Kyler took a deep breath, then knocked on the door to Sloane’s apartment. It had been two weeks since he’d seen her last, though it felt like much longer. He’d taken the time to dress nicely for their date — a collared button-down shirt and a pair of black slacks. As much as he hated anything remotely resembling formal attire, Sloane would appreciate the effort.
After a few moments of no one answering, Kyler knocked again. He heard movement inside the apartment, surely one of her roommates ignoring the door while Sloane worked to get ready. The footsteps moved closer to the door, followed by a pause, then a loud shout from inside.
“He’s here, Sloane!” shouted a high-pitched voice. Kyler could never tell Tera and Becky’s voices apart, even while in the same room with them. Having the sound coming from behind a door further limited the ability to tell who was yelling.
Kyler took a step back, shuffling and rocking on the balls of his feet. After a few moments, the sounds of door locks clicking open rang out, followed by Sloane cracking the door open and stepping out. She wore a long, gray sweatshirt and blue pajama pants, her bare feet resting against the wooden landing at the top of the stairwell.
“I feel a bit overdressed for our date,” Kyler said.
“No, you’re not,” Sloane said sheepishly.
“Am I too early?”
“It’s not that.”
“Do you need some time to get ready?”
Sloane went quiet. Tears began to roll down her cheeks, darkening the top of her sweatshirt.
“I can’t keep this up,” Sloane murmured. “I don’t want this anymore.”
“We don’t have to go,” said Kyler. “We can have a night in o–”
“I don’t want this relationship anymore, Kyler. It’s just not what I want.”
Kyler resumed rocking back and forth like he had been before Sloane came out. He had a hunch this might be coming, particularly with Sloane’s repeated efforts to avoid him and to cancel plans with him. That didn’t make hearing it any easier. Still, Kyler was determined not to cry, doing his best to will his tears to stay in his eyes. It failed.
“I’m sorry,” said Sloane.
“Why?” said Kyler.
“Why am I sorry or why am I breaking up with you?”
“Why are you ending things?”
“I don’t want a relationship right now,” replied Sloane.
“We’ve been together two years!” Kyler retorted, his voice rising in pitch and volume. “Why now?”
“Because I’m already not spending time with you. And that’s not fair to you.”
“Let me choose what’s fair to me.”
“Stop,” said Sloane. “This isn’t your choice. It’s mine. And I don’t want this. Not now. I’m not ruling out ever. I’m not saying we can’t try again once my internships or whatever are done. But…just not now Kyler.”
The door cracked open ever so slightly behind Sloane, Tera and Becky peeking out at the scene unfolding on their front stoop. Sloane waved them off without turning around, the door quickly shutting and leaving Kyler and Sloane alone again.
“I’m sorry you got dressed up for nothing,” Sloane said.
“It’s fine,” Kyler replied somberly.
“It’s not. You hate it, even though you look nice.”
“I should go,” said Kyler.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Sloane replied. “Please?”
Kyler turned and walked away, leaving Sloane’s question hanging in the air. He made the slow, short walk back to his apartment, doing his best to wipe away his tears before the cold December wind chilled them off his face.
He climbed the stairs back to his apartment, unlocking the door to find Troy strutting around their living room, playing a video game guitar in his boxers. Troy noticed Kyler’s somber mood mid-windmill strum, quickly pausing the game and walking over to Kyler.
“You okay?” Troy asked.
“She broke up with me,” replied Kyler. “I got ready for a date, just to go over and have her break up with me.”
“Sorry, man. What do you want to do? Do you wanna drink? Play games? Burn her apartment down? Go get wings?”
“One of those things is not like the other ones.”
“You’re right,” replied Troy. “This is not a night to drown our sorrows in video games.”
“I just need some time to think,” said Kyler. “I assume you’re going out later?”
“Yeah, do you want to come with?”
“I think I’ll stay in. I’m not really feeling seeing people. Might get some wings delivered. That did sound good.”
“The power of suggestion is strong,” stated Troy. “But the power of the chicken wing is stronger.”
“If I change my mind, I’ll give you a call,” replied Kyler.
Kyler retreated to his room, sitting at his computer desk and staring off into space. He had a handful of missed instant messages, nearly all of which appeared to be from Sloane. He wasn’t about to read them, not in this state of mind at least. Knowing Sloane, she’d be apologizing to him for ending things, only to reinforce her point with the very next message. Kyler didn’t have the energy for that.
There was a message from Lauren. They’d finished their group project earlier in the week and were the only two members of the group who’d bothered to show up to give the presentation. The A- was worth it, though Kyler found himself a little sad the class was over. He liked talking to Lauren, both in the context of class and outside of it. She had invited him to a party with her and John Paul tonight, but if he turned down Troy, it didn’t feel right to go with them.
The last message was from Riza. It was from several hours ago — a long, rambling rant about how Riza was frustrated about a question on her ethics final ultimately culminating in Riza talking herself out of her own grievances by the end of the diatribe. As Kyler got to the end of the missed messages, a new one came in.
“Answer me biiiiiiiitch,” Riza said.
“Hi,” Kyler replied.
“About time. Where have you been all day?”
“I had a date. Sort of. Sloane broke up with me.”
Kyler felt like he had barely released his finger off the enter key when his phone started buzzing.
“I’m so sorry!” Riza shouted as he answered. “Is Troy with you?”
“He’s going out to a party pretty soon,” Kyler replied. “He offered to bring me with him, but I said no.”
“I’m on my way. Tell him not to go anywhere for an hour or so and I’ll be there.”
“Because your girlfriend just broke up with you,” reiterated Riza. “And even if you think you’re doing fine right now, I guarantee you won’t be eventually.”
“I am fine though,” stated Kyler.
“And I know better. Go tell Troy to stay until I get there or I’ll call him myself.”
“Riza, you don’t hav–”
Kyler found himself talking to himself, Riza having hung up on the call. He sighed and walked out of his room to find Troy, now fully dressed, talking on the phone.
“I told him he could come out with me, but he didn’t want to,” said Troy. “Do you need me to stay too?”
“Tell Riza I’m fine,” Kyler groaned as he got a beer out of the fridge. He opened it and stretched out on the couch. Troy took the phone down from his ear, covering up the microphone with his hand as he spoke to Kyler.
“She says, and I quote, ‘make sure that Kyler orders me wings too’,” said Troy. “Also something about kicking your ass if you don’t listen to her, but she curses more than the ROTC guys, so it’s hard to follow her point sometimes.”
“Fine. Ask her what she wants and I’ll order.”
An hour later, the wings had arrived, along with a massive order of cheese-covered breadsticks at Riza’s request. Troy had left the room to shower before the party, taking a breadstick to the shower for reasons that Kyler still couldn’t comprehend. Now well into his second drink, Kyler stared at the TV, an early season basketball game playing that had transitioned past halftime without his noticing. Even though he wasn’t watching, he couldn’t find the motivation to change the channel.
Sloane was gone now. While she hadn’t chosen an internship over him — after all, this specific internship was essentially over now — it certainly felt like she’d made a conscious choice to choose something else over him. He didn’t resent her for wanting to be successful. What got under his skin was how laser-focused she was on her own success while belittling his own studies, all while relegating him to an afterthought in her life.
Relationships end. Sloane wasn’t Kyler’s first girlfriend and he was now certain that she wouldn’t be his last either. That didn’t make the feeling of everything ending any easier. If he’d done something wrong, that’d be one thing. But Sloane had made it clear that their relationship wasn’t what she wanted. And Kyler couldn’t change that. The concept of us that they’d worked for two years to build wasn’t wanted. And that hurt.
“Don’t you hear that?” Troy shouted.
Kyler snapped out of his zoned out state to the sound of pounding on their apartment door. Troy answered the door, dripping wet and covered in a towel. Riza burst through the door, a backpack slung over her shoulder and a pack of hard lemonade in her hand.
“Sorry!” she said, trying to catch her breath. “I had to wait on a train and then I couldn’t find my wallet when I got to the gas station to get something to drink and Troy dry yourself off and put some goddamn clothes on.”
“Hey!” he shouted. “I was in the shower. Kyler couldn’t hear you pounding a hole through our door.”
Riza set her stuff on the floor, then sat on the couch, lifting Kyler’s upper body up from the cushions and sitting herself beneath him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, embracing him tightly. For the first time since he’d left Sloane’s house, Kyler began to cry.
The sounds of keys rattling against the doorknob woke Kyler from his sleep. The clock on the stove read 1:38 am. Kyler tried to shift his weight, only for him to realize that he’d fallen asleep on the couch and that he’d used Riza as a pillow in the process. Troy opened the door to the apartment, a cold wind following him in and waking Riza in the process.
“Motherfuckers, listen,” Troy said, slamming the door behind him. His speech slurred and slipped as his body swayed and stumbled. “I am here to say it since no one else will. Fuck. Women.”
“Isn’t that the entire point of why you go out drinking?” Riza asked, not bothering to open her eyes.
“Not like that!”
Troy stumbled over to the edge of the couch, sitting on the floor next to Riza. Her feet were propped up on the coffee table, giving Troy the ability to lean his head against her legs as he struggled to stay upright.
“Listen,” Troy continued. “I know you’re a woman.”
“So observant of you,” Riza deadpanned.
“But we don’t like your kind ’round here today! One of you broke this poor man’s heart. Fuck Sloane!”
“Fuck Sloane!” Kyler shouted back, taking a drink of the hard lemonade he’d left on the table before passing out.
“You do realize that not all women are Sloane, yes?” Riza asked.
“I am on my soapstand!” Troy said. “Let me have my opinions!”
“You mean a soapbox.”
“Right. I’m sitting. It can’t be a soapstand if I’m soapsitting.”
“Alright, he’s trashed,” said Riza.
“You got it, girl!” Troy yelled.
“Can you leave so I can change?” Riza asked Kyler. “I’ll try to get John Wesley here off the floor while I’m at it.”
“The guy from Star Trek?” Troy replied. “I love Wil Wheaton!”
Kyler rose from the couch and made his way to the bedroom.
“I think I’m just going to go to bed,” said Kyler. “Thank you for coming up. It helped.”
“Did she leave us any wings?” asked Troy.
Riza moved her legs from the table, causing Troy to tumble to the floor. As Kyler shut the door of his bedroom behind him, Riza began digging through her backpack to look for clothes to sleep in.
“Riza!” Troy yelled.
“Did you know the carpet goes under the couch too? I thought it was just all couch down there. Like a couch floor.”
“Have you not moved your furniture?” asked Riza.
“And was there carpet under the couch when you moved it?”
A silence fell over the room. Riza waited patiently for Troy’s response. Just as she thought he’d passed out, manic laughter spilled out of Troy’s mouth.
“What’s so funny?” asked Riza.
“I’m pathetic,” said Troy between laughs.
“Because you’re so drunk you can’t stand?”
“I can stand! But no. You’re going to change in front of me. And I was in just a towel in front of you earlier. And aren’t guys supposed to do something about that?”
Riza walked over and reached her hand down, offering to help Troy to his feet. As the world spun around him, he saw that Riza was standing there in a pair of pajama pants, holding a spaghetti string tank top in her hand.
“The fact that you’re not trying to do anything isn’t a bad thing,” Riza said. “It’s respectful. And yeah, I’m okay with doing this because you’re so drunk you won’t remember it. But I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t fine with the thought that you might remember it.”
“Riza whatever your middle name is Andreesi,” replied Troy. “Are you hitting on me?”
“No. Just telling you why I do what I do. If it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll stop.”
Riza pulled Troy in and hugged him, breathing in the scent of whatever mix of alcohol he’d managed to ingest that evening.
“It’s Margaret,” she said. “Only fair that you know since I know yours.”
She waited for Troy to reply, only for the sound of his breath to turn into a light snore. Riza helped Troy to his room, then made her way back to the living room where she finished readying herself for bed. As she tucked herself in, she heard the sound of someone walking toward her.
“Are you still up?” asked Kyler.
“Yeah,” said Riza.
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you earlier.”
“It’s fine. You’ve had a long day and a lot of booze.”
“Do you think she knew all along this is what she’d do?” asked Kyler.
Riza sat up and motioned for Kyler to take a seat beside her.
“I think she made her decision a while ago,” replied Riza. “And it probably took her this long to tell you because she loved you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you two hardly ever saw each other. And when you did, you were fighting. It wasn’t healthy for either of you.”
“But I didn’t think it’d actually end.”
“No one ever does. Even when we know the end is coming. It never makes it easier.”
“Why are you so wise for someone who has only had one relationship?” asked Kyler.
“I’m not wise,” countered Riza. “I’m objective. This ended and it sucks. But you’ll find something — someone — that’ll make you happy in the future too. I promise.”
Like this piece of fiction? Please consider supporting me by buying one of my books, requesting Kotov Syndrome from your local library, or supporting me on Patreon. While you’re here, please sign up for my newsletter.