I’ve made mistakes, plenty. I’m not afraid to admit it. I take responsibility for all of them, even this one.
She has brown hair and brown eyes and looks strangely like a Charlie Brown character. It’s adorable. I just want to pinch her tiny little nose.
“I’m happy I met you,” I tell her. And it’s sincere.
She’s my soul mate, my not-biological-sister. I suppose my soul sister. She’s the one I’ve waited for my whole life. I’ve always wanted a best friend. I’ve had friends but never anyone to call my own. Now I do.
“I love you,” I say.
“I love you too,” she says.
Maybe that seems strange to others, to tell someone you love them after only knowing them a few months.
We sit together, our tenth day in a row unseparated, and watch a movie I never wanted to see. But she tells me that I have to see it. I will change my mind once I do. I don’t think I will, but for her I will try.
I tell her that there’s someone I’m talking to in our department, a boy I met in one of my classes. We’re both students of English. He shares my name, and we’re very much alike. I don’t want a relationship, so I’ll proposition him for a fling.
“Who is it?” she asks.
“His name is Jordan,” I say.
“Wait, the kid you said was an asshole?”
“Why?” she asks.
“Well, he’s attractive. And because he’s an asshole, I feel no emotional attachment to him,” I say. It seemed simple enough to me. If my fling was with someone who I found to be unappealing mentally, I wouldn’t want anything beyond that. I knew myself better than to get involved with someone sexually who I might want more from.
“Well, have you talked to him yet?” she asks. She looks up at me next to her. I notice something strange about the way she’s looking.
“Just today. We’re supposed to hang out soon.”
“Oh,” she says.
I watch her for a moment, trying to read what it is she’s thinking. She doesn’t share her opinion with me about my actions often. Instead, she listens and lets me be myself. It’s what I like about her. I don’t have to be anyone else. I don’t have to hide myself from her.
“He’s cute,” she shrugs and goes back to the movie.
“Do you know him?” I ask.
“He’s in my class this semester,” she says and keeps her eyes steady on the television screen.
“Do you like him?”
“Yeah, he’s cool,” she says. I see her shift a little in her seat.
“What do you think of me sleeping with him?”
She twists around in her seat toward me, but she won’t make eye contact. “Why?”
I know her better than to not realize when I’ve said something to make her uncomfortable. Something about this conversation has got her thinking. The only thing that makes sense is that I’ve made a move on someone she’s been eyeing for herself.
“I don’t know. He’s nice looking. Maybe you’ve thought about him too.”
It turns out that she has feelings for him, however shallow they may be. I tell her she should hang out with him and me. She’s not good at social interactions, and I know she’ll be more comfortable if I’m there.
This is where it begins.
Jordan meets Amanda and I at a bar downtown. It’s a small dive bar where you can order four drafts and two shots for about ten dollars. You can also buy a killer long island for five. I often pay for Amanda’s drinks when we go out. I’m like her boyfriend but not, which is hilarious considering we bat for both teams. A week ago I jumped her car in the freezing cold so she could get home. And tonight I’ll finish her drinks so she can get home again.
Jordan arrives dressed as he always is; a semi-douche nerd chic. He has a buttoned up shirt on and tailored jeans. He wears his sleeves rolled up to the top of his forearms, and he’s slightly tan. He has a nice face and looks like he takes care of himself. That’s probably why we find him attractive.
We greet. No need for further explanation.
Amanda pulls up her very plain blouse. I expected her to dress a little more like me, like she was prepared to go out at night. But instead she looks like the librarian she isn’t, and I am. We’re a strange pair. I am wide open and liberal. She is clasped tight with conservatism. Jordan realizes this right away. And the night begins and ends with the long story of my very unusual life.
“You have a boyfriend?” he asks.
“Yes,” I tell him and take a swig of Amanda’s long island when she isn’t looking. She’s watching him speak even though she’s sitting next to him and across from me.
“I don’t understand,” he says, and I know he’s referring to the irony of my proposition.
“He allows me to see other people,” I say. I take a bite of a burger I’ve ordered. This place has some of the best food downtown.
Amanda already knew that I was in an “open” relationship. I never made it a secret to anyone that I was non-monogamous. The person I was with knew who I was and that I was incapable of being with only one person. I needed more attention than any one individual could give me. My partner was the same in a different way. He didn’t prefer to be confined to one other person. And thus we decided to allow each other the freedom we both desired.
I told Amanda once that if she was ever interested in anything physical with me that I was willing, but I was never going to leave my partner for her. I loved him, and though I sought attention elsewhere, I didn’t want to commit to anyone else.
She respected herself too much to get involved with someone who wouldn’t commit to her, and I respected that. But it doesn’t stop me from being myself with everyone else.
I flirt, always. I can’t stop. Well, I can, but I don’t want to. I have a problem, and that problem is my personality. Until it’s fixed, I warn everyone I am close to that this is a problem. I don’t want anyone accusing me of deception.
“My boyfriend is ok with me sleeping with someone else as long as I don’t hide it from him or leave him for said person,” I explain. Jordan acts like he’s never heard of such a thing in practice.
That’s not unusual. Most people would never even think to have an arrangement like mine. I don’t blame them. The amount of insecurity on this single planet could smother universes.
“And that works?” Jordan says.
Amanda takes a drink and watches me now. I think she enjoys hearing me try to explain this to other people. I don’t think she believes in it, even if she says nothing to support that.
“So far. It’s who we are. And with enough communication, it works for us. But I don’t recommend it for everyone.”
He seems unsure of me now, as if I’ve been fooling him this entire time. I intended to tell him, but I didn’t think it was necessary once Amanda expressed interest.
I wish they wouldn’t want me to talk so much. I know I have the kind of life people are afraid to lead or even admit to leading, but that’s not what this night is about. It’s about them. I shouldn’t even be here.
This story continues like this. I end up where I shouldn’t be, inserted into dates and events. Amanda and I spend every waking moment together, but I don’t mind her splitting off to spend time with Jordan. But in total the amount of time they spend together alone is two to ten minutes, and I can’t imagine how they’ll ever become intimate if I’m always around.
What’s worse is that I flirt with her all the time. And we show affection toward each other because we do love one another.
“Why don’t you two just date each other already,” he says to us. He says this many times, and each time we explain to him that that’s not what we are.
I’m not the kind of person she needs, and she’s not the person who will accept me for who I am in a relationship.
Soon she tells me she’s lost interest, and she isn’t going to pursue him any longer. I’ve grown closer to him myself as a friend. And with my friends I say things that are inappropriate sometimes.
“You look good today,” I tell him. And of course this seems sexual because it is.
I’ve discussed with him his feelings about her. But I’ve tried to stay relatively uninvolved. It hasn’t been easy. And I slip up, inserting myself where they’ve put me, in the middle of things.
Jordan and I discuss our mutual hobby, writing, and read each other’s work. I try to encourage him to continue with what he’s working on. Sometimes we discuss Amanda and how she’s doing in all of this. I tell him I love her, and I don’t want to see her hurt.
I really don’t. I love her more than I’ve ever loved another person. It’s a strange way to feel about someone you aren’t romantic with, but it’s wonderful. Knowing that someone else is there and wants to be there is like nothing else. It’s even unlike having a lover. We are bound and equal.
One day this changes. She snaps at me at every turn.
“Are you ok?” I ask, and she turns back at me with a look of fury.
“Just stop,” she says. Her little fists are clenched tight at her side.
I have no idea what I’ve done. All I did was ask if she was ok. We’ve hardly spoken in a week.
I hope that Jordan can shed some light on her attitude change. They seem to still be speaking.
“I can’t deal with this anymore,” I tell Jordan.
“What?” Jordan asks.
“With Amanda being like this.” He saw her snap at me earlier, and I left without joining our friends for lunch. I couldn’t take the way she was very publicly loathing my existence. I’d had enough.
“Maybe she has a reason,” he says.
I say, “Maybe she does, but she won’t tell me what it is.”
Two weeks. Nothing.
I ask her how everything is. She says she’s fine.
Another week. Arbitrary talks about events we both attend.
Then she finally speaks to me.
“I’ve been having problems with anxiety,” she explains.
“I get it. I’m sorry you’ve been in pain. I love you, and I want to help,” I say. I mean it, but it doesn’t stop me from being who I am.
If I had stopped being who I was I may have been able to hold onto her.
Three weeks more. Our only encounters happen at school. And when they do she’s unbearable toward me. She takes every opportunity to make me appear incompetent. She doesn’t communicate with me about important information. I begin to fail. And she begins her gradual climb to the top of the mountain of my demise.
Jordan won’t speak to me much anymore either.
I find out he’s replaced me. He’s replaced me in everything. She responds to me, but it’s never kind or understanding. It’s never the Amanda I love.
I realize I can’t find her anymore because she isn’t there. Or she never was, and I believed a very convincing lie.
I knew I wasn’t always a good friend, but I had an unconditional regard for a girl who I thought had the same for me. I would’ve done anything for her. Even stop being myself. But she had disappeared before she could ever know that. And I ran scared too.
I loved her, but that wasn’t enough. It never is.
Alexandra Stanislaw-Bennett currently attends Youngstown State University where she studies literature and writing. In 2014 she published a screenplay in Penguin Review. She has worked as a media coordinator, assistant editor, and graphic designer. She has been recently admitted to Columbia College of Chicago for fiction writing and hopes to attend in the fall.