Cover Photo: Second Chances by Melissa Grunow

Second Chances

People do incredible things for love, particularly for unrequited love. --Daniel Radcliffe

            It’s a hot afternoon in August, and I am on a date with Dan Morris, a man who I have loved unrequitedly ever since he sat next to me in Spanish class sophomore year of high school.

At 15, I loved everything about him—his smile, his eyes, his kindness, sense of humor. He had muscles at a time when most boys still had baby fat. He was a football player and a wrestler, but he was also in the drama club. He was self-assured and had a confidence that I envied.

I loved him. He tolerated me.  

After graduation, we lost touch and I went to college, then graduate school out of state. During that time, I held every man I dated up to this idealized image of Dan. As each relationship came to an end, it only validated my certainty that Dan was the one.

Then at 27, I move back to Michigan to sleep on an air mattress in my parent’s basement and figure out what I’m about to do with my life. I’m recently single, recently slender, and recently unemployed. Things start looking up, though, because we’ve reconnected, and now I have a date with Dan.  

So, we go to lunch, and the conversation and energy volley between us. Laughter and smiles are flying back and forth, and I’m electric with post-teenage joy. Yet, I notice that his hair has thinned in strange places, his muscles aren’t as defined as they used to be, and he has a really bad leopard-print tattoo on his forearm. I ignore those things because I am drunk on excitement and anticipation of where the afternoon will take us.

He invites me back to his house to “hang out.” Almost immediately we start making out on his mom’s couch just like I had always wanted to do in high school. The day had only gotten warmer, however, and sweat begins to accumulate in every fold and crevice of my body. The more I try to ignore it and focus on Dan—Dan!—the more I am distracted by it. I am melting into a puddle right there on his mom’s plaid green couch.

His lips are all over me, and I feel his breath crawl slowly from my collarbone, up my neck, until his mouth reaches my ear, and my entire body is electric, boiling, and sweaty. I mean, this is Dan the man, not Dan the boy, and I’m a woman now, and I’m thinking, “If you ask me, I will say yes!”

            His mouth against my ear grows hotter and heavier as he comes in closer and whispers, “Can I put it in your butt?”

            The world holds it breath. Everything hinges on my response. After all these years, this is what he wants?

             My brain jolts to the area he’s vying for, and notice that’s where all my sweat has collected.

This isn’t romantic. This isn’t even hygienic.

            Most definitely, this is not what I want.

What would I have done if this question had come a decade earlier? The 15-year-old me wouldn’t have had to answer that question because the 15-year-old Dan wouldn’t have asked. Then I realized it was the teenaged Dan I had been longing for, not this guy. At 15, I would have done anything he wanted, but I wasn’t the 15 year old version of myself anymore, and at least I had enough sense now to realize the difference.

            So I giggle. I smile. With all my Midwestern girl politeness, I respond, “No, thank you,” in a small and shrill little voice.

            I feel the energy drain from the room and disappointment take its place.

There are a few half-hearted kisses and intentional gropes, but it’s over. I pull away and mutter that I should probably get going and he says something about his mom coming home from work soon, so, I adjust my clothes, collect my purse and myself, and leave out the front door. I don’t look back. But this time, it’s not because I can’t. It’s because I no longer want to.

Melissa Grunow is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016). An award-winning writer & Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, Yemassee, New Plains Review, Blue Lyra Review, and Limestone, among others. She is also a live storyteller who regularly competes in NPR's Moth StorySLAM & is a Listen to Your Mother-Metro Detroit cast member. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from National University and an MA in English from New Mexico State University. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @melgrunow.