Just Like You Said It Would Be | Chapter One

The time is right. The time is now.

Did you ever want something so much that it felt like a kind of sickness—one you didn’t want to be cured of because you knew stamping it out would leave you with so much less that you’d be a different person? I didn’t know what it was like to feel that way until last summer and I know the feeling better still now.

Sometimes when I’m alone I let myself wallow in it until my throat begins to burn. Most of the time, though, I push myself to keep things together, act like I’m fine and remind myself that I can’t truly be as gone as I feel because it’s not like me to be out of control. 

But I am. I haven’t seen him in over four months and I miss him more today than I did the day after we said goodbye. I didn’t have any choice when it came to the way things ended, but I still feel like I made a mistake that I’ll never stop regretting.

Pain begins to radiate across my forehead as memories from last summer stream behind my eyes. Fighting in the street with him, jealous, bitter, and sad. Us curled up together, skin to skin in my aunt and uncle’s shed, breathing each other in like we could never get close enough. The intent way he’d listen, his face a mystery to me. The way he’d look at me, his electric blue eyes making me feel restless, dizzy, and full of ache. I wanted to know every thought running through his mind, unlock him for good and learn all his secrets.

Maybe none of that sounds earth-shattering, but it was to me. His voice. His fingers on the guitar. His perfect wrists. The intensity with which he loved music, as though it was something sacred. Every time he walked into a room he made it feel like a more interesting place. What could be bigger than that?

And what do you do when you don’t have that anymore and the memory of it has to be enough? I can’t work that out, but I know—as my eyes skip around the crowded living room searching out my friends—that it was a mistake to drag Lennox to this party with us. Lennox is someone I could’ve liked before—there’s a good chance we would’ve been something to each other if last summer had never happened—but after, when someone three thousand miles away is occupying all the emotional space inside me, it’s impossible.

Lennox and I have always had a fun time talking movies and kidding around and I guess I wanted, for a few minutes when we were closing the store together earlier tonight, to be the old Amira on New Year’s Eve. The one who was always on an even keel and didn’t spend the majority of her time wanting someone she’d never have again. But now that Lennox is leaning in close enough that I can smell his aftershave it’s obvious I shouldn’t be here with him. Better still, I should’ve skipped any big New Year’s celebrations and headed over to Jocelyn’s place with a movie from the store. Being surrounded by varying levels of drunkenness, frenzied dancing and hoots of excitement is only making me more miserable.

Lennox smoothes one of his thumbs across my cheek and smiles at me as we listen to clambering voices count down to the New Year. I don’t flinch at his touch, but I don’t smile either. I feel bad for doing this to him. Bad enough to kiss him back when the voices reach “one” and he slides his mouth against mine.

It’s not a bad kiss, but it just doesn’t feel like anything. It’s empty. For me, anyway.

Around us people are shouting in happy voices and Bono Vox peals out from the sound system. Being Irish and from Dublin just like him, U2 would have to be the first thing I’d hear in the new year and I almost laugh, the bitterness catching in my throat. Lennox sees my hint of a smile and thinks it’s for him. He moves in for a second kiss, but this time around he’s going to be disappointed because I just can’t.

I bend my head and push my hand gently against his shoulder, hoping Lennox will read my body language and revert automatically back to the friendly working relationship we had before tonight. Don’t make me explain, Lennox. Please. 

Lennox’s lower lip drops and disappointment flickers across his face. Only for a couple of seconds, but that’s long enough for me to digest it. Then he sort of freezes with his arms at his sides, his head slowly distancing itself from mine.

Lennox’s brown eyes peer expectantly into my own. When I take too long to say anything he shrugs dejectedly, like he doesn’t understand. “What just happened?” he asks.

I’m grinding my molars and staring past him, trying to come up with the right words, when Yanna appears in my line of vision. She throws her arms around me and hugs me tight. “Happy New Year!” she bellows.

“Happy New Year!” I yell back, my voice cracking.

By the time we’ve let go of each other the space where Lennox was standing is empty. I think I spy the back of his checked shirt disappearing into the crowd. “Where’s Ker?” I ask. Kérane’s the other friend we came with tonight and the one we usually worry about in party situations due to her tendency to drink too much, make out with random guys, and generally get out of hand.

I spin to look for her, but I don’t need to search very hard because seconds later she’s bopping over to us with a hedonistic grin plastered across her face. Obviously somebody is having a good time. Kérane hugs Yanna first, her streaked blond hair falling over them both like a cloak. I’m next and my nostrils flare as I inhale Ker’s beer breath.

Our agreed rule is that none of us will drink at parties unless it comes out of a sealed bottle or can (it’s too easy for someone to slip something nasty in otherwise), but since it’s New Year’s and I have no reason to think Kérane’s broken the golden rule, I can’t complain until/unless she starts falling down, slurring or getting unduly frisky with someone she doesn’t know.

“This is gonna be our year,” Ker sings, shaking her hips. “Six more months of high school and then we’re free!” Well, not free if your definition includes avoiding educational institutions, but freer. No one calling our parents if we don’t show up for class or dictating when we can use the bathroom.

My mind flashes forward to next fall. I picture myself in a lecture hall with a hundred other eighteen-year-olds, analyzing Citizen Kane or The 400 Blows, movies most people my age don’t care about, but those ones will. The professor will be some award-winning indie director with dark corkscrew hair and a no-nonsense attitude. She’ll spot my talent early on, take me under her wing and help me fine-tune my writing skills, turning me into an unstoppable force of creativity.

This time last year that would’ve been my number one fantasy—that and my parents getting back together. But since then my dad’s moved into the house with us again and although I’m absolutely still heading for film school to meet other film fanatics and write screenplays, I don’t want the ache that goes along with having met him last summer to fade. The thought of forgetting him makes me so sad that I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s like that old Dusty Springfield song Jocelyn sent me a YouTube link for near the end of September when it still made sense to everyone that I was missing him because it was only freshly over.

I just don’t know . . . I’m lost.

Maybe it should take longer than one summer to get that fucked up about someone. But maybe if someone’s special enough for you to get fucked up about, the length of time you knew them doesn’t matter. Maybe I was as good as gone the night we met, when we had that first conversation out in my aunt and uncle’s backyard, under the stars.

“We should call Joss to wish her a Happy New Year,” Kérane adds, beaming.

She’s right and Yanna reaches into the back pocket of her jeans to pull out her phone. If this party had happened last year Jocelyn would’ve been right here with us. So much can change in one year that if someone were magically able to confide what was going to happen during the next twelve months you wouldn’t believe them.

I haven’t had enough beer to excuse what I’m about to do, but I can’t take it anymore. The thought that this year will be one in which I don’t speak to him feels devastating. I can’t let it happen.

Yanna is pressing her cell to her ear, Kérane’s swaying in time to the strains of early eighties U2 and I’m on the verge of tears smack in the middle of a New Year’s party that I should never have shown up at. My chin’s wobbling with the strain of trying to hold back the rush of emptiness working its way up from my stomach and into my jaw. I need to get out of public view before I break down entirely and Yanna and Ker have to mop me off the floor.

Maybe the time is right,” Bono sings. “Maybe tonight.”

It feels like a sign, but who am I kidding because I’d do it anyway. The time is right. The time is now. I mumble to Yanna and Kérane as I point vaguely towards the right, “Bathroom! Be back in a sec.”

Yanna adjusts her ear as though she’s going to ask me to wait, but I don’t give her a chance, I’m motoring in the direction of the stairs like I’m about to puke. Yanna’s older cousin is one of the people throwing this party and he pointed out the main floor bathroom on our way in, but I don’t want to have to worry about people lining up behind me and banging impatiently on the door. I need more than two minutes alone.

Two girls, one with matted dreadlocks and the other with frizzy green hair and pasty makeup, are sitting near the bottom of the staircase with a stack of black and white photographs in their hands. Other than that the area looks clear of people. The house itself is in a semi-shambles state. Halfway up the stairs there’s a cigarette burn on the carpet and the lone picture hanging crookedly at the top of the steps is a faded one of the Toronto skyline on a summer’s day. The photograph’s glass front panel is smudged with fingerprints, as though someone was determined to molest it, and as I trek along the upstairs hallway I pass over a worn bit of carpet two shades lighter than the rest. Somebody bleached it trying to get out a stain, I bet.

The house smells like it’s been in the possession of students for decades. Dusty and faintly like stale pizza. A dark grey towel’s hanging off one of the closed bedroom doors and I hear at least two people giggling behind it. My ears categorize the sound as drunken hook-up laughter and I start to panic that someone will be hooking up in the bathroom too.

Luckily, when I reach it the door’s ajar and I can see at a glance that the room’s empty. The second thing I notice is that there’s a pint glass with muddy yellow liquid sitting in the middle of the sink.

I flick on the light, slam the door shut behind me and lean back against it, my hands shaky. No, they only feel shaky. When I spread out my fingers in front of me and stare at them they’re as steady as they would be on any other day that I hadn’t made up my mind to do this. Equal parts longing and anxiety whirl around under my ribcage as I tug my phone out of my purse and key in:

I hope you had a great Christmas and I want to wish you and the band all the best for the New Year. World domination!!

I stare at my falsely cheerful words on the screen, my heart racing and my head pounding as though it’s about to split open like a fault line. My finger taps send and for about thirty seconds I savour the relief I’m feeling at having gone and done it.

Then doubt sets in and the ache springs back with a vengeance. I set my cell on the counter and focus on the abandoned glass in the sink. If this were a movie it’d foreshadow something. I’d open the door to leave and Lennox or some other cute guy would be standing in the hallway waiting to reclaim his glass. He’d be exactly what I need and we’d have a conversation that would be the beginning of me leaving last summer behind.

Real life is more complicated. It doesn’t matter who’s waiting outside or what they might say to me. I’m not forgetting about him anytime soon.

I dump the contents of the glass into the sink as a formal rejection of the phony movie scenario. Then I snap up my phone and sit on the edge of the bathtub with it, willing it to beep and let me know I have a new message.

It’s after five o’clock in the morning in Dublin so it’s likely he won’t even see my message for hours. That doesn’t stop me from ogling the phone for at least another four minutes, after which I impulsively begin punching the keys again.

I miss you. I think about you a lot.

This time, there’s not even the most temporary sense of relief after I hit send. I immediately regret crawling out on a limb and I feel sick with myself as I shuffle out of the bathroom and back to my friends.

Yanna’s standing next to Kérane, repeatedly pushing the same bit of stray hair back behind her ear while Ker laughs into Yanna’s phone. “There you are!” Yanna exclaims, pivoting towards me. “I was just about to go look for you.”

“There was a line for the bathroom,” I lie.

“Say hi to Joss,” Kérane booms, shoving the phone into my face.

I pinch Yanna’s cell between my fingers and trill, “Happy New Year! I wish you were here.” Or that I wasn’t. Both of us are screwed in different ways.

“Happy New Year,” Jocelyn says back. “Yanna said you brought Lennox.” She says his name like he’s an expensive door prize. “Nice move.”

“You’d think,” I say reluctantly, my eyes scanning Ker’s and Yanna’s faces to gauge how closely they’re listening. “But not so much really.”

“Uh-oh,” Joss chimes. “What happened?”

What happened is the two texts that I sent him when I wandered off to the bathroom and, with Yanna’s cell still pressed to my ear, I slide my own phone out of my purse and check it in case anything has changed during the last two minutes.

But no, he hasn’t texted me back. Has he even read my messages yet? Why did I have to confess that I miss him when he’s probably already with someone else?

I begin striding away from Yanna and Kérane. My nose feels snotty and I’m keenly aware, with the part of my brain that’s still rational, that I’m being ridiculous. I’ve held it together (mostly) for four months. Why fall to pieces now?

Because he’s receding further and further into the past and what we had, is now what we had last year.

“Hey!” Jocelyn exclaims. “You still there, Amira? Mir?”

I rub roughly at the corners of my eyes as I head for the stairs. “I’m still here,” I mumble. “Things are just . . . kind of messed up.”

“Messed up how?” she wants to know.

I feel stupid explaining because between the two of us she has the tougher situation, no question, but the second I reach the safety of the bathroom I tell her everything. The empty kiss with Lennox. My subsequent internal meltdown. The two text messages I sent to Dublin.

By then my eyes are streaming and Jocelyn says, “Ohhh.”

“Yeah, ohhh.” I swipe at my eyes again and fight for control of my voice. “I’m an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” she insists. “New Year’s makes people do weird things. Get nostalgic and lonely and—”

She must feel it too, nostalgic and lonely for what her life used to be like, and I instantly want to apologize for being so self-absorbed. “Idiotic,” I cut in, almost trying to make a joke of it. “Maybe if he texts me back I can pretend my phone was stolen or that I got stupid-drunk and didn’t know what I was doing.”

“Do you think he’ll text back?” she asks gently. “I thought you guys said you wouldn’t do that—stay in touch, I mean.”

“Yeah,” I agree in a hushed voice. “That’s what we said.” That unless something changed and there was a way for us to be together again being in contact would only make things harder.

But admitting it rockets me straight back to the reason I texted him in the first place: I can’t stand the thought of never hearing from him again. If what we had was as real to him as it was to me, wouldn’t he feel compelled to answer me?

“It sucks that distance is the thing that had to keep you apart,” Joss says and I feel her sympathy deep in the centre of my chest. “But long distance relationships suck too. You know how it usually works out for those couples—they break up, same as you already have only it’s usually worse because then it gets messy—someone cheats or loses interest. You didn’t have any of that. You only had the high points.”

I don’t know about that, we had plenty of drama last summer long before we got to the end of it. But the main thing now is damage control and when I ask Jocelyn for advice on how to fix things she says, “If you text him again and try to explain you’ll probably only make it worse. If I were you I’d leave things alone, then if he does text you back try to follow his lead and be cool about it.”

That makes sense, except I was never cool when it came to us. If I’d been capable of being cool about him the whole thing probably wouldn’t ever have happened.

“Thanks,” I say firmly. “Are you okay?” Joss’s been through so much since last spring and it’s not over yet.

“I’m okay,” she confirms, her tone only marginally wistful. “Taking things one day at a time like always.”

I bite back a sigh. “One day at a time is good. I sort of went MIA with Yanna’s phone. I guess I should get back to her and Kérane.”

“Kay. Call me tomorrow, all right?

“I will. Thanks.” I can’t stop thanking Jocelyn for advice that I don’t intend to follow. 

I hang up Yanna’s cell and lean forward to set it on the counter while I deal with my own phone.

There are no messages from him, no new messages from anyone, and I wonder what would happen if I actually called his number right this second, in the early hours of the Irish morning on New Year’s Day. But as much as I need to hear from him, I can’t bear the thought of him sounding disinterested or disappointed to hear from me. That would crush me worse than saying goodbye to him at the end of last August because at least then I knew he cared.

So I do a lesser thing and text him one last time. No, I really mean that. This is it. My final words to him unless he texts me back.

I stare at my right hand for a moment before hunching over my phone and getting down to business. Miraculously, my fingers still aren’t shaking as they fly across the keys.

Did you mean what you said last summer about making things happen if we could?

I tap send and then, with the message flung out across the miles, immediately shut my phone off to stop myself obsessively checking for a reply that may never come.

I still have a soggy lump in my throat. I’m still craving him in a hundred different ways. In my head I can hear him singing as clearly as if he were standing next to me with his mouth pressed to my ear, his voice turning me to mush. If it really is over I’ll have lost him twice now, but either way that knowledge will have to wait until at least tomorrow because tonight I’m going back to my friends to try my hardest to celebrate the birth of a brand new year.