The word rang in Eric’s ears, echoing around his brain as though it had been spoken just seconds before, instead of yesterday. He was slumped in a chair in a near-empty airport, waiting for an attendant to call him up and confirm that his standby seat was available. His eyes were glazed over, staring blankly in front of him as the reality of the last 24 hours battered against him like waves in a storm. Relentless. Unyielding.
Truth be told, many of the details of the night before were still lost on him. The second he had heard Alyssa say that fatal word, his brain had gone into some kind of defensive trance. He knew there had been shock, anger, and sadness. They had left the restaurant and returned to the hotel. There had been ill-tempered words and tears. There had been a long, deep conversation that had ended only when they were too emotionally spent to continue talking. They had sat there, in the pre-dawn light, and just looked at each other.
That’s when he had known for sure. When the last of his hope had drained away. They weren’t going to talk through this. They weren’t going to stay together. The future he had imagined of marriage, and a relationship, and being with Alyssa—it was all gone. And with all that gone, what was the point of hanging around? He had shoved his belongings in his luggage, engagement ring included. He hadn’t needed to ask for it back. He had never even gotten the change to put it on her finger.
And now here he was, 12 hours later, still waiting for a flight back to the states. He didn’t have it in him to argue, raise a fuss, or try and force his way onto a flight. He simply sat there, like a robot with its battery turned off, waiting for someone to let him know that he could leave Italy. Finally, in a desperate attempt to distract himself from the memories that kept bubbling up in his mind, he turned his phone off of airplane mode. Immediately, notifications began pouring in.
Three missed calls from his mother, no doubt dying to hear the story of the proposal. Eric smiled mirthlessly as he thought about how that call would go.
“Yeah, so slight change of plans, mom. Instead of the wedding you were so excited about, I’m now single. Yeah, she dumped me. Yup, on the beach in Italy. Yes, it was the most romantic place to be dumped, that was definitely a thought that crossed my mind as well. No, she’s sure. Yes, the wedding is off, people don’t usually marry their exes. I know you had a great venue in mind, we can just use it for my funeral after I kill myself. No, no. I’m joking. I’m joking!”
Shaking his head wearily he deleted that notification. In no way was he ready to talk to his mom about this. Then there was the group chat.
Jack [4:21am]: Duuuude, how’d it go? Was she surprised or did she see it coming? How baller was that restaurant? I checked it out on Google and tbh if you proposed to me there, I’d say yes. Shit, I might even suck your dick if it was a full moon.
Kyle [4:38am]: Man, that’s the third dick sucking reference you’ve made today. Just do it and stop talking about it.
Kyle [4:41am]: But fuck yeah Eric, let us know how it went. I’m sure y’all are staying in bed all day today but I’m sure you can find time to text us in between those 2 minute rounds.
Andrew [5:11am]: Wait, do we know if he’s done it yet? What’s the time zone over there? Eric, I hope your phone is on airplane mode or in your pocket, otherwise one of these dildos may have just ruined the surprise.
Eric grinned again, this time with a ting of humor to his sadness; the first positive feeling he’d had in nearly 24 hours. “Those idiots,” he thought. “They didn’t get the time zones even remotely right. Thank god I had my phone on airplane mode.” His face fell again as his thoughts continued. “Not that it would have mattered. Actually, it probably would have saved me from making a scene at that damn restaurant. Why do people even propose in public? Oh that’s right, most people actually talk to their girlfriends and confirm that they want to marry them. Apparently, that’s a part of relationships I missed out on.”
He leaned his head back with a sigh, rotating it slowly as he stretched his neck out. He had been sitting in this damn chair for what felt like eternity, and he was tired. Tired of his thoughts, tired of rehashing an argument he could do nothing to change, and most of all, tired of Italy. He looked out the window and saw a few planes coming in for landing. With any luck, one of those would be a United flight with an open seat back home. He looked back down at his phone and swiped away the texts he had read. He didn’t want to tell them what had happened, even though he knew they would be all be empathetic and supportive, each in their own way.
Jack would do everything in his power to lift him back up. He would tell jokes, he would lather him with compliments, he would even curse Alyssa and tell Eric that he was way too good for her anyway. He’d suggest going out, getting drinks, and meeting some new girls, but Eric wasn’t interested in any of that. He didn’t want a new girl; he wanted the one who didn’t want him.
Andrew would be down to sit and talk. He’d ask what had happened, what had been said, and what Eric was thinking. He’d be supportive and helpful, but Eric didn’t want that either. He didn’t want to talk about it, in fact, he wanted to just forget it. Forget the relationship had ever happened, and pretend like his life was normal, and not in pieces.
Kyle…well that’s exactly what Kyle would offer. He’d ask if Eric wanted to talk about it, hoping that he’d say no, and then he’d take that opportunity to never bring it up again. Not out of apathy, but because he figured that’s what Eric wanted. But he didn’t want that. He wanted to vent, to bitch and complain. Or did he?
He sighed again and ran his hand through his hair. He didn’t know what he wanted. All he wanted right now was to get home. He looked down at his phone and began removing the remaining notifications.
“ESPN update, ESPN update, another ESPN update. Really? Tim Tebow news? In 2019? Who wants that? Some news stories, some work emails. Yeah right, like I’m even reading those.”
He cleared his Instagram notifications without a second glance. The last thing he wanted to see was people having the time of their lives with their fun vacations and happy relationships. He swiped and swiped and then paused. A text message had come through a few days ago, apparently as he was on the plane to Italy. A text message from someone he hadn’t heard from in a long time.
Rachel [3 days ago]: Heyy Eric. I know this is a shitty thing to do, but I just heard from your mom about how you’re going to Italy to propose, and I just had to say something before you did. I’m sure you’re not even going to respond to this and I totally understand if you don’t, but I just wanted to say that I still love you and I wish it was me going on that trip with you instead of her. I know it’s super selfish to tell you at the last second like this but I guess I always figured I’d have more time and tbh I was just scared to tell you. I know we ended messily and it took me way longer than it should have to realize this, but I think what we had was really special and I think it’s worth pursuing. I don’t really know what else to say but that. I hope you respond, but if you don’t, I get it. <3
“Whaaaat the fuck.” Eric said out loud, startling the desk agents who had assumed he was a mute this whole time. Rachel still had feelings for him. Had he gotten the text before he took off, he would have deleted it without a second thought. But it had been a lifechanging few days. He read the text again, and the hint of a smile began to creep on his face. For the first time all day he felt a hint of optimism. Suddenly, an accented voice startled him out of his thoughts.
“Sir, your standby seat is available at gate 53B. If you hurry, you can make it.”
Eric shoved his phone in his pocket, grabbed his bags, and began a trot through the airport. He was going home.
Authors note: That’s all, folks! For everyone who has picked up this series along the way, or the few that have followed along from the beginning, thank you. All the comments and engagement are what drives me to keep writing, and I appreciate everyone who was invested enough in these characters that I thought up in my head to follow me on Eric’s awful life journey for the past year and a half.