Feeling trapped in my apartment, I headed to the most open place in town, the park, even though it too brought a flood of memories upon me. I made my way to an unfamiliar part and found a grassy spot under an oak to sit. Usually the lack of action outside due to the chilly weather disappointed me, but now it provided a perfect environment for pondering. I wouldn't have minded an occasional chipmunk to reassure that I wasn't the only living creature in existence, but I was looking forward to the lack of distractions. For a while it was as I predicted and I traced every moment with Jenna over and over, dissecting the composition of each. It probably sounds like over-thinking, and when I looked back I was almost certain of it being so. At the time however, it was all I could get myself to do. It wasn't so bad though, just my whirlwind of thoughts under an old tree in a deserted land. And then irony decided to drop by.
Of all the characters to disrupt my mood, it had to be a little boy in an octopus costume wearing a sign taped on his back that read, "Look at mee, look at mee!" And since there was no one else around, he had to come over near me. As his little running legs brought him into view I noticed a woman following close behind. "Slow down Ian! You're going to give that fish of yours head trauma!" she yelled to the boy.
"She's not 'that fish', she's Kimmy!" he replied. "And she'll be fine!"
"Ian!" she shouted, close enough that it slightly hurt my ears. The boy ran around to the other side of the tree, trying to hide from his caretaker. "Kids," she sighed. "Do you have any?" she asked me.
I shook my head. "Not yet, but hopefully someday."
"You sure about that? I'm Julie by the way," she said, giving me her hand to shake.
"Peter. And I assume he is Ian?"
"That little devil? He sure is. And he just had to wear his octopus suit to the park today."
"And the sign?"
"Oh that," she laughed. "He's not allowed to talk to strangers, but he still wanted to tell everyone to look at him. I'm just in charge of keeping him safe and out of trouble. Monitoring his silliness is not my job."
"Well I like his spunk. It's sad to see kids grow out of that. Grown ups are way too serious and cranky."
"Are you describing yourself?" she teased.
I chuckled for a moment before considering her question seriously. "Actually, I think I am."
"Well, you fix that. I have an octopus to catch. Maybe I'll see you around. Peter, right?"
"Yeah. See ya, and good luck with your cephalopod!"
"Hello?" I heard as a hand wove in front of my eyes, which I ignored at first. When my gaze finally broke, I looked up into the face of Andie. "What are you doing here all alone? Having a staredown with a distant squirrel?"
"I was thinking. Keeping an eye out for any signs that appear. Anything to keep me occupied without having to do anything."
"Signs?" she asked, skeptisism clear in her tone. "Like a big cloud that says, 'I miss you, love Jenna?'"
"That wouldn't hurt, but I was thinking more along the lines of a bird."
"Yeah, a great bird, an eagle or something. Like in the Odyssey, how it signified Odysseus' return."
"So if you see a big birdie flapping its wings, that means Jenna will come back soon? See this is why I don't read much. Just look at what it does to you! You lose all sense of reality, so busy looking for the deeper message that you don't wake up and smell the real flowers. Stop dreaming and get out there and live. That's how you learn."
"I thought I was doing that, but then Jenna left and nothing made sense anymore. I don't remember how to live."
"It'll come back to you, just like Jenna will, as long as you give it some effort. Try not to exaggerate everything. See what a mess it makes? She'll come home with her crazy head ready to fix whatever problems you might have. And then you'll live happily ever after, alright?"
I smiled, maybe the first time since Jenna ran off. "What happened to the distraught Andie I saw yesterday?"
"She woke up and got back to living. Worrying doesn't suit her. It just brings wrinkles!" she cringed humorously, laughing. "Why don't you come on a walk with me? Exercise helps clear my mind, so maybe it will for you too."
Andie reached out her hand to help me up and I took it hesitantly. Upon standing up, she motioned towards a winding path, suggesting that we take it. I honestly didn't care where we went so I followed along, lagging behind Andie by a few feet. "Come on," she urged, "I don't bite." I ignored her comment and stayed behind, not wanting anyone to mistake us for a couple. What if Jenna suddenly appeared and saw me frolicking happily with Andie? What would she think?
"Oh man," I thought, "I'm turning into Jenna, acting like I'm in a ridiculously contrived drama."
"So...do you want to talk about it?" Andie asked.
"What? That my life has become a depressing, unfulfilled love story?"
"Woah, dramatize much? I'd hardly classify it as that. I mean, with characters like you and me and Jenna? If anything we're stuck in the midst of a rom-com."
"Either way, I wish I knew the ending."
"Have you ever seen a rom-com? You always know the ending. Sure, the twists may be different from movie to movie, but in the end, it's pretty much the same. There's some conflict here and there, but they get over it and are better for it. Then badda bing, happily ever after, adios!"
"I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to tell me."
"Silly Peter. You're just stuck in the seemingly-life-shattering, dramatic plot twist. Things will work out."
"What am I supposed to do then? Chase after her?"
"Well," Andie paused, thinking. "Normally I would say yes, but in this situation I think Jenna needs to find herself on her own."
"I'm just so confused and hurt. None of this makes sense to me."
"Hey, it'll be alright," Andie consoled me, rubbing my shoulder in an affectionately, but platonic way. "I can't say for sure what's going through that crazy girl's head, but I have a bit of an idea."
"And?" I stared at Andie, pleading her to continue.
"Sometimes when you're in a relationship, especially a serious one, you kinda get sucked in. It's easy to lose sight of your own dreams and wants because you're so busy working on the 'us' to have time. If you keep living like that it'll just escalate until you can't ignore it anymore. It's definitely not the end of the world, but it takes some effort to reconfigure your life. Relationships are a big commitment, but so are your own life goals. I can imagine that Jenna is under a lot of pressure, worrying about the transition from college to life in the real world. Now, I don't approve of the way she is dealing with this situation. But you have to understand that she doesn't have her life figured out yet, and that probably freaks her out."
"Why couldn't she just tell me this instead of running away?"
"You know Jenna. She tends to dramatize things."
"True, but I love her for it. Although at times I'd appreciate her being less..."
"Histrionic?" Andie suggested.
"History what? Is that like a robot from the past? No, she's definitely not that."
"It means overly dramatic."
"You totally made that up."
"Did not! I know these things. I am an English major after all!"
"Since I got accepted to grad school to study literature," she quietly replied.
"That's amazing Andie! I had no clue you were applying. Why didn't you say anything sooner?"
"I just got the letter in the mail today. I was trying not to get my hopes up, but hey, turns out I'm not just a dumb blonde!"
"Of course you're not," I smiled. "That's really great. Congrats. Does this mean you're leaving town?"
"I'm not sure yet. Jeremy and I are trying to figure out a plan. I don't want to leave him behind, but this is an opportunity I need to take. He understands that though, and doesn't want to hold me back. But I'm sure we can work something out for the both of us. I know that we're meant to be together, even if that requires being apart for a while. Although I'd much rather he be near me."
"I'm glad you have so much faith in your relationship. I can't even imagine being in a long-distance relationship. Being apart from Jenna is eating me up."
"I know it would be hard, but I'd regret not trying. Romance is indescribable, but it's not all there is to life. You can't sit around waiting for someone to complete you. How do you expect to be happy in a relationship like that? People fail time and again even those who love you more than anything. We're human, it's what we do. Just trust me, ok? And trust that Jenna loves you, and will make the right decision with you in mind."
"Alright," I agreed, not wanting to argue any more. I could see her point, but it was hard to accept it. How did she expect me to feel? My dearest love had abandoned me without any warning. I couldn't sit still, concentrate or do anything without the situation flooding my mind. I needed a resolution to this story and I could only pray that it would come sooner, rather than later.
After walking around for a while, Andie suggested that we go back to her apartment for some ice cream. Supposedly it can soothe all sorts of emotional problems - at least according to her. I agreed, secretly hoping that when we'd walk in, Jenna would be there waiting for me. Of course when we got there she wasn't, nor was she there hours later as it began to get dark. I was getting tired of sitting around in their living room, watching TV and avoiding conversation with Andie. The thought came to me that fresh air might do me some good.
"Can I borrow your balcony?"
"Umm, sure," Andie replied hesitantly. I smiled and walked over to the glass door, but before I could open it, Andie leaped in front of me. "Hold on, what do you think you are doing?"
"Calm down, I'm not planning on jumping. I just want to look at the stars."
"You guys are silly. You know you have your whole life to look at them, right? They're not going anywhere."
"Well I have nothing else to do, so if you don't mind," I explained - without being too open about my reason for being there. Stars are cool and all, but Jenna was the only reason I gave them a second thought.
"Alright. I'll just be watching a movie in here. If I fall asleep feel free to let yourself out."
I softly walked out onto the balcony, my eyes slowly adjusting to the lack of light. Why was I here? Jenna obviously was gone, refusing to speak to me. What could the stars tell me that no one else could? It was a silly idea, but for some reason I felt the need to be there. I wanted to now what she was thinking whenever she stood out here, eyes on the sky. Was she happy or distressed? What did she whisper to the stars that she kept secret from me. I felt trapped in my mind of answerless inquiries, searching for where I went wrong. My Jenna was gone and no one knew why, maybe not even her. That didn't concern me as much as her return. Would she sill be mine when I saw her again, or would she have changed? I could handle a typical heartbreak eventually, but I could never survive forever being apart from her. My heart could never heal if it wasn't with me, but lost with her. I tried to get my mind off the "what ifs" so I laid down and stared at the bright lights above, concentrating so intently that no thought would pass through my mind. Eventually it was too much and I felt my eyelids fall shut.
That night I dreamt that as I laid there outside her room, Jenna came to my side to watch the sunrise. She gently took my hand, being careful not to wake me, and whispered that everything was alright. My eyes flickered open, but she had turned her head away to watch a bird fly by. I squeezed her fingers and she quickly turned her gaze back to me. "Good morning Peter," she smiled. And as I smiled back I felt that it was no dream.