The sunlight spilled into the bedroom through the faded gold curtains and onto the pillow, illuminating Corinne’s wavy blonde hair. The young woman lay nestled in her queen-size bed, entangled in a white duvet fit for a king, still wearing her clothes from the evening before. Most mornings, she’d have been up and out on a nearby running trail for half an hour by now, and she would be showered, dolled up, and ready for the day before the sun had even made its way over the North Carolina coast. Most mornings, she’d be composed and cheery as she greeted the locals at her favorite coffeehouse just two blocks away from where she lived. And she certainly would not be hungover as hell. But today was proving to be unlike most mornings. She turned on her side, and before she could use her forearm as a shield, a beam of sunlight stabbed her directly in the eyes. Slowly, she began to reopen them and noticed the room was a little blurry. So was her mind.
Wait, this is my room, right? she thought, but before panic could set in, she noticed Charlie lying at the foot of her bed, possibly judging her with his big brown eyes. Everything came into focus as she used her elbows to prop herself up. Charlie had been Corinne’s right-hand man for going on nine years now. He had dark-brown fur, four legs, and a tail. His stout physique gave him a bearlike appearance; he was definitely the kind of dog you didn’t approach or mess with unless you knew him. He lifted his head and started to wag his tail at the sight of Corinne sitting up, then began whining, informing her that it was past time for breakfast. The thought of food made her stomach turn. Charlie hadn’t gotten completely wasted last night, so he was ready for the day, while she was ready for an aspirin. It felt like the word “irresponsible” should be stamped on her forehead. Squinting, her eyes barely open, and one hand on her nightstand, she rolled to her right, holding on for support. Her weight caused the table to shift and a slender blue vase of flourishing white tulips to teeter for a second before settling back down. Crisis averted, she thought as her feet touched the cold hardwood floor.
She felt old. Not “retire to the Florida Keys” kind of old but maybe too old to be staying out drinking all night long. She had been able to do that in her early twenties, but she was officially an adult now, twenty-eight years old, self-sufficient, with a good job. Well, that last part was debatable; nonetheless, it was a job. Her writing career hadn’t exactly taken off like she had hoped it would, so after college, and more years of waiting tables than expected, she’d taken a position through a temp agency as a receptionist at a dental office. That was all it was supposed to be: temporary—a stepping stone. But that’s how things go; stepping stones become familiar and comfortable, and before she knew it, she had lost sight of her dreams. Either way, dream or reality, today she was faced with life; she had responsibilities, bills, and people and a pet counting on her, regardless of her hangover.
Imagining the feel of the cool wooden floor against her face, she gingerly eased her way down the side of her bed, her temples throbbing. She curled up into the fetal position and laid her burning cheek on the smooth planks. It was instant relief for her pounding head, even though she was now face-to-face with the layer of dust that covered her floor. The sun highlighted the dust particles, causing the warped wood to sparkle. It was actually kind of pretty, but it also reminded her of the housework that would most certainly be neglected today.
However, not everything or everyone could be put on the back burner. Charlie stood over her, licking her face in an effort to get her back on her feet. Careful not to use the nightstand for leverage this time, she used the bedsheets to pull herself up and then let out a deep breath as if strained from the effort of standing. Sluggishly shuffling her feet, she made her way to the kitchen with Charlie on her heels. Since his breakfast was coming later than usual, she scooped him an extra-large helping of dry dog food. He dove in headfirst before she could even finish pouring it into his bright-blue bowl. His eagerness reminded her of her need for caffeine.
Corinne had no qualms about living the single life. Honestly, she had grown accustomed to it, especially since most of her friends were married. She shopped alone and jogged alone; she had perfected the art of cooking for one and brewing enough for a single cup of coffee. Today, however, she felt that a full pot would be necessary. As the coffee began to drip slowly, she sat down at the small bistro-style table and rested her head heavily in the palm of her hand.
She struggled to remember the events of the night before. A few years ago, partying like that would’ve been a typical Saturday night for her, but those kinds of outings were few and far between now, verging on the cusp of never. Weddings, however, were always an exception. Weddings are my kryptonite, she thought to herself with a half smile. The sun beamed through the thinning leaves on the trees, causing her to squint. It was truly a beautiful Sunday morning, and her head filled with images of foamy drinks spilling onto her dress and how she’d stumbled while getting out of a cab. Then, suddenly, it hit her.
“I called him!” Corinne shrieked out loud. “Seriously? Why, why, why?” In an effort to make sense of her audacious behavior, she began going over their time line in her head, replaying and obsessing over her last few encounters with James.
“Okay,” she started, while motioning to an imaginary chart, “he called me on my twenty-fifth birthday, which was like a month after we decided to call it quits, and then I called him the night of Ava’s wedding, and, yes, I happened to be intoxicated that night as well. That wasn’t even six months after the breakup, so naturally I would have had a weak moment. My judgment was cloudy, and someone probably should’ve stopped me.”
And someone had tried to stop her. She recalled the beautiful, chilly spring evening in 2012, two years ago, when her little sister, Ava, had gotten married. Corinne had been newly single and, most importantly, the maid of honor. Her date for that evening was a bottle of moderately priced champagne. (Contrary to popular belief, the more expensive price had not helped with the hangover the next morning. Cheap champagne, expensive champagne—either way you’re doomed after the fifth glass.) Ava had known a lot about James, mostly from long-winded stories Corinne would share with her over the phone, since they didn’t live in the same town. Corinne had spent as many hours obsessing over him during their relationship as she did dwelling over him after it ended. On the night of the wedding, as Ava was being pulled into the limo by her groom, she had pleaded with a very intoxicated Corinne not to call or text him. Thinking back on it now, Corinne shook her head, feeling embarrassed all over again at the memory.
Redirecting her attention back to the time line, she recalled the few times she had seen him in passing. Not long after their breakup, these encounters were often at their favorite coffee shop, which he had eventually stopped frequenting. Things really started to change, though, when they stopped seeing each other as much. At first, the run-ins had been genuine and pleasant, but they’d soon turned awkward, with uncomfortable lulls in the already watered-down conversations. The sincerity of their brief encounters eventually disappeared, and small talk and a casual “hello” were all that was left.
Pressing on her forehead, Corinne strained to remember the last time she had seen him. “Oh yeah,” she announced. Charlie cocked his head to the side. “We ran into each other at The Walkmen concert . . . last summer? Wow, more than a year ago.” She was surprised by this realization. Time had definitely gotten away from her. And now, after almost a year, the “drunk dial” had reared its ugly head again. Unable to remember what she had said or if he had even answered her call, Corinne felt her headache also rear its ugly head.
The entire kitchen was rich with the scent of hazelnut coffee, her favorite. She walked over to the cupboard where she kept her coffee mugs. Actually, the only cups she owned were coffee mugs and a few sets of red wine glasses; she drank almost everything out of her mugs. She pulled out an oversize cream-colored ceramic one with thick red stripes and a pale-pink floral print dotting the entire rim. She filled the mug with coffee, adding only cream. Taking a quick glance out of her kitchen window, she saw a soft shower of orange and yellow leaves finally making their way from the trees down to the earth. It seemed like autumn had arrived overnight, which made her very happy, since fall was without a doubt her favorite season. She relaxed a little and began to feel much lighter about everything.
“I’m sure he didn’t even answer his phone,” she told Charlie. Feeling more confident, she reassured herself out loud again. “Of course he didn’t answer the phone. It was the middle of the night, and he was probably asleep or busy doing something else . . . something more interesting than answering phone calls from drunken ex-girlfriends. Hopefully he assumes it was a pocket dial.” Charlie seemed bored of her rambling and laid his head back down on the floor that was now all warmed up from the sunshine. Corinne thought back to a few years before.
Remembering the time they spent together as a couple, she was immediately flooded with the most amazing memories; the good ones were always the longest lasting. The thoughts sent an instant zing to her heart, and she quickly had to remind herself of the end: the jealousy and late nights that led to irrational words and actions. She remembered the horrible feeling of almost losing herself as he became her primary focus. And who could forget the embarrassing display of his record collection scattered across the front yard . . .
Corinne shrugged her tense shoulders and rolled her neck around to rid her mind of these thoughts and then took a long sip of her coffee. Staring at a short cylindrical vase with a small cluster of orange tulips peeking over the rim, she found herself thinking back to the beginning of everything, and that early morning in her favorite coffee shop during the winter of 2009.