I was pretty shaken up after I broke up with my girlfriend. I spent the next few days after eating bowls of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, lounging around in my robe and slippers, and streaming sad lesbian romances. It was Saturday that Randy called me up and said he was back in town, visiting family, and it was his last day, so why don’t we meet up and get a cup of coffee or something?
Randy and I had both grown up in the L.A. suburbs, but he had family in Washington close to where I got my job. It was also around there that I met Cecelia, whom I was hoping would be my S.O. for at least a quarter of my twenties, until she had a few mental meltdowns, the distance started being an issue, and everything else on that foundation collapsed as well.
I got to the diner early and stood outside in case he couldn’t discern it from the other clustered buildings. Not too long after, a red Chevy pick-up truck parks and Randy jumps out of it.
“That yours?” I asked, gesturing to the truck.
He’s wearing a big neon-yellow windbreaker, which is typically how SoCal natives look like when they come to Seattle in the fall.
“How have you been?” I ask when he moves in for a hug.
“The same. What’s this place you got here?”
Florence’s diner was a rinky-dink 50’s style building with big red booths and wide windows you could stare out of. When my bus got delayed on my way back from work, I had ducked in and enjoyed some chicken potpie while watching the strange characters go up and down Capitol Hill at night.
We grabbed a place to sit, and he scanned a menu for two seconds before slamming down an order for bacon, eggs, and pancakes and a cup of coffee for the both of us.
“What are you gonna have?” he asked when he noticed I didn’t order anything.
“Truth be told, I’m not that hungry.”
He looked disappointed, so I shooed the waitress away and broke the news about the break-up, moving out, and my pathetic Saturday.
His eyes grew big, and when I finally finished telling the story, he looked genuinely sorry for me.
“Shit. That sucks, Rach. You two were… no offense, but you both seemed really happy.”
“We were good at keeping appearances.” I didn’t want to sound bitter, so I changed the topic. “Anyway. How’s you and Annika?”
His eyebrows dug into a painful frown and he shook his head.
“We broke up.”
“Oh no,” I said instinctively, though in truth I felt relieved. Everyone and their mother pretty much knew that the two had been on their way out for the last three months.
“It’s okay. It’s for the best.” He stared aimlessly out the window. “She’ll be happier doing her own thing in Bruges. It’s too damn cold there anyhow.”
He looked mopey, so I decided not to bother him about it. The waitress came in with the coffee and we waited for it to cool.
“What are you looking for in a relationship, Randy?”
He doesn’t miss a beat. “Pussy. You?”
“Well,” he added, “I don’t know if I’m really looking anymore. Annika happened and she put a lot of unnecessary stress into my life and that wasn’t fun.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. I try not to think. Sometimes I get horny at night and then I just think of all the euros I may have literally and figuratively tossed out the window when I was taking her around Europe. Probably was enough in there to buy a year of yoga lessons and an apartment in the red light district. I don’t know.”
I start laughing and he just waves it away. “But yeah, you?”
I twirl the fork on my plate and act like I haven’t rehearsed the question. “I think I’d just like to meet someone stable, whose future aligns with mine.”
He made a look as if he swallowed burnt coffee. “You’re twenty-four. You want to settle down already?”
“I’m sick of always moving about, things being unsure. I want some solid ground, you know? Dating around gets kinda boring.”
Randy makes one of those motions where he shrugs and scoffs at the same time.
“Well, you’re talking to the guy who hasn’t been able to hold down a job or a girlfriend for more than nine months.”
“Yeah, but you always quit and find something better.”
His eyes bore into mine and he shakes his head. “I get bored.”
Randy insisted ordering pumpkin pie for the both of us since it was October. It was kinda endearing to watch him scarf down his dessert like it was the greatest thing he ever tasted, even if all I was doing was making swirls of pumpkin dance on my plate. I had never been much of a pumpkin person. We started talking about jobs, and Randy went on a full-on rant about his. An hour later, the sky had darkened under a cloud of gray. The waitress came by with the check and we both regressed to our old instincts.
“I’ll get it–”
“No, Randy, I’m treating.”
“Well, I suggested it.”
“You’re in my city.”
“Well, I staked out this place before you.”
“No splitting checks,” grumbled the waitress.
I raised my hands in mock resignation and he put a twenty on the table. I threw in a couple dollars for the tip, and the waitress was out in lightning speed. I grabbed my purse while he took the windbreaker in one arm and we walked out to his pick-up truck.
The evening breeze hit me like a cold blast through my body. Randy faced the truck and fumbled around for the keys in his pockets.
“Hey. It was really nice catching up with you again, Rach.”
“Um…I’ll hit you up and call you later. I really hope you feel better.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I looked at him and realized we were both stalling.
“Hey,” I blurted out, “why don’t you come back with me to my apartment?”
He looked at me in surprise.
I had no idea what I was doing, but went along with it. “It’s not far from here. I can show you my records and stuff. It’s pretty messed up at the moment, but…” I search for the right words. “It’ll be a throwback to old times, yeah?”
He checked the watch on his wrist. “Yeah, I have time.”
I felt relieved, though my mind prickled with how I’d keep him entertained for the next hour or so.
“Great,” I said. “Let’s go.”
My apartment looked like a tornado hit it after Cecelia packed up all her things. Some of it she couldn’t really take with her, so she left a few cardboard boxes for me in the kitchen. Said I could have it, but I’m pretty sure she just wanted to torture me with whatever remnants of her she didn’t need. She was civil through most of the fallout, but even CeCe had her moments of evil.
“So where’s that record player?”
“In the bedroom, but the vinyls are all in the living room.”
I brought them over to my room and soon we were perched on my queen bed, going through them and deciding which ones to put on. I liked my apartment super-warm and Randy was wearing a thermal, so he was soon rubbing sweat off his face.
“Geez, Rach, it’s like a furnace in here. How did your ex take it?”
I shrugged. “She just got used to it I guess.”
We put on The Pretenders and listened to the voice croon over the French horn.
“What was the reason why you got with your ex?” Randy asked.
I shrugged and thought about it. “I walked into a Starbucks one day and while I was waiting in line to buy some Fiji water, I saw a girl sitting on a couch all by herself, holding a giant chemistry book and looking completely engrossed in it. Like notes, highlighter, the whole works, and blocking everything out that was around her. And I almost didn’t hear the barista when he called me up because I couldn’t stop staring. The light just caught her hair… and she looked beautiful.”
“You went after a girl because she looked good in sunlight?” His voice was deadpan and slightly unimpressed.
“Well, what about you?”
He shrugged. “I was in Paris, trying to figure out how to go from Champs-Elysees to the Louvre. Then a girl with big boobs and purple hair tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was lost and I just knew.”
“That we’d end up sleeping together and six months from now it’d be a huge mistake.”
We exchanged glances.
“I think my story was better,” I said.
He punches me in the arm and I punch back. We sit on the edge of my bed for moment, staring at the blank empty walls that I never bothered to decorate.
“Hey Rach.” Randy’s voice was low and rumbly, the way it always sounded when he had something important on his mind. “Did I make out with you grad nite?”
I gave him a look.
“You know, high school grad nite. You were there.”
“Were you that drunk that night?”
“I’m serious. Maybe, I don’t know. But I do know I made out with someone, and I wanted to figure it out if it was you.”
The earnestness of his inquiry was striking but I couldn’t take it seriously. “I’m pretty sure that was Kateryna, actually. You might have told me about it.”
“Kateryna! Oh!” He threw his head back, as if it was all coming back to him. “Wow, why did I make out with her?”
“Beats me. You chased after the foreign girls. Still do.”
“I wish I made out with you instead.”
I stare into his eyes, not knowing what to say. Before I know it, he pushes me down to the bed and hovers his face so close to mine I can see the fog condensing over his glasses. Our pupils dilate and we speak through a series of blinks and intakes of breath. He slides his hand underneath the front of my jeans and I arch my head back, grabbing fistfuls of his thermal and pulling it over his head.
It started raining later into the night, and the music had stopped long before then, so all we heard was the plink-plink of the windowpanes and the heater still whirring on. His hands were still over me, his forehead touching my neck from behind. If I had to guess, I would think Randy got used to it as well. We lay there in silence for a long time until he broke the silence like a stone through a still pond.
“You ever wonder where it all went wrong?”
Scenes flashed through my head. The shards of the lamp she accidentally broke when she tripped on the wire. The stack of movies in my living room that we said we would watch but never did. Cold wine on the kitchen table, me grinding my palm into my temple because I couldn’t fix any of her problems. I didn’t answer, and wondered if Randy was replaying scenes in his head as well.
“I just feel like… I have everything I want in life but there’s a void and it’s sucking the happy out of everything else.”
“That’s post-relationship depression for you. But you’ll get over it. You have to.” He whispered the words into the arch behind my back and I shivered.
“So what is this,” I murmured. “For the two of us?”
“I guess it’s the frustrating crossroads of bullshit until we find something better to hold onto, even if that’s bad as well.”
I never had any feelings for Randy, but the way he put that to words spooked a longing inside me. I wanted to say more, but by the time words came to my mouth, I realized he was snoozing silently with his arms still around my waist.
I decided not to move and wake him and fell asleep with the lights on.
I had a dream that night.
CeCe had shown up at my apartment, wearing that high school uniform she had when she was trying to be sexy, but now it just made her look childish.
I kept trying to assure her. “You were the first girl I really truly loved, CeCe.”
But she wouldn’t listen and just kept crying and crying.
Then I grew frustrated and started muttering a string of words, but they kept skipping like a broken record, and I repeated them because I wanted her to hear.
“Go finish school, CeCe. Grow up. I can’t. I’m sorry. Go to school.”
Then, I think to say ‘I love you’ but it catches in the wind and turns into a faint song only I can hear. I keep trying to catch the song, and say it out loud, but eventually my brain registers that it’s a dream and I’m waking up to the sound of Randy loudly eating chips in my bedroom, still naked, and reading a book that he had accidentally knocked to the ground when he threw his belt and pants to the side.
It was still drizzling lightly when I walked Randy back to his truck. He was wearing the neon-yellow windbreaker again, and I had half a mind to tell him how silly he looked. But I didn’t and for the most part, we walked in silence.
“Thanks for having me over,” he said as we got there.
I smiled. “Yeah, it was great.” I remembered that the truck wasn’t his. “Um, is your sister gonna be okay with you having that with you overnight?”
Randy’s expression stiffened and he blew smoke out his lips. “Nah. I mean, if she gives me hell, she gives me hell. I said I was seeing a friend yesterday so she probably figured out what happened.”
I laughed but he still looked kinda moody. He sniffed, rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, and squinted at the gray clouds.
“It’s fucking hard, you know? Starting over.”
I nodded. We both stared at the sky for a moment, watching the small droplets fall from the skies through a break where sunlight slipped past the clouds.
“I said this before, but I really hope you feel better.”
“But anyway, on the other note, I was good, right?”
“You know…” he pressed suggestively.
“Oh yeah.” It had been weeks since I had been able to sleep so well, and yesterday almost felt like a lucid dream. Or the waking up of a long, strained nightmare.
I shrugged. “As good as it’s ever been.”
It was a vague enough response but he chuckled. “Kay. Whatever.”
He walked towards his car, unlocked it with a chirp, and prepared to step up.
“Hey,” he said quietly, his back turned towards me. “Tell me when you’re back in Los Angeles, okay?” A pause. “I miss you. You should visit some time.”
Then he turns back and gives me the biggest smile that I’ve seen from him in a while and I come over to give him a hug. The windbreaker rubs against my sweater, getting droplets all over me, but I don’t care.
“For sure I will.”
After he peels away, I watch him climb onto the truck and fire up the engine.
He makes a wide turn out of the circle of my driveway, and with a cool expression, waves as he drives off.
I wave back and watch as the truck goes down the road and disappears, probably up Capitol Hill and then up Interstate 5 back to where I used to pick up Cecelia. I stand there for a while, collecting rain on my now damp sweater, when I remember that it’s Sunday morning and a good time to finally go through the boxes that my ex left me.
As I resolve to clean up the mess, I realize that I’m suddenly craving a pumpkin spiced latte for the first time since I moved to Seattle.