an optimistic love

Last December my friend R broke up with her boyfriend of 8-or-so years for about three weeks, and they’ve been happy ever since. There have been almost a high school level of drama recently, when it comes to relationships. Not with mine, thankfully, but my friends are all having trouble. New loves, old loves, trying to have multiple loves. At least my love life is in order.

My boyfriend’s sister is getting married, and it’s lovely. Who knows where my life will be by the time September rolls around?

I think, if I ever get engaged, we’ll keep it secret for about a week or so. Live a private honeymoon before people start giving us orders and demands and money that comes with directions. Our wedding, like everything else, will probably be a disaster, but who cares? It’s the marriage that counts, and our marriage will be wonderful. I just know it will. Maybe that’s the only bit of optimism I have in my heart. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not.

The SO’s family

Oof! I just had the most filling dinner ever. It was amazing Mexican food but I’m so full. 

It was with my boyfriend and his family. These dinners used to be really stressful for me, but now they’re okay. 

I no longer grab at the hem of my dress or drink water compulsively to excuse myself from talking. I no longer speak in a whisper or control how loud I laugh. It used to be bad, though.

In fact, I had actually used these dinners as an example of an “anxiety-producing situation” when I first began therapy for anxiety about 5 months ago. In such a short amount of time they have gone from one of my worst fears to something I quite look forward to–and not just for the piles of great, free food. I like his family a lot. The dinners are fun, exciting. I like getting to know them more and I like how they are getting to know me.

I suppose it’s a mix of becoming more comfortable around them and becoming more comfortable with myself. 

It’s nice to feel accepted. It’s something that takes time and work, but it’s worth it. I love how I’m beginning to be treated like part of the family. I like belonging.

I am still nervous about some facets with them. We’re going away for a weekend together soon, which should be…something.

I’m getting there. For all those nervous introverts with one foot in and one foot out of the significant other (SO) family door, just know that it gets easier. 

Makeup: Short Fic Friday

Shane glared at his mirror, his shoulder blades pinching together, his hands gripping the rim of the sink. His eyes darted from his forehead creases to the zit on his chin to his appearing crows feet to the zit on his chin to his graying temples to the zit on his chin.

“Pick one!” he shouted at himself. His cat yowled from his bedroom at the sudden noise. Shane sighed and rested his head in the crux of his elbow. Now? It had to be now?

“It’s ‘cause you’re stressed,” he whispered and splashed water on his face. He ran his finger over the bump. It’s pretty deep in there. It wouldn’t be one he could pinch and have it disappear. No. This one was a fighter.

Marzia’s drawers in the bathroom they once shared were all but empty. A hair scrunchie, an old disposable razor. No tweezers, no zit cream, no makeup!

“I could run to CVS. No, I wouldn’t know what to get. The colors all look wrong.” He dried his face on the bottom of his shirt and left the bathroom. Maybe it only seemed big since he was staring at it.

The house was so empty, so big. His feet were so quiet on the carpet that he hadn’t vacuumed in months. The cat needed feeding, so he fed her. He would need to get more cat food soon. He fought tooth and nail for that money-sucker.

Shane paused outside the bathroom door, bouncing on his toes, then leapt in, as if he could scare the zit off his face. Nope, still there, and even bigger and redder than he thought it was.

“Okay, dammit,” Shane said. He checked his phone. One hour. Only one hour? He needed to fix this. It was so easy when Marzia was here. He would always use her concealer—they had the same skin tone. Meetings, holidays, regular Tuesdays. Since she’d left, though…

The cat yowled, there was a big clatter. Shane set his bepimpled jaw. That damn cat.

He caught his own eye in the mirror. Yes, perfect.

Not twenty minutes later and he was at Marzia’s door, cat carrier under one arm. He rang the bell, then knocked directly after.

Marzia opened the door, all six feet and three inches of her. He used to like her supermodel height, her lanky limbs that moved awkwardly like cheap animation. Now she just felt intimidating. Shane held the cat out to her.

“Please,” Shane said. “I need a favor.”

It took a little convincing, but soon he was in Marzia’s new bathroom, slathering his chin in concealer. It made him a new man. He rubbed it until it was unnoticeable.

He popped out of the bathroom. Marzia was stroking the cat on her bed.

“Thank you h…” He caught the  “honey” before it escaped his lips.

“Is it for a date?”

Shane didn’t answer quickly. Marzia nodded.

“A man, then? I presume, considering….” She sighed. “Unless you lied about that just to…well.”

Shane looked down to the carpet. Freshly vacuumed. “Yes…a man. I wouldn’t have lied about that, Marzia.”

“And this is what…you want, to make you happy?”

“Yes.” Yes, for the thousandth time, yes.

“Well, okay then. It’s what you have to do, then, okay. Okay.”

The cat leapt off the bed and stalked out of the room. They were alone.

“I don’t know what to say that we haven’t already.”

Marzia’s shoulders lifted once with a silent laugh. “Me either. Me either.” She gave him the once-over. “You look good…I hope it goes well. And thanks for the cat.”

“Thanks for the makeup.”

Hog Back Mountain: The summer day we (temporarily) ran away

Two Augusts ago, my boyfriend Colin and I had a nervous hum in the pits of our stomachs about college. Would we stay together through the long distance? Would we even stay friends? What would it be like?

We avoided asking these questions best we could. We watched The Lord of the Rings and Wilfred. We savored every moment without talking about our nerves. We drove in circles around our town, like a bug stuck inside a jar, until one day we escaped.

We woke up early (for two jobless teenagers in the summer): eight A.M. We filled up his car with gas and good CDs. We bought Sour Patch Kids, beef jerky, Pringles, and skittles. We took off.

West.

Spending hours in a car together was nothing new, but usually we stuck to backroads. That day, we hit the highway with a mission to get as far west as possible by 3 p.m., for no other reason than us wanting to.

We ran through two CDs twice before trying the radio and realizing that all of the stations were different. The further west we went, the less people crowded the road, the greener the trees became, the easier we could breathe. We had a vague goal to reach New York, though we weren’t going in the exact right direction.

I had to go home for some reason…my mom called me and reminded me that I had a family dinner or something that night. Well, we decided to keep going for awhile before turning around. We were approaching Vermont, if we turned right, so we turned right. We made it to a Vermont visitor center. We took a picture with a cardboard cow, breathed in the overcast sky, and hopped back in his little car to drive home.

It wasn’t New York, but it was still good, we decided. We joked and laughed and sang to the radio, hiding the irony that we had just driven to Vermont a week before Colin moved there.

We found a small hidden road that followed some power lines. It was gorgeous, the unpaved dirt road curving through the trees. I took a picture, bumpy and fuzzed.

You can see this picture on this site, as the cover photo behind the blog’s title. It’s also the featured image for this post, in which you can see the car’s dashboard.

Driving along that small dirt road over the border of Vermont was a pure, untouchable moment laced with romance and nostalgia of the summer we had just finished living…but then it got better.

I didn’t have my glasses on, and when the street sign came up I tried to read it so we could come back one day.

“Does…” I blinked, squinted. “Does that say ‘Ho Bag Mountain?’”

Colin burst out laughing.

“Hog Back Mountain!” he exclaimed.

We had just stifled our laughter when we passed a gorgeous sign surrounded by decorative stones and pretty flowers, proudly declaring “Hog Back Mountain.” We lost it again.

We were about two hours from home when the rain began, and god, it was torrential. It was so bad that we actually had to pull over because he couldn’t see well enough to drive. The windshield wipers were all but useless. As we sat in the breakdown lane, waiting for it to pass, I got a weather alert on my phone of an extreme storm condition. I left the alert in my notifications for weeks after, and would look at it when I missed summer.

“Extreme storm condit…46 days ago.” The little notification was like a keepsake. It disappeared after ninety days.

We eventually got home, but not in time to my dinner. Of course, I had no excuse as to why I was late. We were driving, from Vermont. Why were we in Vermont? Literally no reason.

I began thinking of this story today and wondered if I’m already too old for these little rebellions. Have I changed so much in just two years that I wouldn’t do this again? Has driving into Boston traffic every day ruined my love for an empty highway and open windows?

The truth is, no. I would definitely do this trip again—in fact, Colin and I likely will do something like this very soon, maybe actually making it to New York this time. I think the difference, besides both of us having far less free time, is that back then we were both fighting hard to make memories with each other, out of fear that college would tear us apart.

We drove to Vermont with excitement tinged with fear, we staged our day-long runaway like a trial run. There were times all summer, but especially on that trip when we wanted to run away for good, to not turn back halfway through the day and go back  to the scripted life of approaching college, but instead to keep driving west until we hit the Pacific and start…something.

But we didn’t.

I don’t know if a repeat day long road trip would be better or worse. I think it would still be a lot of fun, but would it miss something without the underlying desire to keep going? Was our fear of losing each other and our desperate attempts to make memories what made that summer so memorable?

Did my desire to run spring purely from teenage hormones or would it still pull me on, make me misty-eyed when we turn back home?

Or, alternately, would a fearless adventure without the nervous twitches, without the stress of making it memorable or the desire to run away, actually be much better?

A few things haven’t changed, naturally. Of course, Colin and I still close, even closer. And we’re still trying to break free of our hometown’s web, trying to avoid being sucked down a drain of parental dependency and resume gaps. We still drive in circles around the backroads, we still watch epic sagas on his television, we still do projects together, we still reference Breaking Bad when cooking dinner and sing loudly to the two CDs we play on repeat in his same car.

And, we still both harbor a nervous excitement for whatever the future may hold. Perhaps though, since our Ho Bag Mountain days, we have a bit more confidence, a bit more stability.

Then again, perhaps not.

An extension of your arm

“Let the sword become an extension of your arm.”

I’ve never used a sword before, but that phrase is said so much on television it’s practically common knowledge. The same phrase goes for tennis racquets and cooking knives and dumbbells; they’re all “extensions of your arm.”

I recently began practicing bike riding. I was never very into biking, but since I’m going to the Netherlands in the fall everyone said that I should relearn, as, “they bike everywhere over there.” So I took the bike out for a spin on Sunday. Besides a seriously uncomfortable seat, it was a pretty good time.

I’ve been trying to ride more like a grown up, steering primarily by leaning instead of using the handlebars and stopping with the handbrakes instead of skidding my feet. I’m getting there.

The interesting thing about steering by leaning is that I began to feel the whole “extension” thing, as if I was a part of the bike. It was me making the bike turn, not the bike itself. It felt more responsive, less wild and dangerous.

I’d always treated my first car like a living being, mostly because she acted like one. She was temperamental and sometimes didn’t do what I asked her to. She also only went up big hills if I gave her a pep talk. I didn’t feel like she was an extension of my body, unlike the bike. She was always something I was working with, like I was riding a horse.

When I used to do archery, I shot best when I cleared my mind and let the bow do the work. Instead of the bow becoming a part of me, I became a part of the bow.

We should probably pay attention to how we interact with things, because it says a lot about who we are. Every object represents a relationship. Do you tend to use people the same way you use objects? When your computer is frustrating do you slam the mouse on the table? Or shut it off completely? Or wait for it to come to its senses? When your car won’t start do you punch the steering wheel or beg it to work with you? Do you ever stop to admire the beauty of the way your pen writes?

There are no wrong answers; it’s all practice in being mindful, and applying our internal relationships to the external. Try to relate how to treat objects to how you treat people. You may be surprised to find which of your loved ones you treat as an extension of your arm.

Projects

First of all, thank you so much for sticking with me through the A to Z Challenge! I hope you all liked it. It was a great deal of fun, and during it we reached 500 followers, so yay! Thank you!

Now I go back to normal blogging for awhile. I was thinking of doing a sort of schedule since my fiction went over so well. Maybe a short fiction piece every Monday or so? Let me know what you guys think:)

Since the challenge is now over, and I’m out of school and moved back home for the summer, I’ve begun several projects to keep me busy. I’ve been bike riding, beginning German, and I even learned how to knit! I’m slow and clumsy but it’s a lot of fun. I spent most of today unpacking, then went to Barns and Noble for awhile, got a new coloring book. I know, I know, such a fad…but coloring’s fun, screw it.

Doing the A to Z helped spark up my confidence in fiction prose writing, the true love of my life, and I’m grateful for that. I might try to flesh out my little scenes and make a novella of it! I’ll keep you posted on that…though to be honest I’m going to be taking a brief break from Bonnie and the gang, as is my tendencies with writing. Get fresh eyes on the thing.

What else have I been up to? I know I’ve blogged through April but it feels like so long. my boyfriend is home! And it’s been wonderful. He’s in Vermont temporarily but soon he’ll be home, looking for internships and such. We may be working on a podcast together!

I’ve also realized that it’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my anxiety, probably because it’s been going pretty well. After a few bumps in the road I’ve gotten good at deep breathing and participating in my own life more. Being home is lonely and depressing at times, especially with most of my friends still at college (I got out super early this year) but that will change soon.

I liked the challenge, but I’m glad to be back to blogging! I’ll think about a weekly fiction thing…that might be nice. Maybe I’ll set certain days for the different topics on the blog. Though, I’ll try not to get ahead of myself.

Finally, if you’re just joining the Playground since the challenge began, thanks for following and welcome!

 

A to W: Walk

When James McClane and Betty went on their first date, they decided to take a walk around the square. They poked their noses in the pet store, shared a milkshake, and ended the day by the fountain that never ran. The still water was clear and rippled in the wind, making the bottom full of coins shiver.

James still hated the small town, but hated it less when Betty was around. She liked going to the places that faded into the background. She knew which waiter at the diner would give her a discounted root beer. She had secret rocks by the pond where she hid a pack of cigarettes and matches of different sizes that she took one-by-one out of her father’s study. She and James shared one on their first date, both trying not to cough more than the other.

Betty made their town seem big. James let her lead him all over the dirt roads, and he reciprocated her efforts by teaching her harmonica. She sewed holes in his pockets, he opened her jam jars, she assured him his moustache was even on both sides, he practiced on his sister’s old doll until he could French braid her hair. They were a single unit in a matter of weeks, an amalgamation of their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Their child, Michael, asked out Susie Q. his junior year of high school, and on their first date they decided to take a walk around the square. They landed at the diner, where they shared a basket of fries and talked about the cycle of human misunderstanding, the meaninglessness of waking up, their favorite places to be alone. They went to the fountain, and Susie Q. stole some coins when no one was looking. Michael thought she was dangerous, sexy, dark.

They drove to the middle of the cornfield and smoked a cigarette together. Michael breathed in lightly and held the smoke in his mouth. Susie Q. sucked on it like a straw, and Michael’s mouth went dry watching her.

She wore long sleeves every day, even in the summer heat, even with shorts so tiny they were closer in shape to a bathing suit, and halfway through their first date she told him why, unprompted. She rolled up her sleeves to show what she called her “battle scars,” her eyes flat and unwavering, her voice strangely proud as she described the sharp objects and excuses she used. Michael held her hand as she spoke, though it didn’t seem like she needed much comfort. He wondered what made her so sad. He wondered if he would ever be so sad as to follow her lead.

 

Years later, Michael asked out Bonnie after their first dance class. He was still technically dating Susie-Q.-turned-Sue-Anne, but their relationship was crumbling with time and distance and he didn’t want to miss his chance with the redhead who leaned into his nervous hands. On their first date, they took a walk around Central Park, ended up sitting by the pond and talking about their hopes for college, their majors, their roommates. She laughed like wind chimes.

Bonnie was easy, happy, bouncy. She missed home but loved New York. She missed her old friends, and talked far too much about a boy named Craig whom she swore she never dated. Michael bought her ice cream and pizza and candy, until she told him she wanted to pay for herself. They did the dance class for awhile, then pottery class, then poetry, Bonnie leading him from activity to activity with the attention span of a small dog. Michael let her lead him, captivated by her optimism, her love of folk music, her passion for Scrabble and her failed attempts to shuffle cards. She taught him the fun of watching muted horror movies while playing ill-fitting music, and he taught her how to cook everything from eggs to steak-tip salad. They ended their first year a Renaissance couple, jacks of all trades and masters of some.

 

Craig’s first date with Michelle actually went swimmingly. They went for a walk around their college campus and she gave him his first joint, which made him cough for five minutes straight and then get so dizzy they had to sit on a bench for awhile. Craig was sure he was blowing it. Michelle liked this new boy, she was already addicted to his innocence. She wanted to be his first everything. She was tired of being single, and she could tell Craig was, too.

They ate at the dining hall, since it was “fake money,” and then walked more in the quad as the sun set over the rolling hills. Michelle walked him to the soccer field as Craig’s woozy mind processed the feel of wet grass tickling his ankles. They chatted about the beauty of the sky, the loneliness of school, the fact that orientation had been rather over-the-top.

Michelle brought him under the bleachers and told him to lay down. There was already a blue tarp there, and a pillow, though both seemed years old. Michelle explained she knew about them from her older friends who also went to their college. Craig was having a hard time comprehending her words, as her voice had such an interesting texture to it he only wanted to listen to its rise and fall, its smooth rumble and its harsh whisper.

Michelle told him to lay still. She wanted to do all the work. Craig laid on the rustling tarp, his head on the dirt-caked pillow, and stared through the bleachers at the moon as Michelle made love to him. He held perfectly still, as she asked. Vaguely, he realized he should have told her he was a virgin. Vaguely, he realized he wasn’t wearing a condom and had no idea about Michelle’s history or chances of getting pregnant. But as she lifted his hands off the ground and placed them on her body, all thoughts were wiped clean from his mind. It felt nice, to not worry about anything. Craig decided he wanted to remain worriless as long as possible.

 

Years later, Michael woke up in Susie Q.’s home in Nahant to the sound of a giggling child. Susie Q. shushed her daughter, told her that their guest was still sleeping. After a breakfast spent bonding with the adorable girl, the three of them went for a walk. It was so easy to fall into this version of Susie Q. She was far less angry, and her arms, though peppered with faint scars, were whole and uncut. She still liked her screamy music, but was very careful which songs she played around her daughter.

She didn’t smoke at all anymore, and her little job paid for her little house and little girl. She said if Michael helped pay for bills and groceries he could stay as long as he like. Michael, who already loved her daughter, did.

Though it felt improvisational, they followed the usual script of a rekindled friendship. They would stay friends, they decided, both knowing that was temporary.

 

Bonnie and Craig decided that after both their marriages fell apart in various tragic ways to remain only friends, both knowing that was temporary. After quite some time both living in Craig’s small apartment, they went on a first date. A walk around Central Park.

They took a horse carriage, sipping at coffees, chatting about careers and tours and disasters and successes, how tired they were of New York City, Craig’s dance classes and Bonnie’s broken shoes. She insisted she didn’t need new shoes but it was decided—shoe shopping.

Bonnie giggled as Craig had her try on a set of ridiculously high heels and strangely-shaped sneakers with vibrant colored laces. He then pulled out a pair that she loved, that fit her perfectly. They laughed about how much it reminded them of Cinderella.

That night, laying side by side on Craig’s bed so close their noses touched when they smiled, they laughed about how after more than twenty-five years of friendship they were only now having their first date. Technically. Bonnie sighed about all the things they went to, adjacently. They went to prom together, but with different dates, for example.

Craig said that that was okay. That life isn’t a movie, and there are no finish lines. That prom is silly anyhow, and that they both wanted different things for a long time, until now, he hoped. Bonnie said that she had wanted to kiss him a million times in high school. Craig said that when he met her in first grade he thought he loved her for awhile. Bonnie lamented again the time they had lost.

Craig told her not to worry about the past. They were here now, however broken the paths were behind them. Bonnie asked if he would be angry if she was still sad about Michael. Craig said no, as long as she wasn’t angry if he was still sad about Michelle.

“Are we broken people?” Bonnie asked, scooting closer so she could hug Craig close.

“In a good way, yes.”

Craig held her for the last hours of their first date, remembering all that had led up to that moment, from their exes to their parents to their ancestors, back to the beginning of human history. The chances that they’d even know each other at all were so slim that they had to forgive the universe for not letting them be together until now.

Craig breathed in the scent of her hair and smiled, thankful that they had finally fallen in love with each other at the same time.

A to V: Vacancy

Warning–slight adult content, nothing graphic. PG-13 at most.

 

Michael McClane didn’t know where to go, so he just sat in his driveway, his truck running but not moving. He wanted his parents, but he couldn’t go home with bad news, not with his father as sick as he was.

“I could go,” Michael said to the empty truck. “And just pretend I’m there to visit Dad. Mom would understand.”

Well, sure, but he didn’t want his mother knowing, either. He was the success of the family, the one who went to college, the one who married his beautiful girlfriend and moved to the city, the one with the job that paid a lot of money and didn’t require calloused hands. He wanted his parents to remain proud and unworried, even if his life was worrisome and nothing to be proud of.

Is this because he wanted kids? Was that so strange to want, eight years into a marriage?

The front door of their building opened, and there was Bonnie, avoiding looking at his truck and running to the corner where she called for taxis. She wore black pants and a brown jacket. She moved so delicately, walking toe-first. One arm was raised in the misty twilight and a taxi stopped for her.

“I could stay,” Michael said, but it was the last thing he wanted to do. He didn’t care if his entire wardrobe, computer, and life was in that apartment; he was never going in there again.

Not here, not home. Where, then? Michael took out his phone. So many of his friends were mutual friends of his and Bonnie’s. He wasn’t ready for them to know. No, not a coworker. No, no, definitely not Bonnie’s family. No.

Sue Anne. Sue Anne? Last he heard, Sue Anne was in Massachusetts. Not too far from New York; he could probably make it there by midnight. Michael McClane needed a place to stay. He put the car in drive.

 

Bonnie stopped the taxi at the motel about two miles from her house. She, too, didn’t want to go back to the apartment. The sign above the hotel blinked “VACANCY” in neon blue. She went inside, and asked for the Wu room.

“Right away, Mrs. Wu,” said the woman at the desk. Bonnie wrinkled her nose but didn’t correct her. It didn’t matter, anyway.

Craig was already in the room, watching television under the covers. He smiled halfway when she came in. She shut the door and sat beside him in the bed. He was silent. They sat still for a moment.

“Oh, Craig,” she said and burst into tears. Craig held her until she said something unintelligible, garbled by her tears, and shrugged him off. She wailed into a pillow, and Craig looked at his blanket-covered toes, unsure how to comfort her without a hug. Eventually he got her a glass of water and a bit of toilet paper to use as a tissue.

After awhile, Bonnie laid down and asked Craig to hold her, which he did. He nestled his body behind her shaking frame and held her firmly, inhaling her scent, certain it was the last time he’d be able to be with her like this. Their bodies glowed under the flashing neon sign and the muted television.

“I’m sorry,” Craig said.

“For what?”

It flashed in both their memories—Michael shouting, “What the hell is this?” and dropping his keys on the floor.

Craig and Bonnie were always very careful. Michael was supposed to be out of the house for a week, but he came home early. A surprise, for his loving wife.

Of course, it was just about the worst time for him to come home. Craig and Bonnie had been sleeping with each other for months already, starting just a couple years after Michelle’s death and just two weeks after Craig landed his dream job on Broadway. He had burst into Bonnie’s life with a smile full of nostalgic optimism, and Bonnie couldn’t resist. Her life had become beige, an endless cycle of a boring job in the day and making up excuses to not sleep with Michael at night. She still loved Michael, yes. But here came Craig, everything she ever wanted, and yes, she loved him too.

Anyhow, they had been together countless times by then. That night though, last night, Bonnie asked for the one thing Michael wouldn’t do.

“Nothing too painful,” she said before Craig could react to her request. “Just…a little. I mean, we can use scarves or something.”

“Anything you want, Bonnie,” Craig said, kissing her nose, laughing. “We can try it, anyway, see how it goes.”

And so, at Bonnie’s request, Craig tied her arms and legs to her bed with scarves. They would save the blindfold for another time, they decided. Baby steps.

He kissed her lightly, and as he became more comfortable he began to find her restrictions enticing. He could tease her, he could reach every part of her, he was free to do as he pleased. And Bonnie wanted this! Craig felt happy, hungry for her. Craig kissed her more, his mind groggy.

The bedroom door slammed open.

Then Michael roared at them, frozen in the doorway. Craig turned his head and only saw Michael coming right for him. Craig’s veins flooded with adrenaline; he leapt off the bed.

“What the hell are you doing to her?” Michael paced to the foot of the bed, shoulders hunched and rolling like a tiger. His large hands were in fists.

“Michael, wait,” Bonnie said, out of breath. She squirmed against her restraints but they held her in place.  “Wait, you don’t understand—”

Michael punched Craig square in the face, sending Craig against the wall and nightstand. A glass of water toppled and spilled on the carpet, the alarm clock hung off the front of the table by its wire. Craig clutched his face, then took his hand away for half a second and was greeted with a second blow. He was sent to his knees. Michael kicked his chest and Craig coughed, fell to his side.

“Michael!” Bonnie shouted, eyes streaming with tears.

He came to her, began untying her hands. “Honey,” he whispered. “Honey it’s okay, you’re okay, now.”

“I know,” Bonnie sputtered, trying to get a better look at Craig’s injury. “You just…you just like…is he…?”

Michael’s eyes widened, then his jaw set. He untied one arm then paced away to force her to untie the rest herself.

“Ah. Now I understand,” Michael said, surveying his struggling wife and her beaten lover, the latter squirming helpless on the floor. Michael pointed at Craig. “Get him out of here, now.”

 

Hours later, in the hotel with blinking blue Vacancy, Bonnie sobbed into the blankets. Craig rubbed her back. His face hurt still, but his nose didn’t seem broken and his teeth were all in place. His eye would be bruised in the morning though, he was sure of it.

“This isn’t how it was supposed to happen,” Bonnie said after her sobbing had died down. “I feel so empty.”

No more Michael…why couldn’t she just pick one thing and stick with it? She looked over her shoulder, and Craig smiled sadly at her. It was enough to bring on a second fit of tears.

 

Around two in the morning, Michael’s pick-up pulled into Sue Anne’s driveway. She emerged from the porch in a bathrobe and slippers.

“Hush,” she said as he came to the door. “My daughter’s sleeping.”

“Thank you so much, Sue Anne.”

“Sure…and hey,” she said, taking his jacket from him and smiling. “It’s Susie Q., again.”

A to P: Painting

In over twelve years of dancing, Bonnie had never taken a partner dance class, not due to lack of interest but due to lack of male dancers. Her roommate Sam convinced her to sign up for one a few weeks into college. It was free at the school gym, and since using her gym membership so many times gave her a free credit she figured there was no reason not to.

She didn’t have time to straighten her hair, so she just pulled it into a high ponytail after class and raced to the gym. She was nearly late.

The room was trapezoidal and only one wall was mirrored, which was strange. There were about ten people in the room, with an expected majority of women. In fact, there were only three men in the room, one of whom was the teacher. The girls were all chatting in a circle on the floor, stretching lightly. Bonnie tugged her tee shirt and plopped on the floor near one of the guys, who was sipping at a water bottle, one hand shoved in his pocket, If she was going to partner dance, she wanted it to be with someone who wasn’t friends with other people in the room. She preferred a man, anyhow.

“Everybody up!” The teacher said. They went through a quick stretching routine, which felt great in Bonnie’s aching muscles. He then ordered they find a partner.

“I’m Michael,” the man next to her said. She glanced up at him for the first time, and liked his amber beard and bright eyes. His voice had a southern twang, rather charming.

“Bonita,” she replied, arranging her arms on his body as the teacher was demonstrating. “Or Bonnie.”

He put his hand on her waist as told, and held his fingers stiffly, barely bending the fabric of her shirt. They began waltzing around the room, doing steps that Bonnie had done by herself for her whole life. They felt clumsy with her arms attached to someone else—someone who had clearly never danced before.

“You’re really good,” he whispered, and twirled her. Her hair pattered like rain when it hit his chest.

“Thanks. I danced forever,” she replied. “Like, competitively.”

“This is my first time dancing.”

“I know.”

He twirled her again, and when she came back to the front she shot him a smile in case he didn’t catch she was joking—he did. She leaned into his hands until she could feel their warmth through her clothes, then stopped before he could notice. No one had ever held her like this before. He twirled her again and she giggled; they had gotten closer, and now so much of her hair whipped his chest she could feel it.

“My hair keeps hitting you,” she said, her eyes shining. “Sorry.”

“I like it. I like all your hair,” he said, stuttering. “I keep feeling like I’m going to step on you.”

“Me too. What made you want to try a dance class?”

“I’ve been trying everything. There’s so much to do here.”

The teacher circled the room, adjusting people here and there. “The man is the frame,” he announced. “And the woman is the painting.”

Bonnie snorted.

“We can both be paintings,” Bonnie said when the teacher was out of earshot. “I hate when people say ‘the man is the frame.’”

“But you’re so much prettier than I am. Even your name is pretty,” Michael said and twirled her again. She whipped her head and raised onto her toes so he got a facefull of bouncing red hair. They both giggled loudly, and the teacher had to hush them.

At the end of the class, Michael said, “Coffee?”

The second the word formed in the air Michael thought of Sue Anne and Bonnie thought of Craig. Subtle regret, unsure hesitance. Bonnie paused for only a moment, forcing herself to remember….

“Yes,” she said. “Coffee, yes.”

A to O: Over

Bonnie was never satisfied with boys in high school. She would date them for awhile, get bored, and complain to Craig that she felt there should be something “more.”

“I know it’s just in movies,” she would say as they walked together in the hallways. “But the movies have to be based on something, right?”

Craig would nod, thinking of mud pies and skateboards, back when Bonnie would tell him talking about boys was stupid. He would nod until she began doubting the existence of love.

“No,” Craig said, hands pulling the straps to his backpack. “Love exists.”

Of course, though, how would he know? He dated exactly one person, a girl a grade above them with buck teeth and body odor, who he only really began dating because she asked him out and he didn’t know how to say no. For three months he held her hand when he was told, then finally wrung up the courage to tell her he didn’t love her. The break up was a disaster.

Bonnie, on the other hand, was far more successful (so to speak). She never asked people out, but was also never dumped. Always the askee, the dumper. She dated boys like she was eating cherries, taking what she liked and unceremoniously spitting out the pits.

After graduation but before college, acquaintances began fading away. It was clear within weeks which friends Craig was going to stay in touch with and which ones he would ignore until a reunion. Bonnie was without a doubt one he would stay in touch with—the two of them were inseparable that summer, the first summer Bonnie was single since eighth grade.

“College,” Bonnie announced one June day, her voice gravelly. They were licking ice creams at a park picnic table, their skateboards rolling back and forth under their feet.

“Yeah?” Craig responded when she didn’t go on, smiling behind his ice cream. She still looked like a kaleidoscope , but perhaps a more organized one. Her mane of curly hair was in something of a bun, and a loose blue tank top draped over her lanky body. Her shorts were hot pink.

“It’s stupid. I don’t want to go to college. I want to go to a conservatory.”

Three conservatories turned her down. The fact hung in the air, a stoppage to her complaints. It was easier to complain about not going places before, when it was all someone’s parent’s fault. Now it was her fault, and hers alone.

“I mean, I don’t want to go to college either,” Craig said, though in truth he was rather excited. He only wished his college was closer to Bonnie’s.

June left, and July began. They celebrated the fourth of July with the traditional West Merrimack fireworks. They laid in the grass together, cheering for the small ones and booing the big ones, laughing with each other at themselves.

“Why isn’t everything this easy?” Bonnie whispered at the smoky sky. She scooted closer to Craig and rested her head on his bicep. She did this sort of thing now and then. It was nice.

July, then August. They were both moving out next week and had to spend most of last week packing, so now they sat in Craig’s living room, suspended in limbo, Bonnie’s head resting on Craig’s shoulder. The television was on, but muted, and neither of them watched it.

Craig wondered why she leaned on him, why she led him by the wrist places, why he always followed. She had led them into every fad and every interest since before they knew the times tables. Had he introduced anything? Oh, yes, they were big bikers for awhile, and he got her into several television shows. Spicy food, too, and bocce. He was sure they were about even. Pretty even friends.

“I hope college is fun,” Bonnie said, breaking the solid silence. “But, I don’t know. How could it possibly be better than this? I don’t hate anything in my life, you know? Except my hair,” she added, and the two of them smiled.

“I’m really going to miss you, Bonnie,” Craig said, hugging her with one arm.

Bonnie shifted to her knees on the couch looking at Craig, her hair a blanket of red around her. “Is this all over? Our whole friendship, our whole lives?”

“No,” Craig said. “We’ll still be friends. We’re both coming back here for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and all of the summer. And I’ll visit you on weekends.”

“Should we have dated?” Bonnie asked suddenly, her eyes shimmering, her shoulders curved.

She asked these rhetorical questions now and then, often when she was in the sort of mood that made her lean on him. Craig sucked on his teeth, studying his kaleidoscopic best friend.

Why had they never given into everyone’s wishes and dated? Why had he never asked her out, like all the others? Maybe it was because he had seen her suck the life out of every boyfriend, turning them into desperate zombies before cutting them loose. Dating Bonnie meant becoming a part of Bonnie’s body, an object for her to use as she pleased, a thing to hold her hand and her backpack. Craig turned a blind eye to her boyfriends because they may as well have not existed. When Bonnie had a boyfriend, she and Craig hung out nearly the same amount as always, just with a sunken-eyed leech attached to her arm.

Maybe, instead, it was that while he believed in love he didn’t believe in love with Bonnie. He liked her a lot. They were best friends. He supposed, if love didn’t exist, he could see marrying her, living with her. It would be great fun to just hang out with Bonnie all the time…but wasn’t there more? Like they said in the movies?

“No,” Craig said, and as he said it he realized he was right. “We work better as friends.”

Craig felt confident in his answer. He knew, no matter what, that Bonnie would be here next year, whether she found another leech or not. He knew he would be there too. What he didn’t know was the strength of Bonnie’s question, the fullness of her heart, the condom in her backpack, the stunted confession in her stomach, the stinging tears she was fighting to keep from falling. She leaned on his shoulder again, and Craig took it as a sign of contentment, perhaps of relief. Bonnie held her breath to keep from shaking.

“Summer is over,” she said in as even a voice as possible.

“Yes,” Craig said in a wistful voice. “A new adventure awaits us!”