“Are you bringing this?” Caleb asked. I turned to see what he was holding up. It was a black and white striped dress cut just above the knees. I had worn that on our first date together.
“Yeah, I think I will,” I said, glancing at my suitcase. I frowned. “We’re going to have to do some stuffing. Then I’ll probably have to sit on it all night so the zips won’t break,” I joked.
He rolled his eyes and tossed the dress at me. It landed on my face and slipped into my lap.
“Hey!” I complained. “You’re going to crease it.”
“Crease it? Really, Mia?” he looked at me, expression exasperated. But I knew him well enough to see the hint of humor and gentleness in his irises when he used that tone with me. “Have you seen your suitcase?”
“What are you talking about?” I wondered, eyeing the neatly folded piles of clothes.
“You are a terrible traveller. You really can’t pack,” he said. He came over to me and ruffled my hair.
I made a face. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with how I’m packing?” I wondered.
“It’s all about maximizing your space.” Caleb sat cross legged beside me and started taking out my clothes. I bit my lip, wondering what he was doing. He took the first shirt off the pile and shook it out. He laid the shirt out on the floor. Then he folded it in half and began rolling the fabric. He handed me the rolled up shirt.
“Pack them like this. The creases won’t be so deep and you’ll save space for the rest of your stuff. I can only take you as far as the airport. You’ll have to transport all your bags around by yourself especially once you arrive. You’re not going to want to carry like 18 bags, are you?” he looked at me condescendingly.
“Okay. Sheesh, lighten up,” I griped. “You’re starting to sound like my dad.”
He snorted then started doing the same with the rest of the shirts. I copied his movements, savoring the silence between us. It would soon be gone. I would soon be gone. It was weird. We had done a lot of things, Caleb and me. We had gone through a lot together. We had laughed and cried, fought and made up again. We’d been to concerts and cinemas and museums - all the typical date stuff. We’d been neighbors since I moved here. We grew up together and grew together.
But here I was thinking the thing I would miss about us the most was this. Our silences. Our long, quiet moments of being together, doing some mindless task. These moments were always simple and easy even though our relationship wasn’t always like that. Our relationship was like the bright colors. Brilliant, passionate, full of potential energy at any given moment.
“You didn’t have to come over to do this, you know?” I told him.
“Yeah. I know,” he replied and shrugged. “It’s cool. I had nothing else to do anyway.”
“So… you know, we haven’t really talked much,” I hinted.
“We’re talking now,” he said. But the molten quality of his eyes disappeared. He knew what I was getting at and his eyes were shrewd now. Shrewd and unwilling.
“We haven’t talked much about us. About once I leave,” I said quietly.
“Is that it?” he asked, gesturing to my suitcase. We had rolled up all the other articles of my clothing and the bag was almost too full for anything else.
“Yeah, I think that’s it.” I zipped up the bag and focused on packing my one carry-on. “So about us…”
He stood up and picked up the suitcase we had finished stuffing. “I’m going to put this in your car trunk first.”
I nodded and sighed, letting him go. This too I was familiar with. He hated talking about unpleasant things. Pretend the problems don’t exist. That always works, right? Wrong. But he’d never learn. I waited for him to come back. As I predicted, he lingered longer than necessary outside the room. I heard a fridge door slam shut and a cupboard door open. Then I heard running water and the sound of plates colliding with each other. He was doing the dishes. That was fine. I would finish my packing then bring the topic up again. I wasn’t going to let it go. I had all night and he probably knew it too.
He was fighting a losing battle.
I zipped up the carry-on and fastened a tiny padlock through the two zippers. I took a deep breath and headed to the kitchen. He was drying now, wiping down the plates and cutleries with a dish towel. I stood across, leaning on the counter. His back was to me.
“We need to talk, Caleb,” I said. “We still haven’t decided.”
“So decide,” he said, turning around to face me.
“It shouldn’t be my decision. It has to be ours.”
“Look, Mia. You know yourself. The chances of you finding this again is really small. So don’t worry.” His tone was cutting and arrogant.
“So you think we should be together?”
“I didn’t say that. I just mean, I don’t think there will be that many options. I’m close to home, emotionally and physically. You’re not going to give us up.”
“You sound sure,” I said, keeping my tone even. I hadn’t heard one word about what was best for us or about what he felt or he wanted. It was just cold hearted analyzing and it made me angry.
His eyes tightened. “Fine then. Leave and forget everyone in this town.”
Blood rushed up to my face and the anger flared in my eyes when I spoke my next words. “Why does it always have to be like that with you? You’re so damn overbearing and cocky. And you act like this doesn’t matter to you at all. Like I don’t matter to you at all!”
Caleb turned back to the dishes.
A minute of silence passed before I asked in a small voice, “Aren’t you even a little afraid of losing me?”
He didn’t answer. I scoffed in disbelief, tears filling my eyes and falling down my cheeks.
“So it’s like that,” I said. I half ran to through the living room and meant to hastily unlock the front door. I was going to slip out and go missing and not talk to him for the rest of my time in this stupid town. But my fingers were uncooperative and I couldn’t even get the door open before I heard Caleb behind me.
He stepped in front of me, cutting my path. “You don’t understand,” he said, his voice raised much louder than I was used to. His gaze was unbelievably penetrating and I found my eyes gravitated toward the floor. I heard him take a deep breath then let it out in a huge sigh. “You don’t understand,” he said gentler this time.
“You act like - ”
“I have to!” he said then groaned softly. I was so surprised at the change in his tone that I looked up at his face. He was looking down at me with his head ducked so he was my height. “I have no choice but to be like that. I can’t even imagine being without you now. And if I even think of the possibility of you finding some other guy that’s less of an asshole, I swear I’ll go insane.”
“Caleb…” I started.
“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m… sorry if it never came off that way.” I felt his lips on my forehead.
“Asshole,” I grumbled, joking.
“That’s me,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around me.
“I love you, asshole,” I replied with his heartbeat in my ears.