“Happy birthday, Emi,” I tell her, my voice strained as I try to read her. She just glares at me blankly.
“Yeah, it’s really happy, thanks,” she mumbles. “You can’t just keep coming over like this,” she warns me as she opens the door to her apartment.
“Well, then, you’ll have to start taking my phone calls. Or at least returning them.” I walk into her apartment and sit on her bed.
“I will when I’m ready,” she says, following me to her bed and wrapping her hand around my upper arm, pulling me back up. “Why do you keep pushing things?”
“What are you doing?”
“We can go for a walk, but I don’t really want you over here, invading my space.” I stop in my tracks and just stare behind her. “Come on.”
“Invading your space?”
“I guess I didn’t realize there was such a division here. I apologize.”
“Come on,” she says again, clearly annoyed and signaling for me to follow her into the hallway. “You’re not calling the shots.”
“As if I ever have,” I mumble after her, hating her tone and wishing she would soften it just a little. In my mind, this was supposed to be much easier.
Once we get outside, she starts walking down her street and turns south on 1st Avenue. She finally addresses me as a gusty warm wind blows in our faces.
“What’s going on?” Her question sounds so general, so casual.
“I told Sam about our kiss today.”
“The guilt finally got to you, huh?”
“Look,” I tell her, taking her by the shoulder and spinning her around to face me. I push her hair back behind her ear, holding it against her head since the wind refuses to let up. I keep my other hand on her shoulder. “Let’s cut it out with the sarcasm, please. We’re never going to get anywhere if you keep talking to me like that.”
“Well where would you like things to go, Nate?”
“I want things to get better between us, Emi. I think you want that, too.”
“I do,” she says plainly, her jaw still set. “I just don’t know how that can happen.”
“I have some ideas.” She searches my eyes and simply nods her head. I drop my hands and begin walking again slowly. She keeps pace easily. “Sam and I broke up,” I tell her.
“Shocking.” I look down at her from the corner of my eye. “You’re right, I’m sorry,” she concedes.
“So she dumped you.”
“No,” I tell her, still surprised with Sam’s response. “She forgave me.”
“Wow,” Emi says. “That’s not what I expected.”
“Well, she said that she wouldn’t be mad, as long as the kiss didn’t mean anything.”
“And lucky for us, it didn’t, right?” She stares straight ahead when she says this. I get the distinct feeling she’s simply quoting my words. She starts picking at her nails nervously.
“That’s just it.”
“What’s just it?”
I take a deep breath and walk a few more paces before stopping at a red light. My attention focused on the pedestrian signal, I begin to talk. “I did feel something.” The light signals us to walk, so I step out into the intersection, waiting for her to speak. It’s not until I get to the other side that I realize she didn’t cross the street with me. She’s just staring at me from the other side, the red light keeping us apart again.
Her eyes don’t blink, and even with the distance, I can see her breaths quicken as her shoulders move with each inhale, exhale.
“You felt something?” she yells from across the street. A few people around us pretend to not pay attention, but they’re too close to avoid it.
“Yeah!” I speak loudly back to her. “I did.” I hope she can hear my confirmation over the traffic, but the words nearly get stuck in my throat as my heart throbs in my ears. “I do.”
“And why are you telling me this now?” The light changes again and people begin to cross, but Emi stays planted on her corner, and I don’t realize she’s not coming toward me until it’s too late. I look both ways, but traffic is coming, so I remain on the curb, waiting for the next light.
“Are you coming across?” I holler to her.
“No!” she says quickly.
“Okay, well, wait there.” She starts to shake her head, slowly at first, then faster. She starts to turn away from me. “No, wait! Emi!” I call out. Her gait is bewildered as she stumbles away from the street. I start running as soon as the light signals me to.
“Go get her!” a woman shouts from behind me. I do feel like I’m suddenly in a movie. Only when I get to the other side, Emi’s not waiting for me with open arms. They’re actually crossed in front of her chest as she continues walking in the other direction.
I’m short of breath when I get to her. “Wait,” I breathe. “Please.”
“Why?” she says as she glares angrily at me.
“Because I’m trying to tell you something. I’ve been wanting to tell you this for– well, forever.”
She laughs– laughs– at me.
“Whatever, Nate.” She rolls her eyes and walks ahead. “Save your breath.”
“When did you say you and Sam broke up?”
“Today. Just an hour or so ago.”
“And you’re telling me this now, why?”
“Because it couldn’t wait!”
“More like you couldn’t wait. You just can’t stand to be alone, can you, Nate? So you go to the next woman you think you have a chance with, right? Have you run out of women, Nate? Have you fucked the whole city already, and I’m the only one left?”
“God, Emi, no.”
“I’m not a placeholder, Nate. I’m not the bookmark that waits for the next chapter of your life to come along. I’m a human being. I thought I was your friend.”
I swallow hard, disbelieving how this conversation has turned out. “You are. I just… I just want you to be more. I thought you might feel the same way.”
She slants her eyes at me in disgust. “I’m not interested, thank you. I’m not desperate.”
“Is it Colin? I’m a better man than him, Emi. I’ll prove it to you, every fucking day. I am a better man,” I plead with her, holding her hand in mine.
“That’s debatable. But no, it’s not him. It’s me. I have my dignity, Nate, and your fear of being alone isn’t going to take that from me.”
“That’s not what this is at all, Emi!”
“We kissed, Nate. So the fuck what? People kiss every day and live to regret it, just like I do. You said it meant nothing to you. You told me that–”
“I was trying to protect my feelings–”
“By hurting mine?”
“I didn’t mean to. Did it? Did it hurt your feelings, because if it did, you must have felt something for me, too.”
“No,” she says, her posture steeled and her eyes mean. “You are so arrogant. You think the whole world revolves around you, don’t you?”
“Actually, no. I feel like it revolves around you.”
I can hear the surprised sigh escape her lips as her cheeks blush. She swallows hard. “Well, you know I didn’t feel anything. So you’re wasting your time.”
“It’s bullshit, Emi.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Then why have you been acting like this?”
“Like what? Depressed? Withdrawn? Colin and I broke up, that’s why. Thanks for asking.”
I nod silently. “I’m sorry,” I tell her.
“No you’re not.”
“I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m not sorry you’ve stopped seeing him, you’re right. He was wrong for you.”
“And you’re not?”
“I don’t think… I don’t know.”
“I know. You need to really think about what you’re doing, Nate, and what you’re asking. And the consequences of your actions. Everything you’ve done recently just seems to mess things up. Your confession to me today is just one more.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“You’re just feeling alone.”
“And I’m not going to just jump into your arms and tell you I feel the same. I don’t. In fact, I’ve never been more angry with you than I am right now.”
“Because,” she begins to cry. “Because you keep messing with my emotions, Nate, for your own personal gain. I just want you to leave me alone.”
“No, Emi. Please don’t say that.” We end up back at her apartment building.
“There are some days that I really hate you,” she tells me, the expression of pain taking over every muscle in her face and body.
I shake my head at her words, feeling moisture in my own eyes. “I don’t think you do, Emi. I really don’t think you do.”
“Well then that’s for me to figure out. Please don’t come by unexpected anymore.”
“When can I see you again?”
“I don’t know, Nate.”
“Can I call you?”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”
“Don’t do this, Emi. Please don’t cut me off. Not now.”
“I think now’s the best time. It seems like you need to really think long and hard about what you’ve done… and what you’re suggesting.”
“If that’s what you’d like.”
“It’s what you need.”
“Fine,” I concede quietly. She nods her head. “Like ya, Em. And again, happy birthday.”
A tear drops down her cheek. She wipes it with the back of her hand, turning to walk inside her building. I stare blankly at the empty space she left for a good ten minutes before returning to my own loft.
©2011 Lori L. Otto