Friday, February 14, 2014

"Love" Stories on Valentine's Day

Hi guys! Happy Valentine's Day! Valentine's Day is a holiday that I don't really like but it's still fun to celebrate and enjoy the long weekend (although that's not due to St. Valentin). I have three intense weeks of tournaments and the mock trial season ended for me today. I went to the Bar Method and am working on my speech to celebrate the holiday of love. The workout was excruciating today. It seems that this Valentine's Day is also a Single's Awareness Day. . . it's really awkward when people ask what I'm doing and expect for me to say something about S. I get a lot of pity and "I'm sorry" responses. I just shrug my shoulders and try to laugh. It doesn't hurt if you don't think about it so much. Anyways, I wrote a story of 5 interconnected characters who all experience different sides of love. I hope you enjoy!

Prologue

Nicole Peterson sat behind her wooden table. Pictures of her fiancé and memorable students were hanging on the walls and the giant, ancient computer took up about half the space. She had been at Rosewood High School for five years now, teaching everything from computer programming to English I. Her fiancé was an engineer who worked in the bustling city of San Francisco. They were planning to get married sometime around next year, or at least that was what she told her mother. It was around five o’ clock and she stood up to make sure everything was in place. The agenda for tomorrow’s world history class was already written and she had finished grading most of last week’s essays. One more couldn’t hurt.

Nicole smoothed out the wrinkles in her skirt and sat down in the comfy chair once more. She loved her job a little too much. She pulled out a red pen from the little tin pail of writing utensils and grabbed the first essay on the rather thin stack of ungraded essays. Harper Marvin, she read. It was already January and she still sometimes called Harper Claire. Claire wasn’t a particularly outstanding student but there was something so uncanny about their resemblance. Claire was never seen without Steven, a delinquent to her knowledge. High school relationships were so fragile and so ethereal yet no one realized it until they reached middle age. Harper was always slinking around the hallways with her mouth pressed against Lawrence Sommers’. It was disturbing to see them together but there was nothing she could really do about it.

The essay was average, nothing particular. 84, she wrote at the top. Nicole leaned back and wondered when she would have another truly remarkable student again. She opened one of the metal cabinets and flicked through the stack of papers she never threw away. She managed to pluck out an old essay Camilla Benski had written her freshman year. Nicole had been blown away by the maturity and complexity of the ideas Camilla addressed. Camilla had always been a quiet kid but in recent years, she was really blossoming as a promising young person. Nicole always felt a burst of pride whenever she saw some campaign poster or club sign with Camilla’s name on it. She glanced at her wristwatch again. 5:20, it read. She was beyond late and scurried her papers together. There was a rapid knocking at her door.

“Come in!” Was it the janitors? She couldn’t think of anyone who was still here.

“Hi Miss Peterson! Is Mr. Deaton still around?” Nicole furrowed her eyebrows. It was the sixth or seventh time that Melanie Hoskins came by to ask about Mr. Deaton. She explained something about tutoring but Nicole couldn’t grasp why a student needed to be tutored at 5 instead of at lunch or in the morning. Melanie was wearing a low cut V-neck shirt and tight jeans. She wasn’t even carrying a backpack but Nicole didn’t say anything further. Perhaps they were just going over essays or some reading she didn’t understand.

“I always tell you this, but he’s in room 221. I don’t think he’s left yet.” David Deaton was also an extraordinarily hard working person. He just started working this year and she was personally happy to welcome him to their family of teachers. He was an English guy and sometimes he came around to ask her for help. A lot of the teacher were bitter that he was given seniors in his first year of teaching.

“Thank you,” Melanie said and rushed off in a hurry. Nicole sighed and locked her door. She remembered when David’s young wife would come around in the middle of the day to surprise him. They got married rather recently. She was a beautiful young woman that could pass for an actress. She was probably waiting at home patiently for her husband. Nicole exited the school and walked to the parking lot. Her own fiancé was probably waiting for her. She started the engine to her car and it made a soft purring noise.


Act I

Melanie Hoskins hunched her shoulders together as she ran in the pouring rain. She hadn’t expected it to rain and she was about ten feet away from the restaurant without an umbrella or a hooded jacket. The sky was a darkening purple and the her hair was aptly soaked with the cold, heartless tears from the clouds above. Her mother always accused her of being unprepared for life’s challenges. She shivered and regretted her decision to wear the new dress her mother bought her two weeks ago. She rarely went shopping, and almost never with her mother. “Wear it to a special occasion, Melanie. Wear it to that nice guy’s bar mitzvah. He seemed to really like you,” her mother had said while standing at the store counter. Her mother didn’t know anything about her life except for George, the nice guy who also happened to be their neighbor. She wasn’t interested in someone so normal, so plain as George. He was the guy who sometimes helped her fix a leaky faucet or borrow a book from, not exactly boyfriend material. The cashier gave her an apologetic look before scanning the dress and the other things her mother decided they needed. Melanie was tall and lanky with a boyish body. She owned maybe two dresses. She wasn’t into the girly feminine look most girls her age wore. She stuck to jeans and a t-shirt, maybe a jacket, and she had never been uncomfortable with the way she looked.

Melanie shuddered impulsively while replaying that particular memory. Her mother always wore too red of lipstick or curled her hair three seconds too long. She was the embarrassing type of person that teenage movies stereotypically used. But Melanie needed that new dress so she bravely stood there and endured her mother’s quips. It was all wet now and shiny tulle fabric stuck close to her skin. Melanie grimaced at her reflection from the outward window of the run down hamburger place. It was her first time here and she tried to save any dignity that she had left.

The doorbell chimed as she pushed the door open. One friendly face looked up at her and waved her over. An old man was the only other patron at this hour. He looked like he was nursing a beer. The restaurant was almost empty and the lights were dimmed. She stared at the little watch, tick tocking whilst strapped to her wrist. It was gift from her grandmother, who passed away three years ago. Nine thirty, it read. She was ten minutes late. They always met up in odd joints at late hours.

“Melanie,” he said as she walked over to his booth. His arms were folded together on top of the table and he was dressed in his work clothes--the blue tie she always admired and the brownish khaki pants with the faint ketchup stain. His motorcycle jacket was draped over his briefcase next to him. “I already ordered for you, the regular.” He smiled and she nodded in acknowledgement.

“Thanks, David,” she said with a little pause. “I didn’t know it’d rain.” He laughed before taking a sip of water.

“Have you done tonight’s reading yet?” She simply gave him a guilty look. She hated when he talked about English class or school during these precious moments together. They had met this year during AP English. He was a new teacher and she was an exceptionally bright student. Neither had meant for it to get so far. When they were together here, they didn’t meet as student and teacher but rather as lovers on equal standing.

“What did you tell Penelope this time?” She shuffled her feet and looked away from his intense gaze. It wouldn’t be one of their clandestine meetings without that question. Melanie had never met Penelope before. She didn’t even feel guilty meeting David behind his wife’s back but she was oddly curious about everything pertaining to Penelope. The waitress slid two plates of identical cheeseburgers and fries before leaving.

“I told her I was meeting a good friend from college.” David’s face was paler than usually. It was how he looked when the class wrote terrible essays or if no one read for the discussion. She was a straight A student facing a teacher who didn’t like her writing style. It had never happened before but he remarked that she was too sassy. There was only one thing she could do: she asked for special tutoring. Of course he thought she was a dedicated student who wanted to really improve herself. There was something alluring and forbidden about a classroom when the only people strolling the halls were janitors. She kissed him two months in and he could’ve done something, but he leaned forward and their relationship began. She hadn’t met for it to become anything more than a ploy for a higher grade, but something sparked between them. He was like the intelligent and handsome father she never had.

“What did you tell her two weeks ago?” They met at an apartment he sometimes rented in the shadier part of town. Melanie pushed her wet, hazel hair behind her ear.

“I said I was meeting my mother.” They exchange a nervous giggle. “What did you tell your mother?” David met her mother at open house once and already had the correct impression of her personality.

“I’m a meeting to discuss the state of the environment. How did you find someone so stupid, David?” He didn’t say anything and Melanie realized that she spoke out of turn. Usually he was in a better mood. “I mean, I’m sure there are more rewarding characteristics that she has.” Penelope was a short women only four years older than Melanie. She looked a little like a mouse from the photograph David had once shown her. According to him, she rarely said anything and wasn’t working. They were always childhood friends and neighbors. “Why don’t you leave her? I’m going to be in college soon.”

“UPenn right?”

“Yep,” she replied with a casual smirk. It was where he had graduated.

“Melanie, I invited you here to say something really important.” Melanie knew what was coming. She had suspected this moment would happen for a while, except it never did. She froze and dipped a fry in ketchup.

“You’re going to leave Penelope?” It was a serious question, but coming from her pursed lips, she sounded like a child. She sounded like a girl who didn’t know anything about the world. Melanie flexed her feet from inside the Doc Martins she picked up a month ago at the thrift store.

“You’re a beautiful girl with so much potential. You’re going to UPenn. You’re going to be the next Shakespeare, the next Dickens, the next Jennifer Egan.” She felt her eyes tearing up. She wasn’t supposed to be emotionally attached to him. She was supposed to be heartless and cruel. Melanie squeezed her eyes shut. It wasn’t fair that he was ending this. He needed her more than she needed him. Where was he going to get his inspiration, his motivation, his dedication to teach without her? With who else would he discuss the implications of the Great Gatsby whilst making love after a bottle of wine? Definitely not Penelope. Melanie leaned back and wondered what the appropriate thing to do was. Despite calculations, she had not expected this tonight. “I just can’t continue on with you.”

“Okay,” she said sucking in her breath. “Okay.” She waited for him to do something else, anything else.

“I’m still excited to see you in class every day.” Melanie simply nodded her head. He put on his jacket and hoisted his briefcase up. She watched him push open the door and leave. She watched him get in his crummy little teacher car and drive away. She watched the street without blinking until his car was no longer visible. She felt an odd sensation of hollowness inside. No one had ever managed to outdo her. No one managed to play by their own schedule. She was the playmaker, everyone knew that. Melanie sat there until the lone fry cook asked her to leave. She sulked and sat in her car until the neon light of the restaurant sign fizzled out. She gripped the steering wheel and pressed the gas pedal. The car made a purring noise that managed to calm her down.

“Who the hell are you to decide that?” She yelled out with her windows rolled down. The rain had stopped and the sky was a deep purple, the color of revenge.

Act II

Harper Marvin didn’t know she got so lucky. She wrapped the phone cord around her finger. No one had a landline anymore but she liked the vintage like nature of talking on the phone. Her typewriter was on the table beside her bed and she still collected vinyl records. That was just the type of person she was and Laurie Sommers seemed to respect that. Laurie was a quiet guy and she didn’t believe him when he said he was a senior.

“Who are you talking to?” Her older sister Claire, also a senior, always came in without knocking. She had just taken a shower but she had changed into almost the same thing she was wearing after practice. Claire was never seen in anything except athletic clothing. She was the fourth fastest runner in the state of California and going to Boston University on a full scholarship. It was fair to say that Claire was the darling of the family. Their mother even found Claire’s weird, slacker boyfriend Steven endearing.

“Ugh, Kuh-laire came in. I’ll call you back.” She hung up rather abruptly. Claire hated Laurie without stating much of a reason. Harper glared at Claire. There was only one person she talked to on the phone, especially the landline. She liked the fact that Laurie wasn’t always available and that he carved out special times to talk to her at. It was exactly like how relationships worked in the 60s.

“I told you not to associate with him. He’s a senior, Harper. You’re a freshman!” Harper figured that the only thing she had that Claire didn’t was a sociable, nice, charming, and attractive boyfriend. Claire had to win at everything but Harper wouldn’t let her take Laurie away from her.

“He asked me to be his girlfriend,” Harper said defiantly.

“Oh goodie, you guys can date for the whole two months before he goes off to college and meets another girl there. Didn’t I already tell you about Mia Benski?” Mia Benski was one of the most popular girls at their high school. She was a senior just like Claire and Laurie. She had a thing with Laurie and somehow because of him, she didn’t believe in love anymore, or something ludicrous like that. Harper couldn’t see how that related to the villainous nature of Laurie’s character at all.

“How many guys get girls flowers?” Claire rolled her eyes.

“Oh c’mon, Harper. Any guy can do that. That’s like textbook chick flick.”

“Exactly. Any guy can get a girl a bouquet of roses or daises or whatever. Laurie bought me four vinyl records and even found a new ribbon for my typewriter. He found an original Spiderman comic at some used bookstore. That takes effort. He obviously cares about me, Claire.” Claire froze. It was hard to dispute the evidence in front of her.

“Have you guys slept together yet?”

“Yet? Ew, Claire! No!”

“He’s trying to charm you, Harper.”

“We haven’t even kissed and now we’ve been dating for two months. I won’t let him charm me. I’m not stupid, like you are.” The air became tense and Harper looked away. That was a secret Claire had entrusted her a long time ago. Harper had promised never to tell her mother but it felt wrong to use it as leverage against her outwardly sweet sister. “Have you even told Steven yet?”

“I will, tonight.” Claire was visibly shaking.

“Laurie loves me, Claire. So what if I’m a freshman? I’m different from Camilla.”

“Anyways, I’ve got to go. I just wish you’d listen to me.” They parted ways with a bitter taste remaining in each of their mouths. Harper sat against the windowsill and redialed Laurie. He picked up on the first ring. He always seemed happy to hear her voice and always listened attentively to what she had to say. How could a guy like that hide a secret identity inside?

“So what did Claire tell you this time?” Laurie always found it amusing that Claire said such exaggerations about him.

“She just brought up Camilla again? Could you just tell me what happened? Claire makes it sound like you ruined her life.”

“Well for one thing, we dated for eight months in sophomore year. I’m not sure if I merit enough of a spot in her life. She’s probably forgotten all about me. We decided together to break up. She was really needy, Harper. Nothing like you. I needed some time to find myself again but she made it seem like I was the only one who needed a break. She kept messaging me and contradicting herself. I had to shut her out. I had to in order to move on. I really did like her and it was hurting me just to be around her.”

“I don’t think that’s the same as life ruining at all, Laurie.”

“Look outside your window.” She walked to the other side of the room and observed the rain pouring hard. The phone cord only stretched out so much and she stood about three feet away from the window. “Are you looking?” She put the phone down for a second to stoop over and look at the window. Laurie lived about ten minutes away and she saw his bike discarded in their grassy backyard. She hung up the phone and eagerly ran down the stairs to see him. He never did this. Their relationship was marked by the lack of spontaneous moments. He was sopping yet but she still hugged him close.

“I’ve missed you,” she said and felt her own sandy blonde hair bunching up.

“It’s been so busy lately,” he said with a little smile. He was the star of the baseball team and a huge public speaker. He had so many debate tournaments but he always made time for her. “I missed you too, Harp.”

“To what do I owe this surprise?”

“Can we go inside?”

“My mom is home, you idiot. She’d kill you in half a second.” she said with a gentle laugh. She hadn’t introduced him to her parents yet. She was still waiting for that right moment. They hadn’t allowed Claire to date Steven for the longest time; but Laurie was nothing like Steven. Laurie was someone who was going somewhere in life. She was lucky that he found her worthy of his attention.

“When are you going to tell her?” He nudged her shoulder. “I want this to be an official thing, Harper, something that I can post on Facebook.” She felt her face growing hot. She wondered how red she was.

“Soon, soon Laurie! I promise.”

“You’re the prettiest girl in this universe.”

“Laurie, you can’t just say something like that!” He always gave her lavish compliments and gifts. “What if someone, like Claire, were to hear you? What would you do then? You couldn’t –” He leaned in close and kissed her. She tried to protest but she realized she didn’t want this moment to end.

“I love you,” he whispered in her ear. Claire was wrong about everything.

Act III

Penelope Deaton typed up the last sentences of her weekly report and watched the rain fall. Stocks were up from last quarter and at this rate, she’d be granted a promotion. She was new in this town and had only agreed to settle here because David had wanted to teach in his old high school. It was close enough for her to commute to San Francisco but he wasn’t the type of guy to compromise on anything. They met in freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania and decided to marry after graduation. She was afraid that no one else would want to marry her and so she took the first chance she could get.

Penelope’s long streaming blonde hair was tied in a simple braid and she smoothed out her pantsuit. Her brother always joked that she was going to end up with an asshole being as pretty as she was. She said that David was different from all the guys she met in high school. David didn’t have the option of leaving her. She was too good for him, everyone knew that, even her brother. Yet, he was always scrambling around at late hours during the night and she even caught the scent of cheap drugstore perfume lingering around in the air after he came home.

She had lived on the East Coast her whole life and decided to move to the other side of the world. She landed a job that paid twice as much as David’s as a consultant to a large firm in the city. She loved her job and the unique environment that San Francisco provided. She only felt herself slipping away into a realm of depression once she came back to an empty home. It was just around the corner from where David lived through high school, a regular suburban house with a white picket fence and grassy lawn. Her cousin, Mia Benski, lived not too far from them. It was a small world.

She shut her computer off once she realized the clock read eight pm. There weren’t any missed calls from David. He was either out or expected her to come late. Being so dedicated to work was one of her few flaws. Recently, work became an escape from David. As long as she was working, there was no time or space to discuss the things that were wrong with their relationship.

Mia had told her how popular David was at school. “All the girls just love him,” Mia said. It was beyond obvious that he was having an after hours affair with one of his students. Penelope just didn’t know what to do. They had been married for exactly one year and a month. How could he already become bored with her? What in the world did she do wrong?

“Bye Clayton, bye Samantha,” she said as she checked out. They looked up from their desks for half a second and waved goodbye. The whole company was made up of people like her, people who couldn’t work enough to be satisfied. There was always more to do. She walked into the bathroom just before the building was locked up. Tonight, she’d make a conscience effort to be there for David. She’d listen to him complain about the students’ essays or the coworker that always brought Indian food for lunch. She changed into the strappy red dress she saved for a special occasion. She thought he might take her out for an expensive dinner or something. He didn’t.

She put her nice patent leather heels in her bag and slipped on the ones that looked like a deathtrap. She was already tall but with the heels on, she towered over everyone. David was the one guy who hadn’t been too short for the deathtrap heels. They were vestiges of her college life, a life she had mostly tucked away. She grabbed her BART card from the large red bag and proceeded to walk to the station.

Penelope sat alone, listening to the news on her phone, for the thirty-minute trip back to her suburban home. She reapplied her lipstick and mascara. For once in a very long time, she felt the nervous tingles of looking forward to going home.

“Where are you going?” She draped her business blazer over her shoulders. The guy in the seat in front of her leaned around and it was obvious that he was staring at her breasts. She wouldn’t say anything tonight.

“I’m going to see my husband.” The guy whistled. He was wearing a gray suit blazer, a dark navy button up shirt, and the brownish oxfords she wanted to buy for David. He had a briefcase in hand and she could just tell that he was an arrogant guy.

“He must be a lucky guy,” he said with a little smile. “How old are you?” She took the earphones out and paused the news broadcast. Never before had anyone talked to her while on the BART. It was her moment of clarity and musings.

“Twenty four,” she said with a broad smile. She had achieved a lot in her short twenty-four years of existence.

“Lawyer?”

“PR,” she casually said. It was obvious that he was a lawyer from the way he dressed.

“Let me buy you dinner.” How could a guy like him be interested in her while David wasn’t? David was a frumpy teacher who barely passed college. He became a teacher because law school was way out there.

“I told you, I’m going to see my husband.”

“You wouldn’t try that hard if you were going to see your husband.” He does have a point.

“I’ve just been working so much. I want to make it up to him.” That’s also true.

“It’s just dinner,” he said with a charming smile. “I’m Daniel.”

“His name is David.”

“And yours?” Penelope relented and decided to agree to one harmless dinner. She was already dressed for the occasion anyway. It was around eight thirty. She got off with him, two stops before her suburban home. She still felt remorseful and called him.

“Hello?” His voice didn’t stir any excitement or passion. Daniel was holding the umbrella over head.

“David,” she tried to say with a smile. She wanted Daniel to see that she had a functioning relationship, even if she knew it wasn’t true.

“Honey, I just wanted to tell you that I have dinner tonight with a friend from college. I’m not going to home until late,” his robotic voice said. She felt the hurt she felt the first time all over again. Didn’t he have any interest at all in saving the connection they once had? It was like she didn’t even know him anymore. She stared down at her reflection against the metallic surface of the rainy sidewalk. Here she was, all dolled up to see a husband who had already made plans. She wasn’t important to him. It was time she realized that. It was time she saw that there were so many more possibilities out there for a twenty four year old girl.

“Okay, I’m having dinner with a . . . coworker.”

“Penelope, we’re going to be late. C’mon,” Daniel said pulling her elbow. She heard, for the first time, some sign of human life from the other end of the telephone. She could picture David trying to understand who this deep voice belong to.

“Wait,” he suddenly said, but she had already hung up.

“What do you think would happen if I decided to get a job in New York? I always dreamed about that,” she asked as they walked into the restaurant.

“I think you’d have one hell of an adventure without a guy who doesn’t treasure you, Penelope.”

Act IV

Claire Marvin parked in the driveway and wondered if she should’ve changed out of cross-country clothes. Practice went long, like usual. Her boyfriend Steven quit the team a year ago but understood that running was a huge part of her life. He gave up a lot for them, much more than she ever could. She hugged the parka close to her as the rain came pouring down. It hadn’t rained in forever and the governor had issued a drought warning. She was supposed to be giving a presentation about cutting the water used by 20% but Melanie insisted that they reschedule. She had been friends with Melanie since fourth grade and Melanie had always been the bossy, demanding person she was today. Claire was the quiet one, who worked in the background to make sure everything was going smoothly, whether it be the Environmental Club, the group assignment for French, or their friendship. Claire shook her head and tried to forget Melanie, even if it was just for one night. It was her life, not Melanie’s. She was allowed to have a life separate from Melanie. Claire hadn’t called Steven ahead of time but figured he’d be okay. His parents were on a business trip to Europe but they never minded when she came around.

He opened the door and she saw his face instantly light up. He looked away for a second, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t as happy as he looked.

“You’re not busy today,” Steven remarked as he pushed the door wide open for her.

“Melanie blew me off because she had something important to do,” Claire responded with a little chuckle. Melanie told her about everything, but not these occasional late night meetings. She once to tried to ask but Melanie rebuffed her viciously and it was never brought up again. Claire knew Melanie didn’t have a boyfriend. She was always prattling about how she was beyond the maturity of any boy you could find in their small high school. Melanie dated Forest McKinley for a while last year but she suddenly broke it off without much of an explanation. Claire always found him to be genuine and he cared a lot about Melanie.

Steven simply nodded and she returned back to the reality of his house. Melanie hated Steven. Claire didn’t prod so much as to why but she already knew Melanie would give her a tirade based on how underachieving Steven was. Steven could barely keep up a 3.0 GPA or was interested in mechanics. He was already registered to attend a state school starting in the fall. He counted on the fact that she was going to UCLA.

“You give her a lot more time than you give me.” Claire didn’t know what to say. It was true. She hung out with Steven maybe twice a week since they didn’t have any classes together. Melanie had made it a mission to keep them apart. They started dating in freshman year and he had been her first guy friend, her first kiss, first love. The question of moving away had never registered, until now. She had received the decision from Boston University today, a full scholarship to a place she loved for four years. There was no doubt that she would be leaving California, and Steven, behind. She didn’t know when to exactly tell him. When was the right moment to tell the most important person to you that you were no longer traversing the same path as he was?

“I’m sorry, you could show up to Environmental Club or school plays once in a while,” she said running her fingers through his hair. He pulled her close and just barely managed to shut the door. As much as she insisted, he never once came by.

“You wouldn’t want me near all of your friends. You get jealous pretty easily, Claire,” he said planting a kiss on her neck. Steven was awkward around people. She didn’t mind it so much but he generally refused to get to know her friends, especially Melanie. They never held hands in public even though it was obvious by now that they were a couple. It was hard for her to interact with both sides of her life.

“Let’s watch a movie,” she said, walking to the living room. It was almost seven and she didn’t have to be home before eleven.

“Sure,” he called after her. Steven’s family liked movies but only the most obscure and strange movies. Claire had never heard of any of the movies in their collection but it didn’t much matter. It wasn’t like she came over for the movies. They sat with her head pressed against his shoulder and his hands around her waist. They were inseparable. She tried not to sigh because then he would know that something was most definitely wrong.

“Can we just stay like this forever?” She felt him tense up. He usually kissed her by now while responding that of course they could. She asked this question a lot because she wanted to feel reassured. She wanted to hear him say that everything would be okay.

“I wish we could Claire.” She wondered what that meant. He promised her that they would be together no matter what happened. She nestled out of his grip and sat up straight. Her sandy blonde hair was tied up in a neat ponytail and she pulled her running shorts down.

“What do you mean?” Her tone was a bit too harsh but there was nothing she could do about the words that had already started to circulate.

“Claire, I love you, but the future is murky.” She sighed. Was this the right time to tell him that she was moving to the other side of the States? She wrapped a blanket around herself and to her horror, started to cry. The tears rolled down her hot cheeks slowly at first. He held her hand and she wished she could talk to her future self. The uncertainty of everything bothered her. Perhaps it was why she stuck by Steven for so long. He had loved her all too much to even think about leaving her. Sometimes in the late nights, they’d just talk about the future, how Claire wanted three kids and how Steven wanted a mechanics garage. They were going to have a nice suburban house and everything was going to be fine.

“Steven, do you still like me?” An uncomfortable pause took place. She wasn’t supposed to bring up college or the future. She was supposed to be enjoying the now.

“Of course I do.” The movie played on without them. “I just don’t want you to pick your future based on me.” He knew. He knew, a small niggling voice echoed in her brain.

“I got the decision today.” His mouth curved up into a little smile. He squeezes my hand and she can just imagine all the conflicted feelings inside.

“I knew you’d get in, Claire. I knew it.” Claire hears him trying to be happy for her. She wishes that he was more open about his feelings. He’s the type of guy that never once texted her first. He was the type of guy who silently brooded when she left him behind. She had to ask three or four times if he was okay to get a real answer. She wanted to hear him say that he’d miss her or something other than this false sense of happiness. He wiped the tears from her face and she tried to breathe in.

“Yep,” that was all that she could manage. His hands wrapped around her waist again and he pulled her closer.

“Don’t cry, Claire. That’s great news. If we are meant to be together, it’ll happen. Don’t worry about it. Go chase your dreams.” She forged a smile. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She wanted to hear that she wasn’t the only one who was sad. In the beginning of their relationship, he needed her a lot more than she did. She didn’t think there’d be a day where she was the only who completely relied on him.

“Did you decide where you’re going to college?” It was already April. Their time together was short, much too short.

“Chico State, you knew that. Let’s just try to be happy, okay Claire?” She nodded her head and he began to kiss her. They never dealt with problems, they just pushed them away as if the turmoil would disappear. But today, she was okay with that. She was okay knowing that every second was closer to their last.

Act V

Mia Benski found a seat on the train. It was almost night and she was in England, alone. They were reading Moby Dick in English with the man her cousin decided to marry. He was reasonably good looking, except for the fact that his reddish hair was thinning. She wasn’t particularly close to Penelope but whenever she had a question about college, Penelope would be the person she asked. Penelope had a high flying career and the beauty of a Greek goddess but yet her love life was in shambles. If Penelope couldn’t find someone to love her, then who could? She wondered who was having an affair with him. Could it be Claire? She used to be friends with Claire in sophomore year but they soon went off into different friend groups. Claire became friends with the abominable Melanie Hoskins and she became student body president. Mia had never meant to become popular, she never asked for it-- it just happened.

She was leaned her head against the cold windowpane of the train. Her grandparents lived in beautiful London and she was visiting them because her father had a business trip. She spent her school year with her father and summers with her dysfunctional mother. Her mother swore she had some sort of medical condition but Mia knew it was just an addiction to something like heroin or meth. Her parents divorced when she was ten and her father forced her to visit her mother. “It was good for her,” he had said to eleven year old Camilla.

Love was something so unattainable. Why was it even appealing? She liked being the independent girl she learned to be. She wasn’t always like that. She used to be tragically naive sophomore year. When Lawrence Sommers told her that he loved her, she took it to be an undeniable fact. They dated for a while and she insisted that they take it slow. She had been a quiet, mousy girl with wireframe glasses and braces wrapped around her teeth. She had been ten pounds overweight and always wore the same baggy jeans. It was a miracle that someone so attractive and so popular could take an interest in her. They never hung out publically but she didn’t care. She took it a sign that he wanted to keep himself all to himself. One afternoon, they were hanging out in his parents’ basement and he pulled a move. It was their six month anniversary and he said that he’d break up with her if she didn’t sleep with him. She needed Laurie, physically and emotionally. After two months of dating, the charm, the caring smile, and all the attention she craved was gone. He made her feel ugly, unwanted, and alone but she needed him. He was the only thing worth something in her lowly life. She said yes, distraught about the possibility of losing him. He laughed at her pudginess and the way her nose jutted out a little bit. It was the worst moment of her life and one she still cringed at. She gave up something so precious so easily to a guy who thought nothing of it. Laurie broke up with her after she refused to sleep with him a second time. She later learned that he was betting one of his friends that he could get anyone, even the quiet girl who never said more than three words. Camilla became Mia and during that summer, she decided to shed the chubby middle school self she still retained. She pushed herself to become student body president and president of three different clubs. Her heart hardened and after Laurie, she decided love was just not worth pursuing. He spent the entirety of junior year trying to get the new and improved Camilla. Some guys didn’t even have a moral compass.

She squeezed her eyes shut. She hated thinking about Laurie, knowing that he still had some kind of hold over her life. The train was almost empty. Mia was coming home from a long day at West Sussex, visiting an aunt. She was leaving London in two days and she intended to make every single moment count.

“Hey you,” a soft voice came from the other corner of the train. She didn’t even look up. “We’re the only two people here.” Mia glanced up but saw only the shadowy reflection of someone sitting on the other side. The train lights were dimmed so that people could sleep. She just wanted to be left alone.

“Do I know you?” She said, to no one in particular. She got a good look at his face and a shiver ran down her spine. Of course she would meet him here, in London, after all those years away. She looked away immediately and shrugged her shoulders together.

Dan was a slight crush she had in freshman year. They spoke maybe or twice since they were in the same history class. He was the stereotypically handsome football player who moved away to Connecticut after freshman year. She had seen a side of Dan that no one had-- the computer programming geek who studied the Wikipedia pages of the Royal family for fun. She wondered what he was doing in London and her heart started to race just a little bit.

“You seem familiar, I’m probably just tired,” he said and leaned back in his seat. He was rubbing his forehead and she wanted to say something, anything.

“Dan, right?” She was mortified in her sudden bout of courage. She shied her face away but he seemed amused. He leaned forward again, towards her.

“Camilla, Camilla from history. I’d recognize that voice anywhere.” Mia didn’t know if she should’ve been flattered. Dan moved to sit next to her.

“It’s Mia now,” she brusquely said. “What are you doing in London?”

“I had a violin competition,” he said with a rather embarrassed expression. His cheeks were a glowing pink and she giggled along with him. “But you got to promise not to tell anyone back home.”

“You’re more than a football player, Daniel. It’s amazing that you’re all the way here pursuing something worthwhile.”

“You never did act like football was impressive, Mia. You may judge me, but you have a secret of your own.” She froze. What did that mean? “Relax,” he said using his boyish charm. “You’re into video games, aren’t you?” Her shocked expression softened into a smile.

“What would make you think that?” She was wearing a gray knit sweater over a white collared shirt. Her corduroy pants were a faded brownish colors and she was showing off her new flats. Did she seem like the girl who was into Call of Duty and Gears of War?

“Remember that one time I saw you at the community center? You had signed up to take a class on League and I was waiting for my violin lesson. We waved awkwardly and ducked on the way to our respective rooms.” She still remembered the agony of seeing the boy she was head over heels in love with at the community center.

“You remember that?” Mia was genuinely surprised. She didn’t even think he knew her name.

“I tried so hard to talk to you but I just couldn’t do it.” She nodded her head. He was probably ashamed to be seen with her. A lot of people were. “You were just so smart, always getting the highest score in history, and openly disproved of the only thing I was good at. I couldn’t do it.” It was ironic that she thought along the same lines. She wondered what kind of path she would be on if she had just said hi or waved in the hallway.

She felt a deep sadness. There was such a great connection between them and it had to be here, on the last day of her trip to England. How long had she dreamed of this moment? How long had she yearned to talk to him?

“How is Connecticut?”

“It’s great. The weather is a bit awful but my school is like a castle.” His voice phased in and out and she felt her eyelids drooping. She would probably never even see him again. He looked at her once he realized that she was no longer saying anything. Her blonde hair was a mess everywhere as her head lay on his shoulder. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. Dan had always wanted to do that. For in this moment, the brief remains of the train ride, he was hers and she was his. For in this moment, there were no complications of place, popularity, and time. He let her sleep knowing that when she woke up, they would be parting ways once more.

Epilogue

Nicole smiled as the photographer called the wedding party together. It was late spring and their wedding went off without a hitch. Thomas was interacting with the friends he rarely saw and she was just watching the students who she used to have. She hadn’t seen Claire, Melanie, or Camilla in the longest time. They promised to visit but never did. Harper had moved on to sophomore history and there was always fleeting eye contact whenever she saw her in the hallway. Nicole picked up a drink and wondered how their lives had changed.

“I haven’t seen you in forever,” Claire prattles excitedly. They go to school relatively close but it seemed they weren’t the best of friends anymore. “How is Pennsylvania?”

“It’s good! Did I ever tell you that I’m dating George now?” Nicole felt a sense of relief. David was still teaching but no longer married to that beautiful woman. She didn’t pry but she figured he had just told her. Any sane woman would’ve left. It was good to see that Melanie had also moved on. George was the nice kid who never said much in any of his classes. He was a quiet, computer geek who happened to live next to Melanie. Melanie seemed much happier than she had on campus. Claire wore a pained smile.

“I haven’t seen Steven since I left.” Her voice trailed off and both girls looked away. “He said he wanted to be friends. He said we should keep in touch, but I tried and it’s like he’s a completely different person, Mel. I don’t know who he is anymore. How can that happen after four years of practically being the same person?”

“You weren’t the same person, Claire. You weren’t an underachieving slacker.” Melanie was never one to soften her words for a friend’s feelings. Claire and Harper were always similar. They had the same test scores, same facial expressions, and even same moments of heartbreak. The cheery smile Harper always donned was gone and in its place was a sulky moodiness. It didn’t take a genius to realize that Lawrence had probably dumped her. It’s good to learn freshman year, Nicole absently thought.

“Mrs. Peterson! Er, Mrs. Brooks,” an excited voice exclaimed. Nicole was drawn back to the world of her wedding and party. Camilla stood in front of her and Nicole gave her a warm hug. Camilla was still one of her favorite students, even after all those years.

“You can’t forget me either,” a familiar voice said. Nicole scrunched her face together but no names drifted into her mind. He seemed to understand and let out a laugh. “Dan, Daniel Klein, remember me? I was that stodgy football player in your freshman history class.” The memories were seeping back in. She smiled a toothy grin.

“Daniel! I haven’t seen you for the longest time. I didn’t know that you two were friends.” From the way his arm wrapped around Camilla’s waist, Nicole could tell that they were much more than friends. Both shared a slightly embarrassed look but neither corrected her.

“I moved to Connecticut and met Mia in England. We started talking and somehow we met again for freshman orientation at NYU.” It seemed like a far-fetched story but both of them looked incredibly happy. Camilla really deserved it.

“Mia, we’re going to be late for the flight back to New York,” the young woman David used to be married to said in a shrill voice. Melanie and Claire exchanged snide glances when they realized who had shown up. “Work at Visa waits for no one!”

“See you later, Mrs. Brooks,” Camilla said so casually. It seemed that everything always worked out, for better or for worse. Nicole left her old students to be and joined Thomas as he regaled his friends and family about the time he saved her while she choked on a grape. It was a terribly humiliating story but Nicole joined in. Love was about compromise and sharing the little funny moments that were seldom ever brought up.

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