Prompt: A fortune cookie comes true. Words: numerology, hilarious, dictionary, recycled, brick, ocean, meaningful, garbage, star, origin.
“Being alone and being lonely are two different things.”
Rory folded the fortune and tossed it, along with the stale cookie it had come in, into the brown paper bag that was now being used for garbage. Didn’t the people who wrote these things understand their primary clientele? Her cat, Eleanor, pawed at her knee, determined to get a piece of shrimp. Rory paused the episode of Orange is the New Black that she was watching (the one with the bed bugs) to oblige Eleanor and move the trash and mostly-empty dishes into the kitchen for processing.
Being alone and being lonely are two different things.
But what if they weren’t? What if, at this very moment, they were at a dreadful intersection in her life? What if she loved someone an ocean away from her? What then?
She had seemed to inherit her mother’s tendency to fall in love with men who were emotionally and physically unavailable, and geographically very far away. According to her numerology, she should have been married by now. She was supposed to marry in her early twenties and have a rough relationship that would ultimately persevere and prove to be the love of her life. She knew the love of her life, but she did not have the marriage or even a friendship with him. Her mother always scoffed at numerology and the other ways of divining the future that Rory found meaningful.
Rory wondered if that was perhaps why her mother had actually been able to have a marriage with her unavailable love of her life for a time. Maybe without that proclivity for analyzing life and living more in the future instead of the now, her mother had had more time to actually live and participate in her life. Of course, her mother insisted that marrying an unavailable person did not make them any more available. But to Rory, a marriage made the love more valid. It could prove that the love was there. It was like one of those carvings on a desk at the library. “Love was here.” Without the marriage, without the relationship, it seemed to never exist. She just carried this heavy thing inside her that could neither be resolved nor actualized.
Suddenly, she became conscious that she had collapsed in a pile of sobs on her kitchen floor. Then she began to laugh. It was hilarious, really, that a simple fortune cookie had made her spiral like this. She stood and went to the bathroom to retrieve a tissue for her face. She touched up her makeup, re-did her lipstick. Then she pulled out her phone and dialed Dean’s number.
He picked up on the third ring. “Rory?”
“Yeah. Hey,” she said, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat and hoped he wouldn’t know she had been crying. “How are you?”
“Good.” He paused. “It’s been a long time. I figured you had run for the hills.”
She chuckled. “No… nothing like that. I just needed some time to think.”
“And I want to see if you’d like to grab a coffee. With me. If you’re near town tonight.”
“Sounds like the verdict is still out, then. But I would love to see you tonight. Where should we meet?”
“How about the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on 29th?”
They agreed to meet in one hour. Rory hurriedly cleaned her dirty dishes and recycled what she was able to, placing a small container of leftovers in her immaculate fridge. She didn’t feel right if she left her apartment without cleaning up first. Her roommate was not as considerate, but luckily, she hadn’t been around much. She usually stayed with her boyfriend these days. Rory wondered when she would bite the bullet and move in with him, although she would need to find a replacement. There was no way she could manage the rent for the place on her own.
When she parked, she saw him standing against the brick building, his t-shirt clinging just the right amount to his taut body. “Adonis,” she said under her breath before getting out of the car.
He straightened up, hands in his pockets as she approached.
“Hey,” he said, drinking in her appearance. He took his hands out of his pockets so that he could give her a hug.
“Look at you. Rock star,” she said, punching his bicep lightly. “Have you been working out with George?”
He shrugged. “He had a lot of free passes, and he kept bugging me to use them.”
They went inside and stood awkwardly, staring at the menu. “We’re not in line,” Rory had insisted to the third person in a row, when she finally had made up her mind about what she wanted. She rushed her decision a little because Dean wanted to pay for her coffee, but he already knew what he wanted.
“Medium Americano, with room,” he told the cashier. Then he looked at Rory.
She paused, looking like she wanted to say something. She shook her head, as if clearing something silently with herself. “Just a small cappuccino, please,” she said.
He took his wallet out of the pocket of his jeans and paid with cash. Then they went to the other side of the counter to wait for their order.
“So,” he said, looking expectantly at her.
For a brief moment, she panicked inside. She hadn’t considered what they would talk about. She had only been thinking that she wanted to quell her loneliness, and she thought he was the right person for that. But she remembered why she had stopped talking to him, in the first place. He reminded her too much of… him. The him that was an ocean away. The him that she didn’t, that she couldn’t, talk to. They even had the same coffee order, which Rory had only just realized, because this was their first time getting coffee together. They had never done coffee dates. They had been the go big or go home type of couple.
She realized Dean was still looking at her. “Hi,” she said through a sheepish smile.
“Are you okay?”
It had been one of the first questions she had asked him, and now he was turning it around on her. She nodded. “Yeah, I just didn’t think this through enough.”
He wasn’t sure what she meant, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Change the subject, his inner guidance told him. “How is work?” he asked.
“Oh. You know. It’s work.” She was interrupted by their coffee being ready. They took their cups and went to sit at a two-person table in the corner. He insisted on facing the door, something her dad had always done at restaurants. What was it with all the similarities tonight?
“How’s the band doing?” she wondered. “Is Shawn still going to his AA meetings?”
“Yeah. He seems to be pretty serious about getting better. Shyann even talked him into going vegan.”
Dean sipped his Americano and leaned forward. “I have a feeling that I really shouldn’t ask you why you wanted to meet me tonight, but I’m also dying to know,” he confessed. He looked at his lap, lowered his voice, and went on, “For months, you were all I could think about. I dreamed about getting a call from you out of the blue, but now it’s happened, and something doesn’t feel right.”
Rory was frowning as she watched him. Dean reminded her a lot of someone, but when she spent time with him, she realized how far he was from being that someone. She knew it was a good thing that he was different. He picked up her calls, for one. He dropped everything to come and meet her, for another. He was able to be open and emotionally vulnerable with her. He was the type of guy she should have wanted. But Rory had never done so well with shoulds.
“Being alone and being lonely are two different things,” she finally said. “I guess I was looking for proof.”
Dean was confused, and then he finally worked it out. “You feel lonely when you’re with me?”
Her lips twitched, and a tear fell from her eye. Dean wished they were somewhere that was more amicable to him pulling her into his lap and wiping her tear away, but that was exactly the thing that he shouldn’t do. He had never done so well with shoulds, either.
“I don’t understand why, but I do.” She picked up a napkin and hastily wiped her face, regaining her composure quickly. “You’re everything I should want, Dean. And I know a part of me does love you. But there is a bigger part of me that will always be his. It hurts to be with you, sometimes.”
How did she get to the origin of something that seemed to have no beginning and no end?
“Rory.” He sat back in his chair, placing his hands in his lap so that he wouldn’t try to hold hers. “I don’t understand your fascination with that guy. In fact, I want to kick his ass. But don’t you see, we keep coming together for a reason? Maybe it’s not always the reason I want, considering what you just told me. But clearly you feel safe with me.”
“Yes,” she agreed.
“Can you just…” He paused, biting his lip. He hated the thought of her alone in her apartment. During their relationship, he had witnessed what they referred to as her Dark Days, where she called in sick to work and stayed in bed. Physically, she was fine, but inside, she was spiraling into depression and self-isolation. “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” he finished. “Especially not on the count of that bastard’s treatment of you.”
“He doesn’t treat me in any way any more, Dean. He’s not around. I just miss him.”
Dean clenched his fist under the table and reminded himself to relax. “Call me when you feel that way, then. Even if you don’t want to talk. I’ll read the dictionary to you or something.”
She sniffled, laughed softly, and shook her head.
Being alone and being lonely were two different things. She had gone from them being the same, to different, and now she had also left both feeling states, even if only momentarily.
Feelings are like clouds. She had learned that during her brief study of Buddhism.
“Well, I know I can’t force you,” he said, when she had been silent for a while. “But the offer stands, no matter what is going on inside that pretty head of yours.”
Whatever she had come here for, felt like it was complete. “Thank you. I have to go.” She stood up. “Thank you for the coffee!” Then she was gone before Dean had a chance to try and stop her.
She knew it was rude. She knew he might reconsider his kindness, and in a way, she hoped he did. He had a life, and she didn’t deserve his availability. But she had to leave their meeting with her feelings on this note. She had to leave before they turned back to sorrow, ruining Dean for her again.
Because she still hoped that some day, she could give all of her heart to him.
She wasn’t much for shoulds. But coulds gave her hope.