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Slide Into My DM

Updated: Feb 18




©Rosalie Thorne

Cover Photo: © Z. V. Ezell


Slide Into My DM

By Rosalie Thorne


This is my love letter to all of those involved in creating one of my favorite films

You’ve Got Mail. Inspired by the 1998 classic, written by Miklós László (play "Parfumerie"), Nora Ephron (screenplay), Delia Ephron (screenplay), directed by Nora Ephron, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, I hope you enjoy it!


SLIDE INTO MY DM

“There’s the dream of someone else.”

- You’ve Got Mail


Prologue

Megara


Bright light beyond my eyelids, I curl around my pillow away from the window. I’d actually slept well for the first time since the Autumn semester started and I wanted to keep going. It’s Saturday, I don’t have an alarm set… I could sleep all day if I really wanted to. But apparently, I don’t get to.

Frankie is making a ruckus as she gets ready for work. Always so unnecessarily loud… and because we have to share the bathroom sandwiched between our two rooms not only do I get to hear the long shower, hear her blow-dryer her long black hair, but also hear the Insta Stories about her grunge makeup. I just have to keep telling myself She’s your best friend, you love her.

With only a single knock of warning, she opens my door. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. This is crazy!” I sit up as she comes to sit wide on the edge of my bed, looping an earring in. “There’s an article about some college in Virginia that’s taking away the campus Wi-Fi to help deter students from using their phones in class.”

Squinting, “That’s so sad.”

She points at me, “You know what this is?”

“No?”

“What we’re looking at is the first step to regulating the internet.” As she stands up, I throw the covers off me. “First public schools are controlling who can get on and where. Then they’re going to start blocking certain sites.” She follows me out of the room, rolling up her flannel sleeves, “Soon enough it’ll spread, and we’ll have country-wide filters.”

As she hovers by the bathroom door, I look at her through the mirror. Her beautiful face always looks so tense. “Workplaces have filters, as do schools elementary through senior high. It’s nothing new,” I try.

She scoffs, “Nothing new? Workplaces have the right to have filters because they’re paying their employees. And children’s schools do that, so they don’t look at anything inappropriate.” Her arms cross tight over her shallow chest, “Think about you, almost every college student has a laptop and they’re not only connecting to Blackboard but also to Google Docs. Now, either they can’t, or they have to hotspot of their phone which costs money. And anyway!” she points to me again, “students are paying to go to school. They have a right to internet provided by the school.”

Giving her a look, I start brushing my teeth.

She shrugs and walks away. “Anyway! I have to go to work. See you at Ralph’s?”

“Yep! Burgers?”

The front door opens, “Burgers!” and then it closes.

After brushing my teeth, I lean against the counter and let out a huge exhale. I love her, she’s my best friend, but boy is she a little much. Especially first thing in the morning. Moments pass, the stress slips away, I twist my hair into a bun and pull a scrunchie around it.

I slip into my room to pull my phone off the charger then head into the kitchen for a calm and quiet breakfast. Teapot on the burner, eggs ready to be scrambled, bread toasting… today is totally going to be a #SelfCare Saturday.

Everything laid out on the table just so, I curl my legs under me and lean back. Posting a picture to my personal account, I’m trying to keep myself motivated on this health kick. The last thing I want to do is gain the Freshman Fifteen and too soon it’s going to be too cold to go running in the morning.

Phone back down at the table, I stare at it with a twitchy hand. I really need to eat while everything is hot, but I’m so excited to see if @GoghingGoghingGone has messaged me back. One of the few DM’s I replied to on my aesthetic Insta, we’ve been having a fantastic conversation since the start of the semester.

A good portion of the food gone, I give in. Switching from my personal profile to @TeaDropsOnRoses, I find a new message from him in the primary message column.


Thackery is my cat. He loves being outside in the Autumn just as much as I do. Though, he likes to bring home birds and lizards to feed me, while I much rather order pizza or Chinese. There’s a part of me that thinks he would love to hitch-hike the country, see all the sites, hunt all the different birds, and meet all the lady cats out there. But, instead, he chooses to stay with me, sleeping too many hours a day in his little hut.

Don’t you love Ohio in the Autumn? I’ve already picked up more than enough school supplies, choosing to ignore my stockpile of notebooks and journals in the corner of my room. I would send you a bouquet of pastel mechanical pencils if I knew your name and address. Or maybe marble print pens?

On the other hand, us not knowing, has its positives. There’s a comfort in the anonymity, a relief in the lack of judgment. After a stressful situation, your DM in bold brings a smile to my face.

- Triple G

Thomas


Freshly showered, clothes just out from under the iron, I sort through the Google news feeds on my phone before taking the tea bag out of the cup. Not finding anything interesting to read, I switch over to The Cleveland Museum Of Art webpage to see if there are any new events worth going to. The Michelangelo: Mind Of The Master is the newest exhibit, but I’d gone to the member preview on the twenty-first.

Patrick calls from the bathroom, where his battery-powered razor almost drowns him out, “Did you start the Keurig?”

He had asked before, so I jump up and get it going. “Yep!”

“Thanks!”

The razor goes off and then only a moment later, he’s a blur of all black as he rushes into the living room, aiming for the kitchen. “I’m late… I’m so late.”

I smirk but say nothing, this is the usual routine.

The stream of lateness and cursing is intertwined with “Rachel got fired, good riddance, and Jeremy moved away, so that’s one less person I have to avoid. Keith finally reached over a million followers, so he’s going to be insufferable.” Lid on to the to-go mug, server apron in hand, curly hair a mess, he looks to me, “Don’t forget, tonight we have that double date with Samantha and her friend Bethany.”

Shaking my head, I put my phone down, “Do I really have to go?”

He gives me a stern look, “You promised.”

My face scrunches, “I hate being set up.”

His expression doesn’t let up. “Dude.”

I roll my eyes and pick up my phone, “Fine. Now go, you’re late.”

He gestures his cup towards me, “Right, right,” his “bye” is cut off by the door being slammed.

When I hear his car kick on, my whole body relaxes. I rarely get the apartment to myself anymore. This means I rarely get time to myself anymore unless I hide in my room. So, whenever I smile at my phone or laugh, Patrick is always up my ass about who I’m talking to. And the truth is, I don’t know who she is. (Something I kind of love about our ongoing conversation.)

Leaning back in the chair, I pull up Instagram and switch from my personal account to my artsy one. Through my @GoghingGoghingGone account, I’m able to have a direct message with @TeaDropsOnRoses. Sure, we’d sent messages to each other before, our aesthetics being so similar. But it wasn’t until I posted a picture of something on campus that she asked what school I went to because it looked like a place at her campus. That we both attend Tri-C at the West campus is now the only personal detail we have known about each other.

Thackery jumps on the table and starts sniffing my tea, quickly making a grump face as the steam hits his nose. I reach over and run my fingers through his long hair, “Who’s a good boy?” This appeases him for a moment, then he jumps down. Hands free, I open the new message.


I adore the way we start messages like we’re already in the middle of a conversation. We can leave and come back at any time, hours and sometimes days going by, but we meet here, and everything is smooth.

Everything is easy.

We go by our little nicknames but if I am to talk about you, I simply say, “a friend”. Which is true! You’ve become a friend I’m excited to hear from, excited to talk to. It’s easy to imagine we’re the closest of friends, who just happen to live far away - instead of what we actually are, which is virtual strangers.

Even if it was a fluke, I’m glad you posted a picture from our campus. Otherwise, I don’t know that we would have ever really started talking. Now, one of my favorite parts of the day is our back and forth.

I had to force myself to wait this morning, sitting impatiently as I ate breakfast. But then I caved, my breath catching in my chest as I waited for the screen to load. And there it was! I hear nothing, not even the sound of my annoying neighbors, just the beat of my heart. I have a direct message… from you.

- T & R


Chapter One

Megara


Whoever said spending money is a form of self-care was not wrong. Having successfully balanced work and school for over a month now, it’s time for a little #TreatYoSelf moment. Driving into Fairlawn, jamming to old school Paramore, I’m riding that triumphant high.

Windows down, the Autumn hair is fresh in my lungs and cool on my skin. The foliage passes in a fiery blur, making me that much more excited for my favorite season. At a stoplight I hear birds chirping and I smile to myself, I think about how I too have a collection of unused journals. Maybe when I stop into Barnes And Noble, I’ll pick up another.

Going down the Medina Road strip, I mentally remind myself that I need to stop into World Market. It’s still one of the best places to pick up English tea, French wine, and Swiss chocolate. I’d have to double-check my text but if I remember correctly, Frankie needs Ramune for her sushi night with Ralph.

At Summit Mall, I pull into the left side of the food court, so I’ll have a direct path to Hot Topic. Alternative was never my scene, but their pop-culture collection is to die for. Wizarding World, Star Wars, Marvel, Disney… but also Nintendo, Pusheen, and a crazy amount of Pop Funkos.

Unfortunately, too much of their store is already taken up by Halloween costumes and there isn’t much that catches my eye. Before the rest of my venture, where I’ll probably get my steps for the day, I stop to get a strawberry smoothie. The one made by Dairy Queen/Orange Julius combo is still the best I’ve ever had, (better than Panera’s, better than Olive Garden’s). Drink in hand, I pass the Starbucks, turning left to head to Bath And Body Works for their sale on hand soaps.


Thomas


Shopping has become a very dangerous pastime for me. Not that money is an issue exactly, but I am running out of space for semi-useless junk. Window shopping or finding something out in the wild is almost as satisfying to me as driving. The twists and turns of Ohio backroads being something the brings me great peace and lets my mind wander.

Arm across the open windowsill, my fingers tap the side of my car to the beat of Three Days Grace. Old school, a CD I had in high school I’d recently found and added to my Apple library. When the stoplight finally turns green, the rush of air whips through my car, the hint of frost hard on my lungs. In that quick moment I can’t hear the music, I can’t hear the other cars, but I can hear my heartbeat.

Smiling to myself, I can’t help but think of my friend. Wondering what she’ll type next, I almost miss my turn onto Medina Road. Just making the right turn in time, I speed up, (probably a little too much). Knowing her, it’ll probably be something cute, probably something nerdy… probably something so uniquely her.

Eyeing the Barnes And Noble, I figure that should be my last stop knowing I’ll spend the most time there. Passing the Regal, I’m glad I can get Voss Water shipped to my apartment now because running to World Market had been obnoxious. Too many red lights later, I finally park to the right of the Summit Mall food court. That way it’s a straight shot to the Starbucks, where I’ve already put in a mobile order.

Weaving my way to the pick-up bar, I find my drink quickly and taste it to double-check it’s correct. Satisfied, I turn right to make my way to J. Crew for their new Autumn collection. Now that it’s sweater weather, it’s time to invest in new layers. Maybe a new pair of jeans as well since my favorite pair is finally fading after so many years of use.


Megara


A new two-liter of Coke in one hand, a huge bag of chips in the other, I’m glad to see Frankie outside on the porch. “Hey, Frankie!”

She looks up from her phone and takes a drag on her Juul. “Hey!”

Taking the steps up slowly, (because I usually hold the handrail), I can’t help but smile. “Isn’t it a beautiful evening?” On the landing, I look out to the September sunset. “Hasn’t it just been the most beautiful day?”

She makes a bemused face, “Yeah… I guess.” She takes another drag, letting out a thin stream of smoke, and follows my gaze to the sunset. “Sure.”

As she holds the door open, I ask, “Don’t you just love Ohio in Autumn?” After I put the soda in the fridge and chips on the counter, I pat the pumpkin on the table. “How perfect.”

Frankie nudges my arm as we head out to the back patio. “What is going on with you? You’re all… smiley.”

I laugh, “And that’s bad?”

She cocks a brow. “You only act this way when you’re smitten with someone.”

“Smitten? Oh…” I giggle and wave my hand, “No.”

As Frankie goes to the grill to kiss Ralph on the cheek, I slip into a chair by the iron table. I pull my new journal out of my purse and admire it, running my fingers over the leather design of roses. Using my fuzzy sweater as a background, I get the layout just so and take a picture for my aesthetic Instagram. Commenting on how all I need is a bouquet of pastel pencils, I smile to myself.

There’s a scrap of metal against the concrete as Frankie sits down. She softly kicks me before asking, “What has gotten into you?”

I shake my head and put away the journal, “Nothing – nothing at all.”

She kicks me a little harder this time. “I’mma sit here till you spill.”

Her expression is unforgiving, so when Ralph goes inside, I lean forward. “Is it even a relationship - a friendship if you don’t know each other’s names?”

“What? Like, online?”

“Yes.”

“I guess so.” Her head tilts ever so slightly, “Why?”

My shoulders lift, “I guess I’m friends with someone, then. On Instagram. It’s nothing really… just a conversation in DM’s.” In response to her smugness, I wave a hand, “We don’t even talk of anything personal. All I know is that he’s a guy and he goes to Tri-C.”

“West?”

“Yep. But! That’s all I know. Oh, well, that and he has a cat named Thackery.”

Confused, she asks, “Like from Hocus Pocus?”

“I guess? I don’t know.”

“Have you added him on Snap?”

Knowing what she’s getting at, it’s my turn to kick her. “No, God! It’s not like that at all.”

“For now.” After a deep breath, she loosens up. “So, how’d you meet him anyway?”

I start fussing with the hem of my sleeve. “I’d like his page for a while – it’s an aesthetic ‘gram like my other one. He posted something about… oh, gosh, I don’t know – Oscar Wilde maybe? And I messaged him. We’ve been following each other all Summer. But then! The first week of school, he posted something on campus. That’s when we really started talking.” Noticing her expression, I shake my head, “It’s nothing really. We talk about books and music and living in Ohio…. Harmless, innocent stuff.”

In my mini-rant, she has her phone open, “Bouquets of pastel pencils?” she quotes. I roll my eyes and now regret that I tagged him. “Goghing, Goghing, Gone… that’s cute.” I know she’s clicked to his profile now and I anxiously wait for her response. “Not even going to lie,” she finally comments, “I dig his Insta. And I get why you’re into him.”

“I’m not!” I say a little too quickly.

But she knows better. “Lit nerd, cat dad, tea drinker, who’s a member at The Cleveland Museum Of Art, and quotes early 2000’s music as descriptions. It’s like someone went into your brain and provided you with the perfect boyfriend.”

“Problem is… we don’t talk about anything personal. I don’t know his name or where he lives or if he has a job,” I say pointedly. “So, it’ll really easy for me not to have feelings, because I don’t know him.”

This isn’t exactly true, on both accounts. My best friend wasn’t wrong to say I was smitten, and I definitely do feel like I know him in an important way. My artsy Insta is me putting my heart on my sleeve and I can only assume it’s the same for him. And when you chat with someone after midnight, into the wee hours of the morning, that has to be significant. … right?

Ralph comes outside and Frankie is quick to get his attention. “You ever talk to girls online?”

His expression reflects the question ‘is this a trap’ and he slowly answers, “I did before you.”

“Right, but like, did you ever meet anyone online and want to date them or something? Or – or!” she wiggles a finger, “ever use Snap to send nudes?”

Looking to me, he’s still questioning if he’s in trouble. I explain to the poor guy, “I’m talking to someone on Insta. Your girlfriend here seems to think it’s more than it is.”

All he says is, “Only do what you’re comfortable with,” then turns to the grill.

Interrupting the flow of conversation, there’s a holler from inside. Soon enough, we see Jake coming to greet us with a pack of beers. “Ladies!”

Frankie doesn’t miss a beat, “Jake, do you do online dating?”

Having just sat down in the chair across, he’s still trying to open a beer. He looks between her and me. “Why?”

“Just answer the questions.”

He squints. “No. It’s just another way to be rejected or lied to. Much rather go to a bar, see someone face to face.”

Jake’s Chris Traeger attractiveness allows such a thing, though. It’s not until his Barney Stinson personality comes out that he’s in trouble. Ralph, on the other hand, has Marshall Eriksen kindness and humor, but the Andy Dwyer body. That’s why I much rather hear from him when it comes to dating.

“Why?” Jake turns to me. “You thinking about getting back into the dating game?”

Whether I am or not, he’s finally stopped hitting on me and I really don’t need that to start up again. “Nope.”

He leans back in his chair, shaking his head. He gives me a once over, “What a shame.”

Frankie kicks him under the table, hard.

He just about spills his beer, “Fuck!” He looks at her, “It’s a fucking compliment!”

Looking ready to kick him again, she points across the table. “Don’t start shit.”

I catch Ralph’s eye and we both start laughing. Jake may be an ass, but he’s a really good friend. Frankie may be a bitch, but she’s a really good friend. It’s such a weird dynamic we have, but I love it.


Thomas


“Well, that wasn’t a total bust, was it?” Patrick asks as we arrive back home. “I really am starting to like Samantha; I think it might actually turn into something. Did you see how excited she was when she talked about cheerleading? So cute… I wonder if she still has her uniform.

“What did you think of Bethany? Really pretty, right? And she has a three-point-five GPA, that’s not bad at all. It seemed like you two were holding a conversation well enough.”

But I’m not listening. Once the girls left the restaurant, Patrick had gone to the bathroom. I’d checked my phone and saw that T & R had posted again, a set of bonfire pictures. Since then, I’ve been trying to think of who I know might be having a bonfire tonight. After she’d made the bouquet comment under a picture of a new journal, my heart has kind of been set on meeting her in person.

“Tom? Thomas?” Patrick asks again.

I look at him, “What?”

He smiles, “I just told you Bethany likes you. See, I knew you weren’t listening to me.”

With a smirk, I shrug. “Yeah… well. I hear nothing – ‘not the sound of annoying neighbors, just the beat of my own heart’ – I think that’s how it goes.”

“You hooked up with a girl last night, didn’t you?”

I frown, “What? No.”

When he comes to sit next to me on the couch, he elbows me, “Com’on, you can tell me.”

“No, no I wasn’t with anyone.”

Thackery jumps on his lap, so he starts petting him. “What about Bethany, then? Think it’s been a while too long for you, bro.”

I check my phone and answer him absentmindedly, “Nah… I’m good.”

“Bro, what is with you tonight? You high or something?”

My shoulders slump against the back cushion. “No… no, it’s nothing. So, Samantha, huh? Really thinking about an actual relationship with her, not just a friends with benefits thing?”

He slowly scratches Thackery behind the ear, “Yeah, why not? Technically we’ve been on three dates now, anyway. I guess we already crossed that line.”

“That’s not a bad thing,” I point out. Thinking that if I could take T & R on a date, I wouldn’t hesitate.

He nods thoughtfully, “I know it’s not. But you know what it’s like being a boyfriend, there’s all this emotional responsibility. I don’t know if that’ll be too much with school and work. You know, I’m already struggling in intro to geology.”

“‘Rocks for Jocks’, really?” I sigh, “What about a tutor?”

Thackery jumps off, so he stands and heads for the kitchen, “With what time? I’m either on campus, doing homework, or serving.”

“Can you cut back on hours?”

He comes back in with a beer, “Not if I’m going to make half the rent.”

“Which, you don’t have to. You know I can handle it.”

This time he sits in the armchair, facing me. “I know you can, but I need to carry my fair share.”

This is an argument we’ve had before; this is an argument I never win. I raise my hands in premature defeat, “Alright, whatever.”

In the lull, I check my phone again. Finally, there’s a new message. “Thank God,” I whisper.

“Thank God, what?” Patrick asks.

Fuck. “Ah, nothing. Just something online.”

He’s out of his chair, on his way to the bedrooms, “Okay, dude. Good night.”

“Night,” I call after him. Getting more comfortable on the couch, I get ready to reply.


My roommate is finally dating again. Which I have to say, good for him. He tries to act like the break-up with his high school sweetheart wasn’t traumatic, but I know him better than that. I got to meet the girl tonight, she seems like a good fit.

What about you? It was a rather perfect night for a bonfire.


Chapter Two


I read a lot of stories about different businesses sort of having a resident cat. Today, I finally found one! I went to one of my favorite antique stores, and there it was. A large, fluffy Maine Coon by the look of it. It also stayed there by the cash wrap, keeping an eye on the place like a witch’s familiar.


When I adopted Thackery, that’s one of the things that crossed my mind. There definitely was a connection made when I saw him. He’s very sensitive to people’s emotions, too. That whole thing about a cat’s purr being therapeutic and helpful? Totally true.


*


There’s a particular winding road I love to take to get to and from school. Because of the timing of my last class, when I drive home the sun hits the forest just so, causing all the foliage to burst to life with color. It’s as in that drive, where my car is in the shade, that the wind picks up and dancing with the leaves. Have you ever just had a moment where you fell in love with nature?

Have you ever ridden the train in Cuyahoga Valley National Park? It’s just a scenic little thing. They have a few different types of cars, one with a glass ceiling! My dad and I go every year during the fall, it’s one of the most breathtaking experiences.


*


Confession:

I have easily read The Great Gatsby 100 times.

I just love the romance between Gatsby and Daisy. I always have so much anxiety over if Daisy really understands how much Gatsby loves her. I’m sure you’ve read it, but if not? Read it! I know you’re going to love it!


Confession:

My probably most read book is The Picture Of Dorian Gray.

There’s something about the infatuation from the painter, of Dorian’s beauty that always gets me. And then the naivety of Dorian that turns into this well-rounded, yet biased knowledge. Without conscience, it’s fascinating how a person turns out. If you haven’t read it yet, I totally recommend it. I really do think you’d enjoy it.


*


Sometimes it feels like the whole purpose of places like Subway is so that people who usually have a horrendous time making decisions, can make all the decisions for their perfect sandwich. Foot-long, chicken teriyaki, lettuce, onion, with sweet onion sauce. Etc. So, students like us, who have no idea what the Hell they’re doing, can get not just a meal, but a placebo sense of Self.


Maybe that’s why I find places like Starbucks so intimidating. I mean, aside from the prices. Their menu seems so big, with so many options. I feel like it would take me way too long to find a drink I actually like. Subway, on the other hand? Easy-peasy. Can’t go wrong with sandwiches.


Chapter Three

Megara


Grabbing out usual seats in Honors College Composition One, I nudge Frankie and whisper, “God, there he is.”

Her eyes follow my gaze to the front of the class, and she whispers back, “He is so fucking annoying.”

Brows tight, I nod, “What’s his name again?”

“Fuck if I know. Thomas? Tommy… something like that.”

I roll my eyes. “Whatever. I just wish he’d keep his mouth shut.”

Misses Meriscko suddenly walks in, so I finish pulling out my supplies. The one day the kid hasn’t been here was probably my favorite day of class. He wasn’t there to answer every question, he wasn’t there to reference nonsense, he wasn’t there to ask things that weren’t strictly relevant. Seriously, how is such a pretty guy such a teacher’s pet? Thinking about it, though, he probably annoys Meriscko just as much.

After class, Frankie and I are the last ones to leave. Down the hallway, headed to the stairs, she shakes her head. “For real though, every time Tom opens his mouth, I want to punch him in the face.”

I look around cautiously and nudge her with my elbow. Trying not to laugh, I go “Shh, someone could hear you.”

She laughs, “Right, can’t threaten violence on campus,” she teases, “it’s supposed to be a Safe Space.” On the main floor, she throws an arm around me, “Did you see his face though when you would straight up not talk to him?”

I rolled my eyes, but smiled, “He kept asking me direct questions, and it’s like, com’on dude, read the room.”

“Maybe he’s one of those assholes that needs to have to the final word.”

In building G, we cross over to the far side. Readjusting my messenger bag strap, I try to crack my neck. “It’s possible. I mean, he’s obviously very smart, but that doesn’t mean he has to prove it every chance he gets.”

“Well, you keep doing you. I think he finally realized there’s someone smarter than him in the class.”

I elbow her, “Aww, shucks.”

She holds the door to the library open, “I mean it! I know I’m in the class, too, but it’s because you help me so much. I’m definitely going to drop doing to ten-twenty next semester.”

I give her a puppy dog look on the way to the back table. “No! Don’t leave me alone. What if he’s in my class?”

She hands me a Three Musketeer’s Bar, “You’ll be just fine.”


Curled in the corner of the couch, my favorite blanket draped over me, I put my tea on the coffee table and continue reading The Great Gatsby for fun. I’d mentioned it to Triple G when I was re-arranging my bookcase and I couldn’t help but pick it up right away and start over. Soon enough I’ll have to rewatch the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, too.

“Oh my God,” Frankie comments from the kitchen.

There’s an alarm in her voice, not excitement, so I look up, “What?”

She slowly walking towards me, her phone out even though it’s too far away to see. “I found his Instagram.”

“Whose?”

“Tom, from English.” She slides in right next to me, “Look at this shit.”

I take her phone and realize she’s scrolled pretty far. Slowly making my way back to the top, I should have known this is what his profile would look like. BMW for a car, imported drinking water from Norway, shopping bags from J. Crew and Apple, the latest iPhone, a really nice looking tv with all the game systems…. But “Shit, he has a lot of books.”

She peeks over, “Well, we could have guessed that from class.”

I turn the phone towards her, “And his cat’s really cute.”

“Can’t hate on animals, that’s true.”

Almost to the top, I keep scrolling. Every so often there’s a picture of himself, usually at the gym. Tall, broad shoulders, lean muscles, square jaw, dark hair. In the sunlight, his eyes are icy blue, and when his five o’clock shadow is dark it makes him that much more handsome. “Well, and I hate to say it, but he does know how to take a good selfie.”

She grunts. “He’s probably a Leo.”

“Thomas Banks…, huh.”

Taking her phone back, she looks. “Do you think that’s his real name or because he has money?”

I try to think back to the attendance sheet. “If I remember correctly, that’s his real name.”

She lifts from the couch, “Well, either way, it fits, in a stupid Richie Rich way.”


I know it’s late and I don’t exactly want a response….

But have you ever wondered about your life in the grand scheme of things?

Sometimes I wonder… about my life, my plans, my actions – how does this really matter? What does it actually affect? My life is small. significant, to me, sure, but small. I come from a tiny family, I have a few good friends, I have a part-time job…. As you can see, most of my possessions are antique or vintage, almost always second-hand.

Does that make me any less? Is my existence somehow less valuable?

Other than school, I wonder: do I do all this because I like it? Or because it’s expected of me?

Am I choosing to do this or am I stuck because I’m not brave enough?

So much of what I do reminds me of things I’ve read or watched… shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I be leading a grand life where when I read a book, it brings out a good memory? I guess… I guess I’m just sending this cosmic question out into the void….

So, good night, dear ‘G,

Your T & R.


Thomas


Having picked up my little sister from Dad’s, our sibling bonding day can finally start. We still had an hour or so before the start of the movie, but Ashley said she wasn’t hungry. “What about Barnes And Noble?” I look over to the passenger seat. “I bet we could kill some time in there.”

She perks up and actually looks away from her phone. I love that even though there’s a seven-year difference we still have things in common. “Yeah? We could do that. I just finished reading the last book of my to-read pile.”

“You still loving those teen romances?”

“Well, yeah…. But I think I’m switching from the fantasy genre to realistic. So many people at my school are obsessing over this supernatural series or that dystopian one – it’s getting really annoying,”

Knowing the hipster-ness runs in the family, I just smile, “Makes sense. At least it’ll be super easy then to find a new book.”

And she’s back on her phone. “Right, ‘cause the realistic ones should be on the opposite side.”

The rest of the ride is pretty silent, I never know if it’s okay to turn up the music with someone else in the car. What if they randomly want to chat? What if they don’t like the band? And as for my sister’s frequently changing taste, it’s safer just to leave it low.

Close enough to the store now, she looks up and recognizes that we’re almost there. She reaches for her purse and puts her phone away. Blinking, I know she’s trying to readjust her vision from near-sighted to far.

Lucky enough to find a free spot right in front, I slide right in and cut the engine. Ashley is quicker out of the car than I am and looks back when she gets to the doors. She holds the door open for me; I get the next one for her.

“I’m pretty sure young adult is straight back,” I point past the information desk.

She nods, “Yeah. It was a few months ago they swapped it with the anime, comic book, gaming section.”

Stopped just inside the door, I ask “Do you want anything from Starbucks?”

She shrugs, “My usual?”

“Sure thing,” and she knows I’ll meet her by the books.

I weave through the random tables of sale items and walk into the café. There are only two people in line, so it should move quickly enough. I eye the sweets display as I wait but know I’m going to be disappointed in their sugar cookies. When it’s my turn, I don’t even need to look at the menu, “One venti iced peach green tea lemonade and one grande strawberry acai refresher, please.”

“And do you have a Barnes And Noble membership?” I hand her the card I already had out. “Thanks, it’ll be just a few minutes.”

After taking my receipt, I wander to the far end of the counter. Out of boredom, I look at their tea selection for sale. It holds my attention just long enough for the drinks to come out. I nod, “Thanks,” and head to the middle of the store. Once I hand Ashley her drink, she replies, “Thanks.”

Again, I nod. “No problem. I’m going to go look at classics.”

She’s turned back to the shelves and doesn’t look when she says, “Okay.”

Around the escalator, I find the classics section right away. But it’s quite a ways down that I find F. Scott Fitzgerald. I pick up a classic edition of The Great Gatsby, and I wonder if I should get the stand-alone book or a complete works edition. Suddenly, a thin hand comes in front of me, reaching for a book I’m in the way of. I back up and say “Sorry,” just as she does.

The gorgeous girl looks familiar, but it takes a moment to place her. As she gives a polite smile, it clicks – she’s the quiet, but really fucking smart, girl in my English class.

Looking nothing like she does at school, I give her a once over. Her usually forgettable brunette hair is down from its lazy topknot is long, purposefully curled, and showing auburn highlights. Her usually bare face has just enough makeup to enhance her from pretty to beautiful. And instead of wearing a thick sweater and the same ol’ jeans, she’s wearing a long-sleeved, thigh-length, sweater dress that hugs her curves in all the right places.

I give a sexy half-smile, “Hey.”

Her brows come together ever so slightly. “Hi?”

I gesture with my drink, “I’m Tom, from English honors.”

She’d glanced at my drink when I moved it, now she does a single nod. “Right.”

“And you’re Meg?”

She takes a deep breath, the deep neckline of her dress showing the expansion of her chest. (Where I notice a locket with detail of a rose.) “Megara, yeah.”

I look back at her Spring green eyes. “Like from Hercules?”

Her little fingers tuck hair around her ear, “Actually, Megaera – spelled m, e, g, a, e, r, a is from Greek mythology. She’s the daughter of Nox and Acheron. Though,” she shifts her weight from one foot to the other, “I do like Disney’s version better.”

This is maybe the most I’ve ever heard her speak and truthfully, I really love her voice. It’s soft and intimate, but there’s the power behind every word she chooses. “Are your parents big into Greek mythology, then?”

Almost like she’s confused by my sudden interest in her, she looks around. When she can’t find whatever, she’s looking for, she answers, “Well, my dad teaches it, so I’d hope so.”

“And your mom?”

Her shoulders dropped, “She passed away when I was young. She was an English professor before she got pregnant, though….”

I shrink back a little, “I’m sorry.”

She shrugs and looks down at the book she grabbed. “Mm. Well, I better go.”

“Yeah… see you Monday?”

She nods and smiles softly. As she walks past me, she points to the book in my hand. “If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, it’s really good… one of my favorites actually.”


After dropping off Ashley, I sit in the driveway and write a quick message to T & R.


I picked up a few new books today, I just couldn’t help myself. B&N was actually part of my sibling bonding time, did I ever tell you I had a sister? Anyway, I think you’ll be pleased to know I grabbed a copy of The Great Gatsby. I’m slowly realizing that what we deem our favorite books say a lot about us. (The general us, not just you and me.)


I was surprised to see she’d already written back by the time I get home.


That’s the thing about books, I think. Books aren’t just something we read, something we collect, something we talk about in school. Books help us become whoever it is we’re going to turn out to be. Think about it….

The books we read as a child becomes part of our identity, (like Harry Potter or A Series Of Unfortunate Events or Golden Compass or… well, etc.), in a way that no other reading in our whole life does.

And then, as we grow, as we mature, reading can be our first introduction to love, to romance, to the idea of soulmates and fate.

Books are not just our choice of entertainment – what we read is a reflection of our Selves. It’s not just what we choose to enjoy, it’s what makes us feel in ways nothing else in this world can.


Thumbnail to my lip, resting my hand against my chin. I read the message over again for the third time. Whoever this girl is… this beautiful soul of a woman, she is… simply enchanting.


Chapter Four


How do you feel about movie or tv adaptions of books? Should they keep happening, are they worth the watch? You’ve mentioned quite a few books that have been turned into things – sometimes those things were great, something those things were terrible.

When I first watched the Jim Carry movie of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, I overall found myself disappointed. The other redeeming fact was him (though he didn’t really play a good Count Olaf) and the costumes. But then I watched the Netflix series and instantly fell in love. Even though there’s so much more added, it’s as if the author was there saying “this is what I would have put in the books if it hadn’t been POV limited to the children”.


It depends. The more I like something, the more nervous I become. Harry Potter had really been my first introduction of page to screen and therefore I expected every other adaption to be just as well done. Then my father took me to see Ella Enchanted and I was so upset I told him we should get our money back.

Beastly was another book near and dear to my young heart and that movie in and of itself is the monster. Romeo & Juliet and The Great Gatsby with Leo Di are fucking amazing though, to me the most accurate adaptations out there.

And as for a page to screen turn around, that’s amazing? Where the movie is actually better than the books? The Notebook! I’m sure you’ve never read it – The Notebook is actually just the part where Ally comes back into Noah’s life. There are a few flashbacks and flash-forwards, but they’re very short and far apart. So, what the movie did? Fleshing it out like that, so fucking well? Ah-fucking-mazing!


*


Why do some teachers teach things that have nothing to do with their subject? Or just randomly go on rants about their personal life? Like, hello, I’m paying to be taught by you to learn a very specific skill set. Ugh!


Oh man, I’ve had teachers like that. It’s so frustrating. I actually have a teacher like that now, which I didn’t anticipate now that I’m in college. You’re right, we’re paying, so WTF? Maybe as we get past our AA, closer to our BA, things will be different?


*

I know I’ve talked about Thackery before, but do you have any pets? Your Insta shows a lot of houseplants, a lot of nature, but not much other life. Don’t tell me you’re a dog person, lol


Actually! If you must know, I do have a cat. Though, I grew up with both a dog and a cat and a goldfish at one point (named Queen Amidala, thank you very much). I have a black male named Nox. Problem is, I post him on my personal account. So, no pictures for you haha


*


You love bonfires, too? (I saw your most recent post.)

They have to be one of my favorite Autumn activities. Sitting around the pit, all bundled up against the cold. Watching the golden sparks fly up into the dark night. Hanging with friends – talking and laughing….

TBH, I promised myself a long time ago that when I get my own place it has to have some sort of fireplace or pit.


Honestly, that’s how I feel, too.

It’s probably one of the reasons that I have to live somewhere with seasons. I can’t imagine the months going by without change. Spring bringing new life, Summer bringing late nights, Autumn giving us sweater weather, and Winter bringing a sort of peace.

I don’t know that I always want to live in OH, but I don’t know that I’d go too far either.


*


Halloween has already come and gone; can you believe it? Did you dress up as anything fun? With NYE being 2019 to 2020, I’d already bought a mobster-ish look. A lot of people at the party I went to had the same idea, oops.


Actually… I’m not really big into Halloween. My roommate/BFF loves horror and gore and all that jazz, so she went over to her BF’s house for a marathon. I stayed at home and watched some of my favorite rom-coms while eating pizza and Halloween candy.


*


I know, I know, no specifics…. But any plans for Thanksgiving? Are you going home? You’ve mentioned a sister… any other family?

It’s just me and my dad… and we aren’t a huge fan of the holiday. We do a little lunch of an old recipe of my mom’s. This year my roommate and I are doing a Friendsgiving, though! So that should be really awesome.


My parents are divorced, I have a younger half-sister (Dad), then an even younger half-brother (Mom). I’ll be having lunch with my dad and dinner at my mom’s.

I might take the opportunity to go Black Thursday shopping with my roommate/BFF. Esp. as an excuse to leave early.


Chapter Five

Megara


Carefully placing the selected ornaments on the tree, I am loving how it’s turning out so far. Neither Frankie nor I wanted to deal with a real tree, and we found one on sale at Target that was perfect. Just tall enough, just wide enough, and it came with lights already on it. The only hassle, really, was moving one of the full bookcases out of the corner so we would have room.

“I know you love Christmas,” my best friend comments from on the couch, “but why are we going through all this if we’re not even going to be here on Christmas Day?”

Finished with all the generic, multi-pack bobbles, I start on the unique pieces. “I might not be here on the actual day, but it’s not like I’m spending the whole break at my dad’s.”

“Oh… really? I thought you were.”

I glance up at her while re-hooking a faux Snowglobe, “He works, why would I?”

“I don’t know. I think you have every year since high school.”

“It was a bit different when I was working full time… it was a big deal to get the time off. Now? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m twenty-three… our apartment feels more like home than my childhood bedroom does.”

She props her feet up on the coffee table, “I get that.”

“What about you?”

Lightly scratching her brow, she answers “I don’t know yet. This feels like home to me, too. Ralph’s not going all the way to Virginia this year. Plus, I do have work. I might just go to Cinci from like the twenty-third to the ‘sixth.”

“Well, you’ve got plenty of time to figure it out. It’s only Black Friday… the official last day of the semester is the fifteenth.”

“Last exam for me is that Wednesday, the eleventh! Can’t believe we have off all the way until January thirteenth.”

Observing the tree from a distance, I absently comment, “Right? I don’t know what I’m going to do with all that free time.” Moving around the living room, I think it all looks pretty great. After adjusting the faux fur tree skirt one last time, I ask, “What do you think?”

Stepping out of the kitchen with yet another cup of coffee, she bobs her head, “Looks great.”

I glance between her and the tree, “Yeah?”

“Yep!”

As I keep analyzing all the Christmas décor, she occupies her spot in the middle of the couch. “What time is that bonfire tonight?”

“The Facebook invite said it starts at six and you know any sort of party Chad throws goes way into the night.”

She and I pull our phones out with the same intention, “No snow, high of forty-six,” she explains first.

I’d been planning on my favorite periwinkle turtleneck, well-loved grey skinny jeans, black snow boots, and my thrift-flip black peacoat that I added faux fur trim to. I should be perfectly fine, but just in case, “It’s just in his back yard… there’s always stuff happening inside if it gets too cold.”

After a long sip of coffee, she nods, “Cool, cool. So, out the door at five-thirty?”

“Yep, sounds good.”


Thomas


Pulling laundry out of the dryer, I hear Patrick yell from his room, “What time is Chad’s thing tonight?”

“Not sure…,” I holler back, “probably six or seven.”

Full basket in hand, I move to the back of the apartment. On the way, I stop at his open bedroom door, “Why?”

Half-naked, he stands in front of his dresser, “Do you know how cold it’s supposed to be?”

My shoulder lifts, “Forties, I think,” then I head into my room.

About halfway down the basket of unloading and folding and putting away, I find the blue L.L. Bean flannel I’d been wanting for tonight. With the new grey turtlenecks from J. Crew, wool socks, and recently cleaned black Timberland boots, I should be just fine. I really shouldn’t even need a coat.

Now, it’s his turn to pop into my doorway. “I meant to ask, are you for sure spending winter break at home?”

Adjusting the neck on the sweater, I cock a brow, “Maybe, why?”

“I’m not going home… and neither is Samantha.”

I make a face, “Oh-ho, look at you. Wanting to play a little house, huh?”

If he’d had something in his hand, he would have thrown it at me. “Jackass. Just let me know when you figure stuff out, yeah?”

“Sure, no problem.”


Chapter Six

Megara


After a long day of deep cleaning the apartment, after a hot bath, after blow drying my hair and getting pjs on, I find myself still unable to relax, to sleep. Even with it being a not-so-lazy Sunday, I’m wound. I have done everything I could possibly do; I have fixed everything there is to fix. Yet, I still feel the upset in my heart from Friday night.

Heated mattress pad on, fuzzy blanket over my propped legs making a tent for Nox, I can’t find anything on YouTube to distract me. One hand on my mug handle, I find that I’ve been so absent I’ve let my tea go cold. Biting the skin off my lower lip, I think of how to compose myself.

As @TeaDropsOnRoses, I have a blank message box to @GoghingGoghingGone.


My niceness often gets taken advantage of. I’ve had multiple people call me naïve. In a breakup, an ex argued that I believe in fairytales. My best friend is so coarse, so I don’t have to be.

I’d like to think of myself as a steel rose, but I don’t know that I’m that strong. Delicate as a flower, sometimes, but even I have thorns.

Have you ever met someone that just gets under your skin? Who you don’t even know that much about them – choose not to know that much about them, but you actively dislike them? Somehow their existence provokes you and you have this moment of, just… prickliness.

Sort of like the Pandora’s Box of my heart is opened, and all the negative things I may feel come out. I say things I instantly wish I could take back. It’s almost an out-of-body experience, I feel so unlike myself. Being mean is not who I am, yet it’s all this person gets to see.


And here I think I might be too rough around the edges. Sometimes mean, a bit coarse, without that being my intent. I wonder if people view as an elitist because of certain factors of my life, but I don’t actively try to be.

I do know what you mean about someone getting under your skin. There is someone currently under my skin and every time I’m around them I feel like I have to flex like a peacock. When really, the opposite would be more helpful.

I mean, look at my page! My soul is on this page, showing my true, kind, silly self to the world. Why can’t everyone see this side of me?

… Do you think we should meet?


“Meet?” I whisper.

My eyes frantically dash around my room. “Meet…” I whisper again. “We should meet?” I quote. Facing down, I slide my phone to the far edge of my bed. My head is shaking and all I can think is ‘oh my God’.


Chapter Seven

Megara


Just inside the building’s second doors, Frankie and I stomp the snow off our boots. Then we make our way up the double stairs into our English class. Seeing Thomas there, I very actively don’t look at him.

When the class is over, I take my time packing up so that everyone leaves before us. As we’re walking and talking down the hall, I still have a nervous look around. After Chad’s party, the last person I want to be confronted with is Thomas.


Because it’s Monday, Frankie and I had to drive separately. Having gotten caught up in the campus bookstore buying the exam pamphlets, classes are letting out as I walk down the Liberal Arts building.

Just before the end of the hall, I see Thomas walking out of one of the last classrooms. Panicking, I turn at the water fountain. I overhear him talking about cultural anthropology as he walks away.


Thomas


Finding myself in the library at an odd hour, I check my phone for the time. The study group for the final is supposed to be meeting here in five minutes…. Surely, I’m not the first one.

I eye the tables towards the back of the room, just before the glass walls, which seems promising. Making my way back, though, the first face I recognize is Meg’s. Not wanting to get into it with her, I immediately turn and walk awkwardly under the stairs.


Of course, it’s a fucking Wednesday that I’m late to school. Stupid fucking construction going at it now that the snow has melted enough. I hadn’t mentally added extra time to my drive because I thought they were done. Now! I’m going to be late for English.

Really not wanting points docked, I start jogging across the parking lot. I notice a brown-haired female in a black coat doing the same thing. Then I notice it’s Meg. Jesus, really? Up on the hill, I slow and make sure to give her enough time to enter the building before I do.


Megara


After that conversation with Triple G about Subway and Starbucks, when I enter Barnes And Noble, I think it might be time to try it. Walking up to the counter, I eye the food and sweets in the display. The brownie looks good, so why not? I order the strawberry refresher ‘G suggested and I was proud of myself when I sit down with my order.

Just after taking a picture for my personal Insta, I hear an oh too familiar voice behind me (at the counter). Slipping down into my chair, I pray he doesn’t notice me. After a few minutes, I see him walk into the store, giving me great relief.


New books in hand, the cashier straight ahead calls me forward. I’d been eyeing the new Magnolia Journal, so I grab that too. As she does her thing, I look at all the other impulse buys and know better than to buy yet another bookmark I’m never going to use.

“That’ll be forty thirty-nine.”

I already had the two twenties in my hand. Looking back in my wallet I see I have a single quarter or another twenty. Remember my days working retail, maybe I’ll get lucky. I had her the two bills. “I only have a quarter… I’d really hate to have to break another twenty.”

She looks at me, deadpan. “Do you have a debit card?”

I sigh. “For fourteen cents?”

She nods, “Your total is forty thirty-nine,” she repeats.

A dollar bill is stretched past my ear and I hear a low, “Here,” behind me.

I look to thank the person but see Thomas instead. Shaking my head, I pull my card out, “No, it’s fine.” I don’t need his stupid, rich ass saving me. I’ll fucking put fourteen cents on my card.

“Meg, com’on.” I can hear the ‘don’t be stupid’ in his tone.

I literally elbow him back, “I’m fine.”

“I know you’re fine but charging a few cents on your account is silly.”

The lady behind the counter is beyond tired of us and takes the dollar and gives him the change. “Have a good day.” And before I can even collect my bag she says, “Next!”

He leaves whatever he’d been in line to buy on the counter and follows me. Frustrated, I have to stand by the door to sort out my purse and grab my keys. He holds the door open for me. I close my eyes instead of rolling them. “Thanks.”

I look behind me while pushing the next door. “I don’t need you to save me.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m an adult. ‘I can tie my own sandals and everything’.” He looks utterly confused. I do roll my eyes. “Like from Hercules?” I huff.

And then, instantly, I feel like a bitch. Relaxing my face, I tell him, “I’ll give you fourteen cents the next time I see you.”

As I’m already crossing the parking lot, I hear him call, “Meg, wait!” but I just don’t care. He’s just so under my skin and I hate how I react.


You would not be proud of me, I did it again. Why does this keep happening? I don’t want to be mean; I don’t want to be nasty.

I tried talking to my dad about it, but he didn’t really know what advice to give. He’s one of those parents that raised me on “some people will like you, some people won’t and that’s okay”. This also means, some people I will like, some people I won’t and that’s supposed to be okay.

But it’s not. I need to figure out how to stop.

Is there anything I can do to help?


I stare at his latest message. Is there anything he can do? As I’m about to start typing, a brand-new message appears.


Hi?

Hi!

Had a feeling you might be on.

We can IM now.

Right.

So… is there anything I can do to help?


Now that we’re screen to screen, having an active conversation, I’m not sure how to feel. Weirdly enough, I feel like I can finally be open and honestly, completely. And now like I have to over-analyze every word I type.


Did I ever tell you my mom died?

I guessed.

It gets hard around Christmas time because the very few memories I have are around now. As I grow older, when I need a mother to talk to, I feel lost.


There’s a long silence and I stare at the world ‘seen’ under my last chat bubble. Finally, he sends something, and I sit up in bed.


Let’s break it down….

What’s the biggest problem right now?

That I’m mean lol

You’re not.

It feels like it.

What, because some jerk provoked you?

Yeah.

Minus specifics, it’s harder to help.

Except to say, don’t let him bother you.

I know, I know, easier said than done.

But you are in full control of how you react.


I look over at Nox, “I am in full control.”

He mews and I pet him around the neck.

Brows furrowed I look back to my screen.


I am in full control.

You’re right.

I just….


“Have to not react?” I look back to Nox, “Right? Right.”


Have to not react.

Right!

Agency over structuralism.


“What?” I whisper. But then I vaguely remember a probably drunken Tom philosophically talking about that at the bonfire.


What is with guys and cultural anthropology?

Lol, well, it’s kind of the answer to any question.

CA breaks down life into bite-sized pieces.

Anything from evolution, to religion, to sex and gender…

You name it.

And the answer to your question is agency.

You make the choice, don’t be influenced.

I know you worry about the choices you make, so here’s a perfect time to prove to yourself what you’re capable of and to others how wonderful a person you are.


Megara


Frankie grabs my arm just as we step inside. “I’m going to run to the bathroom.”

“Meet me in the kitchen? I’ll grab us drinks.”

Chad’s parent’s place is one of those you’d see on My Lottery Dream Home, one of those random mini-mansions with a ton of land. There’s basically an east and west wing, a finished basement that’s a mancave of dreams, and his pool parties in the summer get Gatsby-like. It’s no wonder Chad hasn’t moved out, why would he? And his parents are gone so much between work and international vacations, if the maid is paid, they don’t even care he throws parties.

It’s important to have a buddy system and an obvious place to meet, however, or we can spend an hour or longer finding each other (which has happened in the past). That’s the one downside of living in the middle of nowhere, cell service sucks, and if you get far enough away from the house, the Wi-Fi goes out. Still, I keep my phone out until Frankie’s back at my side.

On my way to the kitchen, I say hi to a few people I recognize. It’s nice that we all come to socialize like this since all our lives are so different. Some people went straight to university after high school, some went to just community college, others went into working full time as I did, and so many have done some sort of combination of the three. At least for me, I’d waited on school because I didn’t want to waste time and money figuring out my degree.

The glass bottle I always use in hand, I survey the drink options. Basically, looking at the soda aisle from the grocery store, with a wide range of alcohol choices, and a few random bottles of juices and ciders, I’m not sure what to pick. Knowing we’d be going straight to the fire; I’m tempted to just have the locally sourced apple cider.

“Nice bottle,” I hear a deep voice to my right.

I look at it, “Thanks!”

“Better than using all these plastic cups.”

I smile and turn to him, “Right?”

Thomas Banks is smiling back at me. Perfect teeth, perfect hair, billboard-worthy outfit, even his voice sounds practiced, “It’s a good idea, I should do the same.”

Feeling deflated, I just nod, “Nothing wrong with sustainability.” I quickly pour the apple cider and look around for Frankie.

Thomas looks at the jug I’d just put back, “Is it spiked?”

I take a sip and revel in the deliciousness, “Nope.”

He squints at me, “Not a big drinker?”

His voice… ugh. That obvious? Too much like in class, I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. “Nope.”

He puts the jug back with one hand and drinks with the other. Almost instantly, he looks into the cup, “Damn, this is good.”

“Yep…. I found the same brand at Giant Eagle, it’s from the farm in Ohio.”

“That’s cool.”

“Nothing wrong with supporting local businesses.” Finally, I see Frankie. I lift from the counter, “Hey!”

After noticing the tall man as Thomas, she gives me a wide-eyed look and a ‘what the fuck’ expression behind his back. I roll my eyes and shake my head. She steps in front of him and is quick about making a Dirty Shirley. “Fire?”

“Fire.”


Thomas


Lifting from an Adirondack chair, I tap Patrick on the arm, “I’m starving.”

He breaks away from his conversation with Samantha just long enough to ask, “Bring me back a slice?”

“Cheese?”

“Yeah.”

I look to his date, “Want anything?”

Still not used to me, she does the new girlfriend thing, “Oh… well, I guess a slice of cheese, too, if you can?”

“Sure thing.” I tap him again, “Save my chair.”

With a deck so big, why do people always crowd by the door? Pushing my way through, I don’t even say ‘excuse me’, (it wouldn’t make a difference). The warmth of the kitchen greets me pleasantly, both the temperature and light. Maybe after food, I’ll head back down to the fire.

Seeing Meg in the kitchen yet again, great minds must think alike because she’s holding a paper plate in front of all the food. Not covered by a long black coat this time, I can admire how her clothes hug the beautiful curves of her body. After grabbing a plate for myself, I slip in right next to her. “I would hate to work at Domino’s on a night like tonight.”

In the middle of detaching a slice of sausage, she giggles, “Right?”

She goes for another slice, and I comment, “Better than filling up on snacks, though.”

“Oh, totally. I could eat a bag of chips and still be hungry.” She giggles again. Plate in the palm of one hand, she licks the tips of her fingers then asks, “Were you there when Chad ordered all the Subway?” she turns to me.

I chuckle at the memory. “What about that time with all the Olive Garden?”

Her expression turns from happy to polite. “I think that was one of my favorites.”

“You like Italian food?”

Awkwardly, she tucks her swooping bangs behind her ear. “Uh, yeah. Pasta is probably the only thing I can cook.”

As I collect my own pizza, she moves past me, and around the counter. Her high ponytail swished back and forth and doesn’t stop until she’s seated at the bar across from me. Facing her, I stand and eat. “You cook often?”

“Kind of have to….”

“Live alone?” I try.

She shakes her head and points behind me, “Nah, I live with Frankie.”

“I live with Patrick.”

Her expression reads ‘uh, okay’. “Cool.”

“So, I do a lot of cooking too. Well, when we don’t order takeout, anyway.”

She smirks, “Which you do a lot.” Not a question.

“Uh, yeah?”

Her nose scrunches for a moment and she rushes chewing. She holds a hand in front of her mouth, “I saw on your Instagram.”

Oh? She follows me? “What’s your handle?”

“Damsel In A Thrifted Dress,” she comments hesitantly.

I laugh, “I get it. From Hercules?”

“Damsel in distress, yeah.”

I study her for a moment as she checks her phone. If you’d asked me a couple of weeks into the semester how I felt about her, I would say annoyed. A total Hermione, her hand goes up with almost every question asked. Even if someone answered first, she always has something to comment. I try and keep up with her, but it’s difficult. And, honestly, it’s taken me almost all the semester to be okay with not being the smartest one in the classroom.

Then, when I saw her at Barnes And Noble, I knew I judged a book by its cover. I should have known better than that; of course she would be in her most comfortable state at eight am. Now, running into her again, I want to get to know her better. Looking up her Instagram, I instantly follow her.

I look up to see her wiping her face with her napkin, plate empty. “You don’t follow me?” I ask, confused.

She tosses her plate into a trash bag, “Nope. Your life isn’t really my style,” and then she walks away.


Megara


Laughing, Frankie snorts, an arm hard across her stomach. “Oh my God, you did not.”

Face in my hand, I sigh, “I meant to say page… that his page isn’t really my style.”

She hits the log we’re sitting on. “Oh my God, look at you go.” She snorts again, “and you haven’t even had anything to drink.”

Sitting back up, I look into my bottle, “Maybe I should.” I feel so embarrassed. “I hadn’t meant to insult him, just deter him.”

She drapes her arm over my shoulders. “He probably doesn’t know what to do with the information that someone very actively doesn’t follow him.”

“Oh yeah, like I’d make a big difference. He probably just wrote me off as a bitch and went about his business.”

Frankie’s arm slides off my shoulders and then she stands. “Well, I better go find Ralph,” she sighs. “Knowing him, he’s fallen asleep somewhere.”

Enjoying the fire, I let her know, “I’ll be here.”

The flames are as tall as me sitting down, the flames are reaching into the night sky, little sparks floating to meet stars. One day I’d like to camp in open country, I think as I look to the sky, not really be able to see the stars. See the Milky Way… see the Northern Lights.

With a sigh, I put my empty bottle in my purse. Letting my mind quiet, sometimes it’s okay to just fall in love with nature. The wind shifts, the lot of flames flickering, twitching, and I find myself shivering. Wrapping my coat tighter, the faux fur is soft against my cheeks.

Suddenly, a large form sits next to me with a small grunt. It’s hard to tell who with such limited light, but he looks familiar. He doesn’t talk, so I turn my attention back ahead of me.

The guy next to me slides down in front of the log, using it as a backrest. His hands clasped in his lap, his head facing almost straight up. “Do you ever just… wonder about your life…? Like… how much you actually matter in the big picture?”

I look at him but don’t answer.

“In Cultural Anthropology, there’s this continuum where the poles are agency and structuralism. Agency is the argument that the individual is in charge and affects the world around them. While structuralism is that… like, businesses and shit are in control and influences everything for the individual. People argue it’s one or the other, but it’s not that simple.

“There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle,” he quotes.

He shakes his head in that moment, where he’s casted in the most light, “Thomas?”

“Hey, Meg,” he sighs out each word.

“You okay?”

He seems mesmerized by the fire. “I just thinking of something a friend said.”

I open my mouth to respond, but then hear Frankie yell, “Meg!”

Looking back, she has Ralph, “Ready to head home?”

“Yep!” I yell behind me. I awkwardly pat Thomas on the shoulder, “You going to be okay?”

He gives one, solid nod. “Yep. See you Monday.


Thomas


I know you weren’t really aiming for an answer or response to that post a few weeks ago….

But recently, I’ve been thinking about it too. I can’t say that I lead a small life, at least not on the outside. I don’t really want for anything if you know what I mean. But I guess I’m having the opposite problem. The people in my life… do they like me, or the idea of me?

I would like to start leading a more meaningful life, just like you. A life that makes a difference, not just to myself, but to the people around me. A grand thing with a grand meaning. Let’s face it - I haven’t been thoughtful enough, have I? I haven’t been brave enough, either.

So, it’s my turn to send out this cosmic question out into the void….

So, good night, dear ‘R,

Your Triple G.


Chapter Eight

Megara


“Frankie!” I scream into the apartment.

It’s Wednesday the eighteenth of December and final grades have been posted. Holding my laptop in my hands, I rush into the living room. “Frankie!” I screech again.

Lounging on the couch, her wide-eyed expression is of confusion. “What? What is it?”

Balancing the laptop in one palm, I gesture to my computer with my free hand. “Grades are up.”

She sits up now, knowing this is something I’ve been fretting about. “And?”

“That stupid freshman seminar I have the B in? It was a fucking pass-fail. So, I passed.”

“So…”

“Four-point-oh, baby! Tri-C doesn’t count pass-fails,” I clarify, “So my three A’s give me a four-point-oh GPA.”

She’s standing now and fist-pumped the air. “We gotta motherfucking celebrate!”

I jump up and down, “I know!”


Thomas


“Love all these girls celebrating the end of the semester, man,” Patrick gestures with his phone.

Running on the treadmill, I only glance over. “Oh, yeah, grades came out today, didn’t they?”

In his walk, he nods, “Yep. I passed all my classes, so whatever.”

I look at my phone in the cubby of the machine, “I should probably check mine.”

Patrick scoffs, “Com’on, you know you have, like, straight A’s.”

“A four-point-oh,” I correct him.

“Yeah….” There’s a long pause while he drinks water, then he jumps on the side of the treadmill. Leaning over he shows me a girl’s Instagram account. “Speaking of a four-point-oh, this gorgeous lady just posted that’s what she got.”

I don’t even need to look too long to know, “That’s Meg.”

“Meg?”

“From English?”

“Oh, the bitch,” he frowns and clicks out of her profile. “Probably not as pretty as she is online, either, huh?”

“Oh no, she’s gorgeous. And not exactly a bitch… a bit of a pill, really.”

“What about that other girl?”

I up the speed, “What other girl?”

“That one that’s got you smiling to your phone all the time. I saw some artsy Instagram on your screen.”

I glare at him, “Way to be a creeper.”

He raises his brows, “So?”

“Her handle is Tea Drops On Roses….” I can’t help but smile, “we were DMing the other night.”

“Uhuh, and?”

“And what? She goes to Tri-C with us and that’s all I know.”

“Dude, that’s all you know? Com’on.” He waves his hand at me, “There’s gotta be more if you’re all….”

I hop on the sides of the treadmill and look at him fully, “All what?”

He makes an innocent face and drinks more water.

I stop my treadmill. “What? All what?”

“Well… infatuated.” When I give him a dirty look, he stops his treadmill too. “I snooped a little, I did. And that girl – at least based on her Instagram,” he follows me to get the spray and paper towels to wipe down the machines, “that girl is, like, perfect for you.”

He pushed my arm on the way back. “Book nerd, collects plants, tea freak like you, quotes poetry instead of using descriptions, and frequents the art museum apparently. If she’s short, curvy, and brunette, she’d be your perfect woman.”


Chapter Nine


Merry Christmas!!! I hope your crazy day goes well and your family isn’t too overwhelming.


You too! Let me know how your dad likes that book I suggested. Maybe we can IM again soon?


*


Don’t you just hate those weird in-between days from Christmas to New Year’s Eve? Now with it being winter break from school, too, it’s like what am I even doing? I’m sleeping weird hours, I’m spending way too much time in bed, and can’t find anything to watch on Netflix. Hopefully, your break has been way more productive than mine.


I wish! The days are so short, nights so long…. I can only clean my apartment so many times. I did Marie Kondo my stuff before NYE, instead of after, so I guess that’s good? I, too, have made a nest in my bed that I leave only for food. I hate to be one of those people to get a gym membership around this time, but it’s too cold for me to run.


*


(I know I’m an hour early, but) Happy New Year!!!

I have a friend who throws crazy huge parties. This NYE it’s Roaring Twenties-themed, obviously. I actually found a flapper dress on Amazon that arrived just in time. How’d your mobster look turn out?

Talk to you in the New Year!


Happy New Year!!! (Sorry I’m an hour late.)

I, too, am at a crazy huge party. Though, I bet all of them are tonight. My mobster look has turned out rather well, thank you! And I saw that shot of your dress with the champagne and roses, well done! (Beautiful dress from what I can tell.)

Talk soon!


*

First day back to school, how are you feeling? I know nothing personal, but are you liking your classes so far? I’m actually really pleased with my selection. Though, unlike last semester, I will have to spend some time on campus in between classes.

Still motivated from the start of the year? I think I’m on the verge of giving up on my resolutions (and it’s not even February).

I took your advice and Sparked Joy’ed my apartment, (except my closet. I have a Monica’s closet situation). I’m not one of those “This is my year” people, but I am aware of some changes I need to make.

If you need any help keeping your perfect GPA, let me know.


Sorry for the delay. Can’t believe the first week of school is done already! I’ve turned into a planner girl and I’m loving it. It’s so satisfying to have everything organize and to be able to cross things off on the daily.

I’m really like my classes overall, and I think it’ll be easy enough to translate my work ethic from last semester to this one. I will say I’m rather bummed that my roommate/BFF decided not to take one of my classes with me and in the same class the kid I hate from last semester is there.

I actually don’t have to spend time on campus! This is a little bit of a bummer because my dad got me a new deck of cards (rose gold) and I was looking forward to playing solitaire in the library.

If you need any help staying motivated for your resolutions, let me know!


*


Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, but I absolutely love Valentine’s Day. I bet you’re more sensible than that, though, huh? A typical guy… probably think it’s stupid.

Well, my roommate/BFF is neither typical nor a guy but hates it just as much. So, any decorating I may want to do is limited to my room.


It’s not even February yet!

But real talk, I’m a huge softy. I love Valentine’s Day when I have a girlfriend. White and red are a great combination and roses are one of the best flowers.

I don’t know how much I can take of frilly stuff in particular, but I don’t mind hearts so much. I’m always willing to get a sappy card for a GF.

Oh, and February fifteenth candy sale? Hell yeah.


Chapter Ten

Megara


The one time a year Frankie wears a dress and she looks stunning. It’s this black velvet cami, with a sweetheart neckline that she can pull off without a bra given her little chest. It comes just to the right place on her thighs, her black pumps making her legs look that much longer. She let me curl her black hair, doing a half-updo into a bun. And for once! She did simple, clean eye makeup and a powerful red lip.

Pulling her favorite black leather jacket on, she gives me a look, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay tonight?”

In sweats, in a blanket nest on the couch, with a whole pizza to myself, I wave her off. “I’m fine. This isn’t my first Valentine’s Day without a boyfriend.”

Her soft face hardens ever so slightly with concern. “This is your first Valentine’s Day without me, though.”

“You and Ralph can actually do something together tonight; you deserve it after three years of having to do it early or wait.”

She purses her lips. “This day isn’t a big deal to me…. It is to you, though.”

I wave with both hands, “Go. Go have fun, for the both of us.”

She finally smiles. “I have my phone, okay?”

“Yes, yes, now go!”

When I hear the door lock, I feel all the tension in my body subside and I fall back into the nest. Now I have the apartment to myself to do this whole self-love, self-care Valentine’s Day thing I’d been planning. Was I dressing up and getting all fancy for no other reason than to take pictures? Uh, fuck yeah.

Some I’ve already thought out for my aesthetic Instagram, some will be more candid and silly for my personal. Not that I’m a ‘date yourself’ person, (I actually think that’s a really stupid concept and should be readdressed as being comfortable alone), but whatever. Plus, when Frankie hadn’t known Ralph was available, she’d already picked up champagne and I found macaroons at Target. All I need is to grab the roses out of my room.

Long, hot shower, I’m tempted to take a bath. Hair blown dry; I pull it into a perfect bun behind my right ear. The rose clip from Claire’s slides it perfectly above it. Simple, sparkly makeup, a low-cut top, my mother’s rose locket and I’m ready for pictures.

After all the posts are done, I sit back and study my feed. Feeling extremely satisfied, I have had a successful night after all, and it’s only seven.


Thomas


Spread out in the living room armchair, The Mandalorian is running on the tv for my fourth re-watch. I’d been all excited to have the apartment to myself, but now I’m just bored. The Chinese food that sounded fantastic at the time, didn’t live up to expectations. And it wasn’t that I particularly wanted to get drunk tonight, so even light drinking literally and figuratively left a bad taste in my mouth.

Scrolling through Instagram, I send any Baby Yoda or Witcher meme I can find to the group chat. Though, nobody’s responding because they’re all out with someone already or trying to find someone for the night. Backing out of the chat, I notice a new message from T & R.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You too!


Before I can even back out, there’s a new message.


Oh, hi!

Hi. Hope I’m not distracting you.

Hm? Oh, no, I’m at home.


Kind of happy about that, I hope it’s not due to a shitty date. But might as well ask.


Night going that well, huh?

Actually, yes.

I’m solo tonight, so I don’t have anything to worry about.


Oh, fuck yeah.


I’m at home too.

Solo, as well.


I type my message and hold it. But if there ever was a day in the year to ask, wouldn’t this be it?


Wanna meet up?


When she doesn’t respond I think I must have scared her off again. Worried it might be days before I hear back, I curse. But then, her response pops up.


You know what, why not?


I sit forward in my chair, “Oh, Hell yes!”


Really?


Typing so fast I have to go back and correct autocorrect, I ask another important question.


Okay! Is Barnes And Noble in Fairlawn okay?

We could get a coffee in the café.

Sure!

Eight o’clock okay?


“Fuck, yes!” I yell into the empty apartment.


Yes, definitely.

I still have my hair done like in the picture.


I haven’t seen her posts tonight, so I quickly hop over. And “Oh my God,” she’s a brunette.


I’ll bring The Great Gatsby with me.

I’ll be there.


Patrick adjusts the passenger heating vents. “See, now aren’t you glad I came home when I did? Since you’re being all squirrely, I can go in there first and make sure it’s all copacetic.”

“I’m not being squirrely.”

He snorts, “I can’t remember the last time you were this wound over a girl."

“I’m fine, it’s fine.”

He leans back and is scrolling through his phone. “She’s really strategic in her Insta, no showing her face. Has she sent you a selfie?”

“All she said was her hair is like her last picture with –”

“With the rose?” I feel his elbow push my arm, “Oh adorable!”

I feel my cheeks warm. “She’s a brunette though, so that’s a plus.”

“Uhuh….”

At a stoplight, I tighten my grip on the steering wheel. “Oh God, what am I doing?” I look over at him. “How is this…? What if she…?” I look back to the street, “Oh Valentine’s Day, no less.”

“You’re meeting a stranger off the internet, people do it all the time.”

I nod, my head bobbing. “Right.”

“And you know, if she turns out to be a total bitch, you can just walk away.”

“Just a cup of coffee and I can go,” I agree.

Pulling into the Barnes And Noble, I take a deep breath. “Okay… okay, here we are.”

After getting out and locking up, Patrick and I stand just outside of the door. “Look, she is probably one of the most adorable girls I’ve ever been in contact with. Even if she’s as good-looking as a mailbox, I would be crazy not to turn my life inside out and date her.”

We enter together and I point to the café, “We’re meeting in there.” Pushing a hand through my hair, I look around nervously. “Okay, okay… okay.”

As I walk into the store instead of towards the café, I pull Patrick closer, “Okay, so she’s got her hair like that picture,” I continue us past huge shelves, “and she’s got a copy of The Great Gatsby.”

Mostly hidden, at the corner of the café, I push Patrick forward. I watch him as his eyes search the little area. It has been a bit crowded but surely it couldn’t be that hard to find her.

He snaps at me, then takes a step back, “Okay, I think I see her.”

I brace my hands together, “And?”

Taking a step back okay, he confirms, “Book on the table, rose in her hair.”

“Brown hair?” I ask.

He nods. “Yeah.”

“And what does she look like?”

Then hesitates and looks between me and her a couple of times. “Well, she kind of looks like that Meg girl.”

Confused, I ask, “Meg? From English?”

He comes back towards me, “You said you thought she was pretty, yeah?”

“Yeah, you saw her pictures. But what does that have to do with anything?”

He leads me down the aisle, “‘Cause… it is Meg.”

Though he points, I don’t need to follow it to see her. She’s sitting at a middle table, just in front of the mugs for sale. Chocolatey hair parted on the side, sweeping bangs just so, vintage-looking bun with a rose like in the picture. Her Winter pale skin has a warm glow about it, maybe because of the heat of the store, her cheeks noticeably flush. Also, like in the picture, she wears a dark red sweater with a plunging neckline, the locket straight above her cleavage.

I notice her hands fidget with the book, a really well-loved copy of The Great Gatsby. Her phone is also on the table, which she checks. I look at mine, it’s now exactly eight o’clock.

“What are you going to do?” Patrick whispers. “I thought you said she hated you – was a pill and all that.”

“Hate is a strong word,” that I didn’t know was true or not.

“But she really, really, really doesn’t like you,” he chuckles.

I hit his arm. But he’s probably right. Tucking behind the tall bookcase, I hold the back of my neck. “Well, fuck.”

Patrick is still watching her, “She just checked her phone again.”

I hear mine ding. “Fuck.”

“What are you going to do? Just not show up?”


TO BE CONTINUED in the novel. (Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.)

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