The Speed of Love, a web novel — Episode 5
Welcome back to The Speed of Love, a web novel.
I’ve been playing around with the web novel concept for a while now. My autobiographical series This is Not a Sad Story is hitting its stride, but I also wanted to do something fictional. After watching the 2019 Netflix film Marriage Story, I knew what I wanted to write about. Cross that with the Modern Love column in The New York Times, and I was golden. This is Episode 3 of The Speed of Love.
The Speed of Love follows the lives, personal dramas, and love affairs of six young adults. In Episode 1, you met bumbling librarian Cara and acclaimed photojournalist Darren, who shared a drunken moment long past. In Episode 2, you met beauty queen turned barista Eloise and grad student Alyssa. And in Episode 3, you met wilderness-obsessed Josh and twenty-one year old high school senior Alejandra.
In Episode 4, we returned to Cara and Darren as they reflected on their library encounter and revisited old memories. Today, we’re back with Eloise and Alyssa, who will start the day by exchanging digits.
There are no heroes here and no villains. Everyone is human. I expect you to pick favorites among the characters, but that’s only because you’re human too! My hope, though, is that you’ll love and hate each character by turns. Because that’s what humans do. We love and hate.
The woman at the bar, Alyssa, was pretty cool, actually. A little self-deprecating and very broken up about this Megan character, who sounded like a bitch, but cool nonetheless.
Eloise did the right thing and asked if they could exchange numbers.
Alyssa blinked. Eloise could read the surprise smattered across her face, mingling with her freckles.
“Okay, then you give me your phone and I’ll give you mine, and I’ll put myself into your contacts, okay?” Eloise asked.
She was trying to be gentle, though she wasn’t a gentle person. She’d never been through a true heartbreak, but she imagined it hurt. Like hell, was what Darren had always told her. She’d broken his heart, sure as anything. He’d always thought they were forever. And, heck, maybe she’d thought it too, for a time. She still counted him as her best friend, though she wasn’t sure what he thought of her. And they still slept together, every now and then when she felt especially bad.
It probably wasn’t making things any better.
She typed her digits into Alyssa’s phone and slid it back to her across the bar. Bill, the chef, was standing in the kitchen doorway, looking a little incredulous.
“There you go,” Eloise said. “So if you ever want to grab coffee. Hit me up.”
She heard it in her head and knew she’d said it a little too fast. It didn’t matter. When you were going through a heartbreak, she imagined you wouldn’t notice anything, and Alyssa probably wasn’t any different. She probably couldn’t tell that this morning tell-all had spilled over into a runaway crush. That was what it was, wasn’t it? She had a runaway crush on this girl that probably — probably — wouldn’t come to anything.
“Promise me you’re gonna break up with her,” she said to Alyssa.
Alyssa wrinkled up her nose. “You’re like the high school friend I never had.”
Eloise winced. Ouch. Relegated to the level of high school friend. Then she watched Alyssa’s expression shift.
“Well, I mean, I’m thankful for your help. It is about time I gave her a taste of her own medicine.” She got up, sliding Eloise’s phone back. A vaguely familiar tune emanated from it. “I think you’ve got a call coming in.”
Eloise glanced at the screen. Shit. A call from who? Darren ❤️.
“See you,” she said to Alyssa’s retreating back, her heart hammering. Well, she’d shot her shot and shit on the bed, thanks to her stupid… She picked up. “Yeah?”
“Hey, El,” came the familiar drawl on the other end of the line. “You free today? I got something I wanna talk to you about.”
She sucked in her breath. “I’m on the clock right now,” she snapped. “And you might’ve just ruined something good I had going.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“Nah, I’ll tell you later.” She sighed. It would be good catching up with one of the only people who cared about her. She’d been avoiding him ever since he’d arrived back in town, injured, but it was about time she called quits on the game. Couldn’t coddle him and his broken heart. He’d told her that once before. “Tonight. My place. You bring the burgers.”
The bus dropped Alyssa a couple streets away from Megan’s apartment.
That had always been one of her big questions. Why hadn’t they moved in together? They could’ve saved so much money, and instead they’d both kept separate apartments in a very expensive town. Jesus. It was just another indicator that she’d never been more than a fling in Meg’s eyes. A fling or… She pushed the thoughts aside. And to think she’d been getting somewhere with the pretty waitress at Littleman’s Tea & More or Tea & Things or whatever the heck the place was called. But then the waitress’s boyfriend had called. So there was that.
She shouldn’t have been thinking about that, anyway. She wasn’t even broken up with Meg.
She got to Meg’s apartment just as the convertible swooped in. Meg was in the front seat. A guy was in the passenger’s seat, and a couple girls were in the back. Alyssa felt very cold. She unfolded herself from where she’d sat down on the apartment steps.
“Nice trip to the nail salon, huh,” she said. “Looks more like social hour.”
“Hey, babe, why didn’t you invite your friend along?” The guy slung an arm around Meg’s shoulder, leaning towards her. Alyssa felt bile rise in the back of her throat. “She’s pretty cute…”
“Shut up, Mark.” Meg pushed the convertible door open. She looked tired. To her credit, her nails looked freshly done. “Didn’t expect you so soon.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Alyssa ran her shoe along a sidewalk crack. Meg had flinched when she’d sworn. She almost never swore. But this was an almost never time. “Yeah, I came here to tell you that I’m tired of this. And clearly you’ve been, you know, fooling around on the side. Like, fuck, are you even into women?”
“Yeah, of course I’m into women. I dunno, maybe I just got tired of your moralizing.” Meg looked standoffish. “And you know I’m into guys, too. You always knew that.”
“It was more of a developing thing, actually.”
Meg crossed her arms. “So, what, this is you dumping me?”
“Yeah.” Alyssa swallowed. She wanted to say, Consider yourself dumped, but knew she’d sound stupid. “Yeah, I’m done. We’re done.”
“Good riddance.” Meg snorted and looped her arm with the guy’s. He’d come around the car. The two girls in the back were gaping at Alyssa. “I’ve got a future lined up, if you haven’t noticed. Not like you. Struggling your way through grad school for physics, of all things. You think you’re Einstein or something?”
“Uh, no.” Alyssa stepped off the curb. She felt a little light-headed. “Have fun with your life, then.”
“Yeah. You too.”
Meg’s laughter followed her down the street. Alyssa fought the urge to look back. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look, she told herself. Sometimes people weren’t what they seemed. And sometimes people changed, and someone you’d learned to love turned into a monster. Sometimes. Maybe always. She wasn’t sure anymore.
Thank you for reading!
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Next week, we’ll return to Josh and Alejandra. As always, thank you for your readership and support!