July 20, 2018
Chloe started a new routine to make her summer break go faster (while also avoiding Nathaniel). She found part-time work at Sur La Table, a popular kitchenware store. She didn’t work very much for now, only about twenty hours a week, but it was enough to keep her mind focused outwardly for a change.
Usually, right after her shift ended at three o’clock, she’d come home to change into her comfy clothes, do her chores, make something to eat, and maybe go hang out with a friend or something. She started developing more friendships with people she saw somewhat regularly, like her hair stylist Amber. It was nice. Her life didn’t have to revolve around drama or around her mother. She didn’t need to be defined by it!
Knock, knock, knock.
Chloe didn’t have unannounced visitors, unless it was Nathaniel. Even then, he usually texted or called ahead of time. Usually. She had been in the middle of brushing her teeth, something that seemed entirely unimportant now, and got halfway to the door before realizing it.
Knock, knock, knock.
A quick spit in the sink, a quick rinse, a quick wipe with a hand towel. She crossed the room quickly, not bothering to look through the peephole to see who it was before opening the door.
“Hey, Chloe,” David said. He held a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers in his hands. The golds, the reds, the blues and greens were so lovely. And David himself looked rather beautiful, though Chloe wasn’t sure if he would like that word. His hair was as spiky as ever, with the side still freshly shaved. His faux-hawk less styled than usual, but stylish nevertheless. It was him and not him at the same time.
“Hey, David.” Chloe smiled. “I…I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I know. It’s called a ‘surprise.’” David held the flowers out as Chloe chuckled. She carefully took the flowers from. He kissed her cheek as he always liked to do. “Are you busy tonight?”
“No, I’m not. You actually came at a great time.” Chloe laid the flowers on the counter to find something to put them in. “How did you know where I live?”
Chloe’s throat tightened. She might not have romantic feelings for the man, but she did care what happened to him. Going back to the beast was too much to handle. It hurt to think he was being mistreated by her mother. And there was nothing she could do about it. “Oh.”
“Yeah. So, I was wondering if you’d like to go on a date.”
Chloe trimmed the stems of the flowers while the make-shift vase filled with water. “Okay. What do you have in mind?”
David stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders as she worked. “I just want to have a nice dinner with you and catch up. I know I haven’t seen you in ages; we don’t talk much either. So, I want to have an evening with you for just us to do or talk about whatever we want.”
Chloe smiled, kissing his hands. “And then movie night here?”
“It’s a date, then. Let me just finish this.”
“Okay.” David freed her taking a few steps away so she could put the flowers in the vase with their food. The flowers were beautiful and brought a lot more color into the rather sterile room.
Chloe grabbed her purse and they were off.
Instead of the hoity toity restaurant they went to when they got engaged, David just took her to Red Robin as they liked to do back in those nice early days of their relationship. Packed to the brim on a Friday night in summer.
“Oh yeah, I forgot that other people go out, too,” David said.
“We can go somewhere else if you want.” Chloe looked around at the masses waiting to be seated. They were the only group of two.
“No, it’s fine. I’m, at least, okay with waiting. Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“Nah, let’s stay. Should be fine.”
“David for two?” A host called out a few seconds later.
“What good luck,” David said. He held Chloe’s hand as he signaled the host they’d heard him. “Right here.”
“Right this way.” The host maneuvered through the restaurant as easily as a duck to water. Chloe and David dodged unaware folks waving a hand in the aisle as they told a story, or a child occupying herself by dropping French fries on the floor due to boredom, and all the other mindless things people did when they were comfortable in a restaurant.
Chloe was glad to slide into the booth with David across from her.
The host handed them menus. “What can I get you to drink?” He asked.
“Iced tea, please,” David said.
“The same,” Chloe said.
The host wrote it down and left them alone.
“How’s school been?” Chloe asked.
At first David didn’t say anything. David had always been the interviewer in their relationship. He would ask the questions, get the answers, offer support, repeat for the conversation. It wasn’t a bad thing, but he enjoyed it. Unfortunately, he was battling someone who wanted to be the interviewer this time around.
Finally, he conceded. “School’s been hard, but great. I’ve made a ton more friends from my classes. And a few of us have actually been taking the same classes, which makes collaborating on projects way easier. Didn’t do too good with math last term, but I’m retaking that one in the fall. How did classes go for you? You’re not taking any now, right?”
“No I’m not. But last term was fine. Passed ‘em all. And how’s work going?”
“It’s good. Same as always, really.”
The waitress brought their drinks to the table and took their orders before disappearing into the crowd again with their menus.
“How’s Nathaniel? And your mother?” David asked. The battle raged on.
Chloe almost answered, but stopped herself. All this time, she hadn’t wanted to dump drama on him over the phone. Now that they were in person…she didn’t want to tell the truth here, either.
Chloe mustered a smile. “They’re both good. Same as always, really.”
“Yeah. They hit a rough patch, but they’re over it now. Me moving out has apparently been hard on Mom.”
“I bet.” David smiled. “She can’t bully you anymore.”
“David,” Chloe warned.
“I know, I know. She’s gonna be my mother-in-law. I’ll be nice.”
“Thank you. I don’t want to talk about them right now.”
“That’s fine.” David leaned forward on his elbows. “What else is new?”
“I got a job a couple weeks ago to keep from going insane.”
“Sur La Table.”
“Why am I not surprised?” David chuckled. “I’m glad. At least you’ll have something to do, right?”
“Exactly. Oh, and I’ve been hanging out with Amber more—my hair stylist—and she’s super cool. I did not realize she was twenty six.”
“She looks a lot younger than that.”
“That’s what I said.” Chloe sipped her iced tea. “And that’s about it. I have been sitting on my butt at home enjoying the solitude when I have it.”
“Yeah, that’s about it for me, too.”
Chloe and David talked about the good ol’ days until their food arrived. So many memories. So much history in such a short amount of time. And the question burning in Chloe’s soul for months was finally answered.
“What movie do you wanna watch?” Chloe asked as she flicked the lights on in the living room. “I’m up for anything.”
“Cool. Let’s see here,” David went straight for the stash of movies still in the box. Chloe tipped the box on its side because it was easier than trying to get a bookcase. “How about ‘Elf?’”
“Elf?” Chloe repeated. “Really? A Christmas movie?”
“One, you said anything, and two, Christmas in July.”
“Fair enough. Sure. You want anything to drink?” Chloe opened the fridge, but there was never anything good she wanted. The struggle was real.
“Nah, I’m good.”
They sat on the couch, watching a Christmas movie in July like the adults they were. There were a few key parts they always laughed at, like when Buddy sits on Papa Elf’s lap, or when he sings along with Jovie while she’s in the shower, or when Buddy gets drunk sorting mail. They’d seen the movie together dozens of times.
When the movie ended, David pulled Chloe close to him, letting her lay on his chest. She liked this. She liked the closeness, the warmth, the feeling of his arms around her.
“David? Can we talk about something?” She asked into his chest.
“Sure. What’s up?”
Chloe counted to fifteen before she took a deep breath. She moved to the opposite end of the love seat, staring down into her lap. There was no part of her that wanted to have this conversation, but she needed to say it. Now, more than ever.
“David…I can’t marry you.”
Deafening silence filled the space between them until Chloe started wondering if she actually said it out loud or not. She dared to look at him. His eyes were watery, but none of the tears had fallen yet. It almost looked like his allergies were just acting up.
“Why not?” He finally asked.
Swallowing hard Chloe said, “I’ve been going through so much since our engagement. And I don’t want to talk to you about it, either, because I hardly see you and I hardly talk to you anymore. If I can’t talk to you about the important stuff…” Her voice trailed off, unsure how to finish the sentence.
David’s fingers were laced together pressed against his lips as he processed the information. Chloe stayed quiet; there was really no more she could say. This was a horrible situation, but he deserved to be with a woman who would go through hell and back just to see him. Chloe wasn’t that woman.
“Chloe…” David’s mouth hung open for a moment, but no sound came. He nodded. “I…I don’t even know…”
Chloe laced her own fingers together between her knees. Even though she knew this was necessary, it was so much harder to slide her engagement ring off. Her hand squeezed hard against the ring, letting it dig into her skin for a moment before she finally held it out for David to take.
David reached out to pick it up. When they made eye contact, Chloe could see the pain. He loved her. Regardless of her baggage and her mother, David truly loved her. And she was throwing it back in his face. David leaned over to kiss her cheek.
“Bye.” David said softly before he left.