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How We Ended
The lounge is blaringly quiet. I’m sitting on one of the tables, my knees tucked tightly to my body, waiting for him to arrive. I glance at my phone, checking the time. It flashes 3:39, ten minutes past when I asked him to meet me here. I yawn, desperately needing sleep. It’s two weeks before the end of the school year, and I’m too tired to deal with him, but I continue waiting. I frown at my surroundings, the room I’ve grown so familiar with. The chairs are scattered around the room, removed from their original places. The pale yellow walls are dimly lit under one set of lights and the paleness of the moon. The darkness seeps around me, pulling my mind into a hazy sleep. When I hear the click of the door, I jump. His jaw locks as he offers an empty hello. My heart continues thumping, racing against the thoughts in my head. All I can manage is to say hi back, waiting for him to loosen up. When he doesn’t, I look up into his eyes.
“What do you want?” he asks.
“I want you to talk to me. Yell at me. I don’t care, just talk to me.”
I feel the tears welling up in my eyes, so I quickly dart my focus to the floor.
“It doesn’t matter,” he snaps, “I’m so done.”
“Please, just tell me what happened? I can try to explain, to fix this.”
I plead with him, but he remains cold, rigid.
“Right. Like you always do.” His voice rises, echoing through the empty room.
“You’ll come up with some great excuse about why you ignore my texts. Blame everything on someone else, because you think I’ll never find out about it. Kate told me these things. She brought them up, not me. How is it that you two have completely different stories on everything?”
He stares straight at me and shakes his head. “I’m done, Renee.”
“So you just assume anything she says is true over me? I’m supposed to be your best friend!”
“I don’t care anymore,” he sighs, “I’m just done. You’re a liar.”
He turns on his heels and leaves the lounge, allowing the bright light from the hallway to flood in. I feel numb thinking about everything he said, about all the moment’s he’s repeated the phrase “I’m done.”
Mid-September, Casino Night takes over the basement lounge of our building. Weary smiles and anxious eyes flood the room, checking out the competition not only for the night, but for the larger game of Assassins taking place. We were graciously granted an “amnesty day”, finally being able to relax. In the front edge of the room, a giant banner hangs across the wall, decorated with thousands of playing cards and poker chips. Around the room, each table hosts a different game, from poker to roulette, black jack to bridge. I wander for a few moments, checking out each table before making eye contact with one of the RAs. Ryan smiles, and then quickly runs over to talk to me.
“There you are,” he laughs, “have you decided to talk to me yet?”
“We are talking,” I smile.
“You know what I mean,” he lowers his eyebrows and stares at me, “I could help you.”
“I’ve got all the help I need, Ryan. And I know you’re rooting for Chance, why would I trust you?”
As we chat about the game of Assassins, an unfamiliar face joins us. I’m drawn to his smirk; he seems not to care about the surrounding event. He stands comfortably in jeans and a black t-shirt, with the words “LIAR (It takes one to know one)” etched across the front. I smile when I realize it’s a shirt of one of my favorite bands. His dark black hair hangs across his forehead, falling across his eyebrows in a slant. I laugh, thinking that if anyone else had his hair, it would look ridiculous, but his tan skin works well against the solid black fluff. Square-framed Oakley’s trace the outline of his eyes, the rims tucked neatly beneath his shaggy hair. He chats quietly with Ryan for a few seconds and then looks at me.
“So you’re Renee,” he begins, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Oh?” I question, biting my lip.
“Yeah,” he laughs, “I’d say I’m just checking out the competition, but you really aren’t any.”
My eyebrows furrow, and I look up to see him chuckling.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” I snap.
With a final smirk, he turns around and returns to his friends without introducing himself. I turn to Ryan, asking about the mysterious boy. Ryan laughs and then tells me his name. Later, he gives me one final piece of advice: “Don’t trust him though, he’s a liar.”
By November, I’ve grown accustomed to him staking claim on my room. We spend hours talking about different bands that we’ve seen live, comparing our wish lists, and sharing new music. We listen to each other talk, learning about who we were before we came to college, taking comfort in the presence of each other’s company. On many occasions, he dances around the room, jumping from one foot to another, wrapping himself up in my blankets until he trips over his own two feet and falls into a pile on the floor. I laugh uncontrollably, familiar with this charade, until one day, he decides to pull me down onto to ground, trapping me beneath him.
I breathe in nervously. His eyes linger above me, and he taps his fingers against the crook of my elbow.
“You know, I’m not going anywhere,” he whispers.
“I know,” I smile.
“You’re the best thing that’s happened to me here,” he smiles back, and then pauses. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”
His eyes scan mine. Slowly, he lowers his head, leaving a gentle, patient kiss on my forehead.
I begin to stutter, trying to say something, anything, when a pillow hits me in the face. I look up at him, recognizing his dorky smile.
By December, we have a routine. He finds me in the mornings, when everyone else has already gone to breakfast and forgotten to invite me; he shows up at my door at midnight, when we’re both too anxious to sleep, too consumed by our own thoughts. When my roommate demands peace, we move to the lounge. At four am, everything comes pouring out of us: words we’re too afraid to tell anyone else, the nagging thoughts that keep us awake at night, the relationships we both left behind, and the desperate need to feel wanted again. There’s no filter between us, no need to hide our vulnerability. I once heard someone say that the only person who can stand alone is the one who has come to accept the truth about their self, and that we as human beings disguise the emptiness we feel with friendship. When I realize I’ve allowed him to become the most important person in my life, I shove the thoughts down, as deep as they can go, ignoring that what we have isn’t a normal friendship, and that perhaps I rely on him because I can’t be alone. I was quick to accept his company, quick to need him in my life.
I laugh when my friends ask if we’re dating, or why we aren’t.
“It’s not like that,” I reply, “we’re just friends.”
But in the back of my mind, I know that I’m lying.
There’s no denying how much he reminds me of my relationship that just ended, no denying how much I treat him like he’s something more.
When he brings up Christmas break, I try desperately to change the subject. He promises that we’ll Skype all the time, and although I know he means well, as we spent every night of Thanksgiving Break chatting until sunrise, there’s an anxious, achy feeling rooted deep in my stomach, telling me it won’t last this time. So I cling to our final weeks together, hoping they can last me through our month apart. After hours of mindless conversation, he asks if he can use my computer to check his score on an exam. I hand over my laptop, and then run to the bathroom. When I come back, he’s staring at the screen.
“How’d you do?” I ask, smiling at him.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he replies.
“Oh,” I frown, “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” he adds.
I wait for a few moments, not sure what to say.
Finally, I try, “It’ll be okay.”
In a matter of moments, he explodes into a rant about how terrible his life is. He rages for what seems like an hour, tearing himself apart.
“I might as well drop out now,” he finishes.
“You can’t,” I plead, “It’ll be okay. You’ll make it up on your final.”
“No, I’m just going to drop out,” he finishes.
I try to convince him that he’s thinking irrationally, that one bad grade won’t ruin his college career, but he continues fueling the fire, shouting about how he’s not going to come back after the end of the semester. I finally ask him to remember all that he has in his current life, all the good things he’d be missing out on.
“None of it matters,” he screams, throwing his empty soda bottle.
“None of it?” I question.
“Nothing that I’d miss. I don’t care anymore,” he continues.
“Nothing, not one thing?” I hint. He stares at me, not understanding. “Not me?” I finally blurt out.
He looks up, catching my gaze. His eyes lock on mine, and the words calmly empty from his lips.
“Not even you. You never mattered.”
I stare at him, trying to process his words. At first, it’s foggy, like there’s a giant wall blocking the words from reaching my brain, trying to protect me from whatever he said, but then the wall crashes into me, throwing the words around with even more weight. I feel the sweat trickling down my palms, my heart pumping against my chest beating faster, faster, faster. It infects me like a virus, rushing through my blood, pulling on my nerves, plucking them with all their might, infecting each and every cell in my body.
“Get out.” I scream. “Now.”
I move closer to him, my fist shaking. I feel the words coming up before I even think to say them. They erupt into the room, angry and broken. “Everything you’ve ever said to me is a lie.”
As I watch the sunrise, I realize how long I’ve been sitting in the lounge, half expecting him to come back and apologize. But in the bitter hours that he doesn’t, I begin to think about our friendship, and how none of it seemed to matter to him anymore. In attempt to save us from destruction, I think of all the things I can do to earn his forgiveness. It doesn’t matter in the end, though; he shuts me out for a week, not even acknowledging my presence when we see each other in public, and instead of trying, I let whatever we had slip away.
A few hours before my last final, his text arrives. I’m sitting in the lounge, headphones in my ears, blasting music to drown out my thoughts, pretending to study. I realize that, in spite of his absence, I’ve had to come to terms with my own flaws. I’m forced to question why he was the most important person in my life, and why I’m not. I’m forced to accept that I need him because I’m afraid of being alone, that in the quietness of his absence, my mind wanders to all of the things I don’t like about myself.
So when asks if we can meet up, to talk things out and go back to how we used to be, I know I have to answer him. I tell myself that, in his absence, I’m going to change all of those things, and I’m going to make myself a priority in my own life.
“Sorry,” I type, “I’ve already left.”
It’s another white lie, causing the end of our friendship. I decide that habit will be the first to go.