Title: Bright Blue
Summary: It was there on her refrigerator, as if chiding him for the affair. Cut out of her life, and still, even after that, love was forever.
She was too sensible of a girl to put a picture of him in the corner of her mirror. She thought she would feel foolish if she did. It seemed like such a clichéd and high school thing to do. She had other pictures, ones of friends and family, lining her mirror, but he had been her lover and even though they were friends after the break up, she'd have just felt so foolish.
She put a post-it note on her refrigerator instead. He had made her a CD once, of his favorite songs and he'd written the track titles on a bright blue post-it note, in his chicken scratch print. She put it on the refrigerator, between old ticket stubs and comics her roommates cut out, above the Cubs game schedule (she hated baseball but she liked to avoid the crowds).
He had asked about it once. He had found an old letter he had written her left out on her dresser and then the post-it on the fridge. He was confused because she was not a sentimental girl. He knew the reason there were no pictures of him in her apartment. She was too sensible for that. He was the same way, everything that reminded him of her was packed in a cold boxes shoved into the back of a rented storage room, along with other remnants of his past, baseballs mitts, X-men comics, old reports cards and papers. Sometimes he would go, in secret, to this storage closet and sift through the memories, in the dim light of the climate-controlled room, with the dirty gray floor and white walls concrete walls.
When he asked her about the post-it note, she said one of her roommates had snatched it and placed it on the fridge, where they kept the mementoes of their exes. He knew this wasn't true, because he doubted grocery lists and Wizard of Id comics had anything to do with old lovers. He didn't press the issue though. He was too grateful for her friendship. He enjoyed her company and that she still slept with him when they were both single enough. He went to bed with her that night. The letter was not on her dresser in the morning but the bright blue post-it note was magnetted to the fridge, as if chiding him quietly for the affair.
Her roommates waited for him to leave and then told her, with shrill, mocking laughter, how pathetic they thought it was that he still loved her. And he did. Truly, he did. When they had become reluctant lovers again, when both were single, he would corner her alone and steal kisses. She liked it because she was single and she felt beautiful when he would hold her hips and pull her to him.
Everyone knew he still loved her. She did. She probably even felt the same way, which was she had put part of him on her refrigerator, to make her smile every day. That's why she still had his letters. That was the problem with dating because she broke up with him and they were relatively young, but to get back together was out of the question. Everyone always snickered when you got back together with an ex. She didn't want to be laughed at.
She put the post-it note in her desk drawer, next to staples and paperclips. His letters were in there too. This way she could still a little part of him everyday. She couldn't keep it on the fridge because she had torn it down dramatically, in front of her roommates. They had said he still loved her and was trying to get back together with her. She saw the looks on their faces and it was right after he told her he still loved her and so she tore down the note and said she'd quietly remove him from her life.
But what would it mean to quietly remove him from her life? Could she do it? Of course. She had to. For the first time in her life, people were laughing at her, because she was in love with her ex and she had been the one who broke up with him. She stopped returning his phone calls. When she saw his number, she didn't answer. If she had her way, he would be gone from her life with nothing but a "talk to you later."
He took a hint. But how could you really get rid of someone who lived nine blocks away? They did better than she thought they would. It was inevitable though and she knew that. Still, the weeks turned slowly into months. She dated again, some even quite seriously, but she always left them. She was beginning to realize, with each relationship, that perhaps she might be the problem. She pushed it from her mind. She would be happy in this, she swore. And she wouldn't cry. She wouldn't.
Time passed for him too. At first he dismissed it as her needing to clear her head, but after six months, he knew she wasn't coming back. His heart was smashed up to pieces and so he found comfort in other women and Sunday afternoons in the dimly lit storage room, leafing through memories, one by one. He got by the only ways he knew how. Maybe they were rash and foolish choices, but they were his to make.
They both knew it was inevitable.
It happened on a biting January day, when the sky was unusually sunny and the earth was like marble, the snow packed, hard and dirty beneath his feet, he saw her in a shop off Belmont. He had known all along she was gone, and after a while, he'd never been able to even pretend she just needed time. Who really had time at 21? They were so young and had no patience, so wasn't the answer going to be the same even if time was all she'd needed? It was the one thing they couldn't have.
He followed her out of the shop and they chatted about nothing, school and mutual friends. He wanted to ask if his post-it note was still on her refrigerator, but he couldn't bear to mince words over the past. We all get tired, you know, eventually. He opted to tell her instead about his roommate had just moved out. He didn't add that the mementos of her that had sat in dark, dirty boxes in a storage room were kicked to the back of the closet of now empty second bedroom. He couldn't tell her that part, because it'd been over a year, and besides, his roommate had moved out so his fiancé could move in.
He asked her to have a cup of coffee with him because it was too vile out to stand for too long in the wind and the cold. Her eyes squinted and she could almost believe it was the blustery gusts that made them tear just so at the edges, but she knew it was seeing him, standing so handsome and stoic, cheeks red from the biting temperature. She told him she really only had time for a cigarette. He took off his clumsy woolen gloves and she took the cigarette he offered and brought it to her lips, holding it with the dainty fingers of her thin leather gloves that did nothing about the cold but looked so nice on her. He lit her cigarette and she ignored that it was not menthol, which was what she preferred to smoke. He had lit her cigarette dozens of times before and she smiled at the memory, but then frowned just as quickly. They huddled from the wind in a bus waiting shed. He asked if she was seeing anyone.
She thought she should lie to him, tell him yes, because she really loved him and she was afraid if she was single, he would pine for her. She said she'd been seeing someone. She wasn't though. She'd been dating, but there wasn't really anyone serious. He nodded and said he hoped that person felt as lucky as he had. He shifted back forth on his heels. She asked if he was single. He shook his head and said he was engaged. He flicked the ashes off his cigarette and she gave no visible reaction. After a long moment, she forced a wide smile and told him that was fantastic. He nodded.
"It is," he agreed. "She is." She asked how they'd been together. He told her it'd been about six months. She remarked that seemed awfully fast. It was out of her mouth before she could catch it. He shrugged.
"I've been lucky enough to find three women who've made me really happy and who I could have been happy with for a long time." He smiled nostalgically, his gray eyes growing softer, after being so glossy from the cold. "I passed on the first one, you passed on me, and I really don't think I'll get lucky and find a fourth, so I better grab this bit of happiness while I can." He didn't explain that it was an old friend, someone he had known what seemed like forever and they'd been so smashed up by love that they'd realized they made each other happy, and so one night, he bit the bullet and proposed. She'd accepted. They'd been happy ever since. They loved each other, but he couldn't honestly say if he was in love with her. He didn't really know and he supposed that meant he wasn't. But they were happy, so what else mattered?
"I guess that's true," she admitted, and she traced figure eights in the snow with the toe of her boot. The bus stopped to pick up passengers, but they waved it by, earning an annoyed look from the frazzled driver. "Will I be invited to the wedding?"
He said he doubted that was a good idea and she agreed. She looked down and then up again then back to the snow. She still loved him. She hated that this was the way it was, that he'd left her life because she didn't want to deal with it and she could say she didn't want to be laughed at but the truth was, she was scared.
He'd told her he still loved her and she'd blown it off. Of course, she'd said that night, and I'll love you forever. You don't stop loving someone. You just get past it. They'd broken up months before. She wanted him to understand it, that night, but he hadn't.
"How about that cup of coffee?" he said gently. She could tell everything was eating at him and even though he seemed calmer, he was more ripped up than she was.
She replied it wasn't a good idea and the cigarette was burnt down as far as it could go. It dropped from her fingers into the snow. There was always snow under the waiting sheds, even though it seemed like there shouldn't be.
"It's just a cup of coffee," he said but they both knew it was more than that. It wasn't symbolic or anything like that, but it was a starting point. Coffee would lead to talking and talking would lead to sharing secrets and that could lead to falling back into a habit. They might have sex. One might turn the other down. It couldn't lead to any good but he wanted it to. He wanted to be friends. But it wasn't even that. He wanted her to return to his life. He wanted to have lunch every three months to catch up and to be supportive of her relationships. He wanted to have her in his life in a quaint, obscure way, like a book on a shelf. This would never happen.
"We both know it'd be more than that." She looked away, through the clear glass of the waiting shed. It was still unusually sunny.
His lips curled into a sardonic smirk and he scoffed, his breath visible in the crisp air. "Are you afraid of what your roommates would say? That they'd laugh at you?"
He struck a nerve. Her ears tinged red, though they had been colored from the cold already. "No," she said through gritted teeth, her voice on edge. She was tense and upset. "It's that I'll still love you forever." He was mocking her now. This is exactly what she couldn't stand. He was smirking at her and it was because she had been so foolish that she had let him go and she had loved him and she had done it just because some friends thought she was being silly. "And when I was trying to leave you I said we'd love each other forever and it came true and when I said it I was just saying it so you'd go away. But I'll always love you forever."
The smirk was gone from his face. He seemed to just stop, any bravery he had was gone. He wrung his hands together, through the thick, woolen gloves. "And the post-it note…?"
"In my desk drawer, next your letters," she said.
"You're… you're in my roommate's closet," he struggled out. "Well, it's the guest bedroom now, but you're there, pictures and gifts. You know what I mean."
She did know. She told him so. The cigarettes were gone from their gloved hands now and he reached right as she did. For a brief moment, their hands clasped, though they promptly fell back to their sides. He said he was happy for her, in her new relationship. She told him she'd like to come to his wedding.
He nodded. She looked back through the glass of the waiting shed. He looked at the ground. He murmured something about having only really just stepped out for a moment. She mumbled back, about appointments. She said they should probably have that cup of coffee sometime. He agreed. He watched her walk off on this unusually sunny day and then he turned and headed back into the shop to buy whatever it was he'd been browsing for.
Somehow, he knew they wouldn't be having coffee anytime soon.