By Kim Otteson
“So… I was wondering if you’d thought anymore about our conversation from before.”
Lauren’s heart skipped a beat. So this was the moment. Silently, she pulled the car into a parking space and braked.
“Not really since we last talked about it,” she lied.
The air in the car suddenly felt heavy, desolate. She forced herself to feel hopeful, but it quickly occurred to her why he had been acting so strange and distant all afternoon. He’d been mentally preparing himself for this conversation. Though still worried, this thought cheered her slightly; even if things were about to go very, very badly, at least she’d warranted this much forethought. It was more than any other guy had given her before.
They sat in silence for a few moments, neither wanting to begin, and both knowing their future was about to go one of two ways. Lauren wished suddenly, desperately, that she could preserve this moment forever; a moment where everything was still perfect, where they had not yet crossed the threshold.
“I guess it’s like I told you before,” he began.
Lauren looked away immediately, suddenly becoming very interested in her fingers which were gripping the bottom of the steering wheel, despite the fact that the car was at a stand-still. Her nails were painted a metallic green, except for the nail on both ring-fingers, which were gold and sparkling in the hot August sunlight. They’d looked very well done a couple weeks back, almost professional. Now, however, the paint was chipping and bits of white nail were becoming visible.
“I’ve never had any luck with long distance in the past,” he continued. “It just…doesn’t fit with my personality.”
Despite rehearsing this exact conversation in her head dozens of times before today, despite knowing that it was now more important than ever to be articulate, Lauren didn’t know what to say. Shockingly, she didn’t feel remotely close to crying, as she usually did when discussing her feelings with anyone. But then, he’d always been easy to talk to.
That thought suddenly reminded her of what was at stake—what she desperately had to defend—and it spurred her to action.
“I know school’s coming up,” she began, “and I know it would be a challenge. But I really think we should give it a try. I’ve never connected with anyone like this before. And I know you said long distance has never gone well for you in the past, but…I really like you.”
Their eyes met.
“I just…don’t think my heart would be in it one-hundred percent. I would rather have this talk now than pretend that I would be able to handle it, until the first week of the semester comes along and you get a phone call from me telling you I can’t. You deserve more than that. So…I think that’s my answer.”
They both looked away again.
“Alright, well…you should probably be getting back, right?” she asked, desperately trying to sound casual, despite the panic that was rising inside her.
He looked back at her, eyebrows raised.
“This isn’t easy for me, you know,” he said, an edge to his voice.
However hard it was to accept it at the time, Lauren knew he was telling the truth.
“I know,” she replied quietly.
Lauren’s knee nervously bounced up and down at under the table in the coffee shop as she pretended to be interested in her phone. She checked the clock for what felt like the millionth time, though she’d only been there a few minutes. 3:34. Any second now he’d be walking through the door. It felt silly to be this nervous; after all, they’d been talking for weeks, and, based on their conversations, seemed to really click.
Still, she couldn’t keep her pounding heart under control when he approached.
“No,” she replied, but there was a joking smirk on her face.
He laughed, pulled up a chair, and handed her his phone, which had a list of movie times on the screen.
“So there’s a movie I thought we could see later. It’s called Begin Again…”
Silence hung in the air again for what felt like the hundredth time. Lauren knew it was over; the battle was lost. But the finality of the situation had not yet hit, and she knew he had to leave before it did.
“Do you…want me to walk you to your car?” she asked, refusing to look at him.
“Do you want to walk me to my car?”
Always so polite. Apparently he wasn’t going to make this easy. If he hadn’t been so adamant about this being the end, she would have wondered if the fact that he wasn’t rushing to get out of her car was a sign that he wanted her to keep fighting for them. But it was silly and desperate to take anything as a sign at this point.
“I asked if you wanted me to,” she snapped, frustrated.
If you’re going to let me go, why don’t you just leave already?
In silence once again, the two slowly climbed out of the car and walked for what felt like a lifetime to his car. There they both stood, Lauren not knowing what to expect, having never endured this before.
“You know, I spent almost every weekend of my summer with you,” he said, breaking the silence. “That had to mean something.”
Please don’t do this.
Lauren suddenly thought longingly of their goodbyes in the past. That was what she would miss the most. The long embraces, and neither wanting to walk away first.
“Would it be weird if I hugged you?”
“I think it would be weird if you didn’t,” Lauren managed to choke out, the nearing threat of tears beginning to impede her ability to speak normally.
Whether it was thirty seconds or thirty minutes, she didn’t know. He held her and kissed the top of her head lightly, before they both broke away.
Though she knew it would be her last opportunity to ever see his face, she stared pointedly at the ground while mumbling a hasty “drive safe.”
He called after her, but she had already begun to walk away. All she knew was that she had to get back to the car. It was like the safe-zone in tag. If she made it back there everything would be okay.
The door slammed shut, her hands grabbed the top of the steering wheel as though grasping at a life preserver, and her face fell against it. The tears, which had mercifully been kept at bay while he was still within eyesight, poured out as thought someone had just turned the faucet to full blast. Huge, gasping sobs escaped from her trembling lips.
So this was the end. It was what she’d been dreading, but never actually dreamed would happen. Stupidly, she’d convinced herself that he liked her too much to let her go, that what they’d had was real. She’d let her imagination run amok, picturing him visiting her at school during the coming semester or going to dinner with her family.
But there was a new reality now, one that was settling in with every breath she took. No more texts. No more nights in uptown. No more movies. Oh God, movies. Boyhood. Begin Again. The Departed. All ruined forever. Along with every song on the radio, every album they’d listened to in the car.
Eventually, the sobs quietly subsided, like a storm nearing its end. Lauren lifted her head, staring at the rest of the parking lot in front of her, as vast and empty and bleak as the possibility of a future being taken away.
Kim Otteson currently lives in the Twin Cities. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from UW – Eau Claire and is pursuing a career that involves working with animals. She enjoys writing as well as the occasional (read: frequent) Netflix binge.