“19 (Modern Love)” — A Short Story

The first of hopefully many pieces of fiction that I’ll be posting on here. I was imagining a novel years ago with these characters: Eric Thornton and Chris Fletcher, two late 20-something smart-asses who felt like they have love all figured out, and you’d be tagging along while they’re “Getting There”.

This is what’s wrong with love.

Not 60s love. Or 70s love.

“The 70s weren’t even about love. Just swinging.”

“True. I can’t even speak on any of that. We weren’t even born then.”

I wasn’t around for most of the 80s either, but I think it was great — my dad remarried when I turned three. And I could skip right through the 90s, cause I barely understood myself, much less puberty and women. The 2000s was when Grace dropped into my life for the first time.

We all know what happened.

“I heard Grace Porter’s prepping for the marathon. Have you peeped her Insta?”

“Nope. Not planning on it.”

“She’s lost mad weight though, breh.”

“Okay.”

“How long has it been since y’all broke up again? Over a year?”

“Almost two.” I pulled out a couple of Shock Tops from the fridge. “Is there a Bechdel Test for guys?”

“No.” Fletch grabbed his as he walked over to my computer. “Why the fuck would there be?”

“Because..,” I checked my phone, then tossed it half-angrily into my bedroom, “when was the last time we talked about something other than women? Like is that a real thing with us nowadays?”

“We talked about how you need to hit the gym yesterday.” He laughed, then pulled out a stack of papers from the printer. “But aren’t we at your place now because of a woman?”

My face felt red and firm when he said that. “Yeah, but — “

“No but’s, Eric. You’re part of the problem.” He dropped the stack on the kitchen counter, each sheet plastered with a phone screenshot on it with a disheartening thud. Sounded like he dropped one of those cinder blocks that the Godfather would store to sink his foes in the Hudson.

My heart probably needed to be tied to it.

“Exhibit A: the past month’s worth of conversations with Ashley.”

“Allie.”

Fletcher checked the name on the pages. “Does she even have a real last name?”

We both snorted. “That was actually the first time I got her to laugh.”

“Wow.” He laid the pages out on the floor and took a brushless broomstick from the closet. “This is depressing, E.”

“I know,” I sat down, legs crossed, looking at the thousands of texts there. “I just want to get to the bottom of this.”

“Hmm.” He poked at the pages and read through the conversation, chuckling. “She’s funny as fuck.”

“I know, right?”

“Like really fucking funny. Why haven’t I met her?”

“You never really met anyone. Except that one girl at that party, but that’s besides the point.” I checked the past few days. My congratulation texts for her recent promotion. Her asking the right questions on nights that I was stressed out. Laughing about the Woodstock acts we’d trip out to if we lived in the 60s.

Love was different back then. There were no texts to reference. Or apps to download. Or tweets to favorite. Patience, by extension, had to be different too, right?

“How many days have passed since she said she wanted to take it slow?” Fletch asked.

“Nineteen.”

“And how many emotions have you gone through since then?”

“Fifty-eleven? I don’t know.” My bottle was 2/3 empty already. “A lot.”

He prodded one page, and shook his head. “You’re really in bad shape for no reason. This girl is having an epic conversation — ”

“That you shouldn’t even know about.”

“ — an epic conversation with you, and I’m sure the past few months have been like this. And you ask her why she’s into you?”

I did. Out of weakness, maybe? Discouragement? Feeling like there was a long-term plot to string me along? There was a tachometer in my mind, and I’m sure my thoughts were over-revving that night. And the night after. And last night.

“Eric?”

“Yeah.” Put your mind in neutral. “I’m trying to be patient. I don’t know what it’s like anymore.”

He got up and got me another beer. “Remember college when we realized that whenever I’m in a relationship, you’re single? And vice versa?”

“Mmhmm.” I struggled to screw the top off, then realized that it needed a bottle opener.

Fletch tossed me his. “Maybe you gotta wait until I’m single again.”

“Fuck outta here.”

He almost snorted up hops and barley. “I don’t think you need to question her, man. Question yourself. Question what you’re able to handle.” He took up all the papers and dumped them in the corner. “You used to be hella patient. Like way too patient.”

“Yup. And look where,” I pulled up my sleeves and showed off a scar lining my forearm, “and what it got me.”

“Has she seen that?”

“Yeah. She has.”

“So she gets your baggage and is willing to be there for you if you need her.”

“Yeah. She says she has.” I looked long and hard at the calendar. “It’s been way too long since I’ve seen her.”

“So? Fuck that shit. It’s not about you.” He tore down the calendar, and tossed it in the corner with the screenshots. “It’s not fucking about you, and if you keep saying shit like ‘Man, I’m not trying to be selfish or inconsiderate,’ then you’re fucking being selfish and inconsiderate already. She’s here. She’s not going anywhere. She’s not treating you like shit. Or leading you on. Or disappearing. Or being mentally or physically trash to you.

“I’ve seen you through this shit, man. You put in work for years for a woman who used to shit on you for the way you looked. And the way you dressed. And the fact that you always had no money, cause you were spending it on your fucking family. That bitch sent you to the ER. Cause y’all had some argument and she took it too far. She ain’t shit. Grace ain’t shit, my dude.”

He got his own second and third beers. “They all weren’t shit. And that’s not on you. You can’t put other people’s stupid shit on you.”

It didn’t hurt when he said that. I just felt bad. Not a new emotion, but I felt bad for a different reason. People find themselves spending so much time trying to please others just because. Because they’re pretty. Because they dress well. Because they have some swag, rock Louboutins or some sort of swag. Because they have some air about them, some damned je ne sais quoi.

If only any of that stuff could tell you if those material things correlated to how they treat you. Do they smile when you hit them up? Or take time out to check on you after a shit morning? Or understand when you’re being (or feeling like you’re being) a bit too much, too expressive of how you feel about them, and not hold it against you? I’d wonder when I’d eventually find a person that would, and now I was whining to my best friend because things can’t go my way.

That’s not love. Love isn’t about the self, and it’s not for the selfish, and will spit you out in your own tears if you couldn’t get it through your head.

Today, people don’t date for longer than a month. “You sure?” Allie would probably say, almost like she did on our first date. “I just don’t think people don’t date period.” Through horn-rimmed glasses, mocha-hued irises, and a burgundy-tinted smile, she got me that night.

And I’d probably smile back. I did that night, and the thought made me smile now. “They don’t. They’re not willing to put the work in.”

“Yeah! That’s what’s wrong with love. Modern love anyway.”

“People don’t put the work in anymore, Fletch.”

I was back in the present, and my right hand man polished off another beer bottle. “They’re not willing to put work into something that might be worth it.”

“Think she’s worth it?”

“Don’t you think I should ask you that?”

I shrugged. “Ask away.”

“You think she’s worth you getting out of your own way?”

I nodded. To that, he raised his now-empty beer bottle. “Cheers to putting the work in for someone good. Even if it’s just standing by and chilling the fuck out until she’s ready.”

“Fuck you.” That elicited a laugh.“Cheers to trying to get this love shit right.”

If people could in the 60s, 70s, at Woodstock, why couldn’t I?