The Best There Ever Was
July 16, 2006
Ryan was unstoppable. His friends had tipped him off, and he was barreling down the hallway like Calvin and Hobbes on their wagon. Unstoppable.
He seized the doorknob to the old high school art studio. The door obediently flung open and revealed Ophelia. Dear, dear Ophelia, kissing someone else.
gI-it isnft what it looks like!h she cried as soon as she saw him. But unfortunately, she saw him much too late.
gIfve heard that one before,h Ryan deadpanned. gYou gotta try a little harder than that.h
gN-no, wait!h she stammered, unable to come up with any good explanation. The boy was still kissing her on the cheek, and that was certainly not helping her cause.
It was all in vain, anyway. Ryan was long gone.
Ryan awoke with a jolt.
gDammit, not again!h he scowled as he glanced at his dorm roomfs lone window. Still dark.
Exhaling audibly, he hopped out of bed to make himself a cup of coffee. He knew from plentiful experience that he wouldnft be getting back to sleep any time soon.
It had been two years already since his seemingly perfect relationship with Ophelia had come to its tragic, innocence-shattering end. He had never spoken to her even once since then, and he never planned on it. So why did he always dream about her, and especially about that day?
He wasnft even in town anymore – hefd since graduated and moved onto college a few states over. He was doing well enough by any measure, and he had plenty of friends. But the longer he went without meeting a single girl of interest, the more he realized that maybe God had only allotted him one shot at love. And ironically, it wasnft even him who blew it.
Ryan cursed his luck, fixing up a bowl of cereal and milk for breakfast. The trees outside swayed a little from side to side as the first seedlings of dawn sprouted up in the distance. By the time the light was in full effect, though, only the lone silver spoon in the empty Corningware bowl was left in the room to see it.
The young man was already outside. It was chilly, and he was fumbling with his fingers to try to slide on some gloves. Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be going on – just the way Ryan liked it. No one was ever outside this early on a winter Saturday, though, so it was not unexpected that the conditions would be favorable. One might say that Ryan had subconsciously tailored his life to a vision of simplicity and regularity, for a life of order is a life without worry.
Of course, this would be the moment to cue in the girl at ten ofclock, approaching quickly. He didnft see her at first – and he didnft see her now. If he had hypothetically been riding in a helicopter at that moment, he would have noticed her highly unusual trajectory. But as it stood, he first met her when she crashed into him, sending both of them into the snow.
gOof!h he groaned. He saw the figure dressed in a white jacket lying beside him. Her long and well-groomed hair spilled gently onto the surrounding snow.
gHey, are you alright?h he asked.
gUnngh, wha?h she replied, looking up at him. gWait.h She stared at him bug-eyed for a bit, but then suddenly regained her composure. One could almost hear the gears turning in her head, they were churning so quickly and deftly.
gDo I know you?h asked Ryan.
gI donft believe wefve met before c,h the girl said. gBut Ifm c um, Renée. Um, nice to meet you!h
Renée was undoubtedly beautiful. Ryan slowly become cognizant of that fact as he helped her up and dusted off some of the snow. She seemed to have a secretive smirk on her face that was cute beyond words, and it rendered Ryan a bit helpless, just standing there.
gNice to meet you, too. My name is Ryan.h
The two of them smiled awkwardly at each other, unsure of what to do. Ryan, for his part, was also rather handsome, and the two seemed to just be enjoying the sight of one another.
gUm,h said Renée, for whom finding words seemed to be like finding needles in a haystack. gWould you like to go have some coffee or something?h She sounded a little hopeful, and her fingers were twiddling about nervously.
The two were seated at a cramped table next to the window, their hands symmetrically cupped around their coffees. The tablefs metal frame was white; the coffee lids were white; the snow outside was white. Beside this backdrop, Renéefs gloriously rosy cheeks stood out like delicate embroideries on an otherwise flat sheet of cloth.
gOh, so youfre twenty, too!h exclaimed Renée.
gNo, Ifm twenty, not twenty-two,h said Ryan.
Renée laughed, shaking her head. gToo, like t-o-o.h
Ryan nodded quickly in agreement, trying to minimize the awkwardness of the moment.
gWell, tell me a little about yourself,h said Renée, trying to let the conversation restart itself on a fresh foot.
gOh, Ifm just a student. I guess I like pretty normal things c music, reading, you know.h
gNormalfs all relative, anyway! Itfs normal to like music and reading, but Ifm sure you have your own unique tastes in songs or books.h
gI suppose so,h agreed Ryan. gWell, I just play a bit of guitar.h
gOh, acoustic or electric?h asked the girl before taking a sip of her coffee.
gAcoustic,h said Ryan. gI havenft played for awhile, though.h He looked a little bit downcast, so Renée decided not to push the topic any further. In any case, she herself looked inexplicably affected by his sudden change of mood, for her eyes were suddenly overcast by shadow as she hung her head slightly.
gHow about you?h asked Ryan.
gWell, letfs see,h replied Renée, gathering herself quickly. gI like dancing and painting, long vacations, and a smidgen of poetry.h
gAre you an art major?h
gOh, not really,h she said. gIfm focusing mostly on writing right now.h
gThen itfs a bit more than a esmidgenf of poetry, isnft it?h said Ryan with his eyebrows cocked in mock suspicion.
gYeah, I guess so. I was going for the understatement effect. In case you didnft like poetry or something. Or writing in general – I donft just do poetry, in any case.h
gPoetry is alright, I guess,h he said after a pause.
She laughed, crossing her legs and knocking her toes together. Her eyes had a motherly sheen to them that seemed to calm Ryan down. He couldnft help but feel his heart thaw just a little bit in the winter cold – just that little, uncommitted motion. Certainly lesser in magnitude than even frozen foods sitting in the refrigerator.
gI have to go, sorry,h he said suddenly. It was a gag reflex in his personality, Renée realized right away, and she seemed to have a tolerant soft spot for it.
With understanding lyricism in her voice, she quickly answered, gOf course, of course. I mustnft keep you here in any event.h
But she knew that he didnft really have to go. Where would he have to go at this time, anyway, but back to routine? And yet routine was like an obligation unto itself. He thanked her for the pleasant time and started walking out, slowly.
As if the authoress of this short episode, Renée knowingly followed him outside, watching him pause in front of the brick wall to stare out at the slushy, muddy street. She stayed a couple feet away, far away enough that she wouldnft be threatening to his peace, but close enough that he would know that he could still talk to her if he wanted. It was a generous availability, a favor that only someone well-matured would know.
Ryan knew that, too. He sensed her presence there – well, he knew she was there, in any case; he didnft look at her, and he hadnft done so ever since he had last exchanged words with her inside the store, but he knew she was there, waiting. Waiting for what, was up to him.
eShefs a nice girl,f Ryanfs heart told him repeatedly. He wanted to say it, but something was holding him back. The nightmare. It had been so many years, though, he wanted to tell himself – he wanted to be free of it once and for all. Maybe a new love would drown out the old. Maybe God wanted to give him another chance, to make up for the last disaster. There was a lot of uncertainty. He turned around – to see Renée very slowly turning around and starting to walk away. But slowly. Very slowly. As in: gcatch up to me right nowh slow.
He bounced into action, quickly overtaking her.
gYes?h she asked.
gCan we maybe c m-meet again c later c sometime?h he asked.
gI think that would be okay,h she said, smiling.
gN-not that I mean a date or anything. You can bring your friends,h he said.
gOh, certainly not a date! I donft even know if youfre single or not, goodness,h she returned quickly. She put a lot of thought into each of her words, more thought than most would give. She took care, for instance, to make sure that he would not have the discomfort of doubting for any additional moments, that she herself was as single as a slice of Kraft cheese. It was less out of desperation, if indeed there was any within her bosom, and more out of consideration for his insecurity.
gWell then – perhaps the park over on Haverton Street?h he offered.
gI think that ought to do,h Renée said. gIn a week, perhaps?h
Ryan nodded. gSomething like nine ofclock.h
gAlright, good deal,h Renée said. And Ryan shuddered. Renée quickly wrapped her arms around him to try to coax away whatever it was that had resurfaced. gIfm sorry,h she said in a low voice, gShould I say instead c eitfs a date!f ?h
At this, Ryan blushed.
gD-date,h he stuttered.
gYoufre hard to please, buddy,h said Renée as she released her hug.
Afraid he had irritated her, Ryan tried to apologize, but Renée simply placed an index finger near his lips, saying, gShhh. I was joking, okay?h
Ryan nodded, and then she was gone.
One week was a long time, and without having swapped cell numbers of e-mail addresses, it was even more so. It would be easy enough to look one another up in the university directories or scour various other sites for information, but something out there, stroking its long white beard, advised against it.
It would be something like cheating. One week is one week. Some things are near instantaneous: our reaction to a hot stove, getting goosebumps when wefre cold, swallowing after taking a bite. But trying to understand and distill the feelings that start developing, that can take many days, even with concentrated thought.
On Ryanfs end, on Monday, it seemed perhaps like fledgling love; on Tuesday, just friendship; on Wednesday, he kind of liked her; on Thursday, the moments that scared him resurfaced. Come Friday night, as he lounged in his room with a bowl of lightly buttered popcorn in front of the TV watching an old Clint Eastwood movie, he still didnft have any clear indication of who Renée could even be to him.
Was there an opening in his heart for someone? He looked around, at the bland bookshelves, at his dusty computer, at the cheap magazine-insert poster of Bruce Lee on the wall. The place could certainly use some feminine touch-up. There were almost no traces of Ophelia left in here. At least Renée wouldnft have to see that. But they were all in the closet. In that closet that Ryan dared not open. It repelled him; his body knocked him backwards; he would stumble back onto his bed.
There was a blue plastic fold-out towel stand in front of the closet, standing guard. With all this set-up, one would think that Ophelia herself were locked up in the closet. But no, Ophelia was on her way, somewhere else, somewhere out of Ryanfs scope of thought. He had never considered finding out where she had gone, what she had done. In his state of ignorance, he instead had invented a sort of alternate timeline for her. Based on probability, she probably was over a thousand miles away from him at this point. He himself was already a good ways from home.
He munched on a fistful of popcorn as the gunfire began on screen and in his head, the latter shots spent to exorcise the memory of Ophelia once again. Tomorrow would be Saturday, and maybe things would start to change.
Eight forty-five at the park: Renée was standing there on a sidewalk across the street from one of the side entrances. She was bundled up heavily like last time; you could only see a small portion of her face, and a few rebel strands of her somewhat short brown hair peeking out. She shuffled about in a circle; you could see her well-worn path, for her boots had kicked up the snow into a colosseum around her track.
Ryan arrived ten minutes later, and he did quick rounds. Without sighting his date, he sat down on a bench. Renée came running into the park and stood before him, breathing heavily. The condensation of her breath flew apart into the wind, fogging the view of her face.
gYoufre here after all,h said Ryan.
gYes, I am,h she answered. gIfm not late, am I?h
Ryan glanced at the large clock mounted in a ridged green pole. gNope, youfre two minutes ahead of schedule.h
gThatfs good,h she said, clasping her gloved hands together. The two walked, side-by-side but without contact, down the right-hand path. The heavy snows last night had prevented a lot of the regulars from coming. It was a rather quiet place, as such, but not without its charms.
gOh, look!h Ryan said, pointing at the snow.
Renée looked over and saw the small dog paw-prints in the snow that pranced around idly. gThe silly little thing,h she said. gIfve never had a pet in my life. Do you have one?h
gNo, me neither,h said Ryan. gBut itfd be nice.h
gYeah, puppies are so cute.h
And they resumed their walk along the downy path. It was a pleasant and gentle stroll, of a pace not too much faster than the pigeonfs strut or the duckfs waddle.
gHow long do you think the snow will last?h asked Renée suddenly, making Ryan perk up a bit in surprise. But her voice was not too incongruous with the ambient sound. The pitch of it was certainly a bit lower than most girlsf, maybe even to a point of exaggeration, but it was still not too unusual.
gMaybe two weeks,h Ryan said. gItfll melt, but the snow might still come in again. Winterfs definitely not over yet.h
gMm, so for two weeks, we wonft see what this park truly looks like.h
it be that good if we could?h
gYes, I was wondering the same thing c,h said Renée, and then she let the silence drift in once again.
The two arrived at the bottom of the hill, where many of the parkfs paths met at an aster; in the center was a small amphitheater, and five or six people were gathered there, chiseling ice sculptures.
gHey, I wanna give that a try,h said Renée.
gIs it free?h asked Ryan.
gWe can find out.h The two of them descended down the steps to the center, where they inquired about the ice.
gOh, youfre more than welcome to join us,h said the tall man in charge. He pointed to a still-untouched chunk of ice. gPlease share one, though.h
gThank you,h Ryan said. Turning to Renée, he asked, gSo, what should we make?h
gI donft know,h said Renée. gHow about we start on opposite halves and just start, and then see what happens?h
The idea was bizarre, but Ryan trusted her artistic intuition.
Ryan began knocking away large portions from the corners, and Renée followed suit, taking the gesture one step farther and making what seemed to be a crude ear. Like this, wordlessly, they tried to take in cues, and they slowly made it inwards, closer and closer and then – they met each other in the center, with only a few finishing details to go. With deft hands, Renée cut a few facets to form an eye, then carved away a few channels to leave some whiskers.
The two stood back and then burst out laughing.
gYour side is an inch too high!h complained Renée.
gOn the contrary, your side is an inch too low,h countered Ryan.
The resulting cat was not too badly formed; Renéefs half certainly showed more technical skill, but there was a careless humor to Ryanfs half. And they were indeed staggered by a full inch.
gIt looks like he got cut in half.h
gMaybe itfs a bad omen,h said Ryan worriedly.
gNah, itfs just artistry,h replied Renée. gYou see how itfs still held together? It just shows that people who are one inch apart in height can still date each other.h
Ryan shot her an incredulous look.
gI was kidding!h she said. gOkay, sir, thank you for your time,h she said, projecting her voice towards the man.
The man gave a chuckle when he looked at what the friends had produced. gNot quite on the same wavelength yet, huh,h he said.
Renée harrumphed. gJust you wait. If you shield the right half and let the left half melt away just a little, the two halves will be perfectly matched.h
gPerhaps youfre right,h said the man.
The two were already on their way.
gItfs already eleven, isnft it,h said Ryan.
gYeah, it is. Listen, I should be going, but herefs my cell number, so call whenever you want, okay?h Renée said, handing Ryan an empty half of an envelope with the digits scribbled barely legibly on the back.
gAlright,h said Ryan. gI guess wefll part ways for now.h
The next moment, he felt hair brushing against his face as the slightly shorter girl planted a small smooch on his cheek.
gCiao!h she said, skipping away.
gInnocent, my ass,h Ryan grumbled. gSomething is up with that girl c I wonder what c.h
Someone had entered his world, just as he feared. It was hard to understand. He couldnft just rely on the books anymore.
He let out a frustrated growl as he kicked a box of neatly organized junk toward the corner of the room. eWhy on Earth am I cleaning my room now?f he wondered. But the answer was obvious: in case Renée would be visiting soon. Was she any more than a friend, though? He never cleaned up if any of his friends were coming over, even if they were girls.
Even though she had kissed him, she seemed to be the type who would greet anyone with that sort of kiss. The problem of course was that he was not of the same type – and that mismatch, that conflict between the external cues of the foreign personality and the instincts of the selfish personality, were probably the primary cause of Ryanfs current flustered state.
He had yet to give her a call, even though it had been three days already. He hated himself for not calling, but he couldnft bring himself to do it, especially when the nightmare had recurred just the past night.
gHey, Ryan!h came a shout from outside.
Ryan opened his door to reveal Yuri, a friend from down the hall.
gI think you have a package down at front desk,h he said. gIt was marked eperishablef or something.h
gWait, really?h asked Ryan. gI didnft know anyone was sending me anything c.h
gWell, just letting you know. You donft have to go get it right away. Just a suggestion, though.h
gYeah, thanks,h said Ryan, leaving for the stairwell, closing the door behind him. He jumped down the steps two at a time as he always did, reaching the ground floor in no time.
gHey,h he called out to the girl working desk. gI think I have a package.h
gOh, yes, are you Ryan?h she asked.
gYes, I am,h he answered.
gWe actually left your package outside, to keep it from getting too warm.h
gItfs really that perishable?h Ryan asked.
gYeah, apparently so,h said the girl.
gNnngh,h Ryan managed to groan, sounding somewhat like a cow. gAlright, alright, Ifll go up and get my jacket.h
He turned around to scale the stairs, completely missing the smirk of satisfaction on the girlfs face for a job well done. A minute later, he arrived again at the desk with his jacket on, heading outside.
The snow was rather heavy, and any boxes left outside would have long been buried beneath the snow. Ryan scoured the front yard of the dormitory for any signs of a lump.
As he crouched down to investigate one of the more obvious humps of snow, a shout suddenly reached his ear from behind: gDelivery, delivery!h
gHuh?h he said, craning his neck around as far as it would go, which was probably a mistake, as he was hit directly on the nose by a well-formed snowball.
gJesus Christ!h he shouted. gWhat are you doing?h He swiped the snow off his face to see Renée peering down at him cutely, kneeling halfway and resting her hands on her knees.
gOoh, they really did get you out here,h she commented.
gDamn it! Yuri and the desk worker, conspiring to tell me those lies!h
gIt wasnft a lie,h Renée said sweetly. gIf I brought the snowball in, it would have melted, wouldnft it? I think that qualifies as perishable. Donft you?h
She plopped down onto the snow beside him.
gSometimes, just because you arenft lying, doesnft mean youfre telling the truth,h muttered Ryan.
gWell put, well put. And just because you donft call, doesnft mean you donft want to see me, right?h
gAbout what?h asked Renée, standing back up again suddenly. She had meant only to get back on her feet and assume a better position for interrogating Ryan a little. But instead, her movement was too sudden, too spontaneous for her to control in the wet snow with her enormous snow boots, and she lost her balance, accelerating as she helplessly flopped into the light pole behind her.
Ryan quickly leapt forward to grab her, but in the badly lit yard, he could still tell that there was some sort of injury as he watched a small portion of the snow dye itself red. With all the strength he could muster, he lifted Renée up and brought her inside, up the elevator, to his room. The desk worker looked on, biting her lips with concern, but deciding not to complicate matters.
He looked at her crumpled figure on the ground, melting slush flooding the carpet beside her boots. With his towel, he had dried off her face and hands; the small wound had already stopped bleeding.
gAre you okay?h he asked.
gUgh, that was careless of me,h she said. gIfve always been told I donft have very much grace.h
gThat has nothing to do with it,h he reassured her. gIt could have happened to anybody.h
gBut I set myself up for it, didnft I? If I hadnft tricked you into going outside in the first place in hopes of going somewhere, then it probably wouldnft have happened c.h
The girl seemed unusually insecure, suddenly vulnerable as she had never been before; it had always been she who seemed to be in complete control of the situations, of her words, of her world. But now the tide had turned, and it was her time to be carried in the currents of someone elsefs defined destiny.
Ryan held onto her hand instinctively and asked her if she wanted something to drink. She nodded, and he left the room. With painstaking care, she pressed against the ground with her palm until she could finally sit up. The room was completely bland. Not a hint of character or hobby anywhere. Nothing was distinctly missing, save for the heart of the room.
All the objects seemed to be there only to serve as a diversion. There were a couple shirts and pants hanging up on the walls, textbooks on the bookshelves, a floor lamp, a small pot with an aloe plant in it. But they were things to look at, so as not to look at something else.
It was the closet – Renée was sure of it. Ryan had taken the care to clean up most of the room, but he had left a pile of stuff in front of that closet. Curious, she stood up and walked towards the closet, experiencing a rather unpleasant headrush. She gagged but quickly recuperated, trying to minimize how much sound she was making.
The towel rack was pushed safely to the side, and she bent over to open the closet when the door swung open.
gWait, what are you doing?!h shouted Ryan, nearly spilling the hot cocoa he had prepared for her. gDonft open that!h
gOh, and why not?h asked Renée with a devious, twisted grin. g eSpecialf DVDs?h
gN-no, thatfs not it!h
gThen what is it?f
gJust donft!h Ryan said with an expected fury that made even Renée frown. gJust donft,h he said again, this time more calmly. He held out the mug of hot cocoa in her direction, but she declined it, pushing his hand aside and walking towards him.
gYour room looks terrible, did you know that?h asked Renée. gItfs a mess.h
gBut I just cleaned it!h said Ryan.
gJust because a roomfs clean, doesnft mean it isnft a mess,h said Renée, following Ryanfs earlier pattern. gItfs a mess because I think something here,h she said, poking a finger into Ryanfs ribcage, gis a mess. Now, I want to know whatfs in that closet.
gLook, I donft care if there are pictures of me in the shower in that closet,h she continued, gor if youfre hiding ten bottles of vodka, or if itfs a pet youfve been secretly keeping in this dorm against the rules. But if you donft tell me whatfs in there, Ifm going to go take a look myself.h
gItfs my property, so itfs my business,h said Ryan.
gOh, it is, is it? Fine, I suppose since itfs not my property, itfs none of my business?h
gExactly,h said Ryan.
gThatfs not logically valid.h
gHuh?h asked Ryan.
Renée pulled out a piece of paper. gHere, look,h she said, sitting down cross-legged. Ryan looked over her shoulder. gIf p, then q, right?h Ryan nodded. gThat means, eif not q, then not pf is also true.h Ryan nodded again. gBut eif not p, then not qf is not necessarily true at all.h Ryan nodded again. gSo, whatfs in that closet?h
gHey!h shouted Ryan.
gYo, Ryan and girlfriend, tone down the argument a little in there?h called Yuri from outside. gSome of us are trying to nap.h
gWefre not arguing!h said Ryan.
gYes, we are!h said Renée.
gRyan, your girlfriend has just proven that shefs right. You might want her to help with your math sometime. Just a suggestion, though.h
Ryan threw up his hands in the air. gFine! You want to know whatfs in that closet? Ifll tell you whatfs in that closet. But you better not turn all weird and moody on me because of it.h
gWhy would I c?h asked Renée.
gThe only reason I didnft want to tell you was because I didnft want you getting all jealous and stuff on me. The gifts my ex gave me are in that closet. You can go look at it, for all I care.h
gReally?h asked Renée. gI might just take you up on that offer.h
gOkay, now you have to tell me whatfs in your closet.h
gOh, I do?h said Renée, opening up the closet and pulling out a few boxes.
gYes. Wefre equals here, arenft we?h said Ryan.
gI suppose so,h said Renée. gSo, in my closet, there is an encyclopedia on the top shelf. Complete set, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1987 edition, from my dad. Then on the clothes hangers, I have all my skirts, blouses, and dresses. I stuff my casual clothes into the drawers, so those arenft hanging up. I also have a tie from an old Halloween costume. And below that are a few boxes. A few of them have stuff from my ex, too. And then waaay beneath those where nobody would ordinarily look, I have a couple magazines my friend gave me when I told her I was feeling horny. Howfs that?h
gIfm sorry, I didnft want to force you to tell me all that c I was just feeling -h
g- Vengeful towards girls, who never treated you fairly before?h
gHey, donft put words into my mouth!h said Ryan.
gBut itfs true, isnft it? I do sympathize, if thatfs what happened. I donft mind telling you things like that, Ryan. I know I can trust you. I know I canft trust Yuri whofs standing outside eavesdropping, ahem ahem,h (sure enough, awkward shuffling was heard just outside the door), gbut I know I can trust you. And I just want you to trust me, okay?h
gI guess,h said Ryan, softening, melting just a little bit.
gGood,h said Renée. gNow, I know this is a taboo topic with most girls, but itfs not today. I want you to tell me about her. Your latest ex. You can leave out the sex – I know it was good. One of my girlfriends has already alerted me to the fact that eeven if he says the sex was bad, the sex was good.f But I want to know about your heart, and what she did to it.h
gBecause I like you. And because I want you to like me, but you canft until you get over this. Itfs been obvious since day one that youfre still not over something. The way you tried to escape from the coffeeshop; the way you glanced around that park, only half-assedly looking for me (and missing me completely); the way youfre acting now, as if your exfs gifts were some sort of undead zombie haunting your closet!h
gWell, this is my first time talking about this. It might take awhile.h
gTake your time. I wasnft planning on getting back to my home till late tonight, anyway.h
Renée finally took the mug from Ryanfs hand, taking in a generous draught of the warm, sweet goodness. gMm, this is delicious.h
Ryan smiled and relaxed a bit more, trying to settle in before starting his story. The sun, behind the clouds, began to set.
gSo her name was Ophelia, and she was the most amazing girl I had ever met. Really, the best there ever was. She would help me whenever I needed help, she would take me out to lots of cool places. She even got along well with my parents and convinced them to buy me a lot of the things I wanted.
gIn a way, I felt inferior to her. I mean, I tried my hardest. I did what I could for her, and I bought her the gifts on the list that her girlfriends slipped to me. Especially that necklace with the blue gemstone. She really loved that one.h
Renée let out a small laugh and a small belch at the same time. gUm, excuse me! Go on, go on.h
Ryan shook his head. The pleasant aroma of the chocolate reached his nose as Renée blew gently on the surface to cool it down. gSo, it was all going well, but I thought that maybe I wasnft enough to satisfy her. And c,h he said, trailing off.
He swallowed tightly and retied his shoelaces while Renée happily lapped up some more of the hot chocolate.
gAnd c,h he started again, his face darkening somewhat, gI was right. She had been two-timing me with a handsome upperclassman. And that was that. I donft know if it was fair, but I dumped her right then and there. The girl who I didnft deserve – I dumped her. Isnft that ironic? And Ifve been dreaming about it ever since. But I canft bring myself to admit that I should have given her another chance.h
gMmhmm,h said Renée. gWell, she was two-timing you, as you said. Why would she deserve another chance?h
gBecause maybe the best girl who ever was might still have been a young girl then. I made my share of mistakes. Maybe she had to make hers.h
gYoufre a nice guy, you know that?h asked Renée. gBut you shouldnft always be nice. Ifm sure that deep down, therefs another voice than this one that says to be nice to her. Isnft there?h
gYes,h Ryan whispered. gIt hates her for doing that.h
gMaybe you should indulge it. This Ophelia is far away, anyway. Just shout it out! eI haaaaate you. Youfre a piece of inteessssstine!f Try it,h said Renée, her hands sweating slightly so that the mug nearly slipped out of her hands. She set it down gently onto the carpet.
gI donft know if thatfll help,h said Ryan.
gHmm,h said Renée, scratching her chin. gThen I think I have another idea. You see these two boxes of stuff?h
gYeah?h said Ryan.
gI see a lot of letters poking out here. And pictures and stuff.h
gWhat do they have in common?h
gTheyfre romantic?h offered Ryan.
gMrr-rr,h said Renée, imitating a gameshow rejection buzzer. gTheyfre flammable! Letfs burn them!h she announced with glee. gYou have matches somewhere, right?h
gWell, Yuri next door is the local pyromaniac. He has a lighter we could use, I suppose.h
gPerfecto!h exclaimed Renée. gCome on, come on, letfs do it then.h
gPsh! And you said you werenft the jealous type, Ms. Letfs-burn-up-your-exfs-stuff.h
Renée pouted, putting her hands on her hips. gNow, now, Ifm not being jealous,h she said, looking at Ryan straight in the eyes. gThis is for her, too! Donft you want her to be able to move on, wherever she is, and not have to worry about you still holding on to something of her?h
For the first time, Ryan saw the irises of Renéefs eyes. They were a brilliant green that complemented her short brown hair very well. They were daring, witty, beautiful in a clever way. And Renée looked even the more vibrant with Yurifs elaborately decorated lighter in hand.
Although he never replied, Renée pressed on. gAlright, you grab one box, and Ifll get the other. Unless you donft want to do this.h
Ryan contemplated for a moment, then smiled. gActually, I think I really do.h
gThatfs the spirit,h said Renée.
The two marched out of the building like two penguins proudly seeking the sea. For the first time in years, Ryan was just enjoying himself, chatting idly, taking weird shortcuts that more often than not didnft work. The two ended up in a secluded spot, shaded by buildings and trees. And there, they began unpacking the boxes.
gHere, do the honors,h Renée said, handing Ryan the lighter. She piled a few leaves and sticks into the center of a small crater in the snow. With a simple click, the flame slithered onto the piece of paper and sank its fangs into its delicate constitution. The blackened paper consumed by the luminosity of death by fire drifted to the ground where the cradle in the ice began to blaze.
Ryan unfolded another letter. gOur date at the beach. Wait a second, it was a double date, and he was there!h He chucked the partially unfolded letter into the fire, exhaling slowly.
gOoh, this photo,h said Renée, pulling the small dog-eared photo out from her box. gYou two look kind of cute together here, actually.h
gYeah, shefs kissing me on the cheek. I guess she was saving the kiss on the lips for him.h
gWell, guess that one goes too, then!h said Renée tossing the photo like a frisbee.
Ryan was right in front of the flame; Renée was a little bit off from being directly across from him. Their faces glowed a bit, but it was hard to make out the faces through the flames and smoke. By now, at least half of the boxesf contents had been thrown into the flame. Little by little, Ryan felt his life returning to him, snatched back as the arteries that had burst open when his heart broke back then were finally sealed by the flamesf sterilizing caress.
gRenée c thank you,h Ryan said, a few tears dripping out from his eyes onto the snow. No more words were spoken after that for fifteen full minutes, as the rest of the contents went into the flame, save for one.
gWhat are you waiting for?h asked Renée. gWe canft stay out here too long – we might get caught or something!h
gWell, this is the last letter c she sent me.h
gO-oh?h Renée said with a neutral tone of voice that was not quite as low as before.
gYeah, it was c after c afterwards. I c I wanted to know what it said, but I never opened it. But before I burn it, maybe c maybe it deserves to be read. I think I at least owe her that much.h
gThen read it, or throw it away, whatever,h was Renéefs curt reply.
I donft know when youfll read this c if ever at all. But maybe you will, and thatfs enough for me. I hope that you are doing okay now. Ifve tried to make myself scarce these past two weeks, so I donft think youfve had to see me at all.
I wanted to convince myself that you overreacted, that what I did wasnft that bad. I wanted to blame you for dumping me like that without even listening to me. Yet my conscience wouldnft let me. I still love you. I didnft love him – I just lusted after him. But I loved you.
I wanted you to know that. I wanted you to know that I want to still be here for you. I want to tell you to forget about him, to put that behind us. I guess I might be wishing for too much.h
Ryan sniffled slightly. gShe was nice down to the very end. Never said a cruel word to me. I guess I should hurry and not be making comments to myself.h
Renée nodded vaguely through the flames.
gIf you canft forget it, then so be it. But just know that I –h
Suddenly, a gust of wind from the nearby shore flew in and snatched the letter, thinly held between Ryanfs hands, and condemned it to the fire, which flickered, pretended to stop, then restarted again, consuming the read and unread words indiscriminately.
gDammit,h said Ryan, collapsing onto the ground, holding his hands to his face.
gItfs okay,h said Renée, approaching him.
gI wanted to c at least c you know, finish reading it. But maybe this is why I wasnft enough in the first place. I canft hold on to what I have.h
gIf it really means that much to you, Ryan, I must admit that I peeked at your closet before you got back and read the rest,h said Renée. gIt went kind of like this:
gIf you canft forget it, then so be it. But just know that I am very, very sorry. More sorry than Ifve ever been before. You were my first love, the one who showed me that warmth and love are more important than grades or popularity, the one who made me realize who I really was, what I was really capable of doing.
gI loved you, I loved you more than anything else in this world. I was still young when I told you that I would care about you forever and stay by your side forever. But thatfs what I intend on doing. You kept your promises to me. I was selfish and didnft keep mine to you.
gBut it wouldnft make sense that, having broken my promise, I would have the right to just break all the rest of the promises at once. So I will be here, for you, waiting. For that day when you read this, and decide – decide to tell me you donft want me here at all. Or decide to tell me c that youfll give me c one ... more c chan-h
With this, Renée fell onto Ryanfs shoulder, sobbing softly.
gYou idiot,h said Ryan. gYou opened my closet and read the letter, my ass.h
He wrapped his arms around the girl, who was, for a second time, so frail in his arms. The flames had healed his bleeding wounds, but they had only hurt her more. The wind quickly took note of the situation and smothered the flame, leaving the two of them arranged awkwardly in the snow as the sun finally set beneath the horizon.
For a long, indeterminate time, the two were just there. Renée finally stopped crying and crinkled her nose slightly, sneezing onto Ryanfs defenseless face.
gOh, shit, sorry,h she managed between hiccups. gAnyway, youfre free now, Ryan.h Another hiccup. gI donft know what I came here to do, but I know that what I came to do is done.h
She leaned in and kissed him on the lips.
gI will fly away now.h
She unzipped her jacket and let it drop to the ground as she moved towards the gray moon. Ryan watched as she walked awkwardly in those boots too big for her, her hair tossing about, and moonlight beaming down, teasing her shirt and chin, and then finally illuminating the blue gemstone at the nape of her neck.
She was running to the best of her ability. The snow was thick and heavy, and she was shivering from the cold. She was a mess, but it felt good as the tears washed away the make-up, as the hair began to shift back to its natural color, as she sang out in her ordinary voice. She was finally free, too. Because he had finally read it, and he had finally made his decision.
On the one hand, she felt a little empty now that the ordeal was done and suddenly she was alone again without the constant thoughts and worries. But it was still relieving and comforting in its own way. She turned into the coffeeshop. It was getting late, but there were still a few people there. They let her in even though the shop was formally closed.
But she had scarcely made it in two feet when she was tackled from behind.
g eLia, the ordinary human asks a person to make a decision in order to hear the response.h
gAnd Ifm ordinary?h asked Ophelia, taking a seat and gesturing for Ryan to take one as well.
gNo. Ordinary people also donft randomly take off their jackets in freezing weather,h he said, handing her the white jacket that he had picked up off the snow.
gSo, why have you accosted me in this coffeeshop?h Ophelia asked flippantly.
gDonft be so sour!h Ryan exclaimed. gI think itfs unfair for a boy to chance upon his girlfriend and have it be called eaccosting.f h
gChancing upon his ex is an entirely different matter,h Ophelia deadpanned.
gAnd how do I rectify that?h
gYou have to undump me.h
gI have to what?!h exclaimed Ryan.
gUndump me! U-N-D-U-rrghh
Ophelia was unable to pronounce the gMh properly because her lips were suddenly acquainted with Ryanfs. gI love you,h he said. gThere, youfve been undumped, you weirdo.h
The coffeeshop broke into applause as the two stood up, beamed for a moment, then left. There was still a lot of catching up to do. They rushed off into the distance, tripping a lot, catching each other a lot, and whispering gI love youh to one another a lot. All the way back. And although they didnft hit the park, one could confidently say that any passerby would have seen, in the central amphitheater, an ice statue of a cat, with a white sheltering cloth blown off and resting at its left paw, very nearly symmetric, the most brilliant ice sculpture of them all.