We are wandering through a Hobby Lobby at six o’clock. Aisle after aisle stretches in every direction, creating a disfigured checkerboard of craft supplies. Christian music glides through the surround speakers as if you could walk through the doors in the back and straight up to the pearly gates. On one rack, one can find every print of duct tape imaginable. On another, there are picture frames of all shapes and sizes for any artwork or photo one might wish to frame. A long rectangular aisle sports a vast array of stickers—textured and not. My eyes catch on a set for a wedding page in a scrapbook. There is a brunette woman in a long white dress with a shorter white veil and a bouquet, her free arm locked with that of a dapper blond man. Their eyes are crescent moons in happiness and glittery splashes of blush adorn their cheeks. I wish I could be that happy.
I don’t have any money to buy anything since I had to pay for our dinner at Metro Diner that evening. His credit card was rejected at the kiosk and I forked over upwards of twenty dollars so we wouldn’t be thieves. Never mind that I agreed to go out tonight because he said he’d pay. I hope the waitresses don’t think I’m a bitch because I could muster nothing more than a dollar fifty for the tip.
He always pays, I tell myself. It’s my turn to pay.
I bet he’s thinking, I’m glad that she paid. I wanted her to pay.
He looks like the man in the wedding sticker. His hair is blond and curly, cut close to his head because he doesn’t like how it looks when it’s longer. I’ve told him time and time again that I like it grown out. I like to run my hands through it, because it’s soft, and what can I say? I’m a sucker for curly hair. His eyes are the kind of blue-green you see on every contestant on the Bachelor, or in the Hallmark Christmas movies the station still plays in June. He is not harsh lines like the sticker man, though. While much skinnier than I am, he has never had washboard abs or chiseled arms. I think that’s part of why I’m in love with him.
If I am in love with him. I suppose it’s still a toss-up; I never know what I feel anymore.
For the next five minutes, anyway, we are still broken up in the Hobby Lobby. I think about getting out my credit card to buy a cool reusable planner since I’m on an environmentally-savvy kick at the moment. The store will close in exactly two hours, and I feel like shit because I ate a full serving of dinner. I was anorexic when I met him in ninth grade. Now I alternate between binging and starving like a shitty pendulum in a child’s science fair project. He knows that I’m uncomfortable and vulnerable and probably shouldn’t be making big decisions, but we’re the kind of pair that keeps our feelings locked inside until we wake up feeling suicidal at three in the morning. I pick up one of those foam half-spheres and tuck it under my shirt like a pregnancy.
“Look,” I say.
He laughs. I’ve missed hearing his laugh. “Nice.”
“I want to wear this around the store to see what the Christian ladies think.”
“They’d probably murder you.”
I smile the smile I smile for him alone.
We’re dancing around each other. He knows it as well as me, but he refuses to be the one who makes the first move.
It’s never been any different. We first got together in 2017 at the end of our tenth-grade year, after my best friend, Kylie, gave me his number and we began to text nonstop. I sent the first message. We were probably only a thing because I gave him attention and showed interest when no one else did, and his brain decided to settle for me—though I try not to think about that. He took me to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 twice over the span of a week, and not long after, he told me over text that he liked me. We held hands in the gym while waiting for morning classes to begin.
When he kissed me for the first time, it was in his bedroom. I told him that I didn’t want us to have our first kiss yet because I wanted it to be special. He wore a Deadpool pajama onesie, and he kissed me anyway. I think it was pretty damn special. We almost made it a full year before he broke up with me over text to date a girl with whom he had only video-chatted on Facebook. It didn’t last long. We got back together at my junior prom.
The next time, I broke up with him.
More recently, I had a crush on a boy called Isaiah. He was a really good guy, the kind that smelled amazing and had a great singing voice on top of a passion for the arts. I suppose there’s a reason why Isaiah is not the boy beside me now.
“Wait, wait.” I’m choking on my own laughter. “Imagine, imagine. Imagine me sneaking into a movie theater with snacks in this.”
Again, he laughs. It makes me so happy when I can make him laugh. I’ve never wanted anything more.
“Good evening, officer,” he mocks.
I finish the statement. “What seems to be the problem?”
There’s a display of those wooden animals that have slits cut into their sides so they can bend and slither like real fish and reptiles. He picks up a lizard and shakes it in my face.
He and I… we just work together. We make sense. It never even crosses my mind that I could be settling for him because he loves me despite understanding everything I’m going through. I don’t even consider that I’m so terrified of rejection that I will always pick the path of least resistance. Maybe at some point, my passivity became the genuine feeling I craved. Artificial or organic, I am in love with him. For the first or third time, I’m still in love with him.
Speaking feels like walking on eggshells. “So… what are we going to do from here?”
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“With us. Where is it going?”
“Are we going to…” I don’t want to say it either. I don’t want to be the one who suggests getting back together for the third time if it isn’t what’s already on his mind. That would be far too embarrassing.
He doesn’t look me in the eye. I read an article last month about how your friends will triangulate their gaze between your forehead and both cheeks to make you comfortable. It seems similar. “I’m not over you.”
“And I’m not over you,” I say.
“So should we…”
I don’t want a repeat of the last two times we’ve been together. People can’t keep breaking up, dating, breaking up, dating. It’s toxic. If they cannot stay committed to each other for longer than a few months at a time without getting bored and pursuing other avenues, they shouldn’t be together. Simple as that. It’s the wrong choice to propose another try.
And who knows, maybe we’re both settling. Maybe our relationship has been a huge mistake this entire time and it’s ended because it’s meant to end for good. He won’t commit to me forever because he isn’t in love with me, he’s just convincing himself that he is. Maybe I’m doing the same.
But fuck, I do want him. I love him so much. Irrationally, stupidly. I don’t know what my life will become if I don’t have him at my side. He sees me and understands me and is willing to be with me anyway, and I have to seize the opportunity or it will disintegrate before my eyes. I stand there and list out a few half-assed rules for this time around with a promise that if we break up, we will never decide to resume the relationship ever again. I know it’s a façade and so does he. This time will not be the last we rediscover one another, and there will be other breakups in our future. We’re the On-Again, Off-Agains.
Our eyes lock. I can already picture how it will look in memory. We are standing in God’s own Hobby Lobby next to the scrapbooks and the stickers. There is a little sticker couple that looks just like us right there, and it has to be a sign from above that we’re meant to be together forever. Probably not. Maybe.
Neither one of us is delusional. We both understand that our relationship hasn’t worked two times already, and that the odds are against the third time being the charm. This isn’t going to end in marriage. It’s going to end in me crying myself to sleep for the forty-millionth night in a row because we can never seem to be good enough for each other when it really matters. But I kiss him in the Hobby Lobby anyway, because I am not in the business of denying myself things that my heart asks for. When it comes to Declan, I always concede.
We don’t even last a month.