To be honest
- — -
“Sorry!” she yelped, stumbling past the couple seated at the table she’d nearly knocked over, who were both now covered with a hefty serving of powdered sugar thanks to a certain someone running into the table at full speed.
The lights were staring to dim. I’m gonna miss the set — I left work early to get here and I’m still gonna miss the set, she thought, scolding herself. She could hear laughter on the stage as the band finished setting up their instruments and prayed that she had just enough time to snake around the couple arguing in front of her and then dart past the other pair making out to snag a spot in the front. The cafe was far too small to be hosting this kind of battle of the bands-esque performance, but they did also serve the best chocolate croissants in the city, so she figured it evened out. Not that she’d have time to get one.
She sidestepped her way through the crowd, craning her neck to get a glimpse of the stage. Eventually, she settled for a spot behind a man with hair that was spiked with frosted tips, a 90′s teen heartthrob straight out of Tiger Beat magazine. The tops of the musician’s heads were visible between the spikes if she swayed to the beat just right.
“Hey, can I buy you a drink?”
For a minute, she thought it might be 90′s dream boat, until she realized the voice was a man standing next to me. He was handsome… and holding a bottle of her favorite beer. Maybe in another life she’d have though it was a sign. Maybe she would have introduced herself. Tonight though, she wasn’t here for that.
She caught the eye of the band’s singer. He smiled, a toothy grin that was just a little bit too happy for anyone else in the audience.
“Ah never mind,” the man seemed unphased, “You’re here with him, aren’t you?”
With him. She wasn’t so sure about that — did a few dates over the past several weeks count as with him? Come check out my show — it had sounded so sexy. A brief sequence of events flashed through her mind — a dreamlike montage of a relationship that could be, of them laughing and joking together, of her inevitable self-sabotage. She shut it down as quickly as she could. She’d been told she had a tendency to overthink things at times. Or all the time.
“What?” she prayed that it looked like she’d applied a bit too much makeup and not like she was blushing furiously — which she was. “No I’m not. Shut up. You’re here with him.” Who was she? What was this word vomit?
He laughed, “I almost wish I was. He’s not exactly ugly, can’t say I blame you.”
She stared at the man beside her, not exactly sure what to think. Somehow he’d managed to morph from a creepy predator to a suave casanova to her wingman in a matter of seconds. Maybe he was alright.
“And a singer, eh,” he nudged herwith his elbow, taking a swig of beer in a surprisingly sophisticated fashion, “I knew I should have gone into music. I suppose software engineering isn’t the sexiest career choice. Damn.”
When the concert ended, he turned to her and extended his hand. “Karthik, by the way. Tell your boyfriend he’s got a good thing going here.” He smirked. “And that the music was pretty good too.” He laughed and waved goodbye as he retreated into the crowd before she could utter a response.
- — -
- — -
The light pouring through the window that particular morning was unforgiving, to say the least. She immediately regretted buying the discounted room-dimming curtains off amazon — she knew she should have gotten better quality ones, but at the time she’d thought that she could use the help waking up in the morning. Something about setting an alarm clock every minute for twenty minutes straight must have finally gotten to her roommates. This morning though, every inch of her body was rebelling.
She stuck out an arm, fumbling around for her phone, nearly knocking it off the bed before moving it close enough to her face to see only to realize that she could see perfectly fine. Right, she’d fallen asleep in her contacts.
After clumsily rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she squinted at the screen, head hurting from the bright screen. With one eye shut and the other barely open, she finally managed to look at the screen for long enough to read the text.
Missed call (16)
“Oh no,” she groaned, tossing down her phone and pulling the covers back over her head. She had a slight memory of last night. Well, maybe slight was an overstatement.
Maybe she had a problem.
Now was not the time to consider that horrifying thought, though. Now was the time to try and function in any capacity like a regular human for the day.
She did remember what she’d told her boyfriend. Ex boyfriend, she supposed.
It had been the first time she’d really told someone she loved them, fueled by pride and desire and naive, wishful thinking. It had not gone well, to say the least. They were young. They were blind. She’d left the show with a wounded ego, a stale taste in her mouth, and the intention to consume a lot more alcohol. She supposed she’d succeeded in that regard. It was a shame, she though, she really had liked their music.
- — -
- — -
Frothy waves were battering the shore, the piercing blue of the ocean a sharp contrast to the billowing clouds in the distance. The hills were a lush green in the distance, rolling into the jagged cliffs they were maneuvering through, the curve of the road mimicking every twist and turn of the California coast line. For a moment at least, she was convinced that it was the most beautiful place she had ever been.
“How many cows do you think there are in the next twenty square miles?” Karthik was staring out into the field with his trademark look of concentration — a slight crease in his brow, the gears in his head whirring. She wondered if there was a moment when they weren’t.
“Five hundred and twenty seven,” she was staring out at the ocean, the hum of the car nearly lulling her to sleep. When she was little, she’d wanted to be a marine biologist. She’d bought a collection of books by Jaques Cousteau at a garage sale, insisting that they cart them with them each time they moved (to her mother’s dismay).
He snorted. “I’m guessing you didn’t win too many of those ‘guess how many pieces of candy corn are in the jar’ games back in elementary school?”
She wanted to glare at him, but the sun was in her eyes and she ended up scrunching up her face in pain. “I was actually really intrigued by the dairy industry here when I moved here. You know those commercials, happy cows come from California?”
“Of course,” his grip tightened as they rounded one of the sharper corners, “Wait,” she noticed his shoulders relax once they were back on the straightaway, “they showed those outside California?”
“Yeah. It’s why I moved. Happy cows. Industry research.”
There was a twangy country song playing on the radio. She remembered how she used to hate country music. Funny, now she loved it. She glanced over at the man tapping his finger rhythmically, alternating between carefree drumming and anxiously gripping the wheel as the car hugged the cliffside. Maybe the music wasn’t the only thing she loved.
They were turning off the highway into winding back roads, past creeks and cottages, through quaint towns and quiet meadows, until they were watching the sunset wash over the coastline, frothy waves tinted with golds and oranges brushstrokes so rich and bright that they seemed alive in the night.
That was the second time she told someone she loved them. There, cheeks rosy from the wind on the water, skin tinted with the glow of amber hues. It could have been perfect. Too bad the sentiment was only halfway returned.
- — -
- — -
“Caroline, I’m going to ask you to trust me here.”
“I trust you.” She did not.
“I know you don’t. I also know you’re pretty good at lying.”
It wasn’t false, she thought, as she stared past the woman seated across from her. The therapist didn’t seem real, her glossy red hair falling in perfect ringlets, her soothing voice straight off of NPR. She was too calm. She was too poised. Around her hung framed portraits of serene scenes, images of misty forests and close ups of dew on leaves. There was an overwhelming scent of lavender hanging in the air, like some sort of ethereal being. It had been calming at first. Now, it was choking out the oxygen, singing the inside of her nose.
She shifted in her seat amidst the mountain of throw pillows, which were etched with mandalas and similar designs, stitched in vibrant yellow and orange hues. The room felt fake.
“I need you to look at yourself and repeat after me.” There was a small mirror propped up on the coffee table in front of her, edges tinged with a faux gold plating that was chipping off on the sides. Rustic — perfectly pre-distressed, she supposed.
Reluctantly, she glanced at her reflection, fairly shaken by what she saw. Her eyes were tired, her expression blank, her appearance ragged at best. She was not the bright eyed, joyful girl from her mother’s photo albums in the attic of her parent’s house. She looked like, felt like, a shell of the woman she used to be.
“I am worthy of love. My worth is untarnished by my imperfections or the way others see me.”
She repeated the phrase, vaguely aware of the sound of her own voice.
“I am strong. I have many strengths that I use to navigate the ups and downs of my life. I am tougher and braver than I look.”
Again, she uttered the words, only partially listening to herself.
“I am enough.”
“I am -”
At that moment, something snapped.
Something deep inside her soul gave way.
She felt tears forming in her eyes, streaming down her cheeks. It was as if all of the disdain, all of the hatred she had harbored for herself, all of the “should haves” and “shouldn’t haves” were too much to bear any longer.
She’d never understood heartbreak until that very moment. Sure, she’d felt it in bits and pieces, but never the overwhelming sense of emotion she felt right then. She realized she’d been breaking her own heart all this time.
The third time she told someone she loved them, it was herself.