by Jeanette Lewis (All rights reserved)
Erin went inside and slipped off her shoes, sighing with relief. She stood in the darkness inside her apartment and let it all sink in. The play, the party, and New York.
And Matt. She’d left him standing there in the parking lot, like an unfinished sentence.
She glanced at her phone. It was almost two o’clock in the morning. But this couldn’t wait and she knew he’d still be awake.
She grabbed her slippers and padded down the hallway. Matt answered her light knock. He wore striped pajama bottoms and an old T-shirt. His eyes were shadowed and tired. At his side, Roswell wagged his tail and tried to jump on Erin.
Matt turned and went back into the apartment ahead of her, leaving her to struggle with the dog. When she’d finally made it inside and shut the door, he gave her a measured look. “How’d it go?”
There was something different in his eyes, something … hard. A look she hadn’t seen before. “Good,” she said warily. “We’re going to New York.”
He stood in the center of the room, arms folded. “That’s great,” he said in a neutral tone. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks. We’re all very excited.” Only right now it didn’t feel exciting. It felt sad. Like the end of an era.
“As long as I’m at it, I may as well congratulate you on your boyfriend,” Matt said, not bothering to keep the bitterness from his voice.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Erin replied.
It was the wrong thing to say. “Really?” Matt scowled. “I couldn’t tell.”
Erin flicked her hair away from her face. “What’s with you tonight?”
He shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe it’s late and I’ve been at work all day. Maybe I’m sick of taking the dumb dog out to pee. Maybe I’m tired of being used.”
“Used?” She took a step back. “Is that what you think I’ve been doing?”
“I really don’t know anymore, Erin. For a while I thought we had a pretty good thing going, and then …” he sighed and raked his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end. Roswell whined and Matt glared at him. “Go lie, down,” he ordered and Roswell slunk off to the bedroom.
“Then what?” Erin prodded.
“Then when I put all the pieces together, I see a different picture. You do whatever you want and I wait around wishing you’d notice me. Only you don’t. At least not until you get in over your head. Then you holler and I come running.”
“That’s not … I don’t …” she began. But her words rang hollow. Because he was right. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said quietly. “I haven’t meant to use you.”
“Are you just saying that because you know that’s what I want to hear?” His voice had an edge of cynicism she’d never heard before, so unlike the Matt she knew.
“No! I really am sorry. I guess I didn’t realize.”
“You never do,” he said. “You are so wrapped up in daydreams that you don’t even see what’s right in front of you.”
“What’s right in front of me?” she demanded.
“You have this idea that falling in love is supposed to be some big, dramatic … I don’t know what. But if it’s not just like that, you won’t even consider it.”
“Falling in love?” She stared at him.
He hesitated, as if trying to decide whether to go for it. Then he plunged ahead. “Yes, Erin. I love you. As if it isn’t obvious.”
“I don’t …” Her mind was a jumble, her emotions a confusing mix of panic and elation. “We never said anything about love,” she finally whispered.
Matt’s eyes hardened. “I know. And I won’t say it again; I just wanted you to know how I felt, I wanted to tell you at least once.”
Her head was fuzzy from exhaustion and champagne; it took her a minute to work out what he meant. “So that’s it?” she said. “We can’t even still be friends?”
He met her eyes with a steady gaze. “I have enough friends,” he said evenly.
She blinked through the sudden tears. This goodbye was the one she’d dreaded most and it was coming too sudden, too early. She’d been counting on having a few more weeks with him.
“Please don’t say that,” she begged. “I thought … I thought you would …” Her words faltered. What had she thought? That he’d be content to stay in the shadows indefinitely?
She could see the muscles in his jaw working as he ground his teeth. “Goodbye Erin,” he said softly.
Tears ran down her cheeks as she wrenched the door open and fled.