Miranda dug around in her make-up bag, searching for a specific lipstick that went great with her auburn hair and the electric green shirt she was wearing. Not finding it, she ran to her room, spastically searching for it. T-shirts and thongs that had been littered across her dresser wet flying as she combed through the mess.
“What are you looking for?” Martin was reclined on Miranda’s bed, watching her with a lopsided grin.
“What about all those on your dresser?”
She didn’t appreciate the amusement in his tone. “Those don’t go with this top. Yes! Here it is.” She fished it out of one of her many purses.
“Why even wear make-up? You don’t need it.”
A year ago, she would have blushed at the compliment, now she just wished he could understand. “We’re going to a party, I have to have the party look.”
Martin shrugged. “Why? Why do you get all done up to see your friends that you see every week, to get drunk at Tina’s place? You don’t need to impress anyone.”
Mindy’s lips thinned as she looked at him in the reflection of her bedroom mirror. I know you can’t be bothered to dress up, but I want to look good. Her thoughts went unvoiced, sitting with the complaints that had been silently building since graduation.
Having a boyfriend had been great in high school, they’d walk down the hall holding hands and everyone would notice. She got to hold her head up high, walk with the confidence of knowing she was wanted. Between the two of them, there were always parties to go to, and making out with her steady boyfriend at a party, running off into spare bedrooms, with everyone knowing what they were up to, yes, it was a high she had run on for over a year. Now though, they had graduated and there was more time to spend with him, but no one to see. Except her family, who had adopted him way too easily. He was always around, always texting her, touching her, trying to talk about school and the future.
Fuck the future, I just want to go out and enjoy some time with my friends.
“It’s too bad Jeremy couldn’t come,”she offered as conversation, not wanting to bore him with silence, “you would have more fun with him at the party.”
“I’m good. I gotta take care of you, make sure you and your friends are okay.”
She smiled at him. “You don’t have to take care of us, and you don’t have to stay sober. We can call a cab.”
He stood and kissed her on the forehead, wrapped his arms around her. She tried to relax into it, the way she used to.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, just trying to get ready fast to get to Tina’s.” He sat back down, fiddled on his phone while she got ready.
“Okay, I’m ready. How do I look?”
“Hot. Come here.” He ran his hands down her back, over her butt.
That warmed her up nicely, but she pushed him away. “Let’s go.”
It was about 2:00 AM when Martin carefully led a wobbly Miranda to his car. “Careful”, he said as she lurched forward, held up only by his arms.
“I’m fine. I’m fine. That was great.”
“Yeah, you sure looked like you were having fun.” He helped her into the car, made sure she was buckled up, before climbing in the drivers seat and heading back to her place. “I was worried the table would collapse with you and Sarah dancing on it.”
“Hey! We’re not that heavy.”
“No, and yet I’m sure it wasn’t tested for the weight of two wiggling drunks.”
Miranda giggled. “Couldn’t help it, we had to dance!”
“On the table?”
Miranda leaned her head back, closing her eyes against the off-putting motion of the car. “Thanks for driving. I’m sorry you weren’t having much fun.”
“I was fine; I wanted to know you were safe.”
Miranda drifted off, sleeping the rest of the way as he took her home to her parent’s house. He helped her into bed and then climbed in beside her. He regularly slept over; knew her mom was okay with it.
Miranda woke in the morning, tried to stretch out, but was unable to with Martin beside her. Her single bed wasn’t big enough for the two of them to have any space between them. She could feel the pulse in her temple pounding. Back to sleep, she ordered herself. She knew it was too early for the little sleep she got.
Try as she might, Martin’s snoring grated against her burgeoning headache. Her dry throat threatened to cut her air off. She got up, intent on finding water and a magic pill to dull the effects of last night. She tossed some clothes around until she found a t-shirt long enough to cover her for the trip to the bathroom. She flipped the light switched, winced in pain, and dimmed it way down. She bent over the tap, and drank enough to fill a pond she figured, then grabbed a pill.
She stared at her reflection in the low bathroom light. Why?
She turned away from the answer that stared back at her. She couldn’t voice it, even in her own mind, but she knew. She knew she was vain, that she craved the attention, loved the friends that screamed her name when she arrived at a party, everyone cheering her on as she showed off dancing on the tabletop. She knew she was vain, but she could bury that in the rush it felt when she was having a good time.
What she didn’t understand, was the fear underneath it. She would have laughed if someone had alluded to her being insecure. She never explored the reason her heart sped up when she thought she hadn’t received an invite to a friend’s event, hadn’t been let in on a secret, wasn’t asked for advice on a new outfit or boyfriend. She would have been angry if anyone suggested that she had to please people, was desperate to keep everyone happy lest they discard her, the way her father had when she was a child still innocent enough to have absolute faith in him.
The affect of her father leaving that she would admit to, at least privately, was that she didn’t believe in love. Oh, she said the words to Martin. But that’s what people did. They pretended to make the other person feel better. Love, it wasn’t a thing, a real thing. He made her feel good at times, sometimes really good, he was also a pain in the ass. She didn’t want someone to take care of her all the time, she wanted someone that she could relax with, have fun with. Sometimes that was him, sometimes it wasn’t.
She trudged back to her room, found him still sleeping. She climbed in, but her thoughts had woken her enough that she couldn’t get the couple more hours she needed. She lied there, bored, uncomfortable until she finally gave up and went to make them breakfast.
She made pancakes from a box, knowing he would be thrilled that she made him something. She made a triple batch, so her mom and brother could have some to. Miranda cut up some strawberries and warmed them up in Jam for her mom. She got the chocolate spread out for her brother, the syrup out for Martin. She arranged it all nice on the counter so that they could easily go from plate to pancake to topping. She snuck a couple hot ones, slathering them in butter only, as she didn’t want her mom to have to skimp on strawberries. Miranda took another pain pill, splashed cold water on her face to help her seem human, just as her Mom came in to coo appreciatively.
Over breakfast, her mom chatted easily with Martin. “Have you decided what you’re doing for school?”
“I found a good program in Vancouver. I’m waiting to hear if I’ve been accepted.”
“Oh, I thought all the good schools are in the States?”
“Yeah, but…” he smiled at Miranda, “I don’t think I could talk her into moving with me to California, so I’ll stay local. It’s a good program.” He was enthusiastic, almost too much so.
It hadn’t occurred to Miranda that she would be a factor in where he would go to school. “You did apply though, didn’t you? To all the schools, in California and wherever else.” Pressure built in her chest until it hurt, air barely made it to her lungs, her food was hard to swallow.
“Nope, I’m banking on this. Either this fall, or next year, doesn’t matter which. You haven’t figured out what you want to do for school yet, so maybe we can work this year and do school next year.” She smiled at him, but her stomach was churning. She pushed her plate away, unable to eat more.
Martin was looking at her oddly. She smiled harder, asked her mom what her plans were for the day and if she needed help with anything. Her mom looked between the two of them. “Yeah, I could use your help today, if you don’t have plans. Can I have Miranda for a bit, Martin?”
“Of course. I’m working today anyways.” He turned to Miranda, “See you tonight?”
Miranda saw him out, closed the door, and rested her against it.
“You okay?” Her mom’s voice startled her.
“Yeah, a little hung over.”
“You and me both”, her mom laughed. “It must be getting serious with you two, with him wanting to stay local for you.”
Miranda got a panicked look in her eyes. “I didn’t know, I assumed he would apply to the best. He should apply to the best. I never asked him. He asked me, I never asked him back. Mom, I’m not a very good girlfriend. I don’t want to hold him back.”
"Come sit and I’ll make us coffee." She puttered around while she carried on. “He doesn’t see it as being held back. But do you see a future with him? Are you ready to start planning your life, and his life, around what you have?"
Miranda shrugged, tears welling.
Her mom’s ever calm voice continued, “I really like Martin, I’d be very happy if you two got a happy ever after. But I don’t know if you’re ready for that yet. If you’re not, but you try to force it, it won’t end well. Come here.” Her mom squeezed her tight in a hug. “You know what he wants, but you need to figure out what you want.”
What I want. I don’t know what I want.
She forced herself to go for a run, each strike of her foot on the pavement sending shocks into what was left of her headache. She spent the time imagining her life without Martin in it, and with Martin always in it. Neither scenario made her happy. Can I make him happy? When will it unravel, after we’re married, after we have kids? Then what?
The fluttering feeling in her chest threatened her breathing. She changed it up, imagined instead what her life could be without him taking up too much space in her bed, without him watching her unnervingly while she had fun with her friends, without him questioning why she liked to do herself up when she went out.
She wasn't steady like him, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, where here life was going. She couldn’t imagine what her life would be in a year from now, let alone five or ten years from now. And she wasn’t going to get boxed into being his girlfriend, his wife, or the mother of his bloody kids. She held tight to this, replayed it over and over in her head as she waited for him to come over that night.
She ended it that night, set him free, broke his heart, however you want to look at it. But for probably the first time ever, she did something that hurt someone else because it wasn’t right for her. And she felt shitty, more shitty than she thought she could.
For weeks she felt ill, thinking he would call her, or text her, convince her she made a mistake. But she didn’t hear from him again. She heard through others when he applied to the best school, when he got accepted, when he moved, even, years later, when he got the job he was looking for. It took her much, much longer to get her own life in order, to find her own direction. Still, he would crop up in her thoughts sometimes, a distant ‘what if’ that she barely acknowledged when it crept up.
** Eleven years later **
Miranda wandered through the reception room to the table she was assigned to. She took her time, pausing to share generous smiles and small talk with others sitting at tables or finding their seats for dinner. She wore her confidence like a well-worn mask; hid under it were the butterflies and insecurities she never let anyone see.
Out of the corner of the eye she could see that he was already at the table. She continued in her casual way, not avoiding him, not rushing to him. He was just another person, someone she knew from many years ago, of no consequence to her. Still, she was grateful that it was a wedding that he saw her at, for she had primped and prepped. Not to impress him, of course, but so that she felt good about herself.
She finally made it to her table, found her seat beside his. I bet Tina did this on purpose, she thought about the seating plan.
“Martin!” she chirped pleasantly, a smile plastered wide on her face. She held her hands out for a hug.
There was no surprise in his eyes. Clearly, he had seen her coming. He stood up, and accepted the hug, if a little stiffly. Her eyes wanted to devour him, find out how time had changed him; instead, she kept eye contact and her attention on him casual, allowing herself to be distracted by other conversations around. Still, she didn’t ignore him. When she wasn’t fawning over Tina, it being her day and all, she found quiet moments to chat with him.
“I hear that you got a promotion recently. Your mom is so proud of you, she glows when she talks how you’re doing. Are you back for long enough to have a good visit with your mom?”
“Yeah, I’m staying with my parents for a week.”
“Your sister’s almost done medical school. She’s going to be such a good doctor. Do you know if she’s going to stay local?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know, you’d have to ask her.” He fidgeted with his water glass.
Martin made no effort to ask her questions or make conversation. His curt responses threw up a barrier between them that shouted he was not happy to see her. It stung. They had known each other far longer than they had dated, had been friends for years. She didn’t understand why that didn’t count for something, why the absence of eleven years didn’t allow for the forgiveness she only just realized she was looking for. She refused to show that his coldness had any affect on her. She made small talk with the whole table, including him whenever she could. She smiled all night, smiled so much her cheeks hurt, laughed so much that others came to hang out at the fun table. She was fun, she was bright, she would not let him dampen one moment of the night.
Much later, Tina and her new husband left, signaling to the guests they could leave. Miranda made her goodbyes shortly after. She turned to say goodbye to Martin, but the words stuck in her throat. “Bye”, she whispered, even as her mind said: I’m sorry. I had to, I’d have made you miserable. Please forgive me.
Her face fell for the first time that night as she looked at the man he had become; the shine in her eyes faded, showing the truth of the sadness behind. She spun and left quickly.
She heard of his visit from others, knew when he left and returned to his life. It was fine, it wasn’t as if she had expected him to look fondly on her, fall for her again. Not really. She would have liked peace with her decision, peace with him after all these years.
She was not the same Miranda she was all those years ago, not completely the same at least. She realized she could never reach him with the false shine she wore for the world. She was going to do something that was hard for her, she would be the one to reach out, with an honesty and a laying bear of her thoughts that she kept hidden, so he could find his own peace with their end so long ago. With that peace, maybe she could forgive herself for the hurt she caused. Eleven years was a long time to hold onto guilt for choosing herself.
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This was such a unique approach! The plot was amazing. I loved it so much!
Thanks Doubra, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
It was my pleasure and I really did!
This is wonderfully written, Christina. I loved the characterisation and the plotline! P.S: would you mind checking my recent story out, "Grey Clouds"? Thank you :D
Thanks Deborah! I will check out your story.
This was so melancholy. I haven't read all the submissions on this prompt but yours is unique so far. Most of the stories started long after high school and only glimpsed back. I think I like your the best so far. It felt very real, very raw, very personal. Great job. I chose a different prompt but in a way it could have been this one as well. It is called "Scars" and I'd love to know if you like it.
Thanks Thom, I really appreciate your comment! I think there will be a sequel if the right prompt comes along.