Like many times before, he left his toothbrush behind. They both knew this but never moved the brush from its spot. At least three times a week, Colin would come over to Elena’s. They’d have sex. Sometimes, they’d get food and watch TV together. Once a week, he’d sleep over. On those nights, she’d envision them doing this forever. Every morning after, she’d make his breakfast, and he’d leave within two minutes of finishing his meal.
This morning, he devoured his eggs and toast in record time. While Elena chewed on her mango, he said goodbye. Rushing behind him, she waved down the hallway and wished him a nice day with unintelligible speech. Once she swallowed, she sighed, slumped on her door frame, and embodied disappointment.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
Looking over her shoulder, Elena found her neighbor Shannon occupying her doorframe. They stood in the same-size space, yet Shannon seemed to radiate.
“Hi, Shannon,” Elena started. “How are you?”
“That’s not important. How are you?” Despite eyeing the direction of Colin’s exit, she shooed away her cats from leaving the apartment. Relying on sound and smell, her feet acted like roadblocks. She took to multitasking like ballerinas dishing out pirouettes.
“I’m fine.” Elena forced a smile.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“But I am fine.” Her smile deflated.
Shannon looked down the barrel of her glasses and through Elena’s soul with the spirit of an ex-teacher turned therapist. “Elena.” By hearing her name in the tone she needed, the young liar melted into the hallway.
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Enabling him,” her wise-beyond-years neighbor answered.
“Jeez. Ever heard of sugarcoating?”
“You know that’s not my style.” She filed her nails. “Let’s go inside. This conversation won’t go anywhere without a comfy place to sit. Come on in.” Like Willy Wonka, Shannon gestured for Elena to enter her chocolate-factory-esque unit. She was welcomed by vintage art, hanging plants, and family-heirloom furniture. They rented the same space with duplicate dimensions, yet Shannon created a destination.
“Would you like something to drink? Yerba mate? Earl gray tea? Jasmine?”
“No, thank you.” After Elena sat down, two cats greeted her with head buts and sniffs.
“Meet Fish and Parrot.” Shannon sat in the rattan hanging chair across from her guest.
“You named your cats Fish and Parrot?”
“Nothing.” Elena straightened her posture. “I think it’s cool.”
“You know what’s not cool?” Shannon asked.
Elena sat on her hands, preparing to be expelled from this place by a thousand angry wiccan hipsters. “Colin’s not cool,” Shannon finished, letting Elena sigh. But it wasn’t too long before she started digging up doubts. Was he that terrible? Maybe he was the best she could do. Shannon was probably just biased.
“You don’t know him that well. He’s actually really cool.” Elena defended a man who always nodded in conversation but never listened. She talked about her family, childhood, and dreams, and he responded as if she was reading instructions to build IKEA furniture.
“Elena, Elena, Elena.” Shannon, Fish, and Parrot shook their heads. Their visitor began to question if she was hallucinating. Maybe she was drugged by the cool vibes. “Elena, you are a beautiful and complex woman settling for an uncommunicative fitness addict who’s afraid of commitment. You’re hoping he’ll change, but he probably won’t for you.”
Elena wanted to be offended. She wanted to gasp and clutch her pearls, but she ultimately knew her nosy neighbor was right. From the twenty push-ups he did every time before they had sex to his lack of interest in learning about the gender wage gap, she dismissed too many incompatibilities. Driving on a road that looked like swiss cheese, she ignored all the potholes and settled for a bumpy ride. Until now, no one told her roads and relationships didn’t need to be so uneven.
“Every time before he leaves,” Shannon continued. “He says he’s going to work out. Why doesn’t he have a variety of excuses? If he does exercise that frequently, he’s either narcissistic or insecure. Do you want that in your partner?”
“I’m insecure too,” Elena offered.
“Yes, but you’re emotionally available.”
Fish head butted Elena’s arm, while Parrot purred on her lap. There was always something so transcendent about animals comforting humans. Elena began to sniffle before shaking herself out of her sentimental sneak peek. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re the last person who should be apologizing,” Shannon added and handed her a mug of tea complete with artistic vapors.
“No, thank you,” Elena denied the cup.
“Good for you, sticking to your guns and standing up for yourself! Now, go do that with Colin.” Shannon sat down and sipped from the mug.
Two days later, Colin returned for another rendezvous. All the times before, Elena prepped by shaving her legs and lighting candles. This time, all she could do was pace. In the kitchen? Pace. In the bedroom? Pace. In the bathroom? Nervous poops and pace.
A few hours and ten thousand steps later, they re-consummated whatever their relationship was. While she sat in bed, he went to the kitchen. After thirty seconds and no sign of him returning to the bedroom, she put on a sweater and joined him. He chugged a tall glass of water like he always did after sex. “Gotta stay hydrated.”
“Hey, Colin, can we talk?” She asked, despite her mind’s tendency to imagine her words would cause him to throw a tantrum.
“Actually,” he started, leaving the glass on the counter and power-walking around the apartment. “I have to get going.” He picked up his clothes and got dressed. “I gotta get to the gym.”
She pushed herself to stick to her guns. Say no to the tea! She began to refute, “But --”
“The sex was great though.” He cut her and her hope off. With his wallets and keys in hand, he opened the door and left. Elena followed his footsteps to close the door and try to get a last glance at him. Instead, she found Shannon, Fish, and Parrot shaking their heads. It was time for Colin to stay hydrated somewhere else.