There’s no “how to” guide for love.
My parents waited in the cab with TJ while Sean and I stood together on our front walk. It was the same front walk where we’d shared innumerable good-night kisses, held hands, and even taken a tumble in the bushes once after I jumped on him for a piggyback ride. So it wasn’t like we’d never stood on the flagstone path before. But this time it was totally different. And not just because it was barely eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.
“I’m going to miss you,” I told Sean, my chin tucked into my neck as I attempted to keep from freezing to death right there in the middle of our good-bye. It was maybe twenty degrees out and a few snowflakes were falling. I watched as the wet flecks landed on Sean’s jacket and melted, leaving small brown dark spots on the khaki coat—a coat I had gotten him for Christmas, I might add. Actually, the color was called “saddle” in the L.L. Bean catalog, and it took me a week to decide whether Sean would look better in the light brown (to match his hair) or mallard blue (to match his eyes). I ended up going with the saddle field coat with the Primasoft liner (comfort rated to minus-25 below, something I thought would come in handy in Chicago) —size large.
“Me, too,” Sean answered and then licked the last remaining smears of cream cheese off his fingers before digging his hands deep into his coat pockets. I’d made sure the toaster oven wasn’t packed until this morning so I could make Sean one last sesame bagel with cream cheese. His favorite. “But it will be fine.”
Fine? Was he kidding me? Moving right after Christmas was bad enough. That my father had decided at the last minute to stay behind in Chicago to “tie up some loose ends” made it even worse. Add in the fact that it was my senior year, and the situation truly sucked.
I glanced over at the idling cab, where my mom was tapping on the backseat window and pointing to her watch.
“I’d better go.” I wiggled my toes and tried to get feeling back in my left foot. “If we miss the plane, my mom will kill me.”
Sean dug his hands deeper into his Primasoft-lined pockets. “Sure.”
Still, I didn’t make a move. There was the small lingering matter of a conspicuous bulge in Sean’s right coat pocket, a bulge that I sure contained some sort of going-away present—nothing huge, just something he’d want to give me as a little reminder of him, a memento of our four months together.
“You know, Emily, I was thinking about it, and we should probably end this right here.”
Great idea. I was all for ending the waiting. I practically held out my hands waiting for the little gift box that meant Sean was going to miss me as much as I was going to miss him. “Okay.”
Sean moved his arm, pulling his hand out of his left pocket for the first time since he arrived to say good-bye. Only he wasn’t holding a beautifully wrapped velvet box with satin ribbon, but a wad of Taco Bell napkins!
“It’s better this way—it’d just be too hard to keep things going with you all the way in Boston,” he continued, and all I could think was, What is he talking about?
“So you’re okay with that?” Sean asked. “With breaking up?”
Wait. A. Minute. Breaking up? He was breaking up with me? On my front walk? With my parents and brother watching us from a yellow taxi? At eight o’clock on a Saturday morning—the very morning I was moving to Boston?
“You want to break up?” I repeated, but my words were drowned out by the honk of the cab’s horn reminding me we had a plane to catch.
“I think you’d better go.” Sean wiped a crusty smudge of left over cream cheese from his cheek and stuffed the napkins back into his pocket.
He stepped aside so I could pass, and even though I wanted to drop to the frozen ground right there and cry, what could I do? Cling to his leg, begging him not to leave me? I may have just lost my boyfriend, but I still had my pride. There as no way I’d let Sean see me with frozen tears hanging from my lashes like icicles.
As I walked past Sean—brushing against the sleeve of the coat that I paid for with my own hard-earned money (okay, so working behind the desk of a public library wasn’t exactly hard, but it was still earned) —I wanted to tell him he was making a mistake. I wanted to remind him that we’d been together for four months, four amazing months. I wanted to put him in his place, to tell him that I was better off without him. I wanted to tell Sean to go fuck himself.
But when I turned back to face him, the words that escaped from my chapped lips weren’t the ultimate putdown—they were the ultimate in humiliation.
“I love you,” I told him, my breath creating puffs around the words in the cold morning air.
“I love you,” for God’s sake! This was when Ichose to tell the guy I loved him? When he’s breaking up with me holding a wad of shredded napkins imploring him to “run for the border?”
What was wrong with me? Even when my boyfriend’s breaking up with me I don’t have what it takes to be mean, to say what I really think. It made me want to scream.
But I didn’t scream. Instead, I crawled into the backseat of the cab next to my fourteen-year-old brother, who just happened to be wearing my Brown University sweatshirt, rubbing yet another failure to my face. Reminding me of yet another guy—this one with gold wire-rim glasses and a name badge that read RONALD PARKER, DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS—who lured me into a false sense of security only to crush me in less time than it took to read a letter that began: On the behalf of the admissions committee, I regret to inform you…
“All set,” I answered, and then sat back in the pine-scented cab and attempted to smile. Not because I was “all set.” Or because I was thrilled with the idea of moving to Boston. Or because the scene of my now-former front walk of my now-former house was just dandy with me. Or because the damn letter from Director of Admissions Ronald Parker was a lovely piece of correspondence.
No, I smiled because that’s what nice girls do. I smiled and fixed my eyes on the reflection in the rearview mirror, because the girl staring back at me really did look like she was “all set.” Even though I knew that beneath the red nose and wind-burned cheeks, everything was all wrong.