Maybe, in the end, it wasn’t fair to him. It was he who got fucked over in spite of being the one to crudely break up with her in a public setting after getting her to pay seven dollars to see his band. It was a breakup predicated on the scam that her invitation to the show meant that there was no trouble in so-called paradise. Lending the illusion that the relationship–if that’s what it was–would go on if only she would show support for his musical talents. But after stumbling out the door in that dramatic fashion that she genuinely felt was right in the moment, falling to her knees and then getting up again to scuttle off into the night, she had time to think about it. So much time. And upon more careful consideration, she decided it was he who was the one that had been duped by her. She didn’t care about him, not really. He was a pawn on her chessboard toward getting over “the one.” Or so she thought at the commencement of it all.
Distract, distract, distract. To her, this was code for fuck, fuck, fuck. If she had someone to be held by, she reasoned, she wasn’t alone. And Timothy was amenable at the outset to such affections, though it took much coercion to convince him to make the transition from casual acquaintance to friend to lover. And the effort it required rather made her feel like part of that elite group: the female rapist. Though she didn’t comprehend just how much she was forcing it until Timothy started pulling back from her in ways that only made her want to press him all the more.
It’s been said that love should be easy. Other schools argue that if it’s not a challenge then there can never be room to grow with one another. With Timothy, it was peaks and valleys of both. Laurel had encountered him numerous times at one of the many record shops in Lincoln Park, which still housed the sort of music aficionados that Nick Hornby described in High Fidelity. They’d seen one another at various outposts from Dave’s Records to the somewhat suggestively named Dusty Groove. She was always with her boyfriend, however, and was too invested in paying attention to Conley to side-eye anyone else, least of all Timothy, so self-effacing and voyeuristic. His muted brown hair and neither tan nor pale skin also made him an ideal wallflower, the sort who could easily observe. And what he observed in Laurel was someone who appeared “intriguing,” though he wouldn’t necessarily analyze her beyond that. He was four years her junior, and thusly in a much different place. For admittedly, four years creates an especial vastness when the gap between ages is twenty-four and twenty-eight.
A year passed in much the same way between them: random encounters at record stores and shows, she in the constant company of Conley, whose ego seemed to grow larger the tighter his jeans got, also in proportion to how many shows his band had been playing of late. And then, one day, Timothy beheld her at Audio Archaeology to find that she was alone thumbing through the Joan Baez section with visible tears running down her face. He was impressed by her flagrant disregard for being seen in such an emotional state in public. She didn’t give a fuck, and this was not a quality commonly seen among the girls in his own age demographic. They were all concerned with upholding a certain image, or were essentially still too unformed to have much of a distinct personality at all, other than the one that the Instagram accounts they followed told them to have.
From that day forward, their rapport was presumably sealed. Their run-ins with one another were no longer based on happenstance, but pre-planned with the intensity of two people who weren’t playing games with each other. She wasn’t aware that Timothy was rich until they started spending enough time together and his ability to do just about whatever he wanted became manifest in the form of him taking impromptu trips to Los Angeles to “record with a friend” for no money or dining in restaurants that twenty-four-year-olds have no business dining in. Mind you, like all rich people, he rarely reached into his own pocket to offer to pay. She later learned that this was a result of his greatest fear: that he was only desired for his standing in life, that those close to him were taking advantage. Still, as she did her best to put thoughts of Conley out of her mind, who had broken it off with her because he felt compelled to move to Nashville and “start a serious band” instead of continuing to allow his musical genius to atrophy in Chicago, she felt she was genuinely getting closer with Timothy. And the closer they got, the more she didn’t care that even though she had offered to move to Nashville with Conley, he had insisted they had gotten all they could from one another and both needed to move on in order to experience self-actualization. He was always saying hokey shit like that.
The intimacy she was experiencing with Timothy (you know, the kind where you both orgasm at the same time) was causing a dizzying effect that had prompted her to neglect her own pursuits in the local scene. She hadn’t practiced the keyboard at all in the time since she and Timothy started “hanging out,” as the generation du moment non-committally calls it. It was getting to the point where some of her best friends were starting to begrudge her for how gushy she was getting over the whole affair. One particularly vexed fellow former bandmate, Ronnie, mimicked her one night at the bar they often went to, Delilah’s, goading, “I’m so impressive. I’m fucking a twenty-four-year-old. I must not be day old bread after all.”
But she didn’t care. She had entered the wormhole of Timothy’s being. And, speaking of, the coffee shop right next to the apartment he miraculously lived in alone was called The Wormhole, and centered around an 80s theme, her ultimate kryptonite. After nights she would spend at Timothy’s, letting him sleep in instead of asking the thing men of any age hate most–what their plans were–she went to The Wormhole to get a coffee and catch the El back to her own place.
Upon being seen so many mornings there, the barista finally shoved a coffee card at her and insisted, “You could have had like three free coffees by now. Take one.” As a rule, she tended to abhor coffee cards because it inferred a level of devotion to one place, one routine. Shit, she had only just changed her permanent address from her parents in Michigan to her current one in Chicago. She couldn’t be pressured to take on more vows of loyalty to a specific environment… could she?
“You done ordering or what?” a bearded douchebag behind her asked.
She turned around to glare at him as she took the card from the barista, shocked to see Conley was the source of her irritation.
“Conley. What are you doing here?”
“I just got back in town,” he explained, hugging her as though he hadn’t been gone for months, hadn’t coldly chucked her like a mouse stuck to a glue trap that needed to be gotten rid of swiftly and with not too much eye contact. To her surprise, she hugged him back, letting the scent of his pheromones reawaken within her that old, never really gone desire.
“Are you back for good?” she asked with more hope in her voice than she wanted to reveal.
“No, just here for a couple days to record something and do a show. What’s new with you? …Seeing anyone?”
She raised her eyebrow. “Aren’t you?”
“Of course not. I told you why I was leaving. To focus on me, my music.”
She sighed. “Yes. How could I forget?”
He squeezed her shoulder affectionately. “So are you?”
“What’s his name?”
“Sounds a little… effete.”
“Whatever you say,” he mocked. Then, grinning, he asked, “Why don’t you both come out for a drink with me tonight? I’d love to meet him.”
“That would be imprudent, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know, I don’t have a dictionary to know what that means.”
“I always told you to download the dictionary app.”
“Feels dishonest somehow. To not work for looking it up.”
“Since when are you concerned with dishonesty?”
Conley’s natural smirk fell away, as he knew exactly what she was referring to. A time not so long ago when he had sold one of his bandmates out by blatantly stealing a riff he had played one night when they were all drunk showboating their skills. It was the riff that got him into the band in Nashville. The one reputable enough to find him back in Chicago to record something with them and sign an official contract.
“Do you want to see me while I’m here or not?” he queried gruffly as a means to change the subject.
She softened. “Yes. I do.”
He seemed sated with this admission. “All right then. I’ll let you know what I’m doing a later. Feel free to bring along what’s his name. Unless you’re afraid of him seeing all the chemistry that’s still between us.”
She rolled her eyes. “Bye Conley.”
With that, she practically ran out of The Wormhole, her single-stamped coffee card in hand.
Six stamps and two weeks later, things between her and Timothy were more strained than they had ever been. And it wasn’t just because he most likely felt like a trophy boyfriend that night she brought him along to meet up with Conley at Ravens, where all their old mutual friends had also congregated to pay their respects to the now immortal god of Lincoln Park. It was also because he was starting to think that maybe she was a complete fraud. A user. Worse, a succubus looking for anyone to fill that void that was so clearly emanating from inside her. It was beginning to disgust him in ways that were manifesting in manners he knew were detrimental to her already fragile self-esteem. For instance, he didn’t want to fuck her anymore, instead placating her with a finger bang here and there.
As the days went on like this, she continuing to hold out hope for something more than an icy exterior every night she went over and subsequently getting her coffee card stamped the next morning, Timothy knew he was going to have to end it–and soon.
But he didn’t. It wasn’t his way to deal with things right away, nor straightforwardly. It wasn’t his intention to blurt out that she wasn’t what he was looking for after she faithfully watched him play that aforementioned evening where we began. Yet it was what he couldn’t suppress any longer, letting his true feelings bubble to the surface in an instant when he shouldn’t have.
The next morning, she didn’t leave her bed for hours after waking up, letting the effects of what had happened sink in. Maybe if her heart was purer, it wouldn’t have panned out so badly, so jarringly.
Needless to say, she never got a free coffee; she had all the stamps filled in by now, but she wasn’t going to go back to The Wormhole.