College Crush

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2.

I lay on the sofa in the living room, scrolling through the television channels for a new show to watch. Tom walks in and puts his jacket down on the counter.

“When did you get home?” he asks.

“About an hour ago,” I murmur with the remote in my hand.

“You didn’t start dinner or anything?”

“I figured we could order in tonight.”

“We’ve done that for the last eight nights now, Lori. We’re supposed to be saving for our wedding. We’ve got a kitchen full of groceries here.”

“Okay? Then why don’t you cook something?”

He sighs and I can tell he’s annoyed. He only gets super quiet when he’s annoyed at me. It’s his strategy to avoid saying something that might hurt me. I’ve seen his words be very damaging... to others. But he’s always spoken with only the kindest words to me.

He joins me on the couch and I lay my head on his lap. He gently strokes my hair and asks, “What’s been going on?”

“I’m just tired from work is all.”

Again, he falls silent.

“Is that so?” He finally asks.

“Yes,” I respond, leaning up to look at him.

“Well, Langston gave me a call.”

“What for?”

“He told me you haven’t been contributing much lately... You haven’t written a sufficient article in almost four months.”

“So you two are talking about me behind my back now?”

“He’s just concerned. So am I.”

“This is honestly bullshit. I’ve known Langston for five years. Why didn’t he just talk to me directly about it?”

“Apparently everyone at that office feels you’ve been acting differently lately.”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I started taking the antidepressants, it dulled my creative ability entirely. It trapped me in an almost trance-like state of writer’s block. I didn’t tell Langston or anyone at work because I didn’t want them judging me. I didn’t tell Tom I was on antidepressants because I didn’t want to have to explain to him why. I toy around with the idea of opening up to him but I quickly decide against it. Tom is so cut and dry. A sweet man... but with such a weak sense of compassion...

“I’ve gotta get out of here,” I tell him, standing up.

“What? Why?”

“I just feel like if I stay here tonight we’re going to fight and I honestly don’t have the energy.”

“Where are you going to stay?”

“I’ll sleep at Opal’s.”

“With all her kids running around? Be rational, Lori.”

He takes my hand but I pull it away. I lean over and kiss his cheek, grab my purse, and head out locking the door after myself.

I have the most self-destructive tendencies. Pushing Tom away should not have come so natural to me but it did.

I drive to my friend Opal’s house. I met Opal at the market. We were both shopping for fruit and we reached for the same apple. At the time, she had a pregnant belly sticking so far out it looked like it might burst.

We shouldn’t have become friends. Two young women at totally different stages in our lives. Somehow, we hit it off.

I knock on her door and her husband, Jack, answers.

“Hey, Lori. We weren’t expecting you.”

“Yeah... I’m sorry to intrude but I need to stay with you guys tonight.”

I walk past him and find Opal in the kitchen. I give her a tight hug and she immediately asks me, “Are you fighting with Tom again?”

I roll my eyes and sit down at her table.

“Not really. I just wanted to relax tonight and he was bugging me about dinner and I just got kind of annoyed.”

“That’s no reason to walk off on him.”

“It’s reason enough. Be on my side for once about it, Opal.”

“It’s getting kind of difficult to take your side when I’m noticing you making problems in your relationship where there doesn’t need to be any.”

We stare at each other kind of tensely. Jack walks in and breaks the silence.

“So ladies, who wants me to bring home some pizza?”

We hear the shrill and excited screams of their adorable daughters from upstairs. Savannah is four and Samantha is six.

The girls run downstairs squealing the word “PIZZA”.

“Come with me, munchkins,” Jack says grabbing the car keys. “Let’s go get some pizza for everybody.”

Jack and the kids leave and once again, Opal and I are caught in a tense quietness.

“Are you guys at least alright in the sex department?” Opal asks.

“We haven’t had sex in months,” I finally tell her.

“Why not?”

“I haven’t been in the mood I guess.”

I lost my sex drive entirely when I started taking the antidepressants. It’s so strange... 23-year-old female with absolutely no libido.

I don’t feel like explaining that to Opal.

I thumb the engagement ring on my finger.

“Have you two set a date for the wedding yet?” she asks as she watches me play with my ring.

“No. Not even close. We keep coming with ideas and then nixing them.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure... It’s mostly my fault. I think I’m having doubts.”

Opal shakes her head and looks down. “Be careful, Lori. Tom is a really good guy. The rest of them out there are assholes, remember that. You snagged a good one. Don’t ruin it for yourself.”

“Heesh, you’ve been such a lecturer lately.”

“I’ve got bible study in the morning tomorrow. Would you want to come with me? It’s early enough that you won’t be late for work.”

“You know how I feel about that bullshit.”

“And you know how I feel about you referring to it as ‘bullshit’. Especially in my own home.”

“Well, then you really have to stop inviting me to church. It’s not my thing.”

“Well, how can you know if you’ve never given it a try?”

“I don’t have the energy to sit through an hour or two of some boring lesson on some boring words written in a boring book from over three thousand years ago. Everyone in that church is a hypocrite. I don’t need to surround myself with nonsensical bullshit.”

“Your angry atheist act is honestly so unbearable, Lori.”

“It is not an act. It’s what I believe.”

“Why would you want to be angry?”

“I grew up in the church, Opal. And I would never subject myself to that bullshit as a free-minded and logical adult.”

“I really do not appreciate you referring to it as ‘bullshit’. I don’t want to tell you that again.”

“This argument has gotten old and if you don’t mind, I’m just going to go to bed.”

“I wasn’t trying to argue with you, Lori. I just love you is all.”

“Yeah. Well, I love you too.”

“Goodnight.”

“’Night.”

I find my way to Opal and Jack’s guest room that I’ve grown so accustomed to and lay down to fall asleep.

I walk into the office building for The Daily Edict in the morning and sit down at my desk. I turn my computer on and stare at the screen as it loads. Langston comes out of his office and approaches me.

“I got your note from yesterday,” he says, “Come into my office. Let’s talk.”

I follow him and take a seat in front of his desk.

“So Bill covered your article for you. It’s been taken care of.”

“Great. I’m relieved to hear that... I was about to try and rush something to you this morning.”

“You know we prefer quality over deadlines, Lori... But the deadlines still need to be respected.”

“Yeah?” I ask. “And what else should be respected? Friendship boundaries maybe?”

I cross my arms.

“What are you referring to?”

“You. Talking to Tom about me behind my back.”

“Lori... First of all. I was just worried. I didn’t know what to do. You haven’t completed any work for almost four months and I haven’t changed your pay scale whatsoever. I can’t keep paying you to do a job that you aren’t doing.”

I look down.

He’s right. I have no argument for that.

“Look, we’ve been friends for five years now,” he tells me, “I knew you before I even knew Regina and before you knew Tom. You matter to me, Lori. I was just concerned.”

“Thank you for the concern. Can I get back to work now?”

“Of course.”

I stand up to leave but he stops me.

“I remember the nineteen-year-old Lori that I met in college lit class. The smiling Lori. Where did she go?”

I shrug and cross my arms again, without hiding my irritation.

“I always knew there was something dark going on behind that dimpled smile of yours.”

“Something dark?” I ask, my voicing starting to raise.

“Don’t get angry. I just meant… never mind.”

“Well… You shouldn’t assume things like that about other people.”

I leave his office, closing the door after myself.

I drive to Opal and Jack’s house after work. I sit down at their dining room table to attempt to get some work for The Daily Edict done. The twins, Savannah and Samantha, play with their dolls on the floor beside me. I watch them play and find myself reminiscing about when my sister and I were their age. We used to be just as close.

Opal sits down beside me at the table.

“When do you plan on going back home to Tom?” she asks.

“Is that your polite way of kicking me out?”

“Jack and I are planning to take the kids to Savannah’s ballet recital in a few hours and I was curious if you were going to stay here or not.”

“Why can’t I go to the recital with you guys?”

“The tickets sold out several days ago and up until now... I didn’t know you would be here.”

“Well…” I say slowly, “I’m not trying to impose on you guys. I suppose I could just head out.”

Opal takes my hand. “Don’t think I’m kicking you out, Lori. We really don’t mind you being here. Jack knows you’re my best friend.”

“It’s okay. I know I’m probably overstaying my welcome.”

I gather my things from their guest bedroom and drive to the pub near my place.

I order a drink and sit at a table in the far back to try and start writing.

I see Langston, Regina, and a couple of my coworkers from the Daily Edict walk in and head to the bar. They all notice me and wave. I wave back but secretly hope that they don’t try to come and sit with me.

Regina and Langston walk my way and I suck up my discomfort as they reach my table.

“What are you doing here?” Regina asks as they sit down across from me.

“Just trying to get some work done,” I respond, pointing down at my laptop.

“We’ve been bar hopping. This is our third one tonight. Caesar is already wasted,” Regina says pointing at our coworker who is sloppily seated on a bar stool.

I smile awkwardly. I’d rather be alone than try to force this conversation.

“What do you have written so far?” Langston asks me.

I spin my laptop around to him so that he can see my blank screen.

We all exchange awkward eye contact. My inability to produce any writing has clearly become a touchy topic.

The silence breaks when we hear Caesar throwing up and falling onto the floor.

Regina rolls her eyes. “Maybe I should get him home,” she suggests.

“I’m going to speak with Lori for a bit,” Langston tells her. She kisses him goodbye and smiles at me with a slight look of pity in her eye. She walks towards Caesar and pulls him up by his arms. Two of my other coworkers help her as she escorts him out to the parking lot.

Langston stares at me for a moment before sitting down across from me at my table.

He stares at me with these eyes of curiosity and intrigue, equally mixed with concern and sadness.

“What is it?” I ask.

“So I can’t look at you?”

“No… You can. I just don’t know why you are.”

“I’ve always liked looking at you.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you’ve got a pretty face. Duh.”

I cover my eyes with my hand and sigh.

“This desperate attempt to cheer me up is failing miserably, Langston.”

“I’m not trying to do anything. I was merely stating facts.”

My heart starts to beat faster. I’m not sure why… Langston and I have always been friends, and now we are friends who are engaged to other people.

He sighs deeply and then goes on, “You didn’t like me in college and it still sort of stings when I think about it.”

“What do you mean I didn’t like you?”

“Never mind. Just forget it.”

I stare at him with my mouth hanging open in irritation.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask, shutting my laptop roughly.

“College days. You never paid me any attention.”

“Actually, I did like you, Langston,” I say sternly correcting him, “And I think you already knew that. I figured our age difference wasn’t appealing to you.”

“First of all, I never knew that so chill. We’re only a couple years apart, why would you think that would have bothered me?”

“Well, then you met Regina. You fell for her almost overnight.”

“I wouldn’t have even been looking around to meet another girl back then if I’d known you were interested.”

I take a sip of my drink and avoid eye contact with him. This conversation has officially crossed the line.

“Regina and I have been having problems,” he finally tells me rubbing his forehead uncomfortably.

“About what?” I ask.

“Everything. Every fucking thing.”

“Are you guys going to be okay?”

He stays silent for a long time and says, “I don’t know.”

I reach across the table and gently touch his hand. I’m trying to be comforting but since I don’t want him to misunderstand, my hand slips away from his after only a couple seconds.

“You love each other,” I remind him in a calm tone. “It will be alright.”

He looks and me and nods as if he can fully trust my words. I wish I could trust my own words.

“Let’s call it a night,” I tell him, pulling my laptop onto my lap.

We walk outside and he pulls out his phone to order an Uber since Regina took their car to drive Caesar home.

“I’ll give you a ride,” I offer, pointing down the road towards my car.

We drive in silence until we reach his neighborhood.

“I’ve been having problems with Tom too,” I admit to him, as I pull up in front of his place.

“What kind of problems?”

“Well, it’s not Tom… he’s perfectly normal and fine. He’s doing everything right. It’s really just… me.”

“Wanna elaborate?”

“I guess I’ve been having my doubts… We still haven’t set a date or anything for the wedding. I wake up next to him every morning and instead of feeling happy, I feel like I can’t breathe. Like I’m suffocating… just by lying beside him. And I don’t know why.”

Langston unbuckles his seatbelt and leans over and kisses my lips suddenly. I don’t stop him but I don’t kiss him back either. My lips stay frozen together as he presses his against mine. He moves away from my unresponsive lips and kisses my cheek and then kisses down to my neck. His hand slowly trails up from my stomach to my boobs, and I finally say the word, “Stop.”

He sits back down in the passenger’s seat and takes a sharp, deep breath. Like he can’t believe what he just did. What he just tried to attempt…

I take a deep and sharp breath of my own because I forgot to breathe the entire time his lips and hand were caressing my body. And in those few seconds afterward, I struggle to piece together what just happened.

“I’m going to head inside and get some sleep,” he tells me, massaging the bridge of his nose with his pointer finger and thumb.

“Okay,” I reply robotically. Mechanically. Staring straight forward ahead of myself instead of turning to face him.

“Drive safely,” he says getting out of the car.

“Okay,” I say again, almost a whisper.

“Are you alright?” he asks, reaching for the car door handle.

“You… you shouldn’t have done that,” I respond, still staring straight forward.

“Well… I’ve wanted to for a long time.”

I watch him walk up the driveway to his front door.

Tom is waiting for me in the living room when I get home.

“How was Opal’s?” he asks.

“It was okay.”

“The kids? Are they okay?”

“Yeah, they’re okay.”

“Are we okay?” he asks.

“We’re fine,” I tell him, taking a seat beside him on the sofa.

He pulls me closer to him so that he can hold me. I feel completely relaxed and comfortable in his arms until his show on the TV ends. He gently turns me around to face him and he leans down to kiss me. I can’t reject him even though all I can think of is the fact that he is basically kissing traces of Langston off of my lips right now.

Tom pulls my body up onto the couch completely and climbs on top of me so that he’s between my legs. He starts kissing me more passionately and he takes my hand to feel his boner through his slacks. All I can envision is Langston’s kiss, my article deadline, and Caesar throwing up a cascade of colors onto the floor of the bar.

I yank my hand away and push him up by his chest so that he’s off of me.

“What?” he asks, sort of breathless.

“I’m just really tired and I’m not in the mood for this tonight. Can we just go to bed?”

He stares at me with the emptiest expression I’ve ever seen and then silently nods his head. He climbs off me and walks upstairs without saying a word. I fall asleep on the couch, feeling too lethargic to carry myself up the steps after him.

I wake up the following morning and look at the time on the corner of the television. It’s already 11 am. I’m four hours late to work and Tom is already gone.

I mentally debate whether I should show up to work super late and super apologetically or just meet Opal for lunch instead. I go with the second option.

“So, you’re just playing hooky today?” Opal asks as we sit down across from each other at a sushi restaurant.

“Yeah. I overslept. Which is strange because I barely even drank last night.”

Opal looks at me with concern and then scans her menu.

“What was that look for?” I ask her.

“Nothing. It’s just that…”

“Spit it out. Don’t beat around the bush with me.”

“Jack and I have been talking about it and we don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay over in the guest room anymore.”

“Are you fucking joking, Opal?” I ask.

“Not at all. And please don’t get upset.”

“Where am I supposed to sleep?”

“At your house. With Tom. Where you’re supposed to be. And if you’re truly unhappy with Tom, you need to give him back that engagement ring and move out of his place and stop wasting the poor guy’s time.”

“Has this always been your opinion of me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Sounds like you’ve been sitting on these thoughts for a while now.”

“Truthfully… I have.”

“I’ve gotta go,” I say standing up and grabbing my things.

“Lori, wait.”

I ignore her voice as I leave the restaurant.

I drive to the office of The Daily Edict and park my car. When I walk in, Regina sees me from her desk and gives me a disappointed look. So does everybody else in the office. I see a crowd of irritated and frustrated coworkers of mine, all staring at me.

I know Langston wasn’t idiotic enough to tell Regina that he kissed me but I know that the whole office has noticed how late I am. Even Caesar is sitting upright, focused, and typing away at his computer after his night of binge drinking and sloppiness.

I’m coming off as very unprofessional and I don’t know what to say to everyone to fix it.

I knock on Langston’s office door.

“Yes?” he asks.

I open the door and peek my head inside, “Can I speak to you for a second?”

“Yeah… Of course. Come in.”

I close the door and sit down.

“Do you want to discuss the events of last night?” he asks.

“I’d rather not. Not with your fiancé only fifteen feet away, you idiot.”

He shrugs. “We were drunk and I kissed you. You rejected my efforts. No big deal.”

“It is a big deal. We weren’t drunk enough to have been so thoughtless. We are not the cheating type. I’m not going to pin the blame on you alone because even though I didn’t kiss you back… I wanted to.”

He sighs and nods his head, “Well. I’m now starting to think that it was supposed to have been you and me all along.”

“But it wasn’t,” I tell him, sharply.

He cringes at my tone and then turns his attention away.

“You’re late. Where were you all morning?” he asks, clicking away on his computer.

“I overslept.”

“Have you started writing anything?”

“No. I haven’t. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, right? I’ve sort of become the office joke.”

“That’s because Calvin and Pauline and Bill have been doubling their workloads to make up for your lack of production.”

“Well… Maybe you should just start interviewing for a new journalist.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think I’m going to leave town for a little while. And I’m not sure how long.”

“So, you’re just up and leaving? Is Tom going with you?”

“I hadn’t even thought about Tom until you mentioned him just now,” I pause and glance out the window. “How sad… No, I don’t think he’s going to be coming with me.”

I stand up to leave and tell him, “I’ll see you around.”

“Please don’t disappear for too long,” he tells me. “I don’t care if you saw last night as some huge mistake because I didn’t. And I value every moment I have with you.”

“You should write that down and put it in a love letter to Regina. You always had such a beautiful way with words.”

“Touché, Lori. And so do you, by the way. The reason why we both graduated with English degrees, right?”

“We had our chance with each other and we squandered it. I’m ready to let it go and you should too.” I say my words firmly and decisively.

I leave his office, closing the door after myself.

Once I’m home, I start packing a suitcase with my clothing and essential items.

I pick up my bottle of antidepressants.

My antidepressants. The lovely drug that has swept through my mind, clearing out all senses of feeling and liveliness from my body. I step into the bathroom and pour the remainder of the bottle into the toilet.

Watching them swirl away down that watery drain makes me feel lighter for some reason. Better, somehow.

Maybe it was a risky move getting rid of them but I’m not anywhere near suicidal and I can reassess with my doctor about it in a couple of weeks.

I hear Tom enter the front door and I freeze. I thought I had more time before he was off work.

He walks into the bedroom and stares at me with wide eyes.

“Why are you packing?” he asks.

“I’ve decided I’m going to go visit my sister.”

“Your sister? The one you’ve always refused to talk about?”

“Yes. Lily. I’m going to stay with her for a few days.”

“Is this a planned trip or an in-the-moment kind of thing?”

“I don’t know, a little bit of both. I’ve considered visiting her for a while… Would you like to come with me?”

As soon as the offer of invitation escapes my lips I instantly regret it. I don’t want him coming.

He watches me fold and pack my things silently.

“No. Actually, I wouldn’t like to go with you,” he responds. “You’re not yourself anymore Lori. You’re not the girl I proposed to. You’ve become some sort of zombie. I can’t convince you to go out on a Friday night anymore. I can’t make you laugh anymore. Even the people at your job are concerned. You keep wanting to spend every night at Opal’s. We haven’t had sex in months! What kind of relationship is this?”

I sit down on the edge of the bed and take a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Tom. I really am.”

“I can’t lie to you anymore,” he finally says, turning to face the wall. “I’ve started seeing someone else.”

“What?” I ask as everything in my hands tumbles onto the bed. My stomach drops.

“I was feeling neglected and ignored by you when I started talking to her. With you, it’s like I’m trying to revive a corpse. You have no personality anymore… With her, it’s just different. She’s energetic and playful and funny…”

“Are you trying to rub this in my face?” I hiss at him.

“No. You know I would never do that… but maybe the two of us just aren’t what we thought we were anymore.”

“Clearly! We aren’t.”

I gently slide the diamond engagement ring off my finger and hand it to him. He takes it awkwardly and we both don’t say anything.

He stands in the doorway as I finish packing and then helps me carry my bags to my car.

We both stand together on the driver’s side of the vehicle and look at each other with concentrated eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he says again. “I really do love you.”

“And I love you. But if she makes you happy then… then I guess you should be with her.”

We hug each other tightly before I climb into my car. Tom shuts the door behind me. I start the engine and watch him as I reverse down the driveway and I can tell we both feel it so overwhelmingly…

The sensation of pure relief.

I begin my seven-hour drive to the rural town of Moon River where my sister lives as soon as I turn out of Tom and my neighborhood cluster of homes.

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