When I was fifteen years old, I fell in love with a boy from my church. He was gorgeous, blond, with a sunny grin. Everything a teen girl would want. I watched him walk the halls, charming and perfect. I made jokes during class and turned to see if he was listening. He was my beloved, and I wanted to be with him more than I wanted anything in the world.
One night I asked him out and he said yes. I spent two hours setting up our date: a romantic picnic under the stars with wine I smuggled from my parents and a basket of sweet-smelling cheese, just like in the movies. Then I would confess my love. I brought him here, eager for his reaction, but his face had turned ashen. He said, “This is all a little fancy, isn’t it? I was thinking, like, pizza and an arcade.”
“But the stars are so pretty,” I told him. “Wouldn’t it be a shame to waste such a lovely evening?”
“This was a bad idea,” he mumbles, and he stutters out a few apologies before turning and running away.
“Wait!” I shouted. “Wait! I’m sorry! I just wanted to tell you that I love you! Please come back!”
I spent the rest of the evening sitting on the grass, drunk on most of the wine and sobbing into his answering machine. My best friend Angie picked me up, and I sucked my thumb like a baby all the way home. My first chance at love, blown to pieces.
I don’t do things like that anymore.
It’s twenty minutes to the ceremony, but I couldn’t care less. We’re pressed up against a bathroom wall, his hands tangling around the folds of my dress, and I’m running my hands through his hair, wondering how I could be so lucky to find someone with such thick, fine hair.
“You’re so hot.” he mumbles into my skin, hands running up to my shoulders.
“I love you,” I breathe in response. “Do you love me?”
His fingers push up to my scalp. “Yeah. Sure.”
I fight the knot in my stomach at those words and kiss him instead, insistently, so he would be mine.
There’s a hard knock on the door and we both jump. “Maxton!” a voice screams. “You better not be late for your own damn wedding! Get your stupid butt out here, now!”
“Jesus, relax honey!” Maxton yells through the door. He winks at me. “I’m not going to mess this up!”
“You better not!” Her shoes stomp their way down the hall, and I picture them. Pretty, creamy-pink heels that matched the flowers adorning the church. I’d helped her pick them out, although I had suggested the blue ones. Maxton liked blue.
“Ah, crap.” Maxton sighed, pushing me away gently. “Time for the ceremony.” He smiles at me, and his eyes are tired, and his mouth is puffy from my kisses, and I want to hug him to me, tightly, and never let him go.
“I want you to know,” I begin, “that if it doesn’t work out-- if she’s not what you want-- well, I’ve been in love with you for months. And-- and I think we would be good together.” I give a shaky laugh and dig my fingers tighter into his suit. “We already do other things good together, right?”
“Right,” he laughs, and he smiles for a second, then sighs and drops his arms from my shoulders. “Ahhh, I can’t, Evangeline. I mean, I do love you-- but I love her, too. Maybe-- maybe we can figure something out later? It’s just,” he runs his hands through that beautiful hair of his. “It’s just, I don’t know how to love two women at the same time. Bloody hard, you know?” He peeks up at me, and like a fool I swallow the bait.
“We’d better get going,” he says, straightening his suit like he was getting rid of my essence on there, the lipstick kisses all down his chest, the manicured nails-- just for him-- that had been polished into delicate claws digging into his skin.
He gives me a quick nod and smile, then flees the bathroom. I’m forced to stand and wait a few minutes so we’re not caught. There’s a hollow feeling in my chest, a pain that makes the floor unsteady, a swaying, terrible vertigo that catches my breath in my chest and makes me want to cry.
It just wasn’t fair that he was choosing her.
Maybe I wore white to their wedding so he would look at me as much as he looked at her. Maybe I told her to wear pink heels because I knew she would do the opposite of whatever I said, and that he would like the blue ones far more. Maybe I offered to stay late at the office where we worked, again and again so I could bring him late-night whiskey and smile and give him the view a loose blouse offered when I bent over.
But he wouldn’t have followed along if he didn’t really love me too, right? If he loved me it couldn’t possibly be my fault. It would have happened anyway.
Christina looked like a runway model floating down the walkway. The hem of her dress tickled scattered rose petals, and people ooh-ed and aah-ed over the contrast of white to her rich brown skin. Her face was serene, lit up from within. In my pew I frowned and shifted and wished I could dig out a cigarette, except it would be bad manners to Christina.
My Maxton was beautiful in his deep blue suit. I loved the way it clung to his chest, the contrast to his tanned skin. He smiled when she approached, like any good man would, and you couldn’t have known that ten minutes ago he was gasping confessions into the mouth of another woman.
Christina’s face was bright with joy. She had no idea.
But she was terrible. It was okay that she didn’t know. And he loved me, so it would have happened sooner or later.
If he didn’t want to be with me, I think, then this wouldn’t have happened.
I ached through their vows, and I wanted that cigarette burning my fingers.
The car ride home was rainy and miserable, like a scene from a romcom. This was when the heroine suffered, when the weight of her misery became too much to bear, and she cried and ate a lot of ice cream when she got home and still managed to look very cute in all her sadness.
I let the tears leak down my face. My Maxton, shackled to that witch.
They would be happy. I pictured them sleeping in together, Christina making him laugh, Maxton surprising her with sapphire bracelets.
It should be me.
The anger was righteous, I reasoned. We were kept separate-- two blazing comets with hearts of fire and lava rock, trapped in an ocean the color of Christina’s eyes. We were so destined for each other, and she was what was keeping us apart. It was all her fault.
But something in me, through the rage, kept on going back to Christina and her smile as she stood up there and married a man she loved-- the man of my dreams, yes, but still somebody she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. And she didn’t know that I-- I had been with him too for months, that I was with him after they argued about flower arrangements and he needed to ‘blow off steam,’ or that I sprawled across her sheets and used her deodorant while she was at her mother’s funeral.
It still would have happened. He loved me so it would have happened anyway. Christina still would have been hurt.
The rain was coming down hard. It was difficult to see ahead. It pounded a song onto the roof and made the inside of the car cold, even though I had the seat heater turned up and my arse felt like it was roasting. My arms were covered in goosebumps, and my hands, knotted at the wheel, had gone white, although I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or from the tensed muscles of my flabby shoulders.
Romcoms made love much cuter than this.
The fact that he’s choosing to cheat stands for something, right? The fact that he’d suggested the bad thing first and I followed along, blind, because I loved him? It was stupid, unfair, that he made me choose. He forced me to do the selfish things by saying he loved me. He was the real cheater.
“It’s not your fault,” I whispered. But still…
If he was the one at fault the first time we went behind her back, then who was to blame for the second?
Maxton called while I was standing in front of the mirror, squeezing the flesh of my stomach, debating going on a diet.
“Hey,” he said. His voice was low, sultry. I loved his voice. It was the most perfect thing I’d ever heard.
“Hey,” I say, trying not to sound too eager. “What are you doing?”
“Thinking about you,” he said. “Imagining you with me. Wishing you were here.”
I giggled. “How scandalous of you. Are you free?” I settle into a chair, biting a smile like a teenage girl. He called…
“Oh,” he said with surprise. “Well, I was thinking we would just do things over the phone, but I guess we could meet up.”
My heart dropped at the “I guess” but Maxton was a busy, important man. He’d probably have to take time out of his schedule to fit me in. It was so nice of him to do, I forgave the slight. “Your apartment?”
“No, Christina’s here. How about your place?” His voice changed again, back to husky. “As soon as possible, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not at all.” I didn’t even bother trying to match him in a sexy tone. I had practiced a lot, and failed. Maxton said I sounded like a dying, pathetic goose.
It was a joke.
“I’ll be right over,” Maxton whispered into the phone, and hung up before I could murmur a heartfelt goodbye. I sat back and tried to keep the goofy smile pinned to my cheeks.
It was fine, really. I said I wanted him in whatever way I could. I was getting him. Besides, he loved me, so we were basically dating. We were an almost-normal relationship, except for a Christina shaped hole in our love story.
That would take some getting used to.
There was a package waiting on my doorstep when I got home and I carried it to the kitchen, pouring a glass of wine after I put it down. It’s heavy and interesting but I leave it and go to my room to get dressed. Maxton was coming over.
Tonight’s adventure was for the week after Valentine’s Day. Maxton had been all apologies when I called to make plans-- “I’m sorry baby, Christina and I are going away for the weekend” so we decided to do it after they got back. What to wear, though? Sexy red undergarments? Garter and see-through robe? Slinky black dress that runs through my fingers like water? I pick the undergarments, hoping they’d disguise my new two pounds.
He wasn’t here yet so I picked my way to the kitchen, sipping wine and debating a movie. Rom Coms made this look easier. No one ever sees the heroine lounging around her kitchen in tiny underpants waiting for her knight to come so she can seduce him. It’s even more awkward tonight, considering the thoughts I’ve been having about our relationship lately. Is it worth it, does he love me, what about her… very irritating and taking up valuable brainspace that should be concentrated on Maxton.
Opening the package felt like either a slap in the face or a God-given message.
Maxton and Christina, standing in front of the church, smiling their Sunday best. Married. Perfect. Happy.
I drop my head into my hands, squeezing my eyes shut over the hurt that jabbed my heart. Was it worth it? Was all this shit really worth it? Maxton was everything to me, but he’d been breaking everything in me for months now, and I didn’t know what to do about it. What do you do when the person you love is hurting you? How do you show someone what you’re sacrificing for them?
The phone rings, and it scares me so bad I drop the picture. The glass shatters on the floor but I’m fumbling to answer and ignore it.
“Hey,” I gasp. Maxton. “What’s going on?”
“I can’t make it,” he says. “Christina wants me to go to dinner with her and her parents.” He sounds like he’s walking. His breaths are fast and rushed.
My heart drops. “What? Why? We had plans… can’t you tell her work or something?”
“She gets all pissy when I have to work,” he growls into the phone. “It’s less of a headache to just do what she wants.”
“But Maxton--” I begin. “I--”
“Would you stop it?” he explodes. “It’s not my fault you got your hopes up, but I’m married for Christ’s sake. I don’t owe anything to you-- I’m doing what’s good for my wife and our relationship! And you’re trying to screw it all up!”
I'm too shocked to say anything for a moment, “So it’s me, then? I’m the one making booty calls, sneaking over when your wife is out of town and you’re just forced to go along with it?” I can't believe him.
“You talked me into this,” he snarls, wolflike in his fury, and even over the phone I shrink. “You said all those things about love and having a crush on me and what-- I can just move on with my life? Men don’t reject gorgeous women, Evangeline! We use them!”
I don’t think even he meant to say that last part, and the little gasp he gives proves that. I sink to the floor, clutching the phone like it’s a lifeline. He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t love me.
“So that’s it then?” I demanded. “I've been a toy the whole time? I'm your stupid Barbie doll to play with whenever you felt like it? I didn’t screw up your damn relationship, Maxton! The second you kissed me you did that all on your own. Because you’re right-- you do use women. Yes, I’m pretty and yes I’m naive but I haven’t trapped you in some sort of contract!”
I feel a burning power running through my veins. Everything I’ve wanted to say for the past months is exploding out, wave after tumultuous wave, and I end it with a final lightning strike. “I’m done with you. Get the hell out of my life.” I hang up and glare at the screen for a long time. What an adrenaline rush...
Ten seconds later I’m crying, bawling like a little kid. Luckily my romcoms have prepared me for this and I put on Bridget Jones’ Diary, sitting on the floor in my skimpy underwear, wondering if I’d made the right choice, wondering what he was thinking, wondering… but eventually I’m sucked into the movie and I appreciate the freedom of, for the first time in months, not wondering anything at all.
The phone is a snake. I stare at it like it’s about to bite.
It’s been two weeks-- two whole weeks and I want him so bad it’s like an ache in my bones. I need him next to me, saying that he loved me, that we would work this out, that he was sorry.
I have the wine in my hand. I’ve been watching rom coms for the past two weeks. I’m ready to make the call.
But there’s an obstacle. A single damn obstacle, glaring between me and true love. The stupid wedding photo.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I tell the picture, hiccupy and light-headed. “You’re not-- you’re not nice enough to keep him. S’isn’t my fault.”
She was a terrible friend, a terrible person, and on top of that she was keeping me apart from my true love. Maxton hadn’t called since our breakup and that was her fault. She deserved… she deserved…
Bollocks. What did she deserve?
I pick up the picture and study it, for once not looking at him but at her. She really did look beautiful. Her dark hair was pinned loosely into a bun-- she’d chosen to have her niece do it instead of a professional even though her niece didn’t have any experience. Her makeup was light and fresh so her joy could better shine through. The veil down her back surrounded her in a glow, and her expression… I could feel her light through the image.
She looked so damn happy, and I felt something in my break.
I’d shit on that happiness every day since, whenever I thought about Maxton-- her husband-- in bed or in the shower, when I pulled him to me in the sheets, when I filled his mouth with promises about how much he loved me, and when I filled my ears with lies that he meant them. She wasn’t the intruder; I was. I was breaking and entering into something that wasn’t mine, and I needed to stop. He hadn’t chosen me, and he never would because Christina was twice the person I was. Because of that, Christina deserved… she deserved to know.
I picked up the phone. Dialed a number. Waited till they picked up.
No more, Maxton.
“I have something to tell you, Christina.” I said.