This story is by Clay Huston and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ted hears a ping and his stomach drops. He frantically grabs for his phone. When he picks it up, he sees the name; Alice. His throat ties itself in a knot and his mouth goes dry.
He finally worked up the courage to tell her. After more than a year of trapped feelings and forced pleasantries, he told her how he truly feels. He’s loved Alice since the day he laid eyes on her. Ever since she walked into the office, with her dark ponytail, tight blouse, and mid-thigh skirt, and took her place on the other side of the cubical wall.
But now, with her response brewing in his inbox, a feeling of regret flows over him like a heavy blanket in a hot room. Would it have been better to keep his secret and avoid the risk of ruining a friendship or making it awkward around the office? Perhaps. But it’s too late now.
He stares at the phone with his thumb hovering over the screen. He can’t bring himself to open it. He puts it on the coffee table and begins pacing the room. Back and forth, back and forth, he walks the perimeter of his downtown Dallas apartment half a dozen times, then sits back down on the couch.
“What was I thinkiiing?” he groans to himself. He repeats his rationale in his head over and over. Everything his therapist told him. “You must learn to be content with any outcome. It’s not the end of the world if she doesn’t feel the same way. What matters is that you speak your mind. You’ll never know how she feels unless you ask.” He knows these things in his head, but he doesn’t feel them. All he feels right now is sick to his stomach.
Teeth clenched, he opens his phone to the home screen and navigates to the text thread with Alice. With the very first word, his worst fear turns into reality.
“Sorry, you’re a great guy, but I’m seeing someone.”
His face turns white and his pupils dilate. The edge of his vision blurs, and the room starts spinning. His stomach clenches into a fist as he fights back a nauseous feeling.
Ted drops his phone on the floor and lays down length-wise on his living room couch where he’d just sat for nearly thirty minutes, awaiting Alice’s reply.
So many feelings rush through him at once. Rejection. Embarrassment. Anger. Envy.
“I’m such an idiot,” he mumbles to himself through his palms. That 20-20 hindsight sense of I-should-have-known-better seeps through his endocrine system. It seems so obvious now. Of course, she doesn’t feel the same way. All the moments Ted thought seemed like cues and hints from Alice now seem like nothing. He hates himself for getting his hopes up. He hears his therapist in his head, “There’s no reward without a little risk.” Easy for her to say, she’s an attractive blonde.
His phone pings again. Ted shoots up and grabs it off the floor. Part of him has a bit of hope it’s another text from Alice saying “just kidding” or that she’s changed her mind. Maybe even that she didn’t mean to send Ted that message, but another guy fawning over her.
His primate brain wants to avoid another letdown at all costs. He combats the hope with familiar thoughts. “She doesn’t love you so stop thinking about it.”
He’s proven right as he lifts his phone and sees a text from his long-time friend, Frank.
“Hey bro! You busy this weekend? I’m in town for a few days.”
He feels a slight sense of relief. At least there’s someone in his life who still wants to be around him. He’ll always have Frank. Since freshmen year of high school, Ted and Frank have been inseparable. They played the same sports together, went to church camp together, and managed to stay close even though they went to different colleges. They’ve helped each other through life’s most difficult times. Frank was especially supportive when Ted’s mother abandoned the family. Ted got over it, but his father never quite did.
They’ve drifted a bit in their post-college years, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? Ever since Ted moved into the city, he and Frank have seen each other less and less. Both have jobs that are developing into careers and require longer days, and sometimes, working into the weekend. They can’t be spontaneous anymore, not like when they were in their early twenties. No more last-minute 3-day camping trips or randomly showing up at each other’s apartment. Hanging out just isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Ted needs the companionship now though. He knows Frank will say all the right things. That Alice is an idiot and Ted’s probably dodging a bullet.
Ted replies, “Nah man, totally free!”
“Sweet, let’s hang out Saturday night. I’ll bring some beer and steaks over to your place if that works for you? Is it cool if I bring my girlfriend? We just started dating but I’d love for you to meet her. Maybe you know her. She works at Greenway too.”
Not likely, Ted thinks to himself. Greenway is a huge company and he doesn’t socialize much.
“Oh, nice man! I didn’t know you were dating someone. What’s her name?”
Ted stares at his phone with a weird feeling as bubbles dance across Frank’s side of the screen. It can’t be. That’d be too cruel of a coincidence.
“Alice. She works in accounting.”
Ted’s mouth gapes open. He can’t believe his eyes. Frank is the someone Alice is seeing?
How? Frank lives hours away. He must be joking. Ted’s eyes are playing tricks on him, they have to be. He must have misread the text. Ted explains it away to himself, but no matter how many times he rereads it, the text says the same thing.
This has to be a crazy coincidence. After all, Greenway is a massive company. Who knows how many Alices work there, right? But is there more than one Alice working in accounting? No, Ted would know that.
Reality sinks in. His best friend is dating the love of his life. Ted stands to his feet and walks towards the wall, bumping his forehead directly up against the plaster. Lifting both arms he slams his fists into the grey wall. He follows with a kick and a turn to face the other side of the room. Back against the wall, he slides down to the floor and sits with his head on his knees. He hears his therapist in his head again. “You have to control your anger. You have to pull yourself out of the spiral.”
Ted thinks back to Alice’s message. “You’re a great guy…” Ted hates that line. It’s so condescending and dishonest. He rolls his eyes, If she really thought I was a great guy, she’d be with me.
Is it his height? His weight? His money? What does Frank have that Ted doesn’t? She’d rather endure long-distance than date Ted. Her text was so indifferent. She crushed Ted’s world and didn’t think twice about it. As if there wasn’t a person with feelings on the other end of the phone. Ted spent a year of his life chasing her, trying to get her attention, treating her like a queen, trying to win her over, and all he gets in return are nine words. He can’t help but imagine Alice rolling over into Frank’s arms, a smile on her face, after rejecting Ted with a cliche response. The image infuriates him.
I bet she planned this. She looked at my Facebook, saw Frank, and went after him just to spite me. In his anger, the possibility of coordinated betrayal seems entirely likely. Does Frank know? Are they both playing dumb just to drive me crazy? They’re trying to humiliate me.
“The world is not out to get you. You have to convince yourself otherwise.” His therapist is becoming less and less persuasive. Ted sees her card on the table. “Please call me if you ever need to talk.”
Thoughts of a tormented future enter Ted’s head. They’ll end up together. They’ll have a beautiful wedding that Ted will have to stomach, and babies he’ll have to see plastered all over social media. He’ll be forced to act nice and mannerly whenever he and Frank see each other. He’ll have to act as if his feelings for Alice never existed. And Frank will never have time for Ted now. It’ll all be taken up by Alice. Pretty little Alice. They’ll gaslight me into thinking Frank didn’t know I loved her.
“I’ll just save myself all that grief right now,” Ted thinks out loud. “I don’t want to be a part of their disgusting happily ever after.”
With as much revenge as he can muster, he reaches into the drawer, puts the cold steel against his head, and pulls the trigger.