Chapter One

Fuck love. Fuck the whole thing. Fuck the meaningless roses, the meaningless gestures, and the meaningless words. Love is an illusion and I'm ashamed I fell for it. I'm supposed to be the strong independent type. Before Loren, I had never even had a boyfriend. There was no one to hold my hand through all my ups and downs, no one for me to lean on and no one to make me cry. At 23, this was perfectly fine with me. Actually, it was better than fine. I thought my life was perfect. I was living on my own in Philadelphia with nothing to tie me down.

Then he came into my life.

I was so young and foolish. It's been less than a year since we met but it feels so much longer. I feel used and worn out. That's why I'm bitter. That's why I know this is all pointless. I should never have looked twice at him. I should never have watched his stupid band.

Now it was all over. My studio apartment in Center City, which two days earlier had been in chaos, was back to normal. It was as if the last eleven months hadn't happened.

I grimaced. Why did it seem so empty here now? And the silence, this place wasn't quiet. There was always noise and some new band playing on the stereo and someone just stopping by to visit.

God, this might take longer than I thought it would.

I grabbed my black jacket, heading out onto Pine Street. The bitter cold wind flung my hair in all different directions. I lit a cigarette before marching down the street. I ignored all the stores promoting the upcoming holiday. Valentine's Day. Hallmark's revenge on her single friends. But she was just jealous of us unattached girls. We were able to do whatever it is we wanted to do with no one to answer. I loved being unattached. Who needed him anyway?

I hurried down the street, heading to a favorite bar of mine McGlinches. I nodded to the doorman, attempting not to cringe as he stared at my empty side. "Where's that tall fellow you're always with?" he asked loudly.

Was I paranoid or were people looking at me now? Did he have to announce my breakup to the entire bar? "Not with me obviously," I managed to utter nonchalantly though my face had to be burning.

"Huh, why not?"

"Because he isn't," I said shortly. I quickly headed to the bar ordering a shot of Southern Comfort and tonic water and a Lager. My heart didn't seem to be pounding so fast with that under my belt. This was my bar. Didn't the doorman realize that? I came here too often before to let a false memory claim this place.

"Dylan! What the hell are you doing here?" Great. Just great. I turned slowly, smiling at Jeremy. I gave him a hug and let him usher me to the booth he had acquired. He tucked a piece of his wavy blond hair behind his ear, staring at me curiously. That's when I wondered what I looked like. It hadn't been a thought this past week. All I could think about was the inevitable ending, the break-up.

I self-consciously pushed the bangs swept across my face back behind my ear. I fumbled for my chap stick. "What's going on?"

"You tell me. I've been leaving messages for you all week. Where have you been?"

He looked hurt, dammit. It was all Loren's fault. He had made me paranoid. I could still hear his irritating voice after another long night. "He's in love with you," he would shout at me, once again changing our latest fight to my best friend Jeremy. "How the hell do you think it makes me feel? You have this whole world with him that you won't let me into and he loves it. He hates me and you defend him. Everything he does is so fucking great!" I would deny it and yell back at him but soon both of us would be too tired, too hurt to argue anymore. We always ended up crawling drunkenly to bed, not touching one another. I'd lie there, imagining it was the end. Tears would fall down my cheek. I'd eventually fall asleep to wake to find him wrapped tight around me, hugging my body to his as he slept. The next day everything would go on as if the night before never happened except I would avoid Jeremy for the next few days. I didn't want to, but the idea that he was in love with me would linger in my thoughts. But he wasn't. I know he wasn't. He had his own girlfriend, Charlene. He had just proposed to her. Loren was, and always will be wrong.

"I know, I'm sorry. It's been a long week."

Charlene appeared. She stood at the end of the table. She didn't look happy to see me. "Dylan James," she said coolly. "Imagine running into you here." She slid into the booth next to Jeremy, grabbing his hand.

"Is everything okay?" Jeremy asked sincerely. "Where's your boyfriend?"

I shrugged, but I didn't have time to get another word out. "Jeremy we're going to be late to the movie."

"I just want to make sure everything is okay with Dylan."

"Everything is always right with me. You two go on and enjoy the movie."

Jeremy looked doubtful but Charlene was already pulling him out of the booth to the door. "Nice seeing you," she lied while I watched them disappear.

As soon as they were gone, I wished I hadn't let them go. I did want them to stay. I wanted to tell someone that my life wasn't perfect. I didn't know which way was up. I should be happy. I should be free. Instead I felt empty. Not sad or angry just empty. Maybe it was time for a change of scene. Something different.

I finished my beer, doing another shot before I left the bar. But I had nowhere to go. I wanted to find someone to talk to. I wanted to just talk about nothing at all.

I wanted to see Loren even after all he had done to me.

Instead I slowly headed back to my apartment, my lonely little apartment. I headed up the steps, sticking my key into the lock but it was already open. I took a deep breath, slowly pushing the door open.

And there he was, taking up too much space as usual. He wasn't alone of course. When was he ever alone? No, he was too busy kissing Stephanie or Rachel or Peggy, one of the stupid girls who he insisted were just friends. The little bit of my heart that was still beating ran to hide. I felt cold and tired.

I averted my eyes, heading straight for the fridge. I should have known he would do this. He would always do something like this. We'd fight. I'd leave. I'd come back to find some friend of his who happened to be a beautiful female hanging out alone together. Nothing happened he'd plead, rolling his eyes at my jealousy. Why do you always assume the worst of me? I knew I had been right.

"Oh Dylan," he smoothly began. "I didn't hear you come in."

"Right," I said dryly. I made myself a vodka and tonic, not looking at him as I downed the drink in three quick gulps. He wasn't making an effort to leave. The two of them were standing too close together in my apartment, taking up too much room. If I wanted to watch the television or listen to music I would have to brush past him. I chose to linger by the refrigerator, making myself another drink. "What do you want?" I finally asked.

"I couldn't find the demo of our new songs. Jules wanted to listen to it, right sweetheart?" She giggled. "Did I leave it here?"

Jules. I remembered the name Jules. I thought Jules was a man, particularly his friend Julian. Apparently she was Jules. How many times had he told me he was going to hang out with "Jules"? How many times had he not come home those nights? I should have known. I should have known.

"How would I know? Check with the CD's." My back was still turned from them. I wouldn't allow myself to feel anything about this. It didn't matter. He didn't matter to me. My cell phone rang and I answered it, desperate to have something to interrupt this horrible conversation.

Unfortunately I wasn't saved. "Hey Dylan! Where have you been? Let us up. Oh, never mind, your neighbor just let us in."

Did he not tell his friends? I drank my drink as fast as possible; enjoying the numbing feeling it gave me. I laughed as my front door opened. Well, he could tell his friends we were over. Then they would stop being my friends, stop coming over, stop calling. They would just not exist in my world and I could begin to rebuild mine.

"What the fuck are you two doing here?" Loren asked, moving quickly away from his Jules to greet his friends. I watched him, repeatedly running a hand through his black hair. He was nervous at least.

"Visiting you two," Stella replied. She went by him, not waiting for an invitation in. She looked at the new girl curiously before heading over to me. "We brought wine."

"And more importantly beer," said Armando.

Stella poured two more vodka and tonics, finishing up the vodka. "I see we're going to need more vodka."

She handed me a drink and I eagerly took it. "I'm going to need a lot more than that tonight."

"Loren,' Jules said in a whiny voice. "I thought we were just going to get that CD and go."

Stella looked at her in disgust. I couldn't help but laugh. "Who the fuck is she?" Stella asked me as Jules tugged on Loren's hand. "Why is she all over your boyfriend?"

I laughed louder, shaking my head. "Who the fuck cares who he's been banging? I'm sure she's not the first," I whispered.

My whisper must not have been much of a whisper. "Right, we're going. You can keep the CD."

"Thanks,' I said sarcastically. "By the way, where is my Blonde on Blonde record?"

"That was mine," replied Loren, his eyes flashing angrily.

I walked out of the kitchen, heading towards him. "It's not. It's mine."

"Loren, aren't we going?"

"One second," he said tensely. "Why don't you wait in the car?"

She sighed angrily before storming out of my apartment. Loren and I were face to face now, both too upset to notice. "It's my record and I want it back."

"I'm not giving it to you. Why don't you just get your rich boyfriend to buy it for you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm sure Jeremy can afford it."

My hands were clenched tightly into fists. "There is nothing between us, as I've told you thousands of times before. He's engaged to Charlene."

He sneered. "I should have known I wouldn't be the reason for your sudden decadence. It must have really hurt to find out he moved on without you. Though he'll break up with her if you ask him, I'm sure."

"You don't know what you are talking about!" I started to walk away but he grabbed my shoulders, forcing me to look at him. "You don't know anything about me. You never have."

"That much we can agree on," he said sadly. I looked up at him, his face filled with sorrow. His small bowlike lips were frowning. His dark blue eyes were missing that mischievous sparkle.

I felt myself crumbling. I hadn't cried the night he walked out on me. I don't think I had ever cried in front of him and I wasn't going to start tonight. "Fine, just keep it." My voice wobbled so I quickly closed my mouth. I wanted to tell him to leave but I didn't trust myself not to burst into tears.

He reached out a hand to touch my cheek but quickly stopped. "I didn't think this would be this hard," he mumbled.

"Breaking up? It's always hard."

"No, not that." Whatever he meant, he wasn't willing to share with me. "I'll bring it back here when you're at work."

Then he left. To be with his Jules, the woman he probably broke up with me for, the woman whose apartment he had probably been staying at for the past two months.

I was alone. Armando and Stella had disappeared. Hopefully they realized now that this wasn't the place for them anymore. They did leave the bottle of wine. I opened it and grabbed a glass and headed to the far corner of the room where hidden behind a screen was my messy bed. I toppled onto it, picking up the phone. I made one call, not surprised when the voicemail immediately picked up. My brother wasn't ever good at charging his phone. "Rex, I'm sad," I said. "Where are you and Claude?" I hung up the phone, wishing for a lot of things, but most of all, I wished I had never moved here.