Short story post as featured on Avon Romance:
I was in my pajamas when it happened. And not just any pajamas—they were Captain America ones. The kind with the giant white star printed across the chest and matching fleece red, white and blue printed pants. I’m a Marvel comics fan. Thank you, Dad. I’d also decided a messy bun and flip-flops were appropriate accessories for a quick java jolt before the actual chore of getting ready could commence.
So there I was in sleepwear getting my morning coffee at Brew Couture, a small coffee bar set in-line among a row of high end dress boutiques with apartments upstairs—where I happened to reside. And that’s when I saw him. Peter. My Peter. Well, not my Peter anymore. Peter, my-ex-boyfriend-Peter.
And this was not the way I pictured this moment. Ever.
When I saw him again I was supposed to look fabulous—like bet-you-wish-you-never-broke-up-with-me fabulous—and not like a high school freshman. My dark hair curled into flowing waves, my makeup red carpet ready, and I’d be wearing a blue cocktail dress—no green, something to bring out my eyes. And we’d run into each other at some party, at least that’s the way I’d always imagined it—more than once…or twice. Anyway, he’d be alone and I’d have some arm charm with me; tall, handsome and successful…maybe an up-and-coming heart surgeon or a lawyer who’d just been offered partner at his firm.
But none of this happened. Not even close.
I stood at the end of the coffee bar next to the hand-off where finished drinks were called out, somewhere between the condiments and the corkboard that listed dog walking services and poetry slam night. Peter ordered his coffee, a double macchiato with extra foam—not that I remembered he took two packets of sugar or sometimes ordered a triple on Saturdays before he went to the gym. I would never remember that…that’s just…weird. Okay, so maybe I put myself in this situation. Now that I wasn’t drowning in relationship peril I could see it more clearly: when I dated Peter I hadn’t been searching for Mr. Right—I wanted to date Mr. Right-Now.
So yes, it was a mistake. And yes, I regret it. After a slew of really bad online dates, a round of speed dating, and a couple of what-was-I-thinking boyfriends I realized that Peter was the one. Of course, much too late, but lesson learned. Thank you Dating gods.
But I do have to admit I had fun.
First, there was Barry, older, refined, really into health. I became vegan for this man—and I hate salad. I disliked salad before I met him, hated salad while we dated and by the time we’d broken up I despised salad. Sure there were lentils, tofu, and bread—I loved bread, but none that included dairy, butter or animal by-products. Ah, Veganism. Now bread just reminded me of Barry.
Then there was J. Not Jay or Jason, but just J. Oh, he was fun especially after dating the walking celery stalk. J was adventurous. He loved anything fast and dangerous. Our first date he took me parasailing. We’d spend weekends at the indoor racing track and planned a trip to Costa Rica so we could zip line through the jungle. And he hated vegetables just as much as I did. Pizza, late night take-out, mile high burgers and anything else that exceeded the recommended daily value of saturated fat we ate. But just as fast as that relation began, it ended. That’s all J was. Fun. He never looked past tomorrow and he never took anything seriously.
After the fun came Ryan—brooding, moody, sexy. Every moment with that man was either fire or ice, nothing in the middle. We became that couple that friends would stop inviting out because they never knew which couple would show up, the one holding hands or the one clawing each other’s eyes out. But the sex was unbelievable. The kind that was worth every fight you ever had, that you’d fight all over again a million times for that one taste of mind-shattering bliss. That was Ryan. A drug. My body craved him so badly by the end that the lows became far more unbearable than was worth the high. And after I’d shredded his favorite band T-shirt, had taken out my frustration on all my stemware, and dropped his phone into the pool, I decided it was time to move on.
Last was Carter. Sweet, considerate, safe Carter. I’d met him soon after Ryan and I had called it quits. Too soon. Ryan had left me with such a bitter taste in my mouth for bad boys that I’d snatched up the first nice guy that came across my path. And Carter shined in every nice guy category. He was smart, had a great job, was nice-looking, took me out, sent me flowers, and listened, I mean really listened. I had once casually mentioned I needed a red sweater to go with this red and black skirt that I wore maybe once a year and I said it like I’d say I needed to pick up milk on the way home. Well, our next date he gave me a large gift wrapped box and inside was a new red sweater. My friends loved him. He was marriage material, except…there was no spark. I didn’t need a Ryan-light-my-house-on-fire kind of spark, but I needed something. And Carter wasn’t it.
So I moved out and got my own apartment. I stepped away from the dating scene. And things were good. Great even. Once I remembered that no one defines me, I felt renewed. I had cleaned out my relationship closet. Done. Bah, who needs men? Right?
Then why was I standing there like I couldn’t get rid of that old cozy sweater that I knew should go in the bag with all the other clothes to Goodwill? For some reason I’d buried that sweater deep in the back of the closet. And for good reason—it was one damn good sweater.
I watched Peter chat with the barista; he chuckled and then dropped some change into the tip jar. The sound of his deep laughter sent a shiver down my spine. I wanted to smack myself for how much I missed the sound.
“Mary Jane, vanilla latte,” the barista called as he set my drink onto the counter. Peter’s head turned to me and I dove behind the condiment bar like I was on some espionage mission…in Captain America pajamas. I hunkered down out of view and prayed to the Dating gods he hadn’t seen me because not only did I look a hot mess, but I’d have to explain why I looked like I was rolling across the floor of a Cross Fit class. My heart pounded against the inside of my chest and I could feel my skin grow hot—of course, I was sweating.
A couple of sets of eyes peeked over their newspapers and eyed me for a minute before returning to their reading material. Yes, I probably looked crazy, but crazy to a bunch of strangers was much better than replaying the moment Peter Marks laid eyes on me looking like this. In slow motion. For the rest of my life.
The sound of the coffee shop’s front door banged shut and I risked a look to see if Peter had left the building. On all fours I crawled to the other side of the condiment bar and stuck my head around the small metal newsstand. I didn’t get a good look at the person walking down the sidewalk, but the best I could hope for was that Peter was gone. Even though a tiny piece of me wanted to remember how good it’d been between us. Sadistic, right?
“M.J. is that you?” Shit.
Half crouching tiger-half hunting pointer dog I looked up from my precarious position and into a pair of honey-colored eyes.
“Yep, that’s me…it’s…me.” Think quick. I needed a damn good excuse why I was still on the ground, so I squinted my right eye which I’m sure made me look like a pirate. “…lost my contact.”
“Right,” Peter said and nodded. Then he wrinkled his brow, but he didn’t stop smiling. “Didn’t you have LASIK done?” It wasn’t a callout—he genuinely looked confused.
“Yes…” Double shit. “I did. But sometimes you gotta go back for a tune up.” Why do I even bother opening my mouth? It sounded like someone had put 50,000 miles on me.
“Right,” Peter said again. We stared at each other a moment longer than I was comfortable, which I shouldn’t be since we’d dated for eleven months and sixteen days. Not that anyone was counting because that’d be…weird. “Hey, let me help you look.”
Before I could stop him from squatting down next to me, Peter set his coffee on the condiment bar and began searching the brown tiled floor. It was nice of him. Maybe more than nice because it gave me hope he was still into me which made me feel like a total asshole. Okay, so I did have my eyes lasered which left me with perfect vision; better than perfect, I had frickin’ hawk eye vision. Watching Peter scuffle around the dirty café floor for a non-existent contact so I could save face kind of killed the moment for me.
“You know what? Forget about it. They’re disposables,” I said. We both stood up and stared at each other again. Peter had always been easy to talk to, but the silence between us made me think his interest in me was only my imagination.
“How’s your mom?” Peter asked.
“Good. The same.”
Mr. Lopez was my dad. He insisted every guy I dated call him that or sir. I guess some habits die hard. But the funny thing was Dad loved Peter, like you’re-good-enough-to-marry-my-daughter-but-if-you-hurt-her-I’ll-only-kick-your-ass-and-not-kill-you love. He thought it was the perfect match. To him, it was a sign that his Mary Jane had met her Peter Parker—well in this case, Peter Marks. Close enough.
“Still mad that we broke up,” I said and cringed a little inside for saying it aloud. But it was the truth. “He didn’t talk to me for a week.”
Peter chuckled. Dad was right for giving me the cold shoulder, I deserved it. Not because Peter was so great that there weren’t a bunch more out there like him, but the few that existed were damn hard to find. Like trying to find the Spider man issue of Amazing Adventures.
So shoot me for not being ready to start my forever.
“Ouch. Sorry about that,” he said. It was sweet of Peter to apologize, but we both knew it wasn’t his fault.
“He’ll get over it.” Now that’s a lie. Every time I visited my parents with a new boyfriend my dad would give me the where-is-Peter-and-who-the-hell-is-this-dipshit look. I stopped bringing them over.
Peter laughed again and shook his head as his eyes glowed with warmth. I’d forgotten how good it felt to be around him. But I couldn’t forget how much of a bitch I’d been to him. I’d torn our relationship apart piece by piece, picking at it until there was nothing left. Simple issues that could’ve been resolved, I turned into full blown arguments. Anything that was easy between us, I complicated. I gave him no choice but to walk away when I turned down his proposal. And now I didn’t deserve his kindness. Yet, Peter was Peter. I didn’t feel a twinge of disdain from him and that made me feel worse. If the situation had been reversed I wouldn’t have been so nice.
“How’s everything else?” Peter asked. He picked his coffee cup off the condiment bar and took a drink, his eyes studying me. I grabbed my vanilla latte and took a sip like my beverage could buy me time to think of something monumental to say.
“Good.” Hello, face. Meet palm. I needed to work on monumental. “And you?”
“Good. I started a new job not too far from here a few weeks back, and I’ve been looking for a new coffee place.” Peter smiled and his eyes crinkled at the corners. “I guess I found one.”
I smiled back. I’d be seeing Peter more often, maybe on a daily basis. The thought should’ve made my insides twist into a thousand giddy knots. But it didn’t. I’d daydreamed plenty of times about what it’d be like to see Peter again after we’d broken up, but I never entertained the idea of getting back together. Like first-comes-love-then-comes-marriage getting back together. Sure, my dad would’ve been thrilled and I knew it could work between us. But I was waiting for something—something that wasn’t happening.
A sign that Peter was the one. Maybe I’d mistaken all the heart-pounding when I’d first seen him for something more because I didn’t feel it now. And although I was happy to see Peter and maybe a small piece of my heart still belonged to him, I needed that something more. The Ryan-light-my-house-on-fire kind of spark between Peter and I wasn’t there anymore.
“Yeah,” I said. And then what I thought would never come out of my mouth, did. “I…have to go. I have to get ready for work.”
“I should probably get going, too.” Peter smiled again, but the crinkle around his eyes were gone. “It was really good seeing you again, M.J.”
I nodded. “Yeah, you, too. I’ll see you around.”
“I’m sure you will.”
I waved goodbye before I walked out of the coffee shop and headed to the corner newsstand where the entrance to my apartment stairs was. A few people milled around the periodicals, but it looked like the morning rush had passed.
“Hey, M.J. the new Volume Twos you were asking about came in. I might have a copy left,” Don said. The newsstand owner was a stout older man with a face full of white whiskers and a pair of ears that seemed to have outgrown his face. But he was sweet.
I gave him my thanks and walked over to a small rack of graphic novels next to a man dressed in slacks and a pale blue button-up shirt with dark, dark hair and a pair of dark eyes to match. In his hand was the Amazing Spider man. My Amazing Spider Man. When his eyes locked on mine we both took a deep breath. Now that had to be a sign.
“I believe that’s mine,” I said and smiled.