class: independent study
Early mornings are a repetition of all those previous, a daily battle between the responsible choice and the selfish desire for five more minutes - regardless of the repercussions.
Before five minutes can turn into ten minutes and ten into twenty, Amy pushes the snooze button down for the last time at 5:35 AM, turns on her bedside light, and sits up before she can reconsider her decision. The initially blinding light fades as her eyes adjust and a moment after, Amy can feel her eyelids wanting to close once more. She rips the covers off of her, swings her legs over the edge, and lets the bottoms of her feet meet the cool wood flooring. The shock slightly clears her mind and she uses the moment of clarity to fully separate herself from the tempting warmth of her mattress.
Over coffee (one-half brew, one-fourth sugar, one-fourth creamer), Amy contemplates her day, the work she has to do, and eventually, her life in general. Where is she? Was this what she pictured years ago when she imagined her future? She has a stable job, some good (albeit busy) friends, a rather large amount of emergency money saved, and a comfortable apartment. Where is there to go but here? What else did she need?
Pulling on her dress shirt, she comes to the same conclusion she comes to every morning. The one thing missing in her life, the element her friends have so proudly displayed on their ring fingers, is a significant other.
He wouldn’t be necessary, but he would certainly be a step above a cat.
Amy smiles back at the somewhat attractive attendant who writes her name on a large Styrofoam cup after he takes her order. He gives her a proud sort of look, a slight raise of his eyebrows, a smile of recognition - it all translates to "You've been here before, I've noticed you."
The attendant, Amy noticed, gave that smile to approximately three-quarters of the women in front of her. So, unlike his, Amy's slight upturn of the corners of her lips is entirely polite. Rather than remind him that there is more to life than physical beauty and bra size, she slips past him with a minimal amount of social interaction and goes to pay for her latte, labeled "Amy" with a heart.
That is, until a man cuts in front of her in line and hurriedly tells the cashier that he would like to pay for her drink. She questions it with a disbelieving "what?" but all too quickly the five dollar bill has already been offered, exchanged, and the man is pocketing the thirty-cents in change.
Her objections were obviously ignored because the man, directly acknowledging her for the first time, chuckles sheepishly and shrugs his shoulders. Once they’re out of the line, he admits, “I…couldn’t help it?”
“I find that really difficult to believe.” She comments immediately, taking a sip from her free-to-her latte. She sighs in annoyance, lifting her hands up in an explanatory pose. “I mean, normal people don’t rush into a line they haven’t been in just to buy someone a drink. Usually, it’s proposed while they’re in the middle somewhere, not, you know, right when they’re about to pay.”
There’s a short moment of silence while the brunet absorbs her words as he stares up at the ceiling. “Wow, did that actually upset you?” Amy doesn’t reply and he cracks another smile. “Look, just accept the drink. I’m David, by the way, and those,” he gestures to a table where a couple of other guys around his age chatter, stealing glances at them and between each other, “are my friends. Since you’re already mad, I guess I can tell you that they dared me to buy you it.”
Amy frowns, finding herself somewhat embarrassed at the fact that she’s at the receiving end of their little joke, their momentary entertainment.
David notices her expression and immediately attempts to fix the situation in a mild-tempered fluster. “Never mind, that sounded bad. I told you because I didn’t want you thinking I was a total creep or anything – I mean, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t want to. I don’t cave into peer pressure that easily.”
“It’s all right. You don’t have to make up excuses or anything.” Amy raises the cup in a subtle gesture, some brief acknowledgement. “Thanks for the drink.”
Her attempt at walking away is stopped when David places his hand on her arm, stammering. “Can I at least have your name?”
“Amy,” she says curtly before shrugging off his hand and successfully completing her exit.
The following morning, Amy stands in line at the same coffee shop, mulling over the day’s upcoming tasks. She carefully rubs at her eye, coming down from her initial morning rush and feeling the slightest hint of fatigue.
From behind her, there’s a familiar chuckle. “Good morning, Amy. If you would do me the honor, I would very much like to buy you a drink.”
She pauses, turning slightly to see David leaning on the table behind her. She doesn’t allow her expression to change, aside from the slight skepticism displayed by her raised eyebrows. “…The proper way?”
“And I’ll even leave a dollar in the tip jar.”
From there, progress comes with ease.
David’s initially annoying traits are gradually coming to be appreciated rather than dismissed. His humor is brilliant, but subtle because of the way he’s always smiling – which requires Amy to listen carefully and determine just when it is he’s joking and when he’s acting natural. She’s noticed his optimism rubbing off on her and is beginning to move past the stages of denying its effects. But that isn’t to say he lacks the capacity to be unhappy even if his happiness has a much more resilient spirit. He can experience negative emotions, such as irritation when his roommates relentlessly call him by his nickname, “Duckie”, or when the contestants on Jeopardy give stupid answers and he nearly jumps off the couch shouting the correct response.
David takes his coffee sweeter than hers but doesn’t put sugar in his iced tea, only two lemon slices. The men at the café that day were Brian, his best friend, and other friends they met in college. He graduated last year, majoring in Film Arts.
He has a younger brother named Chris and his parents, Meredith and Andy, divorced when he was fourteen. Meredith didn’t remarry like Andy did and was the cause of his nickname. (“She decided to slip in the rubber duck I carried around when I was really young into one of the suitcases I was taking to college. Well, you know how things shift around in the process of moving? It ended up at the top. I get to my dorm, start to unpack in front of my roommates, and what else is there but this horrible, little yellow and orange bird creature? Brian shouts out “Nice duckie!” and…well, it stuck.”) He favors his mother despite the nickname and claims she makes the best chicken marsala in the world. (“And she’s not even Italian! It’s a real feat, believe me.”)
David likes getting lost in unfamiliar places because of how accomplished he feels when he finds his way back, his favorite food is pumpkin pie, and he has no preference for dogs or cats because he’s allergic to both.
He first kissed Amy at her doorstep after a pseudo-date, as they had later deemed it. It certainly didn’t begin as an official date but both Brian and Amy’s best friend, Christine, had to cancel at the last minute, leaving the two alone at the restaurant. After a bit of awkward conversation due to the situation, David jokingly suggested a movie to fit the theme of dinner and Amy went along with the idea to humor him.
The possibility of “being more than friends” wasn’t deeply contemplated on a conscious level before that night, but perhaps the air was laced with something. Subtle flirtations that may have always been present were finally noticed and just as slyly encouraged. When David purposefully brushed his knuckles against hers as they walked side by side, Amy fought the urge to draw her hand back and instead, relished in her nervousness.
When the walk back to her apartment was finished, neither knew exactly how to behave. The decision to take a step forward seemed to be in good timing, but hesitance was apparent in both – Amy played with the strings on her shirt, twisting them around her fingers, and David habitually cleared his throat. Eventually, Amy took the first chance, leaning up to kiss David on the cheek and gave him a rushed “good night.”
Acting in quick retaliation before she could entirely turn away, David took her by both sides of her face and pulled her mouth to his.
“I don’t believe you.” Greg says flatly. He hands Amy a cup of coffee and she frowns in distaste at his remark, yet still accepts the cup. “Who would want to date you?”
“Honey, be nice.” Christine says gently to her husband, placing her hand on Amy’s forearm. “Ignore him.”
“Please, she knows I’m joking. It’s been this way ever since we were freshmen. How come you can’t accept it?”
“I don’t like seeing my two favorite people fight!” Christine huffs. “I don’t care if it’s been like this for years!”
Greg only grins at her, leaning down to kiss her temple. “Some things just don’t change, Chrissie.”
“Guys, it’s been two years since you’ve been married. The honeymoon phase was supposed to over a year and a half ago.” Amy reminds them, unamused. “Stop it. At least around me.”
In a sudden change of attitude that makes her flirting obvious, Christine smiles warmly, raising her own coffee cup to her lips. “Don’t be so quick to shoot it down. Don’t you feel this way around David?”
Amy, surprised at the question, ponders it for a moment.
Not especially. David does make her happy and he does make her nervous – sometimes simultaneously – but she doesn’t feel like she wants to go on hot air balloons rides with him over sweeping landscapes or go on romantic trips to Paris or bear his children. Christine wants to do everything she can with Greg, appreciate every aspect of romance first hand with him, and Amy…Amy doesn’t. Granted, she and David have been together only a short while by others’ judgment, but she can’t see herself ever thinking along those lines.
She wants a comfortable atmosphere, witty remarks, and dinners between the two of them that are always spontaneous, never arranged. She doesn’t want clichés or roses or diamond necklaces “just because.” Hand-holding that’s gradual and occasional, not assumed and always. At the same time, she isn’t asking to settle down. Marriage and children are far from her mind.
Concerning romance, Amy only wants to be content in the company of someone else. And isn’t that enough for now?
“Yeah, he’s fake.” Greg mutters from the kitchen. “She’s taking way too long to answer.”
“Actually, he doesn’t think you’re real.”
David, with his arm casually slung over his shoulders, instantly lets out a “ha!” He’s still smirking when he asks, “And why is that, exactly? Am I too good to be true?”
Amy, letting herself relax in the stress-free atmosphere, leans against him slightly. “Greg likes to tease me and believes that I am entirely repulsive and no man in his right mind would want me under any circumstances.”
“Well, that’s not true.” David’s hand squeezes the side of her shoulder. “But…you know, if it’s not a problem, I’d like to meet him. Them. Christine and Greg. I won’t beat him up, I promise.”
Dinner is arranged at Christine’s for the next week and Amy finds herself anxious when she thinks about the upcoming date. David and Greg could either be the best of friends, completely passive-aggressive, or manly men with gruff voices and short sentences, swapping tales about cars and female conquests. Christine assures her that everything will be fine if the stories she’s told are true and Amy has to bite back the urge to ask her if she thinks David is fake too.
Eventually, it does happen and everything is fine. Beyond fine. Perfect, even. David and Greg build a friendly rivalry after a loud game of Scrabble – although either would refer to it as a “war” rather than a “game” – and swap stories about video games, movies, and college instead of women and vehicles. Christine, usually reserved and passive, throws herself into the game and the conversation, slapping down 10-letter words or insulting Greg in a way that makes David laugh and choke on his drink.
Amy, instead of being nervous about them getting along, takes a step back and lets them socialize, watching Christine throw a little letter block at David. This could be it, she thinks. This could actually be what I want.
When it’s time to go, Christine stops Amy and the door and tells David to keep going, that Amy will be with him shortly. He smiles, confused, but continues anyway.
Once he’s out of sight, Christine pulls her into a hug.
Her overwhelming maternal aura and the hand rubbing on Amy’s back are especially soothing right now, but the strength of the embrace is worrying. Before she can ask what’s going on, Christine’s voice cracks when she tells Amy, “I’m so happy for you.”
Then, there’s a knock on the door.
“Amy, are you awake?”
She opens her eyes at the familiar voice, eyesight blurred and dizzying. Looking up slowly, she can just make out the blond hair at the nurse’s shoulders and squints at the nametag. Ah, so it’s this one today.
She makes a small noise in acknowledgement and can hear the smile in Christine’s voice a moment later. “Good.” There a clack-clack of the medicine tray being set on the shelf and pushed toward her through the door. “It’s that time again. Oh, and Dr. Arian would like to see you again at 3 o’clock. He says you’re making great progress, so hopefully, you’ll be able to go back home within the year.”
Christine’s presence is gone within seconds and the click of her high heels echoes down the hallway until she stops, knocking on another door. Quieter now, but distinctly hers - naturally soft and motherly – she asks, “Lauren, are you awake?”
Time here is nearly irrelevant aside from the appointments and daily rituals that remind her it isn’t endless. Each day is the same, a haze that can hardly be measured by changes, but each night, each time she drifts off to sleep, the world expands beyond these four walls to accommodate a universe of inconsistency. The medicine affects her dreams – sometimes they force her awake, a cold sweat making her hair stick to her face, and sometimes they make no sense at all – but they make her feel more alive asleep than when she’s wide awake.
She makes her way to the tray, takes her medicine with the small glass of water provided, then leans into the corner nearest to the door. The walls on either side of her press against her like arms and she pretends they are Christine’s, David’s, her mother’s, her father’s, anyone’s and waits until her eyes feel heavy once more.