The red alert tone dinged in the air and I rolled back to my desk to check my messages. A chat box lurked somewhere in that forest of windows on my monitor, hiding as I tabbed through to find it. My art supplies lay scattered across my little studio, and the breeze through the open window moved some of the corners of concept sketches gently.
I curled my bare feet under my old office chair as my heart sank. It was from him.
I tapped my tablet’s pen against the edge of the desk, trying to decide what I should say—if anything. My room was uncomfortably warm now, but if it was the weather or my emotions I couldn’t tell. I shed my heavy sweatshirt in favor of the tank underneath and the alert tone went off again.
>>hoping you had a minute to talk
Sighing, I placed my project on a stack of thick reference books teetering on the edge of my desk.
<<Not really. Why?
It wasn’t a second before the next message.
>>I’d rather call
My fingers were the midst of typing my honest message—I’d rather you not—when the incoming call window exploded onto my screen and the loud chiming of the oncoming conversation filled the little studio.
I sighed again, more heavily.
His face showed up on my screen, slightly larger than life, the webcam blowing his kitchen out of proportion on my screen. His windows were darkened by the rain that would soon be headed my way as he sat at his table, three point four miles from my home studio.
“Hey,” he said. I noted with a twinge of sadness that he was still just as attractive as he had been that first day, his husky voice familiar. I always fell for the most handsome ones, with little regard to character, much less compatibility—and no matter how shallow and immature a trait it was, I couldn’t seem to move past the initial visual pull. The curse of being aesthetically judicious, I suppose—a good thing for an artist, a bad thing for a single woman.
“What do you need?” I asked. He had gotten the remainder of his stuff from my flat the week before. He hadn’t ever stayed the night, but he had left enough things and spent enough time that an outsider would have thought that he had, and frequently.
He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “I had a dream about you last night,” he confessed.
I rubbed my eyes with my fingers. “I thought I told you to stop calling.”
“I can’t help myself,” he started. “I can’t get you out of my head.”
I refrained from saying my thoughts—well, that makes two of us—and instead stood and dropped a crust of bread from an earlier sandwich into the trash can. “That’s not my problem.” My back turned, I hardly glanced over my shoulder to say it.
“Listen, I’ve been thinking—.”
“No, you listen here,” I said, and turned around. I steadied myself with one hand on the marble counter beside me, the other on my hip. “I’m done. I’m done with this, I’m done with the calls, I’m done finding another one of your notes stashed between the cushions of my couch. I’m through with us living awkwardly on the edge of friendship and what was more, once. I’m done with the walking on toes.”
“Exactly!” His tone was hopeful, and his brown eyes lit up. “That’s exactly what I was going to say.”
I stared down at the chipping nail polish on my toenails. “No.” I cut him off. “No, it’s not.” I looked up now, fixing his image on that screen in my eyes, in my brain. “I don’t think you get it. I am finished. Stop calling me. Delete my number from your phone. Erase my email from your address book. I cannot do this anymore, and I refuse. I’m tired of haphazardly avoiding you and still talking to you, tired of saying it’s over and crawling back to confide in you.
“So stop. I don’t care that you have dreams about me. I don’t care when you find a picture of me. I don’t care when that dumb song comes on the radio and reminds you of that first dance—.” I choked up, now, the memories overwhelming. My tears were hot and harsh as I rubbed them on the back of my wrist. “Quit. I’m through. I’m done.”
“But—.” He looked destitute—hopeless, even.
“Don’t you get it?” I demanded, staring through that screen, straight into his eyes. “There’s too much between us now. Too much sadness, too much happiness, too much of everything. We can’t start over after this. It can’t happen. And I’m not coming back.”
“But—.” Starting again, he faltered to a stop again. His voice was quiet when he started again, looking down. “So I guess you want this to be it, then.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, this is it.”
He didn’t look back up at me then, his tragically beautiful face downcast, staring deep into his keyboard as if giving it one last chance to convince me to stay, somehow. It couldn’t. “Okay,” he said. “All right. I wish you the best.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking down. “You too.”
My screen stared back at me, my work in progress image bright on the screen. He had hung up, then. Oh, well, maybe it was for the best.
The breeze rustled my papers, and the room seemed chilly now. I reached for my sweatshirt and snuggled into it, sitting down to continue my work. Outside, the birds sang into the bright spring sun as the rainclouds steadily approached, the world turning on as though I had no effect on it at all.