“Have you ever been in love?” he asked, greedily, expecting an answer that without a doubt would include himself. He was a horrible romantic, emphasis on horrible, because he was more obsessed with having a good story to write in his self-published memoir one day than actually experiencing the feelings attached with a real whirlwind love affair. He was a lover without ever truly loving; he was alive without ever living.
“Yes,” I said, knowing I was only fueling his fantasies. “I’ve only been in love once.”
His puppy-dog eyes sparkled. “Who? Who was it?” he begged, expecting his name to roll off my tongue.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I taunted. It was unfair of me, but it was devilishly soothing to lead him on.
Wasn’t it obvious, though? Wasn’t it obvious that I wasn’t in love with him, but rather, the girl who lived above the bakery? The real name that was resting on my tongue was Cora, short for Caroline, short for Caroline Ann Winters?
Loving her was a wonderful secret that I kept from her and often myself. I would bury my affections into his neck, trying to let heterosexuality drip out of his sweat glands and hopefully soak into me. Despite our trysts, however, I never felt anything more for him than a melancholy tenderness.
He made me feel like I had bought a kite for a perpetually rainy summer. The kite itself was perfect, but the situation wasn’t and would never be. The kite deserved some other girl, in some other place, who could fly it high, but I held the kite to my chest, staring out the window and wondering why God made everything so complicated.
As selfish as it is, I kept him around because he was convenient. It sounds absolutely awful, and it is, because things are supposed to be convenient, not people. It was convenient to not have to break up with him, to not have to explain to my mother who adored him why I let him go, to not have to find a new place to stay, and to not have to worry about the awkwardness of running into him in our coffee shop. It was convenient to have someone to make me dinner when I didn’t feel like it, to have someone to take to stupid work events, and to have someone to use as proof I wasn’t gay.
“Are you sure you aren’t too fond of me?” Cora teased. “I’m sorry to inform you, dear, but I’m straight.”
“I love how you, the single one, is accusing me, the one with a boyfriend, of being gay,” I retorted. “Are you fantasizing, again?”
She would laugh that spectacular laugh. That laugh wiped out your thoughts for a moment, clearing your head of bad memories. All that existed was her giggles, which bounced around my head wildly, smacking into self-doubt and erasing it. That laugh kept me sane; that laugh made me whole.
Cora was simply having fun, taunting me, consciously letting her body be slightly too close. Our thighs touched, and our faces were centimeters from each other, so close that the air I exhaled quickly became the air she inhaled. Deep down, she knew I wanted her. Maybe, just maybe, she actually wanted me too. But every time I thought something was happening, she jolted away, haunted by the years in Catholic school.
“I love you,” he told me, smacking me back into reality. Maybe he said something before, I honestly don’t know. I was too busy picturing thighs touching.
“I know,” I replied.
I knew he wasn’t happy with that answer. He wanted me to confess my undying affection. I wouldn’t lie to him. Yes, I lied to him daily through omission, but I couldn’t blatantly lie to him.
“How obvious do I need to make it to you?” I said. “I’ve only been in love once.”
Catherine Plath is a student in the Washington, DC area. Her short story “To Aria” was published in Crab Fat Magazine several months ago.