Part One: In Transit
Slumping onto the bus shelter bench, Alec set his book down and sighed. Reading for long periods often gave him headaches, but now he had no choice but to accept them as formality. He zipped up his coat, slid the book back into his bag, and stared blankly past the other idle passengers. He didn’t care much about their reactions.
The bus halted and sprayed passers-by with cold, grey rain water. Alec said he had “worse” under his breath. It’s tough to say if he was having a worse day or night. A shiver shook his spine when the door slammed behind him, but when he saw the only open seat, there was no spine left to shiver.
Sally Croswell: the girl he fell madly for and dated in his last year of high school. He never fully recovered from the break up and seeing her now made him painfully aware of that. She stared out the window. She was a sensitive soul interested in wildlife; the birds caught her in this case. Her hobbies included making and observing art, lying in bed all day, and overreacting. These were the love-hate components of the relationships she fostered. Her head and stomach turned in tandem to notice her busmate.
“Do you still have trouble sleeping at night?”, she asked.
“I guess I just remember that about you. It used to cause you pain.”
“I don’t think as much as I used to.”
“Oh, I used to love that about you.”
Sally’s words hung in the air. You could tell there was a longing for talk, but their words were congested and clogged due to their abundance. Sally’s windpipe squeaked a “so... what’s new?”
Alec began to think again; however, he always did despite his earlier lie. He was in his third year of university. Memories shot left, right, and diagonally as if marking boundaries in his mind’s conflict. He could never wrap his head around her because he was too wrapped up with her in general. It was a lovely problem at the time. He blinked hard due to a nervous twitch. “I really don’t know. I’ve been trying to get back on track school wise, but I don’t know what’s been holding me back—”
“You still blink the way you used to... I can’t believe I forgot about that.” The bus stopped. With it, the travelers took their bags and moved on. Alec slung his bag to his shoulder. Sally winced, “Hey, you have a new place?” She was used to the blue house by the high school.
“Yes, I do actually. Would you like to come in?”
“I wouldn’t mind, I guess.” Sally was always guessing.
* * *
The keys made a racket when tossed in the bowl. It was a relatively nice apartment: light brown walls, hardwood floors, a window, and a couch that would “do for now.” Sally kicked off her rain boots and stood in the middle of the living room. “Wow. That’s an amazing ceiling pattern.”
“I know, we really lucked out with this place.”Alec dropped his bag to the floor and untied his laces.
“Oh, you have a roommate?” she said, looking back down.
“Yeah, I have a couple, but you wouldn’t know them. They’re all from school. Well, my school.” He said and paused.“I’m working toward that law degree.”
“Hey! That’s great! I remember you talking about that.”
“Well, would you like a drink?”
“A drink? Sure. What do you have?” Alec disappeared into the kitchen. Sally examined her surroundings, lifting photographs of people she had never met or recognized. “Actually, I’ll have wine if you have it.”
“Um... yeah! I have white and red! Which would you like!?” Alec realized in that moment this was a silly question; that the answer was stained in the carpet under her feet.
“Red!” Sally shouted. “Wow, your sister looks so grown up now.”
Alec returned with two empty glasses. They were identical: both slender and modest.
“What’s that?” He said. He didn’t catch that last part.
“Oh, Stephanie. She looks so much older now.” Sally set the frame back onto the lamp table. Alec handed her a glass of cherry coloured wine. “Thanks.” “Yeah, I guess they tend to do that, don’t they?” He took a sip. “I think this is my favourite. I’m not a wine consultant by any means—”
“No, me neither. I haven’t drank in a while honestly. You remember all the parties we’d go to?”
Alec laughed and sat on the floor, on a pillow. “Oliver never did learn how to drink. He still just shoots it down and wonders why he can’t walk straight after.”
“Oh god, yes... I never understood all that. I think he just hated the taste, but hated his life more, you know?”
“Mmm, yeah.” He set the glass down. “I’m sorry if this is awkward at all. I am feeling a bit better though. I missed you.”
Sally drank. “Me too... I mean, you too. I missed you too.”
“Are you feeling okay?” Alec asked. He realized he forgot to ask and felt this fact.
“I think so. I don’t know. I guess it’s a few things.” Sally was always guessing.
Absent from his words, Sally lowered her head and noticed something odd. The white carpet below was covered in red splotches. “Wait. Is this what I think this is?”
“Huh? Uh... what do mean?” He said blinking again. He got up, but nudged the pillow backward by mistake.
“That!” She pointed to the red mark Alec’s pillow previously hid.
“Oh. Yeah. I think I understand.”
Sally took another sip and sighed after shallowing. Alec laughed nervously. “Remember that night? Would you like some more?” He asked.
She took some time and laid back. “I remember! But not until now. I completely forgot about it until right now.” She laughed.
“Oh.” He did not expect this reaction. “Huh...”
“Is something wrong?” Sally asked. “My parent grounded me for... jeez, a long time at least. Right when all the grad parties were happening.”
“Oh no... I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s okay! I’m not upset, I swear. It was still a fun night regardless; even if it was our last night.” “But what about the lost time?”
“The lost time?” He sat back down. He was thrown by her reaction. “Oh, yes. I forgot your wine—”
“I can pour.” She filled both glasses: more for Alec than for her. “How’s school going?”
“It’s doing okay, I think. It’s been pretty stressful lately. Coming towards exams and I’m behind. I still get those headaches. I love the courses though.” “No audiobooks for your articles or textbooks?” “Unfortunately not...” Another silence filled the room. “Well, I’m thinking art school.”
“Oh cool! Which one?”
“Actually, I’m not so sure anymore. I was thinking Peterson, but I just got this big scholarship for a place in New York.”
“That’s amazing! Sally! That’s an amazing opportunity. Think of all the photos you could take. And all new the people you could work with.”
“Yeah, all the new people.” She said under her breath. “It’s pretty great. I don’t know.” She finished her glass. “Oh jeez. Really starting to feel it now.”
“What do you mean?” Alec was about half way.
“The wine.” She said then giggled. “Oh, I get it. I guess I just... I’m just scared of this: scared of change, scared of a new place, scared of something bigger than I am.”
“It’s not that bad. I actually love school despite the heavy work load right now.” “But it’s different than that. You live in the same town you grew up in, with the same people you grew up with.” She laid down. “I mean, all this is nice, but I don’t know if I want to move again. I don’t know if I want to move all by myself.”
Alec slid both his hands to the top of his spine. It was surely there. “Do you have anyone currently? Like a relationship? Maybe you could go together or something.”
Sally lifted a newly filled glass. “Bottoms up!” Alec looked confused, but laughed. It’s amazing how people change overtime. Sally Croswell would have lost herself with the red stained carpet. Now she just moved past it into something more. She was stronger and could unravel the tiny details she used to knot herself in.
“So, I have this girl,” Sally said, “and she’s really cute and really funny. We like all the same things, rarely fight.”
“But...” Alec added.
“But I don’t know... If I leave for New York, I have to leave her and I don’t know if long distance could work for us. I don’t know if it could work for me.”
Alec got up and walked around the room. “Wow. That’s some big stuff,” she nodded, “I’m just trying to think of what I can tell you. Advice, I mean.” He stumbled, “I’m drunk, but you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know. Me too. It’s tough.” She sighed again. “Do you have anyone?”
“Not really. Nothing really noteworthy. A few dates here and there, but nothing ever feels right.” He blinked.
“God, that blink is adorable. I wish someone would realize that at least.” Alec smiled and agreed. “What are the girls like at school?”
“Ah, they’re actually pretty great. I think it’s the matter of finding the right one though. Everyone I’ve met is so sweet and so smart, but it’s hard to tell who’s better as a friend or lover.
“I completely understand.”
“I thought you would.” There was a pause. Alec drank some more. It was almost empty again.
“Alec, I’m pretty drunk and pretty tired.” She rolled over slightly.
“I know. Isn’t it wonderful?” He laughed and tossed her the pillow, he sat back on the floor. “Would you like to stay the night?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I have plans until 4 and the busses are all probably stopped for the night.”
“I’ll get you a blanket then.” He did, it was baby blue with white dots.
“How nice. I don’t remember you being this accommodating.”
Alec stopped. “I don’t either.” It hit him right then and there: he had changed, just like his sister and just like Sally. “Maybe the only person who didn’t change was Oliver Wently.” Sally giggled. “Oh no! Haha. But no, you’re a lot less... reserved than you used to be. It was one of those things...”
“The circumstances are different now, I guess.” Now Alec was guessing.
She sat up again, against the arm of the couch. “I’m curious, and you don’t have to answer, but if this carpet is covered with stains from your whiny ex-girlfriend’s drunken hands, why would you keep it? I don’t understand.” She slid back down and curled up just like she used to.
“Oh... wow. Huh.” Alec examined the glass and set it down one last time. “I never really thought about that...”
Sally fell asleep before he could answer.
* * *
Part Two: Destination
After a few minutes, maybe ten, Alec got a glass of water. He was thankful he could close cupboards softly, unlike his roommates, even when he was drunk. He walked back into the living room, sat in the space beside Sally’s feet, and drank the water. It was refreshing, but could not compare to what they had at home. It was a worthy compromise. Sally was wearing short, white and pink socks. They were nice, but he couldn't remember her wearing socks to bed. The room was quiet and lit by one dim lamp.
Outside the window, the town was humming. Cars ran down streets as if in a rush this late at night. It was late at night, later than he expected. Alec lifted the bottle of wine and read its contents. It was a sweet, yet savoury drink of black cherries and dark chocolate. It was a gift from his mother. He poured the rest out, filling his almost empty glass, and stared out the window. It was no longer raining. Perhaps if he was home, he could see the stars. He told himself the town’s glow was just a good. He wasn’t homesick, just nostalgic.
The conversation before brought him somewhere he nearly forgot. Though the red stained carpet reminded him of Sally, he grew accustomed to it overtime; therefore, he thought less and less about it. The months felt longer then than they did now. “Small changes may take seconds, but big ones can too.” he whispered. Alec noticed Sally sleeping soundly on his couch. She never snored, but always breathed calmly as if everything was okay; after all, everything was indeed okay. He finished the wine and went to bed.
* * *
Sun poured into the apartment. Although it was nice, it bothered his unready eyes. Alec drew the blinds and entered the kitchen.
“Hey, sleepy head. I’m making breakfast. I hope you don’t mind.” Sally said, she was pouring olive oil onto a pan.
“Oh, good morning.” He didn’t think of last night until this moment. “Yeah, that’s okay. How are you?” “I think I’m doing okay. I didn’t wake up too long ago either.” Sally was wearing yesterday’s clothes while Alec stood with a simple white t-shirt and grey shorts.
“Ah nice. I know what you mean. It’s still odd isn’t it?” Sally paused. “I’m not sure.” She shook her head softly and cracked four eggs; none of which on the floor. This was a first for the apartment.
“Well you can stay as long as you like.”
“But that’s just it, Alec. How can you say that after all these years? After everything I did to you?”
He leaned against the counter. “We were just kids then. Break ups happen. I’m over it.” “But if you were over it, why would you have such a blatant reminder of me in your home?” Sally blinked.
With a deep breath, Alec spoke. “Because it’s true. It’s my life in a way. Even if it was a hard night, even if I missed some meaningless moments, relationships happen, but sometimes relationships don’t. For us back then, it didn’t, but that’s okay. You taught me what I want and you taught me what I need. I thought loving myself wasn’t possible and I would lash out when I thought you loving me wasn’t possible. For that, I’m sorry. And sure, it hurt when you said goodbye from the doorstep, but we hurt now, so we can hurt less later; so we can understand those questions that keep us up. Now, I understand myself, I really do. I know I am kind person. I know my vulnerabilities and I live with them now rather than in spite. Doing so drives me further; they drive me closer to home. I keep the carpet as a reminder of how far I’ve come. When I doubt I can move forward, it proves me otherwise. Knowing this in my life is instrumental. Having someone not love me taught me how to love me. For that, thank you.”
While eggs burned over the stove, a family with two children laughed on bicycles while a car passed by. Sally smiled and cried.
“I’m going to New York.”