"You still haven't gotten a better place, have you?" Josephine asked, putting emphasis on the word 'still' and letting out a little sigh at the end.
Although I was walking in front of her, I knew what the expression on her face was without having to turn around. She was definitely wrinkling her nose, and I could just picture the way that her eyes darted about my apartment as she took it all in.
I suddenly felt an uncharacteristic twinge of annoyance. It wasn't as if I didn't know just how she would behave, and usually I could have brushed it off, but today I found myself fighting not to turn around and snap at her. If I did, it would probably shock both of us. That was simply not how our relationship worked.
So instead, I bit down the urge and ignored her.
"Is your assistant job not paying well?" my sister went on, her tone more gleeful than concerned.
The twinge of annoyance was back again, this time even stronger than before, and I swallowed it down again and simply shrugged. I didn't know why Josephine expected me to have already moved into a bigger and better apartment after less than half a year of being in New York City. I didn't understand why she was acting as if she had never seen such a small place before, because she had stayed here the last time.
I suppose that this time around, I hadn't quite scrubbed and cleaned and demanded that Marina help me tidy up my apartment for Josephine's imminent visit as I did last time, but it wasn't as if my place wasn't clean.
"What's wrong with you today, Violet?" Josephine suddenly demanded, and I could tell that she was unnerved by my silence. "Why are you so quiet?"
I stopped, right there in the middle of my living room, and swiveled around to face her. The words to tell her off were on the tip of my tongue.
She didn't have to stay here. Sure, she had qualified for Rising Star, but the budget the producers had given her to find a place in New York for the first two weeks of the show meant that she had to stay with me if she wanted to have enough money to go out on Friday nights. It seemed that the show gave increased weekly stipends the further up you progressed in the contest. At the semifinal stage, they rented out rooms in the Plaza.
But this wasn't semifinal stage yet, and so Josephine had called me to tell me that she would be staying with me.
She was looking at me now, her angelic face in a pout and her hands on her hips as she waited for an answer from me.
If you hate it so much you don't have to stay with me! Go find your own place, they gave you the money for it, didn't they?
One look at my sister's face though, and I hesitated. I had never talked to her like that before. In fact, I had never even felt the urge to talk to her like that before.
I shook my head, feeling a bit lightheaded. I don't know what was going on. I definitely wasn't feeling like myself.
"Nothing's going on," I told her instead. Then I gestured towards my bedroom. "You can stay in my bed."
Josephine crossed her arms over her chest and frowned at me, silently demanding that I give her more than that. When I didn't, she tossed her hair over her shoulders and said, "When I get past the first rounds, I'm definitely moving to a better place. Maybe something on Park Avenue."
She was severely underestimating just how much places on Park Avenue cost, but I didn't bother correcting her.
"You can do whatever you want," I told her, shrugging.
"Ugh!" my sister replied, stomping her foot on the living room carpet. "What is wrong with you, Violet? Is it that guy you were with when I was last here or something? Andrew Williams? Are you still dating him or what?"
My eyes snapped to her face, just a little too fast, and I instantly regretted it. My sister's eyebrows lifted and her lips parted. She knew immediately what that meant.
"Oh my gosh, he dumped you!" she said.
I could feel my fingernails digging into my palms as my hands balled into fists. Damn it. The last thing I wanted to talk about was Andrew. The last person I wanted to talk about him to was Josephine.
Wishing I had Marina's knack for coming up with quick, sharp responses, I could only curse myself as Josephine let out a sigh. It wasn't a sympathetic sigh but rather a happy one. There was a hint of triumph behind it.
"Well, you two didn't exactly fit together," she told me, shrugging nonchalantly. "It was inevitable that he moved on to someone else."
My previous restraint broke. This was so callous that I actually snapped at her. "How do you know he broke up with me?"
Andrew and I didn't exactly date, and if I was hopelessly counting the brief day and a half we had at and after Yosemite as 'dating', what Josephine presumed was exactly true, but it still stung. It stung more than I liked to admit.
Josephine's eyes widened. "Don't tell me you dumped him!" she said, incredulous.
I stayed silent, once again unable to find a good retort. At my silence, Josephine's face fell back into a satisfied expression once again. She knew I couldn't refute her.
My sister rolled her eyes. "It was inevitable, Violet," she said. "You should find someone more appropriate for you. Your head was always up in clouds, thinking you were stuck in one of those chick flicks you always watch," and here she shrugged, her voice full of disdain. "What's that one you keep rewatching? 365 Days of Summer? Well, you aren't his Summer."
And then, with another imperious toss of her hair, she grabbed her suitcase and pushed past me towards my bedroom.
I blinked, rooted to the spot by her last words. Josephine had always turned up her nose at my taste in movies, and she had gotten the name of my favorite film wrong, but she was right on one point.
Andrew's Summer wasn't me.
And it was time that I fully accepted it and pushed past that awkwardness and horrible tension we had at work.
I had taken the morning off in order to pick my sister up from the airport and bring her back to my apartment, and my trip to Andrew's studio that afternoon was the calmest I had felt in weeks.
My stomach was no longer doing flip flops, and I no longer felt that dread and tension building up as I got closer to the flat.
I wasn't his Summer, and I just had to accept that.
Perhaps we could part as friends, or at least as acquaintances.
My interview with The New York Times was this Friday. The HR guy who had called me told me that the opening was for a low level position, and even the job description sounded extremely unglamorous, probably something that involved a lot of coffee fetching, but I knew that there was no way that I wouldn't take an opportunity like that.
Well, if I aced the interview Friday that was.
But even if I didn't get this job, I knew that I was going to leave soon. I hadn't told Andrew yet, about the fact that I was job hunting or that I was planning on quitting, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. I wondered how he'd react. I wondered if Paul had told him about Abigail yet.
My heart skipped a beat. I no longer felt as calm as I did before. What if Paul had told Andrew about Abigail's visit? What would happen then? My sense of dread and apprehension actually increased as I approached the studio. It was only a block away now.
But, as it turned out, I didn't have to wonder about Paul telling Andrew at all.
Because right there, right in front of the building where Andrew's studio was, stood Abigail herself.
She was wearing white jeans and a red chiffon blouse, and she was balanced on the balls of her feet as she shifted up and down, looking quizzically at the door of the building. She appeared just as hesitant and just as uncertain as she did the day she showed up at the studio when it was only me who was there.
Despite everything, my heart dropped at the sight of her.
This was too soon, wasn't it? How was she back now? I wracked my brain but couldn't really remember when she said she would be back. Or if she said she would be back at all. But this, this was so quick.
I'm not his Summer. I'm not his Summer.
But now, the thought wasn't even calming. I had lost the serenity that I thought those words could bring completely.
"Hello," I said instead as soon as was within her earshot.
Abigail wasn't facing me, and at the sound of my voice, she nearly jumped.
"Oh!" she said, whipping her head around to stare at me with large, bright eyes. Her hand was over her chest and she laughed a little, nervously. "Hi! Violet, right?"
I nodded, watching her carefully. Her movements had that jitteriness to it like before, and I knew that at any second now, she was about to bolt.
"You want to come in? I think Andrew's in today," I told her. It was all I could do to keep my voice as neutral as possible, but at that moment, I knew that I wanted her to come in. I knew that she had to come in. She had to meet Andrew. Even if Paul hadn't actually mentioned the fact that she had shown up at the studio before, Abigail's presence was there. Her encounter with Andrew was inevitable.
"He's here today?" she replied, her voice barely above a whisper. She seemed shocked to hear me say it, even though we were both standing in front of the building where Andrew both worked and lived.
I nodded, and Abigail bit her lip.
"I don't know," she said, trailing off.
I waited, but she didn't take off. She didn't make a step towards the stairs leading up to the door of the building either. Instead, she just stood there, looking at the entrance uncertainly and still bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet with a nervous energy that made it seem like she was about to flutter off at any second now.
Finally, after a long moment where the two of us just stood at this impasse, I spoke.
"I think he'd want to see you," I repeated the words I had spoken to her the last time.
She turned to look at me, her expression curious. "You really think so?" she asked.
For some reason, she seemed like she really cared about what I was going to say. About the answer I would give. I couldn't actually find the words to answer her, as suddenly there was a gigantic lump in my throat, so instead I simply nodded.
That seemed to settle it for her. "Okay then," was all she said before she stepped towards the stairs leading into the building.
We walked in together. We walked through the lobby together. We waited for the elevators together.
Through it all, I couldn't help but sneak little glances at Abigail. Paul had described her as 'the one who got away.' There was still a mysterious quality about her, and more than once, I wondered what exactly her story with Andrew was. I had learned bits and pieces here and there, but I still felt like I only had half the pieces to the puzzle.
But did it really matter? In the end, what mattered was how Andrew would react, wasn't it?
And I wasn't his Summer.
But I couldn't help it. I still felt that little bubble of hope rising through my chest despite all the dread. I knew that Abigail and Andrew had to meet, but as I watched the buttons for each floor in the elevator light up, as we got closer and closer to Andrew's studio, I couldn't even squash the sense of foreboding I felt.
This was it. This was really where Andrew and my story ended.
"You know, I've actually passed by this place dozens of times before."
This time, it was my turn to jump. Our time together once we were in the building had thus been silent, but Abigail had suddenly spoken, a floor from where we were to stop.
The elevator stopped, the doors dinged and opened, and I scrambled for a response.
"Oh really?" I said lamely. "You mean on your way to work? Is this building on the way?"
We stepped out, and the doors closed behind us. Abigail shook her head.
"Not at all," she said, and then she gave a light little laugh that had a rather melodious quality to it. "No, not at all. In fact I work across town," and here she jerked her thumb behind her, in a direction that I could only presume to be east if that was what she meant by 'across town.' She went on. "I just stop by sometimes, always too scared to actually come into the building. Besides the one day that I met you, of course."
My mouth was dry. I must have mumbled something borderline coherent, because we were at the door at this point. I couldn't even look at her. Instead, I raised my hand, sucked in a breath, and knocked.
There wasn't even a buffer. There was barely any waiting time before the door was wrenched open. And it wasn't Paul who answered the door, like it usually was. This time, it was Andrew.
His eyes met mine first, and they were a haze of emotions ranging from worry to concern to a sort of distant coldness that I couldn't exactly pinpoint, but then his gaze shifted to a place over my right shoulder.
To where Abigail was.
And his expression completely changed. His eyes widened, his eyebrows rose, and his lips parted as he stared.
"Abigail," he breathed out, still staring past me. His fingers slipped from the door handle.
I actually felt my stomach churn. I felt like I was standing in the way, so instead, I quickly moved aside. I brushed past Andrew, ducked under his outstretched arm, which was against the doorframe, and made my way into the room. I doubt he even noticed. He probably couldn't even tear his eyes away from her.
Josephine was right all along. All my favorite movies were just stupid, stupid lies that they fed girls like me, girls idiotic enough to believe that they could be real.
This wasn't how chick flicks ended.
Paul was at his desk, looking at his computer, but once he saw that I had come in, he stood up. The smile on his face froze as his eyes shifted from where I had walked into the studio to the doorway where Andrew was still standing, his back towards the room.
But then Andrew shifted aside, and Abigail walked in.
"Oh shit!" Paul exclaimed, and the file full of photographs in his hands dropped towards the floor.
They clunked and bounced and made noises that made it seem as if they were made of glass. It was so loud, or at least it appeared so loud, that I actually jumped back because I was so startled.
"Sorry! Sorry!" Paul quickly said, bending down to gather the photos. He brushed them all haphazardly back into the folder and quickly stood up again. He pushed his glasses up his nose, even though they didn't need any pushing. "Sorry, I just...err...didn't expect anyone to come in...err...at this hour."
It wasn't a quick or smooth recovery, and Abigail shifted and gave an uncomfortable little smile.
For once, Andrew lost his calm and collected demeanor. He seemed at a total loss for words. His gaze shifted from Abigail to Paul, and he could only stare.
The four of us stood in the most awkward silence for a few seconds, before Paul found his voice again.
"So, um, you came in with Violet, here?" he asked, clearing his throat.
Abgail nodded, and she took a tentative step forward. "Yes, I did," she said a little uncertainly.
Andrew seemed to gather his wits at this moment. He shook his head slightly as if to clear his mind, and then said, rather quickly, "Sorry, Paul. Abigail. Abigail, Paul," he moved from one to the other, steadfastly avoiding my gaze. "Paul works with me, and Abigail…" he couldn't quite find the words to explain just what she was. At this moment, actually, his gaze shifted towards me. It was the first time he looked at me since he saw her, and I quickly turned away. "Um...Abigail, what are you doing here?"
There was nothing accusatory in those words. In fact, Andrew seemed to be more in awe than anything else. He seemed totally shocked by her presence, and even now, even now that she was only a few feet away from him, he still could not quite get over it.
Abigail rubbed her arm and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear nervously. "I, um, I just stopped by to see how you were. If, um, if that was okay."
It was one of the most awkward exchanges I had ever seen in my life, and halfway through Andrew's introductions, I wished that I was anywhere but here, but my feet didn't seem to be able to move. And even worse, Paul was simply openly gaping.
It was obvious from Paul's reaction to Abigail that he immediately knew who she was. Andrew didn't have to make the introductions. It was all just cursory.
She went on, seemingly unable to stop herself now that she had started talking. She still seemed quite nervous and uncertain. "I was in the neighborhood...actually I ran into Violet and she convinced me to come up," and here she gave a little laugh as I wished my name wasn't brought up. But Abigail said it again. "Violet's your new assistant, right? I think you've mentioned Paul the last time I saw you but you've never mentioned Violet."
Each time she said my name, it was like a little jab, even though I knew she had no idea.
Andrew was facing away from us, and I found that I had a sharp desire to see his expression, to see the mention of my name had any effect on him, but I couldn't actually see him. He was turned towards Abigail.
It took a bit of time for him to get his words out. "I can't believe you're here," he said, and I could tell from his voice that he was still marveling at the situation. My name probably had no impact on him at all. "I can't believe you're here. After months and months and months…"
And suddenly, Abigail looked sorry. Her brows furrowed, and her eyes were bright and regretful. "I know…" she said, trailing off. "It's just that...actually, would you want to grab a coffee with me or something? I mean, if you're not too busy that is."
I swallowed. I could tell that it took her a lot of effort to say those words. That she had been planning and playing this moment in her head quite a few times before she showed up here today.
My eyes drifted towards Paul, who was still openly staring. I suddenly felt as if we were intruding on a very private moment.
At my movement, Paul shifted his head ever so slightly so that he was looking at me. He raised an eyebrow, as if trying to convey to me that he couldn't quite believe what was happening.
I couldn't quite believe what was happening either. It was so quick. Her appearance had been so sudden.
"Coffee?" Andrew said, as if he had never quite heard the word before.
Abigail nodded. "Yeah...if you're not busy, that is," she repeated.
There was a pause.
"Now?" Andrew asked.
I couldn't see his expression, but she gave a light little smile. "Sure, if you're free."
There was another pause, and then suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, Andrew turned around. His eyes met mine.
This time, I couldn't look away. For a long moment, we simply held each others' gazes. I didn't want to feel this way. I didn't want to feel this way at all, but I knew that I was holding out hope. I was hoping against everything that he would say no. No, I can't. No coffee. I have to work. No coffee. You're too late. It's been months and months and months and...no coffee.
Andrew was still looking at me, his expression impossible to read.
My heart thudded, and I stood frozen, rooted to my spot on the studio floor. This wasn't just coffee. This was choice. He knew it, and I knew it.
Then, he broke his gaze, and he turned back towards her.
"Okay," he said softly.
Then, before I could even think too much about it, they were out the door.
As the door closed behind them with a light little click, Paul and I were still standing there in the studio, both of us in the exact spots we were before. He didn't say anything, and neither did I.
Really, I thought there would be more to it. There would be more fanfare, or maybe it would have taken a little longer. Or maybe I would be left without such a feeling of emptiness.
But there was no more to it.
That was it.
A/N: This story has recently been added to A Drop of Romeo! Thank you for the lovely review! A Drop of Romeo is actually where I find a lot of suggestions for stories I want to read, so it's an awesome feeling when my stories appear there. I think Bollinger High, How to Move On, and That Picture Perfect Kind are also on there :)
As for questions on how long this story will be, when I started it, I had planned for this to be my longest story to date, so we've still got a bit to go!