5. Fred is awake

Sorry I didn’t notice you leave
I’ll pay for the Uber
Why didn’t you stay?

Lauren felt nauseated and dizzy again, on top of the tipsiness from the bubbles at lunch. She was a few blocks from her apartment and didn’t want to burst into tears on the sidewalk. She shoved her phone into her purse and walked faster, the anxiety pushing her almost to a run.

She felt her phone buzz again. She fumbled taking it out of her purse, not sure what she would see. It was a Venmo payment for the Uber ride. She clicked the sleep button and held the phone in her hand as she walked, her heart pounding.

It was still a beautiful day. The East Village felt warm and hopeful, like college students in their last week of finals. People were walking their dogs, windows were open; Lauren could hear someone playing a piano. Someone in this neighborhood had a big enough apartment for a piano, she thought. She wondered what her neighbors were like and how people lived here.

The phone buzzed again. She held it up, still walking, to look at it.

Chase says you wrote something about me?

She froze. That meant he hadn’t read it yet. Should she make him read it first? She didn’t know how to respond. She felt frantic. 

But also, she felt angry and spurned. Did he deserve a response from her? Maybe he could just read the article and that would be her break up letter to him and she could just ghost him and get on with her life. She deserved better than to find out her boyfriend was cheating on her in some slut’s Instagram post. 

Now she felt blind rage. She typed forcefully:

Yes.

Then she speed-walked the rest of the way to her apartment and fumbled her keys to get inside. Her sprint up the stairs went by in a blur. Once she was inside her apartment, she felt trapped. She opened a window and put her phone on the desk. She just sat there, staring at her phone.

Days seemed to pass. Someone walked by outside singing loudly to himself. 

Then the phone rang. She panicked. Should she answer it? She walked a circle around her bedroom while the phone rang on her desk. 

Finally she picked it up. She cleared her throat and accepted the call.

“Hello?” she said.

“Lauren, what the hell,” Fred said. 

“Do you need something, Fred?” she asked, as coolly as she could.

“Jesus,” Fred said. He sounded groggy but the concern was still palpable in his voice.

“Why didn’t you just talk to me about this?”

“I tried last night,” Lauren said. Her face felt red hot. “You lied to me.”

Fred sighed. “I didn’t lie to you,” he said, “I just knew you’d freak out.”

“Of course I fucking freaked out,” Lauren shrieked. “My boyfriend is fucking cheating on me in front of the entire world.”

“I’m not cheating on you,” he said. 

“Oh really,” Lauren hissed. 

“Dude,” Fred said.

“Don’t dude me.”

“Lauren,” he said, exasperated. “She’s a lesbian. Her girlfriend was there and everything.”

Lauren felt like she’d been hit by a truck. 

“A what?” she said. “A lesbian?”

This was an excuse. This was a lie. Lesbians could sleep with men, too. Lauren had known a girl in college who was a notorious and shameless seductress of all kinds of other girls’ boyfriends, but also had a full-time, live-in girlfriend. This stuff happened all the time.

“You’re lying to me because I caught you,” Lauren sputtered finally.

“No, I’m not,” Fred said, “it’s the truth. You should have noticed when you were stalking her.”

“Well then why didn’t you just tell me?” Lauren said. “Why didn’t you just admit you’d gone out with her?” She was crying now. Pathetic, she thought. She sat on the bed as the tears rolled over her cheeks.

“Because you get so jealous about everything,” Fred said. “Because even if I’d told you, you would have come up with some story about it.”

“Then why didn’t you invite me to come?” she asked.

“I thought you were safe and sound in your Manhattan bubble,” he said. “I didn’t think you were going to shlep out to New Jersey at midnight on a Tuesday to hang out with a bunch of 35-year-olds.”

“She’s not 35,” Lauren found herself saying.

“No,” Fred said, “you’re right. But she also doesn’t even fucking drink. She was there for 15 minutes and then went home. She does crossfit at like 6am even after a midnight shift.”

“You are in love with her,” Lauren said spitefully. “You talk about her all the fucking time.”

“I’m not in love with her,” Fred said. She could hear him rubbing his temples like he did whenever they argued. It was too early in their relationship for her to know how he looked when they argued, she thought. “I want to be more like her,” Fred said.

“What, fit? Gorgeous? A fucking lesbian?”

“Boring,” Fred said. “I want to be boring. I want to be boring enough that I can have a girlfriend who doesn’t think I’m cheating on her all the time.”

Lauren sobbed. 

“Do you not love me because I’m not boring?” She felt ridiculous as soon as she’d said it, but it was true. Every insecurity she had about not being good enough summed up in a single ridiculous plea for love.

“Come on,” Fred said, “you know we’re together because you’re not boring.”

“Are we still together?” She barely got the words out. She couldn’t catch her breath from sobbing.

“I don’t know,” Fred said. He paused. “Look, you’ve got some real trust issues. And I don’t know if I can mold myself into the kind of boyfriend you’d need to keep you sane.”

He was breaking up with her, she realized. “I am working on that,” she pleaded. “My therapist says–”

“We’ve only been dating three months,” Fred cut her off. “Why should you need therapy for that?” 

“I always need therapy,” she blubbered. “That’s just who I am.”

“And I’m just someone who goes out with his buddy Chase at 2 in the morning and hangs out with whatever girls he has around,” Fred said. 

Something else was up, she thought. He was distracted.

“Are you ok?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” he said.

“I mean, not just about the story I wrote,” she continued. “Did you read it, by the way?”

“No,” he said, “I glanced at it. I don’t need to know more about why all your friends hate me.”

“They don’t all hate you,” she said. Although maybe they did, really. Her friends would always take her side in a breakup, but never in a getting back together scenario.

“But really, you sound … off,” Lauren said.

Fred breathed. “I’m not feeling great,” he admitted. 

“Hungover?”

“No,” he said. “Just off.”

“Are you sick?”

“Maybe,” he muttered. She could hear him going through his medicine cabinet. 

“Could you have the flu?” she asked. “From that stripper last night?”

“That would be a pretty quick incubation,” Fred said. She heard him swallow some pills. 

“You’re off for a few days at least, right?” 

“Yeah,” he said. 

She got up and walked to her desk and opened her laptop. She found herself looking for chicken soup recipes. 

“That’s good,” she said. 

“I’m gonna go lie back down,” he said. “I’m really not doing great.”

“I’m sorry about the story,” she said. “But could you just not lie to me about stuff like that anymore? Just tell me what you’re doing. That would help a lot.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Sure.” 

He had something in his mouth; a thermometer, probably. She’d never seen him sick. She guessed he put on a show of being a real man about it. She felt the overwhelming urge to take care of him.

“Get some rest,” she said. 

“Ok, thanks,” he said. 

“We’ll talk later.”

“Bye.”

He hung up. She wiped her eyes and kept looking for chicken soup recipes. She’d take care of him, she thought, and that would make everything ok.

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