Luke slumped down into the armchair in his living room and stared up to the ceiling. He put his phone face down on the end table next to him and let out a deep sigh. After several heartbeats, he flipped his phone over and looked at the call time with Beth. 1:13:27. He pressed his lips together and stared at the screen for a minute. He opened his messages and began to type something to Beth, but stopped and deleted it all. He closed his phone again and left it on the the table.
In his bedroom, Luke took off one sweater and exchanged it for another in his closet. He heard his phone ring in the living room, and he ran over to it.
“Beth, listen I’m sorr-” he started.
“Luke! You’re still coming right?” said a voice on the other end.
“Justin, right, yeah. I was just getting dressed. I’m heading out in a minute, so I’ll be there in maybe twenty.”
“Awesome. Don’t forget the cards too,” Justin said.
“They’re already by the door. I’m set to go. Who else is coming? I forgot to ask.”
“Usual people: Juan, Spencer, Alex G, not Alex T, Alyssa, and Veronica.”
“Oh, Veronica is going? She wasn’t at the last one,” Luke said with a slight smile.
“Yeah, she asked about you the other day so I figured I’d invite her. You’re still with Beth though, right?” Justin said in a just-checking tone.
Luke paused for a moment and took the phone away from his ear. He made a face like he was making a hard decision. “Not sure,” he finally said.
“Well then tonight would be your chance to find out. Everything alright?”
“Long story. I guess you could say I don’t know where we are,” Luke said.
“Veronica will probably take your mind off Beth then,” Justin said after a moment. There was silence on the line for a few more heartbeats than Luke hoped to give.
“I hope so,” Luke said, “See you soon.” He hung up, grabbed his bag, and headed for the door.
Luke stepped out of his apartment building onto the street and started walking to Justin’s apartment. It was a cold November evening. A light dusting of snow fell from the blanket of clouds above, and melted by the time it touched the sidewalk. The streetlights tinted the streets and buildings with a light orange glow. A group of girls were walking towards him until one pointed at a shop with a mannequin in the window. They stopped and took a picture of themselves in front of the store window as Luke passed by. He struggled to get around them on the sidewalk.
At Justin’s apartment, the snow had finally stopped. Luke buzzed for Justin’s apartment, and while he waited for a response, he looked at his phone. No messages from Beth. On the way over, he had sent her a message asking what was going to happen with them. He stared at his phone, rereading the messages over and over until the door to apartment buzzed and broke his concentration.
Inside Justin’s apartment, almost everyone was there. Justin was putting a bowl of fruit next to a chocolate fondue pot. Luke put his bag on the floor and pulled out a bottle of dark rum and a few boxes of card games. He made eye contact with Justin, who nodded in the direction of the kitchen. Luke headed in and opened the fridge. He pulled out one of the big bottles of coke and started making himself a drink. Justin came in and leaned on the counter behind him.
“Thanks for coming, man,” he said, smiling.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Luke said, as he put his rum in the freezer, and the coke back in the fridge.
“What’d you two fight about?” asked Justin, clearly forgetting the small talk.
“Same stuff, man. It’s always the same thing. She’s got,” he paused to take a sip of his drink, “she just doesn’t like herself. And the thing is, I can understand the depression if she at least tried to pull herself out of it.”
Justin shook his head, “No try?”
“No try. I help when I can, I really do, I spend a lot of time helping. And it’s not always bad, it comes in waves. But when it’s bad it’s bad. It wears you down. I try to give her like,” Luke moved his hand in a circle like he was searching for a word, “tools, or methods to help. She just pushes them off and says they can’t help.” He took another drink.
“So that’s it now?” Justin asked. Luke nodded, looking down to the floor. Justin put a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “We’ll have some fun tonight. Help you forget for a little bit.”
James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” came on the stereo. Luke’s head perked up when it started, “Great record,” he smiled. The two headed out to the living room. Luke started to talk to his other friends who were already there. He grabbed the card games out of his bag and laid them on the table. Inside his pocket, he felt his phone vibrate. His heart skipped a beat, but ultimately, Luke decided to ignore the message.
As his friends started opening up one of the card games, preparing to play, Veronica came into the apartment. Luke’s heart skipped another beat. His cheeks felt warm when he saw her. He smiled and almost jumped out of his seat to go say hello, but instead just said hello from the table. Veronica and Luke had been in the same program back at university. They’d worked long hours together on their final project in their last year. He’d always had a crush on her, and he suspected she did too.
She went into the kitchen briefly and came out with a glass of white wine. So classy, Luke thought, and then looked around at what other people were drinking which was mostly white wine as well. Okay, maybe I could be single tonight. As the card game continued, both Veronica and Luke lost and were out of the game. Luke lost first, so he got up to make another drink in the kitchen. He pulled out his phone and looked at his messages. There was one from Beth.
I’m sorry, you were right. I’m going to start looking for help because I can’t keep doing this to you. I know I push you away all the time and that’s my fault. Let’s stay together. Please?
Luke sighed and closed his phone. Maybe later, he thought. Veronica came into the kitchen to pour herself more wine.
“You lost too?” he asked.
She laughed and nodded, “I thought I was killing it, but it turns out, no. No I wasn’t.” Luke laughed. She had such a pretty smile. Maybe he made his first drink a little too strong, but he felt lighter.
“I heard you were coming,” she said, tucking a lock of her golden hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, I love Justin’s fondue.”
“Oh that’s why you came!” she punctuated the sentence with a little punch at Luke’s arm.
“I mean, I also heard you would be here too,” he said. They looked into each others eyes and time stood still. “But mostly for the free fondue,” he said, breaking the silence. They laughed.
“Are you still with Beth?” she finally asked, folding one of her arms, while holding the wine with her other hand.
For a moment, Luke was frozen in place, waiting for the answer to hit him. Then it did. “No. Let’s grab a drink. Say, tomorrow night? Just us two.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that,” Veronica blushed.
“Hey, new game’s starting. You two in or out?” Justin called from the living room. Luke smiled at Veronica, and she smiled back. They went to join the game.