“I think everyone always knows when she walks in a room.” I did my best to politely say she was a drama queen.
“I wish the truth was easier, you would never understand.” Her voice was as low as if telling a secret. The wind picked it up, and whispered this in my ear.”
Mother once told me a true gentleman always comforts a lady, even when breaking up. But things hadn’t gone as planned and I wouldn’t actually call Jess a lady. I will never let being the “only guy without a girl” blind my judgment again.
My feet hit the cement and cold air filled my lungs as I started to escape the double date nightmare at South Brick Pizza. Pushing the pizzeria’s door open, I could hear Jess getting out of her seat and blabbing to the hostess at the front.
“Yes let’s have a reservation for December 24, here’s my card, oh yes and it’s my birthday dinner, so let’s make it fabulous.” I had made my way down the front steps, eager to run free. Her voice made the nearest squirrel shiver as she called out, “Daniel.”
I hadn’t liked her two months ago. If I hadn’t been such a good best friend I would never had gone the first time when Ryan asked me to accompany him with his date, Fiona. “It will be fun,” he had said. Two dates, one party, and a dinner and I’m feeling stuck in my relationship with Jess, but tonight I was through taking it.
I heard the clicking of her shoes against the sidewalk. I turned my face back to the wind and saw a red-faced, blonde-haired girl, who was looking fairly angry, start to make a run from the restaurant. I took a breath and raced forward, looked left and right, and walked across the street, but the stupid honks gave my angle away. I felt in my heart she was coming close. So I jetted to the left, right behind an AT&T store and let myself think a minute. I knew this town well and if I could get to the ice cream shop which was a street and a half away, I could slip in and be safe. Hopefully.
I hadn’t heard any other indication, but the silence was too eerie to just be about nothing. So with the moonlight to guide me, I made my way down the block, blending in by keeping my back against the store’s walls. I felt my gelled hair surrender to the sweat coming from my head and a big brown wave got caught in front of my eyes. Perfect timing.
I heard a person scream, “Get out of the way!” and knew it was Jess. I raced down two stores and tried to go. Looking left, I saw an alleyway and dove towards a trash can.
“Dan,” a deceivingly sweet voice echoed. “Dan, I made the birthday reservation! I think we should wear matching outfits, got to make a good impression for my fam, don’t you think?”
She went on, “I know you’re here, so come on let’s hang out, have some fun.”
She was 100% the type of girl who has her head in the clouds, all obsessed with herself and not afraid to show it. Confidence is totally great, but she just took herself as an untouchable obsession.
I cleared my throat for lack of not knowing what to say. What was the use; she knew I was here. I felt her oversized shadow advance. “Danny, baby, let’s go back, what do you say? You come over to my house, you can even spend the night.”
I felt as if I could barf. Then another sound and some small light. I peered my head out and it was Ryan and Fiona — they had come to save me.
“Hey there.” Ryan peeked around the corner and awkwardly spoke to Jess, while holding hands with Fiona. He made eye contact with me, and I ducked my head even further.
The couple advanced into the alleyway as another one of Jess’s monologues was about to begin.
“Isn’t it so sad?” Jess dramatically turned and put a pouty face on her lips and a hand on her heart, “that Danny is so in love with me, he can’t hold himself back in front of you guys, so he felt the need to run. I am a loving person…..Am I not?” she pitifully said.
She waited for an answer, then asked again, “AM I NOT?”
With no answer she shrugged, “I am. So you see, Danny sweetheart, I love you too baby, It’s okay you don’t need to hide your true feelings, I-”
“I don’t think you are getting this right Jess,” Ryan started to say, then Fiona took over. “Jess, I think you should give Danny some space.”
“Is my presence too incredible for you to handle?” she sighed, but actually meant it.
A true psycho. I gave a sigh, waiting for an answer in the trash can that still smelled better than Jess and her flower spray.
Jess flipped her blonde waves over her head and her green eyes stared into mine, which had just peeked out for a moment to catch the action.
“Sweetheart,” She smiled foolishly and advanced, “Tell us your feelings, we all want what’s best for you, don’t you see?” She talked with her hands in a hazardous way. Her stride carried her to the edge of the dumpster, where she decided to lean on it with half a butt in my face, and half a cheek out.
Ryan and Fiona looked at each other confused until Ryan spoke up, “Jess, you’re a great girl….”
“Hush, hush Ryan, I knew that, my handsome boy must say his thoughts so I can officially prove you all wrong.”
I took an unpleasant gulp made up of a combination of relief that this was going to be over, and felt an odd sense of guilt.
“Jess you know that you are a super girl but–”
That’s when the works came to play. With an artificial sigh she put her hand to her head and bent her back out, “Oh dear me, stop playing these silly games, we know the truth so..”
I could remember the first day I met Jess. Her reddish brownish skirt that hung above her knees, and brown top that was fitted great. She wouldn’t look like the type of person who would be as crazy as she was.
“Jess,” I stood up now from the dumpster, and some litter toppled from my head and fell to the ground. Why was this so hard? What was stopping me from getting what I want?
I took a breath and then decided to improvise some break-up speech that I only thought about in my remaining seconds sitting in the dumpster. “Everyone is unique and different in their own ways,” I started. “Some things are meant to be, just like some people are meant to be together. I think that us — ” and I motioned to the space between me and Jess — “is not necessarily meant to be.” I gave a weak smile to show I was finished. Jess gave a laugh, more of a pretend cackle.
“Honey, we are on different levels, but we will make it work.”
She took my hand and hung it over her shoulder. “I just love us, we’re as cute as Minnie and Mickey or Rose and Jack!”
“Jess, please. I just need some space,” and tried to wiggle my arm free.
“But I like it when we’re closer.” Jess bumped her hip next to mine, and put both her hands around my neck. She gave another giggle.
“Well, I don’t, Jess. Can you just respect the fact that I need some time?” I was doing the best I could to stay cool. Ryan and Fiona still stood, but had inched back behind the corner of the alleyway.
I wanted to sink back into the garbage can. She nuzzled her nose up to mine. “And I think we are perfect for each other.”
“Enough!” I shouted, more exasperated than intended. I harshly pulled my arms back and backed myself away. “Jess, I’m done!” I stated. “D O N E!” my voice echoed within the alleyway perimeters. “I’m sick of this relationship, and of the fakeness, and not being able to speak,” I ranted. “I don’t like you and am going to stop pretending that this is okay.”
I had motioned between us. “Just go and think you’re so much better then everyone, Okay?” My ears were swelling with the unidentifiable silence. Just pure quiet. I looked to Jess’s face and witnessed her rosy cheeks lose their color and turn into a weird pale. Her eyes weren’t watering, but they were looking to something else, they weren’t looking into this situation. Her lips were in a line and didn’t look like they would be open anytime soon.
“Jess, I’m so sorry.” I woke to my senses. Sure, Jess may have not treated me the best, but she couldn’t really help it. I treated her much worse, I had been mean. I reached out for her arm, expecting she would have shaken it away after I had just broken up with her, but she hadn’t.
“So — so this is over?” she monotonously stuttered, while my hand touched her arm.
“I hadn’t meant to be so harsh, I’m sorry, you’re awesome and I’m sure you will find someone … soon …” I tried.
“No, no worries.” She looked up at me and pushed my arm away. She gave a forced, small smile and backed out of the alleyway. She looked at Fiona. “What about my happy ending?”
Fiona raced up to her in a hurry. “Oh Jessie.” Her eyes looked like they had so much commentary, but all she did was hug a somewhat vulnerable Jess, and carry her away.
Over Jess’s shoulder she mouthed, “Why would you do that?”
I mouthed, “ I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do.”
Jess broke from the hug and robotically walked to the alley’s opening.
“You have no clue, no clue about Jess,” Fiona fiercely whispered to me.
“I think everyone always knows when she walks in a room.” I did my best to politely say she was a drama queen.
“I wish the truth was easier, you would never understand.” Her voice was as low as if telling a secret. The wind picked it up, and whispered this in my ear.
* * *
For the next couple of days, Jess had been a thing of the past that every now and then made me feel like a terrible person, but things had to be done. Everything else seemed normal-ish. That is when December 24th rolled around, forgotten by many but not one.
“Hello, this is South Brick Pizza calling, is this Daniel speaking?”
“Yes?” I had questioned this more than answered.
The man’s’ Italian accent now flared with annoyance, “We have a birthday dinner booked for right now, and it is currently empty. You’re just a kid but you’ve got to understand pranks like these aren’t funny-”
“I am so sorry sir, but I never made a reservation for a — ”
“Your blondie girlfriend did, left her whole card and everything, You’re a lucky man, you must never have to pay for a check.”
“What? Then why are you calling me?”
“She left both your numbers, so are you coming or not?”
“Not that I know of … ” My voice trailed off, then I interjected my own thought, “Wait, what had she said?”
“The girl wouldn’t answer, we should probably hook up a text machine thingy, maybe then we’ll get answers.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“You know how much business I lost from this kid? Gosh,” and he slammed the phone.
After the lovely call with Mr. Angry Italian guy, I took a trip over to Jess’s. A little bit annoyed, I also didn’t want any charge on my card.
When I got to the door, I was greeted by Fiona.
She ran her fingers through her auburn hair and gave me a sweet smile. “What’s up?” she asked, behind her a floating birthday balloon.
“Hey there Fiona, so I need to talk to Jess about the birthday festivities … ”
Fiona cut me off, “You know, I don’t think she’s up for talking at the moment … ”
“Okay, you see, this is kinda urgent she booked a party on my — ”
But I was cut off by a violent scream.
“I’m sure she accepts your apology, ” Fiona stuttered, and turned her face up the staircase.
I felt that it was my duty as a human being that I had to ask what that scream was about.
“Is everything alright?” I knew it was not.
“Yes, sure everything is — ” Fiona started. Her lips were pursed, as if they wanted to open, but there was some force greater, weighing down on her lips. As if some emotional force struck Fiona with fear and she started shivering a little.
“No — everything’s not fine, why must people be so cruel? What did Jess ever do to them? Poor Jess’s birthday is ruined!”
I was confused, and a guy, how could I tell what was happening? I bent down and put a hand on her shoulder.
“What’s going on? Fiona, talk to me.”
“I — can’t,” she said to the ground. Her eyes fixed on the tip of my shoes.
“Fiona, I’m sorry I can’t come to the party, Jess and I aren’t dating anymore so it feels kind of awkward to go with her and her family to celebrate her birthday, but please tell me is everything okay?”
Another scream sent chills down my spine which took over my mind. I walked into the house with one hand holding Fiona’s torso up. She couldn’t even speak, she pointed up to Jess’s room.
I strode up the long, brown staircase. The wood floor slid beneath me as I skidded past two rooms, then finally when the scream was too close for comfort, I peeked back and saw a plain white room, with only a small window that had the blinds closed.
There was Jess, slouching and crumpled in a dark corner of the room. The lights were off, and she had her hands scrunched up close to her face, her blonde hair covering her eyes. Her loud sobs echoed out and rammed against the walls.
She was a Jess I don’t think many people, maybe no one, had ever seen. This Jess’s hair was not perfectly curled, it was crumpled in a messy bun. This Jess was in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, not any heels for sure. This Jess’s face had completely misplaced its charming smile for a scary frown that must have only been worn on a top-secret occasion. Her mascara coated her cheeks and drips of makeup revealed the Jess that no one knew.
I stopped for a second, soaking all of this in. Could this have been my doing? I thought. Was I a terrible heartbreaker? However, these thoughts all slipped away when Jess turned and began to get up, taking deep breaths. Jess’s eyes caught mine but quickly diverted, clearly thinking about something very consuming.
I approached the room cautiously, uncertain of what to expect. My head was circling its thoughts and all that was happening. I went to Jess’s bed, covered in perfectly white sheets. I took her hand and held it in both of mine.
“Jess,” I spoke, somewhat shakily. She kept trying to squirm her feet. “Jess,” I spoke more directly and in that scary but special moment, our eyes caught onto each other.
I led her to her bed and had her lie down. She squished herself into a tiny ball and started rocking back and forth. I put my arm around her back and started rambling about stuff.
“Jess, I’m sorry, I never meant for this to happen.” I rubbed her back and stared into her lost eyes, a forest of green. “Please, please don’t do this, take a break, take a breath. This is all my fault, I never meant to hurt anyone, I hate that you are so upset, really, I hate when anyone is this upset. I’m so sorry.” I sat there on her bed for only a few minutes, until finally, but slowly the rocking stopped and Jess started to blink her eyes.
Through her slurred mumbling, she was denying the fact that I had done something. “It wasn’t you.” I held her curled up body in my two arms and kept instructing her to be strong. “I was sinking, and I needed some sort of an anchor, you looked like a good one.”
Those words meant so much to me, yet I wasn’t even sure why. I had never been so important to anyone before. My friends never would have thought about me being someone who stops them from drowning. I gave her hand a slight squeeze. “You sure?”
And she nodded, breaking out of her gaze in the window. She gave the slightest of smiles to the ground, but then it disappeared. Jess let her head slide to my shoulder, and she lazily closed her eyes.
“You know, I don’t know what you’re going through or anything, but the beginning of this year was rocky for me. My friends kind of left me and in a way you were somewhat of an anchor to me too.”
Jess moved her back up and sat with her legs crossed. She fixed her posture and said, “Can I tell you a secret?”
“I haven’t shared this side of me with anyone, but you’re my … ” she couldn’t find the word, “friend, right?”
“Okay,” she took a deep breath, “My parents, they refused to come to my birthday party, they can barely stay together on one planet.” She looked up at me and solemnly stated, “You know, no one came.” She breathed through her nose and let out one of those sad laughs, “No one came.” A tear started to trickle out of her eyes, like a leaf casually tumbling out of a tree. She used the back of her hand to wipe it. “I’m officially 18, I never expected it would be like this. I’m an average student I guess, no talents or friends, or even family … ” She sniffed her nose. “I’m a mess.” She bent over crying, her head in my lap.
I picked her back up, and looked her in the face as she silently weep.
“Hey, you’re not that much of a mess.”
She gave me a semi-smile.
“But seriously,” I continued, “You are so much stronger than you feel, all these events, they blur our vision of what the truth of is.”
She wiped her eyes again and off came a black streak of mascara. “I am a mess, an ugly mess — ”
“No you’re not, you’re amazing, this is honesty, this is the truth. Life isn’t like how it is in the movies. You are you, and honestly, Jess you’re great.”
“Who am I?” she asked to the air. “A overdramatic girl who is conceited and selfish and aggressive … ” she answered herself, speaking softly.
“I may have said that before, but this is a different side of you, a broken but … but …” I struggled to find the word, “a broken but beautiful mess. But sometimes that’s life. “
“Oh shut up,” she playfully snapped. “Stop being all smart.”
“Hey, you’re my friend, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. I like people for their true selves.”
The room was silent.
Jess sighed, “You know, I have never really had a true friend, besides FIona of course. When my parents got divorced, my Aunt and Uncle, Fiona’s parents, took me in, we grew up together.”
“I haven’t had friends either.”
“Yes you have and you know it.”
“Friends, yes,” I sighed, “but not a true one, I think you could be one.”
“Could be?” She sniffed again, obviously unsure if I was joking.
“You seem like you could be good friend material.”
“What about best friend material?” she asked.
I replied, “We’ll see.”
And that’s how I started piecing together a fragile china doll, who seemed so perfect, but easily could start breaking apart.
“We do still have a reservation … ” I said.
She smiled and slipped her hand in mine.