Changes (Short Story)

The moment I opened the door, I knew she was already inside. As always, a gust of wind escaped from my apartment, fleeing into the hallway. It seemed like it always knew something I did not. A warning to not go inside, find somewhere else to run to. But inevitably, I would have nowhere else to go and I would come inside all the same.

“Oh, you’re home,” came the usual voice.

“Yep.”

“Anything special happen today?”

“Nope, the same old.”

“I see.”

As I closed the apartment door behind me and turned to look down the entryway, she came into focus.

Like every day, sitting on the couch, thumbing through some magazine. Today, the cover indicated that topic of choice was running. I knew that she had been thinking about running a marathon and the magazine selection fit. But the magazines changed with her desires, one day it would be bicycles, another one she would be reading about Korean food, and interestingly once she had been looking at a sports magazine. Unfortunately, the sports interest did not last long.

“What did you do today?” I asked her.

“I guess the same old as well.” No surprise to me. “Just hanging out here. Reading up. Waiting for you. You know, the usual.”

“Right right,” I said, dismissing her comments as I unloaded from the day.

Some strands of her long hair hung in the air, barely moving as her gaze remained fixed on the magazine. She always had an interesting way of reading, maybe she just did not like to touch the paper. The magazine laid out open on the coffee table while she hunched over and hovered right above it with her eyes.

I always told her it would be bad for her back, but she never listened.

“What’s for dinner?” she asked.

“Probably nothing too special. I have some chicken that I probably should cook soon before it gets bad.”

“Oh, that should be okay.”

“Are you joining me?”

“No, I’m not eating.” Again, no surprise.

I sat down next to her on the couch. She barely moved to make way for me, managing to slide her way to the side while still keeping her eyes on the magazine. Not one strand was out of place when she finished her maneuver, everything remaining in place before she moved. I picked up the remote and flipped through the television channels, mainly to find some background noise to fill the room. I knew I would not want to watch anything at this time of the day, but I always hated silence.

Even though she was right next to me, I could barely feel her. She made no sounds unless you interacted with her. I had to turn and look to make sure she was still there. And of course, every time I thought she was there, she would be.

Nothing fancy in her outfit today. Unnecessarily dressing for warmth for being inside all day, she went with a hooded sweatshirt of some Midwestern university. She went there, trying to run away from home and had the usual college experience of most people. Average grades, average amount of parties and the average number of relationships. She completed the look with a pair of sweatpants from her rival university. It formed a mismatch of colors which was jarring to eyes and got her a fair share of stares when she wore the same outfit back in school. But that was her objective. Not that she was an attention seeker 24/7, but as she said, “everyone likes to be center of attention every now and then.”

It was hard to ignore her now, as she occupied half my couch and I tried to fight her off with some bland sitcom repeat on the television screen. Unfortunately, the show was not quite as enthralling as the first time I saw it, especially in its tenth run towards my eyes and I had no choice but to engage her yet again.

The conflicting university colors jumped out at me, but I eventually focused in on her eyes. Just a second before she had been focused on her text but as if she knew I was going to turn to face her, she was already set to return my gaze.

“Yes?”

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“Didn’t you already ask me that when you came in?”

“Did I?” I thought for a second. “No, I think I asked you what you did today.”

“Huh. So you did. Isn’t that the same question though?”

“Not exactly. The words are different.”

She laughed at my obviousness. “So they are. I’m doing fine. Just like I was yesterday and the day before.” Her look in her eyes went from a neutral unconcerned stare to a rather sharp gaze. “Nothing changes unless you want it to.”

I could feel my own gaze betray my weakness upon hearing that statement. “I guess that’s one way to look at it.”

She again laughed and moved her eyes back to the magazine. “Scared you there did I? A bit deeper than you expected from me, right?”

“No, I guess you’re just saying what everyone is thinking.”

“You’re right. You think things just happen? No, people take action.” She flipped a page in her magazine. “If I want to read more, I need to turn the page. The cover is pretty enough, but you have to open it up to start reading and having fun.”

“What if you don’t want to see what’s inside?”

“Damn it, not this crap again.” She stopped looking at the magazine but did not look at me either. She just focused off into space, some vague piece of the wall. “Why get the magazine if you don’t want to read it?”

“I never wanted all those magazines.”

“Forget this lame analogy. It’s me you’re talking to. You don’t need to talk in code.” She was right. “So what then, ‘better to have never loved at all’? Is that what you believe?”

I glanced out of the window. “Well, no, that’s not it of course. I had a great time but, it’s just…”

“Just what?”

“I’m just tired of feeling this way.”

“Nothing changes unless you want it to.”

“But I want it to.”

“Do you really?”

The sight outside proved not enough of a distraction so I turned back to face her. Gone were the university sweats, now for some reason she was wearing her Halloween costume from last year. She had decided to go with a schoolgirl themed costume, her long hair was now tied up in pigtails. She told me she loved the simplicity in that all that she had to wear was a white blouse and a pleated gray skirt. Knee high socks and simple black flats completed the ensemble. Being a guy I appreciated the look and it stuck in my mind clearly as one of my favorite outfits of hers.

“I said, do you really?”

“I’m sorry, I find the outfit distracting.”

“Well, you’re the one who liked it so much.”

“True. It was simple and cute.”

“I take it from the fact I’m wearing this now that you’re not so on board for a change.” She untied her pigtails to let her hair fall down, which admittedly, I liked better with the overall costume. “We both know I’m not the first on to go through this. There’s the girl from high school. Then freshman year. And then that girl you broke up with before you went abroad. And then the girl when you went abroad…”

“I get it. I get it.”

She continued. “And the girl from the work. And the second girl from work.”

“I get it!”

“Just saying. This isn’t the first time you’ve had this dance. I’m not the first person you’re trying to get over. What’s so different about this time?”

“Maybe just because you’re the girl for right now.”

She chuckled. “Right now, huh? Maybe you’re more along the road to recovery than I thought. But see, you’re going from girl to girl. Why not take some time for yourself?”

“I’ve taken enough time for myself. It’s because I have all this time to myself that you’re here.”

She started to play with her hair. “Can’t deny that. You got me on that one.”

“Nobody wants to be alone.”

“Yeah, true. But we all need alone time.”

“Why are you so difficult to talk with?”

“It’s why I’m here,” she said, flashing me a slight smile.

“Well, you by far, are the most attractive out of all of them.”

She turned slightly red, looking away from me when I said that. “That won’t work. But, I don’t know a girl who doesn’t appreciate hearing that.”

“But it doesn’t matter, I assume.”

“No, sadly, it doesn’t.”

I got up from the couch and started to prepare for dinner. I had my back turned to her while she remained on the couch. But I could still feel her presence there, burning into my back like someone was staring right at me the whole time.

I tried my best to keep focus on the work in front of me but I had to turn back around and relieve the pressure building up within. She had gotten up from the couch. In fact she was standing behind me the whole time.

Gone was her schoolgirl costume, now to be replaced with the outfit she wore the first time we met. Long hair flowed from underneath a loose fitting hat, several strands getting tangled with the red scarf she wore. The collar of her lavender polo peeked out from the purple sweater she wore. A relatively nondescript pair of jeans disappeared into the tight black boots she had on. I think it was the boots that got me that first time.

“Hello there,” she said, mimicking that first day. “And what can I do for you?”

“You could go,” I replied, tired of today’s edition of the daily struggle.

“Oh wow. Impressive. I remember times when I would be with you the whole day. Now you want me to go?”

“I said I did, didn’t I?”

“Don’t you remember the first day? So full of hopes. So full of expectations. You spent days trying to just build up the courage to speak to me and then one day, bam, you see me holding a book.” Her right hand, previously out of sight, suddenly came into view with a copy of the book in question in it. “You thought, ‘She’s reading a book by him? It’s a sign.’ And so you walk over. You try and play it so you casually notice the book and the girl you’ve been staring at for hours.”

I looked for something to distract my attentions as I was treated to yet another recollection. “And yes, I know what you’re thinking,” she said, interrupting her flow. “And no, you shouldn’t break that plate. It’s the only clean one you’ve got left.” I put the plate down.

She continued. “I’m not saying this to be mean.”

“Then what’s your point?”

“The point is, what’s stopping you from doing this all over again? Finding someone else? Other people read this book you know.”

“I know. It’s just…not yet.”

She sighed and threw the book away behind her. Taking off her hat, she started to scratch her head, a common habit of hers. On her face was a look of submission. “Same as every day. Come on. I’m not that special. I’m just another girl who unfortunately it didn’t work out with.”

“Maybe it could’ve.”

“Doesn’t matter. No point in looking back. Get back to me when you come up with that time machine.”

“Just go.”

“So then what? See you here tomorrow?”

“Yeah, probably.”

A heavy sigh came from her. She put the hat back on. “Forget about me.”

“I’m trying.”

“You say that every day.”

“You say that every day too.”

She smiled. “Maybe I do. Hopefully I won’t be here tomorrow.”

“I hope so too.” I turned back around and got back to work on my meal while I felt the presence burning at my back slowly fade. There was no sound as it just faded away into nothingness. For now I could focus on other things, my dinner, some leftover work, and maybe the latest episodes of my favorite shows if I finished early enough.

But I knew she would be right there waiting for me when I had a moment to myself and my thoughts.

Nothing changes.


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