“I’m sad we couldn’t go for our post-dinner stroll around the city.” Leighanne said as she rested her head on Coll’s shoulder. It had started raining halfway through dinner and Leighanne had to let her plan for walking to some shops go.
Coll giggled, “I’m sorry, baby, we still had such a lovely romantic evening regardless.” Coll teased.
Leighanne laughed, “I know, it was like the perfect date night in, really.”
Leighanne shrugged, “If I can’t be with Brian, you’re my top choice.”
Coll sighed heavily, taking a long sip of her wine. Leighanne had cooked them a nice meal of fresh ravioli and salad and they spent the hours talking about everything from Leighanne’s wedding dress to how they’d stay in touch once Coll went back to school. It was exactly the kind of relaxing night Coll needed.
Upon arriving at Coll’s room, Nick and Brian both immediately started complaining about being hungry and inquired about the status of any leftovers.
“We only made enough for us.”
“Why??” Brian asked.
“Because there were only two of us!” Leighanne laughed.
“There is some cheese.” Coll said casually as she took another sip of her wine, catching Nick’s eye in the process.
“I feel betrayed.” He said.
“Snickers,” Coll shook her head, the warm buzz of champaign flowing through her body, pressing her hand into her forehead, “If you’re hungry just order something. I peeked at the room service menu earlier, it looked good.”
“Snickers?” Brian asked, “oh that’s good…”
“Brian, let’s go upstairs.” Leighanne said as she got to her feet and walked in his direction. “I’m sleepy.”
“Is there food up there?”
“I’m sure the nice hotel people would be happy to bring you something.”
“I’m gonna eat the cheese.” Nick said, opening the small fridge.
“Alright, let’s go, Leigh.” Brian gave in.
“Date night is over??” Coll pouted.
“Date night?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, it was so fun!” Coll smiled, “It’s been so long… well, for me.” She laughed lightly, realizing it had actually been quite a few months since the last date she went on.
“Awh, it was so fun.” Leighanne said, giving Coll a hug. “Thanks for letting me wine and dine you.”
“Night.” Coll waved as the two of them left the suite.
“Wait, how long has it been since you’ve been on a date?” Nick asked as the suite door closed behind Leighanne and Brian.
“God, I don’t even remember.” Coll said honestly, “Months…” she mused, as she walked back across the room to the bed and sat on the side of it.
“That surprises me.” He began. It made her nervous.
“Like, how does that happen?” He asked, walking over to stand in front of her.
She looked up at him, unsure what to say. “How does what happen?”
“Are all these Boston guys blind or something?”
She blushed. “You know how guys are…” she replied as she tucked some hair behind her ear and he sat down next to her. “Don’t worry, it’s no real loss, there isn’t anyone I want to go on a date with … there.” Her eyes shifted, hoping that last part wasn’t too obvious.
After spending most of the day away from, but speaking about him, she felt a crazy urge to maintain proximity to him now that he was there. Her internal timer was ticking, she wasn’t sure how much time remained but she could sense it was very little before she might explode.
She wanted to be closer to him, she wanted to feel his hands on her skin again, she wanted to have an excuse for him to stay with her again, she wanted to tell him everything he was doing to her. It was all she could really think about as he sat there next to her. She tried to focus as he began speaking again.
“But still. Seems crazy to me...”
“There are not a lot of romantic date nights in college. There’s a lot of going out in a group and some random guy slips his arm around your waist and tries to get you back to his apartment.” She explained. “That’s not me.” She thought it over, “Then again, it doesn’t really matter because the alternative wasn’t any good either.”
“Even when I have been ‘dating’ people, the dates… the dating… usually kinda boring.” She said. “Like, John. He took me on dates but … they were boring. I mean we had a good time together but, it wasn’t exciting.” She shook her head, “Like, don’t get me wrong. My life is generally pretty mundane to begin with, but that’s why it’s even more important to be with someone who can make it a little more exciting… or at least, make it feel a little more exciting.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, “I feel like I should know more.”
“About what? John?”
He ran his hand through his hair, “You… your life.” He couldn’t remember the last time he cared to know anything extra about someone. She was the difference.
Her eyes got wider and her imagination started running wild. Is he flirting? He already knows so much. But maybe it is mostly surface level? As far as stuff that matters goes, anyway... What exactly does he want to know? What is safe to tell him?
She barely knew herself these days, she felt like an entirely new person recently.
“What do you want to know?” She asked quietly, she couldn’t help herself from giving him a bit of a sultry eye, her own flirt filter falling apart at the seams as she noticed his eyes actually shift to a darker, more mysterious shade of blue as he sat there, so close to her and still not close enough at the same time. It made her spine tingle.
His eyes scanned her face before a small smirk appeared on his mouth.
“Whoa.” She held her hand up, sensing that was the direction he was headed. “Do not ask me a would you rather right now.”
“Damnit.” He hung his head in playful defeat.
She rolled her eyes and scooted back against the headboard behind her.
“Just ask a regular question if you have one.”
“I just feel like I’ve missed some critical bits. The fact that you’re obsessed with pajamas, all that stuff you told me about guys being shitty to you… the virginity thing. I need to catch up.”
She smiled, “I’m an open book, what do you want to know?” She asked, bringing her knees up closer to her chest, relaxing a bit into the reality that he, again, wasn’t hooking up with someone and was instead with her, talking.
“Well, what happened with John? I thought you were into him.”
She shrugged, “He was nice. He took me out, he bought me flowers, he checked in … he was reliable. But it wasn’t … exciting. And after a while all his nice guy stuff actually became annoying… probably because I didn’t feel the same way about him.” She watched as Nick lounged deeper across her bed, propping himself up on his elbow. “I didn’t realize it at first because we did have a good time together, but he was just, boring... and everything we did was boring, or at least… tepid.. I don’t think he realized.”
She took a deep breath and settled into a series of stories about her time with John - about how he played it safe with her, with school, and life in general, never challenging himself and certainly never challenging her. She gave him the footnotes version of the stale pattern they fell into physically where they would snuggle in her bed and make out for fifteen minutes before he would slip her shirt off her body and kiss her everywhere above her waist, and about how it was enjoyable but she didn’t miss it when it was over. She told him about how he always wanted to walk her home, and about how he always wanted her to meet his parents because he knew they would love her.
“Anyway, he was safe. And that was nice for a little while. But there was no excitement for me. And then it became obvious he was more into it than I was, so… ” She summarized, “He was always in love with the idea of me. But not actually with me. I think he wanted to be.”
“He told you he was in love with you?” The sentiment made him jealous, even though he knew she didn’t reciprocate, the thought of someone else doing what he wasn’t - but wanted to - made him feel heavy with jealousy.
“I thought I told you that part? Maybe not… you had a lot going on.”
He honestly couldn’t remember if she had or not and he was frustrated with himself for it. What else had he missed? The fact he felt that so deeply now, and couldn’t even recall if he knew it before, was proof again, he was in love with her.
“What did you say back?”
“I don't remember….?”
“You don’t remember?!”
She covered her face with her hands, ashamed. “I said, ‘no you aren’t’...”
Stunned, he laughed, “Okay, you definitely never told me that! That’s cold…”
“How could you tell?”
She looked past him and her eyes wandered aimlessly around the room for a second before landing on him again, “He cared about me. He wanted me to be happy. But I got the sense that it was more for his own fulfillment. Like, if he could make me happy and keep me around, and do nice things for me... that proved he was doing something right. But he wasn’t aware of me, he didn’t know - and never seemed compelled to find out - about the things that make me, me. Like, I fit into his little pocket of what he thought a relationship should be, and that was enough for him. Like he was trying to check a box off not like he was trying to add anything to his life. There was an empty space and I filled it. I want more than that.” She explained honestly, “He was thrilled I went out with him, he was thrilled to call me his girlfriend for a while, and he was thrilled he had someone to take care of… but it wasn’t me he was thrilled about, just that there was someone there. Maybe I was a good person to have there but it wasn’t about me, it was about having the box checked. You know what I mean? Like, just the idea.” She paused, pressing her finger into her cheek and tilting her head at him, “I’m glad he wasn’t truly in love with me because I wasn’t in love with him. And I imagine that’s a hard place to be … in unrequited love.” Her heart was pounding, and she had no idea she would be so willing to say so much.
Nick was fidgeting, unsure how to absorb all of what she was saying but desperately wanting to.
“Also, yes, maybe that was cold, maybe I could have found a better way to say it. But.. it was true… still is.”
“He’s still in love with you? Or thinks he is?”
She shrugged, “I have no idea. I just mean, if he still feels the same way, it’s still true that he’s not in love with actual me.” She dragged her nail thoughtlessly over her thigh, watching the light red mark it made, “He texted me a few weeks ago. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.”
“What could he have done differently?” He asked.
“Nothing.” She said, “People shouldn’t have to change for each other - not like that, not your personality. I didn’t want to change him. I don’t want to change anyone, I just want to find someone who can bring out the best version of me and vice versa.” She pushed a piece of hair back behind her ear.
Nick nodded, understanding what she meant but feeling like it was a way of thinking he hadn’t done for himself ever before. But she had defined the thing he felt - like a better version of himself.
“How do you know?”
“If you are both being the best version of yourself? Or if someone else is the best version of themselves?”
“You’ve really picked up some excellent interviewing skills, haven’t you?” She teased him with a laugh.
“Sorry…I-” he blushed and she thought it was sweet.
“I’m joking, it’s fine.” She smiled, “The best version of anyone is not the bored version. He was happy, maybe that was the best version of him. I just didn’t feel drawn to it. It’s funny because, on paper, he was the perfect boyfriend but in reality it was really dull.” She said, “Stuff like that can be so deceiving.” like how on paper you seem all wrong but in reality…
He looked at her and his heart skipped a few beats as she spoke again. ”But really, you just know. It’s a feeling. You can see it when someone is their best - if you care about them. That’s why I’m like…” she lifted her hands out to sides of her body, “no clue about John. I didn’t feel connected to him. He was there and he was nice but I wasn’t invested.”
“And he never tried to sleep with you?” Nick asked.
She couldn’t help it, a small smile appeared on her face as she considered how interested he was in this. “I mean, if I had let him go further he would have.” She said, “But once I figured out he wasn’t what I was waiting for it was over.” She looked at him and felt her belly fill up with a feeling she hadn’t felt before. “Sometimes you have to do some stuff to figure it out - or so I thought. But,” she inhaled deeply, “sometimes you don’t.”
Nick was moving now to sit next to her against the headboard, he left barely any space between them, his arm touching hers for many inches.
They were both quiet for a few minutes, lost in their own thoughts. The room was quiet except for the sounds of rain on the windows.
“I’m really glad I’m here.” She said quietly, turning to look at him as she slipped her hand into his. It felt like a bold move and also like the most natural thing simultaneously.
“Me too.” He smiled at her as he leaned his head back against the bed, squeezing her hand in his gently.
“Also,” She began again, tilting her head down to look at his hand in hers, feeling like she wasn’t fully in control of her words, feeling like she wasn’t even sure what she was actually about to say, “last night, at the fountain…” her voice was light and serious at the same time. She watched herself as she used her pointer finger to trace the shape of his fingers wrapped around her hand.
“Yeah?” His heart rate increased as he eagerly awaited the rest of her sentence, knowing that something happened at the fountain last night, remembering the way she was looking at him.
“I saw something.” She whispered.
“What?” His mind was reeling, she could not finish this thought soon enough…
She knew it was right and true what she had seen last night, when things came into focus, when she knew she had arrived at the starting place of something bigger, when she knew he was it.
She lifted her head back up to look at him and paused for a second, remembering what Leighanne had said. “It’s okay if you’re not sure what to do about the things you’re sure about. It’s okay if things are a little messy.” She locked her eyes on his and felt it was safe to go on... “The best version of you.”