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Romance Fiction

Her flight would leave at midnight.

Maybe it could wait.

No, she absolutely had to leave.

She should've left a half hour ago, really.

Not that either of them had ever done what they should've.

To her left, the ear-destroying sound of early twenty-tens bubble pop music, playing back that playlist she'd made in junior high, from the speaker she'd bought with saved lunch money after weeks of hunger. In front of her, someone she never thought would make it out of high school, both hands clutching a yearbook, memory after memory, like stones paving the way to their final goodbyes. Between them, like always, sat an unbelievable amount of clutter on the coffee table he'd stolen from his cousin: newspaper clippings, signed yearbooks, a mug that had been there for weeks...

It was eleven-forty-three now.

Where had all that time gone?

"You're gonna miss Ohio?" He said, tossing his head back, revealing the faint scar from when she'd thrown him off a playground castle.

"I'm going to miss everything. Everyone." The words forced their way past her lips like little battering rams, one by one by one.

"Stop bein' humble."

He only grumbled like that when he was serious.

"I'm not being humble, I'm being real. I mean, come on, I grew up here. Every real memory I have is right here in this town---the diner on Acorn Street, that old lady who used to live on Bircher, trick-or-treating on the back roads so that one trailer park guy would sneak us the full-size snickers bars. And I mean, what about prom? Homecoming? Football games?"

"You make this town sound like it's been good to us." He tossed his yearbook to one side, watching one tattered page fly out, revealing a forgotten math teacher's face. "Misty, you're moving to Madrid for the job opportunity of a lifetime. Get excited for once. You're too serious."

"Look who's talking."

She'd be stupid to stay with him.

He had a point.

One glance at the time. Eleven-forty-five.

No time like the present, right?

"Are you trying to console me or yourself?"

"Didn't realize either of us needed to be consoled," His eyebrows shot up, hiding behind a mess of curls---sheepdog, his nickname had been.

"Don't do that, Zach." She stuffed her face behind her hands, elbows on her knees.

"Do what?"

"You know what."

Eleven-forty-six.

"No, I don't."

"Zach, there's been something more than friendship between us for a long time, hasn't there?"

Like a startled rabbit, he froze abruptly, head shooting up to look right at her. For a brief moment, he looked just like he had years ago, watching the last few seconds of a college football game, back when he still babbled about his dreams.

Neither of them had talked about the future in so long.

"We're not kids anymore."

Of course he would say that, wouldn't he?

The first time he'd said that, they'd been waiting for Christmas cookies to finish baking and stuffing cans of beer into the too-deep pockets of his Winter coat. The second, he'd been frozen with shock when he'd seen his father for the first time in twelve years. The third, when her older brother had come home from deployment, a once arrogant, freckle-faced teenager turned into a heap of limbs on the living room couch.

They had both been too cynical to remember the fourth.

Maybe it was true. Maybe they both had no business chasing each other like squirrels in Springtime, always scrambling to catch up to the other but never quite there. There was no room for childish fantasies anymore. Not after everything they'd been through.

And yet here they were, standing still in time, roommates for three years and best friends for twenty-six.

"You're hoping I don't go. Or that I miss my flight."

"So I want my friend around, is that a crime?"

"I won't be upset if you're angry with me for leaving."

"I'm not, I'm happy for you. You're going to be amazing, and you got that recommendation from your mentor and---"

Eleven-forty-seven.

"Zachary, if I walk out that door now and start driving, you're never going to see me again. You understand that?"

"You don't really want to go, do you?"

He'd always been so uncomfortably, painfully good at staring right through every defense she'd spent her life building up. Of course she didn't want to go. The idea of being an ocean away from this battered apartment was agonizing, really. But did it matter, now that the suitcase was packed and she'd finally managed to rationalize the move? What about the money, the success?

She could probably find someone like him elsewhere.

No, she couldn't.

"How did you know?" She asked slowly, grin tearing its way across her face.

"When you were saying 'goodbye' to your parents...that wasn't the kind of goodbye you say if you're not planning on seeing each other again soon."

"That was three days ago. You've been waiting for me to admit it for that long?"

Eleven-forty-eight.

"Misty, how do you feel about me?"

Cold. Direct. Flat.

He wasn't asking a question, just demanding an answer.

Closure, maybe.

"You're my best friend."

"That's who I am to you. A word, a label, a relationship. I asked you how you felt about me."

He'd asked her that once before. Years ago, back when they were fourteen and thought everything was hilarious. She'd stuffed a five-dollar bill in her brother's hand, the price of his silence, leaving the two of them to watch The Shining on the glitchy screen her uncle had never fixed. Halfway through the movie, like clockwork, Zachary had taken a swig of hawaiian punch like it would somehow give him the courage to ask. Back then, he hadn't been so shy, so secretive, so serious.

What had she answered?

"You're important to me. I don't want to leave you. I think it'll wreck me. I'm already late for my flight, I'll never get through security in time-"

"Stop."

"What?"

"Stop doing that."

"Stop doing what?"

"Changing the subject."

"Since when are you so big on feelings?"

"I'm not. But I think I have a right to know how you see me before you disappear to another country and leave everything behind."

"You mean before I leave you behind, don't you? You know I'd call, I'm not just abandoning-"

"Misty, what're we doing here?"

"Well," She scoffed, and he definitely heard her voice break, "I'm no expert, but it looks like we're sitting in our apartment, hiding from reality."

"I mean here. This. You and me. What are we?"

Eleven-forty-nine.

A minute passed in stiff, unwavering silence. The kind of silence that felt sacred, like speaking would cause the Earth so spin the wrong way on its axis. The moment was like ceramic, rough and delicate all at the same time, to be handled carefully.

Eleven-fifty.

"I think I got more attached than I meant to," he broke the silence first, "we were just supposed to be friends. But look at us. We live together. We know everything about each other. And that night in high school---"

"Don't. It was prom night, I was drunk, it didn't mean---"

"You kissed me, Misty."

"And?"

"You were crying. I found you crying. And then you kissed me."

"Do you have a point?"

"I never told you what you said to me that night."

Jesus, what had she said?

High school was a blur at best and a mental black spot at worst.

Eleven-fifty-one.

"You told me you loved me."

"I did?"

"Yeah, then you went to Jimmy Kostuik's bathroom and puked."

"Romantic."

"Oh yeah, it was gorgeous. Like Marilyn Monroe, dry-heaving over that toilet bowl."

"Shut up!" She sat up just long enough to swat at him. "I don't remember that. At all."

"Yeah, I know, that's kind of why I brought it up."

"Why haven't you told me?"

"Because I was afraid you were lying."

Zachary, for all the time he spent stuffing bottles under mattresses and scrambling out his bedroom window with pockets stuffed with cans, had never been a heavy drinker. In a way, he was a living archive, a list of parties and moments that, truly, their friends would much rather he join them in forgetting.

"How long have you been thinking about this?"

"Since you said it."

Almost a decade.

Eleven-fifty-two.

"I'm going to miss you, if you go."

"If?"

"You don't want to."

"It's a really well-paying job."

"It's a foreign country."

"I--"

"You're a creature of habit. You can't handle the unknown. Twenty bucks says you're missing that flight and ghosting that company."

Turning down a career opportunity for a guy felt so...

Was she turning into her mother?

"Do you think I should go?"

"I want to want this for you, I do, but..."

"You want me to stay."

Eleven-fifty-three.

"I'm going to miss you."

"You'll get over it. You'll move on."

"No. No, you won't."

Neither will I, she didn't say.

"You think I should stay here in the U.S." She did say.

"I don't know how to live without you."

Who would remind him to unplug the toaster? Or would connect her blow dryer to an extension cord to clean the rugs in his car after it snowed, yell at him for the sixth Winter in a row to get his window fixed? Who would scrub the grease from his hair when the depression glues him to the couch?

Maybe he needed her.

Maybe she needed him.

Maybe it was far too late to have second thoughts.

Could she change the ticket?

She'd never make it through security on time.

Stop thinking about the flight.

Eleven-fifty-four.

"I...I should stay here in Ohio."

"Don't stay just because of me."

"I have to. I need to. I will."

"You sure?"

"No. Not at all. But thinking about the plane is making me nauseous and I'm not even going so...it's probably the best thing. Maybe. Possibly. Hopefully."

"So what next?"

"We stay here, together, I go beg for my old job back."

"Am I your boyfriend now?"

"Let's leave the labels for when the sun comes up...for tonight, let's just be us."

Eleven-fifty-five.

It was time to unpack the suitcases. 

November 18, 2022 23:43

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1 comment

23:22 Nov 23, 2022

First of all, her fight was not leaving at midnight. That made the counting puzzling. She was in the apartment with Zach and the airplane was at the airport. That depleted the tension in the countdown. I liked the idea of it, but I felt the resolution was obvious. Good dialogue writing.

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