Short Fiction by Elizabeth Zane
“Happy Anniversary,” he whispers gently.
The sun isn’t up yet and our alarm clocks haven’t gone off.
I recognize his invitation well, as he scoots closer towards me.
“Mmm,” I grumble as I turn over towards him. It’s so early. Too early.
I give him what we both need and then he gets up and goes on with his morning as he always does. I wave goodbye as he heads out the bedroom door.
One year of marriage.
I didn’t think it would be so lonely.
I sink back into my pillow. It’s the third one I’ve bought this year. It’s like I cannot get comfortable in our own bed. As the months have passed, I have realized, that this is likely less a problem with my pillow than with the person sleeping next to me.
He has big plans for our anniversary celebration tonight. He’s gone all out. A sedan will pick me up and bring me to meet him for pre-dinner drinks. We’ll go to dinner, where there will be flowers and champagne waiting, no doubt, and then there is the big surprise that he won’t tell me about. Something we will be doing after dinner. I can’t imagine what it could be. I feel guilty for not feeling more enthusiastic about finding out, but the truth is, all this celebration just feels like another step deeper into a life that both of us have but neither of us wants.
I sit in bed scrolling through my phone, first Instagram, then Twitter and now Facebook. I can’t help but feel like one of us should be posting about how happy we are to be married for one year. I know full well that neither of us will. Somehow, we have no problems deceiving ourselves, but we draw the line at deceiving others… most of whom, we don’t even know.
A year ago, when we stood in front of our family and friends I had pictured our lives so much differently than they are now. I thought we’d be best friends, having fun and growing together, but that fantasy was quickly brought to heel.
I can’t remember the last time I had fun. If anything, we’ve grown farther apart, and he certainly isn’t my best friend. I hardly have any friends any more.
I look back at my Facebook page. It begs to differ. I have over 500 friends there. The vexing absence of one in particular still brings a sting of pain. I said goodbye to him the day after I got married; cut off all communication. It seemed like the right thing to do. We were never meant to just be friends; it was always supposed to be more.
It would be easy enough to find him. And in a sea of over 500 friends, nobody would be the wiser. Except the two of us.
It might be the most tragic consideration a person has ever had on their anniversary.
I hear the clicks before I realize that my fingers are typing. I look at the search bar on top of the Facebook page on my phone. It’s his name. I hit enter.
There he is. Top of the page. It didn’t take Facebook long to figure out our connection. Too bad it wasn’t as simple for us.
My finger hovers over a thumbnail of his profile photo for what feels like forever then it moves and it’s like I am watching this happen to me rather than being the one in control of it. As though it is in slow motion, my finger slowly lowers onto my touch screen and hits the dreaded button “Send Friend Request”.
What am I doing?
I quickly exit the app, throw my phone down and get in the shower. I need to wash away this sin. I step out and back into the shower no less than half a dozen times. There is a thrill coursing through my body that I have not felt in so long. I need to see if he has accepted my request. Would he? After everything I put him through? I can wait no longer. I quickly rinse my hair and when I am just dry enough not to slip on the wood floors, I scurry across the room to check my phone.
We’re friends. And I have a new message.
Crap. What have I done?
But my body responds differently than my mind as a shiver of excitement runs through me.
I take a cleansing breath and give myself one last chance to back out of this before it begins.
I click on the envelope icon stamped with the red number one, and begin to read his message.
Holy shit! (Leave it to him not to beat around the bush).
Where did you come from? How are you?
I can’t help but notice the odd timing of your friend request. It makes me worry about you. You okay?
I write, what I intend to be, a quick note back.
Hey. Not sure what to say really or where to start.
I could say I miss you. That the past year has been eye-opening, and hard. That I am grateful for the love you gave me and that I am sorry that I never knew how amazing it was until it was too late. But none of that seems fair. Or enough. Though, it doesn’t make any of it untrue.
But mostly, I just need a friend.
Even as I type the last sentence I know that’s not the only reason I am writing to him. I hit send anyway and then reread the message too many times. It was more verbose than it needed to be, but that will not come as a surprise to him. He liked that about me. Maybe he still will.
Why do I even care?
I sit on the edge of the bed unable to move. My hand is wrapped tightly around the phone as I watch the screen. I can’t decide if I regret what I am doing or if I am happy about it. The thrill from earlier has returned, perhaps even stronger. I am excited. What does that mean?
It couldn’t have been more than two minutes and my phone vibrates and startles me so much that I drop it. As I pick it up and examine it for a cracked screen, my brain works just long enough to notice no cracks, but another new message notification at the top. It’s him. Holy crap that was fast.
I swipe the notification to the left so that I can open his message immediately.
Wow. I don’t know what to say. Reading those words…
It’s all he has written so far, and tears of confusion begin to pool in my eyes.
I lift my fingers to type, but I don’t know what to say either. Suddenly a new message appears on the screen. We’re chatting now. What in the actual hell am I doing?
Are you there?
I take a deep breath, but it is shaky.
I’m here. I answer.
Are you okay?
I answer more honest than I maybe should.
Has he hurt you? What happened? If he has hurt you, I swear to god…
I realize quickly I have given the wrong impression.
No, no, it’s not like that. I clarify.
Does he still care about me so much?
I’m sorry. This isn’t your problem. You don’t need to hear about me and my marital problems. That’s not why I wanted to be friends.
His response comes quick.
Stop. You know I am always here for you. For whatever. Tell me. Tell me whatever you need to. Whatever you want to. I haven’t changed. I’m still here. I always have been.
He does still care. A lot. More than he should and more than I should want him to. But I am so glad that he does.
There’s so much I want to tell him. I want to pour out my broken heart to him, but I was right, he doesn’t need to know all about my marital problems.
It’s just not what I thought it was going to be.
I stop because I don’t really know if I should keep going or if he really wants me to.
Keep going. I know you. You didn’t reach out to me after all this time just to tell me that.
He’s right. How could he possibly still know me that well?
Haha. You know me too well.
My attempt to lighten things up ends up doing just the opposite.
I will always know your heart. My love for you is still the same.
And with that, we’re thrust into the same reality we walked away from two years ago. I decide to just splatter my thoughts in rapid succession across the blank message screen.
The truth is, I have no idea why today of all days I decided to get in touch with you. It’s not the first time I have considered it, but something pushed me today, I needed a friend. I needed you. In spite of everything, you are the one person I knew I could trust. And when I realized that, I knew that there was much more I needed to tell you that made tracking you down more important than it’s ever was before.
I hit enter so I won’t chicken out. But I’ve only just begun and there’s no turning back. I keep typing.
I wanted to say thank you. To tell you that I am grateful for your love. I know I chose to end that, and believe me, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t now regret it. But you need to know, and you deserve to know, that we ended because I was the one who was too scared. You gave me more than I ever knew I needed or wanted, and I wanted you to know all of this because I know you, and I know you doubt yourself because of me.
I hit send again, and then write the grand finale.
If you find someone who will let you love them the way you loved me, then hold onto them. The kind of love we had is not easy to find, and is excruciating to live without. Your love — our love — was a gift, and I needed to say thank you because today more than ever before, I realize how great a gift it really was.
And with that I let my fingers come to a stop.
He does not respond.
I wait, but there is nothing.
I shouldn’t be surprised, and I have no right to feel hurt, but I am both. That was a lot to dump on him after a year of nothing. I walked away from him and his love because I was too scared of it, and now here I am crying to him because I miss it. I wouldn’t respond either. I put my phone down and as it hits the table it vibrates.
Still here. Processing. Sorry.
No, I’m sorry. And truly I am. I don’t want to hurt him or drag him through something else that will end up hurting him.
I should have just left him alone.
My phone vibrates again.
Stop. Please stop apologizing. You have no idea what these words mean to me.
I don’t know what I am supposed to feel when I read his words, but hopeful probably isn’t it. I look down. There is more.
But hearing them from you, knowing what has brought you to say them, it’s hard.
I stay silent and wait for him to continue.
The things we could have done together. I have missed you so much. I know that you have to do the right thing, because you wouldn’t be the girl I love if you didn’t, but
He doesn’t finish his thought.
The screen stays blank again for a few minutes. I am desperate for a new message to come.
Do you think we can be friends?
His question is to the point and unexpected.
I don’t know.
It occurs to me now why I have cared so much about what happened after I hit the ‘Friend’ button. As though I could no more control my typing fingers than I could my blabbering lips I blurt out onto the screen what is in my head.
I still love you, and that might be too hard.
I am relieved and regretful all at once.
His response is quick.
It’s not like we can do anything more than talk on here. Let’s be friends.
He is always so certain. Especially where we are concerned. Once again, I am the uncertain one, worried about being hurt, or hurting him. I am unable to risk the loss in order to have the love. I need him to tell me what we should do.
I want to be friends so badly, but I don’t want either of us to get hurt. This has to be your decision.
His response comes quickly, but I am still unconvinced that one of us won’t get hurt.
Then we’re friends.
Elizabeth is a devoted wife and mother of three. She currently resides in Florida, where she is stuck in an eternal Summer. Known to family and friends as love’s greatest cheerleader, she believes that love can be victorious over even the most formidable opponent. Elizabeth is currently working on having her first romance novel published, while she continues writing short stories, and a blog about love, life, and the journey to becoming an unexpected author. You can find her on Twitter @ByElizabethZane or at ElizabethZane.com