Is this ending predictable?

He was sitting in his car watching me as I walked up to my apartment and let myself in. I didn’t know he was there.

L. points to where we lived.
L. points to where we lived.

I was looking through my closet for something to change into when I heard the knock. Strange to hear a knock at 5pm. It was my boyfriend.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” I asked. He fixed engines in the evenings. He needed his days free to finish his engineering thesis.

“I wanted to see you,” he said.

“Oh. Well, sure.”

I left him in the living room while I went back to my closet. Only now I wouldn’t find something comfortable to change into. Now, I wanted to wear something attractive. Not that it mattered, I told myself. “What happened to you last night?” I called through my open bedroom door.

My friend C. had been in town and we were supposed to meet her for drinks. He didn’t show up for our date or call, which was a first. I wasn’t worried. He’d have a good reason.

I stared at my closet. None of these clothes would work, I thought. Why was I trying?

“I was on a date,” he said.

I stopped looking at my clothes. I stepped out my bedroom door and into the living room. He was sitting in an oversized chair, picking at loose threads in the armrest.

“I,” he hesitated. “Thought I ought to tell you.”

I sat down in a chair on the opposite side of the room. “I see.” I clasped my hands together and placed them on my knees. “Well. Sure. Okay.” I looked at the floor next to his chair. Could you even break up with someone you hadn’t kissed after eight months? Maybe we weren’t even dating. Maybe all along we’d been friends and I’d misunderstood. We hadn’t kissed–what did I have to be upset about?

I don’t know what he said then.

“It’s fine,” I replied to whatever he asked me. My sweater itched. It did that when I got hot. “I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised considering…”

Considering hung in the air, and it was a while before he spoke again.

“Considering what?” he asked.

Considering you won’t kiss me–that my friends think I’m crazy–that I defended you–made excuses–spent hours trying to figure you out–changing my make up and my hair–crying almost every night because I couldn’t make you like me. “Nothing,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like we…well, it’s to be expected I suppose.”

I would have to stop talking. He hadn’t kissed me–he wasn’t going to see me cry. “Don’t you have to be at work?”

“I still want to be friends,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. I never want to see you again.

“Can I call you tomorrow?”

“Sure.” I won’t answer the phone.

“And we can still work on our papers together, right?”

“Sure.” I can write somewhere else. “You’re going to be late to work.”

He stood. “I met her at the Bally.”

It struck me then. This girl didn’t know he didn’t kiss. Or rather, she’d already kissed him because it never occurred to her to wait. The night before with C. when I was dissecting our relationship, this girl was kissing him like it was a normal thing to do. She wasn’t uptight.

“Oh. Well, just call me tomorrow,” I said, walking with him to my front door.

“You’d like her,” he said. “She’s a musician.”

“Great.” I was racing now. Get him out before I cry. Get him out. “Well, see you later.” I had seconds left.

“And you’re okay?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine.” I opened the door for him.

He lingered. “I want to stay friends.”

I heard the cracking in my voice. “I do too. Well, you’ve got to get to work.” There we were. On my doorstep again. “Bye,” I said.

He walked out onto the landing. I looked at the floor and knew I was going to be caught in my lies, but he turned down the stairs and I shut the door.

It wasn’t, however, the end.

All stories need endings. In fiction, they get to be as final, neat, and tidy as you want. I’ve rewritten the ending to novel I’m working so many times I think I may have lost the ending all together. Why are endings hard? The ending can’t be predictable but must feel right. It must be climatic but not melodramatic. It must tie up the right number of ends but not too many. It must leave an impression but not because it is ridiculous. It must show how the characters have changed but not feel forced.

It must somehow all come to an end.

16 thoughts on “Is this ending predictable?

  1. Shelly,

    At the point where I hit the publish button as far as I can tell.

    Maybe he’s telling his story somewhere out there and one day the stories shall meet. The stories will not, of course, touch in any way.


  2. What Shelly (and then you) said. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately, at least sometimes — life doesn’t come with a publish button, hmm? In a way, even though this story as told so far did indeed end with publish, it still lingers and ripples through your life. Toni and I have no kids but if we did, I’m sure our past relationships would end up leaving tiny little footprints in their personalities, y’know?

    What do you think the problem might be with the novel’s ending? You listed several things a good ending has to do — are they things you’re still trying to make accomplish but haven’t?

    (Feel free to treat those questions as rhetorical as you wish. Lord knows, YOU taunt US with enough rhetorical questions. :))

  3. I once had a painful relationship in which I never felt secure. The object of my desire was always just out of reach, yet would never just go away. Thankfully, I eventually floated away from that person and into a good relationship. I never let the bad guy have it.

    I wrote a story about it and sent it out to magazines. A few editors commented that it was publishable but needed more work. I was dismayed and didn’t see what was wrong with the story. Now I suspect that it was the ending. Even though in real life, I didn’t do anything to hurt the bad guy, in fiction, I probably should have stuck him with a dagger or two. Or maybe a few voodoo doll pins. I think that the reader wants justice, even if it’s subtle or complicated.

  4. It’s weird, I don’t have problems with endings. My problem has always been middles. I start a story or a novel with an idea of where I want to go. The question is always how I get there. I hate middles. I always bog down and babble on and get boring and bored.

    I think the key to the ending is to find the truth in the fiction. Not the truth in what happened if the story was taken from life, but the human truth behind the story. I guess I could say the “lesson” but that makes it sound very didactic. I’m not talking about preaching, I”m talking about the light behind the questions and struggles and dramas.

    I have been surprised in the endings I have come up with, even if I had a plan for the story. The characters take on a life of their own but I definitely go in to a story knowing where I want to end. How do you keep the middles good, though?

  5. Are you sure that you and I haven’t had the same life? The only thing different in our stories is that mine didn’t meet her at the Bally. He met her at church. And no, she didn’t know that he didn’t kiss. And when SHE found out 8 months later, there was a lot more drama than what I gave him.

    Endings, yes, the hardest part for me because i tend to not want to write everything up all nice and neat, and yet, I want to have people like my books too…it’s a hard thing for me, but I find if I can get that one last line to be a bit of perfection, then maybe people will forgive the rest.

  6. or maybe they won’t, what am I saying here! Audiences are brutal! Yeah, I have no advice!

    But it was crazy reading this story and seeing me as you and you as me.

  7. Liz, your true story is probably a great story, but I know that fiction needs that extra…something. That was articulate. Anyway, in fiction I know the real story doesn’t always work. Why not go back and rewrite it?

    rowena, I’m actually okay with last scenes, but there is this gap that is hard to explain and to jump over.

    Karen, endings are probably all those things and nothing at all–not to be cryptic or anything.

    D-Arcy, glad I’m not alone. Thanks for coming by.

  8. JES,

    I can only guess how my past will filter into my son’s life. I often wonder how he will feel to read about it.

    Oh, and I don’t know why I’m having trouble writing the ending. Too much pressure perhaps.

  9. I’m just blabbering and not offering anything constructive, but I like the conversation on writing itself and the comment up there about you taunting us constantly with your rhetorical questions is spot on.

    I get a bug in my brain and just start writing and my middles are usually exactly what I want them to be, my endings both surprise me and leave me satisfied, but then, once I have the solid middle and the great ending, I invariably have to go rewrite the beginning. I hate that. The beginning is where I spend the most time setting up for the middle to scratch the itch in my mind, then I have to go back and rework it even more. I have tons of drafts of pretty good material, but I hate the beginning and I don’t know how to match the tone of the parts that are perfect for the piece with the gawky beginning. So lots of stilted beginnings waiting to be finished so that they may join the whole are hanging in the bottom of my bag.

    Poor beginnings. They get left behind so often, like the date your mom made you bring to the prom, but you only took him so you could see the guy you really like ignore you on the dance floor.

    ((((Sigh)))) I love you, in part, because you write well and you don’t make it look easy. That is the truth of the art form. I hope the truth of your novel’s conclusion will reveal itself to you and stop taunting you with its elusiveness. Stupid ending. It thinks it’s much cleverer than you. You’ll just have to prove it wrong.

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