Chapter no 64

If He Had Been with Me

Jamie calls me early the next morning. I’m surprised; he never usually wakes up before ten o’clock if he can help it.

“Hey,” he says, “is it too early to come over?” “No,” I say. “I’ve been up for an hour.”

“Oh. Okay, cool.” His voice sounds strange and my stomach turns over on itself. After we hang up, I go into the bathroom to put on makeup. I remember his strange voice, and an odd, queasy excitement flutters in me.

I wait for him on the back steps. It isn’t too warm out yet, but the sun is bright and it’s drying the dew on the grass and warming the steps. I hear a car coming and I sit up straighter, but it is only Finny. He sees me sitting on the back steps.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say.

“Whattaya doing?” “Waiting for Jamie.” “Oh,” Finny says.

Just then, Jamie’s car pulls into the driveway. He gets out slowly and looks at Finny.

“Hey, man,” he says.

“Hey,” Finny says. He turns and goes in to the house. Jamie walks over and stands in front of me. I weakly smile at him.

“Hi,” I say.

“Hi,” he says, but he doesn’t smile. I know it for sure then, and my chest aches exactly as if he had punched me. I close my mouth and swallow.

So this is it after all, I think. How easy and obvious it seems now. How silly and trite, how terrible and real. I want to laugh at myself and him, but all that happens is that the corners of my mouth twitch once.

I scoot over and make room for him on the step. “Why don’t you sit down?” I say.

“I thought we could take a walk,” he says.

“Here is fine,” I say. He shrugs and looks away. He doesn’t see that I already know. He sits down heavily, with six inches of space between us, and looks at his hands between his knees. I look away, and focus on Finny’s car while I wait. The queasy excitement that I felt before begins to ebb away, and I am filled with a cold dread.

“Autumn?” he says. “Yes, Jamie,” I say.

“I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?” I say, just to be cruel.

“This relationship.” I see his head turn toward me to gauge my reaction, expecting to see surprise there. I try to make my face blank, but I can feel my eyes burning.

“Why?” I say. He takes a deep breath.

“I can’t be who you need me to be,” he says. His tone is that of someone reciting a memorized lesson, a catechism. “You need me a lot, and it’s more than I can handle. You’re depressed all the time—”

“I am not depressed all the time.” “Yeah, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re depressed a lot.”

“My parents are getting divorced.”

“You’ve always been like this. I can’t do it anymore.”

My arms are wrapped around my stomach now, and I’m leaning forward as if I need to hold my internal organs in place. Finny’s car is blurry.

“How long have you felt this way?” I ask. “A couple of weeks.”

“A couple of weeks? You want to throw away what we’ve had for four years after a couple of weeks? That’s stupid.”

Jamie sighs, and for the first time, I do not hear pity in his voice. “I knew you were going to say that,” he says.

“Look, all your reasons are really stupid,” I say. “People in relationships need each other like I need you. I know it’s exhausting taking care of me, and I’m sorry. I can try to give you a break, and we can use this summer to get back on track. I really think this is just a rough patch.”

Jamie shakes his head. I finally turn and look at him. He’s looking at his hands again.

“So that’s it? You’re not even going to try? After all this time together?” “I can’t do it anymore, Autumn.”

“You said you would love me forever.” I’m not going to let him off easy. “I do love you, just not that way anymore,” Jamie says.

“You still love me,” I say. “You just can’t feel it right now. Sometimes that happens to me, and I just wait and it always comes back. I don’t break up with you. I just give it time.”

He shakes his head again. He sighs. I wait.

“There is something else,” he says. My veins fill with ice water, and I feel like I am looking at him from very far away.

“What?” I hear myself say, and I think how silly it is that I’m asking when I already know.

“Sasha and I have discovered that we have feelings for each other.” Finally, the laughter that has been building up in my chest bubbles out.

My head drops between my knees and my shoulders shake.

“Discovered?” I say. My laughter begins to sound strange to me and I swallow in an attempt to hold it back again. I laugh once more and shake my head. “‘Discovered’? How very fucking special that must have been for you both.”

Jamie puts a hand on my shoulder.

“We both still love you so much,” he says, “and we’ve been so worried about you. Sasha really wants to talk to you—” I shrug his hand off.

“No, no, no,” I say. “Just stop. Give me a minute.”

I take a few deep breaths. Jamie watches me respectfully, his whole aura radiating sympathy. I sit up straight again and take one last deep breath.

“Okay,” I say. Jamie leans forward expectantly. “Did you sleep with her?” I ask.

Jamie draws back as if I pinched him. He says nothing. I blink. “Really?” I say. “When?”

“We never planned on any of this,” Jamie says. “We feel really awful about how this has all turned out and—”

“Tell me when!” I say.

His face hardens like it did when he said he knew what I would say. “A couple of days before prom. After she went with me to order your corsage. It was an accident. We felt awful about it and we swore that it wouldn’t happen again. But last week, we both admitted that we can’t pretend anymore. We care about each other, but we haven’t done anything about it yet. And we didn’t want to ruin graduation for you.”

“And you guys want a damn medal?” I say. I go over every memory of the six weeks since prom. It’s only in the past two weeks that I can see anything being different. I thought we were all stressed about the end of school. I trusted that Jamie would always want me. I never thought I could be free of his love for me.

“We’re sorry that we’ve hurt you, Autumn,” Jamie is saying. “But we still really care about you, and—”

“Do you want to know something funny?” I say, “I always thought you loved me more than I loved you. I always thought I would be the one to end it if it ever happened.”

“For a long time, I believed that too,” he says. For a moment my confession and his agreement give me a small feeling of camaraderie; together we’re looking over our relationship and seeing the same thing. Then the feeling is gone, and I am alone. A strange calm has come over me. I focus on Finny’s car again.

“You can go now,” I say. My voice is even and quiet. I’m ready to go to my room and be done with this.

“What?” Jamie says.

“You should go now. There isn’t anything else to say. You guys are assholes and that’s it.”

“I know you’re angry and you have a right to be, but we didn’t plan any of this—”

“I don’t really want to hear anymore, okay? Let’s just be done.”

“Okay.” Jamie stands. His face is hard again. At the bottom of the steps, he turns and looks at me. “Sasha wants you to know that she’s sorry. She wants to talk to you, but she’s going to wait for you to call her.”

“I’m not going to call her. You can go ahead and tell her that.” I stand and start toward the door.

“We really hope someday we can all be friends again,” Jamie says. “We care about you so much. I think you should—” I open the door and turn to face him.

“Jamie,” I say, “since you’re the one breaking up with me, I think I should get to have the last word. And I want you to know that I will never, ever be your friend again.”

I slam the door and go to my room and cry where no one can hear me.

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