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I don’t know where I’m going with this. Part of it’s venting, part of it’s just an exercise. I haven’t written anything in a while and this seemed like a good place to pick up again. Besides, I think this might have some promise.

 

Sitting back in her tiny office chair, she wondered how long it would be before he realized he wasn’t truly in love with her. She knew somewhere, in her heart, maybe, that her smile and sad eyes could never mean what a relationship based on friendship would.

Every time she saw the two of them together, she couldn’t help but shrink back and shy away from even polite conversation. After all, he was the popular one, the guy that might piss everyone off, but they all still loved him and the other girl was pretty and thin and social. Everything that he could possibly need.

She knew she was far too broken to mean anything to him. She knew the sudden tears for no reason, the ongoing battle with depression would drive him away. Yet, when they first got together, she’d let herself believe that maybe he’d be the one to stand beside her and drive the darkness away. Foolishly, she’d let herself believe that even she deserved happiness with someone.

The computer screen in front of her taunted her, the spreadsheet she’d pulled up hours ago still blank. She hadn’t even gotten around to formatting it for the data that needed to be entered in. The fact that her personal life was distracting her from work only pulled her down deeper into the growing pit of despair.

It seemed unending, the way her heart would just suddenly break and her world came crashing down. It seemed so unfair that her happiness was so fragile. How could it be that she found happiness to be such a struggle when it came so easily to the rest of the world? She wondered how long it would be before she caved in and went to see a doctor about her depression. It was her own stubborn nature that kept her from going in the first place. To her, seeking help and taking pills to be happy were forms of cheating. In her eyes, if she was meant to be melancholy, she would bear it with pride. She wouldn’t surrender what emotions were rightfully hers just because they were too heavy a burden. She would rather break into a million pieces than lose the pain that had become so familiar to her.

Tapping her fingers on the keyboard rhythmically, she tried to think of things to take her mind off her pain. She tried thinking about the orders she had to place, the repair parts that were scheduled to come in that afternoon, or even the mess waiting for her in her apartment. She had been so stressed that she hadn’t been able to do laundry all week and hadn’t taken out the trash at all. Take-out boxes covered her table and half-emptied soda cans sat around her desk where she’d tried in vain all night to boost her word count. But, lately, even her characters couldn’t help her through the pain. Every time she tried to make some progress, her characters seemed as dull and lifeless as she felt.

It felt as though nothing was going right.

Then, one morning, when she climbed out of bed, still blinking and rubbing her eyes, she noticed something that wasn’t there before. A single miniature sunflower sitting in a mason jar of water. Stretching, she tried to think of how it could have gotten there. Had someone visited her in the middle of the night without her knowing? Or had it been there the whole time and she simply hadn’t noticed before? Whatever the case, she bumbled closer to take a look at it. Beside the jar was a small piece of notebook paper that read,

“I am just two and two

I am warm, I am cold

I am lawful, unlawful

A duty, a fault

I am often sold dear

Good for nothing when bought

An extraordinary boon

And a matter of course

And yielding with pleasure

When taken by force.”

Puzzled, she read the little slip of paper over and over again. It seemed so strange that someone would leave such a challenging little riddle for her in her bedroom. Aside from the note, there was also the question of how someone would even get into her room in the first place. She kept her apartment locked and no one else had the key.

Immediately, she began checking her room for signs that someone had broken in. It frightened her that someone could get in without her knowing, while she was asleep. Though, when she finally paused to think about it, nothing valuable was missing and the only thing that had been changed was the note and sunflower.

Still, it sent shivers down her spine to think that someone had been there when she was her most vulnerable.

Regardless, she decided to get dressed and head to work. For a moment, she thought of calling the police, but, when she stopped to think about it, filing a complaint that someone had put a sunflower and a riddle in her room seemed a bit ridiculous. She slipped on a pair of pale blue slacks and a pastel yellow blouse that cinched around her waist and checked her reflection in the mirror. When she was satisfied with her appearance, she slipped the sheet of paper into her purse and walked out the front door, checking at least three times before she was satisfied that the door was actually locked.

At work, the computer monitor taunted her once more. This time, however, her mind wasn’t on the vast number of problems that typically bogged her down. Instead, she was trying to solve the puzzle that had been mysteriously placed in her room. She loved a good puzzle as much as the next person, but everything she came up with seemed off.

Before she knew it, the day was over and she was still no closer to solving the puzzle. Sighing in defeat, she slipped the paper back into her purse and grabbed her phone to call a taxi. After unlocking it, she found that she had several missed text messages, all from her boyfriend. Part of her jumped for joy inside to hear from him, excited to be able to simply hear from him. The other part, however, ached because she had a gut feeling the messages were telling her he wouldn’t be able to come over because his other friend, the cute, slim-framed girl, had asked him to go hang out with her.

Opening her inbox, she found that her fears hadn’t been unfounded. He said that he wouldn’t be able to come over right away, that something had come up with his friend and she needed someone there with her. Though it stung to read (over and over again), she texted back that she understood and to let her know if he was going to be coming over later. She hoped it wouldn’t come across as her wanting him to choose between them because it wouldn’t be fair of her to ask, but, secretly, she did wish he knew just how much it hurt her to see him so happy with another woman.

She sighed once more and started back home. The taxi wasn’t a good idea, after all. She needed time to clear her head. Time and her headphones blaring an eclectic mix of rock, pop, indie, dubstep, and J-pop. The music consumed her as she walked home and, though she hadn’t completely forgotten her heartache, it had faded into a dull background pain, like being sore after a good workout.

When she settled into her room, she noticed something peculiar once more. The mason jar now had two sunflowers and another tiny piece of notebook paper. This time, it simply read, “Open the door.”

Curious, but frightened, she crept to the door and slowly opened it. There at the door was her boyfriend, holding a single sunflower in his hand and smiling warmly. Her heart pounded, both from confusion and happiness at having him come home sooner than expected. She embraced him tightly, however, and tried for that one moment to forget that she was still emotionally bereft.

“I’m sorry,” he said, when she finally let go. “I didn’t realize just how much I’d hurt you by being with her. I just wanted to make sure she was ok, you know?”

Her lip quivered and her heart felt like it was going to leap out of her throat and run away forever. She couldn’t stop the tears that were coming and knew she was going to say something she’d regret.

“I-I’m the one who should be apologizing,” she replied. “I shouldn’t be so upset, but I am. And I’ve made you feel bad even though you’ve done nothing wrong. I just sometimes feel like you’d be happier with her. I mean, you hang out with her all the time and everything about you two says that you’re dating. It doesn’t feel like we’re in a relationship at all! And I know that we have to keep it quiet for now. I know there’s no avoiding having to keep it a secret. But I just wish it felt like I was the one you wanted to be around, not her.”

Her boyfriend remained silent for a while and she felt her heart break even more. How could he hear her say those things and say nothing? Did that mean he had no intention of even acknowledging her feelings? Why wouldn’t he say anything?

“Did you figure out the answer?” he asked quietly. She shook her head, somewhat outraged that he thought a puzzle was more important than the problem they were facing. “Did you even try?”

“Of course I did!” she answered bitterly. “I sat at my computer all day trying to figure it out.”

Just then, he placed a hand on her shoulder and gently kissed her cheek. She tensed, thinking he was trying to seduce her to make her forget about the other woman.

“What was that all about?” she asked and he smiled.

“The answer.”

“A kiss? What does that have to do with anything?”

“I know you’ve been worried. You think I don’t see you hurting when the three of us hang out, but I do. I left that riddle because I know how much you love a puzzle and because I know how smart you are. I thought you would figure it out.” He sighed. “I left that riddle hoping you would realize it was from me. Because you’re the only woman I want to kiss. You’re the only one I want to hold at night. And, most of all, I want you to know that I’m here for you even when you don’t see me. Just because I feel responsible for someone else doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

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