I woke the next morning with the same sort of dreamy feeling. I’d had a very good dream about kissing Clark on the beach at sunset, and I didn’t want the moment to end. However, I eventually dragged myself out of bed and into the shower, to get ready for the expected brunch with my parents.
Everyone was in good spirits that morning. Apparently, Michelle and her boyfriend had gotten home about an hour after me, and they’d had a good time, too. The conversation was lively, and mom did her best to make sure no one went hungry. After much assurance that we were going to burst if we ate more food, Michelle, Zach, and I decided to hang out on the back porch with a couple of drinks, relishing the too little time we had before we needed to head back into Manhattan. Michelle and Zach’s train departed at three o’clock, so they didn’t have much more time to soak up the relaxation. We laughed and talked for a while before my mom called me from the kitchen.
“Kate,” she called. “Your cell phone was ringing so I picked it up. It’s Clark.”
Michelle raised an eyebrow at me, and I smiled back as I went to pick up the phone. My stomach was all fluttery when I grabbed the phone from my mom and took it into the den.
“Hello?” I said into the phone.
“Hi, Clark. What’s up?” I asked, curling onto the couch.
“Do you mind if we go back a little earlier?”
“Um, no. That should be fine. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. It’s just that, well, Camille called me late last night. She was supposed to fly back to New York on Tuesday, but her job ended early. So, she got a flight back from London today. I wanted to make sure I could get you back into the city before I needed to get back to pick her up from the airport.”
“Oh. That’s silly.” My heart dropped. “I mean, I can take the train back. There’s no reason why you have to drive me all of the way back to the city. You should go to the airport from your parent’s house.”
“Are you sure? I know we didn’t plan that. I don’t want to leave you stranded.”
“No, really.” I tried to cover up my disappointment. “You know,” I said, deliberately brightening my voice, “that would actually work out better for me. Michelle and her boyfriend are taking a train at three o’clock. I was kind of thinking I wanted to get back earlier anyway, but I didn’t want to abandon you.”
He hesitated a second before answering. “Well, okay. If you’re sure.”
“Yes, go. I’m fine.”
“You’re the best, Kate.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“I know,” I answered in what I hoped was an equally friendly yet nonchalant voice. “Don’t you forget that.”
He laughed. “See ya.”
“Bye.” I hung up the phone and sighed. I lay down on the couch, burying my face in a pillow and groaning. My mom walked in the room.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
I sat up, knocking the pillow to the floor. “Oh, yes. Everything’s fine,” I said sarcastically. I softened my tone a bit when I saw the concerned expression on her face. “Just a little change of plans, that’s all. It looks like I’ll be taking the train back with Michelle and her boyfriend.”
“Hmm, okay.” She sat down next to me on the couch and put her arm around me. She knew something more was wrong but didn’t want to push me. I laid my head on her shoulder. “Well, if that’s the case, I’d better go and check on your laundry.”
“Oh, mom. You didn’t have to do my laundry.”
“Of course I did. What’s the use of coming home for the weekend if your mom doesn’t do your laundry, huh?”
I smiled. “Thanks, mom.”
She gave my shoulders a squeeze. “No problem. I’m glad to help. Kate, you know I’m always here for you, right?”
I smiled over at my mom. “I know.”
“So, whenever you need to talk to me, I’ll listen, okay?”
“Okay, then. Should we get going?”
“You, too, okay?”
“I mean, you know you can always talk to me, too, right? Like about dad and stuff?
She looked at me a second like she was about to cry. “You’re the best, Kate.” She gave me a quick little hug before leaving the room.
“Where have I heard that one before?” I said under my breath, as I buried my face in the couch pillow again.
“I can’t believe he did that to you!” Michelle was indignant, pounding her fist into my bed while I rushed around the room trying to do a last-minute pack of all of my stuff. For only being home for three days, my suitcase seemed to have vomited its contents everywhere.
“I’m not even sure he did anything to me, Michelle.” After I’d gotten off the call from Clark and informed Michelle and Zach I’d be taking the train with them, Michelle knew something was up. She’d followed me to my room, where I’d spilled the whole story to her.
“Oh, come on! Don’t act so thick in the head! He was leading you on. Anybody could see that!”
“Maybe I’m just seeing something that’s not there,” I shrugged, grabbing my makeup from the dresser and putting it into my toiletry bag. “I mean, he never came out and said anything directly. And, what his sister said is obviously not true. He must still be seeing Camille.”
“But still, Kate. He’s using you.”
I stopped where I’d placed my hairbrush by the mirror and ran it absently through my hair. Looking at my reflection, I could understand why men didn’t exactly fall over themselves for me. Correction -- there was still Mike, but he wasn’t the one I wanted falling all over me. I turned to look at Michelle.
“Maybe we’re using each other,” I said. “I mean, it’s fun. We have fun together. Maybe I haven’t dug a little deeper because deep down inside I’m afraid of ruining our friendship. What if I mess that up? Then, I’d never see him again.”
“Ugh. I could understand that if it was just sex. I mean, if you were friends with ‘benefits.’ Then, maybe I could see why you still want to hang around with him. But, really, what are you getting out of it, now? He’s keeping you on the hook, Kate. Keeping you dangling so he has someone to play with while his girlfriend is away.”
Michelle had always been a little freer with her sexuality, so it didn’t surprise me when she said stuff like that. Me, however, being able to count the number of serious relationships I’d had on one hand, I wasn’t as cool about it as she was.
“I like him, Michelle. Is it a crime to only be friends with a guy? Why does it have to be about sex? Besides, I’m different with him. I feel like I can be myself and not be judged. He’s really pushed me to try new things. It’s hard to explain. I guess I just don’t want to lose that.”
“Hmm. Well, it’s true you’ve become more empowered since you met him, if that’s the right word. You are different -- willing to try new things. I think that side of it is great. But, what about getting out there and meeting other guys? If you keep hanging out with Clark, who is either too stupid or too stubborn to see what a great person you are, how are you going to meet other guys? God, I knew I should have made you come with us last night. Then, you wouldn’t have to deal with all of this.”
“No,” I shook my head. “If this was going to happen, what does it matter if it happened now or later?” I packed the rest of my clothes and zipped my bag shut before dropping it on the floor next to the bed.
Michelle gave me a curious look. “What are you going to do, now?” she asked.
I sighed and plopped down on the bed next to her. “I don’t know. I really can’t think.”
She turned to me. “Why don’t I ask Zach if he has any cute friends he can set you up with? You need to at least go out on a date with someone!”
“Oh, God, no. Please don’t. That would be humiliating. Let’s see if I can figure this out on my own first. If I get desperate, then I’ll let you know.”
She smiled. “Okay. But, you’d better act fast before I change my mind.”
“Fine. But, give me a chance first, okay?” The last thing I needed was another attempt by Michelle to set me up.
“Great.” Michelle stood up, looking at the clock on the bedside table. “I guess we’d better get going. The train will be at the station in half an hour, and with mom’s driving, we’re liable to be late.”
I laughed. “See if Dad can take us.”
“He’s not much better, but I’ll ask.”
She left the room and raced down the stairs. I could hear her yelling for my dad, who most likely was still on the back porch with Zach, discussing finance or sports or some other such guy stuff. I gathered my things and headed downstairs to find everyone congregating near the door.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you?” my mom was asking.
“No, mom, really. Dad can do it.” Michelle’s eyes were pleading. I could tell she was anxious to get going.
“We’ll be fine, mom.” I said. “Thanks for everything.”
“Well, it’s not as if you’re that far away. You know you can come home whenever you want. Your dad’s classes will be starting and it’s going to get a lot more peaceful around here -- for me, anyway.”
I smiled. I was sure my mom couldn’t wait for my dad to get back to the college and out of her hair. Giving her a hug, we made our way out to the car and took the fifteen-minute drive to the train. The platform was crowded with people returning to the city, and I hoped there would be seats on the arriving train.
We said goodbye to my dad and purchased our tickets on the platform. Luckily, when the train arrived, we managed to find three seats fairly close to one another. I tossed my bag on the overhead rack and settled into my seat next to the window. Michelle and Zach sat across the aisle, Michelle leaning over and snuggling into Zach’s arm. I felt a momentary pang of jealousy, but I was glad to see her so happy. I dug a novel out of my tote and began trying to read it. It had been on the bestsellers’ list for weeks, but I’d never gotten around to starting it. I was determined to plow through a large part of it before we got back to the city. I hoped that it would keep my mind off of the events of the previous night.
After about fifteen minutes, I realized that I’d read the same page three times. Sighing, I closed the book and put it back in my bag, giving up. My mind kept wandering back to Clark. I reviewed our conversations for about the thirtieth time, trying to figure out what I’d missed. I stared out the window, only half seeing the scenery and the people getting on and off the train. After what seemed like a lifetime, but was probably only an hour later, we pulled into Penn Station. There was momentary chaos as everyone stood up, grabbing bags and purses, hats and totes, parents screaming for their kids to keep up, laughing college kids, freshly tanned, all making their way out of the train.
I parted ways with Michelle and Zach and made my way to the subway to take me uptown. I was happy to be back. Even though I’d been looking forward to getting out of the city, there was always a slight thrill coming back -- recent events notwithstanding. The subway platform was hot, and I was sweaty and grumpy before a subway finally appeared. The train arrived, and I squeezed myself onto the crowded train of people headed home after the long weekend.
When the train arrived at my stop, I followed the throng of people out and up to the street. I couldn’t wait to get home and out of my sweat-drenched clothes. As I walked to my apartment, my mind began wandering again and I thought about the conversation I’d had with Michelle. She was right. What was I going to do?
I was still pondering that question when I arrived at my building. Grabbing my mail, I climbed the stairs to my apartment. The answering machine flashed. Four messages. I hit play on the machine as I flipped through the mail. The first message was from Charlotte and Emile, wanting to catch me up on Emile’s new class schedule and wondering when I was coming out for a visit. The second message was from my mom. She said she hadn’t wanted to bother me on my cell phone but just wanted to make sure I’d made it home okay. As I tossed the rest of the mail on my desk, I made a mental note to call her back before it got too late.
I was ready for a shower, but I decided I wanted to get a jump start on my emails before heading into work the next day. I leaned over and flipped on my computer as message three started to play. It was from Jim. He’d called to see if I’d had a good weekend and to make sure we were still on for lunch that week. Good ole’, Jim, I thought, laughing to myself. Always reliable.
I sat down at my computer and started clicking as message four started. I stopped short. Mike -- again. It looked like he wasn’t going to give up so easily. I sighed and sat back in my chair. I figured I had to make some sort of decision. I mean, I’d been putting him off for so long. I realized I’d been waiting to see what would happen with Clark. But, it was time to face it. That was going nowhere. I had to move on. The question was, to where?
The computer screen flashed in front of me, startling me out of my reverie. I saw that I had fifteen emails, which wasn’t so bad for taking Friday off. Most of them were junk. One from Smith, with some last-minute ideas about the Seldrige Sporting Goods campaign, and a couple from the ad team. I hammered out some quick responses before giving up and heading into the shower. I hoped I could wash away the day -- the weekend, even -- and start fresh. I needed something new.
I peeled off my clothes and got in the shower. I always had my best ideas in the shower. I made a mental list as I lathered the shampoo in my hair.
1) It was time I made a final decision on the Mike issue once and for all. Granted, we’d had some good times in the past and it felt nice to be wanted. But, the truth was, he had left me for someone else. If I really truly loved him, I could see giving him another chance. But, did I want to take that chance?
2) I had to stop kidding myself about Clark. I could keep telling myself he was a friend until I was blue in the face, but the reality of it was, I knew I was falling for him. Out of anyone I’d ever met, I’d felt the most sparks when I was with him. The problem was he just didn’t feel the same way about me.
3) But, speaking of sparks, was it time to face the fact once and for all that The Spark Theory was truly a load of bull? Why was I still even thinking about it? It might work for people like Emile and Charlotte, my mom and dad, Michelle and Zach. But for me, it was a hopeless cause. Maybe it was time to move onto some new theory about love and life.
I finished my shower, wrapping myself up in a towel. Looking in the mirror, I ran a comb through my damp hair. That was the key, I thought. I needed something new. Everything I’d tried before had clearly been a failure. So, maybe it meant going a little out of my comfort zone. I could do that. Maybe it meant broadening my horizons. Yep, I was up for that. It probably meant even considering things I’d never thought of before. Okay, I was ready.
As I sat there thinking, it hit me. That’s exactly what I needed. Something new. I smiled as I picked up the phone to start making calls.