Mia flicked ash from the end of her cigarette into the ashtray. The photo had been posted 29 minutes ago, and she couldn’t stop staring at it. Sure, she’d already known the announcement was coming. She’d heard a few days ago. But to see their actual smiling faces on the screen of her phone, knowing that the information was out there for the world to see and congratulate was something else entirely. Nothing could keep the sting out of her chest.
Her phone pinged with a message, and she dropped the cigarette into the ashtray, her heart pounding. Swallowing thickly, she opened it up.
Can I swing by? Need to talk.
Mia fought off the urge to throw her phone across the backyard and squeezed her eyes shut. Why the hell did he want to come by now? They’d talked already. He’d phoned her, telling her about his engagement, giving her the heads up, as he’d so delicately put it.
Why did he need to talk?
Opening her eyes, she stared down again at the message, as if she could will it away. She thought about just not responding, but how would that work? Surely, he would just stop by anyways. Mia knew how he operated.
She swapped back to the other screen and looked again at the photo of the newly engaged happy couple. Connor and Brie were smiling, their arms wrapped around one another, with Brie’s left hand angled towards the camera to show off the engagement ring. Mia gritted her teeth as she zoomed in on the ring – again – and scowled. Once, she had dreamt that that ring would be on her finger. It had belonged to Connor’s mother, and Connor and Mia had long ago joked that it would have been hers.
The jokes had turned into more serious conversations – and then everything had fallen apart.
And now he was engaged to Brie.
Mia? I’m in the area – are you home?
The next text came, and she knew she couldn’t ignore it. Not if she didn’t want Connor to show up and catch her screening his messages. Quickly she thumbed back a reply.
Yeah, sure. Come by.
She stared at the screen, watching the three dots indicating his typing until a new message appeared, saying he was on his way. Mia stood up and headed back in her house. She felt as though she was walking through water, just as she had been for the last few days since Connor and Brie’s engagement. She wrapped her cardigan around her tightly, shivering. The back door had been open almost all day, and the crisp autumn air had filtered through her home. She’d recently bought the small house, it being the proudest moment in her life so far.
Until she’d moved in and come to terms with the fact that she was undeniably alone.
Mia opened her fridge and took out the bottle of red she’d put into chill before going to sit outside and ruminate over the photograph. Connor had turned her onto chilling her red wine, and it was one of those habits she just couldn’t seem to break, no matter how often she tried to detox him from her system.
She uncorked the bottle and poured herself a glass, before sitting down at the kitchen counter, waiting.
And looking at the photo again.
Connor’s smile looked real. She knew he was happy with Brie; he’d told her that countless times. More so than she would have liked to hear. Maybe if Mia had been a bigger person, she could find it in herself to actually be happy for him, but… she just wasn’t there. Brie looked happy, too. Brie usually looked happy, despite what was going on in her life. That was something Mia knew she had perfected long ago. So long ago that it was hard for almost anyone to decipher whether or not the pasted smile was a mask.
Mia had drained her glass of wine by the time there was a knock at the door. She hesitated for just a moment before heading to open it. There was a time, not long ago, when he would have just walked in and made himself at home. He’d done that at just about every place she’d lived over her life, since she’d met him. And this house, he’d done it for the first few times as well. But she knew he wouldn’t now.
“Hi,” Connor said, as she opened the door to reveal his nervous smile.
His brown hair was standing on edge, and he looked uncertain – almost as if he shouldn’t be there. And she supposed he shouldn’t be. How the hell would Brie feel about that? Then again, what exactly did Brie know about their past?
“Hi,” Mia forced out, her throat dry from all the smoking she’d done that day.
She turned and headed back towards the kitchen, itching for another glass of wine. Connor let out a sigh, before following in her wake, shutting the door behind him.
“Drink?” she asked, reaching the counter and filling up her glass.
“Uh…” he said. “Sure, why not.”
She reached up to her cupboard and pulled out another glass, filling it up and handing it over before wordlessly leading him to the backyard. She sat in her former seat and finally looked back at him as he hesitated in the doorway.
“Well, come sit,” she said, gesturing to the seat across the small metal table.
Sitting across from her, she could hardly help but truly look at him now. She wanted to trace over every inch of his skin, if only to memorize it for later. The last few times she’d seen Connor, she tried to anticipate that it was the last time, just in case. If Brie found out the truth about the two of them, she was sure that she would never see Connor again. That is – if she didn’t kick Connor out on his ass.
“Still smoking?” he asked, his head nodding towards the ashtray filled with cigarette debris, as well as the pack and lighter next to it.
“Yep,” she said. “You?”
He shrugged. “Trying to get off it. You know how…”
He trailed off. Mia took a sip of her wine and nodded shortly. She had hoped that they would last longer than a few minutes without mentioning Brie but wasn’t surprised. It had to be something to do with her or their upcoming nuptials, his reason for wanting to talk to her.
“Yeah, I do how she is,” Mia said.
Brie hated smoking. Always had. Back in the day, when the three of them would hang out, she would always chastise Connor and Mia – more specifically Mia. Brie held a soft spot for Connor, much like Mia herself.
“So? What’s up?” Mia asked. “It’s gotta be pretty important to require an actual visit from you.”
It sounded harsher and bitchier than she’d meant, but she didn’t want to apologize. Her eyes chanced a glance at Connor’s whose were narrowed in thought. He took a sip of his own drink before opening his mouth to speak.
“I – fuck, I don’t know how to say this,” Connor sighed.
Her eyes widened as her curiosity peaked. “What is it, Connor? Does – does Brie—”
“No, no,” Connor huffed, shaking his head. “No, she doesn’t know about us. I…”
“Out with it.”
This often happened to her with Connor. Her emotions would cycle rapidly, going from complete despair, to annoyance, to obscene anger, to love all within one moment. Maybe that was because she’d never been able to properly figure out how to deal with her emotions towards him. After years of squashing them down, or hiding them, it was as if something inside her had snapped, making it impossible for her to unspool each feeling from the next.
“Brie wants you to be her maid of honour,” he spat out.
Mia blinked at him, trying to digest this information. Somehow, it was both more and less than what she’d anticipated from the buildup.
“I – what?” Mia said. “She – she wants me to be maid of honour? We’re not even close anymore!”
Connor downed half his glass and nodded, placing his head in his hands as he rested his elbows on the table. Mia wanted to reach out and run her fingers through his hair, run them down until she found the sensitive spot on the back of his neck. The one she used to stroke in order to get him to shiver, and then calm down. He always said it was the thing that soothed him most, her rubbing the back of his neck. She wondered, did Brie do things like that? Had she found out the back of his neck? Or did she have her own thing – one that worked better than hers did?
She must have. He was with her.
He was going to be with her forever.
Connor looked back up at her and nodded again. “I know. But she thinks that it’s… well, that it’s right. I guess it makes sense when you look at it.”
“No it doesn’t!” Mia said, trying to control her volume.
Even though she supposed it was right. Mia, Connor and Brie had been inseparable from their teens onwards. Now, more than a decade later, it would make sense that Mia be the maid of honour at Connor and Brie’s wedding. However, it was also the most fucked up thing in the world, due to Mia and Connor’s history. But Brie, and most people, didn’t know that.
“Tell her you don’t want me,” Mia said. “Make up some reason – tell her it should be someone else.”
“What the hell could I say that would talk her into that?” Connor sighed. “I’ve been wracking my brain all day since she mentioned it, and there’s nothing. I just… I wanted to give you a heads up.”
A heads up.
“Yeah. Loving your heads up lately, Connor. They really make my fucking day,” Mia snapped.
She took another gulp of her wine and took out a cigarette, lighting it up and resisting looking at him. She heard the sounds of him taking his own from the pack, and lighting it up, too.
“Mia…” he said. “I’m s—”
“Don’t. Don’t do that.”
She didn’t want his apologies. They were empty. What was done was done and nothing could be fixed. He would never leave Brie – that much had been established years ago – and Mia wasn’t even sure if that was what she wanted anymore. The two had hurt each other time and time again, proving to one another that they couldn’t make it. They had begun in fire, with stolen kisses behind Brie’s back at a party in high school. They’d ended in a flame with the ring on Mia’s pillow and she’d run away.
Why the fuck had she run away?
She’d run, and he’d ran back to Brie.
Maybe it said a lot about Connor, the way he’d bounced between Mia and Brie throughout the entirety of their friendship. However, it said more about Mia – the way she’d just let it all happen. Brie was the only innocent party there, and always had been.
And now it was three years later and there they were, sat smoking in her backyard and talking about his wedding to Brie.
“Fuck,” Mia whispered, feeling tears prick in her eyes.
She inhaled deeply, wishing it would make her any sort of lightheaded, if only to distract her for a moment. She needed something – anything – to take her mind away from there. From Connor.
“Mia…” Connor started again.
She looked back up at him, finding him staring at her, his jaw clenched as he usually held it when upset. This was all a mess of his own making – okay, and hers – he didn’t get to be upset. He was supposed to be happy. Happy without her.
“I don’t know what to do,” he continued. “There’s… I just don’t know what to do. How – we need a reason for you not to do this.”
Mia inhaled from her smoke and shook her head. “There is no reason, Connor. The only reason not to do it is the truth, and I know that’s not happening, so… so yeah. Guess I’ll be Brie’s maid of honour.”
“I…” Connor started.
“I swear to God, if you apologize one more time…” Mia said, standing up and walking a few feet away from the table, as if the distance between them would allow her to breathe properly.
“Well, there’s nothing else to do, is there?” Connor yelled.
Mia turned around, finding Connor now on his feet, his eyes narrowed. She should have expected they would come to blows at one point or another. Better to get it out now, she supposed, than at the wedding.
“Don’t you fucking shout at me,” Mia said, walking back over and dropping her cigarette in the ashtray. “You don’t get to shout at me. I’m the one who has to – to watch all of this happen! Seeing that goddamn engagement announcement photo – see that ring!”
“You didn’t – you didn’t want the ring!” Connor countered. “You didn’t want me.”
“You know that’s not true,” Mia said, her cheeks flushing.
They rarely spoke about that – the engagement that wasn’t. The ring on the pillow and Connor’s huge speech about how they would finally tell Brie that they were in love, and how she would be happy for them, and how they would spend the rest of their lives together.
“It fucking is,” Connor said. “You’re always rewriting history in your head, you know that? I left Brie for you and when we were together, back when she moved away? We were happy! And the next step was—”
“I wasn’t ready for the next step! Alright? I wasn’t ready,” she said.
The tears rolled hot down her cheeks. She took a sip of her wine and put the glass down on the table, turning to face away from him again. She wanted him to leave. Looking at him was hard and she felt ill from the wine and cigarettes. That and coffee had been almost all her meals for the past few days, since she’d found out about the engagement.
She sniffled and wrapped her arms around herself, as if holding herself together. Connor swore under his breath behind her, and she felt him approach, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Mia…” he whispered; the anger gone.
She was torn – torn between pulling herself farther from him and telling him to leave or moving into his embrace. She knew he would accept her in his arms. They were each other’s kryptonite. It was an addiction. The feeling of his arms around her, the sound of his voice, his lips…
Mia turned, Connor’s arms folding around her body as she moved into him, resting her face against his chest as she cried. She couldn’t help herself. Connor’s hand came up and pet her hair, holding her even tighter.
“I love you.”
The words escaped her lips before she could hold them back. She’d gone so long without telling him that – without telling anyone that, in fact. Those three words, those eight letters, they felt like a curse. Once you said them, once they were out there, only bad could happen. Even if you were the manufacturer of the bad yourself.
Connor let out a strangled sort of sigh, pressing his lips against her hair. “I love you too, my girl.”
He’d always called her that. My girl.
Would she always be his? Even as she watched him marry another?
She pulled her face away to look up at him, his hand moving to cradle her cheek. Mia knew it was wrong – all of this was wrong – but she moved in anyways, just as he did. It had been ages since they’d last kissed, since they’d last touched in any way at all. She sighed as their lips touched, and he held her tighter.
Once they pulled back, Mia rested her forehead against his, taking in the moment. There would never be another like this – there couldn’t be. It was over. They were long over. Brie was his future. She untangled herself from his arms and took a large step back, surprised to see tear tracks on his cheeks. He rarely cried. It made her want to hold him again, but she couldn’t.
“Tell Brie to go ahead and ask me,” Mia whispered. “I’ll do it.”
Connor clenched his jaw again, wiping his eyes as he nodded. He would leave now, she knew that. He would go back on home to his new apartment with Brie, and she, Mia, would finish off the bottle of wine and her pack of smokes. She would allow herself another night of tears and indulgence, and then pick herself up tomorrow.
“I’ll see you, Mia,” Connor said.
He turned around and headed back in the house. Mia moved on shaking legs to sit down at the garden table, again, waiting for the distant sound of the front door shutting. A part of her wanted to run after him, tell him again that she loved him, kiss him just one last time – although, they’d had their last kiss about a hundred times over the years.
The door shut and Mia got up, moving back inside her home with her wineglass. She picked up her phone again and gave herself a refill, moving again to look at the engagement photo. Sitting down at the counter, she took a sip, her eyes narrowing in on that ring. She imagined it on her finger, looking down at her bare left hand. It would never be there, and she was sure another ring would never be in its place.
Mia switched off her phone, not wanting to stare at it any longer. At least, not for another twenty minutes or so.
Charlie Evans (she/they) is from a small town in Ontario, Canada. She has a BA in Creative Writing & Publishing from Sheridan College. She is a freelance writer and assistant childcare teacher. She has previously been published on Montrealwrites.com as well as on The Write Launch. She also is the third prize recipient of the South Simcoe Arts Council Adult Short Story Award.