by Ronald Hogan

"Don't fall in love with me," she said, as though falling in love with someone was an option that I could simply just click off with the push of a button.

"I'll try not to," is the only response I can give to that. Nobody tries to fall in love with anyone, it just happens. Things like that are entirely random; the essential order of the universe is that there is no order to the universe; things are purely happenstance filtered through chaos. Believe me, if I could control whom I fell in love with, there would be a lot less heartbreak in my spirit and a lot less angst in my writing.

"Do me a favor," she says placidly. "Don't fall in love with me and don't write any poetry about me. Your poetry is sad, and I don't want to think about being the girl to cause you that kind of pain."

"That's the problem," I responded. "The poetry's sad because I've been sad a lot lately. If things were happier, when things were happier I should say, I wrote happier things. You're just reading the most recent stuff."

"Still, don't fall in love with me. Please."

"I'll try not to."

"You always say 'try to'," she sighed. "Say 'I won't.'"

"I can't do that. You know as well as I do that kind of thing can't really be controlled. The only thing I can promise is that I'll do my best not to fall for you." I say this knowing that full well promises get broken an awful lot, but if that's what she wants to hear from me, if that's what she needs to hear me say to keep her happy, then I'll say it. What can I say? I'm a people-pleaser when it comes to those I care about.

"You know something?"


"I'd have sex with you."

Talk about your out-of-the-blue statements. From a virgin girl, no less. I just look at her a little confusedly and blink. "Really?"

"Of course. You're a great guy."

"But," I really shouldn't question this good fortune. "Wouldn't you want your first time to be with someone you were in love with?"

"Well, yeah, ideally my first would be someone I love, but if my first was you, I wouldn't be disappointed. You're really special to me. You've always been so sweet to me, and I've always cared about you."

"Thanks, hon." I smile awkwardly.

"No, thank you for being so nice to me, and-"

Outside, a horn honks. That's her ride.

"That's my ride."

"Yeah, I figured," I nod. "What do you have planned for tonight?"

"Oh," she sighs breathlessly. "I'm going with the other Jenny and Jessica to a bar in Mexico. You know, a girl's night out."

"Right." A girl's night out to get plastered, snort pills bought at a Mexican pharmacia, and hit on random strangers as equally wasted as you are. "Well, I hope you have fun."

"Don't worry, I always do," she says as she impales me with a breathtaking smile. "Don't you worry about me too much while I'm gone."

"Don't worry, I always do," I parrot.

"Bye-bye. Have a good night!"

How can I have a good night when my reason for living is walking out the door to go get fucked up with her friends while leaving me here in my misery? It should be obvious to you by now that I love you, woman. Why else would I say something lame like 'I'll try not to fall in love with you' if I wasn't already in love with you and just trying to make you happy?

"Bye, Jenny."

She turns for the door. I want to stop her, confess what I'm feeling and let the feelings I've bottled up for months flow free. I want to tell her that I've written poems about her even though she's told me not to. I want to tell her that every sweet word that I've said that she took to be a joke were words I meant from somewhere deep, desperate, and painful inside me. I want to tell her that thousands of poems, millions of sweet words, and a galaxy of stars cannot express the depths of my feelings for her. I want to tell her how much I desperately love her, despite her every admonition designed to make me not love her because she doesn't want to hurt me like she hurts all her other boyfriends.

I bite my tongue as the door slams shut with aching finality. There's a nasty, cancerous lump of leftover feelings stuck somewhere between my windpipe and my stomach that doesn't go away no matter how many times I swallow or how many Rolaids I eat. I hang my head, kicking myself for both feeling this way about her and for not telling her the truth about my feelings. I want to cry, but I'm not going to. It won't happen again; I won't cry over her anymore.

Instead, I hang my head like a dog that's been kicked one too many times. I stare at my hands or at the walls. I write sappy poetry that she'll never read. I drink too much to try and forget her. When everyone else is in bed, I'll hug my pillow and pretend it's her. I wait like a faithful pet by the phone for her calls, or by the computer for her emails. I'd like to say there's some other reason I drag my ass out of bed every afternoon, but there's not. She's just about all I have that keeps me going, and she'll never know it.

When the phone rings, I nearly jump out of my skin. Hands shaking, I fumble for the white handset and depress the TALK button.


"Hey, it's me."

It's her.

"Thought you'd be on your way to Mexico by now."

"Oh, I am. I just had to ask you something before I forget."

"What's that?"

"Do you love me? I mean, seriously. Don't lie."

"I'd never lie," I stammer as my voice fights past dry lips. I swallow hard.

"…and you didn't answer me."

"You already know the answer, Jenny."

"I need to hear it."

"Yeah, I love y-…"

When she replies, I hear a pleasant sparkle in her voice, one that's been absent too much lately.

"I love you too."

I say nothing; I was too busy trying to pop my eyes back into their sockets and pick my jaw up off the floor. As if she senses my stunned state, she continues speaking.

"Listen, I really should go now, but I'll give you a call when I get in tonight so you won't have to worry about me getting in okay."

"Uh, okay."

"Say it again." She's smiling. I can hear it in her tone of voice. It's infectious.

"I love you."

"I love you too." She blows a kiss into the phone. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you more."

"I know." She giggles. "Talk to you soon."

The line goes dead. I hang up the phone, placing the handset back onto its cradle. I exhale, slowly, my mind whirling frantically to get a handle on this new and unexpected development. I can't quite wrap myself around this new development, but it doesn't stop me from losing myself to a large, stupid grin. I even laugh a few times, laughter that's more than just 'hey, that's a funny joke' or 'I need to fake being happy'. This is legitimate contentment for once. For the first time in months the desire to blow my brains out has been surpassed by strange new feelings of giddy, stupid happiness. Barely able to walk on rubbery legs, I make my way to the couch and sit down, wrapping my arms around my pillow, hugging my ersatz Jenny.

For once, things are looking up for me. It's a strange feeling, but it's not a bad feeling. It's a good feeling. Hopefully, more good feelings will be coming my way.

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