One Year Later
My life feels so different than it did almost two years ago. Where once a young, shy bookworm with little interest in anything other than finding the newest great love story or adventure in the pages of a book instead of parties and a social life, stands a different person. Sure, I’m still a bookworm, that will never change, but I’m no longer so shy, and I’ve come to appreciate a fun night out and meeting new people. Meeting Conrad brought me out of my self-made bubble, and it’s been the best adventure for me that I didn’t read in a book.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to find my own adventures a lot lately since Conrad went on tour almost a year ago. We try to see each other at least once a month, but it’s not always easy. He and his band have been touring all over the United States and even a few shows in Canada. Un-Classic Heroes has risen in fame since the beginning of the tour; they also got a number one hit on the charts. Needless to say that Conrad’s free time is few and far between. Even when I have been able to take a weekend to go see him wherever he is, there’s always somebody after his time as much as he tries to focus on our time together. I try to keep my frustrations about it to myself for the most part, though, because I know this is his dream, and I knew that this was going to be hard.
As for me, college life has been amazing. I enjoy my classes, my professors and even living in a tiny dorm room with a roommate named Narumi who likes to watch hours of Anime and tell me about why cats are the most amazing creatures to walk the earth, when she’s not hooking up with her boyfriend and locking me out of our room while he’s there. I usually take those opportunities to take my new laptop to a nearby coffee shop and study or work on another assignment. I’ve thrown myself deep into my schoolwork. I’m determined to make sure that Johns's generous gift to me wasn’t for nothing, I’ll make the very best out of this opportunity, and my grades have shown it. Now it’s already June and the first year is nearly complete.
I'm looking forward to this summer. Conrad has a one-month break in July, and our plan is to go to a secluded Caribbean island and spend some much needed quality time together. It’ll be paradise, just me, Conrad, white sand and turquoise water and little else.
The travel bug bit me after last summer’s excursion to Thailand with Desiree. The original plan was only to be gone for a month, but we ended up extending our trip and visited Malaysia and then Singapore. It was the most amazing experience of our lives and a great way to spend the summer before we headed off to our respective schools. Desiree is now living it up in New York City and loving every minute of it.
I’m excited because it’s Friday evening, and tonight I’m meeting up with Desiree at a bar just off-campus. I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, and I get to finally meet the guy she’s been dating for the past two months. All I know about him so far is that his name is Ivan; he’s a film student and aspiring screenwriter. Why it’s taken her so long to introduce me, I don’t know, but I have a feeling it was because she wasn’t sure about him yet, maybe that has changed, or I’m off in my theory.
I arrive at a place called Big Bernie’s, a popular sports bar not too far from my dorm, and Desiree’s favorite place to have drinks when she comes here to see me. I look around for Desiree, scanning all of the tables and booths, and finally spot her at a table near the center of the room. She spots me at the same time and waves me over. I rush over, and we envelop each other in a tight hug.
“Oh my god, have I ever missed you,” she says to me.
“I’ve missed you too, Des,” I say, squeezing her tighter, her scent makes me feel a little homesick.
Desiree lets me go and turns toward the guy that has stood up and waits patiently. He’s about six feet tall with blond hair that peeks out from under a Yankees cap. He has broad shoulders and a friendly smile.
“Syd, this is Ivan. Ivan, Sydney,” she waves between us with a massive grin on her face.
“Nice to finally meet you, Ivan. I’ve heard good things,” I say to him, reaching out and shaking his hand.
“You too. Desiree talks about you so much I feel like I already know you,” he replies with an easy chuckle.
We all sit down, and Desiree waves a server over.
“We’ll take a pitcher of the draft,” she orders, and I make a face, “oh, and a vodka seven with cranberry. Don’t worry, Sydney. I haven’t forgotten you like those sweet drinks.”
“Hey, you used to drink them too,” I point out.
“Yeah, but draft pitchers are cheaper.”
“I’ll get this round,” I offer.
“No, I got it, please, I insist,” Ivan says.
After our drinks arrive and some chitchat about school, I’m trying to figure out what to talk about first. Desiree beats me to the punch.
“So, have you spoken to Conrad lately?” she asks.
“I got to talk to him on Monday,” I tell her.
“Wow, Monday? How are you dealing with that?”
Desiree knows it’s been pretty tough on me not being able to talk to or see Conrad very often. I don’t say it, but I know she knows. I shrug.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s just how it is for now.”
“I can’t believe you’re dating Conrad Riley of Un-Classic Heroes. That’s crazy. What’s it like dating a rock star?” Ivan asks, looking slightly awestruck.
I look at Desiree, and she shakes her head.
“Sorry, I should have warned you that my boyfriend is a fan of theirs,” she says, sounding slightly annoyed by this. I suppose it’d be weird seeing as her ex-boyfriend is their lead singer. I wonder if Ivan knows this and decide to ask her later.
“It’s not glamorous or anything. It sucks never being able to see your boyfriend unless it’s on television or a magazine,” I tell him.
Ivan nods sympathetically.
“I guess it would be. I bet you’d also have to be pretty trusting, too, huh?”
Ivan gives me a look like it’s obvious.
“Your boyfriend is a rock star, and I’m secure enough in my masculinity to say that it’s obvious he’s a good-looking guy. I’d bet he’s got chicks throwing themselves at him every single day and night.”
Desiree’s eyes go wide, and she reaches over and smacks Ivan on the shoulder then.
“Shut up, you dummy,” she chastises him.
“Sorry, but it’s the truth, yeah?” he asks, flinching away from another assault.
“I trust him completely,” I tell him confidently because that is the truth, “I know that is probably what happens a lot, but I have total faith and know that Conrad isn’t interested in that type of thing.”
“Well, that’s good then,” Ivan nods and takes a long swig of his beer, and Desiree sends me an apologetic look.
“So, how did you two meet?” I ask Ivan, turning the conversation away from my love life. Desiree already told me they met at a party, but I want to hear his side of the story.
“I told you we met at a party,” Desiree says.
“I enjoy a good story. You know that” I say, looking at Ivan, “and I hear that you’re a good storyteller?”
“We met at a Frat Party. Desiree was dancing with some bozo who got a little too handsy. I got to be her hero and saved the day.”
“Ivan came over and pretended to be my boyfriend,” Desiree adds, looking at him dreamily.
“I never get to be the hero,” Ivan adds, “I’m usually the bozo, but I was having a lucky night, I guess.”
“He was such a gentleman,” Desiree says.
“I try, but I usually fail and come across as an asshole.”
“No, you don’t,” Desiree disagrees and leans over to kiss him.
“Maybe I’m just the right type of asshole for you,” he quips, and I can’t help but laugh.
Desiree looks so happy, and I’m glad. It took a long time for her to get back to normal after Harrison broke her heart. Three months into the band’s tour, Harrison broke up with Desiree over the phone after a show in New Orleans. Desiree heard a girl talking to Harrison in the background, and she said from what she could make of it, it wasn’t innocent. I asked Conrad about it later, and he confirmed Desiree’s suspicions. Harrison got caught up in the lure of all the female attention.
Conrad and I ended up fighting over it because I was angry that he hadn’t told me what was going on, and Conrad argued that it wasn’t his place to get involved in Harrison's relationship. He did say that he was the one to convince Harrison to do the right thing and end it with Desiree because it wasn’t fair to her. I suppose he couldn’t tell me if it were to cause tension within the band and they have to be together every single day, but still, I didn’t like it.
Sometime later, I decide that I like Ivan. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy and is super funny. He and Desiree have great chemistry, and the back and forth between them is so natural. Desiree is always laughing, and Ivan looks at her like she’s the most beautiful girl in the room. As happy as I am for her, though, I can’t help the small amount of envy that bubbles up inside of me. I miss Conrad so much; I wish he were here with me, not across the country. The fact that this is how it’s going to be for us for the next three-plus years until I’m out of school makes it that much harder to swallow.
Ivan excuses himself to go to the restroom allowing me to talk to Desiree privately.
“So does he know that you used to date the lead singer of Un-Classic Heroes since he’s such a fan?” I ask her without preamble.
She nods once.
“Yeah, he does. At first, he seemed a little intimidated by that, but I assured him that there is nothing to be worried about. I realize now that what Ivan and I have is far deeper than what Harrison and I ever had. With Harrison, it was mostly just physical, but looking back, I see that that’s all it was. I thought it was more, but there wasn’t much substance there. With Ivan, we actually have conversations, and he challenges me, and I challenge him, and he likes it.”
“You seem happy, Des, and I’m happy for you,” I say.
“I am happy. Happier than I think I’ve ever been. I love New York City, just like I always knew I would. I feel at home there. And how about you? How are you holding up?”
“Well, I love the school, as you know, but I don’t think I feel like it’s home for me. Right now, I feel like it’s just a bridge I have to cross before I get home. I don’t think I’ll feel at home until I have Conrad with me again, and I know that is a long way off.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Syd. I wish I had something constructive to say, but I can say this; when you do finally reach the end of that bridge, and you, and Conrad can be together, you’ll know that all of this will have been worth it. You guys keep fighting for what you have, and that’s something special.”
“I think you’ve helped me more than you think you have,” I tell her, fighting off a prickle behind my eyes, “It’s nice to hear that bit of reassurance.”
“I’d like to think that I’ve gained a little wisdom in this past year,” Desiree says with a laugh.
A few more hours and drinks later, Desiree and Ivan walk me back to my dorm before saying goodbye. They catch a cab back to their hotel for the night. We’ve got plans to meet up for lunch and whatever else the day brings us tomorrow since it’s supposed to be warm. I feel tipsy but not drunk, thank goodness. I stopped after four drinks and started on the water to Desiree’s disappointment, but I’m still feeling tired. It’s been a long week, and I’m looking forward to going to bed tonight. I hope to god that Narumi doesn’t have her boyfriend over for a sleepover again, despite my many protests. They always think they're quiet, but they're not, and it’s so incredibly awkward when I always end up sitting in the common room until they finish and go to sleep.
I check the time just as I reach my door; it’s twelve-thirty a.m. I unlock the door and am relieved to find Narumi’s side of the room empty. I breathe a sigh of relief, but it’s caught in my throat when my eyes focus on my side of the room. Sitting there on my bed is Conrad.
My brain barely processes the information before I’m already across the room and tackling him. He catches me in his arms and holds me tightly.
“What are you doing here?” I half sob, happy tears rolling down my cheeks.
“I had to see you,” he replies as I lock my arms around his neck and kiss him hard.
“How’d you get in here?” I ask between kisses.
“Your roommate let me in. She didn’t seem eager to leave so I paid her off. She’s off your hands for the night,” he says with a slight smirk.
“Thank you. Oh my god. I can’t believe you’re here. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I miss you too, Syd,” he says, brushing his thumbs across my cheeks, wiping away the dampness still there.
He sighs deeply and his eyes are serious and melancholy.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, sensing his mood.
Conrad’s jaw tightens as he pulls away from me. A growing sense of dread starts to creep its way into my chest.
“What’s going on?” I ask, my voice a bit shaky now.
Conrad runs his hands through his hair and sighs again. I swallow hard and wait. I just know that whatever he has to say isn’t good, and I brace myself. My mind starts to conjure possibilities, the worst being that he’s cheated on me, or something like that. The thought of him touching somebody else causes bile to rise in my throat.
“Did you sleep with somebody else?” I whisper when he still doesn’t say anything.
His eyes go wide.
“No, I did not sleep with somebody else, Sydney. I would never and could never do that to you. I love you, nothing has changed there.”
Relief, so much relief!
“Then what is it?” I press, “You look terrible.”
I finally notice that he looks different. He’s got dark circles under his eyes, and he just looks all around exhausted.
“I’m so tired, Syd,” he says, “but I had to come here tonight because we need to talk.”
“Okay, that doesn’t sound ominous or anything.”
“I’m sorry. What I’m about to do… I don’t know how to do it, and I don’t want to.”
“If you don’t want to, then why do it?” my voice trails off.
No, no, no.
“I have to do it, Sydney. This isn’t going to work, this isn’t fair to you, me being gone all the time, and I don’t see it getting better.”
“You… you’re breaking up with me?” I gasp, and the tears start anew, but they are far from happy tears. I swear I hear my heart shattering. Tears begin to form and fall from Conrad’s eyes too.
“I’m so sorry, Sydney,” he says, his voice catching, “I know this seems sudden, but we’ve barely seen each other in the past year and I don’t see me having more time in the near future, and it’s unfair of me to expect you to put your life on hold waiting for me to have more time.”
“I don’t care if I only get to see you once a year, Conrad. I don’t want to break up because of it!” my voice rises.
Conrad shakes his head sadly.
“I can’t do it. I can’t let you do it. You need to make the most out of your time here and experience everything that college and life has to offer. You’re so young Sydney, there is so much out there for you to experience that you haven’t yet, and I can’t hold you back, and that’s all I’m doing.”
“No! You push me forward,” I argue.
“No, I think you go through the motions, wishing it over so that we can finally be together. But what happens when you finish and find out that I’m still not able to give you what you waited all that time for? You’ll resent the fact that you wasted all this time in college waiting for nothing.”
“No, you’re wrong…” I feel him slipping away, and I don’t know what to do about it. I feel nauseated.
“I wish I were wrong, but I don’t think I am at this point.”
“So that’s it? Are you done fighting? You were the one who said we wouldn’t stop fighting for each other, and you’re giving up, just like that?”
“I’m not giving up, exactly. I’m releasing you.”
“I don’t want to be released, Conrad. I want you, forever.”
“I want to give that to you, Sydney, I do but our lives are heading in different directions, and I’m not sure when our paths will realign. You don’t think so now, but this will be a good thing for you.”
“For a smart man, you’re so fucking stupid!” I growl.
My queazy stomach, not able to hold on anymore, rolls. I have to run to my trashcan, and I throw up. Conrad is behind me in an instant, and I feel him touch my back, trying to comfort me, but I flinch away from him, angry and hurt, so hurt.
“I love you, Sydney, and because I love you, I have to let you go.”
“Then go,” I whisper, closing my eyes.
The last thing I want is for him to go, and I can’t watch him leave. When I don’t hear movement, I look up and he’s still sitting there next to me. The sadness and grief on his face cause me to start crying even harder, harder this time because I know this is actually happening, it’s really happening. Conrad pulls me into his arms, and I let him this time. I curl into a ball in his lap and he holds me tightly against him, rocking back and forth. I feel him kiss my hair and I bury my face into his chest, inhaling him for the last time.
I wake up the next morning in my bed. I don’t even remember falling asleep. For a moment, I think last night was all a horrible dream until I look over at my nightstand and see a note from Conrad, proving he was here, but now he’s gone. I grab the small piece of paper and read it.
I’m so sorry for putting you through this heartbreak. I love you and I always will, but I have to let you go. I can’t be what you need right now, and this isn’t fair. I can’t weigh you down when you should be moving forward. There is so much out there that you need to experience, and with me around, I fear that you will not get what you need out of your time there at Princeton. Someday, I hope you will understand. You will always be my muse, my sexy little bookworm, and my star pupil. Never forget me.
I crumple up the note and toss it away from me. I don’t think I’ll ever see why he thought this was the best thing for me when it’s the greatest pain I’ve ever felt. Nothing and nobody will ever compare to Conrad Riley.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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