1. I had felt like this before, when something overwhelmed me too much. I was losing my breath, hyperventilating; hot tears were streaming down my face. With the way the night started, I never would have guessed that it would end like this.
My relationships have been back to back episodes of dysfunction. My high school boyfriend, who I thought I’d be with forever, got busted for drug dealing in senior year, and was hauled off to jail, while I learned how to sketch glass vases of flowers in art school. Doing this made me realize how tedious my life was, that was until, I met my second boyfriend who convinced me to drop out my third year and go touring with his band. At this point, my life took a turn for the worst and my mother kept her distance from her “total failure of a daughter.” My boyfriend made me stay back in a motel, while he played shows at grimey, little, hole in the wall bars. After being out on the road with him for a month, and having to deal with his late night partying, he shocked me, one night after his show, by saying he was leaving me for a groupie he met that night. After that devastation, I moved back to New York, and went on a barrage of heinous blind dates.
Then, finally, I met the real love of my life, Dylan, while drinking away my sorrows in a bar. The normal, and slightly older financier from Texas who I thought would never hurt me. All I ever wanted was to be in a serious, stable relationship, and he gave it to me.
“Hey Aubrey, I missed you today,” Dylan said to me on the phone. He was in Chicago for the week on business. Whenever he went away on business, which was frequently, I usually got so upset that I would lash out at everyone around me.
“I miss you too. You’re coming back on Saturday, right?”
“How’s everything over there?” I asked, twirling a piece of my long, black hair.
“Fine.” Hearing Dylan’s voice was the only comforting part of my day. After getting yelled at by my boss for being late to a bridal makeup appointment and fighting with my friends, the only thing that would make me feel better was talking to him.
“Tell me about your day.”
“I told you everything’s fine,” he answered shortly.
“Well, say more.” I raked my fingers through the dark knots in my long hair, while I waited patiently for him to answer.
“I went to a business thing.”
“How was that?” I asked.
He sighed. “Aubrey, I have to tell you something.” I panicked. That was never a good thing to hear.
“What is it?”
“I’m not in Chicago,” Dylan mumbled.
“Where are you? Baby, if you’re stuck somewhere I can fly out and–”
“I’m not stuck anywhere.” He cut me off, abruptly. “I’m at home in Texas. I’m with someone.”
“Who?” I asked, slowly.
“My fiance, Chloe.” My heart dropped.
“What are you talking about?”
“I just proposed. I’ve known her for, like, 10 years now.”
“What are you talking about??” I screeched. “Who is your fiance? Since when do you have someone else??”
“I haven’t been completely honest.”
“Yeah, no shit.” My eyes stung. Everything was so surreal. This wasn’t happening. It was just a bad dream. I would wake up and everything would be fine and normal.
“You notice I go on business a lot, right?”
“I’ve just been shuttling back and forth between you two,” Dylan whispered, he almost sounded like he was about to cry.
“You were cheating on me this whole time?”
“Not cheating. We never said we were exclusive.”
“We’ve been going out for five months! It’s a given that we’re exclusive.”
“Anyway, things are more serious between me and Chloe now, so I’m sorry.”
I asked the question that was burning a hole in the back of my mind. “What does she have that I don’t?”
“I’ve been with her for ten years.”
“So then why were you even with me?”
“Look, you’re special. I liked you too… Um, anyway I have to go, she’s looking for me.”
“No, no, wait. I have no closure! You can’t just go!”
“I’m honestly sorry. You’re great, and you’ll find someone else, someone better. Bye.” And then I heard the crushing, little beep that meant our call was over. I replayed every sweet, intimate moment of our relationship in my mind: our first kiss underneath the stars in Central Park, whenever he constantly said he missed me, whenever he told me he loved me and his blue eyes would meet up with mine, and he would fixate on me; he never said it without looking at me. I realized it was all a lie.
I was sobbing alone in my room, while Dylan was engaged.
“How could he do this to me?” I yelled out to my empty apartment.
2. I heard a knock at the door, and knew it could only be one person. I shot out of my seat and ran to open it before he could ring a second time. When I opened the door, I saw the face that could make me feel at ease no matter what.
“Oh my God, Dylan. I missed you,” I said, jumping into my boyfriend’s strong arms.
“I missed you more.” He held me tight. I took my arms away from his broad neck and took a few steps back to look at the face that I fell in love with five years ago. We had known each other for ten, but were friends for five and then began dating for five, now going on six.
“You were gone way longer this time,” I said, hitting him playfully. “Don’t do that to me again.”
“Sorry Chloe. You know how work is.”
“No, I don’t actually,” I laughed. “I’ve still never been to your office.” Dylan had been secretive like this forever. It didn’t matter to me though. We all had our secrets.
“Things are crazy. The economy’s wild. Anyway, let’s not talk about work.”
“Agreed,” I said.
“So, what should we talk about?” Dylan slipped his arm around my waist, and smiled that perfect, straight, white smile. His smile was one of his best features; I could see the aligned row of white teeth every time he laughed or talked. Every genuine word that came out of his mouth ricocheted off of his precious, ceramic-like, sculpted teeth.
“Well,” I said, laughing and pulling away as his hand traveled lower. “My parents are coming over for dinner tonight. I think they missed you more than I did.”
“Great. What are we having?”
“I’m making roasted chicken with creamed spinach on the side. Mother’s still on her health kick. I am making strawberry shortcake for dessert though.”
“Very nice,” he said, and kissed the top of my head. Then he pulled my face close to his. I looked into his deep blue eyes; one of his best features. “I love you.” He made sure that he was looking at me when he said it. He always did that.
“I love you too.” I almost felt hypnotized by his kind eyes. He leaned in and his mouth hovered over mine. I felt his warm breath on my face, until he looked down and started digging through his pocket.
“Oh, shit,” he said, looking down from me at his phone. “Uh, babe, I have to take this.”
I kissed his rough, stubbly cheek, and headed to the kitchen. “I’ll start dinner.”
I went to the oven and pre-heated it. I opened the doors to both the freezer and the fridge. I searched around for the frozen chickens and the frozen spinach. I wasn’t the best cook in the world, but I felt obliged whenever Dylan came back home. We had been together so long that I really did want to show him that I could be a good wife. I didn’t know why it was taking him so long to finally commit, but I never really asked. My father always told me that if you push and nag a man too much he’ll leave you, and that was the last thing I wanted. He had been the love of my life ever since senior year of high school. We were the picture perfect couple; prom king and queen, admired by everyone. We had just built this perfect life together.
As I was setting the table I felt Dylan’s strong arms wrap around me from behind.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“What? Oh, on the phone? That was just work. I’m going to have to call again later tonight.”
I was about to protest, but I heard a loud knock at the door. I knew it was my parents, per usual they were sure to arrive ten minutes before the time they were actually invited.
“Hello Chloe Darling,” my mother said when she was in. She kissed me on both cheeks. Her sandy colored hair, the same as mine, was tied in a bun high above the rest of her head.
“Sweetheart,” my father said, also kissing me on both cheeks. He looked as tired as always. Sometimes I wondered if he looked that way after living with my mother for so long.
“How do you think those Rangers are doing?” my father, an avid baseball fan, asked Dylan.
“I’ve actually been too busy working to sit down and watch. I hear they’re doing well though.”
“Are you also too busy to propose?” My mother whispered under the breath.
Because I wasn’t pushing him to propose, someone had to, and that someone was my mother. She didn’t understand my patience and how I could be in a relationship this long without a ring. I proceeded to tell her that Dylan was amazing, and asked her the last time when Dad bought her flowers, but she scoffed.
During dinner we laughed and talked about Mother and Father’s trip to the South of France. We also discussed the nonprofits that they were working with. Mother decided that she would bring a group of our friends to the soup kitchen because one really can’t have too many volunteers, according to her. My father also talked about how his company was doing. I paid close attention, as I had just become his new secretary. He told me I would probably have to take over when he retires.
“Chloe, I know addressing letters is a little bit tricky when you first start,” my father lectured. “But the stamp goes on the upper right hand corner. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.”
When the time came I brought out my shortcake topped with fluffy whipped cream and cut strawberries.
“So, Chloe…” Dylan turned to me when I had taken my a seat. I shoveled through mountains of cream to get to the spongy, golden cake.
“Yes?” I said, spearing a strawberry.
“There’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while.” I looked over at Dylan, but his chair was empty. He was on the ground, on one knee holding a small, velvet box.
“Oh my God,” I gasped.
“I love you, Chloe.” he said, smiling. “And we’ve been together for so long now.”
I looked at my parents, and they looked as surprised as I did.
“Will you marry me?” Dylan asked.
3. I’m freaking out. I don’t know how I carried this on for so long, I sort of thought one would find out about the other and then it’s just done. I know, I know, I should have broken up with one of them, but… I just couldn’t. I’ve been with Chloe, my high school girlfriend, for way too long, and Aubrey, well, she was just too sweet. Aubrey was a lot shorter than me so she would constantly look up at me, all innocent, with those big blue eyes. Hurting either one of them would cause me way too much pain. At least I learned something during both of these relationships. There’s a difference between loving someone and being in love with someone.
Chloe and I, we’ve been through everything. The time I got kicked off the football team for getting in a fight, when I drank so much at a party that I threw up in the bushes, after I found out that my best friend was moving to a different state, she was the one by my side. I seriously love her for that. I love her for the memories and the longevity. I can’t lie though, after a while the sparks started to fade. I didn’t get that butterflies doing gymnastics inside me feeling anymore when I saw her. She was just my support system, and a damn good one at that, but still that was it. The first time I saw her though, it was love. All I could think about was running my hands through her sandy blonde hair and kissing her, but she had already decided that I was only “friend material.” After a while, I became her rock, her go to guy. I was there when her parents got divorced, and then got back together, then separated, and back together again. I remember seeing her puffy, red, tear-stained face after she found out she didn’t get on the cheer squad. I comforted her, and after quietly told my father, the head of athletics at the time, to pull some strings. The next day, after she got the good news, she bounded over to me and threw herself into my arms, and it was that moment that I knew I didn’t want to let go, nor did I want to see anyone hurt her. We finally got together the night of junior prom. Her boyfriend had just broken up with her right before the dance, and I took it upon myself to show up at her doorstep in a tux, holding white lilies; her favorite. After that it was me and her for the long haul. I didn’t think about other girls because I didn’t really need to.
She had everything I could ever ask for wrapped in one neat, pretty, little package. I love her and I care about her more than I care about myself. Chloe’s my best friend and my girlfriend; perfect, right? Everything was perfect until about a eight months ago. Her mother’s a treasure, but nags like crazy. So, all of sudden I’m getting lectures about biological clocks and peak times for pregnancy. The worst was when I found out her mother had actually booked us a location to get married in when I hadn’t even proposed yet. It was all coming at me too fast. Sure, I’d like to get married to her, but the two of us need to make that decision.
This whole mess started though when I was in New York City a few months back visiting a former fraternity brother of mine. We were at a bar getting smashed when all of a sudden I look to my left and there’s this girl sort of looking at me and smiling. She looked the exact opposite of my blonde, sunkissed girlfriend. She had very dark, pin-straight hair, piercing blue eyes, and she was very pale. Apparently she overheard me talking about my love for death metal music, and she shared the same interest. As soon as we got to talking, the conversation was just electric. I couldn’t help but compare: Aubrey drinks Jack Daniel’s, Chloe drinks Cosmopolitans; Aubrey loves death metal, Chloe listens to classical and country; Aubrey shows a lot of skin, Chloe wears floral maxi-dresses. I didn’t think Chloe was inferior, but I was starting to question after all these years if she really was the right match for me. Nothing physical happened that night, but Aubrey did give me her number. I forgot what it felt like to get to know people and build up a connection. I really missed dating, and I missed getting chills and shivers every time you saw that person walk into a room. Seeing both of them at the same time somehow fulfilled me. I had it all, my support system and someone who I could actually connect well with.
But I don’t know what got to me after five months of dating the girl. I just started to feel like crap. Chloe’s mom would keep reminding me about what I was apparently supposed to do. She would even say, “tick, tick, tick” sometimes, as if that were her impression of this daunting biological clock. It didn’t really bother me until Chloe started catching her mother’s unbearableness.
“You know,” Chloe said to me one night. “I’m ovulating.”
“How do you even know that?”
“I bought some ovulation sticks,” she said, like it was no big deal. “If we were married we could use this time more productively…” I rolled my eyes at her insinuation that ovulation was the only case where that time would be used productively. She said this almost every month after that, whenever she was ovulating, I guess. One time when I was trying to veer away from that topic of discussion, I think I even heard her say, “tick, tick, tick.” During that time, I couldn’t wait to come out to New York City and see Aubrey. She was so laid back. No talk of pregnancy, or marriage, or ovulation. We just talked about normal stuff that people in relationships talked about. We would grab a bite at some cool restaurant downtown and we would talk about our hopes and dreams.
“I work in finance and I fucking hate it,” I told Aubrey one night over a bowl of hot minestrone soup.
“Then quit,” she said, like it was so simple.
“I gotta pay the bills. If I could do anything though, I think I’d want to own a bed and breakfast.”
“Why?” she asked, surprised.
“It’s just so quiet and nice. I like cities, but the countryside is just so calm.”
She smiled and nodded. “You are a very multi-faceted man.” Her thin hand inched closer to mine, so that our fingertips were touching.
“What would you want to do?” I asked.
“Quit being a makeup artist for sure, and I’d probably go back to school and get a degree in journalism.”
“Why don’t you?” I asked, smiling.
“Gotta pay the bills.” Her eyes twinkled. “I do love writing though.”
“Well, you’re pretty multi-faceted too,” I said, interlacing my hand with hers.
Aubrey told me she loved me that night. It was after dinner while we were curled up on the couch watching some bizarre reality show that involved a lot of hair pulling. I didn’t really know what to say, so I said it back. I didn’t really think I loved her or anything at the time because I already knew what love felt like and it wasn’t what I was feeling here. Now I realize that the love is different with anyone that you’re in a relationship with. It doesn’t feel like one particular feeling, that you feel over and over again when you fall in love with people. They’re different feelings because they’re different people. I loved them both, but I’ve learned you can’t have both. It’s not fair to anyone.
I had a long history with Chloe and I barely knew Aubrey. I already felt like a part of Chloe’s family. After my Dad died of lung cancer and my Mom moved to Florida with her new boyfriend, Chloe and her family were all I really had. They accepted me and treated my like their son. I feel comfortable being in their lives, and even though my relationship with Aubrey was fun and we bonded over our absentee mothers, she didn’t have people in her life that could take care of us and support us if we got more serious.
That’s why I’m staring at this stupid diamond engagement ring now. I got the ring specially made because I knew Chloe wouldn’t like any of the generic square and oval cuts that I saw in the display cases. The ring truly is beautiful; it has a medium-sized yellow diamond perched on top of a silver band. Simple, but I know she’s going to love it. As for Aubrey, I’m going to break up with her over the phone. I can’t believe that I’m going to do it in such a cruel manner, but there’s no way I could look into her eyes and see the pain that I inflicted travel through her like venom.
Lipika Raghunathan, Age 16, Grade 11, The Dalton School, Gold Key