Better Now Than Never

It was the fourth week of May, right when the weather dips into sweet golden pools of midday sunshine.

Petunia reclined on one of the benches in the park, her back sloping against the hard angles of metal.

Her venti passionfruit lemonade was going lukewarm, the condensation long since melted off the sides of the plastic cup. She stirred the small circlet of melted ice at the bottom of the cup.

The straw had been chewed on, twisted, and toyed with nearly to the point of unusablility.

Her phone buzzed in her bag for the sixth time that day. It was a peculiar buzzing, a ringtone that could have only belonged to one person. Earlier in the day, she might have taken out her phone and scowled at it before shoving it back in her bag. She did not. She simply let the vibrating tone play out. _Tap tap bzzzt bzzzt tap tap tap._

A bird who had been eying her for the past twenty minutes squawked as she hurled a small twig at him.

Petunia might have screamed something profane and stomped off if she were prone to dramatics. But, all too conscious of the other people in the park, and of the beautiful spring weather, she simply swallowed and leaned back further on the bench. The sharp metal lines dug into her back. The corners of her mouth folded as she tried to adjust to a more comfortable position.

The inevitability of the bench’s discomfort was much like a thorn that didn’t break skin, just pressed slightly in an uncomfortable way that allowed for little movement.

Sometimes Petunia felt like her and Bryan were like that.

The sun was casting great swathes of glowing warmth over the almond trees and the neatly trimmed grass. Everything was so bright, from the newly budded flowers to the lush mountainous clouds above. You couldn’t escape the sounds of the city from here, but you could pretend that the black stain of pollution didn’t involve you. That it was some distant nightmare from another person’s dreams.

Petunia stood and walked over to the nearest trash can to dispose of her cup. Her head ached. There was pressure behind her eyes that if she thought about for long enough, would turn into something ugly. A spectacle.

She’d been sitting in some park for half an hour, and he never came. Why even plan these things, when it was always last minute cancellations, last minute show ups?

He’d always say the same four infuriating words, every time he chanced to show up. “Better late than never.” Then he’d wink, like Petunia had been let in on some little secret.

The pressure behind her eyes was mounting into a searing heat.

She didn’t know why she kept expecting different from a man who had never shown any intention to change.

Petunia had fantasized about leaving him more times than she’d imagined a future with him in it. And every time, she couldn’t walk out the door.

She’d given him seven years of her life. Seven years that she could never take back.

Maybe she’d never find anyone better. Maybe constant disappointment was all she was good for.

Petunia sat down the curb and thought.

She thought about all the times he’d brushed off a gift, a kind word, a chore done, a meal prepared. She wondered how much stupidity could be contained in one person.

Well, yes, _him_, but she was mainly thinking of herself.

How could she? How could she profess to love a man that she was nothing to? How could she stay with him?

How could she leave?

Petunia let the sun dry the salty tracks from her cheeks. She let the wind ease her into movement. One foot up, then another. Up off the curb. Back to standing. Back to walking.

Her phone began buzzing again. She ignored it.

Where would her feet take her? Where would this unknown path go?

She hesitated, feeling overwhelmed, feeling uncertain and a little ecstatic. Was she really doing this?

Where would this decision lead?

That was not yet known. But as she walked, Petunia felt her disappointment and her shame at taking so long to leave give way to another feeling: hope.

And that is where I found her, on the road to Somewhere Better, with that excruciating saying burned into her memory. The same words, but for one crucial change.

“Better now than never.”

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