Romance Sad Fiction

“I was in love with you, you know?” 

He shifts in his seat, he’s not looking at me. The air is heavy and hot around us, the warmth of a heater maxed out, full power on the one the most frigid days we’ve seen this winter.

“Yeah, I know.” I answer, calmly, desperate for my voice not to shake.


He’s lost weight since highschool, his face is hollow and thin. Still handsome, but in a sharper way now, he’s all edges and points, bone jutting out under taut milky skin. He’s got a tattoo now too, probably a few, but the one I can see peeks out from under his turtleneck, a snaking vine-like shape just barely tickling the bottom of his jaw. 

“What did you get?” He asks and gestures with a nod to my cup.

“Coffee, black. I’m boring now,” I laugh. “What about you?”

“Hot chocolate.” He answers.

“Oh my goodness, they make the be-”

“Best hot chocolate in town,” he cuts me off. “I know. You used to always say that in highschool. Talk about how you had to come here every year. I never got the chance to go with you.”

I laugh a little, uncomfortable, he’s meeting my gaze now. 

“Do you want some?” he pushes the cup across the table to me. 

“Oh I don’t want t-”

“Please,” He interjects.

Tentatively, I reach forward and take a sip, it’s steaming, rich, exactly how I remember it. 

“Thank you.” I say, and for a brief moment I fear he ordered it just to give it to me. 

We had run into each other in line, he was a few places ahead of me but we had locked eyes while waiting. After we ordered we stood near each other by the pick-up counter not speaking, just waiting. I really thought we were going to completely ignore each other, until he broke heavy silence with the first hello.

“You know…” He stops himself, shifts in his seat again, his bottom jaw juts out in that same underbite from when we were kids. 

Our childhood is still so clear to me. I remember it all, vividly. Being young and exuberant, the world stretching out and expanding before us, hand in hand two little rebels roller skating around town. The way his fingers felt wrapped around mine, cold and soft, the way his lips curled when he smiled, his laugh, that awful caw of a laugh. I wished more than anything I could have loved him back the way he needed me to. We would have been so happy together. Sometimes, before I fall asleep, I imagine prying open my own ribcage with my hands, sticky and bloody, and pulling out my heart. Squeezing and hitting and beating it until it starts behaving right, starts feeling what I want it to feel.

His voice snaps me out of my daze and I become keenly aware I’ve been staring at his chin, his lips, that bulge where crooked teeth, never corrected in braces, fail to line up.

“I used to come here every winter, after you moved away for college, hoping one day you’d turn up.” He says, staring me down with eyes like ice.

“You came to the farm?”

“Well to the café. I looked insane, I know. What kind of teenager hangs around a café at a Christmas tree farm for hours?”

He laughs, I laugh, we’re laughing together. It feels good.

“But I made friends with some of the servers. I told them my family’s farm is up the road and I promised I wasn’t a creep or nothing. They’re actually super nice here.”

“So you come here hoping to run into me?” I ask.

“At first I was, the first couple years when you were at school. But then I realized even if you did show what were the odds we’d be here at the exact same time. I thought about ringing up your house a few times but I didn’t want to seem...” he trails off, looking for the right word, “intense. I wanted us to meet naturally and for you to see me and realize what you’d been missing” he laughs again, I don’t laugh this time, this all is cutting too deep.

I realize very suddenly I’m terrified and wearing it visibly. Shaking, sweating, terrified. I unfurl my scarf from my neck, desperate to take more air into my lungs however I can. It’s been five years since I moved away for college in the city. Five years since we last spoke. Five years, 3 months and 14 days to be precise. He was helping me pack, a cloudy August afternoon, when he finally said that terrible, precarious, unsaid thing I had been dreading.

“Please don’t go. Please stay with me. I’ll move to the city, I’ll do anything for you. Piper I-... Please.” 

I remember it feeling like the ground caving out underneath my feet. 

He never actually laid the final blow back then, those three words. “I love you.”  But I knew. And he knew I knew. We just didn’t talk about it.

We decided when I left that it would be best if we didn’t speak for a while. A while turned into a year, and a year into a few and that’s how we ended up here. Practically strangers, sharing a lukewarm cup of hot chocolate while my family searched the farm outside, debating the virtues of balsam versus pine. 

I need to ask it, I know I need to, but I am scared. So wildly scared.

“Are you... Still in love with me?”

He laughs and leans back in his chair “Of course, Piper. Of course”

That pit. That terrible pit. I remember this feeling all too well, guilt, shame, regret, indecision, inadequacy. All the ways in which I was never woman enough, never loving, or soft, or doe-eyed, the part of me that wanted to claw off lacy dresses and cut my hair and run away to the city and never marry and never have babies and - Oh god, he’s staring at me. Staring at me, with those terrible, beautiful, blue eyes, and for a moment I think to myself “Maybe. Maybe he could fix me? Maybe I could be ready, settle down, be content here?” But I’m snapped back to reality as quickly as the fantasy began. I know my nature by now, I am all too intimately acquainted with my own reckless desires. 

“You know I can’t…” I lose my words, desperate to find my footing in the conversation like a free climber clinging to icy rock “I still feel...”

“I know,” He says, warm and reassuring. “It’s okay. I know”


Silence. He looks calm, happy even.

“Then why are you telling me this?” I ask.

“Because why not?”

I don’t understand and he can sense it

“It’s not about being with you. I don’t know if I’d even want that anymore. I just needed you to know. To know that I loved you, that I still do.” He stares out the foggy window, boisterous families bundled in their winter’s best run through the rows of trees outside. “I think a lot of people only really say ‘I love you’ in hopes of hearing it back. I don’t think that’s the point of it all.”

“But you’re not bitter?”

“Do you remember the song I would always say I wanted to dance to at my wedding?”

“Of course. The Beatles, Yesterday. How could I forget?” I’m smiling again, I can feel it stretching on my face. “I mean besides the fact that you were the only 14 year old boy in the world with a first dance song picked out, who else would want to dance to a break up song at their wedding?”

“I always thought the breakup songs were more romantic. With love songs, it’s so easy to get swept up, imagine some life with the first pretty girl you see. But to be hurt, to ache like that. I think that’s something special. You tore me apart when you left.”

“I’m sorry” I say softly.

“Don’t be. I think it was a privilege to feel it at all.”

For a moment we just sit, sad smiles and drooping eyes.

“I should probably get going,” he says. “My fiancé is expecting me home for dinner”

“You have a fiancé?” I know I’m wearing my shock openly.

He laughs and holds out his hand, fingers slipping out from under his long coat sleeve to reveal a gold wedding band.

“Who woulda thought?” He laughs. “She’s great, you’d love her. You should meet her.”

I nod, “Someday.”

“Someday,” he echoes.

He turns and walks out the front door, a whip of cold air entering as he leaves. He’s already gone by the time I see he’s left his hot chocolate in front of me. I grip it with unsteady hands and raise it to my lips for a sip. It tastes like something I can never have back. It tastes like yesterday. 

December 06, 2023 06:42

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Rachel Kroninger
09:24 Dec 14, 2023

I like how you jump right into the action of the story; I was immediately invested. I could feel emotions of both characters strongly, and I didn't want their encounter to end. I hope to read more from you :)!


Emily McDonnell
21:51 Dec 14, 2023

Thank you! I really appreciate it.


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23:47 Dec 13, 2023

1st submission. Wonderful! I really enjoyed your story. I liked how the characters didn’t have names- I think that allowed me to insert my name and my lost love. Let me also say that the prompt/ hot chocolate was used well- it didn’t overwhelm the story. Can’t wait to see more. -CC


Emily McDonnell
21:51 Dec 14, 2023

Thank you so much!


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E. B. Bullet
14:27 Dec 12, 2023

Complicated feelings between people trying to understand why feelings are complicated. I love this sorta stuff! Slice of life has always been one of my favorite genres because you can explore a lot of subtleties. Though if I was the guy's fiance I'd be very cross LOL I never appreciated the way people involve others in their heartache. Could he really be moved on if the feeling is still there, however peaceful? I dunno Anyway! The slow burn of this is very nice. Good pacing ~ I'll just say to brush on the punctuation that comes with dialo...


Emily McDonnell
21:50 Dec 14, 2023

Thank you!! Appreciate the note on the dialogue punctuation, you're so right. I've always been really bad at it LOL so I'll have to study up for next time. Thanks for commenting, this is really great feedback :)


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