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It’s mid-summer, the heat choking you, though you seem not to mind. You light another cigarette, silently vowing to quit eventually as you place the lighter back on the glass patio table. The sun, by now, is hovering slightly over the roofs of houses—stuck somewhere between evening and night—splashes of pink and purple engulfing the sky. You inhale deeply, rubbing your temple with your free hand, closing your eyes against the world. It’s not a headache, it’s just the common stressors you feel from day to day now: the thoughts that maybe somewhere down the road you made the wrong decision. Maybe everyone was right; maybe you don’t know what’s best for you.
The sun moves down slightly, casting long desperate shadows upon the ground, and for a second, the world is silent. You open your eyes and watch the stillness, the Earth frozen as the sun drops farther and farther out of sight. You rest your chin on the pad of your thumb, enthralled by the appearance of lightning bugs, their glowing bodies barely visible against the violet sky. You’re so caught up in this moment—the departing sun, the colors that remind you of nurseries, the insects trying too hard to find a mate that you barely hear the phone ring beside you. Your fingers instinctively pick it up without checking the caller I.D. It’s too late for telemarketers anyway.
“Hello,” your voice sounds languid, yet you don’t pose the hello as a question, still uncertain on who is calling you at such a crucial time of day.
There’s a small sigh on the other side of the line, an awkward clicking of the tongue as if the caller is suddenly unaware of why they called. “Hey,” they finally expel with a short exhale. The voice is familiar, the memory of the comfort it once gave you sends your back into perfect posture. You light another cigarette in a hurt confusion—you know what this phone call means.
“How are you,” your voice is a little more stable now, more alert, though still lacking enthusiasm. You become aware now that your foot is tapping a mile-a-minute, your fingers drumming against the glass table, sending ashes from your cigarette flying around your hand.
There’s a pause, and you can hear the hum of the phone line as they wonder if they should engage in small talk, or just get it over with. Yet, another sigh plagues the conversation, as if calling you was now a visible mistake or even a difficult and frustrating task. “Listen, I just wanted you to hear it from me first, before it gets out and you have to find out unprepared,” they’re speaking slowly, as if doing you a favor by giving you this news that is great but turns your stomach into knots. “We got engaged, and we’re planning on getting married sometime next year. Around your birthday, actually.”
The phone line hums for a minute as neither of you can think of a word to say. Around your birthday, sits heavy in your ears, as if they have picked the date on purpose just to make it more difficult. You chew at the inside of your cheek, your cigarette extinguishing itself between your fingers. “I’m happy for you. Congratulations,” but your voice sounds heavy, almost burdened, as if you are suddenly preoccupied by something in the distance. “Really, that’s great news,” falls out flatter than before, and you wonder if the words ever left your mouth at all.
“I’m sorry. I know it’s a bit soon, but it just feels right. I just wanted to tell you
myself.”
A bit soon seems an understatement to you, seeing as the relationship between you two had only ended eight months ago. It just feels right, hurt more than the news itself, as if what they meant was, “this isn’t just another waste of time like you were.” Engaged, already. It’s not so much the engagement itself that bothers you, but the rapidness of such, and the fact that in the past eight months you have formed no relationships outside of a few casual sex partners, most of whose last names you don’t even remember.
“Well, good luck with everything, I hope it works out,” you force out, trying to end this downhill conversation before it has the opportunity to get worse.
“Thanks, I appreciate that. Take care of yourself, okay?” Their own voice sounds heavy now, as if they want to mean it, but they can’t seem to bring themselves to do such.
You know this is the end of the conversation, where you hang up, or they hang up, and you’re left to stare off into the distance while they walk back over to their new partner and complain about what a drag that had been. But, you can’t bring yourself to hang up the phone, because you know this is it—this is the last bit of contact you will have with them, and the thought of that is not sinking in, though it feels like a boulder against your chest.
The phone line continues to hum between you two, and you can hear their breathing on the other line, the type of breathing that occurs when you’re attempting not to cry. You don’t say a word; just listen as you hold yourself together as best you can. This is their fault, they’re the one who walked away on so many years together, and they’re the one who jumped into a relationship with someone you knew they couldn’t truly love.
This continues for a few minutes, the clock turning with increased patience and fluidity as if a second could last a millennium. You stare blankly ahead of you, the burnt out cigarette still between your fingers as if moving would break the moment. Your mouth hangs slightly open as if you are thinking of speaking yet can’t find the proper words, as you hear a slight ruffling against their end of the phone line.
“I still love you,” they whisper, and you expect these words to help, to move you, but they don’t. You just continue to stare ahead, focusing in on a lizard scaling the side of the house.
“No, you don’t,” you whisper back as if being too loud would shake the silent atmosphere around you. But it’s too late; they have already hung up and went back to their loved one. The phone sits idle in your hand, as if suddenly glued there. You light another cigarette and listen to the beeping of the phone line that tells you there’s no one there.

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