Inspired by Saving You, by Lang Leav
The darkness takes him over,
The sickness pulls him in;
His eyes—a blown out candle,
I wish to go with him.
Sometimes I see a flicker-
A light that shone from them;
I hold him to me tightly,
Before he’s gone again.”
“So… What do you think?” Fred asked me that fateful night.
My heart skipped a beat. It could only hear double date. What did I think about a double date? It was a horrible, horrible idea. I was not going to come out of it well enough. I was going to fall deeper in the mess, if I went to a fancy place, wearing fancy clothes, eating fancy food. My head was going to explode, because I knew that it was all just pretense. It was like my wildest dream come true, but it wasn’t even real.
Fred looked really sad a couple of days ago. His friend and his girlfriend wanted him to go along with them for dinner, for being the amazing person that he was and for introducing them, and for being supportive of them. And the girlfriend, let’s call her Anne, wanted him to meet a friend of hers because she thought he’d like her. Apparently Anne and the friend, let’s call him George, had been talking about it for a while. Fred called me up to tell me all this, and learnt that apparently Anne was a client at his company, and they quickly hit it off (read: he fell in love, and she really liked his friendship) and later when Fred threw a party for Halloween, the George and Anne met, and the rest was history. Did I mention my muse was really smart, apart from being benevolent? If not, let me emphasize that by saying that he told them that he was kind of, sort of seeing someone else, and that somebody was me.
“I think it’s a horrible, horrible idea. Why should I do it?” I ask him, because my self-preservation instincts were finally kicking in.
“You’ll get a fancy dinner, at a fancy place, and I’ll pay for it. But more importantly, I need you to be there. I can’t tell anyone else about how deep a mess I’m in, and you already know it. Besides, everyone already thinks we should be dating, so seems plausible enough doesn’t it?”
Yes, I wanted to scream at him, it seems so plausible that now those metaphoric butterflies are attacking my gut happily, and I can’t make them see the light. I can’t make them see that it’s not real. I sigh. “I don’t know,” I whisper, more to myself than him. “If I want to do this with anyone at all, it’s you,” he tells me, his voice steady. And I melt. Because you wouldn’t associate feelings with it, I almost hear. “Because you are one tough person, and you wouldn’t think in the twisted way that some do, that this is because I’m secretly in love with you,” he says, “You know that, right?” I nod, and he looks away.
“So? What do you think?” Fred asks. “Will you please, please save me from an embarrassing night?”
“I think no, but okay.”
“What does that mean?” he asks, and now he’s genuinely confused.
“I still think it’s a terrible idea.” And I see his face falling, and my heart breaking.
“But I will go with you.” I say. And I break a little. I’ve been wanting to say that to him after all these years, and I can’t believe that it’s happening, but at the same time, it’s fake! I can’t believe that my fantasy is coming true, but not really. But I fake a smile, as he grins down at me, and ball my fists as he enthusiastically hugs me, and there is something very, very bittersweet about this moment, that I swallow back the sob that was going to erupt out of my throat loudly.
We sit in a circle, with Fred and Anne sitting opposite each other, and we are all laughing together. I know that Fred’s laughter is not real, and I can see that he’s not ready for this, but apparently I’m the only one who does. It helps both of us that we have, between us, smoked a pack before coming here. And I know Anne disapproves of it by the way her nose scrunches up as we hug her. I let the hug linger out of spite, because that’s all I can do. Suddenly Anne says something only Fred understood and the two of them laugh, as George looks at them with pride and unadulterated joy, and I feel like I don’t belong there.
As we proceed to the main course, I feel a small tremble on the table and I notice Fred’s hands on the table leg, his face in a fake laugh. I hate myself for letting myself miss his pain as I wallow in self-pity, and unwrap his hand from the table leg and hold on to it. He stops listening to whatever Anne was talking about street children, and looks at me and gives me a radiant smile, that makes me feel warm. He holds my hand, and we sit through the main course like that, grinning. I could do this for my whole, entire life, a little voice in my head goes off, and I don’t reprimand it, because I think ‘What’s the harm? It’s just one night, and I will let it reign my thoughts tonight.’ And for the first time that day I was genuinely happy.
We are proceeding towards dessert, when all four of us are laughing, and this feels normal, and healthy, and authentic. The awkwardness seeped away, as his warm hands don’t let mine go, and even when George and Anne do the clichéd looking – into – each – others’ – eyes and giggling and other couple-y things, Fred’s hands don’t stiffen anymore, and the dominant voice in my head tells me it truly means something, even when the logical part of my head knows it doesn’t. And that’s when the girl comes in.
She has a chic vibe, and she’s walking (nah, gloating) towards us, determination set in her gait. She looks me up and down and asks – “Hey! Aren’t you Jane, from The Fountainhead of Nonchalance? I wonder how she knew what I looked like. “Yeah, how did you-”
“I’m a huge, huge fan of yours,” she says in her breathy voice, “I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you! Your work is amazing.” I immediately feel elated, and proud. I hadn’t ever met anyone who’s come up to me, and told me they love my ‘work’, especially my blog. “I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she continues, as Anne asks a waiter to help her grab a seat. “Oh, and you must be the guy who-” she says, looking at Fred, “oh wait a minute.” She looks back at me apologetically, and whispers loudly- “Are you both finally dating?” I grit my teeth as she looks at George and Anne, and before she continues, I ask her if she’d like a glass of wine. “It’s like my favourite fictional characters have come together in real life, and I’m having dinner together,” she grins. I get up and announce I need to go to the ladies room, with my heart beating louder than the drums of the song being played in the background. She senses that something is wrong, and offers to accompany me.
“Was I overboard? I’m sorry I got extremely excited, I wasn’t thinking,” she says as soon as I close the door to the ladies room.
“Oh, no, no. Don’t worry about it. I’d be extremely excited too. Just that they don’t really know about the whole blog thing, and Fred and I aren’t dating.” I tell her.
“I saw that the two of you were holding hands under the table and I thought-”
“Well, no. We’re not. I’m here as his friend and only his friend.”
I wonder why I’m opening up to a complete stranger, as she apologized for her mistake. She continues to tell me how big a fan she is, and gushes over my apparent rawness and flawlessness for a good twenty minutes, before she realizes she’s here with her dad, and leaves.
And I do the walk of shame back to the table and gobble up the wine. The three of them congratulate me about my fan and Anne asks me the nature of my blog and the night is spent talking about this and that.
“I know,” Fred whispers, as he parks his car in the parking lot near my apartment. I try to pretend I haven’t heard him, as he opens my door for me, full of chivalry, and walks me to my door. I invite him inside and he makes himself comfortable on my couch. I sense that he wouldn’t leave till he’s talked about it. “What do you know?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady. “I know about the blog, and I know about your feelings.” I look at him, with fear bubbling behind my calm exterior. “Okay,” I say, not knowing what else would be an appropriate response. “Okay?” he asks, gritting his teeth. “What else am I supposed to say, Fred?” I ask him. “Well, that is true. You could tell random strangers on the internet that you like someone, but not your best friend.” I haven’t heard him lose his temper at me in the years that I have known him, and now I’m truly mortified. “Who is it?” he asks me. I wonder what he’s on about.“What do you mean who is it?” “Who is this guy, who has been the object of your desires, Jane?” “Hold on,” I say, “How much do you read?” “Enough to know that if he hurts you any more, you’re going to crumble down into ashes.” I laugh at him, incrediously. “You’re stupider than I thought.” “Just tell me who it is, and let me go talk to the guy. Okay?” he says, rather softly, and I feel like I could throw up. I think of a some way out of this mess, and realize that there’s none, unless one of us drops dead. “It’s you, you dumbhead.” I almost yell at him. I refuse to look at him, at his reaction, and I know I’d regret it for the rest of my life. He slowly gets up from the couch, and leaves the room, and the apartment building, and my life. And I let him.
There may or may not be an epilogue.
I wish to thank Lang Laev, for writing, and my friends for gifting me Love and Misadventures