A long weekend in Ann Arbor simply means more days in the week for drama, and it kickstarted with the arrival of my ex-best friend. True to my vision, I strode up the stairs of Joey and Alex's in my Barbie pink peplum top, black ankle jeans, black high-heeled sandals, and my black patent leather clutch tucked under my arm. I was sad that I didn't yet own the distressed black jeans of my fantasy Thursday (I would buy them the very next day), but I was extremely grateful that Sarah wasn't a part of the crowd sitting around the kitchen table.
"Ceej!" Joey beat me up the stairs and him and CJ bro-hugged.
And then CJ's eyes turned to me. We held each other's gazes for a moment.
"Missed me?" I smirked.
"Always," He said softly, walking over to hug me.
"Kaitlyn? Oberon?" Alex called from the fridge.
"Hook me up!" Already three beers deep, I was clearly not banking on having to go in for my 10am call-in shift the next day. I settled just shy of opposite of CJ at Joey's circular kitchen table.
"So Kaitlyn, this is a confidence booster for you," Alex said, holding his phone out to me, "Last weekend Kaitlyn and I hung out with my old roommate Ethan and our old friends and after we left, Ethan sent me this," Alex announced to the group at large.
"Awh," I smiled softly at the sight of the text before Alex put his phone in the center of the table for all to see.
I may be in a happy committed relationship blah blah blah but damn Kaitlyn is hot
"I was walking down the street with her yesterday," Joey began, "and seriously every guy was checking her out. This one guy literally did a 180 in his chair to keep looking at her when she passed."
"Kaitlyn's the hot girl of the friend group, obviously," Alex beamed.
"I have nice clothes," I shrugged, trying my hardest not to blush and to avoid CJ's eyes.
"Kaitlyn, you look awesome in anything," Joey corrected me.
"Eh, not quite everything," CJ teased.
I smirked and sat back, taking a sip of my drink as the topic changed. What a perfect conversation to have upon CJ's return. I couldn't have even imagined such a spiteful moment in my fictional version of this day. I knew CJ had to be inwardly squirming at this conversation: the "hot girl of the friend group" was the girl he let away, twice. He could have had the girl who made heads turn on his arm, but he chose Sarah instead. Looking good is the best revenge.
On our walk to the bar an hour later, the stiletto of my new shoe made well-deserved contact with CJ's shin.
"Oops," I chirped as CJ stopped and grimaced in pain.
"I just made a joke!"
"You think that was for the joke?" I scoffed, stalking away.
"Ok, fine," CJ caught up with me a moment later, "I deserved that one."
I glared at him over my shoulder, throwing open the door to MASH, an underground bar.
As we all stood around the bar, waiting our turn to order, CJ found me again, "What do you want to drink?"
CJ smiled and nodded for me to follow him to another end of the bar.
"Picklebacks?" I beamed when the bartender slid two shots of whiskey, and two shots of unmistakably green liquid that was obviously pickle juice alongside two beers.
"You like these?" CJ looked surprised, "I should have known," he shook his head.
I smiled, and we clinked our whiskey shots together before throwing them back. We chased the whiskey with pickle juice, which perfectly neutralizes the bite of the whiskey. We picked up our beers and left to rejoin the group. At least I still had drunk CJ to buy me drinks.
As closing time approached, I went around saying my goodbyes, purposefully saving CJ for last, but before I could hug him he took my hand, "I'll walk you home."
"Ok," I bit my lip. More alone time, which I didn't think was allowed.
"So how are things?" I asked when we got back to my house and settled on my porch loveseat under the glow of the christmas lights that decorated my porch all year long.
CJ sighed, "I'm still trying to figure everything out, I just haven't had time to do nothing. My family's been on my ass about finding a job and I've been traveling every weekend. I've got another interview next week for a job in Albany."
"What's the job in Albany?" I asked, CJ was from Albany.
"It's kind of lame, it's for a plastics company."
"Would you want to take it if it worked out?"
"I don't know, I don't know if I want to be here or home. I want to be close to my mom but I know I can dance here. And-and," in that next moment, CJ threw his arms around me and completely lost it, "my mom told me she wants a divorce."
As CJ bawled into my shoulder, I hugged him back in shock. I knew he had been holding that inside all evening. Ever since I had walked in Joey and Alex's door, he had to have been waiting for this moment. These are the things you want to tell your best friend. But, oh my God, why? Why couldn't I just be mad at CJ and yell at him until he cried and let that be that? Instead I literally have to be supportive because I couldn't move under CJ's full weight pinning me down.
So we talked about his family, the job prospects, CJ avoided talking about Sarah, how he was mentally, all while CJ pulled me close to him. CJ kept his arms locked around me, and I rested my head on his chest.
"How are you? Like, really, how are you?" CJ asked earnestly.
That question always got me. CJ was one of the few people who would ask me that, look me in the eye, and actually care.
"This summer's been crap," I admitted and launched into how I've been on edge because of Whitney and how I feel even more lonely than usual because of how she's trying to steal my friends, "I've got two friends, that's all."
"That sounds awful," CJ hugged me.
"And you know you gave me 24 hours to plot your murder when you told me you were coming here yesterday. And as I tried to put my scheme into action, I realized something."
"You really scare me sometimes," CJ shivered.
"I realized that it's really better to let you live, because you're the one who threw away my friendship, and I'm a pretty great friend," I turned so I could look CJ in the eye, "You're the one who did this to me, and you're the one who has to live with yourself. I deem that punishment enough."
For the second time that night, CJ collapsed onto me, "I'm an awful person."
"No CJ," I pushed him off of me, holding him at arm's length, "You're an awesome person, who's done some awful things, namely to me. And until you see and believe that you're an awesome person, you're going to keep doing awful things to the people who see the things in you that you can't see."
"I'm so sorry Kaitlyn, I really am. You're one of the best people I've ever had in my life."
"Sucks you can't keep me there."
"I'm going to try and figure things out this weekend."
"CJ, I'm not going to wait for you. I've been waiting for you to 'figure things out' since the start of the semester. Make a choice and stick with it, but I'm not going to let you keep dragging me through the mud in the process. Because that's just hurting me."
"I never meant to hurt you, I really didn't. You deserve better."
"That's why I had to call you the other week, I'm sick of being hurt."
CJ was crying again. He was holding my hands and crying.
"It makes me sad that we can't be friends."
"Me too," CJ muttered, wrapping his arms tighter around me.
I went inside soon after to go to the bathroom. I kicked off my heels and returned outside with a blanket, throwing it around the both of us.
"You know you don't need the heels," CJ said as we snuggled together under the blanket.
"But I like them," I smiled.
"You don't need the high heels, you don't need the makeup," CJ's fingers entwined with mine, "You're just as pretty when you first wake up in the morning as you do now."
"You would know, wouldn't you?" I teased, conscious of how CJ's hand that wasn't holding mine was wrapped around my legs, keeping me as close to him as possible.
"Yeah I would, and I'm glad I know."
"You know, I don't regret anything that happened between us. I should, but I can't. You were one of the few people I really trusted."
"I don't regret anything either. Only how it ended, and maybe that it ended," CJ added that last part as a quiet after thought.
"Yeah, you really should."
CJ ended up staying at my house until 4:30am, we ended up laying on the couch in my living room, talking softly until I almost fell asleep. How many nights had we had like this? Where we talked for hours about life, tangled up with each other? How many of these late nights made me question CJ's relationship status? How many of those nights made me with that things could have just worked out between us?