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“Good god, I’m out of shape,” Eric thought to himself as he panted his way through his tenth minute on the treadmill. “I gotta stop drinking. I’m pretty sure my sweat is 90% last night’s tequila and the smell is going to make me hurl.”
The worry of getting banned from his gym for splattering everything 20 feet behind his treadmill with his vomit distracted Eric for another half mile, but soon enough he could feel his willpower waning. While his initiative to return to his high school athleticism was a lofty (unattainable) goal, it had at least got him off the couch and to the gym on the weekends. Any Saturday workout was extra credit in his mind, despite how little effort he actually put in once he got to the gym.
The sounds of 3LAU’s latest mix playing over his AirPods paused for a moment as he heard the familiar noise of an incoming text. Grateful for any excuse to stop running, he slowed his treadmill to a walking pace and waited for his vision to stop blurring as he checked his phone.
Rachel [12:18pm]: Heyy what are you up to? It’s nice AF out and all my friends are being lame. Want to drink on a patio somewhere?
Eric hopped off the treadmill and headed to the sauna as he thought about his response. His feelings about his ex-girlfriend had gotten progressively more confusing lately, and he knew he needed to do something about them. “I need to stop being a pussy and just make a decision,” he thought as he eased his bare back onto the scorching wood of the dry sauna. “Whether it’s to try and get back together or to cut her out completely, this limbo of hanging out can’t be good for me.”
Since their first drunken hookup almost two months ago, he and Rachel had been hanging out with alarming regularity. They ended up in each other’s bed at least once a week, and although they had never been on any dates or anything approaching a relationship, they were at the least, firmly entrenched in the friends-with-benefits zone. Or they would be, if they hadn’t been exes. That fact made everything more confusing.
Eric sighed as his muscles loosened and thought about his options. He could tell Rachel that he didn’t want to see her anymore, which he knew he wasn’t going to do. Which only left one other option. He had to bring feelings into a relationship that had remained very superficial. He had to talk to his ex about getting back together.
Immediately after making this decision, Eric swallowed hard. He didn’t know if it was a combo of the hangover, the sauna, or nerves, but he felt nauseous. “Chin up, you pussy,” he said to himself. “You dated this girl for years. You can tell that she still has feelings for you. Hell, she just hit you up to hang out at noon on a Saturday. This all started because she reached out to you and said she ‘missed you.’ Those are obvious signs. Plus, since she graduated, all the problems that you dealt with in the past are resolved. This is a good thing.”
Eric grinned and stood up, emboldened by his mental pep talk. He pulled out his phone as he left the gym and typed out an overdue response to the text.
Eric [12:51pm]: Yeah, I’m down. I’ll meet you at your place in a bit.
An hour later, Rachel opened the door with a smile. “You look niiiice, I didn’t know we were dressing up for this boozy lunch,” she teased with a smile, as she jokingly tugged on Eric’s freshly ironed button down.
“It looks like you didn’t know we were getting dressed at all,” Eric said with a smirk, as he responded with a much firmer tug on the towel she was wearing. She yelped playfully and clutched it to her chest to keep it from being pulled off. Scampering back to her room, she yelled over her shoulder. “I’ll be ready in just a minute, you can come in and chill while I’m finishing up.”
Eric laughed and tilted his head back to finish the Glacier Freeze Gatorade he was drinking as he followed her into her room. As the icy blue liquid cascaded down his throat, he felt the last of his hangover fade away, along with his worries. Today was going to be a good day. He was going to get some food, catch a buzz, and at some point, bring up the topic of getting back together with his ex. She clearly still had feelings for him, and he was confident the conversation would go well.
He went to toss his empty bottle into Rachel’s bedside wastebasket when something caught his eye. Something that made his blood run cold. Something that made him regret ever thinking this day would go well. It was a telltale shiny gold foil, laying on a bed of tissues and makeup-smudged cotton balls.
A condom wrapper.
The Gatorade churned in his stomach as he stared down at the offending piece of garbage. He felt a lump in his throat and his sweat glands, finally hydrated enough to start working, decided to make up for lost time. The last time he had used a condom with Rachel was when they first got together his Junior year of college. Everything he had been concocting in his mind was proven wrong in an instant. She wasn’t still into him. She wasn’t trying to get back together. She had been with someone else.
“Watcha staring at?” Rachel asked airily, peering around him at the trashcan. Eric felt her freeze next to him. For a brief moment that lasted an eternity, they both stood side by side, staring down. Eric’s senses felt heightened by the emotions beating in his chest. He could feel his skin burning where her elbow was grazing his. He could hear her heart racing to match his. He wanted to turn to her, to say something, to laugh it off, to scream at her, anything. But he couldn’t. He was frozen, and it seemed so was she.
Until she wasn’t. “Shit,” Rachel muttered under her breath. He felt her turn to look at him and with an impressive act of willpower, dragged his gaze up to meet hers. She began talking about how she should have taken out the trash, and how she hadn’t meant to hurt him, and how she didn’t know what they were doing or what she was feeling, and how this wasn’t how she wanted to have this discussion. But Eric wasn’t listening, because for a flash of a millisecond, when he looked in her eyes, before she began speaking, he saw her raw emotion, and it was his worst fear. It wasn’t coldness, or anger, or even shame. All of those he could have handled. But It was pity. And he refused to be pitied.
“Yeah, hey I’m sorry, but I gotta go.” He cut Rachel off in a voice that seemed too loud. He struggled to maintain an even tone and not let his voice betray his feelings. “What we’re doing really isn’t healthy, and I think this was just a good wakeup call for me. I wish you the best, but we shouldn’t have any contact anymore.”
“Wait, Eric. I want to talk about us. This doesn’t mean-” Rachel began, but Eric didn’t stick around to hear the rest. With long strides, he left the apartment, door hanging open behind him, and down the hall. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he needed to get away from where he was. .