Please be reminded; any names of people portrayed in this series are altered to protect their identities.
I stepped away from dating after Seth, but the pain lingered for much longer than I’d like to admit. Whenever a man came along that I found myself liking, I would pull away out of distrust. I even started pulling away from my own friends and family. Regardless of who it was, I found myself questioning everything people did or said around me. Internally, I was in a rage, but on the outside, I simply seemed as though I couldn’t be phased by anyone.
It was well over a year before I happened across an old acquaintance from junior high named Aaron. I didn’t know him very well at the time, but we found ourselves talking often, becoming good friends in the passing months. I decided I would invite him to the summer festival that was being held in the city. We met up at the bus stop one beautiful day and started the night as friends; I did not suspect we would leave as lovers.
When we arrived, the crowds were already bustling. We spent the day walking around, talking, going on rides; he’d even won me a little Pikachu toy in one of the games. We’d stayed there until late into the night before we’d decided to find our way back to our area. We lived close to each other, so we found ourselves sitting on the grass waiting for the worst of the crowds to clear before catching the last train of the night. It was there he admitted he wanted to be more than friends.
At the time, I felt conflict. I was uncertain of whether or not to allow myself to try again, fearing that I would only wind up looking like a fool in the end. As the day had passed, I decided I did not fancy the idea of swearing off dating forever; and if I were to have a chance with someone, surely a man that was a close friend beforehand would be as good a risk as any. He walked me home that night and after brief seconds of somewhat awkward silence, we shared a kiss before he started making his way back to his house.
I felt happy; I knew being with him would be easy and uncomplicated. There was a lingering sense of doubt in the back of my mind, but as the months passed, the doubt faded as I allowed myself to sink further into the relationship.
He was a good man to be with, and capable of making me laugh, but the whisper-quiet nagging in the back of my consciousness grew louder once more after we had been dating for about a year. When he had told me he loved me, and I said I’d returned those feelings, I desperately wanted to believe it was true, but my heart was still closed off. Despite our chemistry, I was unable to shake my growing distrust in him. While I never had solid proof of the fact, I had suspected he was in love with a woman he worked with. I never pried; I knew I didn’t want to know either way.
As each month passed, I started to realize where I stood. It was a difficult pill to swallow, but I knew I had accepted him out of fear of loneliness, thinking I ought to be with someone who loved me, even if I could not return that affection. I was angry with myself for only realizing it so far into the relationship, and as I pondered how to bring it up, I did not know where to start. Whenever I thought I was about to bring up the subject, the selfish fear of loneliness crept back into my view. So you’ll leave a man who loves you; would you rather have nothing?
One night, I was invited out to a friend’s birthday party. As we gathered at the theatre, my friends mentioned we were waiting on one more person to join us; his name was Thomas. As fate would have it, I was somewhat familiar with our final guest, having been aware of him in high school. Though we’d never spoken, something about him had stood out subtly in my mind. It had been a few years, and I’d long since forgotten my curiosity. As our attention turned to the entrance, we spotted him making his way through the doors. We called out to him and I waved him over, surprised that I was happy to see him. I’d hardly ever met him, really.
I shrugged off the thought and we piled into the theatre. I was sitting between Aaron and my friend, but we’d spent the movie in silence. As the credits rolled, we waited for the crowds to pile out of the theatre before we hopped into the cars and made our way to Aaron’s house. The party would continue at my friend’s place, but he had to work the next day. We bid farewell and I hopped into the car with the others, feeling the tension disappear.
When we’d arrived, Thomas and I sat quietly on the couch as our friends started to crack out the liquor. I’d only been drunk twice in my life, and was not generally a fan of alcohol, but I recall feeling butterflies in my stomach that I had not felt since second grade as I glanced at Thomas. I remember thinking, “was he always this tall?” As my friends handed me my first drink, I shook off the thought and as we pulled out the beer pong table, I decided to up the ante; by playing with a bottle of raspberry vodka. I was doing alright until my friend decided to see how I handled my tequila.
Declaring I could handle anything they gave me, I downed two shooters of the tequila and was fine for about half an hour. At some point, I’d passed out, more drunk than I’d ever been in my life.
Sometime late in the night, I’d opened my eyes to the darkness of my friends’ living room. I was lying on the loveseat with a blanket over my body. In the darkness, I saw a shape on the nearby couch. When I realized the shape was snoring, I knew it was Thomas. In my groggy, half-asleep state, I recall feeling a sense of warmth at the knowledge that he was nearby and slipped back into sleep with a smile on my lips.
To be continued…