I was on the verge of sleep when the blankets shifted behind me, the futon dipping down with his weight. His hand rested upon my upper arm. My skin prickled with goosebumps, warming under his touch, though I was frozen. His fingers began lightly trailing up toward my shoulder, to my neck, tracing my jawline.
I wandered back to dreamy moments in his bedroom, when he’d fascinate in my features. I never knew if it was love, or if he was returning the favor of my helpless infatuation. It felt as if he was repaying a debt. I’m still convinced he was.
He travelled up to my mouth and brushed along the contours of my lips, parting them, drawing out my stifled breath.
I walked down the center of the double-wide sidewalk, feigning confidence despite not knowing where the hell I was going. This part of Boston was foreign to me. Google Maps wasn’t keeping up with my uncontrollably-hurried gait, and Northeastern’s campus sprawled endlessly.
It was the beginning of sophomore year, and everyone was itching to get back into the swing of college life. Leo had requested my presence at his dorm party after sobbing to me over the phone about his girlfriend's infidelity just a few months previous.
“Bring some of your hot roommates,” he’d teased. Back-up couldn’t hurt.
Glancing up from my phone, I saw him about a block away. I immediately looked down, taking shallow breaths to quell the nausea. “Okay, this is okay,” I spoke quietly to myself. “You’re fine. You’ll have a good time. This is a thing that friends do. You’ve got this. Plus, you look great.”
And I did look great. I was wearing a black skater dress and pumps—a complete 180 from the jeans and loose tees I used to wear in high school. I finally knew how to style my hair, how to apply makeup beyond just a few swipes of mascara. I could still look good in front of a platonic friend, right?
“Well, well, don’t you look nice,” Leo said as I approached him, his eyes running up and down my dress. “Where are your roommates?”
“Okay, slow down, ya creep,” I laughed, slipping my heels out of the constricting patent leather heels. “They’re going to meet up with us later. Let’s go, these shoes are killing me!”
My roommates and I sat on the futon after the drinking game devolved into everyone taking shots of cheap vodka. “He keeps looking at you,” Kate noted. Leo laughed along with a group of girls in the corner as his dorm-mates poured vodka out into a line of shot glasses. He glanced over at me every few seconds.
“That’s his game,” I explained. “Has been since high school. That stupid look,” I sipped my drink, staring into the back of the Solo cup. I could see him sitting across from me in the library again, smiling at me with those big eyes of his. “He used to love keeping me on a string.”
If we could hang out all buddy-buddy, that would be proof enough that I didn’t have feelings for him anymore. If I could see him being over me, I could get over him. The logic was shaky, but I’d never “gotten over” someone before. I’d never had to.
As the night went on and the booze kept flowing, I found him on the ground in the bathroom.
“Dude,” I closed the door behind me. “Not thinking that those seven shots in a row were the best idea.”
He moaned in agreement as he rested his head on the toilet seat. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m… fine,” he paused as he gulped down a wave of nausea. “Just… fucking lonely.”
I sat on the edge of the tub, smoothing the skirt of my dress. He turned his head to me briefly and smiled before resuming his vigil, face-first into the bowl. “You do look good, you know,” he said. “I’ve never seen you wear a dress. Well, besides prom.”
I wasn’t sure what I wanted from him. Here I was, sitting in his bathroom, dressed up far beyond what would suffice for a casual hang-out with a platonic friend. The compliment seeped in and reddened my cheeks.
We were quiet for a while. I couldn’t decide whether or not I should rest a hand on his shoulder; it felt like crossing a line I’d drawn for myself. I just sat there, listening to him breathe and work through the nausea.
“Amber?” Leo managed shakily, after a few deep breaths. I leaned forward and lightly touched his shoulder.
“Yeah? What d’you need? I can grab some water from the kitchen...”
“Do you still love me?”
It felt like someone had run a pole through my chest. My hand recoiled like I’d touched a hot stove, my eyes burned with the start of tears. He continued to stare into the water, waiting for my reply. What a fucking asshole, I thought. He can’t ask me that! What am I supposed to say?You know what, I don’t have to say anything. Fuck him.
I could barely remember a time when I wasn’t infatuated with him. He touched every part of my life, every strong memory—from our little “dates” his parents took us on in third grade, to stringing me along throughout high school, to him dating me and leaving me. He was the one person I would have given a thousand chances to, done anything for.
“Well, yeah,” I said slowly, choosing my words carefully. “I love you as a friend. Do you think I’d be in here while you puke your brains out if I didn’t?” We laughed together as the tension broke.
There was never really a time that I didn’t have feelings for him, and I knew that I still did—I’d just have to choke them down.
I helped him off of the floor and led us out of the bathroom.
“We’re leaving!” Catey said loudly, practically on top of me as we opened the door, giggling in her drunkenness. “Are you coming with?”
I looked after Leo as he wandered past me, over to the group of girls in the kitchen.
“I’m gonna make sure he’s okay, since his roommates don’t seem to give a shit," I grimaced as he leaned and began to slide down the wall slightly. "You guys go ahead, I’ll see you later.”
I didn’t realize that it was nearly 2AM, and the trains had stopped two hours ago.
As the last of the party guests left, I checked my bank account. Shit, my last ten bucks. A cab back to campus would be well over ten dollars.
“Hey,” I walked over to him as he piled up Solo cups by the kitchen sink. “So... I didn’t realize how late it was, and I don’t have enough money for a cab. Would you—?”
“Sleep here!” he interrupted. “We have the futon, you can wear a pair of my sweatpants.”
I felt my chest flutter at the idea of staying the night. “No no, it's fine, I should get back to campus. I’ll just pay you back for a cab.”
“No no,” he said decisively, closing his hands around mine. “I don’t want you taking a cab by yourself. Stay here. Please?”
I rolled my eyes at the familiar effect of his charm, that way he could make someone feel like they were precious. “Alright, fine,” I conceded. “Thanks, L. I appreciate it.”
I followed him to his room and waited in the doorway as he dug through his dresser drawers. He handed me a tee shirt and flannel pajama pants, and I told him to turn around.
“Really? Like I haven’t seen it all before.”
“What does that have to do with right now?” I snapped back, insulted that he’d bring up the intimacies of our past relationship. He was taken aback; his hands raised as he laughed and turned away from me. I felt him glance over his shoulder as I hiked the skirt of my dress up and slipped into his pants. “Hey!” I smacked his arm and laughed. “You’re asking for it!”
I walked out to the futon and spread a sheet down as he brushed his teeth, looking at me from the mirror. I shook my head at him, trying to play off his insistent gaze. “G'night, dude!” I smiled, scrunching up my face to hammer home I am not going to sleep with you, so don’t even try undertone. “Thanks for letting me stay over.” “Of course, Amb. Night.”
He turned to go to his bedroom, and all of me wished I could follow him. I shook the chills out of my head and pulled the covers up to my neck.
I turned over to face him. He tucked my hair behind my ear as I blinked my eyes out of sleep.
He kissed me, pulling me hard into his chest. I stayed as silent as possible as we fucked, not wanting to wake the roommates. He came in me, and it was like a shot of adrenaline. I sobered instantly. We sat in silence next to one another on the futon.
“Fuck. Leo… fuck,” I buried my face in my hands. “We should not have done this. You didn’t even wear a condom...” I felt nauseous. I was on birth control, but who knows who he'd been with, since he was so willing to screw anything that moved back in high school.
“I don’t think it was a mistake,” he took my wrists and held my hands on my lap.
I remembered the time he held my hand in the hallway, just a few weeks before he’d kissed me for the first time. “This fits,” he’d said, just loud enough for me to hear.
“I have to tell you, I can’t—” he began.
“Don’t,” I snatched my hands away. “I already know you aren't interested in anything beyond this.”
“Well, not right now, but…”
“Oh please, Leo. Please do not feed me that bullshit.”
And that's when it sank in. There would never be a right time. This was just another way to keep me wrapped up in him. He felt the pulling away, the recovery, so he had to sink the hooks back in. He needed a body to fill the void his cheating girlfriend left behind, and who better than the girl who had been infatuated with him since grade school?
I left the morning after, feeling disgusting in the dress I’d worn the night before. I fell for it again. But this time, I’d leave him completely. Please never contact me again, I wrote him in a text message.
We would run into one another in our hometown two years later, at a friend’s house. We would exchange niceties, and I’d look at him without a shred of romantic feeling. I’d take a hit of a joint passed to me by an old classmate, who had seen me at my worst in the throws of obsession, and I’d feel everything and nothing at all.
I felt that fear-filled fluttering in my stomach again as I stared at the follow request. Here I was, beyond happy in my relationship. Here he was, married… and somehow he still wanted to weasel his way back in. It’s like he could sense that I was content, that things were finally going well for me… the perfect time to swoop in and set off alarms.
I turned Leo into a story. He was just another set of dots on the timeline, just another thing to write about. I tore away from the emotional part, the part where this was a story about me. I stuffed it away and hoped the memories would decompose.
It had been seven years since I felt anything resembling love for him, and since then, I was able to break it down into infatuation. So why did this feel like such a huge deal? If I denied his request, would that mean that he won? That he would think I was still affected by him?
If I accepted, would I feel like I had to prove myself via my posts? To prove my happiness? To show him that I was truly better off without him?
The request made him real again. It brought back floods of insecurity, those feelings of uncontrollable obsession I had stuffed down deep into the pits of my subconscious. I had forgiven him for being a horny teenager long ago, but I never forgave myself for not knowing how to handle the feelings I couldn’t control.
The waves of nostalgia calmed after a few days after accepting him, the anxiety of him seeing any part of my life faded. He’s now just another follower, another viewer of my story, and I can look back on our past and admire the ridiculous vulnerability we found ourselves within together.