Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Submitted into Contest #196 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “Maybe in another life.”... view prompt


Romance Sad Teens & Young Adult

I took my final sip of coffee as the morning sun finally passed the horizon. It shone like a  spotlight in the sky that glistened across the Pacific ocean and the assortment of white boats standing at the dock. I inhaled deeply, taking in the balcony view I’d known for the last three years, and walked through the thick sliding glass door.

I rinsed my mug in the sink and looked out over the living room. It was a skeleton of itself. The black leather couch we’d gotten from Facebook Marketplace and the glass coffee table I’d found at Goodwill both still stood in the center. But the absence of our photos, our trinkets from our adventures, our memories, left the beige walls and black shelves bare. It even made me feel like I’d been stripped down to a version of myself I hadn’t seen in awhile and barely recognized anymore.

“Hi,” James said softly, appearing from the bedroom. Sleep still sat in the corners of his pale gray eyes and the bags under them were deep with a purple hue.

“Hi,” I said. My voice was a whisper and I forced a meek smile across my lips. We held each other’s eyes for a moment before dropping them to the floor.

“What time is your flight?”

“12:30. I’m going to head out soon. I just need to get ready and finish getting my things together.” 

His eyes dropped to the floor as he nodded. Each word we spoke felt like loaded fireworks packed with bursts of emotions and things left unsaid that only managed to fizzle out.

As I did my makeup in the bathroom, the sounds of James’ normal morning routine decimated my ears. The whirring of the coffee machine, the opening and closing of the kitchen drawers and cabinets, the chime that rang from his spoon landing in his ceramic bowl as he poured his Cheerios. Each was like a hammer to wood, closing up a box I’d never be able to open again.

I finished packing up the rest of my things and studied the bedroom. My eyes landed on the faded green and blue padded blanket that sat on the edge of the bed. Its frayed edges, the white fluff that was exposed from the rips, the memory of the tailor telling us it was beyond repair. I picked it up and held it to my nose, remembering the smell of the salty air and spearmint from the night James laid the blanket out in the bed of his truck and told me he loved me for the first time as we watched the sunset.

Tears pricked the backs of my brown eyes and I immediately put the blanket down, returning to my suitcase.

A moment later, James stood in the hallway of the bedroom, leaning forward with his arms on the archway.

“Let me give you a ride to the airport.” He stated.

I zipped my suitcase and tucked a lock of tawny hair behind my ear as I turned to face him. 

“That’s really not necessary, I’m happy to just Uber.”

“Kelsey, please. It’s not that far and I really don’t mind.”

I knew he didn’t mind, but I did. I knew what he’d say to me in the car. I’d purposely been dodging more conversations as I made it through the last few days. Staying out late with friends, reading and listening to music in my car parked at the beach, anything to prevent myself from changing my mind. I knew this car ride was an opportunity for more begging, more reminiscing about happier times together. I could hear the strain in his voice and his eyes drooped at their edges as he awaited my reply.

Pain tinged in my chest and I turned back to my suitcase.

“Well, if you really don’t mind. We’ll leave in a few minutes then.”

“Great.” James said. “I'll go start the car. I can take your suitcase, too, if it’s ready.” I heard him close the front door as I stayed sitting on the bedroom carpet. 

I walked through the apartment slowly, taking in its final display. I noticed a book resting on the dining table next to James’ empty cereal bowl. I opened it to find a photo of us folded in half. It was from a trip we took to LA two summers ago when we hiked to the top of the Hollywood sign. I remember it ended up taking us nearly four hours to reach the sign because we’d taken a left instead of a right. We bickered the whole last hour of the hike. Still, a soft chuckle left my throat as I examined the white smiles that stood out against our dusty brown clothes.

I tucked the photo back in the book and took one last look around before heading to the car. 

“Ready?” He asked as I climbed into the passenger seat. Another loaded question but I simply nodded as he began pulling out of the garage.

It wasn’t a long drive to the airport but the silence made it feel like eternity.

“How long do you think you’ll be at your parents’ place?” James asked, breaking the silence.

“I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll have to come back eventually to get things from my storage unit and hunt around for a new place.”

“Do you think you’ll still live downtown when you come back?”

“I don’t know. I might go more north towards La Jolla or Encinitas. But still in San Diego, of course.”

The sun was hot through the windshield and I could feel my cheeks turning red from the heat as I scrolled through my phone in silence.

“Thanks,” I said with a soft smile as James rolled down the windows.

“Sure.” He smiled back with closed lips. 

“Do you have any other plans today?” 

“I’m meeting Sean for a beer later tonight. We’re going to watch the Padres game at Barley Hops.”

“Ah, that'll be fun.” I remembered James’ 25th birthday. I’d made him think that all of our friends were busy and that I had to work late but really we’d gotten to Barley Hops early and decorated our booth with confetti and balloons. The whole restaurant even sang Happy Birthday and his face beamed the entire night. I hadn’t seen him smile like that since.

“That was such a fun birthday.” James said, smiling and facing the windshield. I guess he’d read my mind. I couldn’t be surprised. As much as I’d tried to suppress the memories, they stormed my brain with no restraint, triggered by the smallest things. I guess he felt that too.

“I was just thinking the same thing.” I said, looking down at my lap and picking at my chipped orange nail polish.

Thinking about all the ways I knew him and myself and this life together made my chest heavy. I felt naked again, but I also couldn’t ignore that part of me felt free and lighter than ever. It was so easy to look back on our relationship with rose-colored glasses, but without the glasses, I was able to see James for who he truly was.

Without him, it felt like the light had finally turned green on all of my wants and interests and dreams and I just had to put my foot on the gas. There were no more yellow lights. No more judgment or maybe’s or having to ask James for permission to experience the things that made me happy. And even when he did give me permission, his remaining biases tainted the experience before it even happened.

“Listen, I hate to break the ice but I have to. This last week has been tough. At least for me. But I just keep thinking of all of these great memories we have and I just don’t understand why you don’t want to keep working on things. We were so happy together for four years.”

He was facing me now. His eyes glossy and slanted at the edges again while his thick brows crinkled together. I inhaled deeply.

“I don’t want you to think this has been easy on me because I’m the one who wanted to end things.” I said, twisting my finger around a loose thread hanging from my t-shirt before continuing. 

“The memories make it easy to forget how unhappy we’ve been. Or at least how unhappy I’ve been. It’s hard for you to understand the discontentment when you’ve been in the driver’s seat for our entire relationship.”

He shifted uncomfortably, his eyes still on the road. “That’s so not true,” he said firmly.

I breathed in sharply. The damage was done and it was time for me to strike the match and light the fireworks.

“You and I are just so different. And it may not be in the big ways like our values, but the small things, the day-to-day things that bring me joy, and make life feel fulfilling to me, bring you disgust. You’ve made it hard for me to like myself because it feels like the things I’m innately interested in or just like doing are reasons to be ashamed of myself. And even when I do them regardless, they are never the same because I know you’re in the background judging me.” The words tumbled out of me and I tried to catch my breath.

He rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah? Like what? Like watching trash reality TV?” 

“I mean that’s a really simple example. It might seem stupid to you but it makes me happy, it’s entertaining, I enjoy it. But other things like taking a pottery class just for fun, or meeting up with new girlfriends for the sake of meeting new people with similar interests, or reading a lovey-dovey romance novel, or writing for the sake of doing it and not trying to get it published. These things might seem silly to you, but they bring me joy. They help me express myself. Life is all about the little things and these are my little things that help me find happiness.”

“You make me out to be such a villain. I just want what’s best for you,” he sneered.

“And I’m telling you what’s best for me. Just let me be me and do the things that make me happy.”

We sat in silence.

“Why wouldn’t you want to stay then and try to work on things?”

“James, these aren’t new issues and your dislike for these things hasn’t changed. I’ve tried talking to you about the way you make me feel, how I feel held back, how I feel judged constantly, and you just refute everything I say and I leave the conversation feeling the need to apologize and feeling worse about myself.”

“I just feel like if you really loved me you’d want to try to keep working at them.” 

“I did try. You were the one who didn’t. I did really love you and it hurts me that you doubt that. But honestly, I started falling out of love with you after being hurt again and again. It felt like I couldn’t even be myself anymore and that felt like you didn’t love me for me. And when I realized I was falling out of love, that’s when I knew I couldn’t keep trying. ”

My eyes widened at what I’d just admitted. I couldn’t take it back now and I honestly didn’t want to. The fireworks had finally lit up the sky and their ashes stayed shimmering in the silence that floated between me and James. His eyes remained on the road and I peered over at him through the corner of my eye. He looked defeated as he pulled up to the airport a moment later.

James sighed and turned to face me. “Kelsey, I’m sorry. I really hear what you’re saying and I’m sorry I didn’t listen before. I really just wanted what was best for you. I really want to try to fix this and be better.” 

“I appreciate that. But it took me ending the relationship for you to finally listen and I’m sorry but I just don’t have anything left in me to try to fight for this.”

We just stared at each other. My stomach still churned even though I’d gotten everything off of my chest.

“For what it’s worth though, we did have some great times together and I will always cherish those and I thank you for them,” I said, attempting to soften the blow.

He flashed a quick, closed-lip smile on the corner of his mouth. His eyes dropped to his lap and his shoulders fell in defeat.

“I just really thought you were my forever.” James paused, looking back up at me, “Maybe in another life.”

My heart stung and I mustered a soft smile before replying. 


“Thank you for everything, Kelsey.” James said.

“Thank you, too. And thanks for the ride.” I wrapped my arms around him for the last time before stepping out of the car, grabbing my suitcase, and walking into the airport. My steps felt lighter as I walked with my shoulders back and chin held a little higher, without looking back.

May 06, 2023 00:31

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Wally Schmidt
04:09 May 12, 2023

Audrey-Welcome to Reedsy! Thanks for submitting your first story. I like how Kelsey came from a position of strength to deal with her separation. Even though it was her decision, you added a very realistic layer of nostalgia for the relationship and a firm acknowledgement of how she felt and what she needed. In my book, that makes her a hero. Looking forward to reading more of your work


Audrey Lewis
22:06 May 12, 2023

Thank you so much. This comment made my week!


Wally Schmidt
23:46 May 12, 2023

I'm so glad. I have been submitting stories to Reedsy since November and one thing I wish I had known was that if you want people to read your stories, you need to read others stories and like (if you do) and comment on them. That is how others find your writing. It took me a while to figure this out, but it works. Good luck in your writing journey Audrey!


Audrey Lewis
01:30 May 13, 2023

Thanks for the advice - will do. Yours is up next! Good luck to you as well.


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01:02 May 12, 2023

Hello Audrey! Reedsy included your piece in my critique circle email. I'm so glad too because it was excellent. So easy to read, compelling, and down to earth. You clearly have a talent for writing. I'd love to provide some feedback if you'll allow me. I always ask - I think its important not to receive feedback from just anyone. I'd love to receive some on my own too. Thanks!


Audrey Lewis
22:34 May 12, 2023

Thank you for your kind note! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate you asking before providing feedback and would love to hear your notes. I also received your story as part of my critique circle so I'll be sure to give my feedback as requested. Thank you!


21:57 May 15, 2023

I honestly really loved everything about this piece. It's so well-rounded and easy to read. The only thing I noticed that could have lended it more power was the last sentence, breaking it down so it feels more conclusive like this: "My steps felt lighter as I walked with my shoulders back and chin held a little higher. I didn't look back." Very small note, but something I noticed on the first read.


Audrey Lewis
04:30 May 16, 2023

Thank you so much! I totally agree with your feedback and love your suggestion.


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