On good distractions.

I’m always making declarations or proclamations about how I’m taking my life back, how I’m striving to make the best use of my time, and how I’m either breaking or starting habits that will make me into the woman I always dreamed I be. Last week’s blog post was just such a declaration / proclamation, as I boldly swore to the internet that I’d make more time for my writing.

And man … what a liar I turned out to be.

But the distractions were good ones. And believe me, there are such things as good distractions. On Friday, I turned 32. It was a wonderful day and I felt truly blessed. My dad surprised me with a card and Reese’s peanut butter cups (what else could a 32-year-old woman possibly ask for?) and when I left the house in the morning – on time! – I felt beautiful. A colleague taped a birthday card with more candy on the doorknob of my classroom, and others stopped by throughout the day to give me iced coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and birthday wishes.

I had friends come over to my home as soon as work was done and good times were had by all. We ate, we drank, we were merry, and I felt so loved.

Saturday made it all even better. Saturday was I N C R E D I B L E – exactly what I needed! My college roommates and I laughed until we cried and our stomachs hurt. We got drunk on pomegranate sangria. We gorged ourselves on Chinese food. We had delicious cake, inspired by My Chemical Romance, and there were personalized goody bags. We watched three of the “Twilight” films before passing out. There was so much Robert Pattinson, and it was p e r f e c t.

So I didn’t really get a chance to work on Moody Blue or write anything new. Dude, I haven’t even journaled since Sunday. BUT – I will share more of that random scene I started crafting last week. Enjoy – and keep living and laughing and loving, readers xoxo

He shrugged his coat off and slid the stool over to the other side of the canvas. She stood straighter and let her arms drop to her side, just let them hang there expectantly. He climbed in his bare feet to stand on top of the rickety stool. She watched it wobble to one side and then the other. She rushed into the room and yelled, “John, be careful!”

John’s body tensed. He quickly turned his head to her and as he relaxed with recognition, the stool wobbled again and sent him tumbling to the cold concrete floor.

“John!” she called again, rushing over and dropping to her knees beside him. He winced in pain as he rolled onto his back, but when their eyes met, he grinned. “Hey beautiful,” he wheezed, his breathing tight.

“Oh gosh, I am so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to scare you, but you had me so worried standing on that stupid stool.”

He brought himself up so he rested on his elbows. His grin was still there, stretching to a full-blown smile that caused all of his other features to shrink down so his mouth became bigger. “I didn’t know you were coming over,” he said.

Her face fell. “Yes, you did. We’re having dinner tonight with the acquisitions manager. I’ve been talking about nothing else all week.” She smoothed his hair with a gentle hand. “Did you hit your head?”

“That dinner’s tonight?” John squinted at her.

She moved back from him. “You can’t be seriously asking me that.”

As he sat up fully, he winced again but she recognized a cheap play for sympathy when she saw one. She stood up and he reached for her. “Don’t be mad, please don’t be mad.”

“John -“

“I know, I know,” he said, scrambling to kneel before her. He took her hands in his own. “I’m sorry. I’m the worst, and you are so patient, and so forgiving, and beautiful and brilliant -“

“Enough,” she said, pulling her hands free. “Can we please just start getting ready?”

“Do you forgive me?” he asked. His hands were clasped in front of him and his eyes were glistening: the perfect picture of beautiful suffering. That was John all over.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m using your downstairs bathroom,” she said and spun on her heel and left John alone, on his knees, in his art studio.

“breathe me // every time you close your eyes. taste me // every time you cry.”

Placebo

She heard the bathroom door click open while she was in the shower. She noticed the shadows change when the door opened and closed. She let her head hang down beneath the shower head and rubbed the back of her neck. She listened to the water splashing against the tile and to her own breathing, to anything except John getting in the shower with her.

His touch was harder to ignore. His rough, strong hands guided her hips back so their bodies touched. Then he wrapped his arms around her and spoke against her neck. “I didn’t really forget,” he said. “I was just working and lost track of the time.” He planted a short row of soft kisses along her neck until he reached her shoulder. He rested his chin there. “Please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad, John!” she snapped. His hands fell away and there was a widening gap between them. She turned to him. “I’m sorry, I’m just tired and anxious and I’m taking it out on you.” She watched the water gather around her feet. She couldn’t look at him and admit defeat. She’d caved yet again and apologized just to make him feel better.

He slipped his pointer finger beneath her chin and raised her head. “Tonight’s going to be wonderful,” he said and kissed her. “There’s nothing to worry about.:

She slid her arms around his neck, pulling him flush against her in a tight embrace. Like this, where he couldn’t see her, she could cry. His strong arms circled around her and the tears came then, faster and stronger than she’d anticipated. When her body shook, her rubbed her back and just let her cry.

Later, as she put in her earrings, bending to the mirror on his dresser, John say on the bed behind her. She could see him in the mirror’s reflection. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Totally,” she said. “I was just frustrated. You know I cry when I feel helpless.”

“Look at me.”

Her eyes flicked to his in the mirror.

“No, really me,” he said. She spun around and he moved close, close enough that his breath was warm against her face. He studied her and the scrutiny was heavy. She looked down at the opal ring he had given her. “I love you,” he said.

Her eyes snapped back to his. “You’re not going to accuse me of hiding something or implore me to talk?”

He brushed his lips against her forehead. “I just love you.” He took her hand. “Let’s go. I think the car’s outside.”

“Do I have time for a cigarette?”

“Smoke in the car. It’s fine.”

She nodded and let him lead her outside, only stepping out of rhythm to grab her purse. The night was colder than she’d realized. “Shit, my coat,” she grumbled and went to turn back, but he kept hold of her hand and pulled her back to him.

“Here,” he said as he hung his coat over her shoulders.

“John, this is your absolute favorite item of clothing.”

“I know,” he said, opening her door for her.

“What if I spill something on it?”

“We wash it,” he said, climbing in after her as she slid over to make room.

“Thank you.” She stole a quick kiss and started rummaging through her purse, looking for her black lighter and battered pack of Marlboro Light 100s. The pack was easy enough to find, but the light was hiding, dancing just out of her reach. The search because frantic as she mercilessly slid change and cosmetics and pens around the bottom of her purse. She was about to dump it all out on the seat, but John stopped her.

He raised himself up from the seat so he could slide a book of matches from his back pocket. He pulled one free and lit it against the backside of his pendant. She leaned forward to touch the trembling cigarette in her mouth to the flame. “You really need to relax,” he said.

“Fuck, I know,” she breathed, exhaling smoke.

On “A Surprise Proposal.”

Truth be told, I was struggling to come up with a topic for this week’s post, hence why it’s being published so late. I debated writing about the uncertainty of the start of the school, but that would be just a list of complaints and not very creative at all. I considered writing about the novels I’ve finished lately, but I always add the books to my shelves and rate them on Goodreads, and sometime I even write a review, so I didn’t want to be repetitive.

With my laptop literally perched on my lap, I take a deep breath and look around. My home is really coming together; I’m finally feeling a sense of pride in my home and inviting more and more people inside. Last night, for example, I had a small reunion with friends I made during college. It was an absolutely wonderful time, filled with love and laughter and seriously, there’s nothing more I could ask for. They’re all growing into good people with enchanting interests and big hearts, and these are the perfect people to fill my home.

My friends from college

And maybe because I’ve been reading Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer (leave me alone, it’s really for a book club I was bullied into), but I feel all sentimental and happy. So I’m sharing a delightfully adorable short story inspired by a prompt from Fresh Boiled Peanuts’ A Writer’s Book of Matches. Enjoy xoxo

A Surprise Proposal

Jenny was standing in front of the large mirror that spanned three sinks in the women’s restroom of the small diner where she worked. She had just finished washing her hands and was waving them about wildly in the air to dry them as best she could. Recently, she read an article about how paper towel dispensers were disgusting germ spreaders, and as the diner had not yet been update with air dryers, she had no choice but to shake her hands above her head. Growing impatient with the task, she wiped her wet hands on her thighs, avoiding the decidedly germ-y apron she’d been wearing for hours now, and pulled her long, dark, wavy hair free from the elastic band that kept it piled high atop her head. Strands were starting to fall and irritatingly cling to the back of her neck or at the crease of her eyelids. She pulled the hair back into a bun, for lack of a better term, and used the elastic band to keep the unruly mess in place. She knew she’d be back in the restroom in just a short time, fixing the bun again. She blew a burst of air upward, exhaled the frustration, and headed back out behind the counter.

She pulled her favorite blue pen from the far pocket of her apron so she had to reach low and across her hips to grab it. She’d read somewhere that people remembered things better in blue ink. Her memory wasn’t exactly bad, but she was always up for taking help wherever she could get it. The cap was badly chewed, a terrible habit she just couldn’t seem to break, so she popped it off with her thumb and let it fall back into the pocket, free to roll around among the lint and spare change and bobby pins. She grabbed the pad from the largest and most centrally located pocket, and set her face in an enchanting smile, ready to face whatever customer awaited her at the end of the counter.

The corners of Jenny’s lips lifted higher and the smile became more authentic. “Terrence!” she exclaimed. Terrence Fischer always came in for a BLT with extra fries and a diet coke between 1:30 and 2:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He had been doing so for the last five years, and had become Jenny’s absolute favorite regular customer. She was surprised to see him now, on a Monday night just before closing time, and especially because he’d been missing in action last week. Truth be told, Jenny was startled by how disappointed she’d been when she’d search the counter fruitlessly. Shoulders drooping, slightly deflated, she would move on to the next customer, or whatever menial task in the back needed completing, but she’d worry and wonder about where Terrence was.

Terrence was a delivery driver for a local furniture company. He spent a lot of time alone in the van, or with some fit college kid just trying to make some cash between semesters, and a lot of time eating fast food. He was sick of the grease and limited options, so one gray Tuesday, he’d wandered into the Starlight Diner, an unremarkable venue he’d passed a thousand times. He walked in through the entrance, running his strong hand through his dark blond hair to rid it of rainwater. It had been crowded, and rather than wait for a harried host or hostess to hurry him to some booth – or worse, a cramped table – to be forgotten about, Terrence had strode confidently to the counter and perched himself on the last and only stool available. Jenny had watched all this from behind the counter, watching the handsome man with interest as her usual clientele was older and typically in a hurry. She walked over and poured him a glass of water. “First time here?” she asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,” Terrence said, not taking his eyes from the menu. “You got any specials?”

“You gonna look at me or just bark questions and orders?” Jenny asked. Terrence looked up quickly, and saw Jenny’s hand on her protruding hip. She was no longer smiling.

“I’m sorry,” Terrence said. His cheeks burned. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

“Our specials aren’t any good,” Jenny said. “If you’re really hungry, I have a few recommendations, but if you’re just trying us out or in need of a quick lunch, I’d say the BLT is your best best.”

“Oh. Okay,” Terrence said. Jenny grabbed the menu from him, spun on her heel, and walked to the kitchen window. She felt his eyes on her and was satisfied. When she returned a couple of minutes later with his plate, she made small talk, asking about his job and his home. He ordered more fries and stayed for three hours, talking with Jenny. It had been a standing date ever since.

“What a pleasant surprise this is!” Jenny nearly sang. She was laying it on thick, but she didn’t care; she really missed him. “Where have you been?”

Terrence twitched his lips. It was a pathetic attempt at a smile, and though Jenny no longer had to wonder about Terrence, her worry increased dramatically. He looked thinner and paler. Everything about him was muted; no brilliance shone from his hazel eyes, no contagious laughter boomed from his wide mouth, and Jenny thought if she blew on him hard enough, he’d simply turn to dust and float away. He mentioned something about being sick, but he’d downplayed it so much that Jenny stopped asking about it. She felt like a real asshole now. “Hey Jenny,” he breathed. She could hardly hear him and had to lean in close across the counter.

“Terrence, what’s wrong?” she asked.

He blinked rapidly. His eyes were filling with tears, glistening in the light that came from overhead. He released a shaky breath. “Do you think I could get some water?”

“Of course. Right away,” Jenny said and returned in an instant with Terrence’s request. He drank greedily from the glass and Jenny watched it all with worried, narrowed eyes. He was shaking. She reached out and grabbed his free hand to stop the shaking or else she’d start crying. “What’s going on?”

Terrence drained the glass and set it on the counter before he even acknowledged Jenny had spoken. Drinking the water, or at least the time it had taken to do so, seemed to strengthen some resolve within Terrence. He smiled and said, “Could you come around the counter and sit with me for a minute?”

Jenny fulfilled his request with haste. They spun on their stools to face each other, Jenny’s knobby knees knocking into Terrence’s. He marveled at the contact and Jenny waited patiently for him to come back to the present moment. When he finally lifted his head to meet her gaze, he cleared his throat. “Jenny, the best part of my day is when I see you,” he said. He took her hands in his, and Jenny held them tightly to stop the tremors. He laughed and said, “The days I’m not in here, I must drive by a million times and try to get up the nerve to walk in. Sometimes I’ll even park and watch you through the front window, rehearsing what I’m gonna say in my mind, but then I chicken out and drive away.”

“You are always welcome at my counter, Terrence,” Jenny said.

“Do you remember when that kid spilled the chocolate milk in the booth there?” Terrence asked, flicking his head in the direction of the booth in question. “It went everywhere and the mom was mortified and she started screaming. The kid was crying and it was a mess.” Terrence dropped his gaze to his hands in Jenny’s. “You walked over there, all sunshine, and wiped it up, talking to the miserable little girl about how you just spilled a bowl of ice cream in the back and everyone was laughing and you felt bad. The girl talked to you about the ice cream and stopped crying, and the mom had stopped screaming to eavesdrop, and you came out with the best-looking ice cream sundae I’d ever seen.” He laughed again, softer this time. “Do you remember that?”

Jenny shook her head. “No, not really. I’ve been here so long it all starts to blend together.”

“Do you remember when John’s son was killed overseas, and you were driving three meals over to the house every day for a month?” Terrence asked.

“Yeah,” Jenny nodded. She was speaking slowly, trying to figure out where all this was leading.

“And do you remember when Paige was flat broke and you let her eat here without limit and it all came out of your paycheck and tips, but you didn’t complain once, not even when Paige didn’t pay you back?” Terrence’s face was flushed and he was speaking faster.

Jenny placed her warm hand on his cheek. “Terrence, what does all of this have to do with anything?”

“You’re a good woman, Jenny,” he said. “We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over these last five years, haven’t we?”

Jenny nodded, but the question was rhetorical. Terrence took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “I got some bad news last week. I’m not going to be around as long as I thought I’d be.”

Jenny’s heart broke. She brought her other hand to Terrence’s face and held it lovingly. “Oh no,” she gasped, trying not to sob. “What is -“

“What little time I have left, I want to spend with you.” Terrence, moving fast as lightning lest he lose his nerve, kissed Jenny’s mouth. Then he got down on one knee. Jenny covered her mouth with her hands, shocked into staying still. He pulled a small, velvet-covered box from his back pocket and raised open the lid. A simple silver band with a small diamond winked at her. “It’s not what you deserve, but with time being as short as it is, it was the best I could do.” Terrence cleared his throat to steady his voice. “Jenny Allen, will you marry me?”

On working to write during a lazy summer.

YO. When it’s this hot (with temperatures soaring past 90 degrees for consecutive days), I don’t want to do anything. I’ve been painting my living room, but the project has been extended because of the excessive heat. I break a sweat just lifting the remote to change the channel, which means I am in complete and total summer mode.

I should mention I do not have central air, but my father did help me install two window units. One is downstairs in my living room where I am painting and where the only television is (thank God!), and the other is in my bedroom so I can sleep. But I still have trouble sleeping, no matter how cold it is. UGH.

Anyhow, amidst all this complaining, I do want to pat my own back for working to revise my novel for (what I hope) is the final time. The plot is really coming to me and I’m excited to write, which is a good sign. I’m particularly proud of chapter six, which I am going to share with you below. Please, please, PLEASE let me know what you think if you read the entire chapter. I’ll be asking for beta readers as soon as I’m done revising. I plan to send it out to publishers, but if nothing comes of it, then I plan on releasing on Amazon. My friend recently did this, and through my Scribbler subscription, I learned of another woman who did the same and found major success. Her work was even submitted for awards and I think she’s able to write full-time, and really, that’s the ultimate goal.

So kick back, relax, and pour yourself something strong. Enjoy chapter six from Moody Blue by yours truly, Mandi Bean xoxo

The next morning when Melanie awoke and walked out to her car to drive to the coffee shop for her scheduled shift, she stopped dead in her tracks. The four tires of her beloved Jeep were slashed, every single one.

Melanie couldn’t believe it.

She walked around her car twice, dropping to her knees to closely inspect each tire. She ran her finger along one of the narrow slashes, not really knowing what she was doing or why, but knowing she had to do something. She sat on the rough concrete of the driveway and dug through her purse for her cell phone. She called Chris to let him know she wouldn’t be in. He offered to come over and sit with her until the cops came, but Melanie told him it was fine and that she would be fine. She promised to call him later and give him an update, and then she called the cops.

Some twenty minutes later, a patrol car slowly rolled to a stop perpendicular to the driveway. Melanie climbed to her feet and was greeted by a familiar face. “Well, hey there, Melanie,” Bobby said, grinning.

Melanie offered a nervous smile and said, “Hey, Bobby.” She told herself not to think about the bruises on Adam’s arms. 

“Office Bobby Gillis at your service,” he added, extending his hand.

Melanie took it, but was having trouble meeting Bobby’s gaze. “Thanks for coming out.”

Bobby shrugged it off. “It’s my job. You don’t have to thank me.” He leaned over to gaze past Melanie at her car. “So what seems to be the problem?”

“Someone slashed my tires,” Melanie groaned, leading the way over to her car. She felt vindicated when Bobby squatted down to inspect the tires the same way she had. “They were fine when I got home yesterday. I got up to go to work and found my car like this.”

“What time did you get home yesterday?”

“Around ten o’clock. Adam drove me back to the coffee shop after 9:30.”

Bobby slowed his movements and looked up at Melanie. “How was Adam when he left you?”

Melanie paled. “What do you mean? Is he okay?”

Bobby stood. “He’s fine, just fine. Just getting as much information as I can.”

Melanie shifted her weight from one foot to the other and crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh. He was great. We kissed goodnight, he told me he’d call me today, and that was it.”

Bobby paused to consider what Melanie said. “Is there anyone you can think of who would do this?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head slowly. “No, no way. I’ve never ever had anything like this happen to me.” Suddenly, her eyes opened wide and she reached out to touch Bobby’s arm. “The blue Hyundai!”

“What?” Bobby was alarmed and confused.

“Remember yesterday? When Adam and I first got to your house, Adam told you I thought a blue Hyundai was following me. Maybe the two are connected?” Melanie was breathless by the time she finished talking, rushing to get the information out.

Bobby didn’t move and he didn’t say anything. He just stared at Melanie. She started chewing on the inside of her bottom lip and dropped her gaze. Finally, he spoke. “Alright. I’m going to get an incident report for you to fill out from my car. While I do that, take pictures of all the damage from a couple of different angles on your phone so you can send those to me.”

Melanie nodded and set about following Bobby’s directions, taking pictures of the tires from the left and the right, zooming in to clearly show the sizes of the slashes. When Bobby walked back over, he asked a few more questions but had forgotten the report. “Isn’t there something you need me to fill out?”

Bobby shook his head. “I think this can be handled easily. But Melanie, I think it might be best if you don’t mention this to Adam.”

Melanie’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

Bobby exhaled a deep breath as he rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at his shoes. “It’ll just upset him. There’s no reason to get him all worked up.”

“Oh.” Melanie inhaled sharply, thinking of the massive, purple bruises along Adam’s arms and his explanation, Bobby has to calm me down sometimes. “He’s alright, isn’t he?”

Without looking up, Bobby said, “Yeah. He’s fine.”

There were several beats of silence. Then Bobby finally looked up. “Alright then. I’ll call you when I get something, and you just go ahead and give me a call if you need something else,” Bobby said.

Melanie nodded. Bobby raised his hand in a quick wave, and Melanie watched Bobby take another walk and look around her Jeep before climbing back into his patrol car and driving off.

Melanie walked back inside her house, making a beeline for the kitchen. She gracelessly poured herself a large cup of coffee, still steaming, and added a generous helping of Bailey’s. Before she sat at the kitchen table, she rummaged through the junk drawer in the kitchen for an emergency pack of cigarettes she kept in the back of it. The pack was smashed and the cigarettes inside were likely stale, but Melanie lit one just the same and took a deep drag. One hand was curled around the mug and the other was curled around her iPhone, scrolling through the contacts. She’d scroll to Adam’s name and then past it, and then back again. The coffee in the mug grew cold and she smoked three cigarettes down to the filter. 

Melanie finally ended up using the cell phone to call Kim to confirm the catering job that night. She also had to ask for a ride. She missed a day at the coffee shop and needed to pay for four new tires somehow. Kim confirmed the job and consented to pick Melanie up, and she did so that afternoon with iced lattes in hand. Melanie’s latte even had a double shot of mocha in hers, and Melanie was incredibly grateful. Later, they were both behind the bar. The wedding guests were all seated for dinner and only a sporadic few were coming to the bar for a drink to go with dinner. Kim shoved two lime wedges into two bottles of Corona and sent the guests on their way. “That bad, huh?” Kim asked, turning to Melanie.

“What?”

“I’ve been with you for hours and you haven’t mentioned Adam once.”

Melanie’s face fell, smoothing the lines of initial, momentary confusion into a blank expression. “Oh,” was all she said.

“Well?”

Melanie turned away from Kim and wrapped her arms around herself. She chewed on an already gnawed thumbnail for a moment or two before she said, “It’s good.” Kim’s interested look faded into something like disappointment, so Melanie took a breath and started again. “It’s better than good, it’s great. Really, it’s been amazing. I’m just… I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.”

“Why?” Kim asked. “If you think like that, you will mess it up.”

“You’re right. I guess everything with Ben really killed my confidence.” The embarrassment and regret seemed so tangible that Melanie turned even further away so she had to speak to Kim from over her shoulder. “I should just relax and enjoy being happy.”

“Easier said than done,” Kim said. She moved closer and gently touched Melanie’s shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on yourself either.”

Melanie nodded. Kim let her hand fall. “I know it’s been tough for you since Ben. You haven’t heard from him, have you?”

“Not really, but since the universe sucks, I’ve bumped into him twice recently even though we do our best to avoid each other. And both times, Adam was with me, so of course he just had to see me get all weird.” Melanie pulled her hair back and let it fall with a heavy sigh.

“I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you’re remembering. You’re always too hard on yourself,” Kim said. “And no one should be worrying about Ben. That guy was trouble. What a complete waste of your time.” Kim clapped Melanie on the shoulder, a subtle incentive to get her ass in gear as the after-dinner rush started to swarm the bar.

Melanie tried calling out at the coffee shop the next day, but Chris heard her reluctant tone and was kind enough to offer to give Melanie a ride to work. She wasn’t entirely surprised by the offer since she figured it was more advantageous for Chris to bring her in than to get through another day without her. The other employees were young and apathetic, whereas Melanie was dependable and reliable, and gave someone Christ could talk to. Chris had told her this multiple times, and while Melanie loved a compliment as much as the next person, she worried that slinging coffee was the only thing she was good at. She’d crashed and burned with Ben, she hadn’t been great with Adam so far, she hadn’t written anything worth reading in months, and she had no friends that she could call up and catch a movie with or kill a happy hour with. When Chris’s car rolled to a smooth stop behind the Dreaming Tree Café, Melanie stayed put.

“Melanie?” Chris called. “Everything okay?”

She looked to him, blinking back tears and swallowing the lump in her throat. “I’m just having a shit week, boss.” She released a shaky breath through pursed lips.

Chris climbed back inside the car. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Melanie talked in a rush, hurrying her words out in between deep, shuddery breaths to keep from crying. “Why would someone slash my tires? What did I ever do to anybody?” And -” For a moment, Melanie considered telling Chris everything, that Adam had a dead fiancee whom he firmly believed was murdered and that Adam was being abused by his sister’s boyfriend who was a cop, the same cop who refused to investigate Adam’s fiancee’s death as anything other than a suicide. But those details weren’t really hers to share, so she wrapped her arms around herself and said, “And I catered last night, so maybe I’m just tired.”

Chris gently squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Mel.” He shifted his eyes guiltily. “I shouldn’t have made you come in.”

“No, no, that’s okay,” Melanie insisted, twisting to face Chris. “I demanded to work while puking, remember?” Melanie laughed, wiping away the tears with her thumbs, being careful not to smudge her eyeliner or her mascara. “Besides, what was I gonna do, just sit around by myself and brood? And how else am I going to pay for new tires?”

“If there’s anything I can do,” Chris said, giving her shoulder another gentle squeeze.

Suddenly, Melanie threw her arms around him. “Thank you,” she said. It took a second for Chris to return the embrace, but once he did, Melanie said, “Just keep being nice to me, please.”

Chris laughed softly in her hair and pulled back to say something, but as he looked beyond Melanie through the car window, his lips thinned. All the joy and easy comfort fled in a rush. Concerned, Melanie asked, “What is it?”

“Blue Hyundai,” Chris said. His wide eyes flicked to Melanie. “It’s parked in the same spot.”

“Oh my God, where?” Melanie asked. She went to whip herself around in the seat and stare out the window, but Chris held her still.

“Wait, wait, calm down,” he said. “Don’t let them know we’ve seen them. Smile and nod, and then get out of the car and go inside. I’ll act like I have to get something out of the trunk and circle around the building. I’ll surprise them and find out what the hell is going on.”

Melanie nodded and, without thinking too much about it, gave Chris a quick kiss on the cheek. “This could be some nut, so be careful,” she said. Then she opened the door and tried to be as nonchalant as possible as she strolled into the coffee shop. Brooke was behind the counter.

“Melly Belly,” she cooed, “is everything alright?”

“Yeah, car trouble,” she said. Melanie slid into the far corner of the large picture window in the front of the shop. She tried to minimize her movements and only stretched her neck to peer from the edge of the window.

“What are you doing, you weirdo?” Brooke laughed.

“Chris is confronting the blue Hyundai,” she said from the side of her mouth.

“The one that’s been parked across the street and down a little?” Brooke asked.

Melanie nodded.

“Oh,” Brooke said, sounding confused. The change in tone forced Melanie to turn to Brooke. “I thought that was your car,” Brooke said. Her face flushed.

“What? Why?” Melanie asked.

“It’s only ever here when you are,” Brooke said.

Melanie’s mouth dropped open. She moved farther into the corner in response to a sudden urge to disappear.

“Are you okay? You look really freaked out,” Brooke said.

“Fine,” Melanie said. “Just need to get ready for my shift.” She bolted to the employee break room, maneuvering behind the counter and around Brooke. As she passed her, Melanie asked Brooke to let her know when Chris came back but she didn’t wait for an answer. She also didn’t feel like explaining anything to Brooke, who already knew more than Melanie wanted her to. As a matter of fact, Brooke had known more than Melanie. Melanie slid her apron and her name tag from her cubby and shoved her purse in. She pinned her name tag to the upper left side of her shirt, and tied her apron on, focusing on the minutiae of it all to keep her hands and mind busy. She didn’t want to overthink or spend any time at all envisioning worst case scenarios. She twisted her hair in a fast, sloppy bun and was trying to smooth some flyaway strands near her forehead when Brooke called her name.

Melanie scrambled to the counter just in time to catch Chris striding toward his office. “No one was there,” he said. “I waited a few minutes but still no one came. I’m calling the cops.”

“Why?” Melanie asked.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

Melanie shook her head slowly. “I mean, what are you going to say?”

Chris thought for a moment with his hand on the handle of the door to his office. “That a suspicious car had been parked outside for the last few days and it’s starting to freak my employees out.”

“But is there really anything illegal going on?” Melanie asked.

“Maybe not, but at least a cop can come and check it out and make us all feel better.” He smiled at Melanie and entered his office, ending the discussion. Melanie’s stomach flipped over. She’d never called the cops in her life and now here she was, calling them two times in two days. Getting the cops involved made the whole debacle real, and that made it hard to ignore or argue against. She smoothed the front of her apron to stop her hands from shaking, and then she turned to Brooke who had been staring at Melanie, burning holes into the back of her and willing her to make eye contact.

“Well, now I’m freaked out,” she groaned.

Chris came out of his office a couple of minutes later to tell them the cops were on their way, and then a few more minutes after that, the cops were walking through the entrance of The Dreaming Tree Cafe. Bobby led the way, followed by an older, heavier officer. Melanie groaned and collapsed against the counter, watching Brooke smooth her lipstick with her pinky finger. “Hello officers,” she said, trying to employ a husky whisper in the style of Kathleen Turner. Melanie rolled her eyes.

“Ladies,” the older, portlier officer greeted, touching the top of a cap that wasn’t there. “Which of you called in the suspicious vehicle?”

“That’d be me,” Chris said as he emerged from his office. 

The officer seemed slightly crestfallen but nodded in a friendly enough way. He asked Chris to show him where the car was, and the pair walked out the door. Bobby came closer to the counter. “Melanie, I’d say we’ve got to start meeting under better circumstances,” he said.

Melanie offered a curt nod. “It’s the blue Hyundai Adam mentioned at dinner,” she said.

Bobby leaned back, turning left and right to scan his surroundings. “Adam’s not here, is he? Have you heard from him today?”

“No,” Melanie said. “Is he okay?”

Bobby’s easy, charming smile suddenly reappeared. “Oh yeah, he’s fine. But this is gonna shake him up. Do you think you could file it away with the slashed tires?”

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that, Bobby,” Melanie said. Beside her, Brooke was pretending to wipe down the counter. Melanie knew she was listening and didn’t want to say anything Brooke could spread around the coffee shop.

Bobby had the same intuition and after suspiciously eyeing Brooke, he asked, “Can we step into your manager’s office to talk about this?”

Nodding, Melanie began weaving her way through the back of the shop and told Bobby over her shoulder she’d let him in. Brooke cleared her throat and when Melanie stole a glance, Brooke shot her a pleading and disappointed look. Melanie ignored it and hurried to let Bobby inside the office. He closed the door behind him. “It’s awful crowded in here,” he said.

“It’s small,” Melanie admitted, “but Chris is mostly a slob.” She shuffled some papers on the desk and then sat in the clean space she’d created. “So why can’t I tell Adam about any of this?”

Bobby sighed and it was like his whole body was collapsing in on itself. It almost made Melanie jump back onto her feet and go running for a doctor. Bobby fell into the chair and rubbed his jaw. “I am so tired,” he said. Melanie didn’t know how to respond, or if she even should respond, so she waited for Bobby to continue. Eventually, he said, “Adam wanted to surprise you. He was gonna pick you up from work and take you to that book fair in Princeton.”

“Really?” Melanie asked. The skepticism in her tone made Bobby sit up straighter. “He wants to take me somewhere thoughtful and romantic even though I haven’t talked to him in two days?”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t talk to him,” Bobby said. I just didn’t want you to say anything about the tires. Don’t act like this is my fault.”

“It is -”

“Listen!” Bobby interrupted, getting to his feet. “Adam thinks you haven’t talked to him because of the dinner at our house. He’s all torn up about it and wants to make it up to you. Let him do it, okay? Let him make you happy because that will make him happy.”

“What do you care if Adam’s happy?” Melanie asked.

Bobby’s lips curled into a rueful, unpleasant grin. It made him ugly. Fiddling with his belt, he said, “I don’t know what Adam’s told you, but I love his sister and I love that little family. And even though Adam makes it hard as hell sometimes, I love him too.” When he looked at Melanie, she was shocked to see he was about to cry. “Help me help them. Please.”

Melanie covered her mouth with her hand, considering everything Bobby had said, and then she let it fall away. “Okay, Bobby.”

Bobby’s usual charming and effortless smile materialized out of nowhere. Melanie marveled at the way his entire body language shifted. He reached out to her but stopped before touching her arm. “When he calls later, act like you don’t know anything, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Melanie agreed. Bobby’s enthusiasm and relief was contagious.

“Great,” Bobby said, clapping his hands together. “Let me go see if your manager and Ken found anything.” When they left the office, Ken and Chris had returned.

“The car was gone,” Chris said. “I made a full report, though.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry, Mel.”

“Oh, it’s okay,” she said, smiling brightly like she hadn’t been crying and terrified just a little while before. It was no wonder Chris was looking at her strangely. “We did everything we could, right?” Chris and Brooke were staring.

“Well, we’ll be on our way,” Bobby said, nodding in the general direction of Chris and his employees. “Just call again if something comes up, and we’ll do the same on our end.” He winked at Melanie, and then he was gone.

Brooke groaned. “That Officer Bobby Gillis is something else.” She spun around and threw a towel at Melanie. “I am so jealous you got alone time with him in Chris’s office,” she winked.

“What?” Chris roared.

Melanie blushed. “Oh my God, it wasn’t like that.” Melanie glared at Brooke and whipped the towel back at her. “He talked to me about my car,” Melanie widened her eyes to try to send Chris a signal without Brooke noticing, “and he’s dating the sister of the guy I’m dating, so we kind of know each other.”

Chris nodded. Then he marched into his office without a word. The door shut hard behind him.

Brooke snorted. “What’s his problem?”

“Give him a break,” Melanie said. “It’s been a stressful morning.”

Later, on her 15-minute break, Melanie was seated on the stone steps to the back entrance of the coffee shop. She was mindlessly sipping on an iced coffee and idly scrolling through her social media accounts. When the phone started ringing, Melanie nearly dropped it. She swallowed a scream and gasped a breathless, “Hello?”

“Melanie, are you okay?” Adam asked with a sense of urgency.

“I just almost dropped my phone,” she laughed lamely. A knowing smile spread across her lips and his voice raised an octave seemingly of its own accord. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing,” Adam said. It was a clipped response; not the kind of response Melanie had been expecting.

“Oh,” she sighed. “Well, do you want to do something later?”

“Sure,” Adam said. It was a quick response, but it was also another clipped response.

“Is everything okay?” she asked, venturing hesitantly into a conversation she might not like.

“Everything’s fine,” Adam said. “I’ll call later. Want me to pick you up?”

Melanie said, “That’d be great.” She pressed her hand against her forehead and closed her eyes.

“From your place or work?”

“My place,” she answered. “I’ll wanna get changed.”

“Ok, goodbye,” Adam said and hung up. It seemed more likely that Adam was going to break up with her then “surprise” her with a spontaneous, romantic evening for the two of them. She rubbed the back of her neck and winced against the sharp pains of an oncoming headache. She slid her phone into her back pocket and finished her iced coffee before heading inside to finish her shift.

Chris offered to drive her home again, but Melanie didn’t feel comfortable abusing his kindness. She ordered an Uber, and she was home and showered before Adam called her.

Adam circled the cluttered and stylish streets of Princeton for nearly ten minutes to find a decent parking spot. None were to be had, so he parked several blocks away, explaining to Melanie with false optimism that “It’ll be easier to leave.” The streetlights glowed a warm yellow, but did next to nothing to illuminate the darkened, abandoned street where there was plenty of parking. At the far end, and in the direction they were headed, was a dive bar. The neon lights buzzed audibly in the quiet. Instinctively, Adam and Melanie slid their arms around each other and headed for the better lit, literary, and stylish main street in town where the book fair was being held. They approached a large, white tent and purchased tickets for the event. They were pleased to learn that the book fair included a chocolate walk. A bunch of the local businesses that lined the main street, where the book fair had been set up, had been “adopted” by a bakery or candy shop or legitimate chocolatier.

Long tables with cheap, plastic tablecloths were set up on the sidewalks and spilled into the streets, and they were piled with books. Some featured local authors were signing copies. Kids ran, screaming laughter, with glow sticks and sparklers while harried parents chased after them. Couples slipped their arms around one another while they sipped coffee or mulled wine from styrofoam cups. Business owners beamed proudly over the scene, crossing their arms with satisfied sighs and pleasant smiles. Melanie nuzzled closer to Adam and they began wandering aimlessly, eager to see and taste all that they could. A band was playing in the center of the street and small crowds kept forming and dispersing in regular intervals. The music was light, simple, and easy to listen to.

“I’m so glad we’re here,” Melanie said.

Adam kissed the top of her head. “It was a brilliant idea,” he said.

Melanie laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Good call.”

“Nice modesty,” Adam replied. The use of sarcasm made Melanie stop and face him properly. 

“I was saying you made a good call,” Melanie said. “I was being sincere.”

“Which is sweet,” Adam admitted, “but coming here was your idea.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Melanie said. “You wanted to surprise me and take me here.”

“What?” Adam asked, letting loose a sharp bark of surprised laughter.

“Bobby told me when he came to my job today. He said -”

“Why was he at your job?” Adam interrupted.

“I’m so confused,” Melanie said. She needed to slow the conversation down to get her bearings and to keep herself from telling Adam what Bobby had told her not to. “You didn’t want to come here? You didn’t want to pick me up from work and surprise me?”

Blushing, Adam shoved his hands in his pockets. He said, “Not exactly, no. After that awful dinner at my house, I thought you’d never want to see me again. You weren’t texting or calling, and it made me really upset. But Bobby told me you wanted to see me and he told me that you were dying to come here. He said if I invited you, and you agreed, that everything would be fine.” Adam looked at Melanie. “He said you mentioned it a lot at dinner the other night. I didn’t remember, but sometimes,” Adam sighed, “sometimes I don’t remember everything. Or I don’t remember everything the way it happened.” He turned away from Melanie and she could almost hear him mumbling, but it was hard to tell over the murmuring crowd. She did see his hands ball into fists and he banged them against his thighs before shoving them into his pockets. When he turned back to Melanie, she nearly gasped. His shoulders sagged and he seemed to curl about himself, like he was on the verge of collapse. She grabbed his shoulders and tried to lift him up.

“It’s all okay, Adam,” Melanie said. Her smile was stretched to the point of snapping, and she was speaking in a high-pitched tone nearly unrecognizable to herself. “It’s weird that Bobby would lie, but we’re here now, and everything is fine.”

“You never mentioned anything to him?” he asked, his voice cracking.

Melanie shook her head. “I didn’t even know this was a thing,” she laughed, trying so hard to ease the building tension.

Suddenly, Adam turned and kicked a metal drum being used as a garbage can. The metallic clang echoed and a few people turned to stare. Melanie’s face burned red and she moved close to Adam. “He’s so fucking manipulative,” he yelled. “He wants me to think I’m crazy!”

Melanie grabbed his arms and pulled him along, shushing him. “Adam, calm down,” she said.

He broke free of her grip. “You sound like him. Are you two in this together?”

“What? No!” Melanie shouted, exasperated. “You don’t trust me?”

“I don’t trust Bobby,” he growled. “And you shouldn’t either.”

“Okay, okay,” Melanie said. She moved closer to him and held his shoulders again. Bobby may be untrustworthy, but Melanie thought he had been absolutely right about one thing: telling Adam about the blue Hyundai, especially now, would send him spiraling. She took a deep breath. “I really, really like you, Adam. And I’m really, really happy we’re here. Do you want to make the most of it?”

In response, Adam reached for Melanie’s hand. “I’m sorry. It’s just been so hard since -” Adam cut himself off. He shook his head. “You’re right. Since we’re here, let’s have a good time. Bobby’s bullshit can wait.”

Now that the pair of them had stopped shouting, people were going about their business and the scene was going back to its literary and stylish self. Melanie raised Adam’s hand to her mouth and kissed it. “Chocolate or books first?” she asked.

“How about a drink?” Adam suggested. He kissed Melanie’s laughing mouth and they fell back in step with one another. They strolled past the crowded shops, happy to peer in through the windows as there were too many jostling customers to comfortably browse. It was an adorably quaint main street with plenty of shopping options. There were two jewelers, clothing for men, clothing for women, a few bakeries, a restaurant every other storefront, specialty shops galore, and surprisingly, an art gallery combined with a tattoo parlor. Melanie wondered how drunk she and Adam could manage to get at an open air book fair and chocolate walk, and if it could ever be enough to get matching tattoos.

“Bingo,” Adam said and raised their joined hands to point at a white tent boasting beer and wine.

“And would you look at that,” Melanie said, changing the direction of their joined hands to point across the street. “There just so happens to be a bookstore right there.”

Adam eyed the crowd. “I’ll need a drink to deal with all that physical proximity.” He looked at Melanie with a soft smile. “Why don’t you run in when I get us drinks? We’ll probably have to wait the same amount of time.”

“Really? You don’t mind?” 

“Not at all,” Adam said, kissing her forehead. “Just tell me what you want.”

Melanie kissed Adam’s lips again and again. “Could you please get me a glass of  white wine?”

“Afraid to be seen sipping on a light beer at such a prestigious literary event?” he asked, teasing. Melanie kissed him again and reluctantly released his hand. She looked at him, looking so handsome and perfect in the violet light of early evening, until it was too dangerous to do so. She couldn’t be distracted and successfully squirm her way through the crowd gathered around the entrance of the bookstore. She slid through, with many mumbled apologies and finally, she was in the cutest little bookstore she had ever seen. 

It was small and cluttered, but it was cozy and charming. The hardwood floors were accented with expensive-looking rugs and all the lighting came from table lamps, all looking antique and distinguished. It felt more like the living room of a delightfully eccentric – and handsomely wealthy – literary professor. She pushed through the swirling crowd to the bargain paperback books in a far corner. She was letting her fingertips glide along the spines that were facing up, her eyes hungrily searching for familiar authors or interesting titles. Her mind was a million miles away, lost in the possibility of a great reading adventure. Her eyes were bright and flashing. When her fingers touched other fingers, it took her a second or two to notice. She gasped, startled, and drew her hand back. She was about to mumble an apology when her eyes met Ben Fields’s eyes.

“Melanie,” Ben said, sounding only slightly surprised. Ben never ever wanted to be out of control, so he always maintained a masterful level of control over his appearance, his physicality, over everything he possibly could control. Melanie suspected that was the main reason why everything between them had fallen apart so spectacularly. One of her greatest anxieties was losing control, so there was no real way she could ever relinquish it to Ben the way he needed her to.

“Hey Ben,” she said. For her part, Melanie did her best to keep her voice smooth and even. She’d hate for Ben to know he still knocked her on her ass whenever she saw him. He probably suspected as much, anyway. Ironically enough, Ben loved the way he sent Melanie spinning out of control, evident by his concentrated gaze and expectan grin. “Find anything good?” she inquired, shrugging. She was trying to maintain a casual friendliness.

“Actually,” he said as he reached behind him, “I just found this.” He showed her a battered copy of Jane Eyre and any hope Melanie had of conveying nonchalance vanished. She couldn’t help the wide, authentic smile or the dull, pulsing heat that started at her cheeks and seemed to radiate throughout the rest of her body; she could feel it moving within her, filling her the way water does a bucket, all sloppy splashing. They had read that novel together, usually between Ben’s silk sheets and clad only in underwear. In the one attempt Ben had made to win her back in the week that followed the break-up, he had penned a gorgeous letter to Melanie, complete with quotes from the novel embedded in with his romantic yearnings. The letter was folded up small and tucked away in her sock drawer. “How have you been?” Ben asked, pulling Melanie to the present. His eyes were shining in the lamplight and his voice was softer than she remembered.

“Good, really good,” Melanie said. “I’m just waiting for Adam to grab us some drinks.” It was an unnecessary detail, but Melanie couldn’t help being petty. It was her ugliest trait. “How are you?”

“I’m doing very well, actually,” Ben said. He pushed his glasses farther up on his nose. “The university awarded me with a sizable raise for an impressive paper I wrote.” He cleared his throat. “I moved into a larger place and there’s a respectable library.”

Joyfully, Melanie clapped her hands together with authentic happiness for Ben, forgetting herself for a moment. “Ben, that’s awesome! You’ve always wanted a place like that.” If she had forgotten herself for just a moment longer, she would have thrown her arms around him. The way Ben watched her, expectant and satisfied, helped remind her to be petty. “I should go, though. I don’t want to keep Adam waiting. Bye Ben,” she said, raising her hand and wiggling her fingers in a muted wave.

“The guy from the coffee shop?” Ben asked, surprising Melanie. “The guy you brought to the workshop you promptly left once you saw me?”

If Melanie didn’t know any better, she would have thought Ben was actually hurt. His face hand changed, and the proud happiness that illuminated his features just a moment ago was gone. “Yes, that guy,” she said through gritted teeth. She turned back to fully face him once more. “His name is Adam, and you know that, because I’ve used it twice just now.”

“Yes, to make sure I knew it,” Ben said.

Melanie sighed. “You know, Ben, every single fucking interaction we have doesn’t have to end with one of us storming off.” She jerked her head back and towards the exit. “Come and have a drink with us.”

“Do you honestly think that’s wise?” Ben asked. There was hesitation in his tone, and there was hesitation inherent in the question, but he stepped closer to Melanie all the same.

“I’m willing to try,” she said. “If you’re not, that’s fine. No hard feelings.” And she turned to leave. She was only a few steps from the exit, squeezing through the ever present crowd, when Ben spoke from beside her.

“I appreciate the invitation,” Ben said. “I won’t join you for a drink, but I do think it would be polite to say hello.”

“Baby steps,” Melanie smirked. And maybe her and Ben could really be friends now that she felt she was on steadier, even footing with Adam at her side. When they walked out of the bookstore, they met Adam in the middle of the street with drinks in hand, hyper-concentrated on not spilling a drop.

“Do I have timing or what?” Adam asked, proud of his performance as he handed Melanie her glass. His smile faded when he saw Ben and Melanie held her breath. “Who’s this?” he asked.

“This is Ben, my -” Melanie faltered, unsure of how to introduce Ben. No matter how accurate it was, “ex-boyfriend” just didn’t sound right.

“Former professor,” Ben said. He extended his hand and for just a moment, Melanie thought she might kiss him with gratitude.

“And ex-boyfriend,” Adam said. He shook Ben’s hand, but there was nothing friendly about it.

“Yes,” Ben said slowly, stretching out the vowel sound. “We just bumped into each other in the bookstore, and I thought I’d come and say hello,” Ben said. His eyes flicked from Adam to Melanie, but his mouth was set. “And now that I’ve done that, I’ll leave. Have a pleasant evening.” Ben gave a little bow and slipped away into the crowd.

“Wow,” Adam breathed. He turned to Melanie, deeply concerned. “Are you okay?”

Melanie laughed, assuming Adam was being dramatic in a sarcastic kind of way to break the tension following the awkward encounter. “Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad,” she said.

Adam shook his head slowly, his concern proved genuine by its prolonged presence on his handsomely serious face. “When you’re ready, you’ll have to tell me all about the hell he put you through.” He ran his thumb along her cheek and thoughtfully drank his beer.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s obvious some serious shit went down between the two of you,” Adam said. He licked his lips. “When you walked out to meet me with him, you looked like someone I didn’t know. Everything about you was different.” Melanie opened her mouth to protest, but Adam kept talking. “And the way he made you parade him out here to meet me, like you need his approval or something.” Adam’s eyes darkened. “Or like he wanted to make sure I know he’s still got his hooks in you.”

Melanie’s attempt to respond to Adam sputtered and stalled. She wanted to assure him that Ben had no hooks in her whatsoever and that Ben’s intentions weren’t so malicious, but the certainty with which Adam spoke made her unsure. Her silence must have convinced Adam he was right about everything because he tenderly kissed her lips and pulled her close. “We don’t have to talk about it until you’re ready.”

Again, Melanie wanted to argue and convince Adam that she was fine; more than fine really, because he was with her. But she didn’t want to ruin the evening and she became distracted once Adam dragged her into a boutique jewelry shop. There was plenty to look at: lots of interesting handmade pieces, like necklaces of chunky quartz wrapped in thin strings of dark, malleable metal in intricate designs and patterns, and rings of all difference colors and bands, and gaudy bracelets and loud, dangling earrings that were all big and eye catching. Melanie slowly moved from one display case to the next, only sometimes remembering to close her gaping mouth. Thus occupied, she didn’t see Adam sneak to the register to purchase a stunning oblong turquoise ring set in a sterling silver band. She only knew he did it once they were outside and he slipped it on the middle finger of her right hand. It didn’t exactly fit – it was a little too snug – as Adam had only guessed at the size to pull off the surprise. Melanie didn’t care; it really was the thought that counted and she’d wear it on a string around her neck if she had to. She kissed him more than a couple of times on the crowded street, laughing and completely filled with happiness.

They had a few more drinks and when they came across another acoustic band just gearing up for its set, Melanie couldn’t refuse when Adam set their drinks down and led her to the makeshift dance floor, which was really just an empty space in the middle of the street. Beneath the twinkling stars, swaying amongst perfect strangers, neatly buzzed and grinning from ear to ear, Melanie and Adam danced together until the music stopped and there was nothing left to do but go home.

Melanie was so in love with the evening that she totally forgot to check the rearview mirror for a blue Hyundai.

When they finally got to her house, Melanie wanted to invite Adam inside, but she didn’t want him to think she was only doing that because she’d had a little too much to drink or because she had seen Ben. And the more she thought about it, she started to think that Adam was right, that Ben had been a real asshole and that she needed to keep a greater distance because he was a manipulative prick who just wanted to hurt her and Adam. Adam had totally been right, and Melanie couldn’t believe she’d seen the situation any other way,  

On how it’s gonna be.

The Final Episode: “How’s it gonna be//when you don’t know me//anymore.”

So, where did he and I go from there? For starters, he lied to me about dating her in spite of the face that I had also attended one of their first dates. He insisted over and over that he wasn’t dating anyone, and the flirtatious texts and behavior continued. I remember being in a poorly lit bar with him and other colleagues. I was sitting on a stool, sipping on a sweating bottle of lite beer, and he was standing before me in light colors, in shades of blue. He was emphatically insisting he was not dating anyone, stomping his foot against the dark carpet and smiling at me, almost like he knew that I knew I should know better. There was another time we were drinking together at a different bar (better lighting and better crowd). He said he had to get going and I asked him to stay. I asked him for just fifteen more minutes. He thought about it, but he ended up leaving, no matter how reluctantly. The next morning, he sent me a message that simply said, “Good morning! You suck.” He never explained what that meant exactly, but I knew. That went on for nearly a year.

I was traveling to Indiana to attend the wedding of one of my oldest friends. I was traveling with other friends, and it was a completely wonderful trip. The whole way there, I was texting with him as I usually did. It was the night of the rehearsal dinner, and I was waiting to meet friends. He had been unusually uncommunicative and I wondered why. Then I received a message from a mutual friend, telling me he was engaged and with his fiancee. She could see the ring. If we were really such great friends, why didn’t he tell me? I walked from the hotel to a liquor store. I bought a handle of vodka and a pack of Marlboro Reds. I sat and smoked and drank from the bottle until it was time for dinner. But at least I didn’t cry until I was alone in bed that night. When I confronted him, when I asked him why he didn’t tell me, he told me he was “a private guy.” But he was comfortable enough to tell me all about his past and his feelings? I bought it, though. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. And we stayed “friends.”

Then his fiancee told me she was pregnant. I smiled and congratulated them. I waited until they left, and then I drank until I threw up in the parking lot and my friend had to drive me home. I promised myself that was the end of it. But his hooks were so far in me that I lied to myself. I convinced myself we could really be friends.

But then I found out he was married. He had lied to me on multiple occasions, swearing that he wasn’t. He shoved his hand in my face to show there was no ring. But once I confronted him and he knew that I knew, he told me he only got married for a reason I won’t share here because it’d just be embarrassing and hurtful. He told me that to keep me stuck, to keep me right where I was, to keep me hanging on. Friends don’t do that; real friends wouldn’t need to do that.

So I finally told him we couldn’t be friends. I told him everything; how I felt and what I was thinking. I didn’t throw a drink in his face. I didn’t turn on my heel and storm off. I was trying to be honest and kind, but he told me I was being “dramatic” and “gay.”

We didn’t talk for three months. He didn’t even reach out on my birthday.

But he sent me a message exactly a week later. I answered because I’m an idiot. I answered because I still have intense feelings for him, though they range the gamut, to be sure. If I’m being honest, and if I’m serious about moving on, then I have to admit we were never friends. We cared about each other, definitely, but we were never friends. And we can never be friends because I can’t get over what was, or what almost was. I think he likes the attention and won’t let me leave, but that’s mostly bullshit because I didn’t really want to leave.

But I think I’m ready now. Thanks for reading. ❤

On “A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

From Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club.

So it’s like the fifth week of being quarantined and it’s only getting more difficult. I’m blessed to have a home and steady income, and I’m not sick and my family is happy and healthy, so it’s a shitty thing to complain about being bored and lonely; aren’t we all? To pass the time, I’ve been reading a lot and I’ve also started re-watching CBS’s 1994 miniseries “Stephen King’s The Stand.” I watched the second episode yesterday morning and had the sudden urge to tell everyone I know to watch it because it totally explains what we’re going through right now (not totally…that’s me being dramatic). This is NOT a new idea; King has apologized for us all feeling like we’re living in one of his novels. Still, I feel like Randy in the movie “Scream,” when he’s freaking out in the middle of Blockbuster and imploring everyone to watch horror movies so they could be better able to survive the slasher attacking Woodsboro. Only I’m alone, in my living room, urging everyone to read The Stand.

Another way to pass the time is writing and thinking. The latter, unfortunately leads to overthinking, which then leads to crying and mourning the past. But I think it’s mostly good. One day, I’ll be numb.

Episode Two: “A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

One of the best books I’ve ever read is Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. And one of the best scenes from the novel is when the narrator comes upon Tyler Durden on the beach. Tyler has built a statue from driftwood. The narrator can’t tell what it is at first. He explains, “I asked if Tyler was an artist. Tyler shrugged…What Tyler had created was the shadow of a giant hand. . . he said how at exactly four-thirty the hand was perfect. The giant shadow hand was perfect for one minute, and for one perfect minute Tyler sat in the palm of a perfection he’d created himself. One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

The beauty and tragedy of my moment of perfection is that it’s come and gone.

To be fair, we had two perfect moments. One was during an all-day drinking event on a sunny day in March. That day was the most attracted to him I’ve ever been. The place was crowded and being that we had been drinking for hours, I was mostly stumbling and having trouble keeping up. He told me he didn’t want to lose me. He was leading me through the crowd at the one bar, holding hands as he stretched out his arms behind him. Then he brought them around so that I hugged him from behind and it took all the self-control my drunk ass could muster not to bury my face in his hoodie and breathe deep.

We kept drinking. Day turned to night. We ended up at another bar. The thumping bass boomed incessantly, sounding more like war drums than anything else. Everything was vibrating, everything was shaking almost imperceptibly, and I used that as an excuse to hang onto his muscular forearm and steady myself. I put my ear close to his beautiful, smooth mouth to try and decipher the slurred nonsense that tumbled out. He sloppily smashed his lips against my cheek. It was over before I was even sure it had happened and both of us stood there looking at one another stupidly. Everything was bumping and booming and loud and hot and close and he drunkenly smiled at me. At that moment, I knew that if I were to push close against him and grab him and hold him and decimate his mouth with mine, he would yield and he would succumb. That is an unfamiliar and dangerous amount of power and I resisted. It would mean something cheap and tawdry. I wasn’t as drunk as he was, and I was worried that if it went as far as it possibly could, we’d have different feelings in the cold light of the next morning. It would have meant so much more to me than it would have to him. It wouldn’t be what I really wanted.

Instead, I touched his face and escaped to the ladies’ room. Later, when it was time to go pass out, I walked him home.

I’m an idiot, though. That wasn’t enough of a green light for me to tell him how wonderful I thought he was, how all I wanted was to be with him. Naturally, our next moment of perfection also passed me by. It was a few weeks later, and I was out with colleagues, staying overnight at a beautiful hotel for some weekend-long conference. The first night was pretty laid back, so we all went to bar just cross the street. I texted him, practically begging him to come down.

And he did.

The bar was closing and we needed to go somewhere else, and I invited him to my shared hotel room on the condition that he bring playing cards. He smiled but rolled his eyes, saying there was no way he’d find playing cards and that he was tired. Again, I begged him. He shook his head and said goodnight.

Back at the hotel room, I was commiserating with my roommates about the missed opportunity when there were three, loud knocks on the door. They were serious sounding knocks, reminiscent of the way a cop bangs against door. One roommate hurried to the bathroom. The other tried to hide in the mess of pillows and coverings on the bed. That left me to open the door. I tried to calm myself, rehearsing what to say to the authority figure who’d probably been summoned because we were being too loud. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and opened the door.

No one was there.

I stepped out and looked to the right. There was still no one there.

When I looked to the right, he was leaning against the wall, twirling a deck of playing cards in his hand, smiling slightly. All the blood rushed to my face and I laughed out loud; there was nowhere else for my joy to escape to. It was like something out of a movie. It was the personification of every romantic fantasy I’d ever had. He came in and we played Kings for a couple of hours until he had to go, quiet suddenly.

And then it was all over.

On “poetry”-perfect beginnings.

“The moment I fell in love with you was a moment I’d been waiting my whole life for.”

Episode One: Poetry-Perfect Beginning

I know I’ve used this line before (and probably for a very similar reason; I really am a one-trick pony), but T.S. Eliot famously wrote that April is the cruelest month. I can’t be sure because I haven’t read his poem in forever, but I’m fairly certain that Eliot is referring to the false promise of Spring because not everything comes back from the dead the way nature does.

So what better time to pick at fresh scabs of lost love?

To be fair, I really should have known better. The first time I ever mentioned him in my journal was significant for three reasons:

  1. Only people I really and truly care about get mentioned in my journal. And if a name appears more than once? Consider me obsessed.
  2. It was right after a personal tragedy that fell just short of cataclysmic … for him (and it could be a novel in its own right). So he was all wounded and vulnerable and brooding and NEEDED to be saved … NOT. Personally, I think that’s the worst rationalization women use for engaging in and/or tolerating selfish, manipulative behavior. And I am SO fucking guilty of it, I’ll never get these hands clean.
  3. I fucking told myself it was a bad idea. I KNEW I’d get hurt. On January 12, 2014, I wrote:
I know I’m a stupid fool. I know I’m building him up in my mind into something impossible to make him unattainable so I stay safe. He’s completely out of my league on SO many levels. I’m an idiot [...] I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s fun to have a crush, but this is going to hurt. I have a bad feeling ….

I vividly remember that moment I knew I was a goner. It was one of those nights that come out of nowhere, where pure, unadulterated happiness blindsides you so that by the time you realize you’ve been hit, it’s passed you by and all you are is bruised and sore.

Given the nature of my career, most of my colleagues are older women. And given the time in my life, all my colleagues were my friends. I’d gone to college away from home and all my childhood friends had gotten the hell out of dodge, so my social circle was a product of circumstance and I was only partially looking forward to spending a Friday night in the basement of an older, female coworker’s house. Lots of coworkers were going though, and what the hell else was I going to do? Armed with low expectations and a six-pack of some lite beer, I walked down the basement stairs, already planning my exit in my head.

The basement was fully finished. It was bright and cozy, everything seemingly washed in a warm, welcoming shade of yellow. It was carpeted. There was a bar, some exercise equipment, and a pool table. There were some couches, arranged around a low coffee table. And familiar, friendly faces of coworkers were scattered about the basement – sitting youthfully on the carpet and lounging on the couches, playing pool, perched on the exercise equipment, and leaning against the bar.

I decided to make my way to the bar, the most logical place to properly unload my six-pack.

And there he was behind the bar, wearing blue.

I had to do a double-take. I thought it was a girls only type of thing but there he was and he was so handsome. Granted I could have thought that because gentlemen were in short supply, but I still find him incredibly handsome, even after all he did to me (which is definitely a problem). I’d only hung out with him once or twice before this, and we hadn’t spent much time talking with each other or anything.

But that night, with him in blue behind the bar, was different. We were witty, we were flirty, and we were the warm center of the universe that everyone gathered around. Well, at least that’s what it felt like.

On the bar was a bowl of those awful, chalky hearts with corny messages that become popular around Valentine’s Day. Given that it was early January, either the candy hearts were nearly a year old and brought out as a last-minute snack, or the hostess had purchased them early. But that seemed unlikely. So as they were inedible, I spent the night filling the hood of his blue jacket with them whenever he was talking to someone else. He would sigh in frustration and tell me to stop, but he loved it.

Later, someone spilled something on the carpet behind the bar. I was on my hands and knees, trying to clean it up to be remembered as a good guest who would keep getting invited places. To someone in front of the bar, they saw him standing and smiling, and then they saw my legs poking out the side. I reveled in the innuendo.

He had somewhat of a reputation which coworkers with good intentions kept reminding me of. I didn’t care; he was attractive and he was fun to hang out with and it was all so harmless. He got my number from someone and the texting started. We were almost in constant contact with each other. It was addictive and wonderful. We’d stay at bars until the lights came on, still smiling though we were blinking and nearly blinded by the sudden brightness. He’d blow my hair to get my attention. He’d encourage me to unbutton a few more buttons on my blouse. He’d offer to dance with me when no one else would, but he didn’t really want to, so he’d talk me out of it by the time we got the dance floor, distracting me with shots. He’d let me wear his scarf when it was cold. He rescued me from the women’s restroom when I had too much to drink and was puking my brains out. He held my hair back. Unfazed, he threw me over his shoulder and got me to a car like some knight in shining armor. I thought that’d be the end of it, especially since I vomited on his expensive shirt and shoes, but he met me out the next night. He paid for drinks and an entire dinner with like six of us. He was charming and magnificent and I had never been happier.

But we worked together. And we hung out with coworkers. Suddenly, everyone had an opinion about us spending so much time together. People were actually calling me to warn me to stay away. I was told he was a user and abuser, that once he got what he wanted from me, that would be it. I was told the name of every woman he’d been with, real or rumored. I was told he was just being friendly with me to get a more beautiful coworker – and truth be told, that one fucked me up more than anything else. I let that idea sink its fangs into my psyche and suck it dry of self-confidence. It made me suspicious of him and I misinterpreted so many conversations. I’m ashamed, looking back.

He read my favorite novel and could talk to me about it for hours. The connection with him was unlike anything I’d ever had before. He told me the truth about himself (as much as a man can) and invited me to do the same. I didn’t, because I was scared and stupid and listened to some bad advice from jealous women.

We had one perfect night. And I’ll happily relive it next week. Xoxo ❤   

On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On being the Duckie.

prettyinpink

I love 80’s culture; movies, music, fashion – all of it. I’m something like a girl anachronism, born 18 years too late. I should have come of age in that decade of magic, of decadence. It was the last era of wholesomeness (even despite the extravagance). Things really seemed possible then.

One of the greatest artistic – and yes, I used the word “artistic” – endeavors from that decade is the movie “Pretty in Pink.” I wrote a blog post two years ago about when I met Andrew McCarthy and was irrevocably charmed. He was intelligent, charismatic, and incredibly talented. Because of my undying affection for the actor, I can honestly say I’ve seen that film close to twenty times. One such time was Wednesday night, when a good friend and I traveled close to an hour to watch the movie on the big screen. The film was released for a brief second time to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

We knew the lines, we knew the plot, and we knew the music. What sense did it make to pay to see the film? One could argue it did not make any sense at all, but then again, I was shocked to see how many others had traveled to see a movie they’d already seen. I have always had a decidedly human problem of thinking my inclinations and hobbies are unique and singular and special. I’m proven wrong time and time again, but in frustratingly human fashion, I’m still always surprised when I realize my passions are shared.

At any rate, the film as was entertaining as ever, and there was something thrilling about seeing it on the big screen. I could imagine I hadn’t missed my favorite decade, that it was opening weekend and I was enjoying it all in real time for the first time. In danger of overdosing on nostalgia that was never really mine to begin with, my good friend leaned over and asked me if I ever had a “Duckie” while attending high school.

For those of you who may not know, Duckie is a character from the film. He’s hopelessly, shamelessly, desperately, and even embarrassingly devoted to his best friend, madly in love and utterly heartbroken over the unrequited nature of the relationship. He admits he would die for her, stands by and patiently suffers as she chases after another guy, and even lets her go so she can fulfill her wildest, romantic dreams while his remain unfulfilled. It may not be as traumatic and dramatic as all that, but forgive me; I have never had a Duckie.

I’ve always been Duckie.

I’ve always been the friend in the background, lingering and pining secretly – sometimes creepily – for a friend I never really had a chance with. I remember at one high school dance, I was asked by a mutual friend to break up with her boyfriend for her; a boy who was my close friend and whom I had been crushing on fairly seriously. Why I agreed to be the harbinger of such devastation I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I was eager for any excuse to talk to the boy, and maybe because such an episode could escalate and strengthen the friendship. I hope it was because I wanted him to hear it from me, a real friend, because I could soften the blow and handle the whole thing delicately, properly. Whatever the reason, I took a deep breath to steady myself, to prepare myself, and left the gymnasium. I stepped out of the double doors and into the bright hallway, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lights. I looked for my friend, and he wasn’t hard to find.

He had tried to hide himself on the far side of a short but wide trophy case, but his long legs stuck out. He was sitting on the gross floor with his back against the uncomfortable and random brick wall. He was opposite the refreshment table, but despite the flurry of activity, he was looking down at the dirty floor with a can of soda clutched in his hand. He was out there all alone and looking especially despondent, like he already knew what was coming. I breathed a small sigh of relief; my job would be easier. I walked over and sat beside him.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

I figured it’d be best to just come out with it, do it fast like ripping off a band-aid. “Hannah wanted me to-”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He cut me off, but didn’t say anything else. He took a swig from his can.

“Oh,” I said. I was slightly dismayed by the building, awkward silence. I looked down at my hands and tried to think of what else to say.

“You don’t have to sit out here with me,” he mumbled. He hadn’t made eye contact with me.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to,” I smiled. He looked up and returned the smile.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I remember we had a good time. So while being Duckie can be limiting and heartbreaking, it’s also pretty awesome because being a friend is awesome. Sometimes a friend is all a person needs.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself as of late.

 

 

On seeking salvation from loneliness.

I know I need to update this blog more than once a month. My writing is becoming stale; my literary muscle is in a state of atrophy due to lack of use. I have no excuse.

I wonder how many writers believed themselves to be prophetic. I don’t mean in the pretentious sense, but in a way that can be validated, where predictions are not obvious or bluntly stated, but hidden beneath authentic literary merit. I mean in the way where plot and reality align too much to be mere coincidence. This topic has piqued my interest as of late because the ending of my second novel Moody Blue – which has yet to find either a literary agent or publisher for representation – ends in nearly the exact same way the real life source of inspiration is ending. It knocked me on my ass, to be sure, and I’m sure this post, with its assertion that I’m some kind of prophet, that all of this is a way to make it romantically tragic instead of just melodramatic and sad. Rather than admit I was fooled and manipulated, it’s grander to say I knew someone so well that I saw what was coming and used it in my writing to heal the wounds. I suppose it was more like seeing the approach of headlights and stepping into the middle of the street anyway because a beautiful, brooding man is on the other side, smiling seductively. As I stepped into the road, I knew that I was never, ever going to reach my desired destination, that I’d end up alone and as so much carnage that others will drive over without much notice, but I did it anyway because that smile made me believe things were changing, and that I just might make it. That smile became an all-purpose excuse for all the stupid, selfish, asinine things I did.

“This is my least favorite life, the one where I am out of my mind. The one where you’re just out of reach. The one where I stay and you fly.” 

But I suppose I’ll be okay.  

“I’m never alone. I’m alone all the time.”

I lead a very lonely life. I used to be ashamed to admit it, but I once heard that some are meant to be happy, while others are mean to be great. Thus, my only means of survival, of staying both sane and optimistic, are believing that everything happens for a reason, and that this is my path, for better or for worse. I must entertain the possibility that where I am destined to end up may not be warm and bright with smiling faces. I might have to be cold and alone to be great, to fulfill my potential. Maybe all the tragedy I’ve spent romanticizing for so long is all mine to keep.

Hell, even Gatsby knew he could only climb alone.

Writing Prompt #23: The figure in a famous painting begins communicating with an art museum patron.

The museum was clearing out. The few presumably pretentious patrons were shuffling towards the exits in shiny, expensive shoes that reflected their pinched faces of their respective owners. They all looked so important, raising the collars of impressive and fashionable coats against the cold, sharp February winds raging outside. The ladies adjusted their gloves to better cover and protect their delicate wrists against the bitter cold, while the gentlemen held the doors open, allowing the ladies to pass through with strong and protective hands on the smalls of their backs. Once outside, facing the elements, these fine, cultured gentlemen enveloped their classy, educated ladies in their arms and together, the pairs scurried to remarkably expensive vehicles, a Lexus there, a Mercedes Benz here, and a few BMWs for good measure. It seemed that everyone at the art gallery was impossibly intelligent, filthy rich, and happily in love. They did not rage against the dying of the light as the sun’s last rays burned bright and fierce through the large picture windows that surrounded the art gallery. It seemed that all were perfectly content to go gentle into the good night because they were not alone. They loved and were loved, and that was all that mattered.

Or maybe that’s just how it seemed to Olivia because she was alone – single and bitter – on Valentine’s Day. After all, wasn’t there some saying about everything looking like a nail when one feels like a hammer?

It had been foolish to venture out into public on the absolute worst of manufactured holidays. Olivia knew her day would be one long and agonizing observation of all kinds of public displays of affection, ranging from sweet (the elderly man who did his best to straighten his fingers gnarled with arthritis only to entwine them with his wife’s as they rode the bus to the city) to obnoxious (the sweaty, nervous-looking man who coordinated a lame, disappointing flash mob as means of proposing to a doughy woman too stupid to know any better and readily accepted) to grotesque (the teenage couple mauling each other while waiting in line at the local coffee shop, covering themselves in each other’s DNA in the disgusting way that only adolescents can). Begrudgingly, Olivia would admit it was the masochist within her that encouraged and eventually convinced her to journey to the art gallery. Later, when the pain began to subside and she was safe in her home, in sweatpants with wine and Chinese food that had been delivered some time ago, she could realize that being surrounded by affection was a good thing, nearly tangible evidence of its existence, that it was real and could happen to anyone at any time; she only needed to be patient. But in all honesty, her reason for going to the art gallery was not so romantic or noble, but just desperate and obvious. She only went there because there was a chance – a good chance, a fighting chance – that Scott would be there.

He had taken her there on several occasions, holding doors open and bundling her against the cold.

That had ended some weeks ago, but Olivia was a fool, the worst kind of fool who believes chance encounters could be manufactured, who believes hope comes from an ever-replenished spring and who believes chances are unlimited. She had convinced herself that if Scott saw her again, he’d believe it was fate and he’d give her a few precious moments to make her case as to why they belonged together. Olivia flat-out refused to believe Scott could feel or think any way other than the way she wanted – needed? – him to and on her best days, she could claim a romantic optimism, but more often than not, she knew better. It was pathetic and desperate.

Olivia had arrived at the gallery upon opening. She made herself comfortable, draping her coat over her arms crossed casually over her chest and meandering through the aisles slowly, languidly, always thinking, thinking, thinking. She had purchased lunch in their adjoining cafe, unwilling to leave the premises because she knew with a supernatural certainty that the moment she did, Scott would arrive and her last chance would be blown. Olivia didn’t eat much, but thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary wine and cheese despite the glowering looks from the supervising employee who quickly realized Olivia was only loitering and taking more than her fair share. The employee was able to remain smug because he rightly assumed that Olivia was a fraud, a dopey woman who probably couldn’t name a single artists featured in the gallery’s collection, let alone the title of one of the masterpieces.

And that was all true; Olivia didn’t know anything about art. So there she was, alone in an art gallery five minutes before closing, standing before some oil painting with tears in her eyes. Scott had not appeared, had not wrapped her in his arms, had not made everything okay. “Oh my God,” she said to no one at all. “I am so, so stupid.” Her voice cracked, broke, and the tears began to fall freely. “He doesn’t miss me, does he?” she asked, but there was no one there to answer, especially not Scott.

The painting before Olivia was of a young man in riding clothes, posing in some wild-looking garden. He had dark features and a very serious expression. The painting was generic and unremarkable, and Olivia found it all so fitting. What better place for her to have an emotional breakdown than in front of a random painting? Only truly great women could sob before the Mona Lisa.

Olivia released a shuddering breath. “I loved him. I loved him very much, and I should have made sure he knew that.” She wiped at her nose. “I just tried so hard to be cool, to not cling to him, to finally be the one who wasn’t so obviously at the mercy of the other person in the relationship. I wanted power and control more than I wanted him.” She sobbed. “But that was wrong, and I was wrong. I guess he mistook all that for indifference, thought I didn’t care, and now he’s gone.” She rubbed her eyes, smearing mascara and eyeliner without so much as a passing thought to her appearance. “I just wanted things to work out this time, this one time. I wanted it to be different. But here I am!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands before her and allowing her coat to fall to the marble floor. Her tone was now cold, sarcastic. “I’m alone on Valentine’s Day and I’ll probably die this way.” Ashamed and suddenly overwhelmed by self-pity, Olivia covered her face with her hands. She cried against her palms, unintelligibly begging for some divine intervention, for salvation from loneliness. She cursed Scott and his new girlfriend (which Olivia assumed he must have – what else kept someone busy on Valentine’s Day?) and then cursed herself for cursing Scott, for being petty and stupid. She berated herself into some state of composure, then allowed her hands to fall to her sides. Once more, she faced the painting.

A guttural scream exploded from her lips and reverberated back to her from the empty aisles as a terrifying sound, so Olivia knew she had to make it stop lest she scared anyone else. She clasped her hands over her mouth and stared with wide, petrified eyes at the painting that had changed, that had most certainly changed, that had definitely changed. The young man featured front and center had turned, had somehow shifted to directly face Olivia. His expression had drastically softened, like he was sympathetic to her pathetic whimpering. In his right hand was a dark red rose. Olivia could easily and readily identify which bush it had come from.

Olivia looked about wildly, curious if her outburst had attracted any attention at all. No one appeared to be rushing over. There were no strangers nearby to validate the impossible event she had just witnessed. Should she call someone over? Would she be believed? Would anyone else see what she was seeing? She returned her gaze to the painting.

Olivia thought she was going to vomit and then pass out, simply keel over. The painting had changed again.

The young man was smiling kindly, very kindly, in a way that almost calmed Olivia, who was on the verge of becoming hysterical. His arms were spread wide, as if he were offering her something. Guided by an unfamiliar instinct, Olivia looked at the floor beneath the painting. There lay the dark red rose the young man had been holding.

Slowly, breathing deeply, Olivia bent to retrieve the rose. The stem was covered in thorns, real enough that Olivia pricked her pointer finger and it began to bleed. The petals were soft and the fragrance was strong. It made Olivia smile. In spite of the lunacy, the sheer insanity of it all, Olivia smiled. She looked to the young man in the painting to thank him, but the expression of gratitude died on her lips. The painting was as it was before, as it should be. Olivia gasped. It was so bizarre that she was transfixed, unable to look away. She reached out her free hands, the one not holding the rose, to touch the painting, to ascertain if it was real, or if there might be some technological trickery at work.

A throat cleared itself behind her.

Nearly screaming aloud again, Olivia wheeled around to find the employee who had been so stingy with the wine and cheese standing behind her. “Ma’am, don’t touch the paintings,” he instructed in a bored tone of voice. “Also, we’re closing now. You’re going to have to leave.”

“Oh, oh, okay,” Olivia mumbled, pale and confused. The employee, seemingly oblivious to Olivia’s distress, turned away. He trotted down the hall, and Olivia scooped up her coat, careful not to lay eyes on the painting in case it changed again, in which chase she would have a heart attack and die. She hurried to the exit, but not before she mumbled a hurried and terribly confused, “thank you.”

The young man in the painting smiled but there was no one there to see it.

hc single valentine's day

On maybe choosing what is worst and doing it on purpose.

I haven’t written in over a month.

I sincerely apologize.  There is no excuse.  I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed by work, which in turn has certainly muted the passion and inspiration within.  When I leave work, I mostly eat and then sleep.  I have not been prioritizing as I should and as a result, I seem to be drowning in paperwork, in responsibilities, and other things that do nothing for my soul.  I know I sound like a defeatist, but let me assure you that is not the case.  I’m just in somewhat of a slump, but it’ll all turn around.

I’m crediting Gerard Way’s concert on Thursday, October 23rd as the reason for me to begin anticipating the end of my slump.  Maybe it was the fact that Melanie and I both decided to wear loose, knit hats and flannel, or maybe it was how amazing Gerard Way was performing, and how he spoke to my very fears and hopes and dreams, or maybe it was just being in New York City, but something about that night changed me, I am sure of it.

meandmelandgerard gerard

 

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #18: “I … love you?”

“I … love you?” she croaked.  She had never intended the statement to sound like a question, but she was caught terribly off guard by all of the wide, gawking eyes.  She had never intended for this conversation to take place via a microphone in a crowded, dimly lit bar, and surrounded by unsuspecting and incredibly judgmental coworkers.  Alcohol was a funny thing, she supposed.  It really could make you do and say things you knew would be incredibly mortifying or wildly inappropriate.  She didn’t think she had imbibed so much, and had assumed she had been perfectly capable of conducting a rational conversation with the man she had fallen desperately in love with.

It had been doomed from the start, and she would have realized that had she ever stopped to think about it, but she never did because it made her sad, and it made her feel stupid.  She didn’t like not knowing things.  For example, she’d punch herself in the face – repeatedly, and as hard as she could – if it meant she’d know with absolute certainty whether or not he wanted her in the same way that she wanted him.  She would cause bodily harm to both anyone and everyone if it meant she’d find out if he had singled her out for a genuine purpose, or if he had only been lonely and she had been desperate and voila; a friendship had been born out of necessity, rather than authentic affection.  On some level, she knew she was probably thinking too much, but the alcohol had cured that, and now it was apparent that she was not thinking at all.

For if she had been thinking, she would never have cajoled the microphone from the karaoke singer, with a smile as greased and manufactured as his hair.  Certainly, she would not have cleared her throat to command the attention of the packed room, patrons turning in her direction, sweating drinks in hand.  Their faces were patient, polite and interested; they were actually eager to hear her.  It was a bold, empowering feeling and she rode that wave of energy like an idiot.  Smiling big, like a beautiful, little fool, like an innocent idiot, she stood underneath the hot light, twirling in the dress that was much too fancy for the bar.  She was inebriated enough to think she looked gorgeous, which was enough to help her believe that she was also suddenly inexhaustibly charming.  She beamed and said, “Hello, hello everyone!  If I could just have your attention for just a second, that’d be awesome.”  Patiently, she waited until the crowd quieted and heads turned because she thought she could be something cinematic and perfectly romantic, that this drunken moment would be the beginning of everything good.  Things like that don’t happen in real life to mousey girls who convince themselves in quiet desperation in a cold bed that they are special and that they’ve been saving themselves for someone truly remarkable.  The alcohol had made her forget and so she kept right on talking.  “I just wanted to say thank you for coming to the end of the year party, and I hope everyone’s having a great time!”  Cheers and catcalls rose from the crowd and she smiled wider.  “I would also like to say something to Noah.”  She paused to accommodate for the crowd joining her in her search, craning necks this way and that, and turning to one another to audibly whisper and wonder why this stupid fool was looking for someone so strong and handsome and cool.  “Noah, are you out there?” she called.

The crowd parted and there he was, Noah.  He was embarrassed, never one for the spotlight, so as he walked forward, he kept his face lowered and eyes locked on his feet.  She knew his eyes were light and bright, the way the water looks near the shore in the middle of the day, a translucent kind of blue that invites you to run and splash and ruin its tranquility as best you can, but she only knew that because she had stared at them for what seemed like hours on end.  He was beautiful and brilliant and brooding and guarded, but he had let her in.  That made her somebody.  That made her special.  She couldn’t lose that feeling no matter what, no matter the cost, the way a drug addict steals from her own mother’s purse to achieve the next fix.  She was breathless, watching him walk towards her.  He stole a glance as he neared her, his smile fading with uncertainty and it was the way his mouth thinned that made her realize she had been wrong.

This was all a mistake, a terrible mistake.  One such as he could never condescend to grace one such as she with love and attention and affection.  She had miscalculated, woefully so.  And now here they were, in a crowd of friends and strangers alike, with everyone waiting for her to say something.  She laughed nervously and croaked, “I…love you?”

Bursts of laughter came from the crowd, with their open mouths and merry faces all blending into one atrocity.  Her eyes couldn’t – her eyes wouldn’t focus on the mass of apathetic people before her, but she couldn’t look at him.  If she did, she would throw up and that was probably the only thing that could make everything worse.  She dropped the microphone and took off, slamming against Noah’s shoulder but not mumbling an apology, only running and running until she get to a far enough corner where she could hail a cab in anonymity, tail between her legs.

bridget