It’s good to hear from you after all these years. To answer your question she said I love you like it was a secret. She had said it like that since the first time she had told me. We were in the shower and she hadn’t really meant it. I had, but it didn’t reach her eyes that first time. She meant it the second time, but she still said it like it was taboo. That was over ten years ago. She hasn’t told me for three years, five months, and going on four days. I tell her everyday. She and I had a falling out and everyone came out broken, body, mind, and soul. I never could seem to get over her, though I tried. There was definitely a period of self-destruction. Alcohol, gambling, drugs, women, I made sure to try every vice I could think of. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that she would just leave me, like I hadn’t been there for her for years, like I hadn’t taken care of her from the beginning. The signs were all there though, I knew what was happening even if I couldn’t bring myself to see it. It wasn’t always bad though.
The ice cream dripped over the edge of the cone and I caught it with my tongue before it reached my finger. I looked across the table to gauge whether or not I looked too foolish fighting an ice cream cone. She smiled a big toothy grin, then wiped her nose at me.
“You’ve uhh, got something right..” She trailed off and wiped her nose again.
“Oh, I, uh yeah” I stammered and grabbed a napkin to wipe my nose, silently berating myself for being so careless. I crumbled up the napkin and smiled back at her, which earned me a giggle.
“What?” I asked her.
“Nothing I’m just, I don’t know, I’m happy to be here.” She smiled and let out a sigh. “This is nice.”
First dates weren’t exactly my speciality. It was rare that I got one so I didn’t have much practice. To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure if it was a date. In the future we’d always refer to it as date .5. It was kind of spontaneous, and as far as dates go it was pretty lackluster. We had our ice cream, we left, then I dropped her off. No kiss, no deep conversation. It was like she had said.
“This is nice.”
Jeannette was fourteen when her dad’s sister got remarried. It was the summer after her freshman year of high school. The wedding was outdoors and she was wearing her green sundress. I didn’t love her then, I didn’t even know her, but I’d like to think I would have if I did; as much as any fourteen year old could love anyway. The wedding was almost picturesque. An hour before sunset the ceremony started and the patrons all watched on cheap white plastic chairs. Jeannette’s aunt, who I would meet twice, looked every bit the excited bride. Jeannette sat with her little sister and their cousin. The reception was held at Jeannette’s grandmother’s house. Jeannette says that it was the first time she had wine, though she didn’t have more than a taste. There was a live band, that played covers of 60’s and 70’s rock and roll. The back patio had become the dance floor.
Jeannette was laying on the couch in her grandmother’s living room. The reception was beginning to wind down, but a few people were still outside. A family friend asked Jeannette to help him load up some things into his car. She got up and followed him up the stairs towards the guest room where he said he had put his stuff. When she walked in behind him she didn’t see anything there that looked like it didn’t belong. That’s when he grabbed her arm and shut the door. He caressed her cheek and fear sank its teeth into her heart. He said if she screamed he’d hit her, hard.
Jeannette never told anyone who it was.
The rain came down in sheets. We looked out my car window and watched the evening plans follow the runoff into the gutter.
“Well”, I said, “I don’t really have a plan B.”
Jeannette looked at me and smiled, “I’m just happy to be with you.” She grabbed my hand and kissed my fingers.
“Do you have any ideas?” I asked her.
“Not particularly, I am hungry though.”
“Well we could always go get food.”
“I’d like some food.”
I almost asked her where she wanted to eat, then I had a better idea. I put the car in gear and began the drive back home. When we got close she began to get suspicious.
“Where are we going?”
“The Apartment,” I replied chuckling at my own cleverness. “The most exclusive italian joint in town, and to top it all off it’s cheap.”
She smiled at me and rolled her eyes.
She wore the blue dress that night. Her blonde hair framed her face just so. The cheap table cloth draped across the coffee table scratched against my slacks. The candle light bounced against the walls and ceiling. I looked at her from over the hastily arranged flowers we stole from the community garden. I’ve never made spaghetti as good since.
“I still can’t believe it sometimes” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t believe that we’re together. Sometimes it still seems surreal.”
“Jeannette it’s been over four years.”
“I know I know, but sometimes you’re still ‘hot Peter from crew’.”
I smiled reminiscing the days I spent rowing. “You’re still ‘popular Jeanie that’s way out of my league’.”
“No, you were the one that was out of my league. I honestly didn’t think we’d be anything until we got ice cream. I had a schoolgirl crush on you.”
“I’ve still got a schoolboy crush on you.”
When we finished our meal we ended up on the floor, her hair tickled my face and the carpet rubbed against my bare back. The dress and my shirt lay forgotten on the couch.
“I love you.” She whispered.
She was sprawled out in the middle of the road, arms spread eagle. It was at least 2:30, or 3:00. The dull street lights cast her in shadow. I stood, arms crossed thirty feet away. The alcohol in my system made the shadows bounce and jump a bit more than normal. She seemed so peaceful, so beautiful. Suddenly she got up and half walked, half ran into the shadows against the campus rec center. I cocked an eyebrow and walked towards her. She sat leaned against the cold bricks and had her knees tucked in. I dropped into a squat before her and looked at her face. She was sobbing.
“I’m so sorry.” she wailed. It was definitely an ugly cry. Tears streaked down her cheeks and snot dripped from her nose.
“I didn’t want you to see me like this.” She said.
“It’s ok, it’s ok.” I told her. “It’s all going to be ok.”
“I can’t, I just can’t do this.”
“Yes you can, it’s alright.”
“I’m so sorry.” She started to tear at the ground then at her hair.
“No, no, no, grab me. Hold onto me.” She grabbed my arm and squeezed. I held her face in my hands and forced her to look at me. “We’re gonna get through this, me and you ok?”
“Yes you can, me and you.” She buried her face in my hands. “Who’s gonna get through this?” She let out a sob as a response. “Huh? Who? Tell me who.”
“We are.” she whimpered.
“That’s right. We can do this. I’ve got you. I’m here.”
She cried for a good twenty minutes. I held her the whole time. Eventually she returned to normal and dried up her face. She smiled at me.
“I’m sorry.” She said. “This doesn’t always happen.”
“It’s ok.” I assured her. “I’ll always be there when it does.”
“I just thought of all the bad things and I couldn’t stop.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about then.
I scratched at my bare chest absentmindedly as I browsed the internet. She lay in my bed writing a paper. I felt her eyes on the back of my head. I swiveled my chair around to look at her. She gave me a soft smile.
“Nothing, you’re just handsome.”
“Well I appreciate the compliment as usual, but you need to write your paper.”
She let out a huff and started typing again, then she stopped.
“I’m scared of what’s going to happen after college.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“I don’t know, you’re going to grad school next semester and I’ll still be here…”she trailed off.
“Well I don’t even know where I’ll be, can we talk about this later?”
“This is later.”
I stood up and walked over to her. I grabbed her hand and looked her in the eyes. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, but what I do know is that I love you, and whatever happens next semester, or next year, or next millennium, won’t change that. We’ll work it out.” She gave me a soft smile and I pecked her on the lips. I returned to my chair. I glanced at Jeannette’s phone that was charging on my desk.
“Jeannette,” I started
“Uhhh,” I paused “how much do you have left?”
“A couple pages.”
We all have our secrets.
Jeannette was home by herself that night. There was two empty wine bottles on the kitchen counter. She was curled up on the floor pulling at her hair. Blood ran on the floor and leaked out of her palms. Tears dripped off of her chin and mixed with the glass shards and spilled wine. She sobbed into the loneliness.
My dad had given me a handgun when we first moved into the apartment. He told me he hoped that we’d never have to use it, but that would feel safer knowing that we had it. Jeannette raised it to her temple. I know she apologized to me, despite the absence that would keep me up at night and haunt my sleep. She pulled the trigger.
I found her, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear apart that whole apartment apart looking for another bullet. I knew there were others. She must have thrown them out and kept just the one. I lay next to her holding her lifeless body and cried myself to sleep. I woke a little less than an hour later. They later explained to me that I called the authorities and tried explaining the situation, but I was in shock and was taken to the hospital. I don’t remember the funeral, or anything leading up to it. I stayed with her family the few weeks after, then moved back in with my parents. I took the rest of the semester off, and started into my downward spiral of vices. That was three years, five months, and four days ago now. I wish she’d tell me her secret again. Whisper ‘I love you’ to me one more time.
With much affection,
Your bestest friend
The night was slipping through my fingers like sand. We held each other under the canopy of stars, and counted to seconds. We’d have to say goodbye for quite some time tomorrow and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to let go.
“What does it feel like when you hold me?” she asked.
I thought for a moment trying to capture the impossible feeling in something so feeble as words.
“It feels like I’m home.”