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Guest godthedog

"Before the Age of Twenty"

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Guest godthedog

bored on sunday night, & no topics to regularly post in that interest me so i thought i'd put this up. it's a story i wrote last summer over the course of about three weeks. i don't really expect any replies to this, cause it's really fucking long (around 15,700 words), but if anyone's bored enough to take it on, go right ahead. you enter at your peril though, cause it's really fucking long, and rather uneven (i haven't gotten around to editing or rewriting); some of it i think is really good, & sometimes the prose is really awkward and ugly, & sometimes the story drags.


regardless, here it is, part 1:




She set the needle on the groove, perfectly. A hiss came over the speakers, then silence. She held her breath during the silence, the rush of music at the beginning of the record always startled her. There it was. She gasped, got chills. She stood at the stereo frozen, not even listening to the music, only feeling those chills. The song went by so fast, she wished it was longer. It wasn't over, but the first verse was already through. She sang along with the chorus, and her cheeks flushed. It was still going, her feelings were going at the same pace as the song and her thoughts couldn't keep up with her feelings. The second verse, the part about the Father who doesn't care, she never understood, but she still loved it. And she loved the melody and the music and it was such a joy to listen to. The chorus came again, she sang along and listened to the emotion in the music and the vocals of the song. The chorus was the most quotable part of the song, she loved that, it was short and stood on its own so well. When the woman in the song died alone in the third verse, it always moved her to tears. She just couldn't help it, it made her feel so sad and empathetic and scared all at once. At the funeral when nobody came, she always thought, "That's me." By the final chorus and the one-bar coda, she was weeping freely. It was over so quickly. She always wondered how such a sad song that made her cry so much could be such a thrill to listen to. It was bliss to listen to, it was the most intense experience she could have. She wished the lyrics weren't so sad and didn't remind her of herself so much. The song was about loneliness, and it always made her sad to listen to it but it also made her feel like she wasn't alone. That song was such a personal thing for her, she could never listen to it with anyone else. As long as the song was playing, she was safe. But the song was over now, and she was still there. At that moment she wished she was a song, because they only had to

exist for two or three minutes at a time. Her mind wandered somewhat away from the song, but she was still crying. She sat on the floor and cried while the record kept playing. She felt sorry for the song. For the song to exist, it had to be played and listened to, otherwise it was only a set of grooves on a piece of vinyl. It had to be acknowledged, just like people. People needed something to let them know they exist, but a song couldn't let her know she existed. It didn't even know she existed. She wished someone could have been there listening to the song with her. She wished she hadn't listened to the song in the first place, then she wouldn't still be crying. The song was over, but she was still there, and she was alone in the room, and she didn't know if she existed now, and she couldn't understand how she could be there and not exist. Her favorite song had made her think that she may not exist. She giggled a little at that. The woman in the song had no one to say she existed, so she stopped existing. Even after she died, no one could say that she'd existed in the first place. She stood up and touched the record. It was cold, and touching it made the needle scratch across the vinyl. If she didn't exist, she couldn't have made it scratch. She did exist, but it didn't make her feel any happier. She wanted to go to sleep and forget about all of it. She let the record go on spinning, left the light on, and crawled in to bed.



His bed was cold. Soon it would be too hot. He couldn't stand it when his bed was too hot. It made him forget how tired he was. He kicked off the covers and bunched them up at the foot of his bed with his feet. Now it was perfect: not cold, not hot, just cool. Now he was alone in bed, with nothing to do but think. He thought about the girl he'd met three weeks ago. The first time they met he didn't think she was that attractive: kind of attractive, but nothing exceptional. And now, every time he saw her he thought about how much better she looked each time. The best kind of girl, the kind who grows on you like that. In the last week, that was all he'd thought about in bed: her. She was different. And not different in the imaginary, superficial way that guys made themselves believe when they said to someone, "You're not like other girls." She was intelligent, she was deep, she was self-deprecating. She never tried to have any charm with anyone, she knew who she was and that was what she let everybody see. And she could be so personal: they'd had the most wonderful, brutally honest conversations. About relating to other people, about their flaws, about secrets. She didn't really seem to have any secrets. She was up front about everything. The way she treated her flaws actually made it seem like she had no flaws. She was amazing. He wondered if he would still be interested in her if he wasn't alone, if he hadn't always been alone. Even if he was with someone, she would probably strike him as someone to remember. She seemed so...ideal. It was as if he had learned (so slowly and painfully) to shy away from the people in the foreground who were beautiful and popular and gain an interest in the people who were different, only because it had all been leading up to her. As if she was the ultimate end of all this, to say, "This is the reason I like girls like this." And still, he could never seem to say any of this to her; even though almost

all their conversations revolved around being simple, direct, honest. She could always tell him how she was feeling at any given time. He couldn't, because the way he felt always had something to do with her. And it killed him that he couldn’t tell her. Especially lately, whenever they said goodbye he got depressed because it hadn't been the time when he could tell her how he felt. He knew she was lonely, and afraid of being alone, and lonely people seem to draw together and attract each other. But he didn't think she felt any attraction, so he couldn't tell her. Sometimes he thought she felt something, sometimes he didn't. This process kept going on in his mind, back and forth. It was impossible to tell. He could relate to her, but she seemed so inaccessible. Like the loneliness: she said she had a deep, profound loneliness, but he didn't think she'd understand the kind of absolute loneliness in his life and be scared away by it. She claimed to be afraid and lonely, but she'd had boyfriends, girlfriends...she knew what it was like to be attached to someone. He'd never known that, ever. And so, she didn't know what it was like to have this kind of loneliness: the fear of always being alone, and the sureness that he would always be alone...having never even experienced a real kiss from another person...having never in his life gotten the assurance that anyone ever felt the same way about him as he did about them...having experienced rejection every time he let someone know how he felt. And all this history made him ask: No one has ever felt the same way for him as he for them, why should she? Why should she understand the awkwardness from his complete lack of experience? Every time in his experiences, he was simple, direct and honest with whoever he felt something for, and every time he was met with rejection. Why would being simple and direct and honest about his feelings change her lack of affection? She was so simple and direct and honest, wouldn't she have told him by now if she felt anything? He couldn't tell her, but he had to tell her. He could

not stand her not knowing for this long. Was he even sure of the way he felt? It always seemed so cut and dry when he was thinking about her in bed, but when he was around her everything became so hazy. The last time he saw her she seemed more unattainable than she'd ever been; it convinced him he'd been stupid to feel anything at all, and instead of feeling that basic joy of being around her and that yearning to be closer to her, he just felt numb. He knew the numbness was a result of feeling something for her, it just hurt to see her as so unattainable. He had to stop that, he had to at least tell her, just to know something for sure. Even if nothing good came out of it (and nothing good had ever seemed to come out of simply telling someone how he felt), she had to know.




She put her head in the pillow and squeezed the pillow. She wouldn't be able to go to sleep for a while, she'd be thinking about him too much to sleep. She'd finally found him. She wouldn't have to be alone for the rest of her life. For a short while she'd been afraid she would always be alone, some of her friends had each found someone and told her how wonderful it was, she didn't want to be left behind while her friends all found someone, but now she didn't have to worry about that anymore. It had just...happened. She still couldn't believe it. She'd known him for a while and he'd always been sweet, but she never would've thought it would be him. And she was so glad it was him, it could never have been anyone else. She realized that now, and she silently thanked him for realizing it before she did. Sometimes now the nights were a little lonely, only because he wasn't there. Sometimes she actually found herself crying at night because she missed him so much and he wasn't there, even though she'd always see him the next day. She thought it was beautiful that she did that, it showed just how much she loved him. Once she'd asked if he ever cried because he missed her and he'd said no. She'd been a little hurt by that, but now she saw that it was only because she was such a passionate person. Every time he made it clear that he loved her, it made her want to love him a thousand times more. He'd said that his last girlfriend had hurt him before, and he was still getting used to trusting people again. It was really admirable that he trusted her as much as he did, it showed he really loved her. Just thinking about it made her want to love him a thousand times more. She wished she had him here right now to squeeze and tell how much she loved him. She wished she could just call him to let him know how much she loved him. God, she loved him. More than anything, she loved the way he made her feel every time she was around him.

He didn't even have to do anything, he just had to be there; that was enough for her to feel like the luckiest person in the world. That's how she knew it was real. When he wasn't doing anything, just being around her, he wasn't trying to impress her or put up a front. It wasn't how he made himself appear that made her feel loved, it was how he really was. The feeling she got was her heart telling her that this was the one. She was sure of it, because her heart couldn't deceive her on a scale this big. God wouldn't deceive her on a scale this big, He meant for them to find each other. More than anything else, she felt lucky around him. Love, real love, was so rare. Lots of people look for real love their whole lives and never find it. And her she was, so young, already with the one she'd be with for the rest of her life. Everything else in her life was so unstable: her friends, her family, her future. But this one thing made her feel lucky, and it was more than enough to make up for everything else. He had been put on this Earth specifically for her to find, and she had been put on this Earth specifically for him to find. She was a part of something bigger than herself, she was a part of the natural order and purpose in the world. People were made to love each other, and she was fulfilling her purpose. Nothing else mattered, not even food, clothing or shelter. That was the small stuff, this was literally her reason for living. She knew she could spend her life fulfilling this purpose, it came so naturally to her and she would never get sick of it. Her heart would never stop letting her know that he was the one, and so her feelings would never let her tire of it. In fact, her heart would become more sure of itself as time went on, the feeling would grow, and she would love him even more through the years. She didn't want to go to sleep tonight. She only wanted to think about how much she loved him. Nothing she could dream about would be this good, because this was real. Even if she dreamed about him, the dream would be almost forgotten as soon as she woke up. And even if

she remembered the dream, it wouldn't make her feel as good as this, because she knew the dream wasn't real. She and he were real. Her parents each seemed to live in some kind of fantasy world, but she didn't need to. She only had to think about how good her life really was. Right then she made a promise to herself to never stop loving him, and to love him everyday. No petty fights or actions could be more important than love. Love was the most important thing, and she couldn't let herself ever forget that. Nothing on this Earth could deter her from what she was supposed to do, and she was supposed to love him. Eternally, unconditionally. She wondered if he'd told himself to do this, and decided he probably hadn't, because he was still having problems with trust. That was okay. They were meant to be together, so he would eventually make the same commitment. She couldn't wait for that moment to come, that would take them to an even higher level. Then he would be just as passionate as she was. She never wanted to stop being this passionate. No matter what she felt, whether she was lucky to have him or whether she missed him, it made her feel more alive than she'd ever felt. And she'd always be comforted by the thought that they were supposed to be together, and would always be together.




He crawled into bed and got in a fetal position. This was what he always did when he felt this alone, it was the only thing he really could do when he felt this alone. He knew it would happen, but somehow he'd hoped it would be different this time. He thought that she was different from everybody else, and he'd let himself believe that it meant she would have some reason to give him a chance. She didn't give him a chance, because he didn't know how to play the game. If you didn't know how to play the game, you weren't allowed in. That's all love really was to everybody else, a game. He'd always heard people gossiping about their relationships, saying things like, "Oh, he did x to me, so I was totally justified in doing y to him." She seemed so direct and honest, but that was evidently, just the character she played when she played the game. Deep down she was as shallow and heartless as everyone else. He should've known they would all be the same. That no one would ever want any part of him. Of course he knew, deep down, that no one would ever want him. It was just one of those things you felt inside, one of those things you just knew deep down and would never go away. Just like he knew all along deep down he'd be rejected again, even while he was telling her the way he felt and hoping against hope that this time would be different. He wasn't surprised at all when she said she didn't feel the same way, and somehow that lack of surprise made it hurt more. It hurt more because it made him feel so stupid for trying. It was like letting go of a ball in your hand and hoping it wouldn't fall. Then when she said she "appreciated" how honest and up front he was about the whole thing and she was glad it was out of the way now, he could tell she didn't mean any of it. Her body language and the way she moved her eyes gave it away, it just made her uncomfortable when he told her. Her appreciation was just a lie she fed him to make him believe

she cared about the way he felt, just a lie to make her feel better about herself. She probably had convinced herself that she actually cared about how he felt; she wasn't the kind of person who could ever admit to doing anything wrong. She only gave the appearance of being direct and honest, it was just part of her act. She probably believed it too, to make lying to herself easier. She'd probably made herself believe that when she didn't want to talk to him for a while, it really was because she didn't know how to deal with his feelings for her. Even though it was a lie and she only did it to cut herself loose from him before she went out with someone else, so that she wouldn't feel guilty. That was what hurt the most: being told that he was a great guy and that she just didn't want to be with anybody for a while, only to find out a week later that she was now seeing somebody. She didn't have the courage to tell him she was repulsed by the idea of being with him, so she just lied to him. Then later, she was repulsed by the very idea of him having feelings for her, so she stopped talking to him. She never even told him she was seeing somebody, he had to find out secondhand. She was worse than all the others, because the others were all obvious about being cold and shallow; she deliberately tried to not seem cold and shallow. She pretended to have principles. She didn't want to be with someone who was honest and didn't think like everyone else; she wanted to be charmed off her feet and lied to. He could never be charming, he had no tact. For a while he'd thought he could make an art out of it, having some kind of weird appeal in his awkwardness, but it didn't work. He wasn't one of them, never could be. He never wanted to anyway. He'd rather be alone and genuine than fake and surrounded by lots of other fake people, because at least he knew himself. Nobody else could face who they really were, they could never admit how shallow and useless they were. They were so blind. And deep down they were all probably as unhappy as he was. They didn't all lie awake at night thinking

about how miserable they were, but their lives were still empty. They weren't actually looking for love or companionship, just someone to use until they got bored with them. He didn't want to live like that. He didn't want to be alone either, but he didn't have a choice in that matter. What he really needed to do was just deal with that and stop hoping that things would change. He would always be socially inept, nothing was ever going to change.




She turned the lights out and tried to not think about any of it. She'd gone over it and over it in her head, she knew what went wrong and why it went wrong, she just...couldn't understand how this was happening to her. It wasn't supposed to happen, she'd told herself even while it was going on that it wasn't supposed to happen. Why wasn't that enough? Couldn't he see that this didn't mean she didn't love him? In fact, it was because she did love him; she'd tried to explain that it only happened because she hadn't seen him in so long and she had missed him. She'd regretted it the minute after it happened, even while it had been happening, and told him about it the next day. She'd needed comfort, she'd been crying all night needing someone to tell her everything was going to be okay and that they still loved each other and that they always would. That was all she'd needed, some comfort from him, and he didn't give her anything. He didn't understand what real love was, not like she did. He couldn't, otherwise how could he have reacted like that? Their love was supposed to conquer this, it was supposed to be stronger than this. His purpose in life was to love her. He'd even said that, and it had made her feel so good inside, even better than she'd felt when she would tell him her purpose in life was to love him. He couldn't disregard his purpose in life because of this one thing. This one thing didn't change the fact that they had to love each other always. He'd said it did change it, but he was wrong. How can you change something that will always be true? She knew it would always be true, just as surely as she knew what her name was. He'd told her he knew it as deeply as she did. She asked him about that, and he said that now it was clear he didn't really know her. How could he say that? How could he say something like that to deliberately hurt her? She knew he'd only said it to hurt her, because she knew that he knew it wasn't true.

Because he did know her, better than anyone else had ever known her, better than her own parents. They'd told each other every-thing: absolutely everything. That was why she'd had to tell him about what had happened, because they had to tell each other everything. Couldn't he understand that she'd only told him because she loved him so much? Why did he have to hurt her like that in return? After she'd told him, all he did was yell at her. For ten minutes he yelled at her, till he was hoarse, thinking of every spiteful thing he could say. That she was worse than his last girlfriend, because she'd made him believe they were really made for each other only to destroy his trust yet again. That he'd probably never be able to trust anyone again, because of what she did, and that she ruined his life. That she was a whore, and that everything that came out of her mouth about how much she loved him was a lie. All she'd wanted was comfort and forgiveness, and he yelled at her. He didn't understand that real love had to be about forgiveness and about focusing on what was important. She'd told him that what had happened didn't mean anything, and he said that only made it worse. It couldn't make it worse, because if it didn't mean anything then it only proved how much she loved him. She would have forgiven him for this, a thousand times over. If he'd come to her crying, she would have done anything she could to make him feel better, no matter what he'd done. Because she loved him so much. Maybe he just didn't love her as much as she loved him, maybe he couldn't listen to his heart like she could. How else could she get him to listen, she would say over and over again how much she loved him and that she would never want to be with anyone else, and it didn't work. Why did he refuse to understand? Why couldn't he forgive her? Their love was stronger than anything. She would have forgiven him for anything and not thought twice about it, because nothing could ever diminish the importance of their love. She would rather live with that mark on their relationship than even dare to

think that they weren't meant for each other. With the mark on their relationship, she could still take comfort in the fact that she was made for him, and that was enough to make her go on living. To think that what they'd had didn't mean anything was too scary to think about, and it just wasn't true. If this wasn't true, then nothing was true. This had been the one truth she built her life around, and he took it away. She felt sorry for what she'd done, she would do anything to take it back, but that wasn't enough for him. She would sell her soul just to make him forget this, so that they could be happy again. She knew she wasn't supposed to do what she did, but she never thought she would lose him. You don't throw away your soul mate because of one night. He said he would always love her. He said he finally trusted her. He said everything in his life paled in comparison to her. He lied to her, he let her down, he betrayed her. He wasn't supposed to do this, didn't he know this would end up hurting him as much as it hurt her? When you're away from your soul mate, it hurts. The pain would never go away. She took a little comfort in the fact that he was going to hurt as much as she was, because maybe that would bring him back to her. She would forgive him for this, and they would be happy again. But it was so hard to think about that, because the pain was here now. It hurt so much, it felt like it would never go away. She knew it would, it had to because they eventually had to get back together. But it hurt now, and it hurt so bad. What would she do now, when her whole reason for living was gone? She tried to focus on the future, when they would be happy again. She was scared that if she didn't focus on that, she wouldn't want to live anymore. She had to focus on it, to stay alive. She had to do it for them.




He was tired. This had been a good day. The night before he'd been so nervous, telling himself over and over again what he would say and how he would do it...he'd told himself over and over again, "This is it, this is it." He'd even made himself forget about that feeling he always got, that feeling that he knew he'd be rejected because no one would ever want him. He'd blocked that feeling out and gotten himself to hope, genuinely hope, that she might say yes. It was the first thing he thought about this morning, and it gave him knots in his stomach all day. And then, when the time finally came, when he knew they'd see each other, she wasn't there. She was at home, sick. He should've felt cheated and disappointed, but he didn't. Instead he just felt relieved. He was glad she wasn't there, he didn't have to go through the routine again and stumble over his words and worry about what she was going to say. His chest felt ten pounds lighter, and the butterflies went away. After that, he didn't even think about her. He hung out at a friend's house till dinner, then watched TV, and now here he was. She didn't even cross his mind until now. Last night he'd been so sure that he was hopelessly enamored with her, and now he didn't even care about her. He could never see her again and it wouldn't matter to him. This was exactly what he needed. He didn't need her, he just needed to realize that he didn't need her. He knew that she'd just end up as another name to add to the list anyway. He didn't know that last night...he'd somehow managed to block it out, but it was obvious now, because the thing he'd always wanted so badly was never going to happen. It just wasn't in the cards for him, and that was finally okay. For whatever reason, he found himself not caring about it. And it instantly brightened everything up. This is what he'd needed all along; not some girl to come and break the pattern, but this realization, this peace of

mind. He had no idea how he'd gotten it, it had just come out of nowhere. He hadn't even thought anything like this was possible, he'd just believed that he would always have to live with this wanting of something without ever attaining it. The feeling had been so overwhelming, swallowing him up completely, that he'd thought it would never go away. But it did go away, and it made him feel weightless, like nothing could ever bring him down again. He would never let this bring him down again, because he would always remember how it felt to not be burdened with it. If he ever felt some kind of desire for someone else, he would just remember this night and this feeling, and he would realize it was this feeling that truly made him free. He wasn't bound by that desire to be with another person, he wasn't letting what some girl thought of him control his emotions. He didn't have to be bothered in his life by the fear of dying alone, because he knew now that there didn't have to be any loneliness in being alone. You were only being lonely if you wanted somebody. That was the deciding factor in loneliness, not whether or not you were with somebody. And now, since he was able to free himself from that want, he was free from the loneliness. He was free from the second-guessing, the stress, the rejections, the humiliation. Of course he knew he wouldn't have anybody for the rest of his life, but why should that matter when he didn't want to be with anybody? He no longer had to waste his life looking for "that special someone" (who he knew was never out there to begin with), and he could start thinking about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Who you were with only really changed one other person's like, but what you did with your life could affect...He could do something useful, and change more lives than he ever could with a marriage. Maybe he could try to teach people about this revelation he had, teach them that this was how to be free. It was like Buddhism, with all suffering being caused by fear and desire. If you eliminated this desire for

someone, and this fear of being alone, you became free of the suffering. He could make a difference with this, all his ex-periences with rejection were a blessing to him. This made all the pain worth it in the end, this proved that a greater good could come from so much emotional pain. He wouldn't have arrived at this revelation without all that rejection, and he was thankful for it now. That feeling that told him he would never be with anybody...it wasn't supposed to be a source of pain, it was trying to tell him that his purpose was elsewhere. He finally understood what that feeling meant, he treasured it. He could stop trying to fight it, going in circles of rejection. He didn't have to feel that emptiness of purpose like everyone else did, wandering around from person to person, hoping one of them could offer some kind of fulfillment. He could be happier than any of them, because he finally saw that he didn't need anyone to be happy. All the others put their happiness in another person. Other people were unreliable, they got bored with you or rejected you or cheated on you. When you had only yourself to rely on for strength...that was the key, relying on yourself. So amazing that this feeling had come out of nowhere. But the way his life was, it was inevitable. Because we all evolve. We throw away ideas that are no longer useful, and we develop new ones. He had evolved, he had discovered this new idea, it was better than any one person could ever make him feel.

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Guest godthedog

part two:




She turned off the TV and lay down. She'd finally found him. Thank God. She didn't have to wait any longer, she didn't have to look anymore. Her parents...she felt so sorry for them, they'd waited twenty-seven years to find each other, and they weren't even right for each other. After her first one, a mistake, she'd cried so much and been afraid of never getting over him and never really finding the one. She'd spent nights alone, in bed, wondering if she would be spending the rest of her life alone whenever she went to bed. Losing her first boyfriend so painfully had been bad enough, but way she'd lost him, never getting any closure and essentially never getting to talk to him again, it had made her so hopeless for the longest time. Thinking she would never find anybody again, pining that no one would be able to compare to him and she'd be disappointed with everyone she knew. It had taken her so many months to get over what had happened, she'd barely been able to think about anything else or even eat. But now she knew she would be okay, she had someone better and realized that this was the one. This was the one to keep, for the rest of her life. The first one had been so cold and distant sometimes, but he was just as passionate as she was. He knew he loved her, and always let her know it. He made her feel like the only person in the world that mattered. He understood her so well, she could tell him anything she was feeling and he'd never get upset at her. Right at the beginning, they'd had a talk about how her last relationship had ended, what she'd done wrong and about how she now understood that she'd really been selfish to expect immediate forgiveness for cheating, and that it was something that could seriously hurt or destroy a relationship, and he understood all of it. He told her that he used to think true love should also conquer something like that, but now he knew it meant that cheating really means not caring for

the other person, and that it wasn't worth holding on to if cheating was involved. And he didn't put any blame on her for cheating, he told her that it would have no bearing at all on his trust, that it didn't make her any less of a person and that he still loved her. She loved that he could love her through her flaws, the first one hadn't been able to accept her flaws. That wasn't real love, real love was acceptance of the flaws and not letting them get to you. That's what he did with her, and it made her love him all the more. She'd never have anything to hide from him, because he would accept it and not judge her for it. And she would never cheat on him. She'd learned her lesson, she knew how powerful it was and what it could do to people. She wondered if she would still be with him, had that incident never happened. She probably would, they would probably still be together. That was a scary thought; she might have still been in that relationship, which wasn't even real love. The scary thing was that neither one of them had known it wasn't real, and they probably would've mistaken it for love till they died. They wouldn't realize it was wrong until their lives were half over and they were unhappy and fighting. She would have wasted half her life on someone she hadn't even loved. As it stood, she'd wasted about a year (including the time it took to get over him). A year of her life, only to learn some stupid lesson about cheating and being naive, which she should have known in the first place. Why did she have to waste so much time on that? Why couldn't the first person you fall forever really be the only person you ever needed? Why was it arranged like this, why do people have to get hurt so much to be happy? She didn't take away anything from her first relationship but regret and a lot of pain. She could've easily lived without that, she could be just as happy with her boyfriend now without having lived through that hell. She would still know he was the one, and she would still be in love with every little thing he did. That part of her from her first

relationship was dead now. There was only the present, there was only him. It was so long ago, that pain she'd felt before didn't even seem real anymore. It seemed like someone else, like someone she'd seen on TV or someone one of her friends had told her about. That was scary, to think that a year of her life was wasted and gone, and had nothing to do with who she was now. But she supposed that was okay, because she had him now. There was no point in looking back at what might have been or what should never have been. She was happy now, and that was all that mattered. A whole chunk of her life didn't seem to matter anymore, but where she was now did matter. This was who she'd be with for the rest of her life, nothing else mattered. In fact, it was good that she had this chance to start over. She was lucky. Lots of people didn't get second chances like that. Lots were doomed to repeat the same mistakes forever. She felt good now, because she truly had someone to rely on and share everything with. And she would get to see him tomorrow, and they'd be okay.




He sat up and kicked off his covers. He'd been in bed for an hour and still couldn't sleep. He couldn't stop thinking about what had happened today and what he was going to do. Well...he knew he wasn't going to do anything, he couldn't do anything. He'd been trying to tell himself that for the longest time, and the only thing that made him forget was how hard it was to be alone. He'd never get any closer to what everyone else had, because no one would ever feel anything for him. This was the way it would always be, it was just something he had to get used to. But he couldn't get used to it, he kept trying and trying, but it hurt too much to get used to. It just couldn't be that he could go through life without feeling something for anyone else. That would be too easy for everyone, he could be in his world and the rest in their world, and they would never interact, everything would be fine. It couldn't be like that, it had to be difficult and painful. He had to keep falling for people who would never possibly fall for him, and he had to keep wanting to believe that there was someone who could make his pain go away. The want couldn't go away. What was wrong with him? Why did he deserve this? All the shallow people that didn't know anything, they never had to be alone. Did he really fall for them, or did he just not want to be alone? It didn't make sense that he just didn't want to be alone, because every time he fell for someone he knew he'd end up alone anyway. He felt so stupid for all of this, he was never going to learn. There was something horribly wrong with him and he didn't know how to fix it. Love was doing this to him, love was this sickness he had inside of him and he couldn't make it go away. Love didn't exist, except as something inside his mind that made him yearn for something he would never have, it was just an idea society had given him. He hated this idea, it was the source of all his misery, he wanted it out of his head, he

wished he'd never heard of it. It was an idea intended to make you feel special, it said that if you had a feeling for someone, it was because you were meant to be together. It made you believe that this person you shared affection with was the most important thing in your life, the only part of your life that meant anything. It was only sharing affection with someone, there wasn't any meaning in it. Only some imaginary meaning that people attached to it, to make themselves believe that their lives had purpose. It was reproduction, and that was all. He never wanted kids anyway, so it was useless to him. It was this thing he'd been taught to want. Like commercials for toys when he was small, they make you think you want them and that your life would somehow be better with them. This was just some fake desire, created in him by what he was taught, and had nothing to do with his happiness. He hated this idea of love for making him hurt so much not having it and never letting him have it. It was like a vision of Hell he'd read about where for eternity you're around a huge pot of soup and your arms are ladles, but they're too long for you to reach your mouth so you starve. He was living in Hell, this idea had turned his mind into Hell. How could he make this go away? Why couldn't he be able to love somebody? He knew all these problems were scarring him and he would keep him from ever really loving anybody...but what good would it do if he'd never have anyone? Why couldn't he have somebody, and at least be able to fool himself into thinking it was love? There were so many people that thought they were in love, and they were all just using each other to harbor that idea of love. It made him so sick. Those people who supposedly fell in love and couldn't justify their feelings, saying things like, "I can't explain it," and, "It's something you just know." What about what he "just knew," that knowledge he couldn't explain, which told him he would never find anybody? Was he supposed to trust that, like everybody else just trusted their affections, and never try to

find anyone? He didn't want to be alone, he was sick of being alone, he didn't want it to be like this. This feeling about always being alone, it was just some irrational feeling inside that he believed, just like love. It was something he told himself to explain what always happened to him: "I can't find anybody? It's because I'm just never meant to find anybody!" But since the idea of love was just as irrational as that, was it even worth it to try finding somebody? He could never trust his feelings and love somebody now, because he knew it was all a lie. What was he supposed to do now? Try to find somebody and pretend to love them, even though it was fake? He didn't want to live a lie, he wanted to stop being under any illusions. But he couldn't get away from it. It would probably be easier to live the lie of being alone, because it would make him stop having to deal with rejection. At this point, he knew he couldn't get anybody to pretend to be in love with anyway. He had to find a way to make the pain stop. Stop listening to all the people saying how happy they were to be in love, the people saying love was the greatest good. It was a game, he could never let himself forget that.




This wasn't working. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. They loved each other, but it was supposed to help them and make their lives better. And she knew they loved each other, because otherwise it wouldn't hurt this much. But he was scaring her. She knew that he'd been stressed all day, but he just kept wanting to talk. And when she started getting tired and saying she needed to go to bed, he started lashing out at her and saying she didn't love him, which hurt her and stressed her out. So they had to talk about that for a little while and she had to assure him that she still loved him. And he still wanted to talk, and she needed to go to bed, so things started getting intense again. And she kept telling him she had to go, and eventually he stopped listening, just rambling on about whatever. He kept talking and just would not listen to her, so she hung up. Then he called back and started screaming at her about how she was being unfair and wouldn't listen to him, she tried to calm him down but it was so late and she was already so irritated that she started yelling back. She never should've started yelling back, that only made him more paranoid and angry, because they were always supposed to be there for each other and comfort each other, and now she was yelling at him. Which made no sense, since he'd already been yelling. She told him that, he said he was sorry and seemed to calm down. But he still wouldn't let her get off the phone, and she just wanted to go to sleep, she didn't want to fight anymore. He started yelling again, and she hung up as soon as he did that because she was sick of it. And of course, he called back again, and he was crying when he did. It was so hard, why did it have to be so hard? Why couldn't it be simple? Two people love each other, why can't that be the end of it? He'd pushed her nerves so much that she didn't care he was crying. She just told him to go to bed, they'd talk about it tomorrow, go to bed. He didn't want

to, he said he wouldn't be able to sleep feeling like this. He'd never let her go to sleep, it was clear to her at that point. She hung up. He called back yet again. That was when it scared her, when she felt like her was suffocating her, like she was being harassed. He was probably still trying to get a hold of her now, but she'd disconnected the phone. She'd just wanted to go to sleep, and now she knew she wouldn't be able to sleep for the rest of the night. She was crying now. She was scared and she felt guilty about making him cry and she felt mad about him being so selfish, and it was all giving her a headache. She didn't want to talk to him tomorrow, because he'd start crying again and yelling at her. Like the last time they got in a fight, it lasted three days. He wouldn't hear her side of it so she stopped talking to him, and he kept leaving her messages asking why she wouldn't talk to him. And they'd never fought before, but now she found herself having to work so hard all the time, just to get a word in edgewise. He was difficult, he made it so difficult for her. He said it didn't matter how hard things were, because they loved each other. And it really didn't matter, but loving each other was supposed to make it not as hard. This wasn't necessary, it had to be unnecessary. It took too much energy out of her, now she was tired all the time. Like she was tired right now, but she wouldn't be able to go to sleep because this still wasn't resolved. She felt like she couldn't let herself go to sleep because it would only confirm that she didn't care for him and he'd only get more hurt. It would be better to be able to say tomorrow that she didn't get any sleep because she was too scared of losing him and she was crying too much. If she could just stay up tonight it would show that she really cared for him and that he had nothing to worry about. But she was so tired. She was so tired of all of it. He was sure to have a sleepless night, sometimes he said he had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about losing her, even when there was nothing to worry about. He put just as much stress on himself as

he did on her, probably more. She always tried to make him feel more at ease, but he never seemed to run out. He always had some kind of doubt left in him. And it was only because he loved her so much and he put so much into their relationship. If he didn't love her so much, he wouldn't worry, because he wouldn't have invested anything emotionally in it. Maybe they loved each other too much, maybe that was possible. Maybe they spent too much time together for being so young, maybe they should take it easy. He probably wouldn't like that, though. She wouldn't like that either, they were each other's whole life. They'd never be able to spend any more time apart than they absolutely had to. But they were supposed to be at ease, complete, when they were around each other. They were before. They could be again, they'd just lost something in the last couple months. If they talked more and did more together, that would make them realize how stupid they were being for all this…how stupid they were for losing sleep over this. She was so tired.




He found the secret to getting out of desperation. It was finding someone who was as desperate as you were. Actually, she had found him. She'd started hanging out with his friends, so naturally he started being around her. She said one day that they should hang out more. She was okay to talk to; they weren't really on the same level of thinking, but she was better at small talk than he was, so she could usually guide the conversation. That was fine with him, he didn't want to scare her away with the strange things he thought about. She didn't really know him at all. He probably didn't know her either, for that matter. And after they'd been hanging out together for a while, it just happened. She didn't try to talk to him about it (which probably would have freaked him out because he'd never thought of her in that way), she just waited for the right moment to come and let it happen. He supposed that it must have been the right time, because it happened. They'd been seeing each other since then, and it was nice. She must have been desperate to pursue him, everybody he knew would've taken the hint faster than he did. After years of trying to pursue other people, this just kind of sneaked up on him. They seemed to be pretty good for each other. She wanted a fresh start, with someone who could be straight with her. He just wanted the company. She didn't say stupid things like all girls seemed to. She laughed at his jokes, which most people outside of his friends didn't get. She did a lot to put up with his inexperience; he was still learning things, and that didn't seem to bother her. She knew about his history with girls, and thought it was "sad" and "cute." He knew vaguely of her relationship history. He didn't want to ask her directly, thinking it might be rude, but some of his friends who had known her before outlined most of it for him. She didn't seem to have any emotional problems, which was great. In the past he'd

always been more attracted to girls with some hint of problems; he'd thought girls like that would have a better chance of understanding him. But now he saw that girls like that would only cause huge problems in a relationship. They would be too clingy or too controlling or just cheat on him whenever the relationship wasn't going well. Thank God she wasn't like that, thank God she was stable. She wasn't spectacular-looking, but she certainly wasn't ugly. No shame in being seen in public with her. Too homely would've killed his self esteem, making him think he could never get a better girl than her. Too beautiful would've made him paranoid and think she would leave him for some shallow, better-looking guy that she deserved. This was just right, this was the balance that would let him sleep at night. She also gave him something positive to think about when he went to sleep every night. Like now. He could just think about her, and be comforted by the thought of being with her while he drifted off. This was what he did every night, and it was a good routine for him. It did wonders to make him feel better about himself. This was exactly what he needed. Best of all, there were no illusions about what they were to each other. When it started, he was afraid she would say "I love you" and he would have nothing to say to it, but she never did. He even asked her about it once, and she told him that she wouldn't feel comfortable saying it to him because, although she did like him, she'd never said "I love you" to anyone before and that she was saving that for the one she was absolutely sure about, because she only wanted to say it to one person in her life. That wasn't his exact view, but he did understand, and it was a load off his mind that she didn't have any false conceptions about spending the rest of her life with him. They both knew it wouldn't last forever, but they could still let this run its course and have a good time. They never talked about getting married or having kids or even going to the same college, they knew they didn't really have a future

together. Neither one of them actually came out and said it, but it was obvious to him that they both accepted it. They could have their fun now and get what they could out of this relationship, and after that they would move on. Maybe they would both find somebody else, or maybe they would both agree it wasn't working anymore. Anyway, it was working right now and they could shelter each other from being alone. That was the important thing: the shelter, the comfort. However temporary it was, that was what he treasured. It gave him the hope that he wouldn't have to be lonely again. He was very grateful to her for that...for making him feel like he wasn't alone. He told her that once, and she said it was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever said to her. She said it made her feel like that meant there was something genuine between them, because if there wasn't, they would both still feel alone. He didn't know what to say to that, he'd never thought of it that way. Maybe it wasn't just anybody who could take away your loneliness, maybe only a certain person could. He didn't know, he'd never done this before. She said that even with the others she'd been with, she'd felt alone. It actually made him feel good inside to think that he could take away her loneliness when no one else could. It was a good thought to drift off to sleep to.




This was the one. She knew it, he was the one. She was older than she'd been when she'd made those two mistakes, and had sworn to never let herself be so sure about anyone again. But this was the one that made her forget all that, that made her feel optimistic and in love again. And he did it so quickly, no one before had earned her trust and her heart so quickly. After only...three months was it? It made her so happy to think about it. She'd been so stupid, making that promise to never put her trust in anyone again. And she knew it was stupid, it just seemed like the logical thing at the time. Thank God he'd proven her wrong. Because deep down, she knew she wouldn't want to spend her life alone. She was afraid she would have to, but he came along, and literally saved her from herself. He taught her that love didn't have to involve fighting, or making grandiose claims and promises, that love was in the simple act of doing. It could be that simple. She'd known all along it could be that simple, it just had to be with the right person. The other two didn't understand that, they would make everything so complicated when it didn't have to be. It would never be complicated with him, because he understood what mattered and what didn't. The ability to phase out the little things, that was so rare. She didn't know anyone else who could do it. Sometimes even she would get hung up on something small, and he'd make her realize it; and after she realized it, that made her able to just let it go. She could let it go and focus on him. They did have differences, but none of them mattered. As long as he could make her see that, they would never have any problems. As long as they used their heads, they would be fine. Letting your feelings control everything, and changing on the whim of your feelings, it was so childish. You had to be able to stand back, take a deep breath, and realize it wasn't the end of the world. He

could do that, and she was learning from him. It frustrated her at first, when she'd always go on about how much she loved him, and he'd tell her to not keep saying she loved him: to just love him, that was enough. And now she knew that it was enough: she didn't have to say it all the time, sounding like a little girl. She just had to think it, and it automatically made itself known in everything she did for him. All she had to do was look at him, and he knew. And when it made him smile, that made her feel so good; it showed that he knew it, and that he loved her too. It made her feel better than saying "I love you" ever would have. Their bond was stronger than words. Even the words going through her head right now were meaningless. They were just symbols, meant to express this unbelievable feeling she had for him, and something was always lost in the translation. When the feeling was the same between two people, regardless of how inadequate the translation was, that was when it was real. When you said "I love you" to someone, and that someone knew that "I love you" wasn't saying enough, knew what you were really trying to say, and felt that same thing, then it was real. She would never actually be able to tell him how much she loved him. And the fact that he knew how much she loved him, even though she couldn't express it...that was the best feeling in the world. She got that all the time with him. Because she always wanted to say "I love you;" but knew she couldn't, so she just smiled at him, and he always smiled back. Knowing what that smile meant, she could look at it forever. She wished she could. She could grow old with that smile. They never talked about getting married, but she did think about it. It was strange. With everyone she'd been with before, she would think about spending her life with them but never actually wanting to get married. She'd had idle thoughts about it, but always as if it was some nebulous thing in the future that would somehow just happen. It wasn't until now that she thought of actually getting married.

Getting married as a real thing, as a real possibility. She'd never thought of it as something real with anyone else. This was the real thing. She wondered if he ever thought about it. Honestly, he probably didn't. He was too much of a present tense thinker, he wouldn't look far into the future like she would. Would he ever ask her to marry him? He was bound to eventually. Would she be able to wait that long? She knew the guy was supposed to be the one to ask, but she really didn't know if she would wait that long. His brain just didn't work that way, he wouldn't be able to really see them together years from now like she would. She wondered if she could ever actually get up the nerve to ask him. She'd be too nervous to. But she could at least talk about the possibility with him. She could ask him if he ever thought about it, or where he thought he saw himself ten years from now with her. And from there they could talk about it, not as some far away fantasy but as something that would really happen. They could plan their future together, where they wanted to be, what they wanted to do, how many kids they wanted. She really didn't know what she wanted to do or be. It didn't really matter, as long as they were together and had enough money. What she would do wasn't important, he and their family would be the important things for her.




He couldn't believe it, he still couldn't believe it. It just didn't seem possible that someone so bitter and cynical could be in love. But he was. He couldn't stop thinking about her. That night, he'd told himself that he had to make a decision: let himself keep falling for her and risk being hurt and humilated again, or stop it right there and never know what might have happened. He let himself fall for her, he let her into his life, going against everything he'd learned about trying to pursue a girl, and it was the best decision of his life. This was better than just having someone there to ward off the loneliness, this was someone he could love. He'd known he loved her even before "letting himself fall for her," he just didn't want to admit it because he thought it would've made the pain that much worse if he was rejected. That was why, in the past, he'd never thought he was in love with anyone, he just "felt something for a person." If you felt something and they didn't feel anything in return, you could bounce back (as he did many times); if you loved somebody and they didn't love you back, you could never recover. Love went deeper than just feeling something, it was a sum total of friendship and devotion and awe and desire. He'd always been taught that love was forever, but it wasn't until actually feeling love that he truly understood it was forever. The way she made him feel, the things she did for him, the way she looked when the light hit her eyes just right...every little detail of her he was in love with. He'd loved every detail of her before they were together even, and now that he knew so much more about her, there was so much more to love. He couldn't believe that he'd settled for just having someone to be with, it got so much better than that. maybe they really were meant to find each other. If they'd never met, he would still be looking to be with somebody just for the sake of being with somebody. That was

no way to be happy, it was using another person to make you feel better about yourself. How could he have done that? How could he have used that girl before (and allowed her to use him), and settled for anything less than this? This girl changed everything, she changed the way he thought about the world. She negated everything that every other girl had taught him to believe. He could never go back to thinking like that, not after what he had now. This was the real thing. He wished he'd never had to go through all those bad experiences and just could have skipped to this. It wasn't that this love wasn't worth going through all that, and he'd go through it again if he had to...but why couldn't it have been this all along? Why did they ever have to make him doubt that he'd find love? It didn't matter now, because all that pain was far away. He had somebody. He didn't just have somebody, he had her. He didn't have to think about hopping from person to person for the rest of his life; he could think about actually settling down and getting married. Had they not been too young...if they'd met five or six years later, he would've asked her to marry him. That was how strong he felt, that was how sure he was about her. And she was equally sure about him, they could talk about their future together without having any doubts. God how he could talk to her. He'd never been truly comfortable talking with girls, even his first girlfriend, for fear of what they might think of him. But he could tell her anything and feel safe. He couldn't even be that open with his closest friends, there was always something to hide. But not now, not with her. That was the most important thing to him, being able to be open and talk. They never ran out of things to talk about. She was the first person he knew who made him so comfortable that he could actually do most of the talking in the conversation. He'd never thought of himself as much of a talker, but she brought out this whole new side he never thought he had. And he loved it, he loved who he was around her. She made him want to be a better

person. She opened up his mind and made him stop being such a cynic; not just about love, about everything. She was intelligent without being pretentious; optimistic without being bubbly and annoying. She'd had problems, just like him, but she learned to work through them and not let them conquer her. She was strong, she was a strong person. Even though she was usually the optimist and he was usually the realist, she had a pretty good head on her shoulders. She just preferred to think about how things could be, rather than how they were. He would still rather try to figure out how things really were, that was hard enough without daydreaming about how he'd like it to be. But that was just what he'd been taught from rejection. He'd learned that things would never be the way he wanted them, and that thinking about what he wanted would only make him worse. That was wrong though, and he had to forget it. He was already starting to, he liked thinking about how his life could be with her. And he actually had a reason to think about it, because there was a reason to believe it would happen.




She lay there. She wondered what everyone else in the house was doing right now. Marie was probably still in the kitchen, taking shots with Ted and Lacey. That's what they'd been doing when she'd disappeared into her bedroom with Sean. Marie would probably disappear into another bedroom with Ted before the night was over. Donnie and Adam and their friends were probably still smoking on the porch. She wished she could smoke a cigarette now in bed, but the smell would linger. She'd started smoking right after becoming single again. Her friends said she wimped out by waiting to smoke until after she could legally buy cigarettes. It was too bad she didn't start smoking earlier. Her last boyfriend would have hated it, but that whole thing didn't matter in the end anyway. Now it was over, and she didn't have anything left in her. She didn't have anything left to give. Not emotionally anyway. She'd been so stupid for so long. Everyone around her was so stupid. They didn't see yet that none of these emotions and hope and love mattered. There was always nothing but pain at the end of it. It didn't matter how good she'd felt before, because it was always nothing but lying to herself. The pain at the end of it rendered everything else meaningless, because it proved that all the love before it had been a lie. She'd been living a lie, trying to convince herself that every time she felt something it was real, trying to keep from being alone. Afterwards, she would always be alone. She wished that she'd seen it earlier in life, and hadn't had to go through three breakups to learn it. There was no truth to any emotions, it was just some rationalization of a physical desire. She couldn't let herself get hurt like that again, it had already happened too much. She was stupid to break her promise of that the first time, and let someone who could even say he loved her into her life. She couldn't believe she'd broken that promise for him. It managed to hurt

more with him than the others, somehow it hurt a little more every time. No more of it, it was useless and only made her hate herself. She didn't want to get hurt anymore. Nothing was worth being hurt this much. She wanted to be numb to everything, so that nothing could get to her. Her plan at this point was to just keep numbing herself until she died. She could keep on living, but didn't want to feel anymore. Because everything just hurt. It even hurt to lie here with this guy she barely knew, who didn't even even have the courtesy to hold her as they were drifting off to sleep. In the morning, when the party was over, he'd be gone. There would be some random bodies scattered in the living room, and a lot of empty bottles. Everyone would go home and nurse their hangovers, leaving her to clean up by herself, then probably go back to bed and cry. She couldn't let herself cry this time, she wouldn't cry this time. The point of the whole exercise was to not hurt and stop crying. Why couldn't being alone be any easier than lying to yourself and being with someone? She could probably have someone to be with if she wanted, probably even Sean, but she was done with all that. At the very beginning, she'd told herself that she would never date anyone she couldn't see herself spending the rest of her life with. And she still believed in that. It just wasn't until recently that she realized she could never spend the rest of her life with anyone, because it was only a cycle of trying to not be alone. She'd thought love could break the cycle, and had thought the problem was that it just wasn't real love the previous times. But love was part of the cycle, there was no distinction between real love and "false love," whatever that was. It was only real for as long as she felt it, it didn't matter who it was with, and it never lasted. Even if it was fake, why couldn't it at least last? She'd be able to live a lie as long as it didn't end up hurting her, she could've spent her whole life with any of the three she'd had without ever realizing it wasn't love. She could've even lived with realizing it, and kept living her life

as long as it didn't hurt. That was probably what happened to her parents, why they stayed together even though they had no affection left for each other: for habit, for comfort. Her parents ended up better than she would end up, because they at least had each other to share the lie with. But soon enough, the truth wouldn't hurt her anymore. She didn't want to lie to herself to be happy anyway, she would never stoop that low. She wouldn't live in her own fragile little universe, like everyone else did (and like she used to). She would be alone, and numb to all of it. She would be able to look at everybody else and laugh at the lies they told themselves to keep their fragile universes intact. She would be stronger than they could ever be. She could never tell anyone about her revelation either; no one would believe it, to believe it would mean giving up all the comfortable lies you told yourself. She was alone right now, even though there was someone in her bed with her; she would be alone in the morning, and the other side of the bed would be cold; she would always be alone. This was her life. She could never let herself forget this, no matter who she met and what he promised. Always be alone in the end.




He was alone in bed now. Rachel used to stay with him every once in a while, when she didn't feel like driving home, but no more. He'd loved her. He probably still did. Then she had to cheat on him. Then when he found out about it, she had to blame him for it, saying he couldn't make her happy anymore and why couldn't he just accept it and move on. They used to lie in bed together. Sometimes they'd talk, sometimes they'd just be silent and hold each other. All that was left was some of her stuff and a lot of pain. He hated that pain, it made him feel helpless, like he was fifteen again. He'd thought that Rachel had proven him wrong about everything he was afraid of. That feeling he used to get, the feeling that made him so sure he would never find anyone...it really had gone away. He thought he would never have to worry about it again, he thought he could always have some hope of being with someone even if things went wrong. But after loving someone who didn't want to love him back, he didn't have any hope left. He really did love her, that was why it hurt so much. He never should have admitted it was love. He didn't want to love anybody else, he only wanted to say "I love you" to one person in his life. After that, it becomes suspect; love exists between two people for the rest of their lives, it doesn't jump from person to person. He couldn't just redirect that love toward somebody else, he didn't work like that. This was that fear returning, this was how it was going to be for the rest of his life: maybe hopping from person for affection before they got sick of each other, but he would feel just as alone as he did now. He'd be searching for someone to ward off the loneliness, but it would never work...the affection would be empty, with no meaning, because all his love was gone. Rachel took it from him and threw it away. It literally made him sick to his stomach, like there was a hole growing in his insides. This loss would just

keep eating away at him, what was he going to do? How could he make it stop devouring him, how could he save himself? He'd thought before that love didn't really exist, and that he would always be alone. Now he knew that eventually he would always be alone, but that love did exist. He'd felt it, he'd held it in his hand. Thinking it didn't exist was just some rationalization, a trick to make him feel like he was better than all those people who said they were in love. It was real, and he lost it. He'd given it to the wrong person, and she tore out every trace of it from his being. He wanted it back from her, even if he'd never get back together with Rachel, he wanted her to at least say she still loved him. That would've made their relationship mean something, it would've proven that he had some worth as a person. But he asked her when she broke up with him, if she still loved him...she told him she wasn't really sure if she knew what love was anymore, and that she didn't know if she'd ever loved him. He wanted to scream at her when she said that, he still wanted to scream. He wanted to do something that made her hurt as much as he hurt when he found out that the girl he'd given all his love to may have never loved him. If she'd never loved him, then she was just another girl who didn't feel the same way for him as he did for her. She was just another rejection, an eleven-month set-up for a rejection. Casey didn't count as a rejection, it was never about love for either of them and they'd ended their relationship on civil terms, so...Rachel was the twelfth, nonconsecutive, to reject him. Jennifer, Pamela, Brooke, Michelle, Elizabeth, Lillie, Crystal, Abby, another Michelle, Amanda, Amy and Rachel. That was his life's work, those illustrious twelve. It was a pattern, he needed to just learn and shut up and stop complaining. There was something wrong with him, he didn't deserve any real love. He was lucky to get the meaningless relationships for using and being used, like Casey. That was the most success he'd ever had with a girl. A week ago he would've said Rachel, but he ob-

viously couldn't make her love him like he loved her. What was he supposed to do with that love for her? Keep holding on to it, even though she was a two-faced bitch who didn't deserve any of it? Or just let it go, even though that was the only love he had left and it would be gone? Love was real. Love was real. He just couldn't be any part of it. That hurt him more than if he'd never felt it at all and it didn't exist. It hurt now more than it did when he was fifteen. Each rejection seemed to find a new way of getting to you that somehow makes it worse than all the previous ones. So it would only get worse from here, he'd probably convince himself that he was in love again, only to find that whoever he was with was just using him. The loss, feeling that love and having it taken away, was what hurt the most. He'd been living a nice illusion, but it was time to go back to the person he was before. He had to give up all that hope he'd had before about happily living out the rest of his life, or else all the hope would kill him. Because he would never be able to fulfill it. He no longer had any reason to believe in anything, it was all as if it had never existed. He wasn't the person who'd felt love anymore, that person who'd felt love was gone. He said goodbye to that person and rolled over.

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Guest godthedog

last part:






Her eyes opened. 4:22 am. Chris stirred beside her. She whispered for him to go back to sleep and turned so that she was lying on her back. She'd end up sleeping here tomorrow. She had to, she had nowhere else to go. She couldn't go back to her house, her parents had made that clear. It was probably for the best, she felt safer sleeping here than she did in her own bed. The pillows were softer, and the bed was firmer, and she just felt...safer. It was nice being able to sleep next to someone she could hold, almost like she was five again and sleeping with her stuffed animals. He was hairy enough to be a stuffed animal. That didn't bother her too much, he was very self-conscious of it and tried to have a sense of humor about it. She needed a job so badly, he said he could get her a job working with him in the kitchen of the restaurant. This was probably the most useful guy she could date at this point in her life. Now she had to move in with him. She didn't feel some burning desire to, she would've preferred to take it slower, but now she didn't have a choice. He said he'd borrow his friend's truck tomorrow so that they could get her stuff out of her parents' house and she wouldn't have to go back there anymore; they would fit what they could into his place, and find a storage space for the rest. His roommate didn't seem to mind having her around, he was always nice to her. He was funny too. His girlfriend was nice, although she wasn't too smart. She technically didn't live here, but she did stay here most nights. Everything seemed to be going to Hell right now, except this one thing with Chris. She'd promised to never fall in love again, no matter what, and she wasn't in love right now. That was very important: she was in control of her emotions. She had to be; otherwise, the way her life was going, she'd probably be bursting into tears constantly. She hadn't cried in a long time. She didn't laugh a whole lot anymore either for that matter, she

was just kind of...there. Which was fine. She was surviving. That last breakup had sent her over the edge, woken her up. She could probably never love or trust anybody like she had before, which was good. Nobody could take that trust or love and bend it to his own benefit, like the others had. She was kind of already broken, anyway. Who would want a broken person? Chris seemed to. He was pretty lofty and idealistic, but she'd never heard him say "I love you" to her. That was good. It made her feel safe. It let her know that they still had their wits about them and hadn't taken it too far. Jesus, somebody could really do a number on her if they let her take it too far at this point in her life and convinced her that she loved them. This was strictly casual though, she'd made that clear at the beginning. But Chris was a fairly emotional guy, suppose he let himself go too far? Suppose he started proclaiming his love and writing her crappy poetry? Too scary. Because, in all honesty, she would probably fall for it. Then he'd be in a position to hurt her, and somehow the relationship would end and she'd be broken yet again. Chris was too sincere to deliberately put himself in that kind of position over her though, so she'd be safe. Even though she wouldn't let it happen. Chris was too awkward with words, he could never be able to woo her by saying "I love you." It would probably come out as something like, "Hey, I...love you? Maybe, I think, I don't know?" All he really had going for him was the cute-shy-guy thing, which admittedly was very lovable. He probably wouldn't say anything, just have dinner ready for both of them when she came home, putting an envelop on her plate with a message inside. He'd blush after she read it. She wouldn't tell him anything either, for fear of breaking her promise, but would want to let him know that she felt good to be loved by somebody, so she would make dinner for him the next night and have candles. They could both laugh at how cheesy that would be, and go on doing little things for each other for months, both too afraid to

really say anything, until she whispered in his ear, "I love you too," in bed one night. And she'd somehow feel safe in saying that. And he would make her feel better than she'd ever felt before. And she would do the same for him, until their whole purpose for being was to love each other. It would be sweet and fantastic and more than she ever thought it could be. God, that would be so great. To just love each other. Simply, strongly, purely. She lay on her side, facing him, and held him as tightly as she could. She had to fight the urge to whisper "I love you" in his ear. Suddenly she felt scared, and didn't know why. All she could think to do was keep lying against him and holding him, and she would soon feel safe again. Needed to feel safe again. Could never go back home again. For now, home was with him. Not sure how long it would be with him. She would give anything to know how long it would be for, whether it would be a week or forever. It scared her not knowing. If she just knew what to expect, it would be fine. But all she could do was make whatever judgments she had to, based on what she did know. She couldn't know what could happen. She could love him. Maybe. She didn't know.




He stirred. Something had woken him up. Maybe a dream he was having, some dream that he forgot as soon as he was awake. No, it was the CD player. He'd left it on random to help him sleep, and it was the changing discs that woke him up. He moved his lips to the song playing now. He looked to the other side of the bed. Still no one there. That was still hard to swallow. His roommate had told him that he was living in the past, that he just needed to go out and get laid. They evidently didn't understand that he still didn't have enough confidence with women to just go out and get laid. Having been with Casey and Rachel, he was more confident than he used to be. He didn't think anymore that he'd be alone forever, he was a little more mature than that. But that was still a plan, some kind of plan for the future. It was a bad plan, but at least it gave him some idea of what to expect, something he could prepare himself for and build his life around. Now he had no idea what was going to happen. His perspective had changed so many times, he didn't know what to believe about where his life would go and what love was. A week ago he'd called Casey, told her everything that had happened and asked her what to do. She asked him what he wanted to do. He said he just wanted to know what was going to happen to him. She didn't know what to say to that. He asked her what she thought love was, and she said she didn't know. She said she never concentrated on what love was, just who she could love. That didn't make any sense to him. He didn't know if he could love anybody, if he didn't even know what love was. How could you love somebody if you didn't know was, you wouldn't know how to do it. Rachel said she was in love with a guy now, but when he asked for her definition of love, she said the same thing he would've said six months ago. She couldn't help him, she didn't know what it really was. Which meant that he never

really loved her, since he didn't know what it was then. So he had to still have some love in him, whatever it might be. What had he felt for Rachel, then? Was it just a really strong example of "feeling something for somebody"? Was love just an even stronger example of that, was it just the highest degree of attrac-tion? It had to be something completely different from that. Maybe he'd never know what it really was until he was in love. But he couldn’t love anybody unless he did know what it was. He thought about the song playing now. It didn't try to explain love, it was just someone's view on it. Whoever the narrator of the song was supposed to be, he didn't seem to really know what love was. The conclusion he came to was that it was a call, a broken cry of joy. Then the broken cry of joy was repeated in the chorus. That seemed like a painfully beautiful definition: a broken cry of joy. What did that mean? It didn't explain anything. Did anyone really know what love was? He'd thought it was what everyone seemed to believe it was, and he was wrong. How could he go forward in his life if he didn't know his one simple thing? All he knew was that he had a deep need for it, and he'd tried to satisfy that need with a couple of different people and a ton of different explanations. He just wanted to be able to make sense of what had happened to him, it was such a scary thing to have something happen to you and not know why. It wasn't random, he knew there was something to it; he just didn't know what. He probably wouldn't be able to see it until it was all over, when he could see all the pieces. Maybe he would never be able to make sense of it, maybe he would continue to be thrown around on this chaotic line without ever figuring it out, without ever making sense of life. He certainly couldn't make sense of his life now. He could only try to make sense of it for a few months at a time, until something came along that didn't fit with anything else. And he had to figure it out all over again. He'd never really been able to figure out what would happen.

He'd only tried to, based on what had happened before, and new things kept being thrown at him. He could get no perspective. Love wouldn't give him any perspective. Why was love so important? Did where his life was going really have anything to do with love? Yes, it had to; because he'd thought before that his happiness would come from being without love, when he was going to teach everyone how to "be free of love," and he was proven wrong. It had to be a vital piece of his life. It had to be something that would make him happy someday, it had already caused him too much grief not to. Maybe he'd get a gradually better perspective on it as time went on, maybe he wouldn't always feel so unsure about everything. Maybe something would happen to change what he thought about everything, and he could leave these thoughts behind. He would like to leave all these thoughts behind. Maybe someday he would see what was wrong with what he thought now. He would live with that for a while, then his perspective might change again. Maybe there was no way to expect what would happen. Maybe he would just keep calling out broken cries of joy, and only the cry would change over time. Maybe something would happen that would make it all click into place, and he could finally see why things were turning out the way they were. He didn't want to think about it anymore, it made his head hurt this late at night. What was going to happen to him?

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