality.”

Her words slice into my heart.

“Of course,” Beth continued, “this is only one scenario.”

I raise my eyebrows in confusion.

“You see, Ray, you have been allotted two different….shall we say, situations. The first is that you did in fact kill me as I have said. When this is revealed, you will feel all the anguish and remorse from the terrible mistake you made. It will tear you apart inside.”

I cup my face in my hands and begin to sob.

“The other scenario is that you didn’t kill me and discovered that I had betrayed you. This will also tear you apart inside, fill you with self-doubt and painful thoughts about love that was lost.” She reaches across the table and pulls my hands away from my face. “Either way you’ll experience heart-wrenching emotions,” she adds with a wicked grin.

This particular time is the murder situation, but the next might be the other one. But on the other hand it might be another murder.”

I look around the café and notice that there are more people than before. Virtually every seat is filled.

Beth notices my puzzlement. “Oh, don’t worry, Ray,” she says with an oily grin, one that cause the finger marks on her neck to stand out. “Even though it’s crowded in here there’s always room for two.”

Rick is a lifelong horror fan who has over 400 publications to his credit. Currently, he is working on his sixth and seventh novels and more short stories than he knows what to do with.

Published 2/14/19