Charlie's Grill was always crowded at lunchtime. Brad and I had already finished our meal and I expected a manager to come over any moment and politely suggest we leave.
"There are people waiting for a table, so let's just get this over with as quick as we can, all right?" Throughout our lunch, we'd both remained silent, avoiding what was on our minds.
"Well, I guess we'll do it this weekend. Does that work for you?"
While he'd been talking, I'd grabbed my PDA, wondering how I'd ever managed without the latest technology. I'd always had a good head for figures and a good memory, too, but having a digital device I could hold in my hand sure had made my life easier. I had everything stored. Names. Phone numbers. Appointments.
I quickly scanned my upcoming events and shook my head.
"This weekend is out. Friday night is when Marty's exhibit opens at the gallery. You know I hate those things. I was counting on you to go along with me. You're much better at making small talk than I am."
He nodded. "The exhibit. I'd forgotten about that."
Of course he'd forgotten. Brad might be a genius when it came to programming computers, but remembering the details of every-day life? Not a chance.
"I seriously don't understand you," I told him. "You work with computers and technology every day. Why don't you get yourself a smartphone or a PDA? That way you could keep track --"
"Why spend the money when I've got you to help me stay organized?"
I stuffed my digital assistant into my bag and gave Brad a disparaging look. "That's the problem! Don't you understand, Brad, this is the reason we're breaking up. I'm tired of you depending on me for everything. You're always expecting me to remember your meetings, and your mother's birthday, and what your nieces and nephews want for Christmas. You count on me to remind you when you have dental appointments." I paused, then sighed. "Your check-up with Dr. Johnson is Tuesday afternoon, by the way."
He ran a hand through his hair then gave me a wry grin. "Look, Kathy, I know you want me out of your life, and obviously we can't break up this weekend because of the exhibit, but if I've got to go to the dentist on Tuesday ..." His expression turned to pleading. "You know how much I hate getting check-ups, and I think I've got a cavity." He pointed to the back of his jaw. "I'll probably have to have a filling, and that means I'll have to get a shot, and couldn't you maybe come over after work and feed me some chicken soup?"
"Chicken soup is for colds, Brad. Not dental work." I couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt, though. When I'd twisted an ankle a few weeks before, Brad had virtually camped out at my apartment, doing everything he could to keep me comfortable. I owed him. "Oh, all right. Your appointment is at 4:30. I'll probably be at your place before you get back. I'll have your soup ready for you."
From the corner of my eye, I noticed a waiter heading toward our table. "Come on, Brad. Let's get out of here."
When I returned to the office, I wasn't surprised to find several of my colleagues gathered around my desk.
"Did you do it?" Connie asked. We'd worked together for years, and she'd become my closest friend and confidant. "Did you finally break it off with him?"
"I tried." My sigh made it clear that I had failed. "We're going out this weekend. A prior commitment," I quickly explained. "And then next week ... well, I owe Brad a favor."
"I've got an idea," offered Janeen, another friend. "Why don't you and Brad break-up for your birthday? That's coming up week after next. It could be like a present."
Everyone gathered around groaned.
"Well, it's what you want!" Janeen threw her hands up in the air and marched out.
"She's right," I said in her defense. "It is what I want." But then again, the thought of being alone on my birthday made me wince. I liked having Brad there to tease me about getting old, to reassure me that even if I did find an occasional strand of silver gray in my brown hair, he loved me all the same.
I loved him, too. But sometimes loving each other wasn't enough, I reminded myself as I shooed everyone away from my desk and got back to work. Sometimes two people just didn't belong together.
Clearly that described Brad and me. I was efficient, organized, overly-attentive to detail. Brad, on the other hand, could lose an elephant, given a chance. The desk in his study overflowed with papers and notebooks, most of the contents of his refrigerator were neither edible nor identifiable, and if I didn't call him every morning to wake him up, he'd be late for work more often than not since he never remembered to set his alarm clock.
Brad McCullough was a walking disaster. Where would he be without me?
On Friday night, I took him aside as we left the art exhibit. I'd actually had more fun than I'd expected. Brad's offbeat sense of humor had kept everyone laughing as we viewed our friend's artwork. Even Marty, the artist, chuckled more than once. Feeling as bubbly as the champagne I'd been drinking, I turned to Brad, confident we could settle matters between us, set a date for breaking up, and end our three-year relationship on a friendly note.
"We've got to just do it, Brad, and get it over with. I'll still be there on Tuesday to fix your chicken soup, but that's going to be the end of it. There's never going to be a perfect time for breaking up, so we can't keep worrying about it. We've just got to say good-bye and go our separate ways."
To my surprise, he nodded. Then, even more to my surprise, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a PDA.
"Yeah, I figured this was coming. I finally broke down. Got one of these things."
I stared at it in shock, feeling almost as though I'd been replaced. Well, good. Brad wouldn't need me to remember things for him now.
"You know how to use it?" I asked, my voice a little shaky.
He laughed. "Honey, I work with computers, remember? I do know a little about electronics."
"Right. Well, if you need any help --" I shrugged, suddenly feeling useless. Brad no longer needed me. The thought jolted me.
He pushed a few buttons and held the display up for me to view. "See, I've got everyone's birthday programmed in. You're going to be another year older in a couple of weeks." He looked at me, then shrugged. "Well, I guess that's one present I don't have to buy anymore." As I watched, he deleted my birthday.
"Hey, wait! You're not supposed to forget about me, Brad."
"Oh, I won't. I've got your number." He patted his own PDA and smiled.
"You'll call me now and then, won't you?"
He hesitated. "Not if we're breaking up, Kathy. I mean, what would be the point? You don't want me bothering you."
"Well, I wouldn't mind talking to you once in a while."
He walked me to my apartment, kissed my cheek, and smiled. "See you on Tuesday, right?"
I nodded. "Tuesday, right."
When Brad walked through the door on Tuesday afternoon, I rushed to him.
"Listen, I've been thinking ..."
"About what?" He grinned. "Oh, good news. No cavity. I hope you didn't fix soup. I'd rather have a juicy steak. Want to go down to Charlie's Grill?"
"Sure." I threw my sweater over my shoulder. "Anyway," I rushed on, "I was looking at the calendar, and you know, I really don't want to be alone on my birthday. Could we not break up until after that?"
"Well, after that comes Thanksgiving, and Christmas after that. Breaking up then would really suck."
"New Year's would be a rotten time, too," I acknowledged.
"February," Brad said with finality. "We'll do it then."
"But ... Valentine's Day?" I sighed and reached for Brad's hands. "This whole idea of breaking up is turning out to be a lot harder than I'd expected. I mean, there just isn't a convenient time for it."
He pulled me into his arms. "Why don't we both admit the truth, Kathy? I don't want to break up, and I don't think you do, either. Not really." He looked down at me with a tender gaze. "Do you? Look, I know I probably made you crazy, the way I depended on you for everything. I thought you liked it. But now, well, I've got my own PDA, and maybe if you'll help me a bit, I can be as organized as you always are."
"I'm not sure I'd like that," I admitted. "I guess I really do like keeping track of things for you -- to a point. I think maybe we can work out a few compromises."
He grew serious, reached into his pocket and pulled out his digital assistant. "Should we schedule a time for that?"
"Forget the schedules," I said with a grin. "I'm hungry. Let's go to Charlie's and get that steak you wanted. We can celebrate not breaking up."
"Actually, there's something else I'd rather celebrate."
"Oh?" I eyed him curiously. "What's that?"
Once more he pulled out his PDA. "Get yours, too," he suggested. "Now, when can we schedule a wedding date, Kathy?"
"Are you serious?"
"Yep. We had so much trouble trying to break-up, it made me realize we're meant to be together forever. We might as well make it official, don't you think?"
I smiled back. Quickly we searched through our calendars and settled on a date. I was still smiling as I closed my PDA. "I do love you, Brad. Will you forgive me for being silly enough to think I wanted to break up with you?"
"I'm glad you tried," he said with a laugh. "I'm even more glad, though, that it didn't work."
"So am I." Hand in hand, we strolled to Charlie's Grill.