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Romance Sad Fiction

“I heard you’re going to Palm Springs next weekend,” said Roland.

“Yeah? Where’d you hear that?” Connor asked.

The two friends were situated on the Manhattan Beach Pier, overlooking the sand and surf of sunny California.

“Alyssa told me you were going. Are ya not?”

“I guess I’ve been on the fence about it.”

“What’s to be on the fence about? Free house to stay in, massive pool, nothing to do but drink for three days? Hell, I’d for sure be going if I wasn’t scheduled for a shift.”

Connor shrugged, resting his forearms on the pier’s railing and leaning forward a bit. “It’s a bit hot out there, don’t ya think?”

“Yeah and it’s glorious. That’s what the pool’s for, mate.”

“We have nature’s pool right here,” Connor stated, gesturing his hands out at the vast Pacific roaring before them.

“Sure,” Roland agreed as he pushed Connors arms back down, “but it’s a little harder to enjoy a beer laying on an inflatable flamingo in the middle of the ocean."

Connor grinned and nodded in amusement. “I wish you were coming. I’m sure I’ll need a pong partner.”

“Although I am clearly the best option, and would obviously remain undefeated in the event I was there, I’m sure you'll find another decent partner. Who’s going?”

“Dylan, Sam, Sadie, Maya, Andrew I think”

“You know, Maya’s surprisingly pretty good. Almost beat me last time. She DIDN’T, but almost.”

Seagulls flew overhead, the sound of flapping wings getting lost in the roar of the water below.

“Zack’s coming too,” Connor stated, staring down at the water.

“Alyssa’s new boyfriend?”

“I don’t know if he’s her boyfriend, but the guy she slept with from Tinder, yeah.”

A wave of realization hit Roland as he heard the twinge of hostility in his friends voice. “Ah, so that’s what the problem is.”

“What do you mean?” Connor asked defensively.

It’s a bit hot don’t ya think?” Roland mocks in his best Connor impression. “You don’t care about the heat. You still love her, don’t you?”

Connor remained quiet, keeping his eyes trained on the sea foam below. It was nearly dinner time and the cool breeze had been forcing goosebumps up on his skin, yet his face began to feel hot.

“I mean, that’s what you’re really worried about? You have a free vacation in a beautiful place with all our friends and you’re concerned about being around a guy who’s with a girl you never even dated?” 

The words stung Connor as he shifted his eyes up, squinting into the bright whites of the clouds.

“You gotta let it go, mate," Roland continued. “She doesn’t want ya like that anymore. And you literally have a girlfriend.”

His girlfriend. Katie. The image of her swept through Connor’s mind and left him with an immense sensation of guilt. She was a beautiful girl. Long strawberry blonde hair complimented by a pair of blue eyes as bright as Caribbean waters. When those eyes looked at him, they were so full of honest love. Sometimes he found himself worrying that his eyes didn’t reflect the same level of adoration. It will come, he would tell himself. Feeling that level of love takes time, but it will come. However, it had been five months, and he still wasn’t sure if he truly loved her in a romantic way, or if she was someone that he had just taken a strong liking to because she entered his life while he was lonely and vulnerable.

They had also met on one of those online dating sites. A place that Connor had, for the longest time, deemed hellish and desperate. People weren’t looking for anything real on those platforms. They were looking for one night stands and narcissistic self validation, neither of which Connor had ever really cared to partake in. But after Alyssa had broken his heart, he decided to give it a go. With all of his friends repeatedly telling him “the best way to get over someone was to get under someone else,” he figured maybe a hookup would be the first step in curing his pain.

That’s all Katie was supposed to be. A hookup.

But Katie developed feelings for Connor quickly, and Connor liked having her around to numb the pain, so there they were, five months later, as boyfriend and girlfriend.

And here he was now, without her, thinking about Alyssa when he had woken up next to Katie just a few hours prior.

“Does it make me a terrible person that I still feel things for her?” Connor asked flatly.

Roland sucked in a breath, tilting his head in conflicted thought. “I mean, it’s not great. But you feel how you feel I suppose.”

-

“How’s your mom doing?” Connor asked through the phone.

“She’s good!” Katie replied, a little muffled. She was in the car driving back from the grocery store while Connor sat at his kitchen table sipping a glass of ice water. “But you know how it is when family comes. They’re the tourist and you’re the chauffeur. I swear I drove a hundred miles with her today.”

Katie’s mother was visiting her from West Virginia. Having never been to Los Angeles before, her mom was eager to see as many sights as she could in the short time she had taken off work to be there. Connor had seen the itinerary the two women had put together and felt overwhelmed looking at the list. He couldn’t imagine actually doing all of it.

“She should reimburse you for gas mileage,” he joked.

“She drove me around for seventeen years. If anything I still owe mileage to her,” laughed Katie. “Hey, so what’s the plan for this weekend? Are you guys coming back Sunday night? I’d love for you to be able to get dinner or brunch with us before Mom leaves on Monday.”

“Sunday night I think, yeah, but I’ll check and let you know.”

He hadn’t told Katie that he was debating Palm Springs. Mostly because if she asked him why, he wouldn’t be able to give her an honest answer. And creating a lie to stay behind would mean he would not only have to meet Katie’s mother, but spend an entire weekend with her, which made him increasingly anxious.

“Alright, well just keep me updated. I’m pulling onto my street now so I’m gonna go. Have the best weekend! Don’t get too drunk.”

“I won’t. Have a great time being a chauffeur.”

“Thanks, I’ll try,” she groaned. “I love you.”

Connor closed his eyes and swallowed before saying, “I love you too.” 

He hung up.

-

It was 7:18pm when his phone buzzed with a text message.


Alyssa: we’re heading out around 8 tomorrow. Do you want us to pick you up and carpool?


Connor was sitting on the couch in his poorly decorated living room. The walls were empty aside from a dart board that was seldom used. The first time he went to Katie's apartment he noticed she had quite a few plants. They filled the space well and added color. When he came home that night he thought to himself, I should buy some plants. He never did.

He stared at Alyssa's message for three minutes, his fingers hovering over the virtual keyboard waiting for an order from his brain. After five minutes of idling, his phone dimmed, and shut off.

Did he even want to go? Maybe Roland was right. Maybe he was crazy for letting his feelings get in the way of a much needed vacation. But would he even be able to enjoy it if he was plagued by jealousy the whole time?

10 minutes passed.

Would he have felt better if Zack wasn’t going to be there? Sure, maybe his heart would have preferred that in a selfish way, but would it really feel any better to be left alone with Alyssa? Was Zack really the problem, or was it her?

15 minutes.

His mind wandered to Katie once again, and that same flood of guilt hit him harder than a train.

Is it considered cheating to spend time with someone you loved, even if nothing happens between the two of you?

20 minutes.

He unlocked his phone and started to type.


Connor: I might take a rain check on the trip.


4 minutes passed.

His phone began buzzing incessantly. Alyssa was calling him.

“Hey,” he answered as cooly as he could.

“What do you mean take a rain check?” Alyssa asked.

“I mean, like, stay behind.”

“Why?”

“I dunno. I just don’t care for the desert all that much.”

The conversation lingered a beat.

“Connor I want you to be honest with me if there’s a problem,” Alyssa continued. Her voice sounded mildly frustrated, as if this wasn’t an uncommon conversation for the two of them to be having.

Connor sucked in a breath. He didn’t want to cause waves, but he also didn’t want to lie to her. “I guess I just don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to be there.”

“What are you talking about? We want you there. I want you there.”

“Sure,” He stood and started pacing his living room anxiously, looking up at the ceiling. “but with Zack there with ya, I dunno, I just don’t want it to be awkward, ya know?”

Alyssa was very quiet for a moment. Connor rubbed his eyes hard with his free hand, remaining silent as well.

“What do you expect me to say to that?” She asked after some time. He opened his mouth, but couldn’t get words to come out. “It’s been years, Connor. Is it really still awkward for you?”

Yes, he thought to himself, It is.

Sometimes she said things like this to him, and it would hurt him very badly. He knew there was a time when she did love him. Or so he thought. It was conversations like this that often made him question if she had ever truly loved anyone at all. Anyone that’s been in love and felt it genuinely would understand how, even years later, feelings still linger.

“Can I think about it a bit longer?” he asked, trying to hide the emotion in his voice.

Alyssa sighed on the other line before saying, “yeah.”

The one word response tugged at Connor’s heart. He wasn’t sure if he had done something inherently wrong, but he suddenly had the strong urge to tell her, I’m sorry.

“Connor,” she continued after a few seconds of silence.

“Yeah?”

“You know I love you. As my friend.”

“I know.”

“I still care about you deeply.”

“I know.”

“I’d love to see you there this weekend, but we cant- I can’t have you expecting anything of me. Of us. You know? I want you around, but I don’t want you being weird about it.”

Her words embarrassed him, and he hated it. It was like she had this invisible power over him when they discussed these things. She was always floating peacefully on the surface while he was fighting for his life, drowning below her.

“Right, yeah, of course.”

“Just let me know, okay?”

“I will.”

“Okay.”

She hung up first.

-

It was dark by now as he drove his beaten blue Jeep down the PCH. He often drove when he needed to clear his head. There was no destination. It didn’t matter where he decided to turn the wheel. It simply made him feel good to be in control. He could turn right at the next light if he wanted to. He could drive straight ahead for an hour. Hell, he could turn left and sink his car into the ocean if that’s what he truly desired. No one could tell him otherwise.

As he pulled up to the red light, he allowed himself to close his eyes just for a moment. His windows were rolled down and the rush of traffic filled his ears. He opened his eyes slowly and fixed them on the light, staring into the heat of Alyssa’s favorite color.

She always loved when he brought her red roses. She had a pair of red converse that she wore nearly every day of college junior year. Sometimes they didn’t even match her outfit.

“They’re a statement piece!” She would say to him, and he would roll his eyes with a smile on his face.

He bought her a red quilted blanket for her birthday three years ago. He still remembered the way her face lit up as she examined the pattern on it. They slept under that blanket that night. They hadn’t even kissed yet, but he held her while they fell asleep. Her head was tucked into his chest and her hair smelled like coconut and shea butter. He rubbed her back gently while her arm lay draped over his stomach, her fingers scratching at his side absentmindedly.

Sitting in his driver's seat, he wondered if she still had that blanket. Maybe Zack slept under it with her now. Or maybe she had tossed it away. Left it abandoned in a GoodWill bin a few blocks down the road, the same way she had left him alone on the curb outside her apartment the night that she decided they shouldn’t see each other anymore. It was ultimately her decision. He never had control.

Connor’s cheeks were wet. He was crying now as his grip tightened on the steering wheel. He let his vision blur over the headlights of intersecting traffic; cars shooting past him like daggers out to kill. 

Am I a bad person? He kept thinking to himself. Katie’s piercing blue eyes began to morph into Alyssa’s deep honey-colored ones.

Am I a bad person?

Images of Alyssa’s body flashed over Katie’s in his mind.

Am I hurting people?

That seemed to be a common side effect of loneliness that no one ever talked about: using people to heal yourself, but breaking others in the process.

I’m a bad person.

Traffic roared in front of him. For a moment he contemplated taking his foot off the brake. It would only take a second. A sob escaped his throat.

Green light.

He exhaled slowly and drove forward through the parted sea of metal machines.

A few minutes later he turned left into a relatively empty parking lot facing the water. With red eyes, an empty mind, and a numb heart, he took out his phone and composed a text to Alyssa.


Connor: I’ll come. Pick me up at 8?

July 20, 2022 00:03

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15 comments

Kate Winchester
17:29 Jul 25, 2022

You did a great job of making us feel Connor’s struggle. It was very relatable and the descriptions were great. Your story flowed well and I liked the pace. I also liked that the end had hope. I was worried Connor was going to end his life.

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Emma G.
19:39 Jul 25, 2022

I definitely wanted to create a little scare at the end, but ultimately it wouldn't it feel right to end the story with a crash. Thank you for reading and commenting, Kate :)

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Kate Winchester
03:33 Jul 26, 2022

You're welcome, and great decision. ;)

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Ivy Hodges
13:52 Jul 25, 2022

Hi Emma! I loved this story - so many small details that I think really get to the heart of who these characters are. Connor saying he wanted plants but not actually going for it when it comes time to buy them. Alyssa being the one to leave him behind on the curb. The detail of the red quilt was like a gut punch - it felt like something everyone can relate to, wondering what happened to the gifts you gave to someone you used to care for. My favourite line - "She was always floating peacefully on the surface while he was fighting for his life...

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Emma G.
19:37 Jul 25, 2022

I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed the story, Ivy! Including little details like Connor thinking of buying plants or red being Alyssa's favorite color is something I've been trying to work on in my writing. Those things seem small, but add an extra layer to characters, so I'm glad you caught those :) The drowning line you pointed out is actually one of my favorite lines of the story. Thank you for reading and I appreciate the feedback!

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05:42 Jul 26, 2022

Well written and edited. It flowed nicely, The part where I struggled, was that I didnt really feel bad for Connor. If anything, I thought he was being a bit of a jerk. Not sure if thats how you intended it, maybe I'm just a cynic. Either way, good story.

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Emma G.
16:39 Jul 27, 2022

The way he reacts to things can certainly be interpreted in a number of ways. I wanted to show that he was struggling with morality when he was debating if he was a bad person at the very end. Thanks for reading!

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Jim Firth
12:25 Jul 23, 2022

Emma, You prose is so easy to read and has a great flow and pacing to it. It felt very even and rooted in reality throughout, which is perfect for this kind of story. I particularly liked the descriptions of Connor and Alyssa under the red blanket together; they were very evocative. The choice of ending felt right; much better than a car crash or accident for Connor. I'm glad he decided to go to Palm Springs! Nice job :)

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Emma G.
20:34 Jul 23, 2022

Thanks so much for the feedback, Jim! I'm glad you felt the pacing worked and am happy to hear you liked the ending! I was worried that the end would feel a bit too rushed, but I knew I wanted to end it with him choosing to go regardless of whether or not that was the best decision. Appreciate you reading :)

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John Del Rio
01:42 Jul 21, 2022

Nicely done. The heart wants, what the heart wants. It's sad that sometimes the other heart doesn't want the same thing. Classic slice of life. I enjoyed looking in On his indecision.

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Emma G.
05:47 Jul 21, 2022

Thanks for reading, John :) Slice of life is what I was going for

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Kendra Lindholm
00:01 Jul 21, 2022

Great writing! I know a lot of people can relate to this.

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Emma G.
00:15 Jul 21, 2022

Thanks for taking the time to read, Kendra!

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L. E. Scott
14:05 Jul 29, 2022

You really made me feel for connor. Good job.

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Emma G.
18:11 Jul 29, 2022

Thank you for reading!

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