We stood at the top of those stairs; the ones that led from the major street below, steeply up the hill to the Souplantation parking lot. The stairs where I had hidden to smoke during so many shift breaks. The stairs next to the parking lot where Joe’s Ford Escort had caught fire. The stairs where I had slapped the guy who had spoken poorly about Robert. The stairs where Stephanie and I had cooked up our schemes. The stairs where the streetlamp always turned the marine layer into magic. The stairs. Those stairs.
It was March 12, 1999. It had been exactly 364 days since Robert and I had dined together for the first time after work. It was almost exactly a month until prom, about two months before Robert would graduate. He had asked me to join him here. I assumed he would propose—probably not marriage, but something. He would probably want to reveal his plans for our year celebration the next day, or ask me to prom, or give me some kind of gift. The excitement was overwhelming.
He was oddly distant. I thought it was just nerves. Any moment now, I thought, he was finally going to tell me he loved me. Instead he said:
“Remember about four months ago when you told me you love me?”
“Yes,” I was brimming with smiles and anticipation.
“You don’t,” he finished his thought harshly and abruptly.
“You never went to a single one of my Lacrosse games.” He stated those words firmly, without emotion, as if presenting evidence to a jury.
“I did so,” I retorted to the Lacrosse team captain.
“Only an indoor game.”
“I asked you if it was important to you that I go. You said it didn’t matter!”
“You should have come anyhow.”
“How am I supposed to read your mind?” I was turning from hurt to angry pretty quickly.
“If you were involved in something, anything, I would support you.”
“I am in choir! You never go to those performances. I’m in musicals; you don’t go to those either.”
“You said you didn’t need me to go. You said you know I hate that kind of stuff.”
“You think I enjoy watching sports?”
Robert’s eyes softened a little. He almost allowed me to see a tear well up, “See? We’re just not meant to be. Besides, I’m graduating soon. We don’t live that close together now, and we’ll be much farther apart after the end of the school year.”
“We live between 10 and 20 minutes apart by car, depending on whether you are at your mom or dad’s!” I realized I had perhaps missed the point, “I mean, congratulations, which college accepted you?”
“I’m taking a year or two off, traveling the country to open new Souplantations.”
“Are your parents upset?”
“Doesn’t matter. Anyway, none of this is the point. I think it’s time to break up.”
“There’s nothing I can do to talk you out of it?”
“Can I have a hug?”
He shrugged at my request.
I tried to tenderly pull him in for one last warm embrace. He kept his arms firmly at his sides. It felt like I was trying to hug a wooden board. I stepped back.
He looked at me, looked away, walked away.
I felt no tears. Not even a lump in my throat. Just cold. Just numb. The magic fog suddenly transformed to pea-soup humidity, and I stood there just long enough to regain temporary composure, and then marched back in to finish my shift.