The pulsating lights and the smell off booze and sweat usually sends me into a frenzy, but tonight I just don’t seem to find it in me to dance like there’s no tomorrow. Francesca seems to catch onto my weird mood, since she just dances with me instead of finding herself some hot man to grind against. When I want to go home way earlier than usual, she comes with me to my apartment and opens a bottle of wine, handing me a glass as she sinks onto the couch with me.
“Spill it, girl,” she orders. “You’re moping around like someone stole all your candy.”
I shrug and take a sip of chardonnay. “I’m just in a bit of a funk.”
“Then call one of your many fuckbuddies and have them screw you out of it,” she advices, wiggling her eyebrows. “Always works for me.”
“Not this time.” I’ve been thinking about calling Joshua just so I’d have someone to hold me tonight, but I know that’s not fair. I can’t give him what he wants. I should just leave him be. And I just don’t want to fuck some random dude I don’t even like. At least with Joshua there was a real connection there, even if it wasn’t enough.
“What’s going on with you?” she asks with a frown. “You’re never this depressed.”
“I thought… I thought I saw Melchior today.”
“Oh shit.” Francesca’s eyes widen and she puts a hand on my knee. She never met my ex since he was already well out of my life when she and I met at Giovanni’s, but I’ve told her the basics. He wooed me, made me fall in love with him and then started abusing me. Not sexually – never, not even when we were at our worst – but he hit me. Bit me. Threw me around his apartment. Choked me. Kicked me. And still, I loved him. And then he left me, leaving me missing him even though he wasn’t good for me.
“It wasn’t him,” I say softly, looking down at my trembling hand clutching the glass. “I just… it felt like I was back there, back to that summer after graduation, back in his apartment. It just all came rushing back to me, even though I haven’t thought about him in a long time. It was like I was 18 again.”
“Yeah, emotions work like that,” Fran says with a sigh. “You can only push them down for so long.”
I shrug. “Maybe.”
We sit on the couch in silence for a long time. I’ve got so many thoughts swirling around that it hurts, but I don’t voice of them. Joshua, Dshawns, Hollister, Melchior… they all turn into one person, an angry dark shadow, yelling at me that there’s something wrong with me. That I don’t have it in me to make someone truly love me.
“Hey,” Francesca says softly when I start crying. “Oh, girl, come here…” She holds me for a long time, stroking my back. “At least you know what love feels like,” she whispers, sounding just as broken as I feel. “Even if it was all fucked up, at least you loved someone.”
I let out a shaky laugh and lean away from her. “Please don’t say something stupid like better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”
“Please, since when do I quote Shakespeare?” she replied, rolling her eyes.
“It’s actually Lord Tennyson,” I tell her with a smile. “Fran, what you just said… have you never been in love?”
She nods in affirmation. “I’ve never been in a real relationship, never loved anyone. I’ve liked guys and felt like I might be able to fall for someone, but they all left before I could get to that point. So yeah, I think you’re lucky to have had relationships in the past that lasted long enough for you to fall in love.”
Hmm. I never thought about it like that. My relationship were all back when I was a teenager, but I was in love back then for sure. I met my first boyfriend at 14, and he took my virginity at 15. We only lasted a few more months after that, but he was good to me. And then I had another boyfriend when I was 16, which lasted for over a year. And then I had a few dates, had sex with two more guys, but didn’t have another relationship until I met Melchior, a weeks before graduation from high school. He was 21, had his own apartment, worked in his father’s company, and I fell so hard that I couldn’t stop it. I basically moved in with him during that long, hot summer. And for a while it was all great, until he showed his truly colors. If it hadn’t been for college starting and Caroline insisting that I move into the dorms with her, I’m not sure if I’d ever have gotten away from him. We lasted for a few more weeks before he broke my heart, hit me for the last time and took off to work for an oversees division of his dad’s business.
I don’t feel lucky that I had to through that relationship with Melchior, but Fran is right. I do know what love feels like. And that’s exactly why I know that she’s not missing anything. Love is fucked up and makes you put up with things you never would in your right mind.
Christmas is still two weeks away, but the whole town already looks like the inside of a sparkling snow glow. Everywhere I look, things are listening and twinkling. It hurts my eyes.
“Thanks for agreeing to meet me.” Dshawn looks at me with an unsure smile on his handsome face. “I was scared you were going to break your promise to help me, to be honest.”
“Me too,” I say truthfully. “But here we are.”
We’re sticking to the rules of no kissing, no touching and no meeting up at our apartments, so here we are, in a restaurant that is decorated so profusely that it looks like… well, like Caroline’s place, to be honest. She’s coocoo for Christmas. It’s one of her least attractive personality treats. I don’t like things that glitter all that much.
“Yeah, I know, it’s hideous,” Dshawn says when he sees me looking around with a scowl on my face. “But the hot coco is nice here and it’s close to something I want to show you.”
“Show me?” I ask, already intrigued. “What is it?”
He grins. “I’m not telling you yet. First, we’re going to work on the business plan. I did some research, and…” Just like last time, he gets all excited, talking about all the new ideas he has.
I take my phone out and open the document from last time, typing away at my phone while he talks. I ask the occasional question, but it’s mostly him talking. After an hour, he takes a deep breath and gives me a shy look.
“Yes?” I ask, wondering what’s on his mind.
“If you give me your e-mail, I can send you all my financial stuff. Payment slip, bank statements, all that.” He pulls out his phone and types in my e-mail before hitting send.
I open the documents and try to keep a very professional and blank look on my face as I read through it all. His salary is really good – I get why he keeps working as an IT guy even though he doesn’t like it – but his savings account is a little on the empty side. In fact, I’ve saved up a lot more than he has.
“Any debts?” I ask him, glancing up from my phone. “Student loans?”
“Yeah…” Dshawn says in a tight voice. “It’s pretty bad actually.”
Well shit. Did I seriously spend all my time on helping someone with crippling dept? There’s no way he’ll ever get a loan that way.
“There’s the two grand I own that drug lord,” Dshawn goes on. “And of course my raging gambling addiction.”
“Haha, so funny,” I reply, grinning. He totally had me there for a moment. “For real now, please. Student loans?”
“No,” he says proudly. “Put myself through school and managed to get it all taken care of.”
“Wow.” That’s pretty impressive. “Did you have a scholarship?”
“Yeah,” he admits. “Athletic scholarship. Swimming.”
“Swimming?” I repeat. “I’ve never seen you swim!”
He laughs loudly. “Shaughna, we only saw each other at parties back then. You’ve never seen me do anything but dance and drink.”
“And fuck Caroline,” I add.
He rolls his eyes. “You never actually saw that,” he says.
“I heard it,” I tell him, remembering that one time they were especially loud with me in the next room. Caroline is a lot of things, but quiet isn’t one of them.
“Oh God,” he grunts, hiding his face behind his hands. “And here I was, thinking that showing you my financial situation was going to be embarrassing. This is even worse.”
“Yeah,” I tease, “it really is.”
We both laugh, but then he grows serious again. “I know that I haven’t got a lot of money, and I also realize that I’m probably not going to be getting a loan any time soon. Maybe in a year or two, I’ll have saved up some more money and I’ll have a better chance at making my dreams come true.”
“To be honest, I agree that you’re not getting a loan based on a business plan – no matter how good – and your financial statements alone,” I agree. It sucks to be the one to tell him this, but he wanted me to give it to him straight. “But… you’re only 26 and at least you know what you want. That’s more than I can say. So how about we meet up in two more days to start turning all my notes into an actual plan?”
He nods. “Perfect. But first… I’ve still got that surprise for you, remember?”
He helps me into my coat and holds open the door of the restaurant for me. It’s cold out, so I pull out my mittens, which he laughs at. To be fair, they are pink and have pictures of kittens on them, so they are pretty silly. Francesca gave them to me for my birthday two years ago. We walk a few blocks, until he suddenly stops and points to a building across the street. It’s an old office building that is now closed off and it looks like a haunted house, to be honest.
“Behold… The Palace,” he says, his voice full of wonder.
I stare at the crappy place for a minute, frowning. But then he starts explaining what he would turn the place into, where the entrance would be, and I start to see what he is saying. There’s a small restaurant next door that went out of business a few months ago. It looks just as sad as the office building, but it would be the perfect place for the fast food place he wants to open.
I cross the street and peer into the windows, trying to imagine people sitting there in boots, scarfing down pizza and burgers to soak up all the alcohol they just consumed. To my surprise, it’s pretty easy to do so. And the location works as well. There are no residential houses nearby, so no need to worry about noise pollution.
“Of course my dream doesn’t depend on this location,” Dshawn says, his eyes shining brightly and his breath creating little white puffs in the cold air. “But… it’s a start. A possibility.”
“It’s amazing,” I assure him. “Do you know if these plays are for sale? Or for rent? Because depending on what the price is, we could start to see if we could finance this sooner than two years from now.” I notice that I’m saying we, like I am a part of his dream. “You, I mean.”
He doesn’t even notice my slip-up, since he’s way too excited. “I don’t know. I don’t even know who owns these buildings.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure I can find out,” I assure him, already typing away on my phone so I won’t forget any of the things I need to do before I see him again in two days.
When I stuff my phone back in my coat pocket, I notice that Dshawn is standing a lot closer to me than I thought he was. Still piped up from his plans, he grabs my hands and squeezes them tightly. There is nothing romantic about the gesture, but I still feel goosebumps appearing that have nothing to do with the cold.