“I’ll be right back, sweetie. Going to take this to the kitchen.” Devin said. He stood up from the small dining room table and picked up his empty plate.
“Oh, wait, you can take mine.” Veronica said.
“You’re sure? All finished?”
“Yeah.” She said. “Couldn’t possibly eat another bite.”
Devin picked up her plate. “How was it?” He said. His eyebrows raised as he awaited her response.
“Yum. Absolutely delicious.” She said. “I had no idea you were such a talented cook…”
Devin smiled. “Thanks. I’ll grab us some more wine while I’m in there.”
“Okay, honey.” Veronica smiled back at him.
She watched as he crossed the dining room and disappeared from sight around the corner. Devin had surprised her by inviting her over to his condo for dinner. Usually on Friday nights they went out to a nice restaurant. But she certainly wasn’t complaining- He had cooked two steaks [Medium-well] with baked potatoes on the side and then opened an expensive bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. They had enjoyed the meal, the wine, and a light chat about daily life by candlelight while the stereo played Mozart softly in the background.
Devin reappeared and whistled to the classical music as he walked back across the room with the bottle. He refilled both glasses before reclaiming his seat across from her at the table. He picked up his glass of wine and raised it in the air.
“A toast…” He said.
Veronica picked up her glass and smiled again.
“To our love.” He winked at her.
“To our love.” She nodded and they clinked their glasses together. Each took a sip.
“You’re probably wondering why I invited you over here tonight, huh?” He said.
“Well, yes… I have a few ideas…”
“Oh, no… Nothing like that– Er, I mean… That came out wrong–”
She reached over and softly patted the back of his hand. “It’s alright, I know what you mean.”
“Thanks.” He took another sip of wine. “The last year, as you know, has been amazing…”
“I couldn’t agree more, dear.” She said. “Absolutely amazing.”
“And the wedding is just around the corner, a few weeks away–”
She interrupted him by holding her hands up in the air and emitting a high-pitched squealing sound while hopping up and down in her chair with excitement.
“Uh-huh. Yes.” He paused and waited as she regained her composure. “So, I was talking about some stuff with my Mom last night…” He stopped and sighed.
She took a sip of wine and gazed across the table. “What were you two talking about?”
“I’ve always considered her to be a very wise old lady and I wanted to get her advice on something. You see, baby, there’s something I have to tell you about before we go any further…”
“What do you mean?” Veronica said.
“You know me, my life is an open book. I don’t believe in secrets. What you see is what you get.”
“But, unfortunately, there is one secret that I have been keeping from you… From most people in my life…”
Her heart skipped a beat and a million different possibilities flashed through her mind.
“I decided that it would be better to just tell you about it now than have you discover it somewhere down the road.” Devin said.
“I- I don’t understand…” Her brow furrowed with befuddlement.
“Hold on a sec.” Devin picked up his wine glass, swallowed the rest in three giant gulps, immediately refilled the glass. “Sorry,” He said. “This is really hard for me.”
Veronica remained silent.
“Well, here goes…” He said. “When I was in the third grade a friend of mine named Richie dared me to pull a piece of old chewing gum off the bottom of a desk at school and chew on it.”
Five seconds of silence, neither one of them moved.
Veronica started laughing. “Really? That’s what you wanted to confess to me? You are such a funny little man!” She reached out to hold his hand.
“I’m not finished with the story yet.” Devin said. He was staring down at the table and had stopped making eye contact with her.
She pulled her hand back and nervously took another sip of wine.
“I pulled the old gum off and I chewed on it… And, well, I really enjoyed it!” He said.
“Um, that was a long time ago, cutie pie!” Veronica said.
“Yes, it was. But I liked it so much that a few days later I found an old piece of gum stuck to the wall in the boys room and I did it again. That time I wasn’t dared by anyone to do it.”
“Okay, well, um… That’s pretty weird, but it was so long ago, I understand.” She tried her best to smile.
“No, sugar, you don’t fully understand. See, it quickly became an obsession of mine. It didn’t matter where I found the gum, or how long it had been there, or ever how gross it looked. Whenever I saw a piece stuck somewhere I simply had to pull it off and start chewing on it, tasting it… Experiencing the flavor…” He trailed off and took another drink.
“Wh- Um, I’m not sure what to say! Kids do really strange, crazy things sometimes, and–”
“You know me,” He said. “I love chewing gum, I always have some.”
She chuckled. “That’s true. Almost every time I see you, just smacking and chewing away…”
“Veronica, look, what I’m trying to tell you is that I’ve never paid for a single piece of gum in my entire life. My obsession– It never stopped!” He sighed again.
“What? Is this some kind of sick joke?” She said.
He shook his head. “No. I am afraid not. I have tried talking to shrinks, I have tried medication. Doesn’t work. I’ve chewed on old gum from park benches, the subway, the sidewalk, public restrooms, the bottom of my shoes, places that you couldn’t even imagine. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and find a fresh piece that’s still warm!”
Veronica had turned as pale as a ghost. “Oh my God! You’re serious!”
Devin frowned and nodded.
“Uh! I think I’m going to vomit! I can’t believe this is happening! I thought I had found the perfect man… You– You’ve kissed me with gum in your mouth, you disgusting sonuvabitch!” She grabbed her purse and raced for the front door.
“Veronica, wait!” Devin said.
But it was too late, she had already left the condo.
[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]
© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved