Whenever life got rough, Damon had work. He dreamed hard and painted even harder. His work stacked up in his studio like great pillars. He painted for hours on end only stopping to feed himself. When Stephanie came over to pick up some more of her things he lay on the sofa exhausted as she moved around the house filling cardboard boxes.
“It’s been months. I was getting ready to throw all this stuff out,” he muttered.
Stephanie snorted. “You can be a jerk sometimes, but I know you’re not that much of a jerk. I haven’t used any of this in so long I probably don’t need it anyway.” She looked into the box she was carrying with longing.
“You have a hard time letting go.”
She pulled a book from the shelf and put it in her box, but said nothing.
“Don’t accidentally take anything that’s mine,” he mumbled as she passed him.
“I have enough of my own stuff. I don’t want any of yours,” she said, placing a green soapstone sculpture of a thinking man into her box. “Hasn’t this been hard for you?”
Damon took a deep breath. Life had been hard ever since Lisa left him. Dumping Stephanie wasn’t exactly easy, but it had made his life a little easier. He would never tell her that though. “Yeah.”
“See.” She put the box down on the end table. “I knew it.”
He sat up. “Don’t get that look in your eyes. I’m not saying that we should get back together.”
“We weren’t right for each other.” She sat on the couch next to him.
Hearing her say that sent a jolt through his heart. She knew it too. “No, we aren’t. No matter how hard we try we won’t be.”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek as she nodded slowly. “I tried so hard to make it work, but I think I liked the idea of us more than the reality of it. We’re too different.”
Damon agreed. They were very different and spent most of their relationship compromising. Damon knew that was what you had to do to make relationships work, but did they have to do it so often? “I thought it was just me.”
“No. I noticed too. I wanted it to work so badly because I thought I was ready. I was wrong.”
He widened his eyes, his interest piqued. “Wrong about what?”
“I wasn’t ready. I tried to push our relationship into being more serious, but in reality, I felt stifled by our exclusivity.”
“You’re the one who insisted on that from the start.” Damon was surprised at how serious Stephanie was about the relationship from the beginning. She’d always seemed like she was more interested in having a good time than anything else in the past, but when they started dating, she was ready to commit right away.
“My friends were all getting married. I felt like I was missing out on something. Turns out I wasn’t.”
Damon wondered if he should feel insulted. After the briefest consideration, he knew he shouldn’t. “So the breakup wasn’t so bad after all?”
“No, it was bad. You broke up with me when my parents were here. I think it was the worst breakup I ever experienced.” She laughed unexpectedly. “You were so mean.”
“Sorry. I saw your parents and freaked out. Ultimately it was for the best.”
“I say. I’m dating someone I’m actually compatible with now.”
He bristled at the idea that she was dating again so quickly, but didn’t let on that it bothered him.
“I met him at work. He’s great, and there’s no pressure.”
“That’s good.” Damon thought for a moment. He wondered how long it would be before he found someone else. There were so many women around, and he was confident that he could find a new girlfriend quickly, but he didn’t want to end up with just anyone. He had one specific woman in mind. He was reluctant to settle for anyone else. “I’m happy for you. You deserve to find someone.”
She softened under his words. “So do you.”
“Everyone does,” he said.
She leaned into him just a bit, and their closeness made him uncomfortable. She stood up and picked up her box from the end table.
“You’re right. I could’ve waited until after your parents left.”
“At least.” She stood in front of him holding her box.
“You helped me out when I needed it most. I don’t think I ever told you. When Lisa broke it off with me, you helped me pick myself back up. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you weren’t there.”
She put the box under one arm, resting it on her hip. “It was the right thing to do, and I always liked you. You know that. Forcing a relationship out of it wasn’t necessary though.” She blinked a few times. “I should finish up with this.” She glanced down at the box. “I have some place to go.” She walked toward the bedroom.
He offered to help her, but she refused, so he dozed on the sofa while she went from room to room collecting odds and ends. His mind was so busy that it was hard to get any restful sleep. He was bombarded with visions of people crying out to be seen every time she closed his eyes. He tried his best to ignore them and rest.
“See you,” she said, her voice waking him from sleep.
“Does this mean we’re friends?” he asked, his eyes groggy and voice slow.
“It’s too soon. I’m not ready for that yet.”
“Okay. I was just checking,” he said.
“I’ll come back for the other boxes later. I have to get going.”
“I can carry them over for you.” He wasn’t opposed to being helpful even if they weren’t friends.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get them later.” She pulled the door closed behind her.
Damon rolled over on his side on the couch and looked at the three boxes she’d left on the floor next to the front door. Stephanie would be completely out of his life soon. He would be alone. He wondered what Lisa was doing back in Chicago with Richard. The idea of it was too wrong to think about. He reached over and grabbed his cell phone from the coffee table. He scrolled through his contacts. He felt like he should call her, but he’d deleted her name from his phone long ago. If only he could remember it. He looked at the number pad of his phone for a few minutes hoping the numbers would come to him. They didn’t. Even if they had, he didn’t know what he would say to her. Frustrated, he put the phone back on the table and drifted off to sleep.