The week before I moved into the dorm I was sharing with my neighbor, Ingrid, my mother declared that it would be a great time to start cleaning out my room and toss some of the crap I didn't need any more. "Jude," she had started, looking up from where she was pouring a glass of juice for my youngest sister, Melody, "some of that stuff is from when you were still in middle school. I think it's time it found a new home. In the trash."
My mother wasn't necessarily known for her eloquence (She told my third grade teacher that, yes, she did find it completely acceptable that I chose to grieve my brother's cat by writing horribly morbid poems about said dead cat. It just wasn't nearly so civil and it happened to include a great deal of extremely colorful language). But I didn't argue as I shoved my seat back from the kitchen table, making an awful screeching noise on the tile. "Ugh. Fine."
Gillian and Irene (Sisters Numbered Two and Three; Sister Number One, Petra, was at work, bagging groceries at the supermarket in town) giggled from their seats. "Yeah, Jude," Gillian taunted like the little snot she was. "She'll probably find a dead animal in there. Or rotting food," she continued, whispering to Irene conspiratorially, like she thought she was being some cool little gossip.
I paused on the stairs long enough to look down at her. "Or, even worse," I called, affecting a Valley Girl accent, "I might find where you left your brain. God knows you have no idea where it's at!"
I smiled smugly when I heard her give a little offended gasp, turning and continuing on my way upstairs. Mom yelled something about being nice to my sisters, but, like most of her "advice" (which has, let the record show, previously included the approval of sleeping in class, writing morbid dead cat poetry, and ditching physics and gym), I ignored it, gently kicking my bedroom door shut.
Sighing, I leaned against the door, the back of my head hitting the wood with a solid thump. Taunting my twelve year old sister hadn't been the most mature thing I was ever known for doing, but I'd been out of sorts for the past month, and sometimes, it was hard to imagine why.
Summer was almost over. Band camp started in a few days. In a week, I'd be a college freshman at the university in town where my father was a music professor. I'd finally be out of the house and maybe people would stop grouping me together with my four younger sisters just because we all happened to look enough alike that it was deemed "quaint" and "adorable" by our teachers and neighbors. There go those Foley Girls again! they'd laugh because, for them, that's what we were: The Foley Girls. A single mass. Indistinguishable and interchangeable.
By all accounts, I should have been excited.
But I wasn't.
I slid down against the door until I was awkwardly sprawled like a rag doll on the floor, staring at the paper cut-outs of moons and stars and comets that I had pasted up there when I was younger. Sometimes, at night over the years, I used to just lie in bed and make wishes on every star up there, like they might come true if I wished hard and long enough. I hadn't done it in a while, mostly because the last time I had made a wish on them, I had wished over and over again that Henry Bishop would just like me back.
It had been months since I made that last wish. And, to be fair, it had come true. We'd been dating for almost seven months. But looking up at my ceiling of stars and lost wishes, I wondered not for the first time if, maybe, I shouldn't have wished so hard.
By the time anybody bothered to see how cleaning out my room was going, I was lying on my bed, a pile of gum wrappers strewn on the floor nearby. One of the wrappers – an Orbit wrapper with a heart drawn on it in precise, black strokes – was in my hand, and I kept holding it up, staring at it, and sighing.
"Y'know, this really doesn't look like cleaning," Stephen remarked, clicking my door shut behind him. "I'm pretty sure lying in bed is not what Mom intended when she told you to clean your room."
I leaned up to look at him for a moment before letting my head fall heavily back onto a pillow. People didn't always believe me when I told them Stephen was my brother because he had a darker complexion and dark, tightly curled hair. Oh. He's adopted then? they would ask and then I'd resist the urge to call them out on how rude their assumptions were quickly becoming.
If it was bad enough being one of five Foley Girls at neighborhood gatherings, it was probably worse being the prodigal Foley Boy from our father's first marriage. Bad enough to have four mini-clones; worse to be the interracial kid who looked nothing like his younger sisters or the woman he called Mom.
"I just – Stephen?"
I felt him stretch himself out beside me on the bed and watched him cross his ankles over one another at the end of the bed. "Yeah?"
"Is it okay to want something so much, and then get it, but not be happy with it?" I asked haltingly, releasing the gum wrapper and letting it float down to the bed.
I heard the pillow beside me rustle as he turned his head to look at me, and I felt him move to gently pick the gum wrapper up to look at it. I didn't ask Stephen for love advice a lot. Most of the time, I was too jittery about liking boys and dating and flirting that I barely brought it up with my close friends, let alone my family. But Stephen knew the wrapper was from Henry Bishop when he had asked me out the first time. "You wanna talk about it?"
"Sometimes, I think he doesn't really want to be in a relationship with me," I admitted quietly. "Some days, it feels so real. Like, yeah, this boy wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with him. Most of the time, though, it feels like I could walk away, and he wouldn't care." I turned my head to meet Stephen's eyes. "Like, he's only my boyfriend in title alone; he's just in the relationship because it's easy and because everyone thought we should be together and not because he actively wanted it."
Stephen must have noticed the way I hesitated before I continued my thought because he didn't respond immediately. I bit my lip, pushing myself up so I could sit against my headboard, knees pulled into my chest. "I don't think I love him anymore."
It was the first time I'd admitted it out loud. I'd had an inkling that something felt off earlier in the summer, and I had tried to push the feeling away, telling myself that I was happy. I could only lie to myself for so long, though, and trying to ignore my own intuition led me nowhere.
The fact was that I was scared. Dating Henry Bishop had been my lone wish for so long that I couldn't fathom why I suddenly didn't want to be with him anymore.
Stephen was silent for a little bit, eyes searching my face. "I think," he finally said slowly, holding the gum wrapper up so it covered the paper moon pasted on the spot of ceiling directly above his head, "it's hard to admit that what we thought we wanted isn't what we really needed." He turned to peer up at the gum wrapper. "And, sometimes, it's hard to convince ourselves that we deserve better than what we initially aimed for. Because, Jude, you deserve better if he's let you think for even a moment that he isn't actively interested in your relationship."
Neither of us said anything for a few minutes as he shifted so he could sit against the headboard too. I took a shuddering breath, scooting closer to Stephen so I could lean my head against his shoulder. "I want to break up with Henry Bishop."
"And I think that's probably the best thing you can do for yourself," he responded, tugging on a strand of my hair. "Neither of you deserves to be in a relationship with someone who's pretending to feel something they don't."
Nobody ever mentioned how hard it can be to break up with someone. It's never mentioned when you hear stories from other people; just the oh, I'm so glad I don't have to talk to that jerkwad ever again! I am single and ready to mingle, bitches! that you hear in passing at work when you're ringing someone up at the cash register or when you hand them their over-priced iced-caramel-vanilla-mocha-espresso-macchiato-latte-with-skim-milk-please.
I had told Henry Bishop via instant message to meet me at the Royal Beanery, the campus-town café I worked at:
HAYYYYjude: hey. can you meet me at Royal Beanery tomorrow? maybe around two or so?
hbishop161: sure :)
HAYYYYjude: cool; see you then. I gotta go. Melody wants to watch Tangled again
hbishop161: okay. uh. hey, have you been avoiding me lately? every time I tried to message you
last week, you logged off before I could finish typing, and you haven't been on much
HAYYYYjude: no. just been busy with marching band stuff and babysitting the clones; haven't
been able to get online as much
hbishop161: oh. okay! see you tomorrow!
It was almost comical how unaware he was. I suppose it was my fault; I had been avoiding him, and I'd made it a point to only go online long enough to peek at what everyone was doing before logging off again. I couldn't handle even the thought of talking to Henry Bishop about anything.
How did you just keep talking to someone when you knew you were going to break up with them the next time you saw them?
I wasn't interested in the answer to that question, mostly because I had already guessed the answer: You made small talk. You pretended nothing was wrong. And I couldn't do it anymore; I'd pretended nothing was wrong before, and it wasn't an experience I intended to repeat.
He was already sitting at a table when I got there, a plastic cup of iced tea sitting in front of him. He offered me a roll of the eyes when I sat across from him; I was late. I tended to be late a lot and he tended to be punctual to a fault. It had always bothered him that I couldn't be on time to anything. You'll probably be late to your own wedding someday, he would half-joke (because, let's face it, he honestly believed the statement). Your groom will probably think you've ditched him.
If I had been worried about making small talk, I shouldn't have been. Henry Bishop liked to talk – in fact, he liked to talk so much that, when I would get angry with him, I would just sit and let him talk to himself for half an hour straight without interruption while I let my mind wander. It hadn't taken him long to just get on a roll, and once he had started a topic, he went with it, barely leaving me room, sometimes, to comment or respond.
I let him talk for ten minutes before I tried to interrupt him, "Henry Bishop –" I tried a second time and he kept going. Sighing, I changed tactics, exasperatedly saying his name louder, "Henry."
He stopped then, blinking in confusion. Nobody called him Henry, or, well, at least nobody his own age just called him Henry. It was always Henry Bishop, never just Henry. "Henry, I'm breaking up with you."
I realized about ten seconds too late that blindsiding him may have not been the most tactful way I could have dealt with the situation. I cringed at the way his obvious confusion was written all over his face in the way he kept blinking, in the way his eyebrows were drawn together, in the way his mouth had gaped open a bit on the left side. "I – I – Jude…where is this –? What?"
When I repeated myself, he flinched. "But, Jude. I – I thought you were in love with me."
"I was," I breathed out, focusing my eyes on the stop light, scoffing a little and a poorly executed attempt at half a smile pulling at the corner of my mouth. "I was. Feelings change though." I shook my head a little, looking back at him. "My feelings changed. I'm sorry."
He stared pointedly at the table for a while, his mouth moving silently, trying to piece together words and thoughts and feelings. "So, that's just it?" he asked, swallowing and glancing up, eyes meeting mine. "I don't even get a say? We're just – just like that, we're done? What about my feelings?"
I gave an unamused chuckle. "I wouldn't know. You don't talk about your feelings, Henry. You knew months before we ever started going out how I felt; I made it clear. You didn't."
"Just because I never said it doesn't mean I'm not in love with you."
This isn't what I wanted when I decided to break up with him. I wanted to just break up with him and leave and, I don't know, clean my room like Mom asked me to do (but had conveniently avoided doing). I didn't want his feelings.
Not when the ones I had had slipped through my fingers when I hadn't been paying attention.
"I'm not a goddamn mind reader."
"I'm in love with you. Isn't that enough?" He said it desperately, the way you say a prayer right before taking an essay test and knowing you'll have to bullshit your whole way through. The way someone tries to right a mistake even though they know fixing it is an impossibility.
"You had seven months to make me believe it," I murmured, trying to look at anything but his face because I was breaking his heart and this wasn't what I wanted. "And I didn't. And now I don't love you. I can't."
When he didn't say anything for a few moments, I took his silence as my cue to leave. I half thought he might try to call me back and change my mind, but he didn't, and when it came down to it, I don't think I would have been able to handle it.
I couldn't even handle everything that had come prior to it.
It almost wasn't even fair. I had wished for so long, had written so many confessions into gum wrappers, had danced around the issue for what felt like an eternity just hoping that, for once, just for once, the boy I wanted would want me back.
And when he finally did, I couldn't understand why I didn't want him anymore.
Stephen got home in time to see me standing in front of the garbage can on the driveway, my hands cupped together, holding one-hundred-forty-two gum wrappers.
Stephen came to stand next to me, noting the gum wrappers and the unmistakable stain of tears on my face. "I should be happy," was all I said. "Band camp starts tomorrow. And then I move into my dorm. And then I start the rest of my life."
"I broke his heart. I don't love him and I broke his heart. I don't love him, and part of me is so glad to have said it out loud, but the rest of me feels like crawling into bed and never leaving."
He sighed, pulling me into a one-armed hug. "First loves are hard. You'd think they wouldn't be, because there's so much that isn't there to complicate it yet, but it is." He pulled away and made me face him. "You both made mistakes. It happens. You learn. He learns. Next time, you'll know better."
I bit my bottom lip, and sighed, sneaking a peek at the gum wrappers in my hands and then glancing at the garbage can. Stephen caught the look and moved to lift the lid for me.
There's absolutely no reasonable explanation for keeping gum wrappers; I'm not a hardcore gum wrapper collector. I don't peel the shiny backing off and then stick it to my calculator like most of my peers had done instead of paying attention in calculus.
Some of the wrappers have notes on them – they're the older ones. I can tell by what I had written on them (I love Henry Bishop I love Henry Bishop). Some of the wrappers are folded. Some are even smoothed out after being mistakenly crinkled.
This is clearly a labor of love; nobody saves a gum wrapper like this, let alone over a hundred.
It's been two years in the making. It was the kind of thing that sixteen-year-old-me had probably thought was a really good idea. It wouldn't be surprising; I thought a lot of things I did were really great ideas.
But eighteen-year-old-me? Eighteen-year-old-me throws one-hundred-forty-two gum wrappers away.
I decided at two in the morning that I couldn't sleep. My eyes wouldn't stay shut, and I swore I could hear Stephen in the room next door singing to himself. After rolling over a couple times as though it would do something, I flopped onto my back and stared at the paper stars on the ceiling.
They bothered me now, represented all the mistakes I didn't want to be reminded of: I blindsided him, avoided him, broke his heart. He ignored my feelings for months, took five months into our relationship to kiss me, waited too long to talk about his feelings.
In seconds I had bounded off the bed and flipped the light switch on, grabbing my desk chair and pulling it into the middle of the floor. I stepped up and started to pry the moons and comets and stars off the ceiling, cursing loudly whenever the tape pulled paint up with it.
The only writing utensil I could find was a pink marker, but that was fine. I just needed something to write with.
New friends. No more Foley Girl Five. New classes. Marching band. New teachers. Happiness. New crushes. Different boys. New loves. He'll heal.
I wrote on every star, every moon, every comet, and then re-taped them to the ceiling. And when I put my chair back, and sat down on my bed to admire my handiwork, it felt like I could finally breathe a little easier for the first time in days.
New hopes, new dreams, new goals. New wishes for a new girl.
A/N: I've tried for years to recapture the voice of Jude Foley and continue her story. In the end, it took a lot of scrapped drafts, four different story lines, and hearing a song for the first time in forever (I Saw the Sign by Ace of Base for those of you who were wondering) to finally give her the growth needed for where I'd like to take her character in the future (which is a not so subtle hint that she - and Henry Bishop - will be back, and hopefully with a much longer piece :D).