Empty Clichés

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten days.... view prompt

12 comments

American Fiction Romance

January 1st, the dawning of a new year, the time for resolutions we never keep…all the clichés felt empty. I should have spent New Year’s Eve out with my partner and his friends, taking shots of whiskey and shooting confetti cannons when the ball dropped. Instead, because of the events of the year, I sat at home, curled up in my recliner, tucked under a soft blanket, watching reruns of nineties sitcoms.

I blamed fear of coronavirus, of course, because it was a convenient and practical excuse. Who could blame me for not wanting to be surrounded by crowds of disease-ridden strangers? The truth, though, was that my heart didn’t feel like celebrating unless I could be in Manhattan with him. Darnell. Even his name was seductive to me. It rolled around in my brain, rolled perfectly over my tongue when I said it. That night, I sat and pictured him leaning against his apartment building, sneaking a cigarette even though he was trying to quit, listening to the celebrations above and around him. He didn’t go out either—I knew he wouldn’t. Our connection was deep and impenetrable, despite our decision to pursue other relationships. Despite our decision to be friends. Despite the fact that it killed me a little inside that I couldn’t be there with him.

That decision was made right before Christmas, even though it had been discussed at length before. Darnell came out to see me, a three-hour flight. Even though I was with Shawn, Darnell and I had a silent understanding that if we had a chance, I would end things with Shawn. We weren’t serious, and we definitely didn’t have the same passion that Darnell and I shared.

That starry December night, we sat in a slow diner off the interstate, facing each other in a booth. His brown eyes searched mine, and he licked his lips nervously.

“I know you said the distance was too much—” he started, faltering as he sipped his unsweet tea.

“It is.” I filled in the silence, unable to look at him.

“I know it is. But fuck, Shannon, sometimes I just want to say, ‘Screw it,’ but that wouldn’t be fair for either of us.”

I nodded, overcome with numbness. It was the conversation I dreaded having, the conversation we’d had before, the conversation that always broke me a little.

“I wouldn’t ask you to do that. You’re right. I mean, we live too far apart. Neither of us is able to move, and I don’t foresee that being possible in the future.”

“I’m still coming to terms with that.” Darnell sighed and reached for my hand. I pulled it away, a gentle reminder that I was a taken woman. “I wish I’d fought for you then. I didn’t realize how much you mean to me.”

“I had to move on.” The words felt so quiet coming out of my mouth that I wasn’t sure they were audible. I continued anyway; it wasn’t like they were new to him. “It hurt too much to wait. I wanted to, really. I just…couldn’t. It felt like I was holding on to someone intangible when there was someone right here who wanted me.”

“We have terrible timing.”

“The worst timing.”

We both leaned back against the blue duct-taped cushions and looked at the menus in front of us. I wondered how many times we’d have this conversation before I could let him go. The waitress interrupted my thoughts, taking our orders quickly before disappearing into the kitchen.

“It’s funny. If we’d met any other time in our lives, we could have been unstoppable,” Darnell said, rubbing the black stubble on his chin. “I haven’t connected with someone on this level in years.”

“Me neither.”

“What about Shawn?” Chagrin washed over his face. He had blurted the question out, never intending to mention the man he felt he’d lost to.

“I like Shawn. We have a lot of fun together.” But he’s not you.

Darnell nodded as though he could hear my thoughts. Shit, maybe he could. Maybe that’s why we connected so quickly.

“I know you guys have history. I can’t compete with someone like that.”

“It was never a competition. You know there was a time that if you’d asked, I’d have been yours in a New York minute.” He groaned slightly at the terrible joke about his hometown. “But you were right to hesitate. Logically, how could this have worked?”

“We’ve switched places,” he replied. “Now you’re all head and I’m all heart, and two months too late.” The waitress returned with our food, and I smiled wistfully at Darnell, recognizing what he was feeling as something I’d already mourned.

We ate our dinner and I drove him back to the airport. It was only the second time we’d met in person, though our text thread went back to June. He kissed my cheek, his eyes somber and tear-filled, and he walked away, glancing back only once. My gaze never left his form.

He messaged me when he got home, and we continued to talk. We exchanged wishes for a happy holiday season, but a veil had been placed between us, one that showed a difference in our relationship’s dynamic: one day there was still a spark, a potential that this could be a romantic relationship in the future, a dynamic filled with hope, and then, suddenly, a feeling of defeat, a new dynamic based on friendship and logic instead of passion. We’d made a joint resolution, without having to say a word: In 2021, we would move on and would not entertain the notion that we could be in love.

I knew, and Darnell knew, that it was the right decision, that long distance would not work in the end. I told him it would lead to inevitable heartbreak. Still, January 1st rolled around, and I desperately wanted a cigarette. I hated the taste of the things, but the faint smoke smell they left on my clothes reminded me of Darnell. I had a bottle of the aftershave he used and rubbed some on my wrists before lying back in bed, staring at a ladybug on the ceiling. I put on the first song he’d shown me and replayed it, again and again.

I kept my resolution until January 2nd, when I got a simple message from Darnell: “I miss you. Come over.” And without a doubt, my heart knew what I needed to do.

December 29, 2020 00:29

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

12 comments

Elle Clark
22:20 Dec 29, 2020

This is such an interesting story. It’s so simple but it feels like there’s reams of backstory that I know from just a few hints. This also speaks to everyone who has ever been in love with the wrong person at the wrong time. Mostly during their early twenties (though I imagine it can happen at any time). That sort of reckless, overwhelming connection over a short amount of time feels like an early twenties sort of thing though. It was so short but managed to get everything it needed in. Great work!

Reply

Paige Leppanen
01:53 Dec 30, 2020

Thank you for the positive feedback! :)

Reply

Elle Clark
15:06 Dec 31, 2020

You’re more than welcome! I’ve got a new one out as well. If you have time and are interested, feel free to check it out.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
M Dover
15:05 Jan 06, 2021

A wonderful ending and such a relatable beginning ha!

Reply

Paige Leppanen
17:39 Jan 06, 2021

Thanks! Lol it's why I never make resolutions.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kylie Rudolf
09:39 Jan 03, 2021

This story is truly unique! Your backstory hints were captivating, the ending too, "my heart knew what I needed to do." It was such a wonderful ending!

Reply

Paige Leppanen
17:51 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
23:45 Jan 02, 2021

.... I can't even form words. You're good. REALLY GOOD!!!

Reply

Kylie Rudolf
09:37 Jan 03, 2021

Agreed :)

Reply

16:46 Jan 03, 2021

Yeah, this is really, really good, it's a day later and I can hardly describe it and still do it justice.

Reply

Paige Leppanen
17:52 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you!

Reply

19:11 Jan 03, 2021

:)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply