My boyfriend and I had been dating for four months when he invited me to his work’s Christmas party. I had just gotten a cute new red dress. It was perfect except for a lack of pockets, so he had to keep my phone. He insisted on wearing green, to go along with the red. A regular hallmark couple. The whole drive there he keeps saying how excited he is for me to meet his coworkers.
Arriving at the office building, I already feel out of place. I am a vet and working with animals has always felt right. Now in a cramped office filled with people, it was like alarm bells were going off in my head. I meet some of his coworkers.
“Ah, so Brandon finally brought a date. We thought it would never happen,” one guy says. Brandon playfully nudges him.
“You’re just jealous. Where’s your girlfriend?” The man waves to a girl at the small table of snacks. His girlfriend waves back at him.
“Have you seen the boss lady? I want her to meet Silvia,” my boyfriend asks, motioning to me.
“Yeah she’s out on the terrace. Brought her new boyfriend too.”
Brandon pulls me along eagerly. We step out on the terrace into the cold air. The city is bright with lights. We’re on the 20th floor, and I nearly throw up just by looking over the edge. I inch away from the railing and closer to the door.
“Erin!” Brandon grabs me by the hand and pulls me along to meet his boss. She is a tall woman with short black hair and wearing a gorgeous maroon dress.
“This is my girlfriend, Silvia. Silvia, this is my boss, Erin,” he introduces us.
She shakes my hand, “Brandon talks more about you than he does about work.”
Brandon turns red. I laugh. A moment of silence falls. I try to think of something to say. Animals are so much easier to converse with.
Erin breaks the silence, “This is my boyfriend, Eddy.” She gestures to a man who just joined us. That feeling when I was looking over the 20 floors drop to the ground returns.
“Eddy, this is my employee Brandon and his girlfriend, Silvia.” Eddy shakes Brandon’s hand. Then he turns to me.
This is a moment when a five-year relationship flashes before our eyes.
“Nice to meet you, Silvia,” he says as he shakes my hand. I nod.
Brandon starts telling the funny story about our Christmas tree. It was too big, so we cut off some of the trunk. That’s the story. But Brandon has such a way with words he can make anything interesting.
All eyes are on him. My eyes remain on Eddy.
I remember eight and a half years ago when he came into the vet that I worked at in a panic. I was only an intern then. His dog had started throwing up non-stop. While the vet checked on his dog, I stayed with Eddy. He was mess. Crying. Pale. Eyes red. He hadn’t eaten anything all day. I brought him some McDonald’s during my lunch break.
His dog had stomach cancer.
Laughter brought me back to the present. Brandon had finished the story.
“Oh, Eddy, tell them what Shiro did! Shiro is my shih tzu,” she adds for context.
Eddy begins telling a story about how Erin’s dog had knocked an ornament off the tree and chased it around the house, causing mayhem everywhere.
We had been dating for a year when his dog died. He kept a lock of her fur. Two months later, on his birthday, I brought home a German Shepard puppy. We named her Trinity. He told me he loved me for the first time that night.
“Brandon can I show you some projections on the Jameson account?” Erin asks. My boyfriend nods eagerly.
“I’ll be right back.” He kisses me on the cheek before following Erin inside.
Eddy and I are alone.
“Big,” he says.
I nod. He nods. He never was much of a talker. We stand in silence for a moment. Not the awkward kind. He is gazing out at the buildings. I am inching as close to the door as possible.
“Do you want to go back inside?” Eddy asks.
I glance back inside. Through the glass door I can see people. Lots of the people. Loud people. A karaoke machine. Stuck being a rock and a hard place I choose the lesser of the two evils.
“No, I’ll stay.”
He nods. “How’s your sister?” My sister had been undergoing food surgery.
“She’s good. Walking again.” I shiver. The air is cold, and I’m beginning to wonder if I made a mistake.
Eddy shrugs off his jacket and puts it around me.
He purposed to me after four years of dating. We were on vacation at a little take in Wisconsin. On the dock as we watched the sunset, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I remember staring at him as though he were an alien. I don’t think I responded for a full minute before suddenly exclaiming ‘yes’ over and over and hugging and kissing him. We fell into the lake.
We stare at each other, and I wonder if he’s thinking about the same thing. The sliding door opens and Erin and Brandon come back out.
“Oh, I forgot how cold it is out here,” Erin states, “Let’s all go back inside.”
Inside soft Christmas music plays and people are happily chatting. I return Eddy’s jacket.
“Brownie?” Brandon offers me a brownie from the snack table. I decline.
Erin looks around, “Do you guys want to see my office?”
Brandon looks confused. I shrug.
She leads us to her office and quickly shuts the door once we are all inside. “Company policy says no alcohol in the office.” She walks around to her desk and pulls out a full bottle of tequila.
Brandon practically jumps with excitement. “Oh yeah! Now it’s a real party.”
Eddy and I share a look. We were never much for alcohol. I’m a lightweight and his father was an alcoholic. Erin sets out four shot glasses and fills them.
We each pick one up. “Merry Christmas!” Erin says as we drink.
I hate the taste of tequila, and it takes all my strength not to gag. Erin pulls her chair around her desk and we all sit.
“So how did you two meet?” She asks.
“Through a friend!” Brandon says, “She set us up on the date, and we just clicked.” He looks over at me and grabs my hand. “What about you guys?”
Erin blushes, “I accidentally rear-ended his car.”
“That’s one way to come on strong!” Brandon says with a laugh. Erin pours us all another shot. I try to decline, but Erin pushes the glass into my hands.
The second shot is no better than the first. In fact, it felt worse. I feel tired. And a little sick. My throat burns. Brandon is talking again, but I don’t pay any attention.
Eddy, who had been sitting silently next to Erin, leans forward. “Are you okay?” he asks softly. I shake my head. I can feel my stomach twisting.
I pull at Brandon’s shirt. “Where is the bathroom?”
He doesn’t pause his story. I pull harder. “Brandon.”
“Where is the bathroom?”
He gestures behind him. “Down the hall. On the left.”
I jump up and run out of the office and down the hall. I can feel it rising up my throat. I burst into the women’s bathroom and run into a stall, practically throwing myself at the toilet as a moment later I throw up.
I lean my head against the toilet bowl my hair falling from its ponytail. I still feel sick.
I hear the door to the restroom creak open. “Silvia?” It’s Eddy. I hear him walk up behind me. “Are you okay?”
I groan in response. More hair comes loose. Gently, he collects my hair and pulls it back.
It was three months before we were supposed to get married. My mom died. I cried for days. My mother and I had always been very close, and it was unexpected. I could barely function. Eddy was there for me. And I loved him.
Then he lost his job. They were going under and letting people go. No warning. Life was hard. Grief and loss. We were young and unprepared. We both said and did things we didn’t mean. Our relationship didn’t weather the storm. The wedding was called off, and we parted ways without speaking.
I cried. Because I still loved him.
“Do you want some water?”
I shake my head. “I want to go home.”
He nods. “Do you want me to go get Brandon?”
I shake my head again. I don’t want to ruin his fun because I can’t handle a drink.
“I can drive you,” he says.
I sigh, “I don’t want to ruin your night out with your girlfriend. Stay and have fun. I’m fine.”
He sits down on the floor next to me. “Come on, you know me well enough to know this isn’t my definition of fun.” He offers me a hand. I take it.
I still feel queasy as we leave the restroom. We stop by the office.
“I’m going to go home, Brandon,” I say. Brandon looks surprised. Like he hadn’t even noticed I was gone.
“Oh, okay. Are you feeling okay?”
“Just a little sick. Don’t worry about it. Have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay.”
“I’m gonna give her a ride home,” Eddy says. Erin gives him a peck on the lips and wishes us a safe trip.
He closes the office door and leads me through the office.
“Are you still at Oakwood Apartments?”
I nod. The office is much louder now, and someone is scream/singing a karaoke song. My head hurts. We get into the elevator, and the music muffles. I feel like crying, but I don’t know why.
“How are you?” He asks.
“I feel a little better.”
He nods. “Yeah. But, like, how are you? In life?”
I think about it. I have a good job that I like. Though my mother’s death still hurt, my sister and I are closer. I have a boyfriend who I lov- well, I have a boyfriend.
“Good. Better. How are you?”
“Employed. I’m living at RayWater.”
I remembered touring RayWater apartments when we were thinking about moving in together. They were nice. Large with open outdoor space for dogs.
When the elevator reaches the parking garage we head towards his car. The same blue ford fusion that we had our first kiss. Just before reaching his car I remember my phone is still in my boyfriend’s pocket. I always like to keep it close in case one of my customers needs to reach me about their pet, as I give out my personal number for emergencies. Eddy offers to go get it, but I tell him I’ll be fine, and I head up.
I walk through the party. The smell of candy canes and eggnog is strong, and I nearly throw up again.
I reach the office and open the door. My stomach twists strongly in my stomach and the alcohol burns once against in my throat.
Brandon is shirtless with his tongue down Erin’s throat, his hands pulling up her dress revealing her panties.
I gasp, and they instantly separate. Erin begins pulling down his dress. Brandon grabs his shirt.
“Oh, god, Silvia, I’m so sorry. It’s not like that. I just-“
“I want my phone,” I say. My eyes are wide, and my face is numb.
“Look it’s just sex, okay? I love you, not her. It’s just for fun. You’re the one that I-“
“Give me my phone.”
He rummages through his pockets, procuring my phone. I take it, turn, and walk away, heading for the elevator. He follows, with Erin close behind.
“Silvia, please, let’s talk about this.” I ignore him. I swallow to keep myself from throwing up. Tears begin to prick at my eyes.
I reach the elevator just as it opens, and there is Eddy. He sees me and immediately looks worried. “Are you okay? What happened?”
Brandon grabs me by the arm and turns me to face him. “Silvia, please. I love you. This thing with Erin means nothing.”
I pull away from him. I can’t speak. I can’t even swallow. He tries to follow me, but Eddy steps between us. He looks at Erin. She stammers.
“We’re done,” he says.
I look at Brandon. I don’t have to say it. Eddy and I step into the elevator as the doors close. There is silence as it goes down. “I didn’t want to say it before. But your boyfriend, uh, ex-boyfriend is very annoying. Does he ever stop talking?”
I laugh, but it quickly turns into a sob. He pulls me into a hug. I hug him back. “Sorry my boyfriend was hooking up with your girlfriend.”
He laughs. We hold each other until the doors open. We walk to his blue ford fusion, and maybe, just maybe, we’ve been given a second chance.