So here’s the deal: I’m doing another free promo for “The Wingmen” on Thursday February 28 and would love for you to download and review it if possible! You helped me make the top 60 contemporary fiction books on Amazon last week, let’s get me the #1 slot!
Who’s with me?! Because I love you all, I’ll include an excerpt below. One of my favorites too, not to mention the toughest emotionally to put in words. Decide for yourself whether this is the story for you (note: it’s told from the perspective of a 17-year-old high school girl):
“Yes, hearts can break. Sometimes I think it would be better if we died when they did, but we don’t.” – Stephen King, “Hearts in Atlantis”
Flashback: June 2005
I denied there was something off about our relationship for a long time, but I couldn’t ignore the emotional distance between us when he was away at his family’s summer home in late June the previous year. Our families had a thing for traveling during the warmer months, but we had different vacation schedules, meaning we had limited time together before his upcoming August move to the east coast.
Jon used to joke that our parents coordinated family trips together so we’d never have to be apart for too long. Still, it seemed like we were always saying goodbye to each other. So, when Jon stopped complaining about all the separation and didn’t bother getting in touch with me while at one of his summer homes, I began to wonder what was going on in his head and whether he was done with us.
Though days away from flying to southern California for UCLA acting camp, I was pretty squirmy in late June, which always brought about a mixture of feelings in me. You spend all year eagerly awaiting summer only to find that it can be a major source of boredom, at least in between big activities. Though thrilled to attend my upcoming UCLA and Boston University arts programs, I worried I wouldn’t see much of Jon beforehand, especially since he’d been in Half Moon Bay for more than a week and his dad had inexplicably extended their stay. I hadn’t thought much of it until my mom pointed out that the extension meant Jon probably wouldn’t get back to Santa Cruz to say goodbye to me before UCLA camp, and because his dad distrusted me, my mom suggested this was a calculated move to keep the two of us apart. At first, I thought she was reading too much into it, but started to feel nervous when Jon continued to ignore my text messages and make no effort to see how I was doing.
When four days passed without so much as a “hello” from him, I sent Jon a short text message, which of course went unanswered. Two days later, when I hosted a dance party at my house, I called Jon to give him some updates and say my friends and I wished he could be at the gathering. In the past, he would have laughed and thanked us for the sentiment, but that night, he barked at me for interrupting a conversation with his family members.
“Yes?” he said upon picking up the phone.
“Hey, it’s Molly.”
“Long time, no talk. How’s it going in Half Moon Bay?”
“Fine,” he muttered, and that was when I heard the chatter in the background. I recognized his father’s voice and knew I’d interrupted something.
“Are you tied up or something right now?”
“I’m with my family,” he said. “You should know this. I’m on a family vacation, Molly.”
“Obviously,” I replied, irritated that he had the audacity to criticize me for reaching out during “family time.” After all, he’d called several times during my March family trip to Florida and said the distance was too much for him. Now I was the inconsiderate nag for wanting to see how his vacation was going.
“I’m talking to my uncle and dad.”
“Okay, well, we can catch up later if you’d prefer,” I said.
“Yeah, I think I’ll go.”
“See you, Jon. Love you.”
After a pause, he responded with, “later” and hung up.
That was the first of many times he’d put me in a sour mood with his aloof tendencies and passive, short sentences. I found it odd that so few words could cause tidal waves of emotion to come crashing down on me. I knew my default reaction was destructive and unhealthy, but believed it was out of my hands.
Though wounded, I decided to set aside my concerns that night to focus on the dance party. I did, however, bring his peculiarity to my friends’ attention and even put him on the spot by dialing his number after we’d eaten three boxes of Round Table cheese pizza and downed several liters of Mountain Dew. We were all hyper on the phone, and while he was much more eager to engage in this conversation than the previous one, he dodged my “I love you” declaration when I said goodbye to him and ignored my text message inquiring why he’d stopped saying those three words to me.
I buried the confusion until sleeping bag time, when the majority of the girls collapsed on the floor of my bedroom and snoozed heavily. I’d climbed into bed with my best friend Erin, and because we were close enough friends to know the stage of the other person’s sleep, I nudged her with full awareness that she was awake enough to have a serious conversation, even if it had to start off with partially coherent sentences on her end and in-depth questions from me.
“Jon was especially cold with me today.”
“That’s not unusual. He has his ice queen moments, just like the rest of us.”
“Yeah, but things have been weird lately,” I said, rolling onto my back to look at the “Walk to Remember,” “American Idol: Season One Tour,” and “8 Mile” posters taped to my ceiling. “He’s dismissive and won’t say ‘I love you’ at all, even when I say it. How humiliating is that?”
“Well, if you think about it, Molly, nothing bad has really happened,” she said. “It’s just that nothing good has really happened since he’s been away, either.”
“That’s what I don’t get. He has always been happy to drown me with affection. The shift makes no sense.”
“You’ve been dating for more than six months now, though. The honeymoon stage doesn’t last forever, as we learned from my experiences with Corey, and you mauling Jon with texts and phone calls isn’t helping.”
She was dead on, but I didn’t think writing someone every four days was the same as hovering like a helicopter parent. Still, I nodded at her assessment, which essentially marked the end of that conversation.
Turning to face me, Erin propped herself up on one elbow and said, “Just wait it out. Let him come to you on his own terms. He loves you, so he will come around.”
Several minutes later she was asleep; but I remained awake for at least a half hour listening to her steady breathing as I thought about everything she and Jon had said, until my mind finally gave out.
Jon gave me the silent treatment for the next two days, and when I finally briefed my parents on the situation, which was either grave or a non-issue, they provided some possible explanations.
“Didn’t you say he gets no reception on the family house boat?” my dad inquired over dinner. “Maybe that’s why he hasn’t called you.”
“Yeah,” I responded, gulping down a spoonful of Rice-A-Roni without even chewing.
“I don’t know, I think it’s bizarre that his family kept lengthening the trip so Jon wouldn’t be able to see you off to UCLA,” said my mom, ever the distrustful cynic, which I was slowly but surely becoming.
What I believed and wanted to believe were two different things. My dad came up with the comforting possibility—that Jon hadn’t meant to blow me off, but was simply tied up with family matters on the boat. My mom told it like it was, but seemed a tad unreliable with her conspiracy theory. To get some answers once and for all, I excused myself from the dinner table, rushed to my bedroom, nestled into the far corner of my room, and called Jon. To my surprise, he picked up after two rings.
“You,” he said in a low voice.
“‘You’ can be anyone. Don’t act like you’re so special.”
“Very funny,” I said, waiting for him to speak up and ask about my day, or even to simply regale me on his own trip that was apparently so awesome he couldn’t be pulled away from it to talk to me, but there wasn’t a peep out of him for a solid minute.
“You rang?” he finally asked. By then, it was unclear whether he was being serious or joking.
“Just calling to see how everything has been,” I said, twirling my hair. “I hadn’t heard from you in a while and thought you’d forgotten you even had a lady back at home.”
“I’m enjoying myself a great deal. Lots of R&R and chilling out. I actually just got back from a game of tennis with my cousin’s boyfriend.”
“Oh, cool. Have you been on the houseboat at all?”
So my dad’s theory was ruled out. It was always a bad sign when he was wrong. That, I decided, would be the right time to throw Jon a curveball to figure out what exactly his deal was.
“Hey Jon?” I said after our second minute of silence. “I love you.”
Make that three instances of minute-long silence.
“Why won’t you say it back anymore?” I asked, peppering in some fake laughs to hide the level of my frustration.
After a pause, he answered, “Why do you need to hear it to know it’s true?”
“Okay, look. I’m not playing these games. Can you please tell me what’s going on with you?”
“It just dawned on me the other day that I’m going to be leaving soon,” he said. “I just don’t think I can love you anymore if I have to leave you.”
“Well, you’re not taking off for college for another month,” I said.
“It’ll come sooner than you expect. I won’t have the option of loving you anymore once I’m gone. We’ll be in different places,” he said. “I’ve just spent a lot of time thinking all this over the past few days.”
“I wonder if your dad anything to do with it,” I said, remembering his father’s Valentine’s Day interrogation tactics. “Considering all the time you’ve spent together on this trip.”
“He actually said absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Jon said. “He’s on your side, you know.”
“That’s a first.”
“Molly, this isn’t about him. My father had nothing to do with my overall view, which is that we just can’t do this for much longer.”
“So are you breaking up with me right now?” I asked.
“No,” he said after a pregnant pause. “I just think it’s best if we accept what’s coming.”
“Does that mean you don’t love me anymore?” I said.
“I honestly don’t know right now.”
“So when you said you loved me all those times in the past, you didn’t know what you were talking about?”
“I really don’t know, Molly.”
The conversation was going nowhere and becoming more pathetic by the second, so I ended it moments later and broke out into sobs, chucking my cell phone to the other side of the room and leaving it there all night.
Though I wanted nothing more than to keep this news to myself and show no trace of disappointment, I wound up telling my parents everything and asking for their advice. Besides, they’d known I was upset for a while and waited until we crossed paths in the living room to ask about my updates.
“Did you finally get a hold of Jon?” asked my dad, who was drinking a cup of herbal tea on the couch.
“Yup. He says he doesn’t think he can love me anymore because he’s moving in a few weeks,” I said.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” my mom said. “I can’t believe he’d do this to you the day before you’re supposed to leave for UCLA.”
“I completely forgot about that,” I said, running a hand through my hair as I remembered I needed to finish packing for my 11 a.m. flight.
“I have a feeling there’s more to the story than you’re getting, Molly,” my dad said as he plucked his car keys from the kitchen table. “Want to be my wingman?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, needing something sweet to take my mind off the confusion spinning through my head.
On the drive to Baskin-Robbins, I explained that Jon had essentially said he never really loved me. It was kind of awkward to share this information with my dad, who really didn’t need to know any dirty details of my relationship, but he kept a straight face and appeared unaffected by some of the cheesy parts of my story.
“How does that work, though?” I began. “How can you love someone one day and lose that feeling the next?”
“He’s in a rough place and doesn’t know what he’s doing. Don’t take anything he says seriously,” my dad explained, pulling into an open parking space in front of Baskin-Robbins. “But you know what? If he’s going to dismiss you like this, he doesn’t deserve you in his life, anyway. This is about him, Molly, not you.”
“That’s what everybody says when they want to hide the truth,” I said, hopping out of the car just as my dad reached for his leather wallet.
Though I gobbled my cup of Gold Medal Ribbon within five minutes of the BR employee serving it, for the life of me I couldn’t think about anything other than Jon that night. I wept silently in my bed until 3 a.m., when I decided to glance at my cell phone for the first time since shoving it out of my sight that evening. The only person to have contacted me was Erin, who called to ask if I wanted to see “Wedding Crashers” with her, Miranda, and Corey the following day. I’d already watched it in theaters, though. With Jon. I declined the offer and agonized that unlike Erin, Jon hadn’t tried to reach me at all.
I don’t know why I expected otherwise, but a part of me hoped he would have sent a follow-up note to give me clarity and peace of mind. Sadly, he wasn’t ready to calm my nerves yet, and as such, I wasn’t going to let him off easily. Using all available characters, I wrote him a series of emotionally charged texts informing him just how much he’d hurt me. I said I couldn’t believe it had been so easy for him to ignore me upon crushing my spirits and leaving me hanging. It was dramatic, but tiring enough to make me drift off to sleep. And I was relieved something did the trick.
Though it’d been a restless, text-free night after 3 a.m., I rose early the following day to finish stuffing my suitcase. Packing didn’t take long, so I climbed back into bed to get a little more shuteye before it was time to eat breakfast with the rest of the family. Just as I was about to doze off, I heard my mom and dad talking loudly in their bedroom. They hadn’t even bothered to close their door or speak in low voices, as they probably assumed I was still asleep, so I caught much of their conversation, which was all about me.
“I hope this doesn’t affect her camp experience,” my mom said. “Who knows? Maybe she’ll meet a nice guy there and forget about Jon.”
“Molly’s not like that. When she wants something, she fixates on it. I just worry this isn’t going to end well.”
Then my dad provided her with information he’d purposely withheld from me. Thanks to his own father’s work demands, my dad spent his final year of high school in Melbourne, Australia. It had been rough on all five Doyle boys to relocate from Westchester, New York to another country—the other side of the world, really—but my dad adapted after establishing a social circle and meeting a stunning sylph with long blond hair. They dated his entire senior year, but when it was time for him to return to the States to attend Fordham University, he realized how much he would miss that leggy, willowy Aussie.
Nevertheless, he ended things with her right before getting on the plane to Los Angeles and then New York. She actually accompanied him to the airport to see him off. Once the 24-hour flight had ended and my dad arrived at his dorm in the Bronx, he climbed into his twin bed and bawled his eyes out for two days straight, as he was certain he would never see his first serious girlfriend again. After all, they were basically in different worlds. He hadn’t seemed miserable during their farewell, but he missed her more than he could ever say or show.
That, my dad said, was probably similar to the way Jon was feeling. I liked my dad’s anecdote but doubted it was like my own reality. Jon didn’t seem upset at all, whereas my father was heartbroken to leave this special young lady forever. Though he could have very well been hiding his sadness from me, I knew Jon didn’t see me in the same glowing light in which my dad saw Aussie Girl.
I forced myself not to cry all morning, but threw a pair of oversized Pacific Sunwear sunglasses into my purse for the airplane, where I planned to mope in silence. I smiled all throughout breakfast, nibbled on my cream cheese bagel, and chatted with my parents on the journey to San Jose Airport. As we moved through the winding roads of Highway 17, I incessantly checked my cell phone for any new messages, only to find texts from Erin and Miranda inquiring how I’d been doing. They knew all about Jon’s change of heart and wanted to make sure I was going to be all right. Yes, I explained, I was great. I was about to spend seven days in Los Angeles with my godsister, Blakely.
It was actually my mom and godmother’s idea to have Blakely and me sign up for the acting program. We both enjoyed drama class and hanging out every summer, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity for the two of us to reconnect and put our performing skills to the test. I stayed at her San Diego house the night before the first day of camp so we could drive up to LA together.
Blakely, who was a year behind me in school, asked about my boyfriend within the first half hour of seeing me. Because I’d already gotten my sulking, crying, and pouting out of the way on the hour-long flight over, I had reached a point in which I could talk about everything without my eyes welling up. Besides, it was actually kind of cathartic to discuss my situation with Blakely rather than with my home friends and relatives.
After a stroll to the Carlsbad Baskin-Robbins, I explained to Blakely that Jon had said he wasn’t sure he could care for me on a romantic level anymore given our changing circumstances. He was at a crossroads. Blakely, who had never been in a relationship before, listened attentively and appeared to process the entire story, but she expressed doubt that Jon and I had ever really been in love in the first place.
“I know I’m a year younger than you, but you’re only sixteen, Molly,” she said. “How can you actually be in love at this age?”
“That’s a good question, but all I know is how I feel. I can’t, however, speak for Jon.”
“He’ll come back to you. Just wait.”
And he did. Kind of. While Blakely and I were out at the mall and ice cream shop, Jon left a message on my voicemail about tying loose ends and patching everything up. I had left my phone at Blakely’s house and listened to the message soon after returning to her room.
“Hey Molly, it’s Jon. I’ve decided I want to make it work. We need to talk about a few things, but I’d like to keep this going, so call when you get a chance and we’ll talk it up.”
There wasn’t much to make of the voicemail, and in need of a real explanation, I dialed his cell phone number immediately. Within seconds, Jon was on the line and far less curt than he’d been the previous week.
“I just wanted to say that I’d like to continue dating until I have to leave,” he said.
“Does this mean you were going to split up with me after returning from Half Moon Bay?”
“That’s what I intended to do,” he said with a sigh. “I figured I’d break it to you gently, but I don’t think that’s necessary yet. You just have to know that we can’t be together in a month’s time.”
“But why? Is there a reason you’re so against the prospect of dating me from afar?”
“It doesn’t work that way after high school, Molly. I’m starting a new life, and you need to wrap up your high school life without me,” he said. “When you wrote in my yearbook that you wanted to stay together after I left, I was at a loss for words. I never once considered this going beyond high school.”
“I signed your yearbook a month ago,” I reminded him, bringing images to mind of the two-and-a-half-page space I’d used up in tiny print. “Why didn’t you say anything about it earlier?”
“I put it off as long as I could until my cousin Brenna stumbled upon it and said I needed to sever ties with you immediately.”
This was kind of a shock. I was rather irritated that one of Jon’s female cousins would try to take control of the situation, but maybe that’s just what Jon needed. Someone to push him to do what he wanted most.
“Brenna was adamant about getting it over with,” he continued. “She had a similar experience in high school and wound up spending three months in bed because she couldn’t understand why her boyfriend had abandoned her.”
“I’m not going to spend three months in bed, Jon. That’s not what I do.”
“I just thought it would be easier for you to move on if I turned into a jerk. I’d rather you hate me than hate yourself.”
“Why would I hate myself?” I said, laughing even though his insinuation was far from humorous. Sure, I was a little clingy and obsessive but I wasn’t depressed, and he was beginning to speak as if I could not survive without him. I started to see why some of my friends had dubbed him arrogant.
“The point is we have to end things in a month. I’d appreciate you being on the same page with me here.”
“Sure,” I said, only half processing what he was saying. I felt so blessed to have him in my life for another few weeks, even if the inevitable split was going to be tough. At that moment, I didn’t have time for excitement or anxiousness, as I had to get ready for camp, so I explained to Jon that I needed to get off the phone.
“Good luck this week,” he said. “Let your comedy flag fly.”
“Thanks,” I said, hesitating before running the following words together. “Love you.”
After a pause, the line went dead and I was left with a dial tone.
He was much more receptive to “I love you” the next day, when he called three times and left two voice messages. I’d been away from the phone all afternoon and tied up with my camp itinerary, and because Blakely and I had different schedules, I spent a lot of time with some of the other kids, one of whom tried to hold my hand. Though unsure of where Jon and I stood, I didn’t want to spoil any semblance of a relationship with him by mingling with this boy from Louisiana, so I declined the southern fellow’s offer to take a late night campus stroll and retreated back to my dorm, where Blakely and I caught up about our day. With so much overstimulation and activity, the phone and Jon were far from my mind, and it felt great. The separation was actually liberating, even though it was nice to hear him say he loved me that night when I returned his call. While I appreciated that the feeling appeared mutual again, I didn’t understand him anymore. You never knew which Jon you were going to get: the generous, motivated political junkie or frosty future lawyer. For a while, I gladly accepted either identity, as I was content to have him in my life at all.
© Copyright Laura Donovan 2013