Chapter 3

Neither one spoke for a few quiet moments.

"So, your life turned out well in spite of me," Jack finally said.

"Yes," she said. "I married a wonderful man who didn't care about my past. We're raising four amazing kids and we have a wonderful home and he loves his career. It's been a good life."

"Karma for you."

"God taking care of me," She said.

"Where was he when you were with me?" Jack wondered.

"He was there," Pauline said. "I just wasn't listening."

"I never listened."

"You talked," Pauline said. "And your words often hurt. Your humor was insulting and you could cut to the bone with your sarcasm and anger when you wanted."

"While you were always positive and healing and hopeful and nice," Jack said with a tone of annoyance..

"I don't think I ever heard you once admit that you were wrong," Pauline said. "In your words, your actions or your deeds, no matter how much damage and destruction you caused."

"It was easier to blame everybody else for my mistakes."

"You never learned humility."

"I never did," he agreed. "I never learned anything to tell you the truth."

"So, you have regrets?"

"My entire life is a regret," Jack let her know. "But there's no point crying about it now. I was a jerk when you knew me and I'm a jerk now. All I cared about was deflowering you and scandalizing you. And when I got tired of you, I moved on to the next conquest without a second thought."

"That's what hurt the most," Pauline said.

"I was destined to die here in this bed like this," Jack told her. "I was earmarked for alcoholism, addiction, crime, failure, and loneliness."

"You didn't have to end up like this," Pauline said. "It didn't have to go all wrong."

"I was a drunk, Pauley. Even when you knew me I was downing a six pack a day."

"You could have changed if you really wanted to," She complained.

"I carried the failures of my parents before me," he said. "I didn't even graduate from high school. I couldn't keep a job. I robbed. I stole. I lied. I drank. I used."

"I knew all of that before you even did," Pauline testified. "But I wanted to have sex with you anyway. I was crazy about you."

"You loved me," Jack said with regret.

"Yes," she admitted, her voice shaking. "I still have no idea why. Maybe I was the one acting out. Maybe I wanted to be bad instead of good and nice. Maybe I had to see hell before I knew there was a heaven."

"You were attracted to me."

"Yes."

"Even though we had nothing in common," Jack said with interest. "That I was hardly your type. That I came from a broken home and a line of drunks. That I was trouble with a Capitol T from the moment you saw me."

"Yes," she sighed. "Unfortunately, we humans are imperfect beings," she said. "We're flawed sinners who go against God's wishes and laws every day. I can't explain it."

"It was out of your control," Jack reasoned. "I had all the control over you."

"That's true," she said.

"I knew it from the start," Jack bragged. "You made it way to obvious."

"I was young."

"And I was a dick."

"In more ways than one."

It was the first time Pauline showed even a moment of humor, lightness or even bawdiness. "I was pretty gullible, wasn't I?" She sighed.

"You were easy to manipulate," Jack said.

"I stopped wallowing in it a long time ago though," she said. "I could only feel terrible about myself for so long before I either moved on or died."

"You do realize it was never going to work out with us, right?

"I thought maybe I was bad at sex because of all my religious hang ups."

"You weren't bad at sex," he assured her.

"I feared maybe sex ruined relationships."

"You have four kids so I'm pretty sure you figured out that wasn't true."

She blushed again.

"Our relationship was doomed from the start," Jack said. "I was a jerk. All my relationships were doomed. I was toxic."

"I didn't think you'd be like that forever," Pauline said.

"A bad person rarely turns good," Jack said. "It just doesn't happen."

"It does when they turn to God," Pauline said.

"Let the Reverend try to convert me, Pauley," Jack advised. "It's not your job."

"I know," she said.

"I still don't know why you came here," Jack said. "After all the horrible things I said and did."

"We never said goodbye," she reminded him.

"What?"

"You left me in that truck stop," she said. "I thought you were going to the bathroom. You never came back."

"It was time to move on," Jack said.

"I was 473 miles from home and I had thirty-four dollars in my pocket."

"You made it home."

"My parents had to wire me money for a bus ticket."

"That was probably a hard call to make after running off with me against their will."

"You could have taken a chance with me, Jack," Pauline said. "I may have changed your life."

"I doubt it," Jack said. "I was a lost cause from the start."

"You never really knew me."

"Better for you that way."

"How long have you had the cancer?"

"Who knows?" He shrugged. "I didn't have insurance so I didn't go to the doctor until it was way too late."

She sighed as she stood. "I will grieve you," she said. "I will grieve my lost innocence all over again. But I take solace in the fact that I had a chance to see you one last time."

"I won't be flippant with my goodbye," he said.

"I wish you could have learned what I learned from what happened between us," she said. "Everybody gets tempted. Many fall. But we're supposed to pick ourselves up and try again. And again. And again."

"I guess I didn't know how to pick myself up," Jack said.

"I would have helped you," she said. "But you gave up on humanity."

"I gave up on me," he said.

"You wasted your life."

"You lived yours so I guess you win," Jack said. "Oh," he realized. "Sorry, that was flippant, wasn't it?"

"You did get what you deserved," she pointed out.

"So didn't you," he replied.

She stared at him for a long moment. "Goodbye, Jack." She started for the door and she would have kept on going had he not stopped her.

"Pauley?" He asked hopefully.

She turned and looked at him.

"You were the nicest woman I never knew."

She smiled bravely as her lip quivered. "I forgive you, Jack."

"It's the Christian thing to do," he replied before she disappeared from his view.