Elizabeth looked down at the phone in her hand, reading the text from Dylan again.
She didn’t like the idea of letting herself into his house, and she had been nervously standing outside for a few minutes now. She couldn’t imagine inviting anyone into her own house, let alone leaving the door unlocked for them. She’d only been to his house once before, and that day she had just stood on the porch while she waited for him to put shoes on so they could go out. She finally sucked in a deep breath and marched up to the door, not giving herself any more time to overthink things.
The first word that came to mind when Elizabeth walked through the front door was “home.” Pairs of shoes were lined up neatly inside the door, and a kid’s craft project hung from the wall by the stairs. Looking into the living room to her right, she immediately noticed the large photos on the far wall and smaller ones displayed in frames surrounding the TV. She felt a sense of calm wash over her, loosening the knots in her stomach.
She made her way towards the black leather couch, stopping to look at the photos hung above it. Her eyes glossed over the wedding photo and focused on the graduation photos beside it. Dylan hadn’t changed much since his photo had been taken, but he looked so much like his brothers that it took her a second to figure out which of the three photos was of him. It was the way he raised his eyebrows slightly when he smiled, like he was surprised by his own happiness, that gave him away.
She nestled herself in the corner of the couch, leaning back against the cushiony armrest, bringing her legs up to sit cross-legged. She was nearly six feet tall, but always felt most comfortable when she was curled up as small as possible. It was her natural way of moving through life unnoticed, and although she felt more comfortable around Dylan than she did around most people, her instincts were to proceed with caution anyway. She had learned the hard way that the people you expect to care for you are often the ones you can’t trust.
She looked around, noticing the trinkets scattered around the shelves under the TV, a hockey jersey hung over the back of a chair, mail and flyers sitting out on the ottoman. She couldn’t imagine her parents keeping their house like this. She started to imagine herself sitting there on Christmas with Dylan’s family, opening presents and laughing together like real families do, when he bounced down the stairs.
“What’s up?” he greeted her as he sat beside her on the couch. His casual nature had a way of making her feel like she’d known him forever, even though it had only been two months. That familiarity carried over into his physical demeanor too, and he grabbed her hand as he settled in. “How are your hands this cold in the middle of June?”
“That’s how it works when your heart’s made of ice,” she deadpanned.
“Yeah, right,” he laughed, “Ice water running through your veins.”
“Just call me Queen Elsa.”
“Like Elsa from Frozen,” she tried to explain. “Please tell me you’ve seen Frozen.”
“I’m a 23-year-old guy. Why would I have seen Frozen?”
“Because it’s a Disney classic! And everyone should be able to appreciate good movies!” Her eyes widened as she spoke.
“If you were really such a big Frozen fan, you’d know Elsa didn’t have ice water running through her veins. She was magic,” Dylan said with a grin. Elizabeth tried to shoot him a stern look, but couldn’t stop herself from laughing. His smile grew bigger as he watched her, then he started laughing too.
A few minutes later, after they’d both calmed down, he reached his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. They both stayed quiet, and she closed her eyes, taking in the sound of his breath as it left his lungs and the low rumble of the subway train that ran underneath his house. While her body relaxed, her mind started to race with all of the worries she couldn’t verbalize, but as she leaned against him she pushed those thoughts away. He pressed his forehead against the side of her head and quietly said, “You’re not gonna fall asleep on me, are you?”
“No,” she said softly, shaking her head. “You are really comfy though.”
“I guess I have all the McDonald’s I’ve been eating to thank for that,” he admitted.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said, still resting against his side. “You’re just really warm, and your shirt is really soft.”
“I’m warm because it’s 27 degrees out, but I’ll take some credit for the soft shirt.” He ran his fingers slowly up and down her arm. She could tell that he was itching to kill the silence, but she liked these quiet moments. Her head was resting near his collarbone, and she could feel how fast his heart was beating. She felt his chest rise with every breath he took, and matched her breathing with his, like her own form of meditation to keep her anxiety and feelings of inadequacy at bay. She wished they could sit like that forever, but she knew that eventually the little voice inside her head would ruin things. Dylan shifted on the couch, trying to get comfortable, and Elizabeth’s anxiety took the opportunity to break free. She felt the knot forming in her stomach as worries danced through her mind. She sat up and let his hand drop from around her shoulders.
“I should probably go home.” The knot in her stomach twisted tighter as she tried to figure out how she could explain this feeling to Dylan.
“I thought we were going to watch a movie,” he answered, looking confused.
“It’s already pretty late,” she said, her face growing red as she stood and started to head towards the front door. She grabbed her belongings quickly, apologized for having to leave, and was out the door before he could ask what was wrong.
By the time Elizabeth got home that night, she knew that she had made the wrong choice. She’d run away from plenty of people over the years, but she’d never regretted it before. It was usually such a relief to get away before she had to explain all the ways she was broken. As she walked through her own front door, the weight of her mistake was apparent. The hollow feeling she had as she shut the door behind her made her want to sob. Her house was cold, stark white, and showed minimal signs of life. It always reminded her of a model house, staged to appear like it was lived in, without any signs that it was actually a home. There were no family photos on display, no coats hanging up in the front closet, no knick knacks lying around. It made her want to run back to Dylan’s house, but the guilt she felt for literally running out the door was holding her firmly in place.
She pulled out her phone and started writing a text, trying to explain and apologize, but finding the right words was difficult. She typed and deleted over and over, and finally decided to keep it simple.
I’m so sorry. I made a mistake. I hope you’ll let me explain, but I understand if you don’t want to see me again after tonight.
She was prepared for Dylan to ignore her, but she felt like she owed him at least some sort of explanation, even if he decided he didn’t want to deal with her issues. She stared at her phone anyway, hoping for a quick response, and was just about to put it away when she got his reply.
Door’s still unlocked.
(Fiction Short Story assignment for Writing 2211F)