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Chapter

When Nicole left, I just stood there watching her walk away for a moment. Nothing creepy, just watching her go. I was trying to take in as much of her as possible before she was gone, even though I knew that I was going to see her again that night. When she was finally out of sight, I turned the other way and started walking home. Basking in her glow, I made it halfway to my apartment before I had a thought that didn’t involve her. I realized then that I had dreamt about her the night before and saw her walk across that bridge just as she did. I made a note to remind myself to ask her what she was listening to. If it was Mayday Parade, I was going to lose it. I hadn’t actively thought to walk that way either. I just did it as if my dream slid into my conscious mind and nudged a few synapses to fire and get my feet moving in the right direction. Then I remembered the dream I had about the carnie massacre and got so creeped out that I stopped walking and some guy ran into the back of me saying

“Hey watch it asshole.” If we had been driving, he would have gotten the ticket for following too closely, but somehow I was the asshole here. I’m not really a huge believer in the paranormal or premonitions or anything like that, but two very detailed dreams ended up coming true and it was enough for me to start to believe, or at least to think about believing, that something unusual was going on here. I decided to make a few more stops before I made my way home, to kill some time. I desperately needed some food and decided to get something new to wear for that night. Eventually I made it home and ran up my stoop while trying to get my mind back on Nicole. I threw my stuff down and plopped into bed. I looked at the clock for some reassurance, but only realized how long I had before dinner. Ugh.

I just sat there twiddling my thumbs on the Internet by checking all my accounts. It always amazed me how many passwords I had to remember to find out if people wanted to talk to me. Myspace, Facebook, my 3 email addresses, IM. Toss in the lesser used ones like Netflix, Bank of America, anything to do with bills and it’s a wonder we can remember 27

anything else but usernames and passwords. Logging into all of those sites, I got the ever-pleasing result of no messages. None. Not even from Allison. Oh right. Allison. Suddenly it hit me. What the hell was I doing?

I was still seeing Allison. Really I haven’t done anything wrong, I thought. I wasn’t totally sure that tonight was a date, though it sure felt like it was going to be one. Where is the line? Is going out to dinner cheating? I decided that later I should drop by Allison’s after she got home from work to finally talk to her about things and see what we could come up with. I had put it off long enough and now at least I didn’t feel quite so terrible about her rejection. I realized that I could, and possibly already had, move on.

The day had taken a toll on my body, so I decided I needed a shower. As I took my clothes off, I felt oddly insecure as if someone were watching me from somewhere. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt since far before I met Allison and I was curious why it had found its way back to me. I stepped in the shower and just stood there while a barrage of little watery fists pummeled my face, letting them have a go at beating all the bad out of me, letting it wash off my skin and down the drain. Let the rats chew on my problems, I thought.

The cleansing power that the shower provided me was always stronger than any priest or reconciliation would ever provide. The worst part of a shower, of course, was the getting out. Leaving that warm womb of watery goo just to go out into the cold cruel world was never easy. That day at least there was some hope. I had a great night planned. Of course there were a few speed bumps on the way to happiness, but at least happiness was actually out there on the horizon. I could just make out the topsail of the ship in the distance.

I rummaged through my closet and found the least offensive pair of

“nice” jeans, which happened to be my favorite pair. I hate stereotypes, but I am very much a boy when it comes to laundry. Unless there’s a stain or it actually smells bad, what’s the point of washing it? Why wash something after one use if you didn’t even so much as sweat in it? I get washing the underwear and socks, fine, and normally wear those only once, but with jeans and sweaters, come on. I slid into my new shirt and took a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship and stitching even though I knew it was most likely a programmed machine doing the work. Someone still had to program it and so I saluted the programmer. A few quick product applications to my hair, a few rogue hair plucks, and I was off. I had debated whether or not to get ready for my dinner 28

with Nicole before I went to see Allison, but figured that I might not make it on time the way Allison liked to talk.

On the way to Allison’s I tried thinking about what was happening with my life, constructing a timeline in my head and adding footnotes here and there. Was I so defeated by Allison that I so quickly dismissed her? For the first time it occurred to me that maybe it was possible that I was in some way glad that she rejected me. So much for my watery cleansing, I thought, as the cynical side of me raised an eyebrow, as if to say I told you so. “Nothing is ever as easy as it seems,” it said and smiled a Grinchy smile.

I’m not prepared for this, I thought, as I rang Allison’s doorbell. When I heard the Satan run and try to attack me through the door, it put me fully back in my place. I hand rang the doorbell out of respect, though I had a key, so I just went in after a few knocks as I always did–ready in my best Kung Fu stance in preparation for battle with the devil dog. He was nicer than usual and just growled at me as I made my way through the kitchen to Allison’s room. She was on the computer instant messaging with a friend. “Awww...that’s so great” she said before noticing me and she clapped her hands lightly a few times. “What’s so great?” I asked. Allison leapt out of her chair in pure terror before settling down into a frustrated laughter.

“You scared the shit out of me.” She said as she tried to find her breath again.

“I know I can see it on your chair.”

“Stop it, that’s gross.”

“You said it.”

Off to a great start, I thought.

“What’s so great on there?”

“Oh. My friend who desperately needs to find a nice guy said that she may have met one.”

“Great!” I said trying to sound genuinely excited as I dropped myself on her bed taking count of how many bounces I managed to hit. Three.

“She had some rough times with the last guy that she was with and I was hoping she’d meet someone great soon. What are you doing here?

I’ve been trying to call you.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. I’ve just been having a really hard time with all of this, you know?”

29

She did know. I could tell that she wasn’t doing so great herself. She looked tired and it made me realize the impact that I actually had on her life. She was worried about me. After a moment of silence I said, “I just needed some time to think about everything. I was pretty devastated when you said no.”

“I never actually said no.” But even as she said it I could tell she knew what was wrong with what she said. Saying ‘can we talk about it?’ is pretty much the same thing as saying ‘no’ and she knew it. “Ok” She continued, “so that’s not the best response to a proposal. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it and didn’t know what else to do.”

“You could have just said yes,” I said. “But then what fun would that be, right?”

“Josh. I just feel like I have so much to do before I think about getting married. Do you know what I mean?”

“Oh sure, yeah. I totally understand,” I retorted in my best sarcastic voice. I extended my body over her bed laying myself back with my hands behind my head imagining that I was on a hammock. What could be wrong with the world when you’re on a hammock? Every time I’ve been in a hammock it was an immensely relaxing experience. I must have looked as if I were trying to calm myself down because Allison asked me “Where did you go?”

“I’m in a hammock on a beach in the Caribbean. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t block my sunlight.” I must have smiled unusually because she started to tense up.

“Why do you always just block this out?”

“Why do you always force me to try and block things out?” I didn’t mean to hurt her, but I could tell by the silence that she felt as if a million tiny men suddenly built a scaled version of the great wall down the center of the room, splitting us apart. I took a moment of silence for the tiny men who died building the wall.

Allison shook her head. I didn’t see her, of course, because I was swinging in the breeze of a Caribbean beach, but I could feel her shift her weight as she shook her head. You know what they say about a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world? The same applies to a girl shaking her head in disappointment. The damage may be less significant–instead of a hurricane it’s heartache–but depending on who you ask, both could be equally negative.

30

“You don’t even realize how hard it was for me to get up the stones to ask you, do you? Let alone the money that I dropped on the goddamn ring.”

“I never asked for a ring, Josh.”

Oh yeah, I thought. If I asked you and didn’t have a ring, instead of saying ‘maybe’, you would have just wondered where’s the goddamn ring as you accidentally pushed me over the side of the Ferris wheel. The biggest lie a girl will ever tell you is that the size or authenticity of an engagement ring doesn’t matter to her. The truth is that the worth of a woman could be defined by her engagement ring. When the future wife of a celebrity or millionaire shows off her ring, she’s not showing how wealthy her husband is so much as proving how much she’s worth to him. How much would you pay for me to be yours forever? That’s a question every woman whispers into her loved one’s ear as he sleeps, in hopes of one day proudly showing off the biggest rock to all of her friends.

As if she heard my thoughts she said, “Josh, it was...is a beautiful ring.”

“But just not for you, right?” At this point I was cranky and on the verge of wanting a fight.

“I didn’t say that one day this wouldn’t have been wonderful, but I’m just not ready for this right now.”

“So what now, then?”

“I don’t know. I’d love to keep things how they were for now until I’m ready to move things forward.”

After a dramatic pause I finally said, “I’m just not sure if I can do that.”

The words hung in the air like a virus waiting to infect its next victim in order to propagate its species. The sickness finally entered her body, forcing her eyes to spill their reservoir of tears down her face. I realized then that I really didn’t want to hurt her. I was still so bruised from the other night that I thought I wanted revenge, but seeing her depleted by my rejection felt bad. It was as if I was the dealer at a blackjack game and she was sitting at my table with nothing but a ten of hearts and a four of spades. She was addicted to the game and stuck in a bad spot with her last chip on the table ashamed of the possibility of going home broke. We sat there, dealer and nearly broke card player for a moment, aware of each other’s roles in the game.

31

“What do you want to do?” she asked as if she really wanted to hear what I had to say.

“I’m pretty hurt.” I said truthfully, taking note of how we both responded. “I’m not really sure. Maybe we both need some space for a bit to figure out what we both need.”

“You mean you want to take a break?”

“I can’t see myself having any semblance of normalcy around you at this point,” I said, adding points to my word-of-the-day usage scoreboard. (Thanks Dictionary.com.) She shot me a look as if I were about to stab her in the chest. “Did you really think that we could just go on as normal?” clearly already knowing the answer.

“I guess I did.”

“I just don’t think that I can work that way, Allison. I put everything on the line the other night. Everything.”

A monsoon started in her eyes. I’d never seen her cry that way before and for a minute my eyes were tempted to commiserate with her, but I convinced them to follow my orders, not hers. I got up from my hammock and made my way back to her to put an arm around her and pat her back. Not two arms for a full hug, just one–I was still too pissed to give her the real deal.

For a while we sat there speaking more of our feelings, though everything that really needed to be said was already said. Everything after that point was just talking about our emotions. Nothing could have been changed. Minds were made up, hearts were broken, then mended, feelings were hurt and healed again. The true strength of the human spirit is the resilience that it gets with change. We can adapt to so much and adjust so quickly to our surroundings. Eventually, when I couldn’t take any more, I told her that I had to go. It took a few more minutes for me to make it down to the door, complete with the devil dog staring me down as usual. When I opened the door, ready for my escape, she scrounged up what few words she could and said, “So what if I had said yes? Where would we be now?”

“Probably happily planning a wedding,” I said as I walked out the door just in time to make it to my date.

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