There was an ache in her chest, somewhere around where her heart used to be. And not the dull kind of ache you get when you fuck up and know you fucked up. Not the kind of ache you get when you have a presentation and didn’t prepare as well as you should have. It was more of a pounding ache. A horrible, joy crushing, monster of an ache. Like a heart attack. Logically she knew it would go away with time. Or at least that's what she’d heard. She didn’t really believe it at that point.
She ignored him, smiling. It was their little game.
“Julia come on! We’re going to be late for the party.”
Mark's voice was started to get annoyed.
“RARG!!!” Julia jumped from behind the couch. She got him good.
“Come on,” he was exasperated. Only because he could never scare her back.
Julia didn’t particularly love going out but Mark’s fraternity was always doing something or other and she felt obligated to tag along most of the time. It was fun sometimes. Her friend Jordan was always up for sitting in the corner with her while she nursed her soda. He always got a little too drunk but it worked. She sat and held his drink away from him and he kept her entertained. Mark did his mingling and his obligatory fraternity duties and Julia sat. They worked.
Julia had always been cynical. She loved to argue with her romantic Shakespeare professor that love wasn’t a real thing, just a construct of Hallmark and society. Love was just a made up thing for lonely people to feel less lonely. Then she’d met Mark. She’d tried to hold onto her cynicism, she really had. It just hadn’t worked. Everything that the Hallmark cards had told her, everything those stupid romcoms had promised her—it was there. She was floating on air. There were literal butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t stop smiling. It made her nauseous.
The ache wasn’t getting better. It had been at least a week. Right? Or had it been two? Julia couldn’t remember. Her semi-permanent hangover made it hard for her to keep track of time.
“Julia,” Monica was getting pissed. “Snap out of it. This is due tomorrow. We really need to focus.”
“Sorry,” Julia mumbled. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to do well on the project. She was just trying to focus on her pounding head. Because at least that was something she was feeling. Anything was better than the numbness.
“Julia, I know that this is hard. I know that you don’t want to be out of bed right now. But life is gonna go on. You can’t let this ruin your future.”
Julia knew she was right. She got up and left anyway.
“FUCK THIS!” The mug shattered as it hit the wall, raining shards of porcelain onto the linoleum. “FUCK EVERYTHING. WHERE THE FUCK DOES HE GET OFF—”
“Julia,” Monica’s voice was firm.
Julia stopped yelling, breathing hard, “I just love him.”
“I know,” Monica sighed, “but you guys have been having the same fight over and over and over. Is it really worth it? Is it healthy?”
“He asked me to marry him, Monica.”
Monica pursed her lips. “I know sweetie. I know he did. He’s an ass.”
The first time she’d seen him after he’d been smoking behind the building. It was a habit she thought he had given up long ago. Pot made him lazy. He hated the way he acted when he was high. Or so she had thought.
Julia rubbed her forehead. She’d never felt this way. Maybe the Hallmark cards she’d believed so easily a few months ago were actually lying. Maybe she needed to be cynical again. But she couldn’t bring herself too. She wanted the white dress, the ring. She wanted Mark.
“We’ll be fine,” she was trying to convince herself as much as Monica. “He said he wanted to marry me.”
Monica gave her a sad smile.
The second time she saw him was at a party. Jordan had brought her. Mark was making out with a girl while simultaneously scanning the room for a better prospect. Pig. His eyes landed on her. He had tried to get away but she was too fast, her piercing eyes tracking him into the back room. She pushed him harder than she’d meant too. He stumbled back into the cabinet, his eyes glossed over with the crossfade.
“Fuck you,” she didn’t say it loud enough. “I gave you everything!” she screamed. Her blood pulsed. “You broke all your promises. You told me you’d be there. You told me it would be okay! FUCK YOU!” It was loud enough that time.
When spring came, the ache was mostly gone. It would surprise Julia sometimes, sneaking up on her when she was at a party, or when she got anxious about life in general. But for the most part, the ache had left her, leaving a feeling a lightness behind. Of newness. She started arguing with her professor again. Love wasn’t real. He was an idiot. Everything felt right. Sort of.
“Hey,” Julia looked over. The guy that sat next to her in her Shakespeare class had sat at her table in the library. She raised her eyebrows at him.
“Do you wanna get some coffee sometime?”