Drew Nodar and Seth Grady stood up from our table to leave for hockey practice. My heart sunk. I would miss having Seth around. He said normal goodbyes to everyone, but when he got to me his eyes twinkled a little more brightly. He said, “and you. I’ll see you later.”
Holy shit. I thought I might melt as I gave him an awkward hug goodbye and watched him walk out the restaurant doors. I didn’t know if I would make it the three hours until he had to come pick me up again. I almost couldn’t believe I was going camping with Seth Grady. Even if it was just to meet a bunch of people from our work. We were heading up there together. Alone.
“Will you wipe that stupid grin off of your face?” My best friend Paul demanded as we walked through the liquor store after dinner that evening.
I laughed. “Am I smiling? Really?”
“Yeah, and you look ridiculous!” He rolled his eyes.
“But Paul,” I said all wistfully and starry-eyed. “Did you hear how he said goodbye to me! He said he’d be seeing me later! ME!”
I floated through the aisles trying to decide which bottle of wine would suit our mystical magical wonderful camping trip. This was the beginning of something special. Finally. I could feel it, and I wanted it so badly.
“Lex, I don’t think you should go camping with Grady.” Paul spoke with a seriousness that contrasted so roughly with my good mood.
“What are you talking about!” I exclaimed. “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me!”
“Yeah, right,” scoffed Paul. “You do remember he just ignored you for like a month before inviting you on this camping trip, right? Don’t you think that’s a little weird? Doesn’t that piss you off?”
I shrugged, determined to hold onto my optimism. “I think it was more like three weeks. And I don’t think he was purposely ignoring me. He just had a lot of stuff going on, he just needed some time to sort everything out. But now he’s here, Paul. He came out to the dinner party I threw for Stewie. He’s never done that before! And now we’re going camping. It’s really, really happening.”
“I just think you should be careful,” Paul warned, but I could barely hear him. My mind was already wondering where Seth would take me on our first date. When our anniversary would fall. What other trips we would take. Maybe Mexico, or Uruguay. I was on top of the world.
Seth picked me up around 10 o’clock that evening. I was so excited that when I got into his car, I could barely breathe. But as soon as we started talking, an air of comfort filled me. It was so easy talking to Seth. This was the way it was supposed to be. It was always supposed to be this way.
“So, are you really broken up with Felix?” Seth asked, as if reading my mind. We got on the northbound ramp of the highway.
“Yeah, of course,” I replied, viewing his question as more of an accusation that an admission of guilt. If I hadn’t really been broken up with Felix, we wouldn’t have shared the passionate evening we had, about a month back. The one that happened right after he broke up with his girlfriend. I knew I had to ask. I didn’t want to, but it was only fair. “And Lorena? Are you guys still broken up?”
“I haven’t seen her in weeks,” he confirmed. So I was right. He had just been sorting everything out. And now everything was finally right.
We exited the highway and drove through the small towns, the roads nearly pitch black along the fields. I told him about my new school and my teacher training course. He told me his plans to finish university. Then out of nowhere he asked, “do you mind if we get something to eat? I haven’t had dinner yet.”
I frowned, “Seth, you had dinner with me at that sushi restaurant a few hours ago..”
He chuckled. “Shit. I forgot. But I’m still hungry.”
The only thing open in the country at that hour was an old grocery store. We arrived within ten minutes of their closing up for the night. We ran through the aisles quickly grabbing as much junk food as we could before they kicked us out. We ate some sitting in the parking lot in front of Seth’s car. The summer air was warm even in the middle of the night.
“Paul likes you,” Seth informed me, biting into a pepperoni stick.
I sighed. “I know.”
“Do you like him?”
“I love Paul.” I replied honestly. “He’s become one of my best friends. But I don’t like him romantically or anything. I wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“Why isn’t he a pilot anymore?”
“Life,” I answered vaguely, best-friend mode kicking into high gear. “He’s working for his brother now.”
“Well, I’m a pilot,” Seth replied with a silly look on his face. “I can fly this piece of popcorn directly into your mouth, if you open wide.”
“Oh yeah?” I smiled. “Try me.”
We practiced tossing popcorn at each other, which eventually, somehow, led to us chasing each other around his car laughing our heads off. Then we were back on the road.
We were in good spirits when we arrived at the campground. Then we both drank too much with our coworkers and got a little rowdy. Eventually we were back in Seth’s car alone, arguing over where to hook up. He insisted on wandering through the pitch black woods and finding a place at random. I worried about getting lost, bugs, wild animals and stumbling upon strangers’ campsites by mistake. I suggested we make use of the perfectly fine car we were in. He worried we were too close to our coworkers tents. And of course he was in no position to drive. We settled on 18A levels of fooling around in the Volkswagen.
I woke up the next morning still in the passenger’s seat. The sun was shining brightly through the car windows. Seth’s phone was vibrating below the radio. And Seth himself was nowhere to be found. I felt a little abandoned. The smell of red wine caused me to look down and discover a huge burgundy stain on the front of my t-shirt. I couldn’t remember how that got there. Bzz. Bzz. Bzz. Someone really wanted to get a hold of Seth. A feeling of doom crept over me.
Eventually Seth returned to the car. He explained that he couldn’t sleep because of the sun, so he had gone to sleep in a male coworker’s tent instead. I told him his phone had woken me up. He checked it quickly, then put it down awkwardly. Then we headed home.
The car ride home was awful. There was a tension in the air. I wondered what I had done wrong. I feared I had said or done something stupid while I was drunk that I couldn’t remember. But my last memories before falling asleep had been good. Now our camaraderie from the night before was completely gone. Something was off, and I wouldn’t figure out what it was until I got home that afternoon.
Seth played his awful dubstep music loudly almost the entire ride. I guess he was trying to avoid conversation. I didn’t realize people actually listened to this music when they weren’t drunk or high at raves. The Seth I used to know listened to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He would hate this music as much as I did. When I tried to tease him about it, he just turned the music down and kept driving, looking straight out the window.
When I got home, I took a shower to wash the bonfire smell out of my hair, and then I took a nap. My anxiety levels were high, and I wondered if it would be another three weeks until I heard from Seth Grady again. I hoped not. I held onto my hope that things were still finally moving in the right direction. Maybe he was just hung over.
Eventually, I sat down at my laptop. I clicked onto my Facebook page and smack-dab at the top of my timeline was the post that explained all the awkwardness from that morning. On Seth’s wall was a bright red heart from Lorena, posted right around the time we were engaged in our heaviest necking in the woods. I felt sick to my stomach.
I raged at the simplicity of her single heart message. One carefully selected emoji held such huge implications on my life. Now it was confirmed that she was still his girlfriend. She was staking her claim publicly, piercing right through my dignity. We’d both had no idea that as she was thinking about how much she loved her boyfriend, I was helping him cheat on her. My room started to spin.
Below her post, I noticed a location tag. She had posted the message from Paris, France. I did a little investigating and noticed she was on a trip across Europe. No wonder Seth hadn’t, “seen her in weeks.” The motherfucker technically hadn’t lied to me. Holy hell, how it hurt.
My heart shattered to pieces. My eyes pooled over with tears. My stomach convulsed into knots. My pillows absorbed my screams of despair.
I know it sounds dramatic now, but I experienced pain I had never felt before that day. Pain I didn’t know could be possible. The pain of having been manipulated. Having been used. The pain of a broken heart. The epic love story I so longed for was over. I was broken. For such a long time, I was broken.
I didn’t talk to Seth Grady again for 2 years.