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Romance Contemporary

Is he going to answer the fucking door? 

The box of clothes in my arms grew heavier and heavier with each ring that echoed from his monotonous doorbell. 

This wasn’t the first time I found myself on James’s doorstep, forgotten clothes in tow, waiting for him to open the door.

 It was the fourth.

 Each time, I would message him in advance to ensure his presence, and each time, I found myself in this exact situation, more and more tempted to just leave the box and all the memories attached on his porch. 

But something continued to hold me back. 

I stood for another 15 minutes before boredom got the best of me and I left, still cradling the box in my arms. I would have to return again and further drag out the wound this breakup had inflicted on my life. 

A small flame of relief ignited within me, but I immediately smothered it. 

  •  

Is she going to stop ringing the fucking doorbell?

I rolled over in bed and forced a pillow over my ears to drown out the sound. It wasn’t working.

I was fully aware that Sarah was going to show up on my doorstep for the fourth Thursday in a row, trying to return some of the belongings I had left at her house. Each week, I told her I would be there.

 I wasn’t lying, I was always home on Thursday mornings. I just didn’t want to deal with what opening the door entailed. 

After 15 long minutes, the rhythmic ringing stopped and I swung my legs out of bed and walked to check the front door. No Sarah, no box. Mission accomplished. I had bought myself another week’s worth of time to gather my thoughts. 

To be honest, I did want my clothes back. I missed the hoodies and miscellaneous socks, even if summer had rendered them useless over a month ago. I wanted to throw them in my hamper and wash out every abstract thing I had attached to them. The light scent of the detergent that clung onto her bedsheets, the way the material flowed over her as she tried to sneak yet another sweatshirt away from me. I’d always noticed, but never intervened. 

But I couldn't bear to think about shoving them in the wash and pressing start. I couldn’t bear to think of the soapy water and stress of life wearing and washing away at what was left of us. And I certainly couldn’t bear to imagine opening the front door and floodgates to everything else that comes after. 

Luckily, something told me she enjoyed this endless routine as well. If she was truly done with me, she would not have stood outside my house for a combined sum of over 80 minutes, knowing full well I wouldn’t answer the door. She would have left the first week and never returned, maybe leaving the box behind, maybe taking it back with her. 

A melancholy grin tugged at the corners of my mouth. I still had a chance. 

  •  

“I can’t stand him. He treats it like a game. I don’t… uhg.” 

I cradled my phone between my ear and shoulder, my hands preoccupied with the preparation of my lunch. My eyes began to water, and I’d rather believe it was from the onions I was cutting than the discussion of James. 

“It’s just, like, why can’t I leave the box? Everything would just be done if I left it. But I just… I..” my voice faltered. 

Then it would be over, and you don’t want that, do you?” Jane’s voice rattled through the phone and confronted the inkling of regret in my head I’d been trying so hard to ignore. 

“What are you talking about?” I denied. “You know how great single life’s been? I feel so free. I’m glad to be rid of him.” The tears continued, and I finally began to doubt their origin. My vision had begun to blur and I accidentally nicked my finger while cutting. “Ow, shit. One sec.” I placed the phone down beside my sink and hit the speaker button before starting to wash my hands. 

If you’re so glad to be rid of him, why can’t you get rid of the clothes too? You said it yourself, they’re the only thing keeping you two in contact.” 

I paused and let the water run over my hands, slowly waiting for it to warm. She was right. I could swear up and down all day that I was done with James and never wanted to speak to him again, but I knew deep down that the next time I found myself at his door, I wouldn’t have the guts to just put down the box and leave. I was a moth drawn to the flame of his presence, whether separated by his front door or the wall of miscommunication that led to the end of our relationship. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all. Why did he still have this magnetic field, constantly drawing me closer and closer, just to switch sides and propel me away? Why wouldn’t he just take the goddamn clothe-

Sarah, are you still there? I’ve got to go. Just… leave the clothes next time. And think about what I said. Sorry to cut this little therapy session short, but if you’ve still got some shit to get out, send me a voice memo. Bye girl.” BEEP. 

I sighed and turned off the water, still scared to wipe my eyes for fear of getting more onion juice in them. My eyesight was still impaired as I searched for a towel to dry my hands before ultimately wiping them on my pant leg. My finger was still throbbing. 

A voice memo? That could work. 

I blinked through tears to try and make out Jane’s contact. Once I thought I’d found the right one, I held down on the record button and rambled. My words were timid at first, barely able to manifest themselves, but within a minute they stumbled over each other while trying to race out of my mouth. I went on and on about the circumstances that led to James and I’s split, the regrets I felt, the memories I held, everything. I barely registered the thoughts coming out of my mouth until I finished gushing and hit send. 

God. What do I want? 

I finally mustered the courage to wipe my eyes and blinked away the blurriness. I glanced at the texts I’d sent to Jane before the voice…. 

Wait. 

  •  

I was awoken from my mid-day nap by a call. The unmistakable sound of Taylor Swift’s song Love Story shook me into consciousness. Sarah had set it as her ringtone in my phone so I’d quickly be able to recognize when she needed to get ahold of me. I hadn’t changed it yet, partially because I had forgotten, and partially because I couldn’t bring myself to. 

She hasn’t called me in weeks. Is something wrong?

I declined the call to text her first. I took note of a voice memo she had sent me a few minutes prior but wasn’t able to listen before she called me again. I accepted the call and tried to combat any sleep still hiding in my voice. 

“Hey... Sarah, uh, whats-” 

“James. Don’t listen to that memo.”

The urgency in her voice caught me by surprise. “Huh? May I ask why?”

Just- please. Don’t. I-I meant to send it to Jane, you know Jane, my fri- I’m getting off-topic. I had to tell her some stuff but my eyes were blurry and my finger hurt so I couldn’t control it very well, and, and your names look so similar in my phone, and I messed up, and-” her voice was starting to quiver.

“Jesus, S-Sarah, calm down. I’m sure it’s not that bad. But if it’s that serious, ok, I’ll-I’ll just ignore it.” 

I heard a sigh of relief on the other end. “Good.” There was a pause. She was about to hang up. This was my chance. Whether it was a perfect set of coincidences or some higher power, something had sent me this unmistakably convenient opportunity. I couldn’t pass up.

“Hey, Sarah, can we talk about something?”

Silence.

How do I start this? Yeah, I still love you. Sorry it took me this long to figure out. Actually, I’ve known for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to open the fucking doo-

  “I would rather do it in person, though.” I continued. “Maybe… this Thursday? Preferably in the morning.” I could feel a grin sneaking onto her face. “I promise I’ll be home.”

Sarah scoffed. “Are you sure? I’m starting to get deja vu.” 

“I promise. It’s actually serious this time.” 

She paused yet again. 

“You don’t even have to bring the clothes, honestly, you can keep them, it-it’s-that’s… not what I’m worried about.”

That seemed to seal the deal. “Ok,” she finally responded, “I’ll be there. You sure you don’t want to meet sooner?” 

“No, I’m pretty busy this week.” That was a total lie.

“Ok, if you’re sure. Just make sure you open the door this time, James.” There was a playful tone in her voice. This was a good sign. 

“I will. I promise. I really do.” 

She let out a small chuckle and hung up. 

I let out a breath I had been subconsciously holding in and ran my hand through my hair. 

One week. 7 days. 164 hours to put together everything I wanted to say.

“I need a pen.” 

  •  

My arms felt empty without the familiar weight of James’s hoodies to ground me. The week passed slowly and I spent the majority of it worrying about what he wanted to discuss. Was he finally going to cut things off? Was he, too, tired of our repeated game of cat and mouse, but for different reasons? A small part of me hoped he was planning some grandiose gesture to mend what we had lost in the past month, but before I could daydream too much, the rational part of my brain would always lasso me back to reality. 

I was totally, completely, blindly, and unapologetically unprepared for whatever lay behind the white front door I’d become acquaintances with. 

But it didn’t stop me from reaching out my arm to yet again ring the doorbell. 

The door opened within seconds. James stood motionless in front of me before beckoning me in. He looked like hell. His eyes were shadowed by the dark rings laying beneath them, his outfit didn’t match, and his 5’o clock shadow appeared to have overstayed its welcome. He seemed to have been stressed about my visit as well. 

His house and appearance could not have differed more. Everything was pristine, not a single dish or cup in the sink, not a piece of lint on the floor. James had a habit of compulsively cleaning when he was nervous. 

He caught me staring and shyly chuckled. “Yeah, sorry about how I look, I didn’t sleep well last night…” He quietly added, “or the night before..” 

“It’s fine, I didn’t sleep great either.”

Silence. 

James cleared his throat. “I was, uh, up cleaning f-for a good bit of the night, but…” He started searching for something. “-I was also writing this… where is it…” He finally reappeared with a white piece of paper in hand. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to just rattle all this off from my brain, so I tried to prepare it beforehand…” He paused yet again. “This is a lot less than I remember…” 

I got the feeling he was stalling. “That’s fine, I’m sure it’ll get the message across.”

He nodded and cleared his throat. “So this is.. I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while... I just… It’s hard, ya know? I-It’s hard seeing you and knowing this tension is my fault. I kept waiting and waiting for you to reach out or do something, and it took me like… embarrassingly long to realize I’d have to initiate this. But I miss you. I really do. Sarah, I- you. You are such a great girl, and I was so lucky to have you. I messed us up and I feel bad about it. Even if... If you don’t feel the same way, I just- I want you to know that I know I take full responsibility. I just couldn’t deal with the guilt anymore.”

 He paused to try and read my face. I tried my hardest to remain composed, but inside, I was melting. He continued, “I mean, of course, I hope you feel the same way, but I don’t blame you if you don’t. I was kinda an ass those last few months. But I really, really hope you can forgive me at the very least. You deserve someone who can always be as reliable and grounded as you, and it’s not fair for me to just keep you around to leech off of that stability. And… and… that’s about it. Wow-” he glanced down at the paper, “-I-I really went off script there. Maybe I’m better at this whole professing-love thing than I think.” He punctuated his ramble with a goofy grin. 

I stood shellshocked. The smile on his face ticked away with every second I remained silent. I finally let his words absorb and met his gaze. His face reignited when I finally let the smile I’d been holding in surface. He let out a sigh of relief. 

“James I- I don’t know what to say. I was so sure you wanted me to come so you could finally end things, I didn’t prepare anything. I’m sorry.” 

He immediately reassured me and pulled me into his arms, embracing me like he’d been wanting this hug for a while. I savored the moment until a thought popped into my head. 

The voice memo.

I pulled away from James and whipped out my phone. He gave me a perplexed look, but I held up my finger to silence him while I searched for the message. 

“I may not know what to say…” I muttered, finally locating the message and hitting play, “but she does.” 

For a moment, I almost regretted playing the memo. I couldn’t remember what I had said. In my fit of oversharing, the words left my brain and mouth at the same moment, so I couldn’t recall much. But it was too late. 

James still wore his confused expression until the recording started. 

Hey Jane, sorry I kinda went silent there. I cut my finger and I had to wash it. I’m gonna give this a try. Honestly, you don’t even have to listen to it. Delete it if you want. I don’t care…. Ok. No more stalling. I’m starting.” 

My voice seemed to echo between me and James, both of us unaware of what she would say next. The next 3 minutes and 47 seconds were filled only by my words, unloading every good and bad thing I remembered from my relationship with James, every argument I recalled, every angry moment I took full credit for. Everything she said almost perfectly paralleled what James confessed, down to the stutters and speech patterns. We really had rubbed off on each other. 

“So… yeah. Uh, that’s about it. I don’t really remember much of w-what I just said. I don’t want to listen back to this. Maybe you shouldn’t either. Just delete this- ok well, it’s too late to say that now. The memo is over. I- uhg. Bye.”

We remained quiet for a few extra seconds to ensure the message was actually done. 

“Well, shit, Sarah. You couldn’t have said that like, a month ago?” James playfully bickered. 

“I could say the same thing about you, James. This isn’t my fault.”

He sighed. “Already arguing again. That’s gotta be a record. Honestly, what else should I have expected from us?”

I laughed and pulled him back into another hug. 

He gratefully accepted and nestled his head in my shoulder. 

“So… what now?”

“Well, first, you need to shave,” I joked. 

He scoffed. “What, you aren’t rockin’ with the beard?”

“What beard? All I see is some peach fuzz.”

He pulled away yet again and flashed me sad puppy-dog eyes. 

I rolled my eyes and grabbed his hand. 

“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

February 19, 2021 03:50

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18 comments

Matt Brooks
17:44 Mar 01, 2021

An interesting story. You can see how Sarah wasn't ready to totally give up on James and was willing to forgive if James would open the door. Your story made me smile and think of how we need more forgiveness in the world that we live in.

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Andrea Zimerer
04:20 Feb 19, 2021

What did James do? 😡😡😡 Sarah girly if he ever screws you over again you can just come to me mamas 🤪

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Lydi B
20:47 Feb 25, 2021

What cute and realistic take on people's feelings. I have to admit James sounds like he doesn't deserve that second chance, but I admired Sarah's ability to forgive.

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Michael Young
09:10 Feb 28, 2021

I liked the flow, the theme and the POV ping pong. I was expecting a twist that didn’t arrive, but now question if we should. It does reflect many a similar personal experience and so feels like a real slice of life. A welcome muffin of a story.

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Jillian Oakes
22:56 Feb 28, 2021

thank you so much for the feedback, i’m glad you enjoyed the story! i wrote this as sort of a break from some heavier projects i’d been tackling, so i just wanted it to be light and fun. i am curious as to what you thought the twist would be, if you’re comfortable sharing :]

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Michael Young
12:55 Mar 01, 2021

Hi Jillian - TBH I didn't have a particular twist in mind. I think it's a bit like a walk in the woods, always looking for something interesting off a less travelled path. I suppose the story could have gone in lots of directions. Met someone else with a box of clothes for their ex which led to something more meaningful, met someone else with more of her ex's clothes, so it transpires there are others like her and her ex is a serial hanger on of tenuous relationships. I took a tip from researching writing, always think well, 'what if' and ha...

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Zoe Knight
08:54 Feb 28, 2021

Oh, that was very nice. I liked the "game" between them, the fact that there are two povs, and that the conflict gets resolved in such a nice way. In terms of style I noticed that you use a lot of my, his etc. instead of just using "a" or nothing. Like "wore his confused expression". Don't really need a "his". Just a thing to watch out for. :)

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Lune Aubrey
03:42 Feb 27, 2021

Ahhh, this story hit me. You conveyed the awkwardness of trying to talk to your ex too perfectly. Great job!

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Ellie Yu
01:05 Feb 26, 2021

I love this! The concept doesn’t feel contrived at all because you execute it so nicely. The characters are so lifelike - I can totally understand the embarrassment of sending a message to the wrong person. It was super enjoyable to read! (And thanks for checking out my story!)

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Jillian Oakes
01:21 Feb 26, 2021

Thank you so much! Comments like these are what make me love this community so much. :)

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Cole Lane
18:36 Feb 25, 2021

The insecurities, angst and doubt that cloud real feelings ... that and accidently sending a message to the wrong person, this shit is real. lol! Great story!

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Jillian Oakes
17:30 Feb 19, 2021

Also!! My inspiration behind this story was the song “Yours” by Aidan Alexander, just a fun fact if you want to go listen :)

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Ashley 💜
05:58 Mar 30, 2021

The first words always catch my attention, ever need anybody to help you kick someone's door down, I'm in! Congrats on the story, it's dynamic and captivating.

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00:55 Mar 26, 2021

Cute story. I liked the characters' chemistry. For a minute there I thought they weren't going to make it when they came close to arguing again, but forgiveness and understanding won the day.

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R. B. Leyland
22:58 Mar 24, 2021

Two people wanting the same thing for so long, kinda shows you should live in the moment and just go for it! Would honestly like to know what he did though :D Great story!

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Kate Winchester
01:42 Mar 03, 2021

This was cute. I enjoyed it. :)

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Jay D Mer
17:48 Feb 25, 2021

Love this. Cute, funny, and awesome. Nice job:) Thanks for liking my story as well.

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Bobby Bone
15:03 Feb 22, 2021

Interesting how you have both James and Sarah telling their stories.👍

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