Robert took me to our favorite seafood place, and got us a little table in the back. Since it was the middle of the week, it was pretty quiet anyway, but it was nice to be alone with him after being apart for several days. After we ordered, he started telling me about his trip, the time with his cousin, the rest of the interviews he had conducted; he was pretty sure one of the candidates from the second day was going to be called by the company he was doing this particular search for.
When our food came, I suddenly remembered. “Have you talked to Aaron?”
“I just got home. I came straight to your house from the airport.”
“Well, I don’t know; he might have called you or something.”
Robert frowned for a second. “Why would he – ” He stopped. “Oh. Right.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. “You knew he was going to…?”
“Propose? Yeah. He actually told me before I left. I think he wanted reassurance he was doing the right thing or something. It almost seemed like he was afraid she wouldn’t say yes.”
Of course he would be afraid she wouldn’t say yes. He had no idea how much I knew – and I was certain I didn’t know everything – and he had no idea how much I had told Kendall, which meant he had definite reasons to fear she would reject him.
I felt the flashback starting, the way you see a tunnel coming up when you’re driving down the road. I clenched my hands, digging my nails into my palms. I needed to keep Robert from seeing this; I had never told him about it.
I played dumb. “Why wouldn’t she say yes? What did you tell him?”
“I told him if he was really worried about it, he should ask you. You know her better than anyone.” Robert paused. “He didn’t seem to want to do that,” he said, as if to himself. “Anyway, I told him I was sure she would say yes. She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl to date a guy for three years and not want to get married.”
I nodded absently, trying to ward off the flashback that was threatening to overwhelm me. “You’re – you’re right. She said yes. She was very excited.” I took a drink of my Moscato, hoping it would help clear my head.
“Good. You know, we should take them out to celebrate.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” I took a bite of shrimp and another sip of the wine.
I could practically feel Robert’s stare boring into my skull, but I did my best to ignore him.
“Is everything okay?” he finally asked, forcing me to look up at him.
“Fine.” I flashed him my most winning smile. “Why?”
He gave a slight shake of his head, as if shaking off a fly. “I don’t know. Nothing I guess. I just thought – it seemed like – I don’t know. Nothing.”
“I’m just tired,” I said, reaching across the table to take his hand. “It’s been a long week already, and it’s barely half over.”
He nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I hear that. Should I get the check?”
I nodded. He flagged our waiter down, got our check and a couple of to-go boxes, and we left.
At my house, he started to get out of the car with me.
“I – I think I’m going to go to bed,” I said, stopping him. “I’m so exhausted, and I have a long day tomorrow. Is – is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m pretty tired myself. You know how well I sleep in hotel rooms.” I knew. He slept horribly in hotel rooms. He leaned across the console, put a hand on my cheek, and kissed me goodnight. “I love you,” he said quietly.
“I love you, too. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Okay. Good night, Sweetie.”
I locked the front door behind me, leaned back against it, and listened to Robert drive away before going down the hall to my room.
I sat on the bed, kicked off my shoes, and let myself fall backward. I felt bad for keeping everything from Robert, but I’d honestly never thought I’d have to deal with it again. When Kendall and Aaron started dating, I didn’t expect it to last long; and then when it did, I realized Aaron had stopped flirting with me; so I thought maybe he had grown up, and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
But that didn’t stop the past from haunting me now.
I couldn’t hold the flashback off any longer; the memories fell over me like a pitch black night. I wasn’t in my bedroom anymore; I couldn’t see anything except the walls of my old apartment around me.
Kendall and I were nearly a year into grad school; and though in college we had roomed together in on-campus housing to save money, now that we were no longer college students, we had decided to get a real apartment. We both had decent jobs, and had been looking forward to having our own space for a long four years.
Not only had Aaron attended the university for undergrad, but he had gotten into the medical school there as well, so he was still hanging around and attempting to get Kendall’s attention. It just so happened that they had some psychology class together. Personally, I didn’t believe it was a coincidence. But at least he’d given up the creepy stalking behavior.
On this particular Wednesday evening, Kendall had stayed at the university after her night class in order to meet with a classmate and work on a case study. I had been home all afternoon and was getting ready to head over to the university myself to spend some time playing in one of the practice rooms. I had just gathered up everything I needed and grabbed my keys and purse, when the buzzer from the building door sounded.
I pressed the answer button. “Hello?”
“Hey. It’s… Aaron. From Kendall’s psych class. I was just wondering if I could come up and talk to her.”
“Oh. Well, she’s not here right now. Sorry.”
“Well… then could I come up and talk to you?”
I frowned. Don’t be paranoid, I told myself. Maybe he was turning over a new leaf, and just wanted advice on how to talk to her. “Sure.” I pressed the button that would buzz open the front door, and in two minutes he was in sight walking up the stairs to our third floor apartment.
“Hey. Can I come in for a second?”
My internal warning alarms started blaring – I barely knew the guy, and what I did know wasn’t pleasant – but I shrugged them off and let him in.
He paced in front of the door for a minute. I had my shoes on and my messenger bag slung over my shoulder, keys and cell phone in my hand. It should have been obvious that I had been getting ready to leave the apartment. But he seemed preoccupied.
“Aaron – ” I began hesitantly. “Is there… something I can help you with?”
He stopped pacing and looked at me. “I guess it’s – no big secret that I really like your friend.”
He was watching me and seemed to be waiting for an answer, so I nodded. He continued.
“But it seems like she doesn’t even notice me.” I couldn’t argue with that. He took a step toward me. I automatically took a step back. “But you. You seem to notice me. Is that because you want to be with me?” He continued moving closer to me, and I continued moving backwards, until I was backed up against the wall. He put one hand on the wall so that his arm was over my shoulder and I was completely blocked in. He leaned in until his face was inches from mine, our eyes were level, and I could feel his breath on my neck. “Maybe I should give up chasing her, and chase you instead.”
I took a deep breath and cleared my throat, trying not to let him see how freaked out I was by his behavior. “No – no thank you,” I said quietly. “I don’t really have time for a relationship right now.”
He laughed, leaning back a little, but not taking his hand off the wall. “Are you sure?” he asked seductively. “Because it really does appear to me that even though your words say no, your body might be saying yes.”
I had no idea what he meant; I had been trying to get away from him until he had cornered me. If that didn’t say “no,” he was obviously not paying attention. I just shook my head. “I’m not interested,” I said again, trying to sound bolder.
“All right,” he said, suddenly casual. He backed away and headed toward the door. “Just know I’m available. At least for now,” he added with a wink.
And then he was gone.
I stood there staring at the open door, forgetting how to move, forgetting how to breathe, for what seemed an eternity. Then I rushed to the door, shut it quietly, and locked the doorknob and bolt before sliding to the floor and burying my face in my hands against my knees.
I sat there shaking for at least ten minutes.
Then my phone buzzed on the floor beside me, jolting me. It was Kendall, texting to let me know she was on her way home.
I panicked. One look at me and she would know something had happened; we had known each other long enough that it was impossible for either of us to hide anything from the other. And I had been working studiously for over two years to keep her from finding out about Aaron.
I quickly jumped up and grabbed my messenger bag and keys, slipped out the door, and locked it behind me. I texted her as I flew down the stairs. “On my way to the U practice rooms. I’ll probably just miss you. BBL.”
And I stayed in the practice studios until well past when I knew Kendall would be in bed. Since she got up early the next morning for class, and I was the teaching assistant in a night class, I didn’t see her again until Friday when we met up for lunch.
And by then, I had convinced myself that it had all been in my head, and that I was making it into more than it was.