The spread included a buffet of things like antipasto, penne with pesto and rack of lamb. For dessert there were cannoli and Italian rum cake brought in from a pastry shop down the street.
The DJ played lots of Big band and mellow songs from artists like Tony Bennett and Michael Buble. The ceilings were adorned with shrimp-colored paper lanterns, and the long table was decorated with white hydrangeas surrounded by tea light candles floating in water.
Jake was wearing a black dress shirt rolled up at the sleeves that showcased his tattoos while Nina donned a simple black and white dress. Jake fed Nina an Italian cookie as A.J. sat in between them.
Even though I was so happy for them, the mood here made my heart feel heavy. It had been over a year now since I’d broken up with Mitch, and every day was harder than the last. I would always wonder what he was doing, whether he was happy or if today were the day he would meet someone he’d fall in love with. Tonight was especially hard because I was in his city, so close yet so far away.
The DJ called Jake and Nina up to dance to Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight. Something about that song always gave me the chills. It was so beautiful. I focused on the way Jake was looking at Nina when they were dancing, how they would whisper things to one another. In that moment, they were essentially all that existed to each other despite the room full of people. The look in Jake’s eyes was a familiar one; it was the same look Mitch used to give me.
As the song played, my entire relationship with Mitch flashed before my eyes: our basketball games as kids, the kiss at the carnival, his kissing my bald head, our night in Lake George. An intolerable ache built inside my chest. Just as the music changed to something fast-paced, I ran out of the reception room before anyone noticed me bawling.
I ended up in the crowded restaurant dining room and climbed a set of stairs that led up to an empty rooftop patio. A blast of wind blew my dress Marilyn Monroe-style as I opened the door. Even though it was a chilly night, the starry-sky was breathtaking. It felt like I could feel a hole in my chest as I began to cry harder.
Then, the door burst open. “Skylar? What the hell are you doing up here?”
A plane flew overhead as he walked toward me.
“Jake….” I tried to compose myself. “I just needed some air.”
“Bullshit. I saw you leaving in tears.”
“You should go back to your party.”
“The chicken dance can wait.” Jake pulled two chairs off a stack that were lined up on top of each other. “Sit.” When I sat down, he said, “Now talk.”
“You know I broke up with Mitch…”
“How could I forget? He came by my house after you dumped him, you know.”
“Yup…wanted to know if Nina knew anything, wanted my advice. Neither of us knew what to say. I just gave him beer, let him get drunk and drove him home.”
“When you and Nina were dancing to that song…it just reminded me of him.”
“Hold up. If you’re so sad about him, why did you end it? No one seems to know.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Before A.J. was born, if you found out Nina couldn’t have babies, would you have been able to stay with her for the long haul?”
Jake paused, blinking his eyes repeatedly as he put two and two together.
“Without a doubt…yes. Nina’s my baby. She means more to me than anything in the world. We happened to get lucky practically on the first shot, but if she weren’t able to give me a child, yes, it would have been a disappointment but only because I couldn’t have a part of her and a part of me. I wouldn’t want that with any other woman. Any guy that truly loves you would feel the same.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “You never told Nina, did you?”
“This is all starting to make sense now. You thought you were doing him a favor by letting him go before he had a chance to leave you later.”
I wiped my eyes. “Yeah.”
“If he truly loves you the way he says he does, you’re wrong, Skylar. When I was going through a rough time, a wise girl once told me that life was short and that I would regret it if I let Nina go so easily. This was the same chick who nearly knocked my teeth out. Have you seen this girl? She was badass. She needs to take her own advice right about now.”
I started to laugh a little through my tears, remembering that day. “I’m just scared.”
“That’s how you really know you love the dude. Love can’t exist without fear. If the thought of losing someone doesn’t scare the shit out of you, then it’s not love.”
My heart beat faster as I realized what I was about to do. “Can you tell Nina, I’m so sorry, but I have to leave?”
“Good night, princess.” I kissed Summer on the forehead as I tucked her into bed. I had been babysitting my sister while my father and his wife were out.
This was the second weekend trip I’d made to Pennsylvania recently. She deserved to have a brother who wasn’t completely absent from her life, and for once, I was making an effort to put aside my differences with my father. Something in my life needed to go right when everything else had gone to shit.
We had spent the night playing Monopoly, and I let her show me how to make her favorite Rice Krispy treats. I would have let her stay up way past her bedtime, but she finally got tuckered out and asked to go to sleep.
My father’s living room was dark except for the light from the television. The smell of cigarette smoke ingrained in the dated, tweed couch was pungent. I sat, flipping mindlessly through the channels, wishing I could talk to Skylar and tell her all about Summer. I wished a lot of things when it came to Skylar, namely that the past year never happened. I had made a lot of stupid mistakes in my efforts to forget the pain that she inflicted on me. Yet, the longing for her had managed to only intensify.
She hadn’t contacted me in months. So, about an hour later, when my phone rang and her name popped up on the screen, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
My eyelids closed tight, cherishing the sound of her voice. “Are you okay?”
“I’m at the lobby of your dorm. Are you here to let me up?”
“My dorm? You’re in Boston?”
“Yes. Nina and Jake had their engagement party, and I left the restaurant to come here.”
I threw one of the pillows in frustration. “Shit. I’m in Pennsylvania visiting my sister.”
She sniffled. “You are?” Her voice sounded hoarse. “Wow…that’s great. I—”
“Skylar, are you crying?”
She hesitated. “Yes. I came here to tell you something.”
It was noisy where she was, and I had trouble hearing her. “Listen, can you go somewhere quiet?”
“There’s a piano room down the hall of the lobby, the first door on the left before you get to the guard booth. No one’s ever in it.”
“Okay. I’m walking.” The phone shuffled as she moved. “I’m here. It’s empty.”
“Close the door.” I heard it shut, drowning out the earlier noise. “Now, tell me what you came there to say.”
“This is hard for me,” she said.
“I’ll stay on the phone with you as long as you need. You could recite the f**king phone book, and that would okay right about now. It’s just so good to hear your voice. Take your time.”
“There’s stuff I need to tell you. I don’t know where to begin. I should really do this in person.”
“No. No! I’m not gonna waste another second of my life wondering what you’re thinking. I need to know everything, and I need to hear it now.”
“I love you, Mitch.”
My heartbeat accelerated.
“I love you, too. I never stopped. You know that, right?”
“I have to tell you why I really broke up with you. I thought I was doing the right thing for you.”
“You’ve said that, but I don’t understand.”
“There’s a very good chance I can’t have babies, Mitch. The treatments…they destroyed my eggs.”
I stared at the Family Guy episode playing on the television as my mind absorbed what she’s said. What? I couldn’t believe she kept that from me. At the same time, I was devastated for her. It all made sense now.
“Mitch…are you still there?”
“You thought I would leave you if you couldn’t have kids?”
“It was more that I was afraid you wouldn’t, but that over time, as you got older and wanted a child of your own…you would resent me.”
My emotions were all over the place. I needed her to understand, so my voice was louder than I intended. “You got it wrong. I don’t want a child if it’s not with you. I will never want one with someone else. Do you understand me? Nothing matters to me but you. I’m just a f**king walking shell without you.”
She was quiet and sighed into the phone. “There’s something else I have to tell you.”
The long breath that escaped her was loud in my ear. “I spent the summer in New York and met this girl who lived in the city. She introduced me to her cousin. His name was Chad.”
My stomach suddenly felt sick. I knew where this was going.
“I was trying hard to get over you…and I ended up letting him have sex with me.”
I let out the breath I had been harboring and could taste the bile forming in my throat. My eyes getting stabbed out would have felt better than hearing that. I tried to act calm, but my labored breathing was a dead giveaway to my true feelings. My hands formed into fists as I resisted punching the wall. “Okay…okay. Is that it? You were protected, right?”
She was talking at warp speed. “Yes, of course. It happened so fast, and it was horrible. I never even saw him again. My first time should have been yours, and I felt so sick about it after. I did it because I thought it would help me move on, and it did just the opposite. I—”
“Okay. Don’t tell me anymore, alright? I can’t handle it. I just want to move past this.”
She directed the conversation toward me. “Have you dated anyone?”
I was silent, unsure of how to explain it to her. Since we were being honest…“I slept with two girls. I was lonely, and the more time that passed, I didn’t think you were coming back. The first time was the one-night stand when I stupidly texted you after. Then, at the end of last semester, I started kind of dating someone. Nothing came of it. It continued over the summer, but I was never into her, and she knew it. Shit, I still had your f**king pictures all over my room. She wanted something more serious than I could give her. In the beginning, she acted like she was okay with keeping things casual, but she ended up changing her tune. Anyway, she freaked when I ended it. I told her I was still in love with you. Then, she wouldn’t stop calling and started acting kind of psychotic. It was a mess, but it’s over.”
“What was her name?”
“Her name? Charisma.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath, and then it sounded like the phone dropped.
“Skylar…are you there?”
Her voice was unsteady when she returned to the phone. “Is she from New York?”
“Yes. Why does it matter?”
“The girl I met in the city—oh my God—it’s her.”
“It’s her. She came into my work…pretended to want to buy fabric. How did she know where I worked?” I felt vomit start to rise in my stomach as she continued, “She set me up with her scumbag cousin. I told her all my secrets. Mitch, I…I told her why I really broke up with you!”
Skylar started to cry harder, and my heart couldn’t take it.
This couldn’t have happened.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore as I ran to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet with the phone still in my hand.
I would never forgive myself.
I didn’t know then that the worst was yet to come.
You know that song, Whatever Lola Wants? Yeah. That could’ve been written about me.
I was used to getting whatever I wanted. My parents never said no to me, so as a young adult, I had a hard time accepting rejection. When I first laid eyes on Mitch, I knew I needed to have him. He was the most beautiful male specimen I had ever seen: perfect build, striking eyes and better hair than most girls. There was also something about his unattainable attitude that quickly transformed my normal attraction to him into frenzied lust.
A few of my housemates from Wellesley and I had taken the train over to BU for an off-campus party on Beacon Street. That was where I noticed him sitting in a corner alone, drinking a beer. He was wearing a Yankees cap backwards, his thick hair sticking out from underneath. The gray t-shirt he wore hugged every taut muscle. I watched him wrap his full lips around the bottle, and my panties became wet just imagining it was my breast.
It looked like his mind was somewhere else, though. I needed to turn that attention to me and only me. Since my father was a die-hard Yankees fan, I knew a little something about baseball. So, I started a conversation with him about the Yankees’ last win over the Red Sox. After a while, he seemed to loosen up and we spent most of that night talking in the same corner.
I asked if I could see his dorm room and when he took me inside, the first thing I noticed were pictures of some pretty little thing plastered all over the wall above his desk.