Page 94 of We Were Once

“I will. Love you, too.”

Setting the phone back down, I close my eyes again, my lids begging for more rest, but my brain kicking into gear, wide-awake. I roll to my other side and pull the pillow over my head. Snuggled in, I exhale, sinking into the couch cushions though I’m not finding the same satisfaction.

Turning over, I lie on my back, adjusting the pillow under me to give it one last solid effort, but aggravation starts setting in. I sit up and punch the pillow as if it’s the cause of my sleeplessness. It’s easier to blame than the schedule I personally agreed to. I know getting up now will make the night feel like it’s lasting twice as long, but I might as well make the most of the day.

I shouldn’t find as much pleasure as I do when I open the curtains each day, but when I see Frankie and Hemsworth, I can’t help but smile. Bending down, I say, “Good afternoon. How are you today?” I give each of their trunks a little stroke and then dip my finger into the pot to check the soil.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Frankie, but you’re a little on the dry side, and I think you’ve outgrown your pot. Again. You’re almost as tall as Hemsworth and he’s standing straight up.”

Carrying the two plants to the sink, I let them share their weekly soak. Since bringing them together six years ago, they’ve been inseparable ever since. Mainly due to the fact that they’re plants and have no choice but to humor me with their presence. But I don’t dwell on negativity, if I can help it.

After I get them sorted out, I double knot my laces, and I’m on the treadmill before I have time to second-guess if I should try sleeping in my bedroom instead. I blow that idea off. I haven’t slept in there for months. Drowning out the noise after a long shift is best done in front of the TV. Any movie will do and I’m out before the first commercial break.

I increase the speed and run. I run so hard that when I cross forty minutes, I’ve almost covered seven miles. I slow the belt down and hold my sides that ache with a cramp. Memories of my broken rib come back, and I’m swift to move my hand. No good will come of me revisiting memory lane. I hit the stop button and step off.

After downing a glass of water, I wipe the sweat rolling down my forehead and then the back of my neck while staring out the window. I refill my glass and drink while examining the lives inside the tiny New York fishbowl apartments across the street. Mine’s no bigger, but it’s way less interesting.

There’s the balding guy who wears Hawaiian shirts and nothing underneath three windows over and one down.

And then there’s the apartment directly across from mine. He rides his Peloton like he’s in the Tour de France after a long day wherever he works that requires tailored suits and expensive watches. I might have pulled my binoculars out once to properly inspect the situation. What can I say? I may have sworn off dating, but I’m not a nun.

He’s too angry to keep track of anymore. Cute, but yells into his phone a lot.

The four-lane street below is wide enough to give people a false sense of security that they actually have privacy. Or maybe they just stopped caring like me. It’s easy to believe you can disappear in the city. I doubled down and vanished from my own life. I’m only now starting to see a semblance of the life I used to have before the accident.

I go to work, come home, burn off the stress on my treadmill or with a run in the park, and sleep, not giving myself time to miss anything I used to do, or have. It’s not an exciting life, but it’s mine, the one I chose to create for myself. The one that keeps my body and mind too busy to think about what’s missing—friends, my dad, the life I knew growing up, Ruby when she’s not in town, a significant other, Jos—I stop myself before the name escapes my thoughts.

Squeezing my eyes closed, I try my best to forget the life I only had a taste of before having to give it up. It’s selfish to indulge when he faced horrific consequences from being with me. I drown the memories under the warm water pummeling my shoulders, begging to have one day that doesn’t have my mind drifting to a past I’m not even sure existed. Today, apparently, is not that day.

To please my mom, I get dressed and get out. If I don’t have an alibi of living a “fuller” life as she calls it, the harassment will be insufferable. Sipping coffee at a corner restaurant may not be exciting, but it will appease her. For now.

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance