I Promise to Never Fall in Love with a Stranger
Rebekah Matthews

My roommate wants to buy a car and I go with her to the dealership. She finds one she likes, and the paperwork will take a long time; when I complain I am hungry, the salesman, Gerard, says he will drive me to the train so I can go home and eat dinner. In the parking lot I get into Gerard's car which is fancy and red. Gerard is around my age, mid 20s, with blond spiky hair and a square jaw. As he is driving he tells me how before he was a car salesman he washed windows. He asks me how I came to Boston. I say I moved to be with my girlfriend. "Then we broke up," I explain, laughing. He says, "Oh, so you're...?" I nod. He says, "My girlfriend used to be gay. She says it's not the same as being with men."  

"Oh, that makes sense," I say.

"No, I mean... I don't want to get in trouble or offend you—" He glances at me in the passenger seat to check something in me, then glances behind us, at the empty backseat, for any imaginary eavesdroppers.

I nod again. "It's okay." My voice sounds like I'm being nice but it's not out of kindness I want him to keep talking—better his vulnerability than mine.

"I know lesbians have... but she says... there's no replacement for how it is with a guy."

"I guess it's pretty different," I say. My new girlfriend left her husband a year ago. They got into fights and he hit her. They still talk; when she's really mad at him she drives to my apartment, drunk, tells me she's never wanted anyone as much as she wants me. The last time she and I had sex, her fingernails were so sharp they broke the skin and I bled on my sheets. I started crying by accident. I tried to tell her it was because I felt so safe with her but that wasn't really what I meant.

At the train station, Gerard gives me his business card, saying if I ever want to buy a car I should call him. At my apartment I make mac n cheese from a box and it doesn't taste like anything. My girlfriend's kids are sick with the flu so she's taking care of them. She hasn't texted in two days but I don't want to think about it; I get out a stepladder, unfold it in the living room, climb up the ladder, unscrew our lamp, put the phone inside, screw it back on.

My roommate gets home a few hours later, saying, "Gerard drove me to the train. He was mad. I got a good deal on the car so he's hardly making any commission. He made me wait in the parking lot for him for like 45 minutes. He was on the phone with his girlfriend, they got into a big fight."

"He's a douchebag," I say.

Before I go to bed, I get the phone from inside the lamp. Still no messages. I text her, Do you even want to talk to me any more?

The next morning my roommate and I talk online, complaining about Gerard; we wonder if Gerard's girlfriend really likes him more than she liked girls. We look up Gerard on Facebook. There are photos of him posing in front of the mirror, his shirt pulled up, showing his impressively chiseled abs. There are photos of him with his girlfriend. She is pretty with red curly hair and freckles. There is one picture of her smiling at him the way my girlfriend sometimes smiles at her kids.


Five years pass and I buy a car from my sister's husband's dead aunt. I find Gerard's business card when it falls out of a book I am re-reading. The next morning I am at work and tired of looking up ex-girlfriends on Facebook so I search for him again. He is still easy to find.

He enrolled in barber school March 2012, left June 2012. He has two children with his girlfriend—the same girl with curly hair and freckles. There are pictures of them at a park together, him pushing his daughter in a swing. There is another update he makes defending himself from accusations from his girlfriend that she found him with three women. They were separated anyway, Gerard writes, so it doesn't even matter.

I haven't dated in a while, but I am dating someone now. Last night I went over to her house. She has kids who were gone that night, staying with her ex. She and I ate dinner at her kitchen counter covered in Hello Kitty Valentines cards and crayons and heart stickers. She said we shouldn't go to her bedroom because it was messy, so we had sex on the couch. She talked like boys in porn do, saying she was going to come all over me. Afterwards we talked about our past relationships. Her ex was needy, she said. I said I used to be needy but then I stopped and now I'm careful. She asked, “But do you think you can fall in love without being needy?” I couldn't tell if she meant it as an interrogation or not. I said I didn't know. I felt relieved when I left and drove home. She is taking her kids on a ski trip and we won't see each other for a week. I said I would call her tonight before they leave but I don't know if I will.

I email a link to Gerard's Facebook to my roommate, who moved out to live with her boyfriend. I write, Remember Gerard? It's kind of sad. Gerard's most recent update is from New Year's Eve, how he wishes he could spend it with his children but he can't. He misses them, he writes. I know it will take hard work and patience but we will be together soon.

Rebekah Matthews is the author of a chapbook of stories, HYMNAL FOR DIRTY GIRLS. Her novella, HERO WORSHIP, is forthcoming from Vagabondage.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of aussiegall.

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