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He never loved me.
The words circled around and around inside her head until they seemed to burst out her ears. Her thoughts swirled angrily in front of her face, crashing against the Egyptian cotton walls of her one-thousand-thread-count sanctuary. Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe; she was choking on the spinning truths.
I need out.
Jan threw the covers violently from her. She emerged from her burrow of sweaty sheets, tear-stained pillows, and used tissues squinting like a broken-hearted groundhog with a cold. She gasped for air. One hand pressed anxiously to her chest, bringing her awareness to the hollow feeling underneath the soft cotton of her Tinkerbell sweatshirt. Her hand drifted to the several layers of tears, snot, and perspiration she wore along with the pink sweatshirt and wiped the sleep from her eyes.
Harsh sunlight filtered into her bedroom window, exposing her face to the sun for the first time in days. Jan cringed from the light. Her stomach grumbled halfheartedly. A wadded-up tissue hung in her hair. She barely noticed as she continued to fill her lungs with fresh oxygen.
As her breathing regulated, her arms swept automatically about her in their daily wake-up ritual, searching first for a Tic Tac to battle morning breath and secondly for her cellphone. She found the phone quickly enough once her eyes adjusted to the light and peered at it longingly. It was top-of-the-line and almost impossible to use, thanks to its numerous features. Jan loved the phone despite its complexities. It was cute and impossible, her favorite combination.
Her shoulders slumped when she did not see a single missed call, text message or voicemail alert flashing at her from the phone’s cover.
She sighed, feeling more abandoned and alone than before.
Curious how long she had been on vacation from reality, Jan pressed the side button on the phone, causing the backlight to illuminate the outside display. Relief flooded through her as she read “Sunday” in tiny black letters on the screen. Her next massage therapy class wasn’t until Monday afternoon. Even though the quarter had just started, she had already missed all the classes she was allowed to without failing automatically.
Wait a minute, she thought. “I’ve been lying here for two freaking days,” she exclaimed with a healthy mixture of surprise and disgust. She tossed the phone back onto the nightstand where it hit with a loud clunk and slid unnoticed to the floor. Jan hurriedly attempted to vault out of bed. Unfortunately, she had wrapped her designer sheets so tightly around her that as she flung herself toward the bathroom, her foot caught in the bedding and she nosedived into the carpet.
She hit with a loud thud and a squeak of surprise. Pain exploded in her nostrils as blood trickled out. Tears welled up in her eyes. Using her anger to fight a desire to give up on life, Jan rolled over onto her back and pinched her nose with her right hand to stop the flow of blood. Her left hand yanked at the sheets trapping her foot.
She finally managed to extricate herself and walk unsteadily into the adjoining bathroom, her formerly pointy nose in the air. She flipped on the switch to the vanity lights above the bathroom mirror and squeaked in horror when she saw her bloody, tear-streaked reflection.
“Oh my god,” she exclaimed, her free hand flying up to pull the tissue out of her hair. The wad revealed a knot the size of a tennis ball behind it. Jan whimpered. She slowly took her hand away from her nose, hoping to get a better look at her damaged face. When blood did not immediately gush out, she took her fingertip and traced the temporary scars her pillow had left on her cheek.
Okay, so this is the worst I’ve looked since that time I was “accidentally” hit in the face with a tennis racket, she thought, but it’s not like anyone’s seen me--yet. Eek.
First things first, she decided. She turned on the faucet and splashed warm water on her face to wash off the blood and mucus. She gently palpated her injured nose and was relieved to find it wasn’t crooked. Satisfied that she would not have to endure life with a disfigured face, Jan turned her attention to more important matters: the nearly two billion knots hanging from her head where her beautiful straight hair used to be.
She grabbed her pink, Tinkerbell-adorned brush from its hiding place in the back of a drawer and viciously attacked the knots in her long, ash-blonde locks. She started at the top and yanked her way down.
“Aargh.” Jan scrunched up her face in frustration as her brush caught three inches from her part line. She tried the same tactic on the opposite side but couldn’t get the plastic bristles through the knots.
Annoyed by her lack of progress, Jan shouted, “This sucks!” She slammed her brush down on the bathroom counter, nearly smashing her fingers on a pair of manicure scissors. Her eyes lingered on the scissors before flicking back to her hair.
“Eureka,” she exclaimed and she snatched up the scissors. She remembered that she had been meaning to try layers in her hair but had been putting it off because she suspected Mike wouldn’t like them.
Well, screw him, she thought and began snipping out a knot. First thing tomorrow she would make an emergency appointment with her stylist.
Armed with the scissors, a bottle of detangler, and a wooden comb she found in her medicine cabinet, Jan quickly became lost in her task.
As she snipped, sprayed, and fantasized about putting a voodoo death curse on her ex, she felt better. She smiled at the bits of hair falling about her like blonde snowflakes. At least she had control over her hair. Who cared if guys dumped her left and right? So what if she had wasted an entire weekend crying in bed?
This happens to everybody, Jan assured herself with false confidence. Right? Moving on.
A glance in the mirror revealed progress. The knots were nearly gone. She was about to congratulate herself when something in the reflection caused her stomach to knot worse than her hair. A look south confirmed she was indeed wearing a pair of Mike’s boxers. She gagged and put her hand over her mouth to discourage barfing up the Tic Tac.
She was about to run back into her bedroom to change when she noticed the comb in her hand.
This was Eric’s, she realized after she noticed the engraved initials E.T. on the wooden handle. She scoffed as she remembered the ex-boyfriend whose obsession with his hair had compelled him to carry a comb and gel everywhere, sometimes even to bed. Jan opened her seldom-used medicine cabinet—she preferred leaving everything on the counter where she could get to it more easily—and found a travel-sized bottle of L.A. Looks Mega Mega Hold hair gel on the bottom shelf. Lying next to it was a man’s razor. Jan took the razor out to examine it. Several thick black hairs protruded from the end. Chad’s, maybe? Chad had been a surprisingly hairy ex. Or Fernando’s? Not-so-surprisingly hairy.
As she placed the razor back in the cabinet, she noticed a stick of men’s deodorant and a pair of rusty toenail clippers on the top shelf. The clippers were a mystery, but she had a stinking suspicion to whom the deodorant had once belonged. She grabbed the stick of Autumn Breeze and pulled the cap off before taking a good whiff.
“Gross,” she cried and threw the pungent deodorant in the trash.
More like Autumn Sleaze. Definitely Steve’s. Jan looked around. What other smelly crap do I have around here?
A thorough search revealed a bottle of Axe body spray, four used toothbrushes, two bottles of bargain-brand shampoo, a half-used bar of soap that was stuck to the pipe under her sink, and some lame gifts she had forgotten about. A lemon-scented candle and some abrasive bath salts—not meant to be exfoliating—joined the ranks of junk on her counter. She was pretty sure both gifts had come from an international student she had dated freshmen year. She could almost remember his name.
The trip down memory lane was highly amusing. She snickered as she remembered all the losers she had dated during the three years she had lived in the apartment. Yet with each name that popped into her head as she touched a new item, a breakup memory popped in alongside it. She scanned all the items on her counter. Her legs buckled. She swayed and grabbed the counter for support. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem so funny anymore. None of the other guys had stayed around as long as Mike had and yet each parting had been painful in its own way.
Jan’s already fragile mental state nearly collapsed altogether when she realized that this weekend was not the rare occurrence she had shrugged it off as. She let go of the counter and sat down on the toilet seat. She put her head in her hands. The hollowness she had felt in her chest earlier seemed to have taken over the rest of her body.
I would give anything for someone to hold me right now, she thought, and crossed her arms in a self-comforting gesture. Jan realized that she would trade her Platinum Amex card, her MAC makeup, and all her shoes for a hug from one person who truly cared. She tried to remember what it felt like to have Mike’s arms around her, the intoxicating smell of his natural scent mixed with his deodorant comforting her with its familiarity. She shivered. She could lose herself in that smell.
The indulgence gave her a brief moment’s relief from the crushing weight of awareness. She snatched for a stronger memory of being held like a child reaching for her blankie. She thought back to childhood. Neither of her parents had shown her much affection. Logic told her that they must have hugged her at some point, but no instance of comfort had left a strong enough impression to wrap around herself.
Resigned, Jan asked herself, Now what?
The muffled sound of a woman’s voice answered, echoing as if out of a cave or a well. Jan simultaneously jumped and squeaked with fright. It’s simply a neighbor’s TV, she told herself, yet it had been timed perfectly as if responding to her question. Nah, she thought, glancing around nervously. There was no one there. She stood up and poked her head into the bedroom just in case. Nothing. Reassured that she was alone, she sat back down and breathed deeply.
Several moments passed in silence. Then the voice spoke again. It was louder this time and undeniably coming from inside her head.
Oh, great. Now I’m Jan of Arc.
She closed her eyes and concentrated. The words gradually became clearer. Then, she knew.
Her eyes flew open. Jan gasped, faltered, and almost toppled over. She felt like she was struggling to stand on the ceiling. It took her a moment to reorient herself.
It was all so simple, the solution to escaping the self-destructive pattern that had ensnared her since puberty.
“Aha!” Jan let out a triumphant cry and punched the air.
All it took was five wonderful words and Jan had her mantra.
The weekend’s tension slid off her like a silk robe cascading to the floor. She squared her shoulders to the mirror and looked herself straight in the eye. She knew that this time she was making a promise to herself she could keep. Her heart and her head had finally found something they could agree on.
“I will never date again,” Jan said defiantly. Never!
She gave her reflection a mock salute and marched herself into the kitchen. She grabbed a bottle of Glaceau Smart Water, chugged the much needed liquid refreshment, and executed a crisp about-face before marching herself back to the bathroom.
The new and improved Jan almost made it five minutes without sobbing in the shower. She blamed the Smart Water.
Talking to Nichole had drained Jan completely. She felt like she weighed three hundred pounds. Getting dressed seemed the logical move. She figured she could mope just as easily with her clothes on and she wouldn’t have to continue struggling with her towel.
Forty minutes later, thirty-six of which Jan spent staring into space, she had managed to drag herself, plus the additional 150 pounds, to her room. She put on a dark-green cami and matching lace panties. She was just finishing putting one leg through a pair of jeans when the doorbell rang. Jan cursed. She was at that exact midpoint where you can choose to either hop about as you hastily try to jam your other limb through the ever-elusive second pant leg, or undo your hard work by hopping to somewhere where you can sit down, yanking off the first pant leg, and subsequently starting over. Jan actually invented a third option whereby she fell over trying to do both simultaneously and landed with a loud “Oomph” on her bedroom floor.
At least I didn’t land on my face this time.
“Hello?” someone called uncertainly as Jan struggled to remember how to breathe. It took her a moment to identify Lisa’s voice while gasping for air. Lisa was Jan’s closest friend, as in she lived in the studio apartment across the hall. She often stopped by uninvited.
“Great,” Jan whispered from the floor as she wriggled the rest of the way into her jeans. She tried unsuccessfully to zip up her pants before realizing that these were her “inspiration” jeans, meant to inspire her to lose ten pounds, but instead had inspired her to buy different jeans.
“Dammit,” she screamed and savagely yanked off her pants.
“Jan?” came Lisa’s voice again, louder and with unmistakable concern.
“I’ll be right there,” Jan yelled as she threw her jeans into the corner and started digging through her clean clothes pile to find something better to put on.
What was left of her pride made Jan reject her sweatpants before pulling on her white, “but not see through, thank you very much” capri pants. She sprinted through her living room, paused to run her fingers through her hair, and threw open the door.
Lisa snorted with laughter when she saw Jan’s new do. She covered it with a cough.
“Uh, hey, Lisa,” Jan offered. It was clear Lisa didn’t approve of her hair.
“Nichole called,” Lisa said apologetically. Lisa was often apologetic, much to Jan’s annoyance. She was a natural peacemaker and had developed a shy nature from growing up a middle child between two vivacious siblings. Lisa had ceased being a middle child three years ago when her sisters had been killed in a car crash. Shortly afterward, she had moved in the apartment across from Jan. They talked for hours that first night. Lisa confided in Jan that even though paying rent was a huge financial struggle, she couldn’t continue living in the small two bedroom apartment she had shared with her parents. The tiny room that had once belonged to “the three amigas” had become huge and unwelcoming without her sisters. Jan had politely asked what the girls had been like, more out of a sense of duty than true interest. Lisa spoke proudly of her older sister, Maryann, who had wanted to become a doctor. She had been Lisa’s role model and source of confidence. Her little sister, Katherine (who had insisted on being called Kaylie instead of any of the traditional nicknames) had been a daily inspiration. Kaylie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at a young age, but didn’t let that stop her from dreaming of becoming the next Mia Hamm. The diagnosis had sparked an interest in medicine for then eight-year-old Maryann. Lisa had been seven.
Lisa’s relationship with her devastated parents had deteriorated rapidly after the accident. They refused to talk about their late children and preferred to pretend that Lisa had always been an only child. Being only children was about the only thing she and Jan had in common. Jan assumed Lisa looked to her as a replacement for Maryann.
“I’m sorry if I’m intruding,” Lisa continued. “I come bearing gifts.” She held a dusty bottle of amaretto in front of her like a peace offering. “I thought this might be a good time to open this bottle you gave me for Christmas. I figured you’d have some sour mix lying around.”
Jan nodded absentmindedly. She also kept her cupboards well-stocked with mixers. Her attention shifted away from critiquing how Lisa’s cheaply-made orange shirt clashed with her straight brown hair and zeroed in on the bottle. She was sure that she did not feel like talking, but she was equally convinced that she wanted to spend time with an old friend.
“Come on in,” Jan said. She figured it wouldn’t kill her to spend some time with Lisa too.
Lisa turned a chair around from the kitchen table to face Jan as she hovered over their drinks. “I’m so sorry. You guys were together like what, six months? A year?”
“Well, practically.” Jan bent over two glasses already prepped with ice and sour mix. She grinned like a cat about to take a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream as she poured in generous servings of amaretto.
“We broke up a few times, but if you don’t subtract the weeks we weren’t speaking, we were together almost eight months.” Jan reached into a drawer and pulled out a pink flamingo stirrer.
The stirrer gave her pause. She realized that it was from a set of four that the ex had given her for her birthday, along with two matching shot glasses and a bottle of rum. He’d picked up the gift on a trip to Florida, which consequently had taken place during the week of her birthday. She had not been invited. For Mike’s birthday, Jan had bought him a $300 Xbox.
Disgusted by the memory, she threw the stirrer into the sink full of dirty dishes and grabbed a spoon instead.
“How do you just dump someone after almost a year of dating?” Jan barked. She dropped the spoon on the pile when she had finished stirring and looked imploringly at Lisa. “What’s wrong with guys that they can’t figure out they don’t want to be serious before they decide to get serious?”
Lisa swallowed an obvious “I-told-you-so” and instead offered, “Well, he did try to break up with you before didn’t he?”
Jan turned red.
“Several times I think. That seems to me to be a pretty clear indication that he wasn’t ready.”
Well, maybe he did mention breaking up a few times, but we decided to take time off instead, Jan thought. If what he’d really wanted was to break up, he should have been more clear.
Jan took a long drink of her amaretto sour and held the other one out to Lisa, who got up and slowly reached to take it.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Jan walked around Lisa and flung herself onto the La-Z-Girl chair like an upset child. She turned her head away and stared at the wall.
Lisa breathed a sigh of relief and followed Jan into the living room. She removed a pile of clothes from the Italian leather sofa that cost more than everything in her apartment combined, and sat down.
“I know it hurts to be rejected,” Lisa began cautiously. She leaned closer to Jan to get her attention. Jan’s eyes remained glued to the wall. “But you need to realize that this would have kept happening if you continued to jump into relationships with every boy that paid you the slightest bit of attention.” Lisa paused.
Jan felt herself tear up and bit her lip. She continued to look away to maintain the pretense of anger.
“Just because a guy is attracted to you, doesn’t mean he actually cares about you,” Lisa finished gently. “Maybe not dating for a while is a good idea.”
Jan was too exhausted from the weekend to be upset anymore. She had felt angry, tortured, humiliated, and depressed. She was approaching a pleasant numbness.
Jan turned to Lisa. “I know,” she said dispassionately. “I still don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Okay.” Lisa smiled. “I should probably go then. I really need to study.”
Jan’s face fell. It was not that she was surprised. Lisa was pre-med, and therefore always running off to study. She had once asked Lisa why becoming a doctor was so important to her. Lisa had confessed that it was because of her late sister. When Maryann died, Lisa felt she needed to make her parents proud by fulfilling her older sister’s dream. Her tribute to her younger sister was a dedication to apply to St. Jude Children’s Research hospital after graduation.
There was no doubt in Jan’s mind that Lisa had the brains for medical school, but couldn’t picture her introverted friend yelling “stat” and making life-or-death decisions. She thought Lisa’s personality would be better suited to nursing.
Lisa stood up. Jan almost reached to pull her back down. She realized that she did not have a boyfriend to call, a crush to call, or even an admirer to call to console her. She did not want to be left alone with herself.
“I was hoping maybe we could watch a movie,” Jan offered. “Or at least stay and finish your drink?”
Lisa stumbled. She couldn’t remember the last time Jan had asked her to stay without needing help with schoolwork.
“Sure, Jan. If you really want me to stay, a movie sounds fun. But then I really do need to study.”
Jan bit back a defensive remark. She forced herself to smile. “Thanks, Lisa.”
“So what would you like to watch?”
“Kill Bill?” This was Jan’s idea of a girl-power movie.
Lisa made a face. “How about Legally Blonde?”
Normally, Jan would object on the grounds that Legally Blonde was a well-known chick flick and it might kill her to watch it. However, she surprised herself and Lisa by acquiescing.
“Sure,” Jan said, reaching for her many remotes. “Do you have it?”
Lisa nodded and ran to fetch the DVD from her apartment. As Jan threw some popcorn into the microwave, she allowed her first real smile in weeks to spread across her face. Her stomach grumbled approval. If only she hadn’t felt like crying—and she could figure out how to use her $5,000 surround-sound system—she would almost be happy. Read Chapter 2