It was supposed to be you.
Champagne. Twinkling lights. A new red dress. You and me.
Instead I find myself looking into his deep green eyes instead of your warm brown ones on New Year’s Eve. The clock seems to go forward and back.
He looks at me the way you were supposed to. And I don’t stop him. It feels nice to have someone brush the hair away from my eyes gently, smile at me eagerly, slide his hand over my hip slowly. The way you were supposed to.
It was snowing. Big fat flakes, a wet December blizzard. I was walking to see you. You’d been gone for what felt like years, but it had only been six weeks. I had wanted to see you for so long, but now my feet moved like bricks of ice. I wanted to turn around, have one more day to prepare or to sort out what I should say. I used to love you and now I was afraid of you and what you might say. I started playing our goodbye over in my head for signs of what went wrong.
It was a hot day unlike this one. Before you left you held my hands on a strangely sweltering June morning. There were mosquitos eating my bare legs but I barely noticed. The pain in front of me was worse than the endless itch the bites would cause later that week. Though your effect on me was basically the same as the mosquitoes. I couldn’t forget about you, or the mark you left on me when you said goodbye. Stupid me. I was so stupid, having exposed myself to you.
“I love you. I’ll be back in no time. We’ll decorate the tree together.” You said.
“Be safe. Stay hydrated out there in the desert.”
I smacked your arm and laughed in spite of the tightness in my heart.
“I love you too.”
As summer unfolded I kept meeting a good friend at the restaurant. He played in a shitty band that I’d go watch just to drink and support him. He was funny and weird and not at all like you. I liked that, since you were the one I was trying to forget.
The letters kept coming, but they got shorter and less like you. Less like your voice. It was more like reading a short news bulletin in the final months. Your computer stopped working for face-to-face chats, or so you wrote bluntly in one of your long awaited letters of only a few sentences. I finally looked at your ‘study abroad’ group’s photos online and saw you and her in them. You with her. I know you weren’t doing anything in them, but I knew just the same. You were always touching her, wearing plaid shirts like her, holding two water bottles when she held none. You were both smiling more than everyone else in the photos. I knew. You knew. But neither of us said anything. We just wrote increasingly boring letters until the last one.
Coming home Thursday. My dad’s picking me up. See you Saturday. We’ll talk then.
We’ll talk then.
So there I was, walking in the blizzard. I started to realize I didn’t even want to see you. I wanted to see my friend from the restaurant. He always made me feel better and you made me feel like shit. When I reached your house you hugged me in an obligatory way, distant and stiff. We sat on the front porch steps. Apparently despite the cold I wasn’t worthy of an invitation inside anymore. Who knows? Maybe she was inside now. Our talk went as we both knew it would go. I never thought you’d be a cliché. I never thought I’d fall for a guy who was. But I suppose matching shirt-wearing, too weak to carry her own water bottle girl, fell for you too. Sucks for her.
As I walked away back to my house, I felt relieved. The conversation was over and I could stop worrying about what you would say. I could pick up my life and move on.
Now here I am on New Year’s Eve, leaning in to someone who should have been you. His caring green eyes get sleepy looking as he presses his forehead to mine. He stands and holds out his hand. He wears his band’s shirt, the one I went with him to get silk-screened. It looks objectively terrible but I find myself feeling proud of him for doing what he loves. Later tonight he’ll be playing a new song, one that I know all the words to. He says something that’s sweet and funny at the same time, the way he always does, and I feel good like I always do when I’m with him. He tells me I’m his best friend. His words are the best words I’ve ever heard. He is more than you ever were. I am more than I ever was with you. Maybe things actually worked out the way they were supposed to.
The clock ticks forward.