The Future Mrs. Brightside
“Are you okay?”
“Jon and I had a fight.” The word seemed so small and imprecise. “He’s never been mad at me for this long. I don’t know how to fix it.”
“What’s he mad about?”
“He says nothing.”
“What’s he actually mad about?”
Chloe did her best to describe the fiasco of their second failed wedding.
“You got cold feet at the altar?” Breanna summed up.
What Chloe wouldn’t have given that day for cold feet.
Breanna whistled. “Sounds bad.”
“But I don’t think it’s just about that. He was already mad at me before I freaked out,” Chloe tried to explain. “That was part of what freaked me out.”
“What was he mad about before?”
“A million little things.”
Breanna took a breath, collating the unhelpfulness of this information.
“Well, if you just need to show him you’re sorry and let off some tension, there’s one trick I used to do with my brother, you just need a disposable pie tin, a can of whipped cream, and if you’re feeling creative—”
“Yeah, I don’t think letting him pie me in the face is going to cut it for this,” said Chloe, imagining the argument that could be solved this way with utter yearning.
“You have to present the pie with a grand, dignified speech about how it’s a symbol of your deepest love for him, put it right in his hand, and make it clear that you’ll slam your own face into it if he doesn’t help you, so he won’t have to feel guilty about letting his feelings out. Or you could get a couple of nerf guns, and—”
“He’ll barely even look at me, Bree.”
“Okay, let’s start with… hmm… what do you normally do when something like this happens?”
“I leave!” Chloe blurted out, not caring how many people in the Starbucks looked up to eavesdrop. None of them did. “I leave, and I write a song about it!”
The line was silent for a moment.
“Is that what we’re looking at right now?” Breanna asked gravely.
“I… god, I hope…”
Of the handful of words that had passed between Chloe and Jon each day since Vegas, not one had so much as paid lip service to the possibility that they might not pull through this together. Yet with so much time on her hands, time to do nothing but think about her predicament, it was impossible not to entertain a few flickering, abstract questions.
How much money was still in her personal savings account?
Whose doorstep could she try turning up on first, if she simply walked out the door and didn’t come back?
Would she even be thinking these things if Roger had clung to life just a few weeks longer, and she and Jon had sworn on schedule to stick it out for better or worse?
Was having been ready and willing to say those words the same as having said them?
Or was this what people meant when they talked about dodging a bullet?
It would have been naïve to assume that such questions didn’t flicker for Jon too.
“Normally, the guys make it easy,” she told Breanna. “Normally, I pick guys who’ll make it easy. They’ll rage or cheat or kick me out, so it’s barely even a choice, and when it happens, I’m ready.”
She hadn’t put this in quite those terms before, but there it was.
In the seven years following her non-destiny with Seth, she’d honestly thought that this was the adult version of love, strong enough to be felt, but never strong enough to embarrass her or overwrite her certainty that she could always walk away and carry on with her life not too much the worse for wear.
And then, suddenly, there’d been Jon.
How long into knowing him had she lost that certainty?
“One mocha and one caramel Frappuccino for Chloe!” the barista at the bar called out. Chloe thanked her and moved the drinks to the nearest free stretch of counter by the window, wondering how much longer she could claim the delay of a long line before the drinks would melt and give her away.
“I think there’s something wrong with me,” she told Breanna, never lowering her voice for the bustling room of people arguing about their orders or the wait.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Breanna answered.
“I finally love a guy for not making me want to cry, and less than a year and a half later, he’s become someone who makes me want to cry all the time.” Chloe sucked in a wet breath and blew it out again irritably, unwilling to illustrate the point then and there. “Apparently, if I can’t be with the one I hate, I’ll find some way to hate the one I’m with. Or make him hate me. It’s like I managed to will the dysfunction into existence and give it to him like lice.”
“Did you give his dad a heart attack?” asked Breanna, as sharply as the question could be asked without meanness.
Chloe said nothing, staring at the caramel on top of her drink, resisting the urge to stir it and ruin the illusion that it had just that second been handed to her.
“You know I mean this in the best possible way, Chlo, but sometimes it’s not all about you.”
Chloe leaned over to snatch a napkin from the nearest dispenser and pressed it to her moist eyes.
She knew there should have been some comfort in the thought that this mess might not be entirely of her own making, but it didn’t change anything for the better. It only made her perversely nostalgic for Roger’s death day, when Jon’s pain had probably been no less severe, no less beyond her power to soothe, but at least she’d been allowed to put her arms around him and try.
“Turn left on Wilshire Boulevard,” said a faint echo on the line.
“Are you driving?” Chloe asked, clearing her throat to a steady tone.
She hadn’t even checked the time or the day of the week before calling, hadn’t thought far enough ahead to guess where Breanna would be or what she’d be doing.
It was a couple minutes past two on a Wednesday. Breanna would normally have been at CCS, reconciling patient charts.
“I’ve got an interview in a bit,” Breanna admitted, as if this were something to be admitted to.
“Did you quit?” Chloe asked, feeling instantly a thousand miles away from the other end of the line.
“Thinking about it,” Breanna answered, “if I get this tour guide spot.”
“Well, I’m… I’m crossing my fingers for you,” Chloe told her, determined not to dissolve into much stupider tears. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Uh, ‘hey, Chlo, by the way, I might get to start spending my days showing people around the most paranormally active areas of downtown, which would be super awesome. Oh yeah, and sorry you had to cancel your wedding for a funeral.’ I kinda figured you had enough on your mind lately.”
Chloe let out a sharp breath that tried to sound darkly mirthful.
“Who, me?” she touched the white carnation clipped to her sleeve, which now stung her with her failure at sunshine-bringing, and almost equally with the thought of Breanna’s life marching onward without her there to cheer it on. “Seriously, though, that’s fantastic. I hope it works out.”
“Dude. Ditto. Don’t take this wrong either, but are you a hundred percent safe right now? Because I’m coming to pick you up if you’re not.”
“It’s Jon,” Chloe answered.
“I know,” said Breanna. “Had to ask. Best friend code.”
Chloe did know, though she wondered if Breanna had picked the term “best friend code,” and maybe even the question that had led up to it, just to assure her that those words still applied to them.
“Go,” said Chloe. “Break legs, knock socks off, et cetera.”
“Sure you’ll be okay?”
“Yeah. And if I’m not, for fuck’s sake, don’t let me spread it, okay?”
“Sunshine, rainbows, and CDC standard precautions in effect,” Breanna promised. “Let me know how it goes.”
And then Chloe was alone again at the busy window counter, holding her darkened phone.
She thought for only a moment about calling her mom or dad next, or even Allison. There was a chance they’d be less busy, but Chloe couldn’t imagine how they’d be more helpful, how anyone would be.
Layers of liquid were beginning to form below the blended ice in both cups.
If those layers got thick enough for Jon to notice, he wouldn’t ask questions, but he would know that she had wanted to get away from him, and that would hurt him, probably.
Even if he didn’t notice, the thought of him sitting alone in his current condition, wondering when she was coming back, maybe if she was coming back, made Chloe’s chest ache enough that she made the return trip at a jog.
“Thank you,” Jon said, when she set his drink on the coffee table.
That was all.
She nodded and sat back in her spot at the other end of the couch, inside the encroaching walls of that palatial house, sipping slightly melted caramel coffee in silence, watching candy canes being mixed and colored on the TV screen.
Chloe spent the better part of those weeks fantasizing about places other than that couch. She imagined the relief of being at her parents’ dining room table, or at some bar where no one knew her, or in the front seat of Spencer’s car, screaming back at him in the throes of a vicious fight, unafraid of ruining her life with a few spitefully chosen words because she already knew they had no future. She even dreamt of being back at her old desk in the CCS office, listening to the righteous fury of a cheated patient caregiver, or back in Calico Park walking across the hot coals, just so long as Jon wasn’t there to look gravely disappointed if she failed.
If there had been something she could do with those weeks, however, somewhere she could go that would make her feel the slightest bit better, she wouldn’t have tried it. She wouldn’t have chased a shred of happiness on her own, because for the first time in her life, there was someone she had no desire to convince that she didn’t need him.
The only place in the world Chloe truly wanted to be was with a happier Jon.
Sitting next to what was left of him on that couch was like sitting on perfect magnetic north. No matter how insistently her compass pointed toward anywhere but there, she knew perfectly well that the moment she took a step in any direction, it would point her right back again.