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FICTION / I'll See You Around, Okay? / Nikki Munoz

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Ava has her back to the bed as she puts her clothes back on. She stares at the deep blue blank wall as she puts her bra on and pulls her sweater over her head.

“Taking off?” Elliot asks. 

Ava pauses, before reaching down to grab her shoes. She intakes a breath but doesn’t say anything.

Elliot leans, trying to peek at her face. “You could hang out a bit, if you want? Watch something?” 

Ava zips up her boots, then turns around, abruptly, dropping to sit back on the bed. 

Now, face to face with Elliot, she says, “This was our last time.”

He laughs briefly, but is taken aback by the intensity in her eyes. “What?”

She motions between them. “This. I don’t want it anymore.”

Elliot’s smile slowly drops. “What happened? I thought things were good.”

“They were. I’m just . . . I just can’t do the casual thing anymore.” She shakes her head. “I don’t know if . . .umm—if . . . ” She bites her lip and breaks their eye contact. 

Elliot nudges her knee, then leaves his hand resting there. “If what?”

Ava looks down at his hand then back up at him, quickly blurting out, “I don’t know if I’m just not a casual person or if the problem is just with you.”

Elliot puts his hand back in his own lap and looks past Ava at his blue wall. 

Ava watches him look past her, his eyebrows furrowed, and she can practically see the wheels turning in his head. 

Finally, he says, “So you have . . . feelings for me? I have feelings for you too.” 

She hears the uncertainty in his voice.

Ava smiles at him warmly. “Elliot.” She pauses. “You like me to a certain extent, I think. But my feelings go beyond that.” She pauses again, then reaches forward, putting her hand firmly on his knee and leaning on it, toward him. “You are so distinct that you’re indescribable. I see you through a completely different lens than I see anybody else. And maybe that doesn’t sound like strong romantic feelings, but it is. I can’t quite put it into words, but I do know that I don’t want you just halfway.” She is searching his eyes for a reaction, but she can’t read his blank-looking stare. She bites her lip, disappointed, and pulls her hand away from him. “And, so I need to step back from this. . . Okay?”

Elliot stares at her for a moment, also searching her eyes, without knowing what he’s looking for. “I, uh . . .”

Ava giggles. “I made Elliot speechless?” Her laugh drops to a sad smile. “You don’t have to say anything. We’ll just let it be.” She shrugs and leans over, kissing his cheek quickly. “I’m gonna go.” She stands up, grabbing her jacket. Without looking back at him, she says, “I’ll see you around, okay?” She closes the door behind her. 

Elliot listens to her footsteps drift away, then hears the front door open and close. He pictures her walking down the hallway and down the stairwell. 

He stares at his closed bedroom door for a long time before reaching around to turn off his light and falling back into his pillow. 

***

He had said he didn’t want a relationship.

Elliot was clear about this after they matched on a dating app and started talking.

“Ava, you should know that I’m not in a place to be in a relationship right now,” He had written, full sentences and punctuation and all. “I’m really just looking for something casual, non-committal. So, if you’re not into that, we probably shouldn’t go out.” 

Ava had been taken aback by his directness. She had never been a casual person, always thinking in the long term. But something about Elliot made her want to say yes anyway, she just had this feeling about him. And, so, she decided to see what this casual dating thing was all about. 

A few days later, as she waited for him to pick her up, she paced around her room, wondering if it was the best idea. 

Her phone rang and she looked down to see his name flashing on his phone. They’d only texted at this point, and she felt weird answering the phone, her voice cracking as she said, “Hello?”

“Hey,” Elliot’s voice didn’t crack. “I think I’m outside your building. You live at Stark and Deer, right?”

Ava smiled at the sound of his voice. It was different from what she expected. It was overwhelmingly pleasant in a way she couldn’t quite place. 

When she got into his car, he beamed at her and leaned over to hug her. 

“Tell me about your day,” he said, after they pulled away. 

Ava looked at his profile and launched into her day, with more detail than she often gives to anyone who asks. And when he spoke of his own day, she felt oddly displaced from herself as she realized how natural this dynamic felt. 

“I used to live right in that neighborhood,” he said, as they slowed down to a stoplight, pointing to Ava’s right. “Actually. Do you want to drive by real quickly? Haven’t been back since I moved.”

He switched lanes before Ava agreed and began to tell her about how he lived in this large white, worn-down looking house for about a year, becoming the roommate of an 80-year-old retired professor of their university. 

“He really became like a father to me,” Elliot said as they parked, looking past her at the house. He looked back at Ava. 

Ava recognized a sort of longing in his eyes that made her want to know everything about him. “What happened? Why’d you move?”

Elliot shook his head. “It just wasn’t working out anymore.”

“Do you want to go in?”

Elliot froze for a moment. “What?”

“Do you want to go in and say hi?”

***

“You mentioned once how everybody has a different reason for this,” Ava commented one day as they laid next to each other, after sex, their legs intertwined, but not touching otherwise. 

Elliot nodded. “Right.”

“So, what’s yours?”

“What’s yours?”

“You first.”

Elliot sighed. “I like that I get to learn a little about a lot of people.”

In the following months, she thought about this reasoning of his frequently. Mostly, she thought of how untrue it was in regards to whatever it was that had grown between them. They saw each other almost every day, spending time together even when they weren’t having sex. They did homework together, working silently across from each other in the café. They browsed bookstores for hours at a time, pulling out recommendations for each other. They went to matinee movies, lingering around too long in the lobby after the movie to discuss what they had just seen. 

And they talked on the phone. Often. Elliot had called one day on his drive home from work to tell Ava a story from his day that he said just couldn’t wait. Then, again, a couple days later, during a half hour break he had between classes. The calls became a habitual part of their days. She couldn’t remember a day that has passed lately in which they hadn’t spoken for at least a few minutes. 

Ava felt that she had come to know him like the back of her hand. And she had, in return, let him know her full self. They had passed the “little” boundary ages ago. So why was Elliot still around?

She knew Elliot was seeing other people. And Ava was too. She went on dates sporadically, later alluding to sex that didn’t happen when briefly—and vaguely—relaying the events to Elliot, who always asked how they went. 

Ava didn’t ask about Elliot’s dates. But sometimes he would talk about them anyway and so she knew that he didn’t see one person more than three or four times. She and Elliot had passed four times ages ago. 

That day in bed, Elliot had forgotten to probe Ava again about her own reasoning. Ava was grateful for this because her reason defied the basis of what casual dating is.

***

Ava looked at Elliot as he stared at the door. 

“Elliot?” 

He turned to her abruptly. “Yeah?”

Ava glanced at the door, then back at him. 

Elliot nodded, then leaned forward and knocked. Two pounds, loud and short. 

He took a couple steps back, taking his baseball cap off, just to put it back on again. He did this two more times, quickly, then slid his hands into his pockets.   

He looked at Ava. “It’s been almost a year.”

“That’s a long time.”

Elliot nodded, then looked back at the door. “He doesn’t always hear the door.” He leaned forward and knocked again. “EDDY! Hey, it’s me.” Another two knocks. 

“Elliot?” A voice said from the other side of the door.

Elliot smiled and Ava smiled, looking at him. 

“Elliot, is that you?” The voice said.

“It’s me, Eddy! Open up.”

The door slowly opened to reveal a grinning old man, with a newspaper underneath his arm and glasses hanging from around his neck. 

“Elliot! It’s been an eternity! How areyou?” 

The two of them met in the middle of the doorway in a hug, pounding each other’s backs, both grinning ear to ear. Eddy’s newspaper, now in hand, flailed back and forth in front of Ava’s face. 

“I’m good, I’m good, Eddy. How are you?” Elliot pulled away, then patted the man on the back, once more.

“I’m great! I’m doing just great. Well, come in!” Eddy moved out of the way, holding the door opened. 

Elliot stepped through and Ava followed.

“Eddy, this is my friend, Ava.”

Ava smiled and waved, briefly, in Eddy’s direction. “Hi Eddy, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Well, hi there,” Eddy said, grinning still. “Anna, you said?”

“Ava,” she and Elliot said at the same time.

Eddy nodded, “Oh, oh AVA. Pretty name. Very pretty name.”

“Thank you.”

“Take a seat!” Eddy motioned toward the table, then walked past them into the adjacent kitchen. “Do you want any tea or coffee?”

“I’m okay, thank you,” Ava said, sitting down, taking notice of the pile of scattered papers and books across the table. She spotted multiple theater pamphlets, and picked the closest one up. A Doll’s House, playing at a small theater in San Francisco. 

“I’ll take coffee, but let me make it, Eddy,” Elliot said, joining him in the kitchen. “Sit down with Ava, I’ll make it.”

Eddy patted him on the back, that smile still unmoving. “Okay, Elliot, you make the coffee. You always did make it better than I did.” He came over and sat across from Ava at the table. 

Ava held up the pamphlet, “Did you see this recently?”

Eddy nodded, slowly and repeatedly, with enthusiasm. “I did, indeed. Just last night. It was phenomenal.”

“I just reviewed this actually. I write for our newspaper’s arts section. I agree completely, it really was phenomenal.”

“You’re a theater critic?” Eddy leaned forward on the table, his eyes widening.

Ava shrugged. “I would like to think. I want to be, definitely.”

Eddy threw up his arms in visual joy. He turned to Elliot, who was leaning against the kitchen counter, in front of the sink. “Elliot, you didn’t tell me your girl is a theater critic? That must be how you met? Surely, you’ve told her all about Opening Night?” 

“Well—” Elliot started.

Eddy turned back to Ava. “Is that how you two met?”

Ava glanced at Elliot, then back to Eddy’s wide eyes. “Wh—what do you mean?”

From the kitchen, Elliot sighed. “Eddy—”

“I mean, Elliot reviews theater too.” Eddy said, his speech picking up in speed. “I mean, it’s more of a side project for him, has always been on the backburner behind his history studies, and I don’t know if he’s been keeping up with it, but he used to act, you know—very captivating on stage!—and he considered minoring in theater, you know, and I coaxed him into coming to see some shows with me and then writing up reviews. He didn’t even need much training with his writing background. You know, I used to teach at your university—English, sticking mostly to drama, and, of course, Shakespeare—but now, in my retirement, I run a theater review website called Opening Night, writing most of the reviews myself, but with some help from a group of young writers, as a kind of training program for them, and Elliot was a top writer for a while.”

Ava glanced back up at Elliot, as all of Eddy’s words sunk in. 

She and Elliot both remained quiet, from their respective sides of Eddy, enclosing him in the loud absence of sound. 

“I mean,” Eddy began, his confusion illuminating off of him and around the room. “He did mention all of this . . . right?” In a question addressed to Ava, Eddy looked back at Elliot.

“No,” Ava spoke. “No he hasn’t.”

She felt small, suddenly. She had mentioned multiple times her role at the newspaper, turning down his early invitations to go out, in favor of seeing plays she had committed to reviewing. She had sent him a couple of her reviews after he had asked. Ava didn’t understand how someone could just remain quiet, voluntarily denying a connection to another person. She felt that whatever semblance of a grasp she had on Elliot had loosened. 

Elliot emerged from the kitchen, a coffee mug in each hand.  He set down Eddy’s in front of him and sat down in the middle seat. “Eddy, you know I haven’t written a review in over a year.” 

The two of the fell silent for a moment, Ava now feeling the strength of that lack of sound. 

“Yes,” Eddy said, eventually. “Yes, I know. So, Ava, how did you get into theater criticism?” 

Ava glanced at Elliot, who had his hands wrapped around his coffee mug, a blank look on his face as he faced forward toward Eddy’s overfilling bookshelf. She looked past Elliot at Eddy. “Um, I fell into theater in high school, taking a drama class. I also really love English and so I found myself much more interested in the studying and theorizing behind theater than being a part of the productions. Now I’m double majoring in English and Theater Studies.”

“And you want a career as a writer? A newspaper’s arts section?” Eddy asked, eyes wide again.

Ava nodded. “Yes I do.”

Eddy took a sip of his coffee. “You know, if you have the time, you should write for my website!”

Elliot looked over at Eddy. 

Ava scooted over to her right, trying to get a better look at Elliot’s face. 

Eddy continued, “It would be so great! I would love to have you contribute. I realize you must be busy. But what do you think? Will you think about it?”

Ava leaned as far right as possible, resting her head on her hand. She held her gaze on Elliot for a moment longer before turning back to Eddy. “Yeah, um. Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

Elliot looked at her now as she slid back upright. His expression was unreadable, and brief, as he quickly looked back toward Eddy. 

Eddy’s eyes grew even wider. “Really?”

Ava nodded, biting her lip.

“Excellent! Now, I must ask: did either of you read the latest piece of fiction from the New Yorker?”

Elliot groaned, but was also smiling, shaking his head in Eddy’s direction. Ava smiled, thinking back to the piece he was referring to.

“You’re still obsessed with the New Yorkerthen?” Elliot said. 

Eddy nodded that slow, enthusiastic nod again. “Of course! Ava, what do you think of the publication? Elliot here thinks the stories are pretentious, but I think he may be a little bitter about fiction never being his strong suit.”

Elliot laughed a loud, booming laugh.

Eddy laughed with him, their laughter filling in all of that previous absence.

Ava smiled at the sound. “I like the New Yorkervery much. Some pretention, yes, but not enough to overpower the strength of the fiction they publish.”

“Yes!” Eddy motioned toward Ava, looking at Elliot. “Exactly, she gets it.”

Elliot leaned back in his chair, grinning. “Okay, okay.”

“But, anyway,” Eddy continued, “this week’s story revolved solely around a man cooking breakfast—the whole thing took place in just thirty minutes of the morning—and—oh wait.” Eddy stopped short, a faraway look in his eyes. 

“What? You forgot to do something today?” Elliot asked.

Eddy sighed, nodding.“I meant to go grocery shopping today! What time is it? Maybe I can make it to the market before it closes. Do I have time?”

Elliot glanced at his watch as Eddy looked behind him at the clock on the wall.

“Thirty minutes till they close,” Elliot noted.

“Perfect!” Eddy says, standing up. “We’ll hurry. Would you two like to join me?” His gaze traveled back and forth between Elliot and Ava.

Elliot looked to Ava, then back at Eddy. “Yeah, we can come along. . .?” He looked back at Ava, question in his eyes.

Ava nodded at him, seeing the longing in his eyes. The same longing she saw earlier in the car. 

“Excellent!” Eddy said. “Now, where did I put my shoes?”

“They’re probably by the pantry right?” Elliot stood up, then looked down at Ava, his voice lowering as he explained. “He always takes off his shoes in the kitchen, I don’t why.” He shrugged, grinning, putting on his hat.

Eddy had made his way to the kitchen. Ava stood up, glancing into the doorway at Eddy, who was now standing in front of the pantry.

“Look at that,” he called back at them. “There they are!”

***

 “Hey.”

Ava looked up from her book to see Elliot standing in front of the table. 

“Sorry I’m late. Here’s your coffee,” he said, sitting down across from her, setting down their coffee cups. “I ran into Delilah on the way over here. What a shit show.” He shook his head and reached into his backpack, pulling out his laptop.

Ava put down her book and took a sip of her coffee, going back and forth on whether or not to ask the question.

She did. “Who’s Delilah?”

Elliot opened up his laptop, looking up and over at Ava. “She’s the girl I met through Matt. We went out a couple times and I wasn’t feeling it anymore, so decided to stop seeing her. Slowly stopped replying . . . haven’t spoken to her in a few weeks. Ran into her at right outside of Barrows, after class, we made eye contact and I felt like I had to stop and say something. Fucking awkward. She asked why she hasn’t heard from me. . .” He shook his head again, then ran his hand over his buzzcut, back and forth twice.  

Ava didn’t want to talk about this anymore. 

Regardless, “Don’t you think you need a better system?” She took another sip, avoiding eye contact. 

He laughed, briefly. “What do you mean?”

She sighed and leaned forward on the table, wrapping her hands around the warm cup. “I mean the way you end things. You just stop talking to them, instead of giving anything concrete.  . . . It’s unclear and it leaves them hanging. It’s mean and it’s inefficient.” 

Elliot looked down at his laptop, staying quiet. 

Ava bit her lip.

Then, slowly, a smile spread across Elliot’s face. 

He looked back up at Ava. “Well, you are just a spitfire, aren’t you?”

Ava paused, blinking at him then opened her book back up, picking up her pen. She tried to focus on the words, but could feel his gaze on her. 

“What are you reading?”

Ava held up the book for him to read the cover. 

“Ah, Americanah! The one you’ve been raving over?”

Ava nodded, setting the book back on the table and leaning over it. 

“Can I read the back cover?”

Ava glanced up, squinting her eyes at him for a second, then went back to reading.

He gently nudged her foot with his. “Do you want to come over later?”

Ava looked up from her book, again. “Can’t.”

“Have plans?”

“Yeah, with George.”

“George the Frisbee player?”

Ava suppressed a smile. “Yes. George the Frisbee player.”

“I knew he was into you.”

“We’re friends.” She shrugged, as her voice picked up. “We’re hanging out as friends, what does it matter to you?”

Elliot shrugged, nudged her foot again. “I’m just curious, Ava. Interested in your life, that’s all.”

Okay,” Ava spit out the word. She picked up her book once again. 

Elliot started typing. Slower than his usual pace, Ava noticed. 

Ava turned the page. Underlined the first lines of the next chapter. 

Elliot’s typing slowed to a stop.

“Ava?”

Ava continued, scanning her eyes over the page, pen ready in hand.

“Ava?”

She looked up. 

“I wouldn’t do that to you, you know. I wouldn’t just stop contacting you.”

Ava looked into his supplicating eyes, and nodded. 

***

 “I just think that you can’t study, or analyze or whatever, anything about literature without the foundation of studying the history of the time of publication.” Elliot said, glancing behind him at Ava and Eddy, as they exited the grocery store, stepping into the warm air. 

“But,” Ava said, picking up her pace, trying to catch up to Elliot’s side, feeling weighed down by the grocery bag she was holding, “some things about literature can be studied as is. Without its own context.”

Elliot readjusted the grocery bags he was carrying. “Like?”

“I mean, you can study the historical implications, of course, but there’s plenty to study within the inner workings of the various relationships. Character analysis.”

“Okay, but these relationships have to adhere to the social standards of a time period, right?”

“Okay, yeah.” Ava bit her lip. She watched the back of his head as he nodded. Ava continued, “Okay, what about contemporary fiction?”

“Who studies contemporary fiction?” Elliot retorted.

“I do. I’ve taken multiple classes on recent literature.”

“Okay, but contemporary meaning what? This century? There’s still historical reference. 2017 is completely different than 2007.”

“But if you read a work as it comes out, there’s no need to studyany historical context because you’re living it.”

The three of them stopped, halted by the stoplight. Ava finally came up to Elliot’s side.

He looked over at her. “So you then you’re living the historical context. Either way, you know it and it’s important.” 

“And what about stories that don’t specify time periods?”

Elliot grinned. “And which stories would that be?”

Ava paused. “Well. There’s plenty.”

Elliot raised his eyebrows at her and Ava willed her brain to work at its normal pace. 

“Well,” Eddy interjected, taking the lead as the white walking sign lit up. “I think you both have solid points. I don’t think there’s a right answer here.” He laughed. “But it sure was fun to hear this debate.”

“What’s the fun in a draw?” Elliot said, picking up his pace again.

“Unresolved debates are all the more interesting.” Eddy said. “Don’t you agree, Anna?”

“It’s Ava,” she corrected quietly from behind, her voice not quite reaching the volume she was aiming for.

“A-VA, Eddy. A-VA.” Elliot said, laughing. “You’re still just shit at names, aren’t you?”

***

Ava was standing in the middle of the Fiction aisle, facing the shelf, when she felt hands grab at her waist and she dropped the book in her hand, jumping.

“Hey.” A voice said from behind her.

Recognizing it, Ava turned around and smacked Elliot’s arm. “What’s wrong with you?”

Elliot laughed, bending over to pick up the book. He then stood up, examining it, reading the back cover.

Ava took a step back, bumping into the bookshelf, as she fully registered Elliot’s appearance. A slow smile spread across her face “Holy shit.”

Elliot looked up, grinning. “I know, I know.”

Ava took a small step forward. “You shaved.” 

“Indeed.” Elliot reached past Ava to place the book on the shelf behind her, as she watched his face. 

“I thought the day would never come.”

“What do you think?”

Ava stepped closer to Elliot and looked up at him, taking his face in her hand. She moved his head back and forth, slowly, as he smiled and she was on the cusp of laughter.

“Hmmmm,” Ava said, keeping her hand on his face.

“Hmmmm?”

“I like it, I think.”

“You think?” He laughed.

“I don’t know, I kind of liked your beard.” 

“You’re the one who said you usually prefer guys who are clean shaven.” He chuckled again. “Didn’t you say that?”

Ava nodded, dropping her hand. “I did, but I don’t know. The beard was so . . . you. It suited you.”

“It’ll grow back.” 

“Don’t get me wrong though,” Ava continued. “You look good.”

“Yeah?”

Ava nodded, then tilted her head up to look at him, pausing, briefly, before closing the space and kissing him. He moved his arms around her waist. 

She quickly realized that they never did this in public and pulled away, breaking his hold, suddenly feeling self-conscious. She took multiple steps back, bumping into the shelf, again. She moved her hands behind her, resting them on the lower shelf and avoided Elliot’s eyes.

Elliot came over and leaned sideways against the bookshelf, next to Ava. “So I was passing by here just now and thought I might find you in here. Figured I could browse a bit before class.”

Ava turned to face him, mirroring his stance against the shelf. “Yeah, well. You know I practically live here.”

Elliot nodded. “It’s why I came in.”

“What, you’re not sick of me yet?” Ava forced a smile, raising her eyebrows at him in question, before turning her eyes away from his.

Elliot kept a straight face. “You’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”

His words struck Ava right in the heart and amplified its beating. 

She met his eyes again, and felt locked in by the sincerity of them. They stood there, eyes locked, for an unknown amount of time, Ava’s thoughts momentarily on pause.

Suddenly, Elliot bounced himself off the shelf. “I’m gonna go check out the nonfiction clearance, okay?” He moved forward, brushing her side as he passed by and rounded the corner. 

Ava let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and turned toward the shelf, pulling out a book to feign reading the cover of. She went through the motions of four or five books, before pushing them back into the shelf and leaving Fiction.

She found Elliot crouched on the ground, scanning the bottom shelf of Clearance. He looked up at her as she approached.

“Finding anything good?”

Elliot shook his head. “Nah, the clearance is lacking today.”

“That’s too bad.”

He stood up. “Do you want to get coffee before my class?” He glanced at his watch. “We still have time.”

 Ava nodded, readjusting her backpack.

They made their way through the mostly empty bookstore, Elliot leading the way, Ava’s eyes focused on his plain black backpack.

Elliot opened the door for Ava. 

As Ava passed through, she said, “Why’d you shave anyway?”

Elliot shrugged, letting the door shut behind him. “I don’t know. Felt like a change.”

***

The sex, their first time, was not great.

It was awkward and clunky and a disconnect arose between them that had not yet existed.

Afterwards, Ava lay on his bed, looking back and forth between his ceiling and the large stack of books at the foot of his bed. She listened to Elliot’s breathing next to her and wondered where his gaze was, and where his thoughts were. 

Elliot sighed and turned his head to Ava, who could feel his gaze, but, for the first time, didn’t want it. When he turned back to the ceiling, after a pause, she let out a small, quieter sigh of her own. 

She squinted to read the titles in the stack from her angle, making out some of the ones in larger print. Standing out the most was Fahrenheit 451in large, bold print.

“Hey,” Ava turned her head to face him. “Sci fi.”

Elliot looked at her. “What?”

“Science fiction is a complete genre of literature that relies on an absence of history. Similarly: fantasy.”

Elliot laughed, booming and loud, as Ava had only heard once so far, earlier that night in at Eddy’s kitchen table. Ava laughed too and looked back up at the ceiling.

“Okay, I concede.” He sighed again. “Also, thank you for putting up with all of this arbitrariness tonight, by the way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, we planned to just get coffee and instead we hung out with the retired professor I used to live with and helped him with his grocery shopping.”

“I liked Eddy.”

“I think he liked you too.”

She looked at him again. “Maybe. When he got my name right.”

Elliot smiled. “Yeah, names are not his strong suit. He told me he would never even try to remember students’ names because he usually just ended up butchering them anyway.”

“Did he mess up yours at first?”

Elliot paused. “No. No, I guess he didn’t.”

“I’m glad I got to meet him.”

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, seeing him after all this time. I didn’t know if he would want to see me.”

“Why? He clearly loves you. I mean, it was clear how much you two care about each other.”

Elliot’s eyes widened. “You think so?”

Ava nodded. “Clear as day, from my perspective.”

“Hmmm.” Elliot looked back toward the ceiling. “Well, it’s getting late, huh? I should probably drive you home now?”

Ava paused, looking at his profile, as he looked at the ceiling. “Yeah I guess you should.”

They got dressed, quietly and quickly, next to each other at the side of the bed. They left his apartment, Elliot leading the way. In the car, they made small talk about their plans for the rest of the weekend. Ava felt as though he was dancing around anything relating to the night they had just had together, and found herself following his lead against all desire she had to talk about everything they had just experienced together. 

When he pulled up in front of her apartment building, Ava took her time undoing her seatbelt and retrieving her purse from the floor. When this inevitably ended, she looked at him expectantly, willing him to lead the way in the goodbye that was to follow.

Elliot leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the lips. A brief, verging on friendly, peck. 

He pulled back, smiled and said, “I had fun tonight. I’ll see you around, okay?”

Ava nodded. “I did too,” She leaned forward and, surprising herself, squeezed his knee. “Goodnight.”

She turned, exiting the car into the warm air, avoiding his eyes as she did.

Elliot hadn’t technically said ‘goodbye,’ but it felt more like an ending than any straightforward uttering of the word that Ava had ever had spoken to her. As she walked to her door, she tried to get a grasp on what exactly she was feeling. She thought it to be a clash between longing and relief. Elliot had made her feel titled: off balance and blinded as to what was to come next. It was the type of uncertainty that she usually avoided.

Once inside, instead of making her way up to the second floor, she stopped on the second stair, turned around and sat. She rested on the stairs, looking out the window in front of her at the empty street, where Elliot’s car had rested, only briefly, as he dropped her off. 

She knew that it was all about sex for him, which was the one thing that hadn’t worked between them. And so, she was positive that she wouldn’t hear from him again. 

Which is why when, later that night, Ava received a text from Elliot asking when they could go out again, Ava came to the conclusion that she didn’t understand this person at all. But that she desperately wanted to. 

***

“I don’t understand why you won’t come with me to just one show. I’m literally down the street from your place, you still have time to make it.” Ava stood outside of the theater, holding the phone between her ear and shoulder, as she pulled her jacket around her as tight as possible.

Elliot, on the other line, sighed. “I don’t know, Ava . . .” 

“I have all these free theater tickets and you never come,” She began to pace, moving farther from the entrance. “We’ve never seen a show together and you’re apparently some big theater enthusiast.”

“You know it’s not really a part of my life anymore.”

“Yeah and I don’t know why.” She could feel her voice picking up, but felt helpless to it. “Whenever you read my reviews, you always have words. You’re always interested. You must feel something for theater still, I mean, you used to love it so much. How does that just go away?”

“I’m interested because it’s your writing, Ava.”

“Elliot, come on, this play is supposed to be incredible.”

“I’ll read all about it in your review.”

Ava stopped pacing, frowning. “Fine. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Ava—”

“I have to go in now, bye.” She hung up. 

Ava let out a long, loud sigh, as she slid her phone into her jacket pocket. She stayed outside in the cold for a moment longer before continuing to the entrance, where she got in line for her press pass. 

Once inside, she marched through the lobby and into the theater, eager to get to her seat already.

“Ava!” She heard, as she was making her way through the aisle.

She stopped, abruptly, looking to her right, trying to place where the voice was coming from. She then saw Eddy standing up, from the middle of the aisle to her right, smile and waving, his program in hand.

Ava smiled, and watched as he made his way toward her in the aisle.

“Ava, how areyou?” Eddy said, once he reached her. 

“Eddy, hi. I’m doing well. How are you?”

Eddy nodded. “Fine, fine. Veryexcited to see this thing. Somuch early buzz surrounding it, you know.” He looked toward the stage, still smiling. Ava followed his gaze and smiled herself, taking in the elaborate setup.

Ava nodded with him. “Absolutely.”

Eddy turned to her again. “Where is Elliot anyway? He just came by to see me a couple days ago and he didn’t mention he’d be here!”

Ava’s smile dropped. “Oh. He’s . . . at home, I guess.”

“Did you not get a plus one? Is your newspaper not giving you plus ones?”

“No, no, I have one. Elliot just, um, didn’t want to come. He’s, uh, not as invested in theater as I guess he used to be.”

Eddy’s eyebrows knitted together. “Well. That’s too bad. I thought he really loved it, but maybe I pulled him by the ear a bit too much.” Eddy shrugged and gave a forced smile. 

“No, I think he did. I think he still does, but I—I don’t know. I don’t quite know what to make of him sometimes, I guess.”

“I don’t know. I mean if he won’t even come to the most talked about show of the season with his own girlfriend . . .” Eddy shrugged again as he trailed off. 

“No, Eddy, I’m not—uh . . .” 

“What?”

Ava sighed, looking down. “I’m not his girlfriend.”

“You’re not?”

Ava shook her head. 

“Are you sure?”

Ava shifted her stance. “Yes.” She looked around, her eyes darting around the theater that was filling up. 

“He talks about you as if you are.”

Ava looked back at him. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re practically all he talks about. Ava this, Ava that. I guess I just assumed. He’s been coming around more and more lately, and so I’ve heard quite the earful about you.” He chuckled.

Ava paused. “I, um, didn’t know he was seeing so much of you.” She pushed as much friendliness into her words as she could manage. 

Eddy nodded. “Oh yes. I didn’t think I would see this much of him after we, uh, parted ways. But we seem to have fallen back into a good place.” He looked off toward the stage again. 

“Eddy, it was so nice to see you, I should probably take my seat now.”

Eddy nodded, a beam taking over his face. “Yes, yes of course! Enjoy the show, Ava, we mustdiscuss it afterward. You know, you should come by with Elliot next time. Will you?”

Ava nodded, started to back up into the aisle. “Yes, Eddy, I will. Enjoy the show.”

She turned quickly and sped down the aisle, finding her seat slightly off to the right in the third row. It was a prime seat.

She thought through Eddy’s words again and again, letting them run through her mind. If Eddy, his apparent confident, had thought she was his girlfriend, then why wasn’t she? If he had so many words about her, then why didn’t she hear them? 

Meanwhile, he had fully mended his broken relationship with Eddy, something she was present for the beginning of, and yet she had no idea. He hadn’t mentioned this once. All this time had passed, all this time they had spent together had passed, and yet she still didn’t understand him at all. She sat upright in her seat, feeling skittish and commanded by restlessness.                   

And she knew she couldn’t let herself feel even more for him than she already does, simultaneously wondering if there was any emotion left that she didn’t already feel for him.         

Ava watched the show in a trance. Somehow, she managed to pay enough attention to jot down a solid amount of notes, despite her thoughts finding way back to her mess of emotions every few minutes. 

She lingered in her seat after curtain call, scanning her notes and trying to process both the play and an ending that she felt to finally be making its way back around. 

And so she found herself outside of his apartment building, without having warned him, her phone pressed to her ear as she called him.

“Ava, hey! I was just about to call you. So—”

“Elliot, I’m outside.”

“What?”

“I’m outside your building. Can I come up?”

She was completely set on telling him that they were finished, she couldn’t see him anymore. She didn’t even know if she could be his friend. 

She did not plan on sleeping with him, but strong and practical intentions often get lost in the midst of emotions. 

***

After Ava leaves, Elliot lies in the dark for what seems like hours, moments from the past few months on rotation in his mind, like a montage. She makes him think in montages.

“I’ll see you around, okay? ”She had said. That phrase was so familiar to him, he was fully aware of its actual meaning: I won’t see you anymore, but this was fun. He had used it often as the kind of closure he hoped would be picked up on without having to explicitly address an ending.

He glances over at the clock to see that it’s only been about twenty minutes since Ava left.

He sits up and shifts his sheets around until he finds his phone. 

She picks up on the first ring. “Damn it, Elliot, it’s only been like a minute.”

“When did you start to like me?”

“I’ve always liked you.”

“You know what I mean.” He pauses. “Ava. I haven’t seen anyone else in over a month.”

He can hear her breathing, softly, on the other line. She’s not speaking and he feels his own breath picking up.

“Ava?” He says again. “You know I’m stubborn. I was kidding myself before.”

Ava waits for him to continue, as he waits for her to respond. They listen to each other’s breathing and Elliot wills for Ava to speak. 

Elliot continues, “Ava. Come back?” He pauses. “I don’t want anyone else.”

Ava processes these words that she has been longing to hear so badly for so long now. They turn over in her mind, again and again, as she stays quiet, listening to his fast, nervous breathing. 

She smiles at the sound of this breathing, as if she can hear his urge to say “Ava?” again. She feels even closer to him in a way that she hasn’t yet, as she recognizes that feeling of anticipation radiating from Elliot, and between them. She begins to feel something uncomfortably close to satisfaction.    

“Elliot.” She pauses. She intakes a breath, and speaks.


Nikki Munoz is currently a student at University of California, Berkeley where she is working on her Bachelor's in English, with a minor in Journalism. When she is not working on her creative fiction, she is writing for the Daily Californian's Arts and Entertainment section, with a focus on theater coverage. For her fiction, she is interested in pulling both from her own life and those around her to create realistic fiction that is compelling in the mundane.