A/n: This is a one-shot I wrote just after graduating from high school. :)
I had just come out of a bad relationship, an unbalanced ratio: he liked me much more than I ever had hope of liking him. Saying the break-up didn't go well would be like saying that World War II was a "simple misunderstanding." He could not let go.
"It's different when you're on the receiving end," my friend, Jenna, said wisely, when I complained to her. She thought it was flattering—flattering—that he was so attached, found it so necessary to check my website two-three times a day, and send me post-breakup songs via Youtube.
"He's turning into a stalker," I protested, drinking down my smoothie. The tart bitterness of the lime-strawberry blend seemed to match my current mood. "It's creepy."
Jenna set aside the "benefits of wheatgrass" pamphlet she had been reading, and neatly folded her hands on top of each other. Glittering from one finger was a cheap dentist's office-type ring that her boyfriend, Rick, had given her two years ago, when he first announced they were going steady.
I hardly think that a ring made in Taiwan is a symbol of eternal love but Jenna seems to think otherwise, since she delivers long "Ask Jenna" type sermons that I strongly suspect she practices in front of a mirror at home. As I watched, she cleared her throat, preparing herself for The Talk. "Elizabeth, do you remember Caden?"
"Yes," I said, guardedly, knowing where she would go with this—and not liking it one bit.
Caden was a member of the very selective group of boys that made up my exes. Unlike most, I had actually cared about him . . . a lot. He was attractive, intelligent, and fun to have conversation with. I was just so thrilled that someone like him would pay a speck of attention to someone like me. At the time, he seemed like The One, and I chased after him, against the advice of my family and friends.
What I had with Caden was actually quite similar to my current predicament, except the situation was reversed. I was the hopeless clinger-oner. I was the one who couldn't let go, who didn't want to go. I was the dumpee. And I was so pathetically, hopelessly obsessed I didn't even realize I'd been dumped. At least not until I found out he was dating someone else. It was not one of my proudest moments in history and I shot Jenna a very dirty look, which she ignored, of course.
"Every day you would tell me, in grave detail, everything he said to you that day — and everything he didn't. If Caden so much as looked in another girl's direction, I heard about it. Out of one sentence, you could produce paragraphs of interpretation. You were obsessed. Don't try to deny it," she said, when I opened my mouth. "That's perfectly fine, but you have to admit; it's the same deal."
"But he's . . ."
"Kevin is sad," Jenna said, "Because you dumped him and, like you, has this hope that maybe—just maybe—you don't mean it. That you're going to reconcile."
"Fat chance of that," I muttered.
"But he doesn't know that," Jenna said. "Eventually he'll figure it out. Give it a month or so."
"A month?" I squeaked, "I can't wait a month. Think of all the stalking he can squeeze into a month."
"He'll find some other girl, bitch about you to her, and then it'll be a done deal."
"Why do all my relationships suck?" I wondered out loud.
"Give it time," Jenna advised sagely, dropping a tip down on the speckled Formica tabletop. "You'll find somebody."
Easy to say, I thought, when you're already spoken for.
- - -
Mrs. Rehnquist was not pleased when I finally arrived at the library's bookstore. She was standing in front of the door, like a severe-looking statue in a pink cashmere sweater, waiting for me. It was 10:50, and I had been due at work twenty minutes before.
"You're late," she said, when I edged past her.
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry."
She sighed helplessly, in an "Oh Elizabeth, what shall we do with you?" way. The answer was nothing. Library help was hard enough to get, considering it offered no pay. The fact that I was in college made my case that much more special. I mean, what college student in their right mind would waste their time shelving Dickens when they could be off partying, or cramming for that killer Stats exam?
The answer is none, except for me. And Elise.
Elise was already seated behind the desk, marking books with small dots that coordinated with the month they'd been donated. September meant lime green. She was a small girl, the kind frequently described as "curvy", and dressed in whatever clothes happened to coincide with the latest fashions. At the moment, this meant a miniskirt and a layered top. I'd wondered on many occasions why Elise had decided to volunteer as a "library friend" since she had plenty of friends of the non-library variety and certainly wasn't an avid reader.
"We have a lot of donations today," Mrs. Rehnquist said, "Please label the new ones with the lime stickers. Throw out any books that are falling apart. If it looks questionable, put them in a pile."
"And if it looks expensive, it probably is expensive. Would you believe that somebody nearly threw out a first edition book that's out of print? Thank god I managed to retrieve it from the janitor. I looked up the price on Amazon and it sells for just over two hundred dollars. Two hundred dollars."
"That's a lot of money." Please, let me leave now.
"You're darn tooting," Mrs. Rehnquist said, "So when in doubt, please don't throw it out."
She chuckled at her own cleverness. I nodded as fast as and respectfully as humanely possible. Finally, she stepped aside and I ran into the bookstore before she could remember something else for me. Elise looked up as the bells of the door jangled, and smiled. "Hello."
"Hey," I said, dropping my purse behind the counter and grabbing one of the name tags from a hanger in the back. "Mrs. Rehnquist's really . . . talkative today, isn't she?"
"Oh, you got the lowdown on the Joseph Conrad book, too?"
"It was a Joseph Conrad book?"
"First edition. Torn up, so that damages the value, but yeah—someone had it in their garage."
I looped the tag around my neck. "Busy day?"
"Is it ever?" she said sarcastically, and then laughed.
I smiled and sat in the other chair, setting to the task of organizing the dotted books. I loved this small bookstore. It was cozy, and the timeless smell of slightly musty paper made me nostalgic for books I'd read in my childhood. I fingered a hardcover. Most of my allowance helped refurbish this place.
"Oh!" Elise exclaimed suddenly. "It's eleven, eleven."
"Is that supposed to signify something?" I asked, looking up from a Stephenie Meyer book.
"You're supposed to make a wish. You didn't know that?"
I looked around, wondering what she was talking about, and my eyes landed on the digital clock. Oh. The red digits were all set to one. "Make a wish?" I repeated. "Why?"
She shrugged. "I don't know why. It's just something I used to do when I was a kid."
"Does it work?" I persisted.
Elise went back to dotting. "I don't know, but I'm sure it helps."
I stared at the clock, and the glowing numbers seemed to stare back. I organized stacks of books by genre, feeling guilty, and sneaked a sidelong look at the clock: 11:13. A wave of release seemed to wash over me, as if a heavy burden on my shoulders had suddenly been removed. It wasn't until then that I realized I'd been holding my breath.
- - -
I'm not much of a romantic. Titanic evoked no emotion other than fear in me. Those dead bodies in the water made me think more along the lines of Dawn of the Dead than Romeo and Juliet. I'd never received a single Valentine from a boy and my "first loves" were bittersweet at best, usually resulting in the boy crushing hopelessly on my best-friend at the time.
I'm not faithless. I believe in love. I'm just not sure if it believes in me.
I remember a few days after Caden had dumped me — I should say, when I found out he dumped me—my family and I went to a fund-raising festival dedicated to restoring an old Victorian house. There was an apple-picking station, a butter-churning station, and, in the house itself, a small bazaar where people were selling "antiques" and "family heirlooms". (Considering one of these artifacts bore a price tag from this decade, I doubted that these heirlooms and antiques were as rustic as their owners claimed.)
After an unfortunate try at butter-churning (and getting greasy milk all over my sneakers), I decided to wander off on my own and check things out solo. The house was quite beautiful. It had the weird, angular roof many houses at that time were famous for, and peeling white paint that still boasted elegance. I couldn't imagine what memories the chipped, faded, and undoubtedly lead-containing paint held. Perhaps no one ever would.
To the side was a wooden well. With the slanted roof, it almost looked like one of those roadside, Japanese shrines. Someone had tried to decorate it by growing morning glories around and in the well, and the small purple flowers twined around the wood and stone in an intricate network, as if they were part of the well's actual structure.
The smell of apple blossoms filled the air. I leaned in, trying to see the bottom of the well. I suppose it ran deep, because all I could see was an inky darkness that seemed to stretch forever. I stuck my hands into the pocket of my sweatshirt and my fingers found the edge of a coin. A dime, by the thin feel of it. What could it hurt? I wondered.
I wish . . . I would meet someone who liked me.
There was the bright silver flash of the coin as it flipped out of my hand, held in place by sunlight. Then it winked out of sight, erased by the darkness of the well with a single, distant splash.
Magic seemed to hang in the air. It was almost as if I was seven again, instead of seventeen, and creatures such as unicorns, dragons, and wizards, good and bad, still existed. Then the clock struck 11:12, the spell was broken, and I was just a heartbroken teenage girl again. A girl who'd foolishly just thrown the last of her change down a very old (and possibly rotten well).
But my wish had undeniably come true. I'd met someone who liked me only a month later who liked me; I just hadn't liked him back. In the beginning, I'd been enchanted with Kevin, thinking that he was the perfect boyfriend (somehow managing to overlook his faults, such as the fact he was a total sleaze). And he had had some good points. He remembered my favorite colors and flowers, knew that I would go into anaphylactic shock if any peanuts were within three feet of me, and tried hard to be romantic.
I suppose wishes, like people, have their flaws.
I won't lie. I wished on that clock in the library, an instant before the digits changed and time returned to being ordinary; something to kill, waste, or dread. What did I wish for? I can't say, or it won't come true. Not to say that it won't come true anyway. I've made plenty of wishes, only to have them crumble into dust. But just enough have come true to give me hope that maybe, just maybe, this one will.