Someone seated at my table blurts a question while staring absently across the room, “What’s up with mister guy in a tie over there?”
I look up from my plate of partially picked over food and see who they are talking about immediately.
And he does stick out like a sore thumb as he awkwardly meanders into the party. He takes sideways glances at everyone around him with the small quirk of an uncomfortable smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
Of course, by now he has realized that he is completely overdressed for the toga-themed party. While everyone else is sporting their mom’s best bed sheets — Andrew arrives in a full suit.
“Excuse me,” I say as I delicately wipe my mouth and remove myself from the crowded table of my peers who all eye me suspiciously. Especially my best friend Justin, who I am almost sure knows exactly where I am heading.
While attempting to avoid eye contact with my friends, I scoop up my purse and walk across the mostly full reception hall. As I make my way around the dance floor I pass straight by Andrew, but not before moving close enough so that he can hear my hushed command to meet me in the hall.
I briskly make my way out the door and into the quiet corridor that’s completely dark save for the streetlamps leaking through the open doors at the other end. I move into the arched doorway of a classroom, decide to not give a damn about the university’s tobacco-free policy for once as I light a cigarette, and wait for Andrew to join me.
I’m maybe three long drags in before I see the door to the party crack open and Andrew’s slender figure sneak out. He stands there for a minute, searching in the newfound darkness for me as his eyes adjust. Slowly, he starts to make his way down the hall.
As he passes the doorway that I’ve huddled myself in, my hand darts out and grabs him by the lapel of his jacket, and I pull him into the space next to me. The momentary surprise on his face quickly reverts to a look of humble shame when he realizes it’s me.
His eyes stay down, glued to his shoes, as he mumbles out, “I may have overdressed a bit.”
I nod my head as I pull in another drag. The lit end of the cigarette glows brightly enough to illuminate his face, which even in his predicament is still absolutely beautiful.
“Why did you come?” I ask him, skipping the small talk and getting straight to the point.
He straightens and looks me right in the eye now. “I came here for you. I would do anything for you. Look ridiculous anywhere for you. All of this, it has always been for you.”
The irony that he feels like he looks ridiculous dressed to the nines while I’m sporting the equivalent of a pillowcase loosens me up, almost makes me want to laugh. Our eyes meet and I feel something inside me shift, begin to soften, then immediately solidify again as we continue to stare at each other in the dim light — a standoff.
I break the impasse and remain steadfast in my position. “You’ve known from the beginning what this would be. What you and I would be. You were fine with that. What’s changed?”
He looks back down at his shoes and shuffles a bit before replying, “I thought we both had changed… had realized something in one another.”
The silence seems to stretch on for ages as I consider his words.
“Was I wrong,” he asks. “Was that night together not what I thought?”
“It was just another night, just like all the others,” I say as I exhale another cloud of smoke into our shared space.
And even as I say it, I know it’s a lie. I know that what I felt was real, and that he was real. As surely as I know that what I felt, and still feel, is real — I also know that he will never be part of the world I live in. He will always be “the guy in a tie”.
I hate myself for these thoughts while simultaneously telling myself that this is for the best. I’m saving him from so many other, crueler, kinds of heartbreak by ending it now.
He takes a ragged breath before looking back up at me. “You are just as heartless as you warned.”
I shrug, aiming for nonchalance. “Sorry.”
“Fuck your sorry,” he says before snatching the cigarette from my hand and inhaling hard.
I watch for the grimace on his face, knowing that he never smokes, but it never comes.
The door to the reception hall opens and I hear Justin’s voice, “Cass, are you coming back?”
Andrew exits our doorway and addresses Justin, “Yeah, don’t worry,” then he looks back at me, right into my eyes, and waggles the cigarette around before adding, “We’re done here.”
He flicks the cigarette onto the ground and makes his way towards the exit, raking his hands through his hair several times before slamming out the door.
“Who was that? I couldn’t really see,” Justin asks me.
I stare after Andrew — watching him slip past the lamplight’s glowing reach, until he disappears into the darkness beyond.
I fish around in my purse to produce another cigarette, light it, and take my first long drag before replying, “No one.”
Courtenay Gillett is a corporate content creator, short fiction, and poetry writer usually found at her desk, engulfed in the latest horror podcast drops for the week while she whips up new copy. Originally from Kansas but took a hop, skip, and a jump over to Northwest Arkansas in 2017 and has not looked back since. She resides with her partner Timothy, doggo Arya, and kitty Athena – they all seem to put up with her pretty well, so it must be a good fit.
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