My face buried deep in my pillow, I allow the exhaustion of the day to ooze through my veins, slowing my heart rate, dulling my thoughts. I sigh. Bed time at la—
A knock on the door sends me scrambling to my feet.
“Crap! I gotta get some pants on!” I glance out into the hall, laughing as my roommate flees the living room, trouser-less, her long arms trailing behind her. She’s a new addition to our apartment this semester, and so far I’m thoroughly enjoying the change.
“I’ll get it,” says Karen, my room-roommate. She steps around me and into the hallway, all pajamas and no shame as she hurries for the door.
Gabriella peeks through her door across the hall.
“Who is it?” I whisper, stepping back into my room. “Is it a guy?”
“Oh hey!” we hear Karen exclaim. A deep voice politely returns the greeting.
Gabriella's expression brightens, and I imagine a tiny door opening at the top of her head, a blinking red light on a metal stick rising slowly from the depths of her brain: a boy radar, standard equipment for every college freshman girl. Unable to resist the signals, she begins to tread cautiously towards the living room.
I, on the other hand, wait, all ears in the safety of my bedroom. As a junior, I’ve more experience at resisting the demands of the built-in boy radar. Juniors are kind of worn out by the time we get to where we are, you see (two years of intense schooling will do that to you). Thus we must choose our battles wisely, saving energy for only the most desirable of social interactions and reserving the rest to get out of school as quickly as we can.
“ADAM!” Gabriella exclaims. “I’ve missed you!”
My heart spasms. Uh oh.
“Gabby! How’ve you been?”
I look myself over. There’s no time to fix my appearance, not even to throw on some chap stick. Not that it matters; it’s not like the boy’s never seen me makeup-less and fully pajama-fied before. I flinch in reaction to a bittersweet memory, then lock it safely away and casually join the others.
One look: that’s all it takes and the flood gates open. Memories I’ve been suppressing all Christmas break come tearing through my mind like lightening, making me nearly dizzy with confusion. I grip the back of the nearest chair. Why is it taking so much effort not to run up and kiss the boy in my doorway? I was so sure those desires had all but died before I even left for home.
I steady myself, plastering on a cheery expression. “Hey, Adam!” I chirp.
We don’t hug.
He takes a seat at the end of the kitchen table. I grip the chair again. This is so unnatural for us, keeping our distance. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it. I wonder if he all ready has.
“How was your break?” I ask, resting my hand on his arm briefly. Oops—slip up.
“It was so good! Ah, man. I miss my family all ready.”
“Yeah? I’ll bet.” He rarely spoke of anything else while we were dating. “Your, uh… your hair looks great!”
He runs a hand over his freshly-mowed do. “Thanks. Larissa cut it for me.”
Gabriella nods. “Oh yeah! I remember she used to cut people’s hair all the time when she was here!”
“I don’t remember that,” I joke. Adam smiles, taking a moment to fiddle with his phone. He hands the device to me. The picture he’s pulled up is of him and his sister, Larissa. Larissa’s standing over him with a pair of scissors, a cheerful expression. Adam, on the other hand—seated, his hair wet and combed forwards—wears the expression of one who is definitely having second thoughts.
“Aw!” I exclaim. “Larissa looks so confident! You, on the other hand…”
Adam busts out laughing. The sound makes me grin. He’s always so easily amused, even by my goofy sense of humor. I brace myself against another onslaught of memories, my face a flawless mask concealing the battle raging within.
“Oh, guess what!” Adam says suddenly. “You know the “Wreck-It Ralph” poster I had in my apartment? The little one?”
“Yeah! Like the one I have!”
“Right. Well, the guys that moved into my old apartment totally trumped it in size! It’s, like, fifty times bigger, takes up the whole wall!”
I laugh. “Jealous! Is it in your apartment now?”
“It's in my old apartment. I moved downstairs, remember?”
“Oh… oh yeah.” That’s right. He’s living on my floor now, in the apartment of my closest guy friends from church. In fact—ah, yes—he’ll be attending my scheduled church meetings every Sunday, and all church activities during the week.
Looks like distance isn’t the method of break-up recovery I’ll be using this semester.
During the rest of his visit, the conversation never flounders once; my roommates are all so eager to chat with Adam. Who wouldn’t be? He is the most handsome, amiable guy in the universe, after all. Even I find myself having to consciously share his attention. And share I must, for I’ve no more right to his attention than anyone else now.
A lump forms in my throat.
Oh great. Great. I work my butt off this Christmas trying to build walls of indifference around all Adam-related thoughts, only to find out I’ve been building them out of Jell-O. Fantastic. I grab me a couch pillow and return to the kitchen table, clinging to it pathetically.
A few minutes later, Adam checks his watch and excuses himself. Curfew, he says. Always the picture of good citizenship. I watch him go through the door, and realize with a pang of disappointment that he isn’t going to look back at me, as I’d half expected him to.
You’re only a friend now, I remind myself. You’re just gonna have to get used to the fact that you’re not as important as you used to be. I mean this to comfort myself. But the words tug at my heart in a way I’m not used to, and I bite my lip to keep it from trembling.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Karen asks from her bed across the room. She's genuinely concerned, but I can tell she's enjoying the drama. I would be too, if I wasn't the reason for it.
“That… hurt. More than I thought it would.” I say matter-of-factly.
“And that’s the way it should be.”
“Is it?” See, I’d thought my feelings were pathetic. After all, I was the one who’d initiated the break up. Shouldn’t I be feeling good right now? Shouldn’t seeing him again have confirmed my decision to leave him? Maybe, if the conversation hadn’t flowed so nicely. Dang it.
“Of course. It means that he meant something to you. And that’s good.”
I consider this. Yes, he did mean something to me—does—which is more than I can say for every other ex-boyfriend I’ve ever had. “You’re right,” I say. “It would be worse to believe now that everything I felt for him was my own imagination. Much worse.”
“But still…” I roll onto my side, curling myself around a giant stuffed animal I’ve come to name the Pink Pig of Sorrow. I bury my face in its glorious squishiness. I’ve always been a sucker for soft, fluffy things.
“It was the right thing to do, though. Breaking up with him.” She doesn't phrase this as a question.
I close my eyes. “Yeah. It was. We had a lot of fun, but we didn’t connect well on a deeper level, and that’s bad when you’re supposed to be in a relationship with someone.” Though the laughing, kissing, and cuddling kept us going for a good five weeks, I recall with a half-smile. Dating Adam was like sustaining your body on dessert only: delicious and fun, but not life-sustaining.
My muscles relax a little. Yes, breaking up with him was the right thing to do. I’m still sure of it.
“Hurts, though,” I mumble, “way more than I expected it to.” I stop to steady my voice. “And you say that’s a good thing?”
“Yep.” In the dark, I hear Karen pull the covers around her. “It’s a good thing, hon.”
I squeeze the Pink Pig of Sorrow.