Since You Happened by Holly Hall

Chapter 6

I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. In just a few short weeks, I’ve started listening to soulful, lamenting music as I complete chores around my apartment, and I’ve decided that my dream house must include a library of sorts, with books on all sides. Preferably encased in dark wooden shelving. And frequented by a man with caramel eyes and a solemn face.

It’s strange experiencing these feelings after so long without them. I hate to use the worn-out phrase “like riding a bike,” but it’s sort of like that. The feelings are new and old; strange, yet not entirely unfamiliar. I feel a change in me, like nerves firing and muscles coming to life after years of disuse.

Unlike the expanse of time after we first slept together, Landon only lasts until Monday before asking when he can see me again. I curse at myself when I begin to smile at the sight of his text message. Though my work days are open during the mornings and afternoons, I put him off until Thursday night. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? And my heart grows pretty damn fond of him, making it difficult to find a moment when I’m not daydreaming about him and my couch. I can’t imagine ever looking at that couch the same way again.

I look forward to his visit all week, and when he comes over late on Thursday, we don’t even make it to another room. The entryway table is as far as we go, so the experience doesn’t last very long before he’s gone again, though I question the lasting stability of the entry table. I didn’t think I would ever be okay with this type of relationship, but we expect nothing from each other, and it’s been a long time since I’ve met someone who doesn’t expect anything from me. It’s a nice change, but I’m not sure how long I’ll be satisfied with just this part of him. For now, I choose to enjoy it rather than dwell on what happens when this ends.

He makes a repeat appearance late Friday night, and this time, I just leave the door unlocked for him while I stay in bed. I’m tired anyway, and it’s not like I need to dress to impress him. My TV is on, as though I can just casually watch a show while anticipating my world getting rocked. He arrives, we tangle up the sheets a bit, and he leaves. In just a week, we’ve settled into a routine without even vocalizing it. For now, it works just fine for both of us. 

I drive over to a spin studio early in the morning on Saturday, park along the street, and approach the storefront in search of Arielle. Haley reminded me earlier in the week about my promise to give Arielle’s prospect a chance, and since neither of them will stop hounding me unless I go through with it, I eventually agree. That’s what I get for trying to placate Haley: an obligation I can’t wiggle out of. As if to multiply the torture, we decided to use the opportunity to try the spin class we’ve been putting off for months. Since my version of cardio is speed walking the floor between patients three nights a week, I’m expecting a painful experience.

I run into Arielle immediately where she’s waiting just inside the door, her afro pinned up into a playful faux-hawk with that dazzling, up-for-anything grin already displayed across her face. Haley warned us that she would be a little late, as she spent her time until the wee hours of the morning with Daniel. From the way she speaks about him, it seems their dates keep getting better and better.

“You ready to get our butts beat?” Arielle asks, giving me a warm hug.

“I read the reviews. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for this,” I admit, and we cross the room to the counter to check in. After stowing our belongings in the lockers, we head into the studio and claim bikes near the back, with the expectation that the instructor will stay focused on the people up front. I don’t want to be called out for slacking, which I will definitely be doing, as my physical exertions have increased much more than I’m used to as of late. More people trickle in and mount their chosen bikes, and Haley makes an appearance just as the lively beats of The Chainsmokers begin to pour from the speakers.

“Looks like someone didn’t sleep last night!” Arielle calls out loudly in approval, and Haley flushes a bright pink, shaking her head with a tired grin on her face. She takes the bike beside me, and I lean over.

“I take it Salesman Daniel is still exceeding expectations?”

She nods slowly. “We’re still taking it slow, if you must know, and it’s been so, so great. I can’t wait for you guys to meet him.”

I nod in approval. “I’ll admit I had my doubts, but Daniel sounds like a winner,” I tell her, just as Arielle says, “Boo, get to the good stuff.”

We’re an interesting group of friends, more different than alike, but I like to think that we balance each other out. Arielle, with her smooth, dark skin and curly hair, is feisty and brilliant, with an unmatched determination she applies to everything she does. Haley is bright blonde, with the clearest aquamarine eyes you’ve ever seen, and is kind and reasonable, always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. I fit somewhere in the middle. My spontaneity, trusting nature, and undying curiosity used to provoke me to be more unpredictable and extroverted, but that was before the accident that changed my perspective on life. We’re a blend of characteristics that somehow meld together to yield hysterical conversations and lifelong bonds, and we’ve been a solid threesome for years now.

The instructor calls out for everyone to begin and advises us on what level of resistance to use on our bikes. We joined a beginner class, so I’m hoping it’s not too strenuous. By the enthusiasm of the instructor no more than three minutes in, I already doubt that. We talk a few more minutes about Daniel before Arielle leans over to get my attention.

“I’ve already prepared my ‘I told you so’ for when you meet Paul,” she says, her eyes alight with pleasure when she remembers the suitor she has lined up for me.

I was trying to defer any conversation of dating prospects as long as possible, but it looks like I won’t be able to avoid it forever. I groan dramatically.

“No, seriously, he’s a ten in all the right places,” she assures me.

“I don’t even want to know how you know that,” I say, just as the instructor yells for all of us to stand up while pedaling. Stand up? Is she serious?

“I’ve heard good things. Anyway, after all these years of turning down my offers, aren’t you the least bit interested?”

“You know I’m not really dating,” I say, inclining my head toward her. It’s difficult to be expressive while standing up on the pedals of a stationary bike.

Arielle cocks her head and stares at me like I’ve just announced that I have the Black Plague. “I’m sorry, what? I know you’re not into relationships at the moment, but when did you decide to just give up on dating?”

“Do you know me at all? I haven’t been ‘into’ dating in a while.”

“It’s Bookstore Landon,” Haley says matter-of-factly from my other side, earning a look of narrow-eyed betrayal from me.

“What? You’ve been seeing the broody bookstore guy, whom you gave a nickname to, and you decided to just leave out that interesting tidbit of information every time we’ve talked in the past few weeks?” Arielle admonishes me.

“There’s nothing to tell. We’re not dating,” I say, hoping to deter what is sure to be a lecture.

“They’re having casual sex, or whatever the kids are calling it these days,” Haley says, wiping the sweat off her brow.

“The kids are calling it none of your business!” I snap, but Arielle is already onto me like a prosecutor on a repeat offender. I knew I should’ve been more subtle with the details when I told Haley about Landon coming home with me Saturday. And also Thursday. And Friday night.

“You’re regularly hooking up with someone for the first time in years, and you didn’t think one of your best friends would like to hear about it?” If there was a way for someone to indignantly ride a bike, Arielle would be doing that right now. She’s pedaling with unmatched ferocity. At least she’s burning about a million calories.

“I didn’t tell anyone, because it’s not going to go anywhere. He has his issues, I have mine.”

“Blake, you don’t have issues. You’ve just been through a lot. Any guy would be lucky to have you, and if he doesn’t see that, you shouldn’t think twice before saying ‘adios’ and moving on. To Paul. The man who wants to meet you.”

We’re instructed to increase our resistance, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to talk past the effort of our exertions, so I have to work really hard to sound as persuasive as possible. “Arielle, this is not a situation where I don’t recognize my value and am just settling for the first loser I meet. We are both adults who understand all the consequences that could come from this situation. We both accept this for what it is. It doesn’t get any safer than that.” Even as I say the words aloud, a flicker of doubt enters my mind. As usual, I stamp it down so it will fit in neatly with all my other doubts.

Now Haley’s the one who decides to pipe up, as if this conversation with Arielle has just inspired fresh talking points against me. “You want a husband one day, right? Kids?”

“One day, yeah,” I agree slowly.

“If that’s your ultimate goal, why the hell would you put everything on hold to screw around with some guy? Even if he does look like sex on legs? You could be missing a chance to meet your future husband!” she exclaims between exhalations.

“First of all, I’m not putting my life on hold; taking a detour is still moving forward. Besides, I’m not going to chase down a husband, even if I eventually want to get married.”

“You don’t have to chase one down. Hello? I have a Paul! A man who wants to meet you!” Arielle exclaims, in what might be exasperation or just more exhaustion. “Yes, I said it, he’s husband material. He is ready to wife someone up, and he’s single and ready to meet you. Not to mention successful and great looking, but not so obsessed with his job that he stays at the office for twenty-seven hours a day. He likes to hike and travel, too. How can you turn that down?”

“You haven’t seen Landon Farrar,” Haley answers bitterly.

“Landon whoever-his-name-is doesn’t take my girl seriously. Just tell me you’ll meet Paul, please? If you still decide you don’t like him, I promise to quit bothering you about it.”

I mull over her words, and somewhere between our pedal sprints, or whatever they’re called, I arrive at a solution that will benefit both of us. “If I go on a date with this guy, you’ll promise never to set me up with anyone like some medieval matchmaker ever again?”

“Not until you ask me to,” she relents. Then, at my insistent look, she adds, “Cross my heart.”

“Deal,” I say, ignoring the twinge of guilt that word makes me feel.