Thursday, June 7, 2018

Unrequited Love, by Veronika Jirků

Pain is not linear, it’s circular.
It tends to pay more visits than one.

They say pain is temporary but it still hit me every time I heard his name or saw a guy with a similar hairstyle. Sitting next to someone who used the same brand of cologne would make my heart race and my blood pump faster. Nights were the worst. After he began to snuck into my dreams it took me far too long to remind myself that he is gone and will never be back.
The alarm clock woke me up at 7 a.m. I opened my eyes wide, breathing heavily. It seemed impossible to get up. As if his body was still on top of mine, his lips whispering into my ear. I forced myself not to linger on the thought of him for too long and rolled out of the bed. I was not a fan of breakfasts but I instinctively grabbed a half-eaten donut from last evening and gobbled it up as if I was hungry. This compulsive eating has to stop. But not today. I washed the donut down with a glass of milk, ate two fistfuls of morning cereal and began my morning routine. I took a cold shower, washed my hair, brushed my teeth and put on my makeup. I had plenty of time left but did not feel like staying at home. Instead, I put the car keys back on the table and grabbed a book. Taking a bus and letting myself getting lost in the pages seemed like a good plan to keep my mind occupied.
The morning was like any other. The streets were busy with people who were going places. Boring places, amazing places, new places. I liked to invent stories in my head about all the men, women and children I met both in the city and on the public transport. I liked the idea that the world is filled with people who love, laugh and hurt the same way I do. It made me feel less alone.
The book I grabbed was a crime novel. I did not open it. Instead, I absorbed the commotion surrounding me and avoiding facing the commotion within me. Too soon, the bus arrived to my stop and it was time for me to get off. Despite deciding for public transport, I was early. I yawned and realized that I did not have my morning coffee. Luckily, the nearby café was open. It was not my favorite establishment, but it was good enough for me to come back now and then and have my dose of morning alertness.
“I’ll take one Americano to go, please.” I smiled at the waiter.
“One Americano to go coming your way.” He smiled back and a strange shiver run through my body.
“You know what, make it two,” I added as he was pouring the shot of espresso into the paper cup. My co-worker Cheryl never said no to coffee.
“God bless you, good woman!” exclaimed Cheryl as soon as I walked through the door of the hotel. Cheryl was neat as always. Her long brown hair were tightly tied in a bun, her skin was glowing and her lips were as red as her freshly painted nails. She gave me a big smile as I was handing her the cup of coffee and beckoned me to join her at the reception desk.
“Gotta go change,” I explained quickly.
“Don’t see why, looking good, sparkle.” She grinned and pretended to check out my ass as I was leaving to change into my uniform.
That day was a busy one. The upcoming spring break kept the phones ringing. At the end of each line was a potential guest trying to book a room for the last minute. I have explained over thirty times that we are fully booked and, unfortunately, there is nothing I can do.  Trying to keep my voice accommodating became more and more difficult as the end of my shift drew near. Some of the customers, empowered by the anonymity of their phone calls, were being assholes. This did not help my irritation but I tried to save my cursing for after they angrily hang up.
“We deserve a drink,” said Cheryl after explaining for about four times that few extra bucks will not magically make a room for two vacant. I giggled and looked at the clock. It was five p.m., one hour to go. “I mean it, giggles, let’s get drunk tonight.” Cheryl never called me by my name. I liked it because at a certain point in my life I felt as if it did not belong to me anymore.
“I don’t know, we gotta get up early for the shift tomorrow.” The truth is, I was afraid of going.
“Uhuh, sure, the shift starts at nine, I’m sure we’ll manage.”
I did not respond to that argument. “Oh come on, there is an actual life you know? It lies out there.” She outstretched her arms as she was speaking. “The big life is outside the box you call your comfort zone. Let me show you what it looks like.” She finished her grand theatrical gesture, gave me a pretty-please look and blinked several times. Like a puppy begging for a treat.
“I’ll think about it, okay?”
Both I and Cheryl knew, that I’m just postponing my negative answer. I had no intention of going to a bar and get wasted. I wasn’t ready for that just yet. But then I started to think. Maybe it was not about being ready. When will I ever be? Maybe it was about being willing to take action and to finally gain my freedom back. I was tired of being trapped in a vicious circle. I had to step out of it. As I was thinking, it took me down memory lane. The images of him came back. The way he touched me and the way I felt when he was around. I had to remind myself that he is not coming back. Around six, I decided to give Cheryl a shot at distracting me. At helping me forget.
“So… where do you want to go?” I asked and watched her squeal in delight.
“I know a place, adventure girl. Meet me at eight for dinner? I’ll text you the details.”
I nodded and, with a smile on my face, headed home.
I showered. Thoroughly, for about thirty minutes. I scrubbed my body, shaved my legs and used a hair mask that was probably expired but smelled of mangoes. I was actually looking forward to the night out. For the last year, two months and twenty three days, I have spent my afternoons and evenings in, feeling sorry for myself. Occasionally, I invited Cheryl for a glass of wine or my mum for the weekend. Apart from them, I had no one. My mum understood my coping mechanisms but Cheryl was trying to persuade me to go out with her for months. She used to say we’re going to get me a one night stand, a rebound if that’s what I need, and then pretended not to notice the way I avoided the topic. She asked a lot. About my love life, my previous partners. She was curious, as every girlfriend would. But I couldn’t talk about it. Not yet. Not to her, not to my mum, not to my psychiatrist. I just wasn’t ready, it hurt far too much for me to open up.
I put on a blue dress and a pair of black strappy heels. I did not have the energy to do anything unnecessarily complicated with my hair. Thank god for pony tails. I put on a purple lipstick, covered my eyelashes with two layers of mascara, grabbed my purse and headed out. The sun was shining and the streets were much quieter than in the morning. I felt peaceful and excited at the same time. The two waves of emotions kept crushing inside me as I caught men gazing.
Cheryl texted me to come to her place. I came to pick her up only to find out she needed advice on what to wear. As soon as she answered the door, she dragged me in and directed her steps to her closet, her silky red night robe billowing like a superhero cape.
“Red or green?” She asked, holding up two dresses, both equally revealing and gorgeous.
“I’d go with the green.”
She nodded in approval. Slowly, she took off her robe and slipped into the emerald dress. For a few seconds, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. There was something strange in her expression. As if she did not like what she sees.
“Zip me up, please?” She turned around to find me sitting on her bed.
The dress fit perfectly. I was a bit bewildered and she noticed. I have never seen Cheryl blush but I could swear that as our eyes met in the mirror, she did. And then she broke the eye contact, slipped into her blue pumps and put a bit of perfume on her wrists and neck.
I smiled at her question and nodded.
“Ready as ever.”
“Any particular cravings?” Cheryl’s question echoed through the streets along with our clapping heels.
“I crave a cheeseburger, but I guess we are a bit overdressed for fast-food.” Cheryl grabbed my hand and we changed our direction.
“You want one, you’ll get one. This is your night.”
And she did not let go of my hand. Not even when we entered the fast-food.
We ordered two cheeseburgers, onion rings, fries and coke and sat down by the window to observe the streaming people outside. We did not talk, we just sat there and ate.
“Halfsies on a milkshake?” She asked enthusiastically as soon as the last fry disappeared from the paper plate.
“You’re gonna throw up.” I warned her.
“Only if you will.” She smirked and went to order a vanilla shake to go.
We didn’t throw up. Not right after the milkshake anyway. The bar we chose to go to was a bit expensive for my financial possibilities but I decided to enjoy myself and kept the alcohol coming. Reluctantly, Cheryl respected my wishes not to let guys buy us drinks. I wanted it to be a girl’s night. I didn’t care for a one night stand and a walk of shame. We danced and drank until we could not remember how to dance and then we danced again. My feet were blistered but I didn’t care. Cheryl was there all the time, dancing next to me even when it was apparent she does not feel like it anymore.
Somewhere between all that dancing and drinking, we talked. Not about exes or love lives waiting to happen. We talked about the most annoying guests we ever had to deal with, the best brands of shampoo and useful makeup tricks that made your eyes seem bigger. I was grateful for her dragging me out. Grateful until the next morning.
I woke up with a splitting headache. I was still wearing the dress from last night and had no idea how or when I got home. I still had one shoe on and the air in my bedroom reeked of alcohol, sweet perfume and sweat. Squinting my eyes and blocking the merciless sunshine seeping through the drapes, I glanced at the alarm clock. It was eight forty. I was late for work. I got up as quickly as my stomach allowed me to.
As soon as I stood up, I realized it was not a good idea. I rushed to the toilet and threw up about three times. After taking few long minutes to calm down, I stopped hugging the toilet bowl and stood up to brush my teeth. Before getting into shower, I took an aspirin.
As I started to undress myself, I heard a noise coming from the living room. I froze and felt my heartbeat accelerate. Somebody’s steps were coming towards the bathroom. A wave of relief flew through my body as Cheryl’s face appeared in the door of the bathroom.
“Do you by any chance have a spare toothbrush and a rope I could hang myself on?” She asked.
I forced myself to smile but gave her a reprimanding look. “You scared the shit out of me!”
She looked at me apologetically. “We should hurry, we are super late.”
I nodded and got into the shower.
The cold water made me feel a bit better but I couldn’t imagine spending eight hours at work without throwing up all over the reception desk at some point. Altogether with the feelings of shame, regret and dizziness, the feeling of rebellion coursed through my veins. I was excited. The previous night awoke me, allowed me to feel alive once again. I felt proud and confident. I was pretty sure that from that moment, I would live a bit more. I would step out of the box I have been living in so far.
My thoughts were interrupted by a door bell.
“I’ll get it!” Cheryl called a bit too cheerfully considering the fact she was as hangover as me. I got out of the shower and wrapped myself in a towel. I did not bother wiping the cold water drops from my body.
“Who was it?” I asked curiously.
“A secret admirer I suppose.” Called Cheryl from the hallway. I frowned and left the bathroom.
“What do you mean?” As I entered the kitchen, she was putting a bouquet of daisies into a vase. There was a little purple envelope attached to the flowers.
“You should be the one doing the explaining, don’t you think?” She asked with a hint of reproach in her voice. “Gosh, these are beautiful. And not a cliché you know…”
But I was not listening anymore. I tore the purple envelope open to see the note inside.
You looked stunning last night.
But you do know I like you better in red,
don’t you, Daisy?
My heart began to race, and I felt as if the blood in my veins began to boil. All the moments in which he whispered to my ear and touched me came back one by one. Slowly, painfully. A cold shiver went through my spine. He found me. He will always find me. I thought while my body slowly collapsed to the floor. I will never be safe.

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