When I got home that night, after a pint of ice cream and four episodes of Ally McBeal on Netflix, I picked up the phone and dialed the only person who would be awake and willing to talk at that hour. It rang several times. I tapped my feet against the floor, hoping that—if only this once—he would pick up.
“Hello?” The voice on the other line asked.
Suddenly, I felt embarrassed to be calling. At this age, I was supposed to fix my own problems, know what I wanted. Yet here I was, feeling fifteen again, complaining about my parents grounding me, some guy laughing at me, my fear that I might waste my life, all the things I murmured on the phone late at night, not necessarily because I wanted to share, but because I just wanted to have something to talk about. Will couldn’t fix my problems now. That wasn’t his role.
“What are you doing calling so late? Is something wrong?” I could hear the faint rustling of his throwing his sheets off in the background. He didn’t get out of bed after midnight unless it was an emergency.
“I’m fine. I mean, I think. I guess.” I reassured him.
I sat down on the couch. I never kept anything from Will. He’d forgiven me several months after the break-up debacle. Our relationship had been a mistake all around, we both reasoned. I couldn’t speak for him, but I knew that wasn’t entirely true. We didn’t bring it up much anymore. Some things were meant to go unmentioned.
We didn’t talk about relationships. We steered clear of reopening old wounds. That’s not to say we didn’t know about the other’s romantic life; Megan served as mediator. His girlfriends never lasted long enough to warrant an introduction, but he’d met Luke on a number of occasions.
“Luke asked me to move in with him two weeks ago.”
“That’s great,” he sounded enthusiastic, at least more so than I did. “When are you moving?”
“I don’t know if I am.” I put my feet up on the couch and adjusted the pillow behind my back. Will didn’t respond; I was afraid he’d hung up.
“Oh,” he managed finally, his voice sinking. “What’s the problem?”
“There isn’t one,” I said, throwing my arm down in frustration. “Nothing aside from the fact that I can’t give him an answer. It shouldn’t be this hard. I should just say ‘yes.’”
I was asking him for advice—advice about a guy. If we had a code on this, it had been broken.
“Then why don’t you?”
“I don’t know. I can’t do it.”
I anticipated a long speech outlining exactly what I should decide, what I should say.
“You’re going to have to figure this one out, Em.” He said.
I waited, expecting him to go on, but the silence just hung there.
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t agree. We’ve been dating for a year and half. I just, I freaked when he asked. I’ve been avoiding him. I even went home for the weekend.”
“Sounds serious,” Will laughed.
“Then be serious.” I quipped. Luke never noticed that a trip home meant I was confused, worried, any of a number of reasons people return to the places they packed up and left.
“Say he asked you to marry him.” Will had turned too serious. “What would you say?”
“Well, first of all, I’m only twenty-four, and he’s only asking me to move in. I guess I’d say maybe.” I wiggled in my seat. Even the thought made me uncomfortable.
“Yes or no. You’re already dealing with maybe.”
I didn’t think this time.
I wasn’t good with answers. When I broke up with Will, he asked why, and I didn’t have an answer then either.
“Do you still think I’m a commitment-phobe?” That was what he’d called me when he was still angry. I wore it like a badge and a burden.
“That was eight years ago,” he didn’t sound as exasperated as I expected. “But no. I just think you have a lot of things to figure out.”
“Like what?” I needed him to tell me, to help me.
“Em, I don’t know exactly what it is you’re afraid of, but I don’t think you’re afraid of the commitment.”
I took a deep breath.
“I’m so sorry, Will.”
“For everything that happened back then.” I began to wonder if my iced tea had been spiked with something. This hadn’t begun as an apology call.
“Move on, Emma. It’s the past. Think things over. I’ll talk to you later in the week.” I could hear him yawn on the other end.
He hung up before I had a chance to say anything.
When I was younger and had something to think about, I would go to the wooded area behind my house, sit on the roots of some big tree and wait. If I waited long enough, the epiphany would come. Hours later, my mother, panicked, would find me. It always felt like running away.
I was too old to be running away. And there weren’t any trees in the city. Even if there were, childhood is subject to change. One day, you wake up in the body of an adult with the mind of a child. There are some things you can’t take back.