Rich turned to Mel.
“All of us fuck ups?” Rich asked.
“I mean, it just feels unfair to Luke to toast only him,” she said.
Rich looked at his glass. “Well, I’ve got a few more toasts in me. Why do you think you’re a fuck up?”
Shannon smiled and gave her a “we’re here to have fun” look. She tried to step in.
“We all have our shit. We’ve all done things that were not our best. No reason to dwell on it,” Shannon said.
“Fuck – that’s nothing to toast to,” Rich said.
Mel turned away, trying to distract herself by looking at other groups of people. She didn’t know why, but all the emotions of the last month were coming to the surface. Her getting upset over Luke had inadvertently over-filled the cheap, plastic water balloon keeping her feelings in check.
“Mel – you okay?” Shannon asked.
“It doesn’t feel right to judge, don’t feel like I have any room to,” Mel said, growing upset and sullen.
Rich studied her.
“We’re all fuckups at some point,” he said, then took a drink. He looked around at everyone around them. “Do you want to know something about people?”
“What’s that?” Mel asked.
Rich motioned with his hands at the crowd, and Mel wondered if he was going to spill his drink as she watched it roll back and forth in his glass.
“Every single person is only two or three steps away from doing things they never thought they would.”
“Wow, that’s cynical,” Shannon said.
“It’s true – at first, no one is better than that.”
“Why do you mean at first?” Mel asked.
Rich tipped his drink back and finished it. He set the glass on the bricks next to them, then explained.
“People are only a few steps away from anything because they think they’re principled when they’re actually just inexperienced. But then temptation comes, and shatters all those untested assumptions they had of themselves. That’s experience – getting your ass handed to you. That’s what I meant by ‘at first.’”
Rich turned to look at Mel, continuing, “Only after that you can start becoming principled. Experience shows people what they are. What they decide to do from that point – that’s character.”
“A good person knows better than to make some of those really bad mistakes, though,” Mel said. Her voice started to shake. The balloon was bursting.
“No,” Rich said, and he locked his eyes with Mel‘s. “Everyone fucks up – especially whatever is most important to them. The fuck ups forge you. You’ll never find a world champion fighter without scars. You never start out good – and it doesn’t matter how much you know better. A fighter knows not to get his nose broken. Guess what still happens?” Rich asked.
Mel turned away, taking a deep breath. Rich watched her, then finished his thought, his voice quiet.
“You can never judge someone as a total fuck up, they might just be on their way to becoming good at something.”
Mel took a drink, her mind racing. She looked over at Shannon.
“Hey,” Shannon said, walking up to her and putting her hand on Mel’s arm. “Do you want to take a walk? Get away from the noise for a bit?”
Mel shook her head.
“What if someone does something really bad?” Mel asked, turning to Rich.
“Everyone does something. The only thing I would find unforgivably fucked up about someone is if they were only ever one thing their whole life. People that think they’re too good to do anything, or people that think they’re too bad to do anything else. That’s bullshit. Hell, it’s only a matter of years until every bit of you is a new cell that doesn’t exist today,” Rich said. “You are never only one thing.”
He looked up at the night sky, taking a deep breath.
“What if someone does something really bad?” Rich repeated, then looked directly at Mel. “I get a drink. Then I decide if I want to do it again.”
Mel and Shannon were quiet.
“Did I upset you?” Rich asked.
Mel shook her head.
“I’m just upset with myself,” Mel said.
Rich looked at his empty glass, then back at Mel.
“Perfection doesn’t make something beautiful, but beauty can make something perfect. Everyone fucks up. And you’re beautiful…”
He raised his empty glass to her.
“I’m going to get another. The next round is on me. What would you two like?”
Mel shook her head.
“Bay Breeze,” Shannon said.
Rich nodded and walked away.
Mel turned the glass around in her hands. She was feeling too many things at once. She didn’t want to be here in front of other people, but then she didn’t want to be alone at home. She had come here to forget, but now the bear trap inside her had gone off and had locked her mind in its teeth. She could not think of anything else except the breakup.
She wanted to get rid of it. She wanted to stop carrying the weight of it.
She looked at Shannon, then at Rich. She didn’t know why, but she felt like she could trust him. The authenticity in how he talked and carried himself, in how he could always look her in the eyes, made her feel like he was a friend, a confidante. It’s strange, Mel thought, how sometimes you meet people for the first time and connect as if you had always known them.
Rich looked at Shannon then at Mel, then raised his glass slightly.
“What should we toast to?”
Mel raised her glass, looking directly at Rich.
“To my fuck up,” she said, then tried to steady her voice. She took a another deep breath.
“I was in this relationship, and it was great. He was great. But – I made a mistake. This other guy was flirting with me and I thought it was harmless until – it wasn’t. My boyfriend … my ex-boyfriend… found out.”
“Is your ex the one you’re hoping to see pop up on your phone?” Rich asked.
“You don’t have to keep beating yourself up. People make mistakes. He could have heard you out…” Shannon began.
“No,” Mel interrupted, looking at Shannon. “I know how your ex-husband treated you. He did it to you. He cheated on you, and now I did the same damn thing. I don’t deserve …” Mel’s voice broke.
“Mel …” Shannon reached out and put her hand on Mel’s shoulder, then enveloped her in a hug.
“It’s okay.” Shannon said.
Mel held on to her for a few long moments, then let her go. She stood back, then lifted her glass.
“To …” Mel began, but didn’t finish. Shannon raised her glass to Mel’s. Rich raised his drink to theirs.
“To two beautiful ladies.”
They each took a drink. Mel looked over at the people dancing.
“I’m sorry – tonight was supposed to be fun,” Mel said.
“We’ll go back out again,” Shannon said.
Rick looked at Mel, taking another drink.
“When you finish your bay breeze, we’ll go dance,” Rich said.
“I don’t feel much like dancing, and I don’t know how anyway,” Mel said.
“We can stay for at least one dance,” Shannon said. “If you won’t dance, then I will. But I think you could use it most. Open up. Let shit out. Exorcise your demons,” Shannon said.
“Exercise your demons,” Rich corrected.
“I really don’t know how to dance,” Mel laughed.
Rich looked at her.
“No one starts out good.” Rich said.
Mel stared at him.