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Romance Fiction Coming of Age


If asked, the guests at their wedding in Sage Chapel on the campus of Cornell University where they met would say that the bride glided down the aisle (not walked) and that she was transcendent in her diaphanous dream of the softest pale pink (not white) dress. It was as fine as gossamer. It should be. She ordered the fabric flown in special from Milan and it cost her father a fortune. But it had to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect. She was a perfectionist. The groom waited for her at the alter (as grooms do) in a white dinner jacket and black tie. It was retro. It was Rat Pack-esque. It was fun. And it was perfect. It was a beautiful wedding party. Everyone said so. Everyone thought they were the perfect couple. Everyone knew they were meant to be. So when they divorced eight months later, everyone was shocked.


On paper they were the perfect couple. They met freshman year at Cornell. They dated all through undergrad. They broke up for a bit as couples do before grad school—he needed to find himself so he spent the summer traveling across Europe. Interestingly enough, even though he found himself in the pants of many, many girls across the continent, he never “found” himself. Or, rather, he found that he wasn’t much different than he was before. He was a simple guy with simple needs, and after he came back home and was just about to start grad school he figured it was time to get back together with Phoebe. She was the girl for him. They were meant to be. He begged her to come back to him. Told her she would always be the one for him and that there would never be any other girls. After the requisite number of days and appropriate amount of romantic gestures on his part (flowers, candy, Teddy Bears dressed like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell because that was their costume for a Halloween party sophomore year) she gave in and took him back. She was starting law school at Duke in the fall and he was starting business school at Penn. To her, that was a recipe for a perfect life.

Four and a half years later they were working in New York, living on the West Side and their perfect honeymoon in Aruba seemed a lifetime ago.


“Are you going tonight?” “No, I don’t have time. I’m swamped here. Evan is allowing me to be second chair on this case, and I can’t fuck it up.” “I get it. Just try to get out of there earlier than usual oh and call your mother. She’s now calling me because you never pick up and she’s no longer accepting my lame excuses for you.” Declan hung up the phone frustrated by yet another cancellation from Phoebe. They had been married less than a year but lately it seemed like they were never together. She came home late, went in early, always had something pressing to do. Everyone told him it was normal. Everyone assured him that their life would calm down after “the wedding” after “she makes partner” after “he becomes a vice president.” So many things had to happen before their lives would settle down and they could spend time together. It was getting to be too hard to wait for that mythical time. But he carried on. Went to work. Worked out. Played in his basketball league, kept busy and tried not to notice that he was almost always alone. 


They had plans to meet up with their friends for a few drinks. Phoebe hadn’t seen any of their friends since the wedding and he didn’t like that she never wanted to get together with them anymore. He was going to go by himself but didn’t want to explain AGAIN why Phoebe wasn’t there. Instead he decided to text Chelsea from work to see what she was doing. She often went out with a group from the office and was constantly asking him to come so she may be doing something fun. He texted, ‘Hey what’s going on tonight?’ He poured himself a drink and waited for her response. It was immediate. “There’s a group of us going to Caledonia. Meet us at 8.” He responded with a thumbs up and headed out the door. Caledonia was right around the corner on Amsterdam so it was convenient and he liked it well enough. When he walked in he spotted Chelsea sitting alone. “Hi Chelsea, where is everybody?” “Hi Declan! No one’s here yet,” she said. Declan was a little uncomfortable sitting there with Chelsea when it was just going to be the two of them but as one drink followed another he soon relaxed. And with each new drink, she slid closer and closer to him. And with each drink, he was more and more comfortable with how close she was. He was attracted to her. She was cute and fun and she was sending out some strong signals. She went to the bar and brought back two tequila shots and some limes. Before he knew what was happening, she grabbed his hand, licked it seductively and took a shot, slammed the shot glass down and immediately kissed him. And he kissed her back. It was a long, lingering, good kiss. The kind of kiss that’s full of promise. He pulled away after he realized what he was doing. He didn’t want to. It was really hard to walk away from that but he muttered, “Thanks but I have to go” as he threw money on the table and ran out of the bar. How could he do that!? 


He got home around midnight but Phoebe still wasn’t home. He felt so guilty that he didn’t leave his shoes by the door or his tie and jacket strewn on the couch like he usually does. He put everything away the way she likes. He took a shower because he felt dirty. He got into bed and pulled out his very worn copy of The Sun Also Rises and started reading the last page. His favorite page. Phoebe got home a little later and he heard her quietly open the door, but as she noticed no shoes or jacket she must’ve thought he wasn’t home so she no longer tried to be quiet. She left her shoes on and the click clack of her heels on the hardwood floors got louder and louder as she walked toward the bedroom. She came in the door and jumped when she saw him reading in bed. “Oh, I didn’t know you were home,” she stammered strangely. “Well, I am,” he said, trying to sound normal. She regained her composure and took on a playful tone. “Usually the indication that you are home is by the trail of clothes that lead to the bedroom.” “That’s not fair. I’m trying and lately I’ve done a pretty good job of picking up after myself.” She nodded reluctantly in agreement and went into the bathroom. He heard the shower start and wondered why she needed a shower before bed but he took one too so he didn’t think much about it. He heard her brush her teeth and came back out in her jammies—a t-shirt and a pair of Declan’s boxers. As she got into bed she laughed and said, “Oh my gosh! how many times can one person read the same book? I’m gonna start calling you Jake.” He laughed and said, “I like him, but don’t call me Jake! He has some issues I don’t have. Come here and I’ll show you the ways in which I’m NOT like Jake.” Phoebe squealed and laughed as he pulled her closer. She let him kiss her, but she pushed him away and said, “I’m really tired. Let’s plan on some quality time this weekend.” He was disappointed but didn’t want to push her. She fell asleep almost immediately and he reasoned that it would be better to let her sleep and he’ll tell her about the kiss tomorrow.


The next day she was gone when he woke up. He went to the kitchen and there was a note that said “Don’t wait up. I’ll be late.” What the hell was he going to do tonight? He’ll call Sam. Sam was his best friend and was best man at his wedding. Sam is always up for a good time. He dialed Sam and they agreed to meet for drinks at Dead Poets. He sat at work all day and could not focus. He had to tell Phoebe what he did last night. He couldn’t keep it to himself. It was driving him crazy. When he left work, he got in a cab and went straight to Phoebe’s office. 


As his cab approached her office building he saw her getting into a cab with her boss. The boss was a little too handsy for his taste and it made him a little angry that this guy felt he could just paw at her like that. As their cab pulled away, he said, “follow that cab.” It wasn’t as fun to say it as he thought it would be. They drove a few blocks to the W and got out. They walked into the hotel as if they’d done it a thousand times before and then it hit him—they had done it a thousand times before. All the late nights. All the cancelled dates. She wasn’t working. She was with him. 


He followed them in just to see if he was wrong. Were they going into the elevators to go up to a room or—hope against hope—were they just getting something to eat at the restaurant. The elevator banks were to the right. The restaurant was to the left and he could tell by the rhythm of their bodies they were heading for the elevators. The first chair to her second chair. Holy shit. He watched them enter the elevator and as the doors were closing she turned to face out and he met her eyes and the look on her face when she saw him was more than shock and fear. It was relief. In that instant they communicated more than they had in months, years, maybe ever. And he understood. They weren’t the perfect couple. They weren’t actually meant to be at all. It was pretty to think that they were, but in the end they were just two kids who stayed together too long. All of a sudden he felt exhausted and all he wanted to do was sleep. He went out into the night and headed home thinking about what was next for him but all he knew for sure was there would be no one to care if his shoes were in front of the door or if his jacket was thrown over the couch.

March 14, 2024 01:22

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7 comments

Kerriann Murray
16:51 Apr 09, 2024

This was wonderful! Did you go to Cornell? My brother got married there.

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Annie Hewitt
18:25 Apr 09, 2024

I did not go to Cornell. My best friend went there, met her husband and got married at Sage Chapel and I was in the wedding party (Footnote: also named their daughter Sage)

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Shelli Carbone
14:44 Apr 04, 2024

Real life.

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Wendy M
12:22 Mar 27, 2024

Fabulous story, really immersive and so honest. Your descriptions are very vivid.

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Alexis Araneta
08:09 Mar 18, 2024

A brilliant piece, Annie. I love the detail work you put in here. I could vividly picture everything. I kind of felt like Phoebe was cheating, but the way you built this made the revelation satisfying. A little bit of correction: The place a couple gets married in is spelt "altar". Great job !

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Annie Hewitt
10:50 Mar 18, 2024

Ugh! I feel so stupid. This is my first story, and I did this really fast and there are several spots were I could see are not quite right. Thank you for the kind comments (and correction!) I appreciate it.

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Alexis Araneta
11:13 Mar 18, 2024

It's okay. Mistakes happen to the best of us.

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