The Breakup.

12

Ralphie decided to start without them.

He sobbed as he flipped the pages of the photo album. Last year's ski-vacation. Their pre-honeymoon honeymoon. The Jim Beam reluctantly flowed past the point of no return with every initial swallow until he too became numb to the bitter taste in his mouth.

When the car pulled up in front of the house, Ralphie stuck the picture book between the big stack of Rolling Stone magazines under his desk, then ran into the bathroom. He washed his face in the sink as the bell rang. "Hang on, I'm coming!"

13

They tried their best to console Ralphie.

Ralphie got what he always got from these guys when a girl broke his heart. A bunch of, "She's a cunt's," a bevy of, "You're better off without her's," and the occasional, "Plenty of fish in the sea," thrown in for balance. You gotta have balance.

Unlike the others, though, Brooke wasn't a cunt. Ralphie wasn't better off without her. And he didn't know how many fish there actually were out there, but he was damned sure he couldn't catch one who wouldn't jump out of his boat and into the loving arms of another fisherman.

11

Ralphie sat in his den, dumbfounded.

So, this was how it would end? After a year of dating, another year of engagement, with the marriage not three months away. By e-mail. No matter how many times Ralphie re-read the damned thing, he still couldn't get the image out of his mind. Her sitting at the desk of her new beloved, firing daggers with every hen-pecked keystroke.

When it was obvious she wasn't planning on answering her cell phone for him, Ralphie called a few of his buddies. He told them what happened; they said they'd be right over. Ralphie walked over to the liquor cabinet and grabbed his only bottle of whiskey. Seemed appropriate for just such an occasion.

14

Shots were poured like they cured disease.

In under an hour, Ralphie lost his ability to walk without stumbling into innocent bystanders. He was pretty sure his friends weren't as far gone as he, but that didn't stop him from ordering another round with a circular waving of his right index finger around the table top.

Neal and Ted shook their heads for the entire group, but Ralphie and Ford made their voices heard. "Nonsense!" Ford exclaimed. "Another round; my boy here's just had his heart broken. He needs another drink." Then, after looking with his one drunken eye squinted-shut up and down the waitress's posterior, he said, "You look kinda cute; what say you and Ralphie here go out on a date!"

10

Brooke started off by apologizing.

After finding out the devastating truth the day before, Ralphie had a hard time believing anything she said, least of all her being sorry. Midway through the part she said she didn't think she could commit to just one man, Ralphie finally lost it. 28 solid hours, no sleep, no food, willing himself to remain strong, knowing what he knew and exactly what they were doing ... it all came out in a fit of anguish as he pounded his fists on the desk top.

The nerve. She had the nerve to thank him. To tell him how much he meant to her! Like he was a loyal employee whose services were rendered obsolete! Oh, but she's a changed woman. That much was certainly clear. Ralphie was nice and all, but he just wasn't right for her. Apparently, this new guy was. Then again, would he have to worry about her inability to commit to one man?

15

They finally had to take Ralphie's phone away.

When he tired of arguing with his friends at the table, Ralphie opted to "go to the bathroom." In there, standing at the urinal, phone in his left hand, dick in his right, he left a 45 second message. It would've been longer, but Neal snatched the phone when he went in there to drain his own lizard.

"Why'djoo take my phone? That was important! I was gonna say how I'm closure over her. She's over her. I mean ... I'm over her! I'm ... I ... I loved her man! I loved her and ... that's it. That's it, isn't it? That's it." Ralphie collapsed into Neal's embrace, relentless with the tears this time.

9

Ralphie slammed the door behind him.

He walked meekly over to the couch and flopped down, covering his face with his forearms. Try as he might, Ralphie couldn't get the thought of the two of them out of his head. Exhausted, he tried to coax himself to sleep. Just a short nap. Anything. Then he heard that familiar e-mail gong on his computer.

It was from Brooke. That seemed awfully fast. He'd just left her place ten minutes prior and already there was this four-page e-mail, single-spaced. She must've written it in advance. How long was this thing going on? Ralphie's mind raced; a month? three months? a year? the duration of their relationship? Had she been cheating on him the entire time? It was possible. Ralphie cleared his head and began to read.

16

In his arms, Ralphie threw up on Neal.

At that very same moment, Ted and Ford entered to see what was taking so long. They'd come in to say they wanted to move on to another bar, but obviously there would have to be an intermediate stop along the way. Ford slapped his right thigh multiple times in laughter while Ted pulled down a handful of paper towels and wetted them in the sink.

"I'm sorry man," Ralphie said before diving headfirst into the nearest stall. There, he unleashed the kind of fury only known to those on a Jim Beam binge. After he finished, a little more clear-eyed than before, the four of them headed back to Neal's house, for him to shower and the rest to get something to eat.

8

Ralphie didn't know where to go at first.

He considered making good on his promise right then and there, but instead opted to just drive until he could drive no more. Thinking like that lasted until he was about five minutes away from his own house, when he realized he'd need supplies, food, extra clothes. Maybe a few bucks in his wallet. Ralphie really didn't give this alternate plan all that much thought, so he headed for home.

Besides, what would running away accomplish? It wouldn't get her back, nor would it get her back. No, he would have to set out to do what he promised to do in the first place. It was his only option at this point. Brooke would have to see that what she did to him wasn't worth it.

17

They tried to get food into him, but Ralphie resisted.

"Come on, man, you need to eat," Ted said. "If you want to go out with us after Neal gets out of the shower, you have to eat something." Ford cut the sub-sandwich and offered half, while chomping down on his own. Ralphie turned his head away, eyes a-squint, lips pursed shut like an infant whose hangar had closed shop for the strained-peas airplane.

"Fuck off, I'm not hungry," Ralphie said, pushing the sandwich back towards Ford. He turned on the television to a random ESPN baseball game and crossed his arms over his chest. "If you don't eat, then we're not going out anymore," Ted said, no longer looking in Ralphie's direction. Ralphie's gaze never left the screen.

7

Brooke saw Ralphie enter the room from her knees.

She never liked to look up when she was giving head, but for some reason, something compelled her this time. She immediately stood and took two steps back, not knowing whether to wipe her mouth or cover her breasts. Instinctively, she wiped with one arm and covered with the other. "What are you doing here?"

The man, fully clothed except for the unzipped crotch, whipped his head around while experiencing a different kind of racing heart. He put a throw pillow over his ever-softening member, bracing himself for the brutal attack from a scorned fiancée. Ralphie didn't say a word; he just turned around and walked out, leaving the door wide open.

18

The balls of Ralphie's feet jittered uncontrollably.

With an ever-so-slight turn of his head as he took advantage of his peripheral vision to make sure Ted and Ford weren't paying attention, Ralphie stood up and ran out of the house, slamming the door behind him. "Ralphie! What's he doing?" Ted shouted as he got up and ran after him.

By the time Ted made it to the end of the driveway, Ralphie was nowhere in sight. Ford ran up a few seconds later, followed by Neal in a bath towel. "Ford, you go that way, I'll run down here. Call me if you find him. Neal, stay here in case he shows up." Like a football huddle, the three of them initiated their assignments at breakneck speed.

6

All Ralphie could hear were moans.

He stood just inside the door, listening to the two of them go at it in her living room around the corner. The slurping, the "Oh Brooke's," the "Oh Baby's," the feminine muffled declarations of tastiness. Ralphie stood in shock for a minute before walking - seemingly guided by a force not his own - towards the direction of the fornication.

All kinds of thoughts infiltrated his head the more he could see of the two. Should he punch the man in the back of the head? Should he yell and throw things at Brooke? Should he grab that fireplace poker over there and ... Ralphie got as close as he was willing to get. Three feet from all the action. He stood there, arms at his sides, unable to move.

19

Ralphie ran in the direction Ford was ordered to follow.

But, there would be no catching Ralphie. He was faster than all of his friends, and besides, he made his getaway so complex that ten times as many friends wouldn't be able to find him. Down back alleys, through back yards, into lightly forested woods and back down muddy biking trails. Even in his inebriated state, Ralphie was confident he wouldn't be found until he was damned sure he wanted to be found.

He knew exactly where he was going, too. Knew exactly what he wanted to do. While Ford and Ted made futile attempts to track Ralphie on foot for the first ten minutes or so, before relenting and hopping into Neal's Suburban, Ralphie sprinted towards Brooke's house.

5

Ralphie'd been calling all morning, with still no luck.

After the previous evening's fight, Ralphie felt it necessary to apologize for his "freak out," and make things right. He couldn't help feeling, though, that he'd made valid points. That Brooke was pulling away from him. She just kept saying that he was crazy. Told him to relax. To calm the fuck down.

That would probably be easy to do if he could just get her on the phone to make his amends. That proved impossible, with nine calls and two straight hours going straight into voice mail. That's when he got in his car and drove over to apologize in person. He hoped that gesture alone would prove his commitment, prove his love. Meaning to sneak up and surprise her, Ralphie unlocked the door as silently as he could.

20

Neal called everyone he could think of.

Ralphie's phone sat on the couch cushion once occupied by his ass. It didn't take Neal long to get to the B's in Ralphie's phone book. He clicked on Brooke's name. She didn't answer until after she listened to Neal's message moments later. "Have you seen him?" Neal said.

"No, not since this morning. Look, is he all right? I didn't mean for him to find out this way. I had that e-mail all set as a back up, but I really meant to talk to him first, and then send the e-mail, in case he had any questions. I didn't mean for him to freak out like this, though." Brooke paced back and forth in her nightgown, smoking her cigarette to the butt. "Wait, I think I hear someone outside. That might be him."

4

Ralphie slammed the door, storming out of her house.

He kept telling himself, "Leave her. Leave the bitch! She doesn't love you anymore, can't you see that? Leave her now!" But, in his heart, all he could hear was, "This is just a rough patch. Things will work themselves out. You can't live without her, you know. You need her. There's no living without her."

Brooke said she wanted to see other people. She said she wanted a break. Ralphie had no response for that. However, his Pride had plenty to say, and it didn't need anything more than the words "Fuck you," and a door. He left telling himself that it was over; but all he could think about that night as he sat awake in bed was how he could possibly get her back.

21

Brooke moved the drape and looked into her yard.

A dark figure approached the front door. "That must be him. Here, I'll call you back." Brooke walked to her door and opened it. "Ralphie, is that you? Can we talk about this-". The force of the blow knocked her out cold. Brooke woke up a few minutes later, her arms tethered to the banister above her head.

"What? Ralphie? What's going on? What are you doing?" Broken glass lay scattered around her feet, cutting her heels as she gingerly attempted to avoid the minefield. Ralphie sat five feet away in the reclining chair with his back to her, possibly passed out. She thought he might be dead, but she could see and hear him breathing, his body moving ever so slightly.

3

Brooke inhaled her cigarette with nervous aggression.

The argument - seemingly the same argument they'd been having for the last two months - dragged on into its second hour. Ralphie always hated to leave while things were heated; so most of the time she relented simply so she could be left alone or go to sleep. This time, however, she saw no end in sight. At least, no end she wanted to see.

"This isn't working. You should just go. I don't want to see you anymore," she said, shoving the burning end of the cigarette into the overflowing ashtray. "That's it?" Ralphie said, not believing. "That's it," Brooke said coldly. "Go." "You don't want to do this," Ralphie said, while putting his jacket on in a hurry. "You'll regret it for the rest of your life." "Just leave!" she said. "Get out of here, now!"

22

Brooke considered her options, looking at the broken glass below.

"Ralphie, will you please let me go? I'm sorry Ralphie." The sweat on her forehead dampened the hair that covered her face. Ralphie didn't respond, didn't make any indication that he'd heard her whatsoever. "Ralphie! Let me go! Your friends are coming, Ralphie. Do you want them to see me like this?"

On cue, Neal's Suburban pulled into the driveway. Ralphie stood and walked over to the front door, locking the deadbolt. His dead stare then shifted towards Brooke. His eyes put the fear of God into Brooke so bad, for a second she couldn't even scream. As Ralphie advanced on her, Brooke finally found her pipes.

2

Right away, Brooke knew she didn't want to see Ralphie tonight.

"Why have you been avoiding me lately?" Ralphie said as he walked in. Brooke walked into the kitchen, saying, "What did I tell you? Didn't I say I wanted some space?" Brooke turned around from across the room to face him. "Does this look like space to you?" Ralphie took a few steps towards her before thinking twice and stopping.

"Is this it, then? Are you leaving me?" "I don't know." "Do you still love me?" "I ... I think so." "But you don't want to be with me?" "I ... I don't know. I need to think." "What's to think about? What's changed? You weren't like this when I proposed." "That was a long time ago." "A little over a year! You said you'd love me forever!" "I ... I can't think right now. I need time." "'Forever!' That's what you said to me. You promised me when I gave you that ring! You said, 'Forever.' You said, 'Forever' and I aim to make sure you keep that promise. That's my promise to you."

23

Brooke screamed and Ralphie smiled.

Ralphie's friends all pounded on the door. Then, they started running into it with their shoulders, hoping to break the jamb. Neal was the first to notice the broken window. He was also the first one to look through it as Ralphie went about making good on his promise.

With his left cheek pursed tightly against Brooke's right, he held Brooke's head back by a handful of her hair. In his right hand, Ralphie held a large chunk of broken glass that had already begun to dig into his palm. Neal was halfway through the window, shouting Ralphie's name; Ford and Ted looked on helplessly behind him. In one constant motion, Ralphie slit Brooke's throat as deep as the glass would go, followed by his own.

1

Brooke screamed and Ralphie smiled.

From his knee, Ralphie took out the ring and slid it onto Brooke's finger. "It's beautiful," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. Ralphie then stood up and they embraced in a long, passionate kiss. He took her by the hand and guided her upstairs. Normally, they would've hopped to it like rabid animals right there in Brooke's living room. This time, they took it slower.

While she was on top of him, she never took her eyes from his. She said, "I love you." He said, "Will you always?" "Of course," she said, leaning in to kiss him. Then, they switched positions; with him on top he said, "Let me hear you say it." "I will always love you," she said, the pressure inside of her building. "Forever."