The Ugly Word
I hated the prospect of commitment; the concept of love. Love is only sweet and fulfilling for the first two months after you pass the 'I-love-you' stage. After that, when you start finding out more about that person and what you truly got yourself into, you eventually break up or are broken up with. I wasn't going to go down that road. All throughout middle school and high school, I'd never had a boyfriend for longer than a month.
I reckon I was ten years old when I found out about my mom's torrid love affair.
My mother, Joanna Taylor, had been found in the master bedroom amidst kinky fornication with the pool boy, Martin. My dad had casually walked in after rushing in to get dressed for an important meeting and instead of coming to an empty bedroom, he'd come across his wife draped all over Martin. The next day, he filed for divorce.
Two weeks later, at a wicked court battle over the divorce and my custody, my dad came out on top. My mom walked with barely any money and without the support of grandma and granddad, who'd immediately disowned her for committing such a heinous sin.
I was glad dad got custody. I loved him. My mom, on the other hand, I could live without. Before she left the house, she'd said to me, "Remember Emma, a woman has her needs. And if her husband can't provide her with those needs, she has to find some other way of getting what she wants."
I knew she wasn't sorry for what she'd done. She didn't understand. My dad worked like a workaholic because he wanted to give her a life that she'd never had with her parents. He'd wanted to give her the fairy-tale, Upper-East-Side life that she'd dreamt of all her life.
As soon as dad had gotten my custody, we packed everything up, sold our house, and skedaddled out of Arizona and up north to Canada. My dad, Tristan Taylor, took extra care of never making me feel as though my mom was no longer part of my life.
Between his work at the hospital (he was an anesthesiologist) and taking care of me, dad had no time left to date and so remained single till I had decided to move away to university. After that, he'd told me he'd met a nice woman who worked in a quaint bookstore on Main Street which he frequently visited. They'd got to talking about their favorite books and the rest, they say, was history. I was glad. He deserved happiness after what my mother had put him through.
At university, I'd met an insane amount of people—many of them who were a bit insane. It was also where I had the unfortunate luck of meeting him.
The insufferable, annoying, nerdy fellow who had me wishing I was an assassin and he a politician I was to brutally murder. But I didn't hate him.
Christian Matusiak didn't live in residence. For that, I was thankful. Though he didn't live in res, he certainly spent enough of his time here. Specifically, in my dorm. Trying to ask me out every single day since the day that I had valiantly trash-talked his band, Superlative Cheese.
His techniques of asking me out (read: harassing) were quite humorous, if anything. Previously, he'd tried to give me a lap dance (an epic fail) and to serenade me with the heartfelt music of High School Musical and his rendition of Hannah Montana's, He Could be the One that he had reworded to be I Could be the One. Of course, every time I'd rejected his offer. But he'd never stopped trying.
Perhaps that's why he was in my room right now, half-naked, with the words 'Give me a chance, my Pineapple' painted on his chest and abs. Ever since the first time I'd rejected his "sultry" advances, he's labeled me his pineapple. When I questioned him about it, he'd said, "Well, you see, a pineapple is rough and almost prickly on the outside but once you peel off its rough skin, it's full of juicy, tropical goodness. You're just like that. On the outside, you're rough and a bit prickly. But on the inside, you're full of tropical sweetness. My pineapple."
"So?" He asked, looking expectantly at me. I looked at him blankly.
"Give me an answer!"
I smirked. "Did you ask me a question?" He was growing frustrated. I liked that; it was entertaining.
"Will you go out with me?" His chocolate eyes were sparkling with faint hope. I reckon he knew what was coming.
I put on a thoughtful expression. "What makes you think my answer is going to be different from the last hundred times you've asked me?"
He shrugged. "A guy can dream." But he didn't leave. He stood there for a while and when he realized that I'd make no attempt to give him the answer he wanted, he walked out, giving me a sly wink. "I'll be back!" He proclaimed in an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like voice a la Terminator.
I sighed with relief. Now that that was over with, I could proceed with everything else I had to do for the day. I paused and looked around my room. What did I have to do today? The only assignment I'd had for the weekend was the Chemistry lab and I'd finished that last night when I'd opted out of the traditional Saturday-night Slurpee-and-diner date with my girlies. Just as I was about to settle in comfortably on my bed with a copy of 1984, my roommate, Louisa, came skipping in.
"Hey!" She exclaimed, jumping on her bed. I gave her a nod, my head buried deep within the world of George Orwell. "So I just saw Chris with that fantastic display on his chest," she said with a swoon.
"Congrats. You have a twenty-twenty vision," I commented dryly. I didn't see her but I know she rolled her eyes.
"What I don't understand," she continued, ignoring my comment, "Is why you won't give the poor bloke a chance."
I sighed. With Louisa in the room, I wouldn't be able to get through one page of my dear Orwell's masterpiece. Closing the book, I set it aside and gave her a pointed look.
"What I don't understand is why he doesn't get the fact that I'm not interested," I retorted. She snorted.
"You and I both know that boy will not give up till he gets what he wants. And babe, what he wants is you."
I rolled my eyes. "Please. He wants a challenge."
"So humor him!"
"Say what?" I asked, scrunching my eyebrows. Louisa sighed, running her hand through her dark-violet hair.
"He wants you to give him a chance. So do it!"
"To get him off your back, maybe? And let's face it. The fact that he's gorgeous and smart doesn't hurt either." She said, waggling her eyebrows.
I sighed. She had a point. At least if I agree to go out with him, he'd get off my back about asking me out. Besides, how bad could it be?
Famous last words, I'd realize later.
A week later, I came across Christian (I refused to call him Chris—that insinuated a form of camaraderie) at the Douglas library. The Douglas library was his favorite study spot, Louisa had told me. As I approached him, I found that his head was buried deep within his Intro to Roman Lit book, so much so that he didn't even notice me take a seat right in front of him.
I coughed. When he saw me, he did a double-take. "Hi, Christian."
He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. He looked out the window and then looked back at me. Then he repeated the process again.
"What are you looking at?" I questioned.
He shrugged. "Just looking to see if pigs are flying," he replied, giving me a small smile as I rolled my eyes. "So, what brings you here, Emmy?"
At least he didn't call me his pineapple. "What can I do for you, my pineapple?" And, I'm wrong.
I gave him a tight smile. "Nothing, I just wanted to hang out."
"You," he said slowly, peering at me. "Wanted to hang out." I nodded happily. "With me." Another nod. "Willingly." A slow nod. He shook his head, running his hand through his light brown hair. "Does not compute, Emma."
I shrugged. "I'm serious. So, what are you doing?" I asked, motioning to his textbook filled with random highlights and squiggles in the margins. He looked down and smiled sheepishly.
"I have a reading to do," he answered simply.
Now came the awkward pause. I'd never approached Christian for any reason. We only talked when he approached me to ask me out and that was it.
"So, why are you here?" He finally broke it.
"Did you know my cousin, Jonah, suffers from narcissism issues?" I quickly gushed out and then realized what I said. Christian raised his eyebrows. "I—I mean—uh…I'd like to go out with you."
Christian choked on air. "What?"
Twiddling my thumbs, I nodded. "You heard me."
"So, let me get this straight," he started, putting his textbook aside. "You want to go out with me." I nodded. "Emma and Christian?"Nod. "Sitting in a tree; K-I-S-S-I-N-G?"
At this I narrowed my eyes at him, receiving a crooked grin in return. Realization dawned on him and he pinched himself several times. "What are you doing?"
"This has happened to me before, you know. This is the part where I wake up, realizing I'm late and run to the shower where I multitask by contemplating on how I'm going to ask you out yet again," he said frankly.
"You dream about me agreeing to go out with you?" I was answered with a blush.
"So, why the change of heart? Did it have anything to do with my sultry charm? My adorable-ness? My irresistibility?" I gave him a pointed look.
"Try: I did it to get you off my back," I smirked.
He shrugged, giving me yet another grin. "Close enough."
Going out with Christian was…nice. There's really no other way to describe it. We'd gone on our first date a mere week later. He'd taken me to a fairy tale restaurant accurately named Happily Ever After.
A fairy tale restaurant. Complete with waiters and waitresses dressed in Prince Charming and Princess Beautiful 'uniforms'. It was the grand opening that night and the best part was that it was his uncle's restaurant. So throughout the night, I had King Ken (his uncle was gorgeous for a forty-year old) and Queen Doll (his aunt and head chef) coming to our table and gushing about, "Baby Christie's sweet, charming girlfriend."
Needless to say, Christian's face was red with embarrassment all night and my face was flowing with laughter. "I didn't know you had such an enthusiastic family, Christian," I noted.
He gave me a mock glare. "They mean well," he said finally. "Just not in the way normal people do."
I giggled but covered it with a cough. Then came another round of food—dessert this time. Personally, I'd never been to a proper restaurant; the ones my dad usually took me too had an air of arrogance and superiority and I was always able to find better food at 'normal' places much easier. But this one really took the cake. Their staple dessert, a freshly-made brownie cheesecake garnished with a chocolate syrup ripple and dollop of whipping cream, was to die for.
"Oh, that Prince is gorgeous," I remarked, motioning to redhead serving a table opposite ours. Christian glanced at him and gave me a mock outraged look.
"How dare you? You have a boyfriend now! My girl can't be looking at other guys!"
I gave him a cool look. "Boyfriend? Oh so, I go on one date with you and suddenly you're my boyfriend?"
"Duh." He smiled when I didn't oppose his claim, instead choosing to smile lightly.
Having a boyfriend was pleasant. Kind of.
Christian was very odd, I realized. For one, he loved to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There was no food on the planet that he adored more. People say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. In Christian's case, it was through PB&J sandwiches.
But regardless, I'm kind of stunned to say that he wasn't as bad as I'd imagined. Things between us were pretty interesting. I thought he'd be really weird but he was just quirky. Christian never swore, never got mad, and never said anything hurtful.
I'd told him about my parents and their divorce and about my dad's current relationship. I also warned him never to fall in love with me. "That was my only rule," I'd said. He'd given me an amused smile in return but didn't push it.
Before I knew it, eight months had passed. Louisa, having known my dating history, was quite shocked when we'd made the three-month mark and later the six-month mark. Personally, I was too.
But then he had to go and ruin it one night.
We had gone out to a night picnic at the park. I'd made him PB&J sandwiches and he'd brought sparkling apple cider. After finishing our food, which almost proceeded into a food fight, we'd set aside the picnic basket and lied down on the blanket to look at the stars, attempting to point out various constellations. Of course, that had commenced in a competition over who could point out the most constellations.
After a while, he fell silent and so did I. He turned to me and smiled. I repeated the notion.
And then it came. He broke the rule. He uttered the ugly word.
"I think I love you," he said softly. I froze and did the only thing I could.
I ran, ignoring his frantic calls.
"He broke The Rule, Louisa," I muttered, squeezing my panda bear. She sighed loudly, ignoring my rant. "How could he?"
"He's miserable, you know," she pointed out.
"Oh, he's miserable? What about me, huh?"
Louisa yelled suddenly, making me jump. "I can't take it anymore!"
"What do you mean?"
"Emma, honey, did you really think that this was never going to happen?" I nodded, earning a glare in return. "For the past two weeks, you've been ranting about how he broke the rule and how he let you down but are you seriously saying you're the victim here?"
"But I am!"
She scowled, narrowing her eyes at me.
"No, you're not Emma!" She growled with frustration and set aside her Tropical Rush nail polish, focusing her attention solely on me. "I see him in class, I see him at the library and I certainly see him roaming around the club where his band plays. He's miserable. Every time he sees me, he asks me about you. He wonders what's so bad about what he said. He wonders why you're still bent on ignoring his calls and messages."
I fell silent and slumped on my bed.
"Emma, he's a goner," she whispered and then her voice turned hard. "No offense, but you're being a real bitch. The least you can do is hear him out and give him an explanation. You know I have no problem with you but Christian is one of the nicest guys I know and it's really killing him right now. Just talk to him, please?" Finally, I looked at her and nodded.
"This is what you're going to do. I'm going to text him to meet you here in ten minutes since he doesn't have any classes right now. I'm going to then leave you guys alone and you're going to explain why you're a bitch to him and you're going to resolve this issue. Understood?" Again, I nodded. Giving me a small smile, which I tried to return feebly, she quickly texted Christian.
Gosh, how would I get out of this one?
For the next fifteen minutes, I'd paced back and forth in my room, trying to figure out what to say to him. I tried to plan out my speech. Explain to him why I can't go through that stuff. But in the end, I'd only question myself. Is the fact that someone actually may love you that bad? I couldn't, for the life of me, answer it.
Just as I was about to sink in to my bed with frustration, I heard two quiet knocks. Taking a deep breath, I walked over to the door and opened it, revealing a very tired yet blank-faced Christian. I let him in wordlessly and we both sat down on the beds; he on Louisa's and I on mine.
The awkward silence greeted us for the next few minutes as he did nothing but give me a blank look and I did nothing but avoid his gaze.
"Why?" He spoke at last. His voice was hoarse and laced with faint sadness.
"You know why," I said simply. He narrowed his eyes at me. "Christian, I told you, not to fall in love with me. And what do you do? You go ahead and fall for me. What is wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me?" He asked unbelievably. "A guy tells you he thinks he might love you and you run away and you blame it on me? What kind of a shitty logic is that, Emma?"
"I never claimed it was logical, Christian," I replied acidly. The calm speech I'd thought of was slowly beginning to fade away as fury replaced it. His eyes hardened but exhaustion was clearly etched all over his face.
"What do you even want, Emma?" He asked simply. "Do you want me to apologize? Do you want me to get out of your life? Is that all?" I'd wanted to say no.
But what came out was, "Yes." His jaw clenched but he nodded.
"Fine. I'm sorry that I broke your little rule. You won't ever hear from me again. I hope you're happy, Emma," he whispered. Looking at me for a fraction of a second, he disappeared and as soon as he did, I closed the door and sunk to the floor, crying my eyes out.
He kept his word. I didn't hear from him again. There were no knocks on my door. There was no bursting in. The rare time that we ran into each other, he wouldn't acknowledge me. I returned the favor. Even Louisa kept off the topic.
The funny thing was, even though nobody brought him up, he was still in my head. And it killed me. How could this little boy that had broken The Rule still be in my head?
After a month, I couldn't take it anymore. I looked everywhere for him and because he didn't live on residence, hunting him down made it that much harder. Two days later, I finally found him at the bleachers near the university's old football field. It was a sunny day and he laid there, reading a book.
"We need to talk," I stated as I near him. Chris looked up from his book, giving me a cool look.
"Are you here to chew me out some more?" He finally asked, setting his book aside. "Because I think I'm following what you wanted quite well."
"But that's just it, isn't it? You don't talk to me anymore, you don't acknowledge me anymore—"
"I'm doing what you wanted, Emma. You told me to leave you alone and that's what I'm doing." He shrugged.
I sighed. This was going to get nowhere.
"Look, maybe I was a little selfish—"
He scoffed. "Okay, so I was really selfish. I shouldn't have overreacted and I shouldn't have jumped on your case for falling in love with me," I started, taking a seat in front of him.
"Really? Since when are you that caring, Emma? Especially about me?"
"Will you just give me a chance?" I defended frustratingly.
"Did you give me a chance? Did you give us a chance?" Chris retorted, looking at me angrily.
"I deserve that," I answered softly.
"You deserve more," he said fiercely. "I put myself out there. I told you how I felt and the only thing you were concerned with was how I broke your precious rule. Did you stop to even consider how it must have been for me?"
As I shook my head, he continued. "You know, when I was fourteen, my parents died. It was a freak accident. But the thing that killed me was that I never got the chance to tell them how much I loved them. I never got to tell them how much they meant to me. And with you, I didn't want to take any chances."
I couldn't speak. Chris had never talked about his parents. Any time the topic of his parents came up, he'd change the subject one way or another.
"I didn't want to look back and say I should have said this to Emma or I should have said that. And funny thing is, I never wanted you to say it back. I wasn't expecting you to say it back. That wouldn't have hurt me. But you running away from it did. You didn't even give us a chance," he finished.
"I'm sorry," I choked. "I didn't know how to deal with it. I've never been with anyone as long as I was with you. And I got scared. I was comfortable with what we had and when you said you loved me, I thought it would all change."
We fell quiet for a while, breathing deeply.
"Where does this leave us?" He asked finally, refusing to look at me.
"I don't know," I whispered.
"I can't keep playing this game with you, Emma. Either you want this or you don't."
I paused. "I—I do want this but—"
"There are no buts." He turned to me, his chocolate eyes penetrating mine.
And that's all it took. "Okay." I said nodding. "Okay. I'm ready."
And for the first time in a while, I was greeted with that familiar smile I'd come to adore.
It was then I realized, as I sat on the bleachers with Christian's arm wrapped around me, that I never needed to fight love or be scared of it. It was okay that I wasn't ready to fall in love yet. That would take time. What I needed was for someone to believe in me, in us, more than I did. And for me, that was Christian.
Author's Note: So...this was my submission for a Creative Writing class I had to apply for in order to take it next year. I'm finally back from a long 2+ years of hiatus. R+R please!