When I was little, I left the window shades up when I slept. I had the luck to be able to live in the country, where there was little worry of people looking in on me while I slept, and where street lights didn’t steal the natural twinkle of the stars in the sky. I’d fall asleep counting them, one by one, and yet I never managed to be able to finish what I saw out my window.
Tonight, however, I closed the shades. He was an hour late.
I paced around my room and when that wasn’t enough space, into the living room. Luckily, my roommate wasn’t home to see how pathetic I was acting. Or comment on the ridiculous dress I was wearing. Renae had winked at me at dinner and forced me to promise not to change out of it when she heard he’d be coming over. It was sure to impress, she said.
If by impress, she meant embarrass, perhaps she was right. I adjusted the dress again as I had about every five minutes during dinner. It was a dimly lit restaurant and I’m sure nobody noticed, except perhaps the ladies at the table not far from our booth, who gave our entire group small dirty looks every time that they heard us talk too loud. And, for good measure, at least ten other times.
Besides, why was I trying to impress my ex-boyfriend, anyway?
My cell buzzed with a text, causing me to pause in my tracks. Good thing too, I was about to head to the kitchen, and lord knows that when I make it to the kitchen I won’t be pacing for long, and that’s because I’d instead be eating enough ice cream that I wouldn’t have to eat for another week afterwards.
Hesitantly, I walked back to my room and pulled my cell off the charger, finding Renae’s name highlighted on the screen along with a little picture of a letter, the same one that always popped up with every text I received. I flipped the phone open with my thumb, something done with ease after the four years the phone had been in my possession.
Has he left yet?
I sighed. No, no he hasn’t. He hasn’t even been here yet.
But rather than responding, I ended up roaming through my phone, finding the text that started this mess. Maybe we’d miscommunicated? Maybe he was coming tomorrow rather than today? I skimmed through the messages and sighed.
Nope, there it was.
Hey! Any chance you still have my hiking gear? I’m going to need it here soon.
Following after, small talk. ‘Yeah, I got a job at a resort out in the hills and I’m going to want to hike while I’m out there.’ ‘Oh you’re free after 5 tomorrow? Cool. I’m free after 7- just got a dinner with my girls.’ An agreement was made. He was supposed to be here at 8, and it was now 10pm. My baggy t-shirt and bed were calling my name, even though I never go to bed this early.
My phone beeped again, and a text appeared, again Renae, though I hadn’t responded. I have wine and a movie ready whenever you give me the go-ahead. Could she see me panicking right now? It was like she could read my mind. I decide to respond:
He’s not here yet. Think he ran into bigfoot on the way here?
I giggled to myself, though it wasn’t really that funny.
As I set down the phone, I saw a teacup on the desk and decided that perhaps dishes would be a good way to occupy my time. And perhaps tea would also calm the nerves. Reaching out, I grabbed the teacup, fumbling it only a moment before lifting it and carrying it with me to the kitchen. I strategically kept my eyes away from the freezer, set down the teacup, and adjusted my dress again.
Just as I put the kettle on heat, I heard a knock at the door.
Though this was what I’d been waiting for, my stomach dropped. I hadn’t seen Darren in three months, since we’d broken things off. And by “we”, I really mean “he”. While things hadn’t been perfect to me, I’d been content to work things through with him. After all, we’d been together a year. Shouldn’t a year be long enough to be comfortable talking things through? Apparently not.
At least he’d had the decency to tell me to my face, even though it was sudden.
I took in a deep breath and walked out of the kitchen and toward the door, trying to remember all the advice given to me by my friends over dinner. Manhattan’s comment stuck in my head as I reached to open the doorknob: “You know, most people aren’t still attracted to their exes after a while. Like, they kind of wonder why they even dated them in the first place. I’m sure you’ll be asking yourself that after you see him.”
I let myself be reassured, and I opened the door.
Manhattan couldn’t have been more wrong. My heart leapt a little at seeing him. His dark hair had grown out about an inch and curled slightly, just about reaching his shoulders. And, as if it were his default setting, he had stubble shadowing his defined jawline and a brilliant smile. I tried to smile back.
“Hey, Darren. Come on in.”
What other advice did my friends have for me? I was struggling to remember. That’s when my cellphone went off again in the other room, and I found myself stuck between running off after it to try and get away from him and standing my ground. He found his way through my doorway despite my obvious confusion, and set down a box of things on my table.
As he set it down, a little stuffed animal- a turtle- toppled onto my table.
It was the turtle that he’d bought me about a month into dating. It wasn’t anything special, but I’d been having a bad day and he’d come over with a growler from his neighborhood brewery and the little turtle to make it better. I’d never really had a thing for turtles til then. I gave it back to him when I’d gone home for winter break that year, claiming that he needed to take care of our adopted turtle. He’d not given it back to me since, and I didn’t mind because I was over there so often that it didn’t really matter.
It was a minute before I realized he was talking to me. I think he knew but he really didn’t care- because he shook me back to consciousness by enveloping me in a hug. Through my shock, I gently hugged him back. It felt awkward and unnatural, not like it had felt while we’d been dating.
“It’s good to see you, Cora.”
As he stood back from the hug, he brushed some of my long, dark curls out of my face. Out of habit. And then he blushed, and took another step away from me. I couldn’t help but blush too. “Yeah. It’s been a while.”
It wasn’t meant to be a harsh statement, but I could see the look in his eyes.
Damn, I needed to work on thinking before I spoke.
“So, new job, huh?” he asked, clearly eager to change the subject.
“Yeah, part time. I’ll be living at the resort three days a week and then here the other four,” I rattled this information off the same way I had to my friends a few days ago when I got hired. “I figure this’ll be good until I find a job I can use my degree for.”
“Yeah, and finally get some travelling in, adventure girl.”
I smirk and don’t reply, as I don’t really consider a resort a few hours’ drive away to be an adventure. To Darren, he’d be travelling a whole world away. He’d grown up in our town, Missoula, and he’d never left. Never really intended to either. It wasn’t hard to remember the frustrations of our conversations when I’d try and talk to him about my goals and ambitions. And suddenly, it wasn’t so hard to believe that we’d broken up either. I took in a deep breath, feeling my spirits lift.
“Anyway...” Darren wasn’t one to allow silence for very long. He walked around my place and looked it over as if he’d seen it before; which he hadn’t, as I’d just moved in a few days earlier after graduation. Then he continued, “what are you doing tomorrow before you leave?”
The tea kettle began to whistle and I ran off after it, using the time to think over his question. Clearly, he was about to invite me to something. Perhaps rebuilding friendship? That couldn’t be so bad. “I dunno,” I replied.
“If you have time, you should come to breakfast with my girlfriend and I.”
I know he said many words besides the one I heard, but there was only one I was focused on in that moment. Suddenly, I realized why he did the invite. It wasn’t really to invite me anywhere. It was to drop it in. The girlfriend bomb.
And I’d thought things were going better.
“Oh, er, maybe. I’ll have to double-check on a couple things.” Total lie.
But what was I supposed to say? I began to pour as he gave me some sort of response, along the lines of ‘just let me know’ and was careful to focus enough not to overflow my teacup. This proved to be suddenly a very difficult task. Girlfriend. When did this happen?
Not that it was really that much of a surprise. He’d admitted to being a serial dater.
Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to me that he might have moved on. More importantly, that he moved on more quickly than I did. I dropped a teabag into my cup and turned to face him, only to see a concerned look on his face.
“Are you alright, Cora?”
“Yes,” I replied, mid-sip, spilling a couple drops of tea on my chin. Ugh, why did I have to be so awkward. I rubbed it off with my dress sleeve; at least I’d managed to choose a dress that covered my arms even if it didn’t cover my legs. I’d forgotten what I’d been wearing and suddenly felt even more awkward. “I’m fine, really.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding. “Good.”
We stood there for another awkward moment, me sipping my tea, and him looking all worried about me. I just wanted him to leave. Would it be bad for me to make up some excuse? After all, wasn’t Renae coming over anyway?
On cue, my cell bleeped again. He mumbled something about me being popular as I finally decided to use it as an excuse to escape his eyes. I ignored the fact that the tea spilled just a little bit more on my dress and set the teacup down, reaching for my phone and unplugging it from its charger. On the phone were two texts, both from Renae.
The first one: Ass hole! He deserves to get eaten by a koala bear.
The second one: I’ve just been informed that I chose a bad type of bear. Didn’t really think that one through. Let’s pretend I said Grizzly instead. Is he finally there?
I laughed aloud and then found that Darren had followed me, looking at me quizzically. I decided that rather than mention her comments on bears, I would just let him know: “I have a friend coming over here soon. They wanted to know if they could head this way.”
“Oh,” he said, though I wasn’t sure he believed me. I could tell. He had that look on his face, a look that he had on far too often during our relationship. “Is that why you’re wearing that dress?”
He thinks I’m going on a date, I realized. And he was looking at it, as Renae had guessed, though it perhaps didn’t have the effect she wanted. “Oh, no. That was for dinner.”
Shrugging, he began walking toward the door. “I gotta go anyway. Hallie is waiting on me- I’m late, as you probably noticed. Let me know if you can make it to breakfast tomorrow.” He paused, and looked at me one more time before opening the door. “It really was good seeing you, Cora.”
I faked a smile in return. I wish I could have said the same.