“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“You’re dumping me? On our goddamn anniversary?”
Becca swallows visibly. She has the audacity to tear up, as if she’s not the one who has made the choice or said the words. Shelby knows it has to be some kind of sick joke, because Becca isn’t that cruel and how could anyone break up with Shelby when she looks this amazing? Gorgeous silk dress, winged eyeliner, and hair curled intentionally.
The candlelight between them reflects the clammy shine on Becca’s freckled face. Even now, she’s beautiful. She’s pretty even when she eagerly claims I think we should break up before they order wine.
“You motherfucker,” Shelby says scornfully, though she follows it with an uncomfortable laugh. She’s tempted to make a scene but she knows she never would. It’s rare, this detached rage and aggression. They only make appearances on scarce occasions where the bridge connecting rational thought to healthy emotions collapses.
“Hey,” Becca turns harsh, “you know as well as I do that -”
“I know,” Shelby interrupts. Because she does. She knows this was a long time coming. This could be perfectly mutual and it probably should be. Space between them in bed has slowly but surely grown more pronounced. Conversations have been shallow or superficial. Love has been expressed meagerly, only out of obligation. It isn’t how a relationship should be. Shelby knows it.
She just never expected that to be that. She hoped she was worth fighting for.
“We’re complacent, you know? We have been for a while now.”
Of course they have. That’s what happens when you love someone but aren’t in love with them anymore.
“Honestly, I just… I miss my best friend.”
Shelby nods. Her eyes are trained on the basket of bread on the table. She traces the cracks in the crust and tries not to cry. She’s always liked comfort and familiarity. That’s what Becca has been since elementary school. Alluring and funny. Constant, reliable, steady. Shelby isn’t sure she knows how to exist without it.
They skip dinner. Becca leaves behind the money that they would have spent and tips their waitress, because she’s just that pure and good. It makes it harder for Shelby to deny the offer of a ride home.
“I think I’ll take the subway,” Shelby says into the warm city air. “I need a little bit of space before we go back to the same apartment.” She laughs to ease some tension, but Becca doesn’t echo it.
“Yeah, I, uh - I’m gonna stay at Christa’s. Until I can find my own place.”
Shelby presses her lips together. She had been mentally preparing for awkwardly sharing space, but Becca had it all planned out. How long had she been preparing to break up with her? How long has she been strategizing this exit?
“Well, great. That’s just… great.”
“Shelbs, I - I’m sorry.”
“You said that already.” Shelby knows she’s being a bit unfair. She hasn’t given enough, not nearly enough, to deserve feeling this vindicated in her anger. She knows, somewhere deeper down, that her frustration is truly towards her world and the person she’s become. But Becca is here, breaking her heart just a little bit and pulling the rug out from under her, so she has the unfortunate role of punching bag.
Against any other judgment, Shelby pulls Becca into a hug. It’s distressing and feels like home all at once. It lingers longer than it should for new exes but cuts off awkwardly short for best friends.
Shelby decides to take the long way home. Perhaps like a true tourist, she adores Washington Square Park. It’s one of the prettier parts of New York, especially on gorgeous April evenings.
It takes a while for her to start crying. She thinks she’ll be able to make it until she gets home, until she walks through the apartment she’s shared with Becca for two years with all of their belongings meshed together so perfectly. But when a happy couple walks by her, hands clasped and eyes shining, the dam breaks.
- - - - -
Two weeks later, Becca is dating someone new. She doesn’t tell Shelby outright, despite the new pact they made to remain friends and attempt to rebuild their platonic relationship. Rather, she lets social media do the talking for her.
She sees the post during her lunch break, fork hanging out of her mouth as her eyes start to water. Shelby immediately assumes that there was overlap. That, or Becca had been so over their relationship that she had already moved on by the time she was breaking up with Shelby.
Her students are at recess, so she can sob graciously in her classroom’s closet for half an hour before putting on a brave face and teaching western history to ninth graders.
Shelby spends the next few weeks crying and gazing dramatically out windows and growing certain that she is actually, definitively all alone.
And maybe she deserves to be.
An undeniable truth, according to Fatin Jadmani, is that slamming doors is fucking satisfying - the bombastic sound, what it symbolizes, the message it sends.
Unfortunately, her target remains the same. Years and years of door slamming, yet her parents still never seem to care. If anything, it just sort of pisses them off that she might be damaging the architrave. Even in her late-20s, Fatin’s emotional well-being is still wholly contingent on what they say and do.
Slamming her car door after getting in the driver’s seat is less rewarding, but it still provides a bit of fulfillment. Beating her hands against the steering wheel, cursing while tears start to take shape, helps relieve some of her anger - but only barely. The words still bounce around her head.
Grow up, Fatin.
We just don’t understand why you would do this.
All you ever do is hurt this family. We can’t let you anymore.
Coupled with the overwhelming fear that she might turn out just like them, Fatin wonders if now is the time to drop everything and run. Fly to some deserted island, with no other human life to be found, and start from scratch.
Primal, she thinks. But she knows she wouldn’t survive it.
She doesn’t cry, not in the traditional sense. Sure, the tears fall and leave evidence in the way of smudged mascara and paths of washed away foundation. But that’s biology, an unconquerable physical reaction to the fact that her life is one huge fucking mess.
Sometimes her body just reacts, and her brain doesn’t know how to catch up.
Fatin wipes the tears away frantically before pulling out her phone. She’s sniffling when she finds her best friend’s name in her contacts and calls her. She is answered almost immediately.
“Where are you?” Her voice is scratchy. “I need a fucking drink.”
“I’m splendid, thank you for asking, Fatin!”
Fatin snorts out a watery laugh. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Didn’t go well with the ‘rents?”
“Can we meet at the usual?” Fatin says by way of an answer.
“I mean, it’s four o’clock.” A pause. “But yeah.”
“Great. See you soon.”
‘The usual’ is a Los Angeles dive bar that gets enough business but is hardly ever packed. It’s too unglamorous for the city’s elite but a bit too nice for the cheapest of them. So, those of them in between who are lucky enough to find it are set to enjoy affordable drinks in a relatively charmed environment.
The bartender recognizes Fatin. She seems appropriately surprised to be seeing her in the late afternoon. It isn’t something she makes a habit, but Fatin would be lying if she said there haven’t been a few days in the past where she has started drinking earlier than she should.
Fatin is grateful for the lack of judgment as the bartender places the first shot in front of her. She takes it quickly and only barely winces.
The bells above the entrance ring and Fatin doesn’t need to look to know who it is, but she does anyway.
“Dorothy. You are a sight for sore eyes.”
Dot is all smiles as she takes the seat next to Fatin at the bar, until her grin turns into a nervous grimace. “You don’t want a hug, do you?”
“Fuck no,” Fatin scoffs. The vodka shots are slid in front of them. Dot has an incredulous look on her face when Fatin throws it back right away before requesting another. She’s sighing contently when she turns to her best friend. “You gonna drink yours?”
“Do you mind?” Dot exclaims. “I just sat down.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Fatin drawls, and she spares Dot the pain of taking the shot by pouring it down her own throat.
Anyone in their right mind knows this is one of the least healthy coping mechanisms available, but Dot lets her have it. At least, she will for now. She orders a beer and encourages, in a non-negotiable sort of sense, Fatin to transition out of taking shots.
“So,” Dot starts, “do you wanna talk about?”
“No.” Fatin turns away, feels the presence of Dot’s gaze on her profile, and lasts all of five seconds pretending she doesn't want to vent. “They’re lucky I even told them, you know? I don’t owe them anything. Letting them know was a courtesy - one they didn’t even deserve!”
Dot nods her understanding. “You’re right.”
“And it’s not like people will know it’s about them. It only happens to draw heavily from my own experience with them as parents.”
“Mm,” Dot purses her lips, “but you wrote the script. You’ll be credited for it. I feel like people will be able to connect the dots.”
“Well, who knows if people will even see it.”
“Except A24 picked it up. It’s, like, for sure gonna be the next Lady Bird.”
Fatin narrows her eyes angrily. She knows her best friend is well aware of how much she despises when movies are compared to one another, especially when it’s one of her own. She also hates that Dot is making good points, opening the door to her own subconscious concerns. “Whose fucking side are you on?”
“Yours. Always yours.” Dot chuckles and reaches out to squeeze Fatin’s hand. “I’m just curious what kind of reaction you expected. These are your parents, after all.”
Fatin rolls her eyes. The more she thinks about it, the more she comes to terms with the fact that her parents’ reactions were characteristic, typical of them. But that doesn’t mean she has to like it. That doesn’t mean she has to accept it.
“Am I gonna wake up from this fuckfest of a nightmare anytime soon?” It’s rhetorical, obviously, but her voice breaks noticeably and she lubricates the rasp with a large swig of vodka soda.
Dot takes a sip of her drink, pulling it through her teeth. She always grows rightfully concerned when Fatin expresses a type of existential pain, a frustration towards her life that she seems incapable or unwilling to process.
“Maybe you should get outta town,” Dot offers.
“What do you mean?”
“When’s the last time you took a vacation?”
Fatin has to think on it. All the time, when she was growing up. Mallorca and the Amalfi Coast. Bora Bora and Barbados. Beaches and mountains, amusement parks and historical sights. Somewhere close by, somewhere across the planet. Places meant for tourists and places that tourists took for themselves. She’s been all over the world.
But that was a long, long time ago.
“It’s been a while,” Fatin admits. She doesn’t feel any sense of guilt for not traveling, but more so that she hasn’t given herself a break in a decade.
Dot shrugs. “It might be time. Go somewhere, clear your head. Relax. You used to love doing nothing, remember?”
It’s true. Fatin lived for down time. More often than not, it was a necessity for her well-being and mental health. Then it developed into a simple enjoyment for doing absolutely nothing productive with her time. When she discovered a passion and proclivity for writing screenplays and her career took off, free time and relaxation became nonexistent.
“What would I even do?”
“Nothing. Isn’t that kind of the point?”
“But where would I go?”
Dot shrugs. “Where do you want to go?”
Home, Fatin thinks. If only she had one.
If there is one thing Shelby will live and die by, it’s a comfortable bed.
Big fluffy blankets, copious amounts of pillows, silk sheets. Everything that can be made of memory foam should be. She wants to be in a cocoon, to feel small in a massive pile of feathery and downy accouterments.
She’s been in treat yourself mode since she found out Becca had so effortlessly moved on. A bottle of rosé on her left, a stack of her favorite candies to her right. Soda to ‘hydrate’ and balance the wine, McDonald’s French fries that she had delivered to her. Everything unhealthy and self-indulgent that she was actively denied as a child.
Some depressing romance movie drones on in the background as Shelby chews a twizzler mindlessly. Her phone buzzes, and Shelby knows there is only one person it could be.
How are you?
“I’m fucking bad, Rachel!” Shelby screams at her phone.
Hanging in there :), she replies.
Except you’re not.
“Then why would you ask?” Shelby bellows to no one but herself. She ends up sending that exact response, and Rachel informs her that she is on her way over.
Shelby groans and sits up. She looks around her at the mess that is her bedroom. There is no point in trying to tidy up, and she knows Rachel will understand - or, at the very least, keep her comments to herself. They’ve been close since they met at the high school where they both work. Their platonic love is unconditional and they are always quick to forgive each other’s shortcomings, which includes the very neat Rachel excusing the very messy Shelby.
Waiting for Rachel gives her the perfect opportunity to check if Becca has posted anything new on Instagram. It’s shameful, Shelby thinks, but she just can’t stop herself. There are no new posts, no new stories, no new tagged photos. Shelby doesn’t know if she’s relieved or disappointed. She scrolls through her feed before clicking through peoples’ stories, not paying too much attention to any of them.
But then she sees an unusual one. Someone from her graduating class known for her Instagram’s influencer-like quality. She posts gorgeous solo shots, for the most part. The kind that have people stopping to stare. She gets hundreds if not thousands of likes. She’s clearly living a glamorous life out in Los Angeles, but the story she’s posted indicates otherwise. It’s just text on a plain background.
In desperate need of a vacation, any suggestions??
A vacation. God, that sounds nice. Shelby would like one of those. She has no clue how to decide, though. A little part of her wants to see everywhere and she doesn’t know where to start.
And that’s when she gets the idea -
To be a mooch. Not to freeload, but maybe to benefit from any recommendations her old classmate might be getting.
She hasn’t spoken to Fatin in so long, since they graduated high school together almost a decade ago. But she still follows Shelby on Instagram, likes a picture of hers every now and again.
Since the break-up with Becca, Shelby has lost most, if not all, of her sense of shame. That leads her to going to Fatin’s profile and pressing message .
Hey Fatin, this is Shelby Goodkind!
From high school
But you probably knew that
Or maybe you don’t remember me?
Off to a great start! Shelby bites at her cuticles and stares at the screen. Three dots appear almost instantly.
hi! of course i remember you
Shelby has regrets. Fatin probably thinks it’s beyond odd that Shelby is reaching out, but the blonde can’t very well leave her on read after being the one to start the conversation.
I saw your story about needing a vacation
I’m in a similar boat hahah
Would you maybe let me know if you get any suggestions that stand out?
Not idea where to, I just know I need to gooo
Fatin is impressively quick at replying, which is good for Shelby, whose anxiety elevates to unhealthy levels when she is waiting for texts back.
yeahhh i totally get it
i will definitely let you know!
i’ll send it all along
Shelby replies with an emphatic thanks!!
She has no plans to hold Fatin to her word. The longer Shelby reflects on it, the more certain she becomes that her request was too odd. So, it comes as a surprise as the conversation continues - almost as shocking is how much Shelby enjoys it.
Fatin is all too familiar with random people from her past making contact. She’s an outstanding screenwriter in one of the most popular cities in the world, a city teaming with some very famous individuals. She has connections to people in high places within the entertainment industry, people who get shit done. When Selena Gomez followed her on Twitter, it made the front page of her hometown's local newspaper. People ask for things all the time. They are almost always inappropriate requests from people who have no right to make them.
But Shelby just wants in on her vacation recommendations. It’s consistent with the Shelby she remembers from high school - a bit too flawless. Universally adored among peers and teachers, a thousand different extracurriculars, perfect grades. She came out after they graduated, if Fatin remembers correctly, and she’s been with that curly-haired girl ever since.
Becca is her name, Fatin is reminded after stalking Shelby’s Instagram. Shelby posts a wide range of pictures on her Instagram. Photographs of her and Becca or friends, scenic sites around New York, even some shots of stand-out meals.
Shelby is just as beautiful as Fatin recalls, if not more so. She has an air of maturity about her, at least in the pictures. She seems comfortable. Happy.
so how have you been? how’s your girlfriend?
Um I’ve been alright
Becca dumped me a few weeks ago
“Goddamnit, Fatin,” she chides herself. Leave it to her to ask an innocent question and make the situation awkward.
“You okay?” Dot asks, not looking up from her phone.
Fatin hums her affirmation and starts typing again.
shit omg i am so so sorry
Hahah it’s all good!! For the best I guess?
But kinda why I need to get out of this city for a while
How have you been??
The conversation continues from there. Eventually it slows and Fatin returns to chatting with Dot while nursing her drink. Still, she replies to Shelby when the messages come in. It’s bizarrely fun, catching up with her. They avoid topics like family and relationships in favor of their work, social lives, and even a bit of flagrant gossiping about their old classmates. Fatin finds herself fascinated with how Shelby ended up in New York. Even living in Los Angeles, she feels like something about that eastern city is untouchable.
what's the big apple like anyway?
I love it here. A bit too intertwined with my ex
But what can you do
Fatin hadn't thought about it that way. Everywhere she looks, Shelby probably sees a piece of what used to be her relationship.
While Fatin needs to escape to somewhere, Shelby needs to escape from somewhere.
And just like that, the puzzle comes together. "Holy shit," she shouts. Dot flinches next to her and watches with amusement as Fatin types furiously on her phone, a wicked smile curling the corners of her lips.
i have a crazy idea that’s actually crazy
but what if we house swap?
Like I go stay at your place and you come to mine?
i’ve always wanted to go to new york
have any interest in staying in LA?
Definitely I do! I feel bad though.
Don’t you live in like a super nice house in the hills?
I think my Brooklyn apartment might be a bit of a downgrade
Maybe she’s had a bit too much to drink, but Fatin is convinced she’s a genius. What a perfect idea. Perfect, and perfectly unhinged. Maybe it’s alcohol fueling her undeniable alacrity, but Fatin can’t remember the last time she felt this eager.
New York. The city that never sleeps, and the city that gives people the ability to actually walk places rather than driving an hour just to go two miles. Good bagels. Rain. Going out in sweatpants and without a bra. Greasy pizza. Convenience.
Fatin could use a good dose of that.
trust me, your brooklyn apartment sounds like heaven rn
Shelby can’t stop grinning at her phone. It seems a bit too good to be true. Fatin really wants to trade lives for a little bit? Who in their right mind wants to leave LA?
Immaculate weather. Hills and valleys. Hiking trails and Hollywood. In-N-Out burgers and smoothies with too much green stuff in it. Cars with AC instead of grimy subways or sticky buses. The perfect balance of city and nature, culture and activity.
The doorbell ringing interrupts the hopeful tangent Shelby's mind goes on. She stumbles frantically out of bed and runs to the open the door for Rachel, who just walks right past her.
“Hey,” Rachel greets. “I brought you ice cream. The real kind, not that nasty shit your dad would only let you have.”
She puts the grocery bag on the counter and starts unpacking it. Ice cream is accompanied by actual sustenance that Rachel is convinced Shelby hasn't consumed in weeks - protein, fruits, and vegetables.
When Rachel finally chooses to look at her, Shelby is beaming like a maniac.
“Did you finally snap?" Rachel asks nervously. She narrows her eyes, only growing more suspicious as Shelby starts to sway back and forth wildly on her feet. "Why are you smiling like that, you creep?”
Shelby bites her lip, her eyelids falling closed on their own volition. “I think I’m going to Los Angeles.”