Broken Hearts and Coffee Mugs (Alex)

Just Remember to Breathe

This is first draft material from a story I’m working on during a two week hiatus before I start editing Insurgent. It’s a departure for me, because it falls under the “new adult” genre.You can find the beginning of the story, discussion of what NA books are, and contents of the story, here.

Broken Hearts and Coffee Mugs (Alex)

From the moment I put my mom’s car in drive, with my coffee mug still on the roof, I could tell it was going to be a rough day.  The mug, which had been a really cute gift from Dylan, went flying off the car and smashed into a million pieces. I gasped as I saw it spinning in the rearview mirror, falling in what seemed like slow motion until it hit the street, splattering my coffee and tiny pieces of porcelain across the road.

My eyes pricked into painful tears. Even though it had been more than six months since we’d spoken, even though he’d broken my heart, even though he’d refused all contact and ignored my letters, it still hurt. I pulled to the side and took a deep breath. Dylan bought the mug from a vendor in Jerusalem, who had printed it right on the spot from a digital photo: the two of us together, holding each other as we stood waist deep in the Mediterranean Sea. In the photo, I had an astonishingly vacant expression on my face as we gazed into each others eyes. In retrospect, I looked, and felt, like I was on drugs.

Of course, Kelly had been telling me for six months it was time to get rid of the mug. Time to move on. Time to forget about Dylan.

I took a deep breath. Kelly was right. Yeah, I screwed up. But not anything permanent. Not anything which warranted him literally disappearing off the face of the planet.

I looked in the mirror and quickly repaired the damage from my involuntary tears, then put the car into drive. In two days I was flying back to New York and my second year in college, and I’d damned well get a new coffee mug. One that didn’t have my past stamped all over it. Kelly would be proud.

I started to put the car into drive, but my phone chose that instant to ring, and I’m not exactly very good at ignoring it, so I left mom’s car in park and answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“Is this Alexandra Thompson?”

“Yes, this is Alex,” I said.

“Hello … this is Sandra Barnhardt from the financial aid office.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly tense. Some people you don’t want to get calls from the day before school starts, and the financial aid office was way up at the head of that list. “Um… what can I do for you?”

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Professor Allan is going on a indefinite leave of absence, so your work study assignment has been cancelled.”

Indefinite leave of absence? My guess was, Professor Allan was going into rehab. I was pretty sure she was a coke-head my first day working for her. Whatever.

“So, um… what exactly does that mean?”

“Well… the good news is, we’ve got you a new assignment.”

I couldn’t wait to hear this. No doubt I’d be scrubbing pots in one of the dining halls. I waited, and waited some more. “Um… maybe you could tell me what the assignment is?”

Sandra Barnhardt from the financial office coughed, possibly a little embarrassed.

“This is all last minute, you understand.  But our author-in-residence this year has requested two research assistants. You’ll be working for him.”

“Oh… I see. Well, at least that sounds interesting.”

“I hope so,” she said. “Are you already back on campus?”

“No, I’m in San Francisco, I fly back day after tomorrow.”

“Oh, well then. Stop by when you get back, and I’ll get you the information about the assignment.”

“Great,” I said. “See you in a couple days.”

Okay.  I’ll admit. It really did sound interesting. Author-in-residence. What exactly did that mean, anyway? Whatever it was, it had to be more interesting than doing Professor Allan’s filing.

Whatever. I’d better get moving, I thought, or the cops would be along to move me along. I’d been sitting in front of someone’s driveway for nearly ten minutes.  I pulled the car out to go finish my errands. Time to get supplied for the new year.  Starting with a new coffee mug.

 

***

“Alex!”

Kelly’s cry was somewhere around 125 decibels and somewhere in the upper reaches of pitch possible to the human voice. That was compounded by the fact that she was bouncing up and down, as if she had tiny pogo sticks, or possibly jackhammers, attached to her feet.

She bounced over to me and grabbed me in a huge hug.

“Oh. My. God!” she shouted. “The summer was so boring with you gone.  We are going out for drink. Right. Now.”

I blinked my eyes, then said, “Um… can I get my bags inside first?”

I’d gotten up at 5 am to catch the first flight out of San Francisco. Going east meant I basically lost an entire day: the flight landed at 4 pm at JFK. Then, the long wait to get my bags, and wait for a taxi, and fight the ridiculous traffic. I’d let myself into the dorm at 7 pm.

“Well, of course!” she said. “But we can’t lose any time!”

“Kelly…”

“I so have to tell you what happened with Josh. Yesterday he showed up here with no shirt on, and …”

“Kelly.”

“…He’s got a new tattoo.  Which would be fine, except…”

“Kelly!” I finally shouted.

She stopped, like I’d stuffed a plug in her mouth.

“Please,” I said. “I’ve been up and traveling since 5 this morning.”

“You don’t have to yell at me,” she said.

“I’m sorry. It’s just… can we go out tomorrow? Or at least let me get a nap first? I’m seriously exhausted, and I need a shower.”

She grinned. “Gotcha, of course. Nap. Sure. But then we are so going out. You need to meet Bryan.”

What?

“Who is Bryan?”

“Good God, Alex, weren’t you listening to anything I said?”

She continued on as I dragged my bags inside. I loved Kelly. And she would have fit in great with my tribe of sisters back home. But God, couldn’t she just shut up for one second? I finally dumped my bags on the floor, then navigated around her.  My bed, stripped since I’d flown home at the beginning of summer, looked very inviting.  I collapsed, feeling the the weight of my body just sink in. Kelly kept talking, but I was having trouble making sense of her words. I tried to nod at the appropriate times, but slowly the world faded to black. The last thought I remember before losing consciousness was regret that I’d lost that damned mug.

***

Kelly woke me up an hour later and hustled me into the shower.

“I refuse to take no for an answer,” she shouted. “It’s time we cured you of your asshole ex-boyfriend!”

God, it was like she had the volume stuck on MAX.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression of Kelly. Yes, she talks way too much. She’s a girly-girl, in ways I’ve never been. Her side of the room is disgustingly pink, decorated with Twilight and Hunger Games posters, and she acts as if she’s had more experience with guys than one of the girls posting on the back pages of the Village Voice.

My side of the room is mostly stacked in books. The truth is, I’m sort of a geek, and proud of it.

Kelly, though: she’s shy as hell, and overcompensates by being super gregarious. She charges into the center of parties, dances like a wild woman, and does everything she can to drag me out of my shell.

Problem is, sometimes I don’t really want to come out.

Once I got out of the shower and changed into a pair of black skinny jeans and a long sleeved tee, she led me out. There was a party somewhere, she said, and we were going to go find it.

 

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