Dell called. He said he wanted me to come over… I was a little excited, but at the same time it was nerve wracking. Recently, he’d seemed kind of distant. I was worried he was going to break up with me. I was young. I am young. I knew that; I know that. But I still felt like… I loved him. If I even knew what love was like, which I didn’t. He was my first boyfriend, but we’d been dating for eight months. Thinking back, it was so childish. Plus, he was a full three years older than me. He was eighteen.
I was nervous. My mind split with two possibilities: he asked me over to fix our relationship, or he asked me over to break it off. I stood in the hall, staring at the door to his apartment. I had to inhale deeply, then I knocked on the door.
“Come in,” said a voice from inside.
I opened the door, my heart racing. Dell was standing inside, facing the door from the kitchen. He looked stressed, concerned. My face let the fake smile drop to the floor and I creased my eyebrows. He closed his eyes and opened his arms and said, “Come here.”
As I was walking toward him, I dropped my bag on the couch. He looked at me, with a strange glimmer in his eye. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something wrong. I walked up to him and slowly accepted his embrace. He held me in his arms, but it felt wrong. He wasn’t holding me like he cared… it was something else. It hit me. I knew he asked me to break up with me. Inside, I began to panic. Then he tensed.
“Look, Dell.” A deep voice seething with anger spoke out from what seemed like nowhere. “If you let her go, I can make it painless.”
All I could do was stand there in confusion. The voice… it hit me like a brick wall.
“Lance,” Dell said. “Look man. Just… just put it down. Nothing needs to happen, and no one needs to know.” I felt something touch the back of my head, and I tensed to match Dell’s position.
“I’ll shoot her,” Lance said.
I leaned close into Dell and hugged tight. I could feel him breathing heavily, despite my mind spinning.
“Put the gun down,” Dell sounded like he was from a crime show. He was actually trying to keep Lance from killing me. “You just have to let her go.”
“No!” Lance was yelling. “You don’t get it! Before, it was just us. Then you met her. Now, she’s all you care about. It’s like I mean nothing anymore!”
“Okay,” Dell said. It was like hostage negotiation. “I get it. It’s not like she could ever replace you anyway.” I wondered if he was telling the truth. I squeezed my eyes shut. That’s when I realized I had been crying. I knew I had to do something. This was going to go nowhere but to my grave if something didn’t happen fast.
“Lance,” I said. I gave a little push against Dell. Slowly, I turned around. I faced the end of a gun’s barrel. “I get where you’re coming from, Lance. If you just let me—”
“No,” Lance cut me off. “You have no idea what’s going through my head!”
“Just let me talk,” I said. Before he could answer, I continued. “I know you miss having your best friend. So, I’m going to do it. I’m going to break up with him and leave.” Lance’s arm began to tremble, and I worried he would pull the trigger, even if accidentally. Even though every ounce of my conscious mind wanted me to focus on the danger staring me in the face, I turned to face Dell again. I had to look up and stare him in the face.
“Dell, I’m sorry. But this isn’t working. I’m breaking it off between us.”
I turned back around slowly, only to realize Lance’s gun was down at his side. He was staring at the ground, almost like he didn’t know what to be looking at. I decided to take this opportunity to leave. I walked around him, stepping carefully, like I would if I were trying to sneak out at night. When I reached the door, I opened it and looked over my shoulder. Lance was in the same position as when I left Dell.
In the instant my voice came out with the word, there was no time for me to process thoughts before I was on the ground, crippled in pain. It was a strange feeling; it didn’t seem like I could hear anything, and what I saw was just images that wouldn’t compute in my mind. Everything was still happening, but the world was spinning so I didn’t know what was happening. I felt tired, so I just closed my eyes.
I woke up in a hospital. My mind told me how cliché it was. Having those kinds of thoughts told me my mind was back in my control. I looked around and saw flowers on a table with some crappy hospital tissues and a glass of water. My mother came in, playing with her belt buckle. When she realized I was looking at her, she rushed to the bed, telling me how scared she was and how she felt terrible for not being there for me and she thought she lost me… it all blended, the apologies and stories and how much she’d “learned.” All I wanted to know was one thing.
“Mom,” I had to butt in to something she was saying. “Where’s Dell?”
She exploded. “That boy is the reason you’re here in the first place! I don’t ever want him to be near you. Never again will I let something this stupid happen. He’s not coming back. He decided he’s going to try and wait to talk to you here but there’s no way I’m letting him—”
“Mom, he’s where?” I wanted to see him. That’s all I wanted to do.
“In the waiting room. He’s been there for three days. He thinks he’s going to get to see you but I set him straight. I won’t let him in here.”
“Get him in here now,” I said. I didn’t care how disrespectful that sounded, I needed to talk to him.
“I refuse to—”
“What, let me love who I love?”
My mother was one of those people who knew better than to argue with me when I was serious about something, and this was something I was serious about. I can only be glad that she realized I was serious. After she turned the corner out of the room, it was only a matter of moments before Dell’s body came rushing into the frame of the doorway.
“Oh thank god,” Dell spit out. He seemed relieved, but concerned. Maybe the whole thing really was to break up with me in the first place. All I could do was watch as Dell slowly walked over to where I was laying. This was embarrassing; I was lying in a bed with a stupid hospital gown on and an IV in my arm.
“I love you,” he said. He bent over and kissed me. It was probably the most awkward kiss I’d ever had, being under the gown and in a bed and, well, being shot. I wanted to say something, but as soon as he stood up again, he continued. “I always have. Even when I thought you were a cute little freshman, I was a sucker for you. I wanted you to be happy. I loved you, and look what happened to you. Lance, he just showed up at my apartment, out of nowhere, after I called you. I had no idea, and then he told me to just let you come… he, goddamn, I don’t know… I guess I’ve had time to think about it, but it still doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I mean, I do care. I’m laying in a hospital, for crying out loud. But what I don’t care about is whether or not you can make sense of it. As soon as it’s over, we can go back to being together. To being happy.”
“You don’t…” he didn’t seem to know where to go with his words. “You don’t hate me? You don’t blame me? I let it happen. Not on purpose, but if I hadn’t called you or let you come or if I’d done something better, I could have stopped it.”
“No, you couldn’t have. You did everything right. Everything’s fine. It matters not to me what happened to Lance or where he is now, as long as he’s not outside. It makes no difference, as long as you don’t blame yourself and we just stay together.”
“Like I said,” Dell told me, “I’m a sucker for you. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.” The only thing he had left to do was prove it to me with a kiss.