Chapter 9: The One Who Not Only Crossed the Pond but Overtook the River

The arrival section of the airport was buzzing with people who looked like they knew where to go. There were plenty of “Hiyas” and “How are yous?” shouted across the room. In the middle of families reuniting and backpacking tourists, Elena, still clutching her passport in one hand, stood with her luggage. This was it. She scanned for the international taxi sign and followed the arrows. Huge doors slid open upon Dublin – or the outskirts of it or another city for all she knew. Rain and hair slapped her face. Was that hail? No matter, she thought, her winter coat would withstand all. She mentally thanked her mother for convincing her to wear it even though it was only beginning of November.

No one else was waiting for a taxi cab. The elderly man insisted on putting her heavy baggage in the trunk (boot?).

She gave him the address of the hotel. He started chatting away with her but she couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. The most she said during the conversation was “I’m sorry?” She was too tired to focus on decoding his accent and admiring the city fly by through the window at the same time. The off-white concrete townhouses were mostly two stories high, sometimes a dark blue-grey house popped by; amidst those, red brick apartment buildings that seemed newer sprang. In some neighborhoods, the houses had large front yards, in others - like the one they were currently in - the buildings rose straight at one end of the sidewalk.

From what she had understood from the driver, the hotel was situated in a business and embassy-filled neighborhood, not too far from nightlife and good restaurants. At least she wouldn’t be too disoriented in that regard, she thought.

“We’re here, miss.” She looked on her left side, as they entered the driveway of the hotel.

The hotel seemed very modest - a mostly grey building. The first floor had a burgundy facade that was warmly lit. She stepped out of the car carrying her tiny purse and her relatively light carry-on. The rain had subsidized but it was still chilly.

The kind driver helped her again with her luggage. He shook her hand and insisted on her being careful walking around alone in the city. “Ya ken neva’ be too carrr’fol,” he winked.

She thanked him and handed him a 5 Euro bill as tip. With large round eyes, he thanked and blessed her as the hotel staff came over and helped her with her luggage.

She looked around her and took in a deep breath. Well, this was it.

***

Ellie head out for a quick bite. The sky was overcast, it was still windy. She had worn her knee high boots, not knowing where she would end up eating and not wanting to look under dressed. But the first few people she saw on the street wore sneakers - men and women alike. She passed a couple of small restaurants that advertised fried foods - including fish & chips - a Chinese restaurant that had a mix of Chinese, Indian and Japanese foods on the menu, and a pizza place before she wondered if she would find anything that did not involve frying.

Too hungry to care more, she walked back to the pizza place. To her surprise, it was only take-out. There were only seats to wait for orders, no table where you could actually eat. It was for the best she realized as she was too tired to be in public. The world didn’t need her in that state.

She made her way back to her hotel, holding her phone in one hand, regularly checking Google Maps, just in case. It did not matter that she had mostly walked in a straight line, she didn’t trust her geographical sense in her current state. She was so tired she could have turned left somewhere while thinking she was still going straight.

Ellie sat on the floor of her junior executive room, not paying heed to the table in the living area. The TV played a rerun of a soap opera she didn’t know. She had bought a bottle of wine from a liquor store - she had quickly learned the term for the Irish SAQ was “off licence,” although she doubted the government had the monopoly here.

Alternating between a bite of pizza and a sip of wine, she quickly filled herself. It was only 8 p.m. but she felt like it was the early hours of the morning. It didn’t help that night had fallen so quickly. The entire city had been covered in complete darkness by 7. It had thrown her off; it was only after checking the geographical position of Dublin and realizing the city was roughly 8 degrees north of Montreal that the darkness had made sense.

“Great, so I’m going to be even more sun deprived here,” she thought.

***

The next morning, Ellie nervously got ready. She had had three cups of coffee by the time she was done with her makeup. Her first-day outfit had been planned and vetted by everyone, including her parents, weeks before - even though this was technically not her first day of work. Even so, she stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror, twisting and turning to get a better look. Was she appropriately dressed? Everyone had agreed she should go for formal business attire.

She packed her black heels in her bag and left. The hotel room was a ten-minute walk from the office. She had Google-maped it, screenshot it, and written directions in her agenda. It was still fairly dark when she stepped out. She was in the office thirty minutes early- which seemed fairly acceptable to her. Except no one was there. The lights were not even on in some parts. She walked around to get an idea of the vibe.

It was an open space, with a few separate offices in the back and on the side. All the walls were made of glass - there was no way to hide from anyone. On the other end, there was an actual wall and a door on the side which led Ellie to believe there was a room there. She carefully walked over. The kitchen. Fridge, microwave and electric kettle. A rectangular table was stuck to the wall on the left side.

She pulled out a chair and sat. “Might as well make a good first impression,” she thought, “and change into my heels.”

She spied around for a coffee machine of any kind. Next to the microwave, there seemed to be an ancient coffee drip machine. A thick layer of dust covered it.

She frowned. Evidently there was an espresso machine, a Keurig or a Nespresso laying around. But she couldn’t see it. And there was no way it’d be in a drawer. She got closer to the kettle. Next to it was a tall glass cylinder jar with a metal lid that contained tea bags. There was a shorter one with sugar, and another one with dark grains. She gasped loudly. "Instant?!" Suspicious, she picked up the container. Stared at it. Opened the jar. Sniffed it. Shook it. Stared at it again. "Instant." She put it back in its place.

It took her a second.

Instant coffee? This must have been a mistake. She checked again. How would she survive on instant coffee?

Voices in the main room caught her attention. She stumbled out of the kitchen, but regained her composure as the people came into view.

Max and another girl turned at the sound of her heels.

“Oh, you’re the new girl!” The platinum blonde girl shouted and extended her hand, “Hi! I’m Kate.”

Ellie took it confidently - albeit confused. She smiled, “Hello, I am Elena.” Max stifled a chuckle. She glanced at him, then at Kate. Was Monday the Irish version of Friday casual? Or was this like the instant coffee incident?

“Elena, it’s been a while. Here, let me show you around.” Max smiled warmly. His confident, strong demeanor, one that made you feel secure around him, had only gotten stronger since Ellie had last seen the young man.

“Oh Max, don’t go on boring her too much now.” Kate chirped before walking away to her desk.

Slowly more people poured in, and as all introductions were made over and over again, she came to believe Monday was in fact Friday casual.

One of the men she had just been introduced to, Philip - or Phil as he had insisted, asked her if she wanted “a cuppa.”

“Excuse me?” She stared at him.

“A cup of tea,” Max butted in. Ellie nodded in thanks.

“Or coffee,” supplanted Phil.

Ellie perked up, “Coffee, please.”

She’d get to the bottom of this instant coffee business. They walked into the kitchen; hawk-eyed, she watched Phil fumble around. He filled the kettle then turned it on. After lining up mugs, he dropped tea bags from the jar. So far so good.

“So, how do you like Dublin so far?” He spoke very quickly, with a different Irish accent from both Kate and Max. In fact, so far, it seemed to her that everyone had different Irish accents.

In the last two mugs, he dropped two spoonfuls of the instant coffee. Ellie’s heart dropped a bit.

“Oh, I haven’t been able to see much of it yet. Only been around the hotel. But it looks nice.”

Then he added a bit of sugar to all the mugs, and poured the hot water from the kettle. On top finally, a drop of milk in each mug.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

She brought her mug of fuming instant coffee back to her desk. The surroundings might have changed but the job remained the same. (Instant coffee aside.) So she soon fell into her usual work trance.

Kate walked over to her desk and sat on the corner.

“Okay, so let me tell you how it works around - are you actually almost done with that?” She said after peering at Ellie’s computer. The blonde girl shrugged. “We take our lunch breaks at 1pm, in the kitchen. I go for a walk after, you’re more than welcome to come with me. It’s great- having another girl around is awesome!”

Ellie nodded. The Dublin office was overpopulated with men - the only other woman was the Dublin branch boss.

Max walked over as Kate explained who was who and did what.

“Kate are you chatting away again instead of working?”

“I’m working! Giving her the people tour.” She nodded in Ellie’s direction, nudging her, “eh? Eh!” She giggled at her own joke.

Exasperated look aside, Max turned his attention toward Ellie. “Thought you had a room viewing this morning.”

Max had sent her the night before an e-mail with the viewings he had scheduled for her that week, as well as information about SIM cards.

“Oh yeah, the guy messaged me back to tell me the room got rented out already.”

Max signed, “Yeah, the rent situation in Dublin is a bit mad. Sorry about that.”

“It’s not your fault. There are like 6 other places. I’m sure one of them will be nice.” She replied.

As noon rolled around, her phone started gradually buzzing with texts from family and friends in Canada who were just waking up, among which Diego (“Hey beautiful, how are you? How’s the first day?”) and Jason (“Hello Elena, I hope everything is going well - and that Max is taking good care of you”).

She ignored them.

During lunch time, Kate talked to her some more about the work at the branch, the people and her own particular job, “I’m a graphic designer by trade like, but here I do a lot more of research sometimes. It’s grand though, you know?” Elena had nodded. She figured grand meant good. And somehow, by the end of the day, Kate had organized drinks with the office that Thursday for Ellie.

It wasn’t too bad. She just had to find a place to live.

Chapter 8: Revelations

She turned around and settled in her chair. And so the day passed between making phone calls, answering e-mails, researching the market, looking into a million different companies (or so it felt). Soon enough it was 6 pm, and Myriam knocked on her door.

“Hey Ellie, Jason told me you accepted the transfer. Congratulations!”

“Thank you,” she smiled.

“We’ll need to take you out for drinks before you leave. Are you heading home now?”

“No, I have a bunch of work and I don’t want to leave it all for the last few days and panic.”

“That’s reasonable of you, unfortunately I have dinner plans and can’t stay longer at work.”

“Such a shame! Bon appétit!”

Myriam sent her a wave and left. Until she came back one second later. “Right, meant to ask you something.”

For a split moment, Ellie was petrified she’d get more work to do - until she remembered Myriam didn’t have that authority.

“Last week, you mentioned your brother knew Max. Max and Jason also know each other from before. They were in the same fraternity no?”

This was worse than more work.

“Did you ever meet Jason before working here?”

“Yeah, we met every once in a while at the same parties. Why?” She tried to look casual, so she kept typing on her computer the same sentence over and over again - “please don’t ask me more, please don’t ask me more…”

“I’m just curious to know what he was like during university years before now and this” Myriam moved her hands across her upper body. Ellie laughed.

“You mean his royal attitude? No, it’s always been there from what I know. Only met him his last year of university though, so don’t know how he was before that.”

“Hmm… I didn’t even know Canada had fraternities. Did he have a position? Don’t they have like, younger brothers and stuff like that? Who was Jason’s?”

Ellie had stopped typing, instead focusing all of her attention on Myriam. “Yeah, Jason was president his last year from what I remember. And Max is his little brother.”  

She stared back at her computer screen, but something kept bothering her. Why was Myriam so curious about her relationship with Jason? Her questioning aggravated Ellie. “Who are you having dinner with again?” She asked, diverting the subject.

“Oh right! Just a high school friend. Running late actually. We should go for drinks again soon! Bye!” Myriam waved her hand then left as quickly as she had barged in.

Had the girl ever mentioned which high school she went to? Against her better judgment and pride, Ellie opened up her coworker’s Facebook page.

And why, for that matter, had she panicked so much at the thought of her coworker finding out about their old relationship? Jason and she had agreed to keep it on the low after they found out the companies they each worked for would merge. But that was then. If anything, Ellie could have brushed it aside as a short-lived campus love.

Myriam's face stared at her through the computer screen. Sharp, clean features made her coworker pleasant to look at, confident and smart. She could easily be Jason's type.

Without thinking about it, she had typed Jason's number on her keypad. But why did she care? Was she the curious one? Was it jealousy? No, Elena could not and would not be jealous. She had missed the opportunity to ask Jason anything about his new love. And she was, as an afterthought, not in any position to ask.

Someone else was - and probably already knew. The line was already ringing. Ellie almost hung up but Keon picked up before she could.

“What's up Ellie?”

She stayed silent for a bit, she could hear her brother’s breathing on the other side.

“Ellie? You OK?”

“Yeah! I'm going to Dublin!”

He laughed. “I know.”

“Well it wasn't fully settled… kind of.” She paused. Something unsuspectingly caught her eye on Myriam's profile: different high schools. “Ummm… you’ll have to come visit! You're the best placed one to do so.”

“Yeah I'll definitely try to pick up a route through Dublin.”

“Okay that's all I wanted to tell you. I haven't told the rest of the family yet. See you Friday?”

“Yes ma'am!” They hung up. She kept her phone to her ear for a few minutes. Had she passed the test? Her phone vibrated, a text. She lowered the smartphone; BB cream and sweat had this time left an imprint on the screen. The text still showed on the lock screen: “I know something else is up. What's wrong?”

She had failed. The beauty of technology is that you can now isolate yourself guiltlessly because you’re so connected at all times. So she was going to ignore that text for as long as possible.

***

Breaking the news to her family had gone well. Her parents had only asked how long she’d be gone. And it had all happened over phone calls so she could easily find an excuse to avoid any uncomfortable or undesirable discussions - also because, no one really likes to talk on the phone anymore.

That night however, Diego came to her place. Classy as can be, they drank wine and watched Netflix.

As she nestled in his arms, she could feel the heat of his body, hear his heart, feel his breath, see the way his jeans hugged his waist. And she pondered the nature of their relationship.

She was comfortable. He was comfortable. She inched further into him, if that was even possible. His hand moved up and down her arm slowly.

But for some reason, the minutes etched by really slowly.

What type of relationship was this? She didn’t need to think about it - she needed to live in the moment. Focus, she told herself.

But were they exclusive? Worse, was he her boyfriend?

Watch the Crown, Ellie, she told herself.

If they were a couple, she had messed up by not bringing up Dublin as a topic of discussion. But it was so new. It had only been a month of casual meet-ups.

Queen Elizabeth II, Ellie.

She should have mentioned the transfer when it was suggested to her. At least mention it.

Prince Phillip.

Her phone lit up - her sister was calling. She rejected the call.

“You can take it,” murmured Diego.

She shook her head, “no need.” Lina was probably calling to discuss more about Dublin and she did not need to inadvertently break the news to Diego.

King George VI

Oh, who cared if it was King Arthur himself in front of her?

“Speaking of England, fun fact!” She started but stopped. There was no going back. “I got transferred to Ireland for a few months. I’m leaving in a couple of weeks.”

She took a couple of gulps of the wine. Had his body just tensed or had it been hers?

What was the King saying? Something about Bray?

“Oh, cool. That’ll be fun.” He said after several minutes.

See Ellie, that went down well. You worried for no reason. She relaxed.

“Yeah, should be. I accepted the offer today.” Why had she just said that? “I mean, it wasn’t much of an offer - formally it was but really a transfer.” She rambled on - had it made any difference?

Maybe it was just her - she really wanted to believe that - but she felt his breathing pattern change.

“Well, I’ll miss you.”

She rested her head on his chest. “I’ll miss you too.”

***

It was still warm enough for people to sit at the tables set outside on the sidewalks and enjoy their morning coffees. Strollers were left unattended while the babies were taking their own stroll by the parents. The main street of the plateau was a kaleidoscope of people. With her basket filled with produce, Ellie was trekking to a part of the street that was less busy. She kept staring at the freshly baked baguette enviously. After ceremoniously refusing to steal a bite (twice), she ripped a corner of the bread.

The wait staff in the bakery asked her what she could be helped with as she was still chewing. Her eyes round, she held her hand up to signal her full mouth. She chewed faster and bit her inner cheek in the process. Holding back tears, she quickly ordered the pastries.

With her grocery shopping done, she walked happily back to her apartment, leaving behind the families at the coffee shops and in the park. The quiet streets of the neighborhood with the coiled metal stairs, deadly come winter and ice, were much more pleasant to her. The colourful trees danced slowly at wind’s will.

She made her way into her apartment, up a flight of those metal stairs, after making sure Diego was nowhere in sight. Still sucking in her bruised cheek, she dropped her groceries on a chair. Her laptop was turned on, she popped in a DVD of the second season of Sex and the City and got to cooking.

Two bottles of wine along with a large amount of food later, her friends and herself sat around the kitchen table discussing all. Alex’s babysitter had this time not cancelled. Ellie stared at Alex, then Erica and Kayla. Now was the time.

“Girls, my company suggested I go work a contract at the office in Dublin. So I’m going. In two weeks.”

“Dublin… Ontario?” asked Erica.

“Or the one in Ohio?” followed Kayla.

“Seriously, people. Ireland. I’m going to Ireland.” She took a long sip as she stared at her friends.

“Is this about Jason? His fiancée?” ventured Alex. “That thing about your hoohah?”

“I will indeed find someone else to check my hoohah for anomalies. But no. This is about me.”

“I don’t know how I feel about this,” pressed Erica, “What does Lina think about this?”

Ellie’s twin sister had been on board the second Ellie had mentioned Ireland. She had shouted something about men not deserving anything and being wicked and praised Ellie for leaving Montreal behind. “She thinks it’s a good idea.”

Kayla raised her glass: “I think it’s a great idea. Get away for a bit, see the world, and experience it. To Dublin, Ireland!”

They all raised their glasses, Erica reluctantly so, and drank.

Too soon, the girls stood at the doorway outside. As Ellie hugged each of them, they expressed words of congratulations and well wishes about Ireland.

***

The two last weeks in Montreal had flown by quickly, between late nights at work, squishing in meetings with the friends and sleep overs with Diego.

It was her last night in Montreal that Diego and her finally had the dreaded “what are we” conversation. He sat on the floor amongst Ellie’s suitcases as she ran mindlessly through her room.

“Don’t you think you’re overpacking?” he asked her as he stared at the bulky suitcases.

She waved a hand in his face. “Noooooo! I don’t know how long I’ll be there.”

“But you can always buy clothes there. And you probably will. Also, there’s literally no point in bringing this,” he held up a summery top. “It’s winter in Ireland too babe.”

She stopped. He was right. She sat on the floor in front of him and went through her luggage, picking out clothes.

“This however, don’t forget to pack. Is it new?” He handed her a lovely teal raincoat.

Grabbing it quickly, she stored it away in one of the suitcases, “yup. Fitting no?”

Jason had not come to drinks with her coworkers. Instead she had found by her front door, the morning after, a package with a simple note. I hear it always rains in Ireland.

“Ugh what would I have done without you?” she said as she alleviated her luggage by countless of random, useless clothes. She did not realize she had just opened the floodgates - those you do not really want to open, ever.

He chuckled.

“Speaking of, what are we Ellie?”

“Humans. That’s what we are.” She answered quickly before thinking. He nudged her knee with his foot.

“I mean, I don’t want to... “ he paused. “keep you from experiencing Ireland fully.”

She had been out of the dating game for so long, she had forgotten how awkward and unpleasant this conversation was. At that point, she would have gladly switched places with the 20-year-old Ellie on the night of her birthday party, puking all the tequila shots and bits of hamburger in the dirty bathroom of Buns.

“I don’t know what we are honestly. What do you want?” Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted teal fabric. She knew she didn’t feel ready for that type of relationship.

“Well, you are only leaving for a bit. And we do get along well. I don’t know. I’m just saying - we don’t have to be exclusive or anything. Or like wait for each other. I mean, waiting - it’s not like anyone would be waiting right? Life goes on but we get along.”

I’m glad to know the anxiety of this conversation goes both ways, she thought. “So you want us to not be exclusive but… keep in touch? With no expectations of what happens once I come back?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“So friends?”

“Friends.”

She locked her suitcase. “Friends don’t sleep with one another.”

“Life is made of exceptions.”

Chapter 7: Montreal Before Pictures

Diego and she had planned a walk up the Mont-Royal mountain in an attempt to enjoy the last few days of warm weather. He had brought along his camera because he had promised her “to take good pictures for her Instagram.”

It was sunny, the path was crowded with joggers, dog walkers and couples walking hand in hand. Diego and her walked with a good meter between them, as if they were strangers or worse, two people on a first date.

He kept looking between the sky and his camera, to change the settings. Every so often, he would stop, look through the camera and take a shot. She would realize two meters away that he wasn’t next to her anymore.

As he took another picture of a kid drinking from a water fountain, she wondered if she was supposed to talk to him about Dublin. Maybe he would have some insight into it. Maybe he had gone abroad for work, for a semester, or a long vacation. Come to think of it, she knew virtually nothing about the man she roughly saw on a daily basis.

“Have you ever lived anywhere else?” she asked.

“I was born in Colombia actually. My family and I moved here when I was 10.” He pointed at a narrow path that cut through the tiny forest the mountain harbored.

She led the way, holding her long skirt up, “that must have been a shock. Have you ever been back?”

He chuckled, “It was a bit of a shock. The winter is cold. And no, I haven’t been back. I want to though.”

She stopped and looked at him behind her shoulder, “You never truly get used to the cold.” She turned around again, “look a clearing!” She ran toward it after stumbling a few times on hidden roots and branches. It was a miracle she hadn’t face-planted.

“You? Have you been abroad?”

She was looking up at the trees when she heard a click. When she turned around, she saw his lens pointed at her. “I have yes. Greece several times. My grandparents are from there.” She paused to think, closing her eyes in the process, “I did a couple of other European countries when I was over there too.”

“I actually went to Switzerland to photograph at the Montreux Jazz Festival.”

In awe, she looked up at him. “Serious? That’s impressive. You need to show me some of your shots.”

As he looked at a picture he had just taken on the camera’s screen, he softly replied: “Ah you can find most of them in magazines if you want.”

She got closer to him, close enough to whisper in his ear: “Hmm maybe, but I want to see the real thing.”

Before she could run away, he pecked her on the lips. “You have no idea how real I can get.”

She furrowed her eyebrows. It took her a couple of breaths to gather her thoughts to formulate a question, but by then, Diego had already walked away.

 

***

 

They had parted - as she had work from the Friday left to finish and he wanted to keep photographing - squirrels, she imagined, with a chuckle.

She walked through the still green park at the bottom of the mountain. Groups of young people lounged on blankets, day drinking and smoking joints. The ground reverberated rhythmically as the dancers jumped to the beat of the tam-tams and all other sorts of drums. A solo saxophone player added a joyful melody to the mêlée. On the further end, where the trees started growing but were still sparse, a rope walker had set up a rope between two trees.

She made her way through the crowd and crossed the street. The beat of the tam-tams were drowned out by screams of happy children as Ellie entered the Jeanne-Mance park. Parents watched their kids play, Ellie watched the parents. Some were as young as her, some younger. Quickening her pace, she soon fell on the teams playing soccer. Among the shuffle of feet and balls, the grunts and the hits against tennis rackets, she relaxed her pace.

Past the baseball field, by the picnic tables, two girls sat on a bench. One played the guitar while the other vocalized. Ellie marvelled at the girl’s sweet yet powerful voice. “We just capture the moments, the moments of our lives...”

She paused and turned to look back on the typical Montreal scene she’d walked through. Was she ready to leave all of this, even just for a while?

“Until we feel so indifferent, like pictures until we die”

Would she ever find a better place? She knew leaving would change her - she had a feeling the move would provoke something deep inside her. Was she ready to walk away from the longest relationship she had ever had? Was she thinking too much about it?

“Oh we just capture the moments, like pretty butterflies...” (1)

 

***

 

The next morning, Ellie woke up late. She rushed through her routine to make sure she got her morning walk with Diego. Sunglasses perched on her nose, she flew out the door onto the street, just in time to catch a glimpse of him. When the door loudly shut behind her, she came to a full stop.

Bon matin, Ellie!” The girl looked up: her neighbour, in the hipster version of business casual, put out a black garbage bag on the sidewalk. He waved at her, “J’espère qu’il va continuer à faire soleil!” (2)

She waved back, “ouais, moi aussi. Ils annoncent de la pluie le reste de la semaine!” She had climbed down the metallic stairs. By the time she reached the last step, there was a silent mutual understanding that the friendly neighbourly talk was over. “Il faut que j’y aille; je suis en retard! Bonne journée Marc!” (3)

She brought her mug to her lips out of reflex but stopped herself just in time. Her coffee was scalding in her travel mug. It was one of those that keeps all the heat for hours even though it wasn’t labelled a thermos. Googly-eyed purple owls and flowers adorned the facade. Because of how cute it was, Ellie refused to use another one, even if it meant delaying her intake of the aromatic drink for hours.

A surprise as strong as coffee awaited her at the corner of the street.

“Hey Ellie,” Diego’s green eyes smirked at her.

“Hey Diego, what are... you… uhh… doing here?” She motioned at the busy street so they started walking down to the metro station.

“I heard Marc call you. So I waited for you to walk together to the metro.”

“Oh, that’s nice… of you… thanks.” Her hand acted out the reflex before her brain kicked in: she drank coffee, burned her lips and spat it out on the ground.

“Holy shit, are you okay? Here,” he reached into his black leather messenger bag and took out a pack of scented tissues.

With a trembling hand, she gratefully accepted it. “Thanks. If only the rest of my day goes like this, I’ll be golden.” She quickened her pace. “I’m so late.”

She wasn’t really. But she did make it to the office in record timing. And she was in her boss’ office before he had even set foot in the building.

“Let’s just be straight about one thing, I don’t want to stay in a hotel the entire time I’m abroad. It’d be nice if it could feel like home. So could I find a room in an apartment?” She spoke in one breath while staring straight at him.

Hassett froze in place, “Jesus you scared me. Was that your goal, so you could get the room? Sure. Anything. Now please allow me to grab a coffee.” He set his briefcase on the table before making a dash for the door.

Ellie followed him, “Great I wanted one as well! I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

They exchanged pleasantries on the way to the kitchen and while waiting for the machine to prepare their individual coffees from the cups. The modern kitchen was warm and already smelled like a mix of espresso, hazelnut and caramel.

“This isn’t because you want to get rid of me in the office, right? I’ll be back. I promise.”

“Definitely not Elena. But who knows, maybe you’ll find love and get married there.”

Jason walked in at that moment, “who’s getting married?”

Ellie’s side eye was so bitter the triple shot of espresso Hassett had just made himself probably tasted like maple syrup on a cinnamon bun. She cleared her throat.

“No one. Yet.” Hassett chuckled. “Ellie’s going to Ireland! We’re going for Guinness soon Jason. Get ready!” With that, and his mug, Hassett left the kitchen.

The machine finished brewing her americano but she was waiting for the last drop to fall in her mug. Jason poured soy milk into her mug then in his own mug with one dash of honey. The spoon clinked and echoed around the room.

“So, you took the job, eh,” he spun the spoon a ridiculous amount of times.

“Yup… Looks like so far you’re still the only one getting married. Enjoy your coffee Jason.”

 


  1. Francisque, C.A. (2015). The Moment [Recorded by Cynthia Aishah Francisque]. Montreal, Canada: HAUS OF KIDz.
  2. “Good morning, Ellie!” - “I hope it stays sunny.”
  3. “Yeah, me too. The forecast shows rain the rest of the week.” - “I have to go, I’m late! Have a good day Marc!”

Chapter 6: Family Meddles

It was finally the end of a week that had seemed to go on forever. Ellie was almost ready to go home; she was eyeing the time on her computer in between each sentence she wrote.

Her boss decided to pop his head into her office at that moment. “Elena, quick word?” She tried to tidy up her desk as he walked into the office. He looked sideways at her statue of one of the Dioscuri twins with a horse that rested on a file cabinet, “Always meant to say I like that statue.”

She breathed out, “Thank you.” She knew what was coming next. Her hands turned cold in anticipation.

“Have you thought about Dublin?” He asked.

She tried to look relaxed, “I have… Hassett, I was wondering if you don’t mind, could I have the weekend?” She attempted a smile, but she was sure it looked more like that straight-faced emoji.

“Yeah, no worries. Don’t feel pressured to say yes Elena.” He got up and patted the horse statue on its head.

“Oh, I don’t,” she lied to convince herself of that fact as well.

“Have a good weekend. Don’t work too much!”

“Ha, I should be telling you that Hassett! Enjoy your weekend” When he finally left she let her body melt into her chair. She turned her chair around and stared out the window.

Traffic was slow as people left work early. Everyone wore a version of the typical business attire, and everyone came out with coffee cups from the surrounding shopping malls. It was a daily routine. The only changing factor was the backdrop: sometimes the mountain was covered in green foliage, sometimes it was bare. Today, it was in the middle, the leaves were turning orange, some had already fallen, to be stepped on by expensive heels by daylight, and knock-offs by moonlight.

She traced the outline of the McGill Arts building with her index fingernail on the window. The sun, low in the sky, shined between her fingers, casting an orange-red light through the thin skin. They matched the trees in the back. She tapped her finger against the glass. The city was gearing up for the weekend; students exited the school buildings and mingled with the white-collar workers.

Everyone needs a change of atmosphere for good health, Ellie thought as she rested her head against the window. Her black shoes gleamed. Well, they really weren’t that expensive compared to others.

She took her phone out of her purse: her mom had called and left a voicemail. Sighing, she listened to it:

“Hello Ellie, it’s me, your mother. It’s currently 4:12 pm. I just wanted to make sure you are still coming over for dinner. Have you met anyone interesting since we last talked? Bye bye.”

She texted her mother quickly: “We talked last night, who was I supposed to meet? Never understand why you still leave voicemails. I’ll come over after work. Leaving in a bit.”

Too preoccupied to think about work, she shoved some files in her workbag, grabbed her purse and left.

The savoury perfume of food encircled Ellie before she even set foot in her parents’ house. She tried the door - it was unlocked. As she made her way through the vestibule and the biggest living room - decorated all in white and very classically, she tripped on large suitcases sprawled on the floor, open and filled. Her siblings were already in the kitchen where her mother was hustling while her father was getting everyone drinks.

“What’s with the luggage in the living room?” Ellie made her entrance.

Her mother strutted towards her. She was a grand woman, with a lot of grace in her movements, and beautiful traits. She pointed at her, “You never remember what I tell you. We’re going on vacation in a week.” Ellie feigned being hurt. Her mother still hugged her.

“I remember! But you’re leaving next week. Why are you already packing?” Her mother waved her comment away, instead whispering in her ear loudly so that everyone heard: “Did you meet anyone this week?”

Before she could get too exasperated, her father grabbed her away and offered her a crystal cognac glass: “Ellie! Try this cognac. So good.” She gratefully accepted it.

“They want to make sure they don’t forget anything, obviously,” her brother cut in. Their father walked to his grey luggage and picked something out of it, he turned back to them with a white short sun hat, “What do you think of this, eh? Don’t I look cool?” He walked like a model, spun and walked back outside of the kitchen, before quickly reappearing without his hat. “Your dad is cool.”

Ellie laughed and raised her glass to her mouth to drink more - however she had already finished it. She looked sideways at everyone to make sure no one had noticed.

“A bit stressed by life sister dear?” Keon laughed and subtly poured her more of the drink. She nodded in thanks. “How was Diego?” he asked.

Both sisters stopped dead in their tracks. Keon continued, “I mean, the date. How was your date with Diego?”

“Diego? Who is this Diego? Is he your new boyfriend?” her mother asked, behind the kitchen counter. “What does he do?”

Ellie slapped her brother on the arm. “No, he’s not my new boyfriend. He’s just my neighbour. The date went well. Where’s Hamza, Lina?”

Adelina and her had started setting the table, amongst their mother’s usual nagging about what plate goes where. Her sister quietly answered: “away, on a business trip.”

Her father looked at Ellie, “Elena, it’s bad to date so close to home. You don’t want to mess up your neighbourhood vibes.”

“So where am I supposed to look then? Across the pond?” She bit her tongue.

Her mother handed Keon a plate filled with cold cuts and vegetables. He snagged a few before setting it in the middle of the table.

“I think Max is single,” he said. “You’ve been in touch with him no?”

When she shook her head, he commented: “Weird, I told him to reach out to you.”

The glass Adelina had been wiping suddenly cracked; she was now holding three pieces of sharp glass. While their mother loudly gasped, Ellie and Keon rushed over to help her. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” the sister insisted, “I’ve been working out lately - guess I got that much stronger.” She smirked.

They finally sat at the table to eat. It was a typical family dinner: everyone talked about what they wanted to, no one listened to the other, everyone cut each other off. There was too much food, and even more wine.

As Keon attempted to talk about his last flight to Tokyo, Ellie’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She took it out slowly; Max had sent her a message on Facebook. She opened it reluctantly. “Hey Ellie! How have you been? Listen, I know you’re probably not so down to come to Ireland for many reasons, but I promise you I’ll help you out. And if it’s because you don’t want to stay in a hotel the entire time you’re here, I can definitely arrange to find a room for you. I swear you won’t regret it.”

She had no idea why he campaigned so hard for her to move over there but he had raised a valid concern. She didn’t want to stay in a hotel room for that long. She also had the vague suspicion her brother was behind this.

As if he knew she was thinking about him - or maybe because she hadn’t been paying attention to him, Keon threw a piece of bread at her. It landed smack in the middle of her forehead before falling in her lap. She looked at her brother, dazed. And she ate the bread.

It was during a heated discussion about what colour the new curtains in the smaller living room should be that Ellie actually answered Max: “I’m considering it. It would be nice to have a room while I’m there, but I’m sure I can figure it out from here.”

He replied quickly, “I’ll help you out as much as I can.”

Chapter 5: Neighbourly Love

Ellie had gotten home earlier than usual; she had also woken up a couple of hours early to make sure she would finish everything on time. As soon as she entered her apartment, she rushed to take a shower. After lathering herself with lightly scented moisturizer, she stood in front of her closet in matching underwear. She most definitely could not be cast as the lead of Beauty and the Beast.

Diego was actually coming over for a drink. No more sneaking glances at him from then on. Before all of that though, she had to figure out what to wear. It was a weird date as it was happening in her apartment. Running out of time, she went for a loose blouse and high-waisted jeans that weren’t so tight that they would be awkward to slip off in case of emergency panty dropping. Casual but sexy.

She snacked on cucumbers and hummus while applying makeup - this was no time for a bloated stomach or any weird happenings.

She set up a platter of cheese, crackers and grapes on the living room table. Thinking the setup needed to look more sexy, she added a plate of chocolates and macarons she had picked up on her way back from work.

After spraying herself with the perfume she reserved for attracting the male specie, she set up her laptop in the kitchen to do some work while waiting. Quickly enough, as per her habit, she lost herself into her work. It was a quarter past the meeting time and she had heard nothing from him.

It was too good to be true, she knew it. He had confirmed too eagerly and too early. But she didn’t think he would have the guts to completely ghost her as her neighbour. This wasn’t very neighbourhood-friendly. She was too tense from slouching over her computer so she poured herself a bit of the scotch and leaned back into her chair.

The numbers and words on her screen lost their meaning the longer she looked at them. It was time to close shop for the day. She finished the drink and closed her eyes.

Two soft knocks. She jerked up, knocking her knee against the table in the process. Biting back a swear, she limped to the front door. Striking a pose she deemed effortlessly sexy, she opened the door.

Diego smiled, “Hey Elena.” Under brown strands of wavy hair, his green eyes peered into her soul.

The door was wide open now and she stood aside to let him in. “Hi Diego, come in.”

He smelled of fresh air and cologne. “I brought a bottle of Cabernet, so we wouldn’t drink all of yours.”

“You shouldn’t have, I have enough to quench any thirst.” She internally thanked her sister and Odin for this opportunity. “Settle in please, I’ll bring glasses.”

He followed behind her as she went into the kitchen. “Were you working?” He asked as he picked up some of her papers.

Glasses and bottle opener in hand, she gave him a quick side glance. “Yeah, boring stuff really. I’m sure your photography is much more exciting.”

He laughed, “You’d be surprised at how stagnant it can also be. What are you listening to?” As she walked back to the living room, she heard him click on her mousepad and assumed he had opened her Spotify.

“Jazz. It helps me focus.” He came up close behind her, so close she could feel his body heat. She cleared her throat. He reached his hand forward and handed her a cellphone.

“Keon is calling you,” he said, she could hear his smile - visibly he was amused at her reaction.

“Oh.” She set up the glasses on the table before sitting on the couch. After ignoring her brother’s call, she patted the couch, “Come sit.”

The music still played from her computer’s speaker - and she was glad for it. She grabbed the bottle opener and stabbed it into the cork. All of her attention was on this particular action, twisting and twisting, in an attempt to ignore Diego’s gaze. He reached for a piece of chocolate and bit into it. She could see him from the corner of her eye.

“You know,” he started, “you do have a great profile.”

The wine trickled loudly into the glass. “Thank you,” she managed to say. He had taken out his phone to take a picture of her.

“Don’t worry, I won’t Instagram it.” He slid closer to her to show her the picture. It was a good picture of her: with the window in the background, you could clearly see the profile of her pouring the wine. Romance flowed through the simple picture.

“If you won’t, you can send it to me. I will.” She joked as she handed him a glass.

Sitting on the couch and staring at each other, Elena took in his bronzed skin, his fitted jeans, the way he held his glass and the way his index finger kept going up and down the broad glass.

He looked up to the ceiling, “I usually charge for my pictures.”

Sipping the wine, she answered without thinking, “I wouldn’t mind paying you.” His eyebrows arched. She downed her glass, “more wine?”

Before he had time to answer, she had poured more in both glasses.

“We never toasted,” he said. His eyes locked on hers, he continued, “to neighbours.”

“To neighbours,” she echoed before they both sipped.

They kept talking about neighbourhood stuff, like how the couple from across the street always bought new furniture after a particularly intense fight. As the wine in the bottle depleted, the space between them got progressively smaller.

She could see his chest rising with every breath. Under that shirt, she knew there was a well-built body. She diverted her gaze and sipped some more wine. He put his glass on the table; her eyes followed his arm pushing his hair back. Her gaze trailed down to his rosy lips. He was so close to her that she barely had to move to kiss him - but she didn’t.

He smiled at her, his eyes slowly going down her body. Was this what they called ‘fuck-me-eyes’? It was working. He reached for her own glass and put it down on the table. She stopped breathing. When he turned back toward her, he put his arms around her, pulling her to him and kissed her.

It was all it took to unleash what Elena had been holding back.

They slowly (not so slowly) moved to her bedroom, and soon enough (so Ellie thought), it was due time for her to use the bathroom (read: pee after sex = no UTIs). She took the opportunity to grab her phone to waste some time while on the toilet. What had seemed to her only 30 minutes had actually been 2 hours. She quickly texted her friends that fact.

Lastly, she took the time to text her brother whom she had ignored earlier: “What’s up?”

His answer came - did he have nothing else to do?: “Yo, Max told me you got transferred to Dublin. Call me. What’s up with that? Why didn’t you tell me? So cool.”

She stifled a grunt: “UGH. Don’t remind me, please. It’s not exciting. Haven’t taken the job yet. I’m on a date now, so call you tomorrow. ”

“Ahaha, let’s be real. You have no choice. Who’s the dude?” Keon replied.

“Diego. The hot neighbour. Bye.” She typed her reply quickly. After flushing the toilet, she dropped her phone in her laundry basket and skipped back to her bedroom.

Chapter 4: There’s no Real Choice when Fate has already Spun Her Threads

Soft jazz literally echoed across the wine bar as the waves hit the massive chandelier made of flutes and coupes of all kinds and sizes that hung by the mezzanine. Ellie had always wondered how stable the structure was. The light reflected well against the hundreds of glasses – well enough to compensate for the darker atmosphere of the room, created by the leather couches and black tables. The wooden bars had an onyx finish. Long opaque curtains fell from the second story all the way to the bottom floor.

Ellie kept playing footsie by herself – her new shoes were too tight. “Please tell me why we need to wear heels,” she asked.

“We don’t really, we just do,” Myriam answered after a moment of reflection.

“I’d do a lot for sneakers now.”

The wine menu was extensive – which made all the sense considering they were in a wine bar. Both women gave up on looking through the booklet halfway through.

“He can pick for us,” Myriam gestured at the approaching waiter – who gratefully obliged and promised to come back with good wine.

Aromas of grapes matured in dark cherry oak barrels tickled their nostrils.

“Do you smell it,” asked Ellie.

“I just smell… red wine. I won’t lie.” Myriam swirled the liquid around her glass once more. “Here cheers me. To you and Ireland!”

Their glasses clunk-ed. They drank a big sip. Ellie eyed her coworker.

“Hmm… can I ask you something?” She paused for an idea of politeness. “Why did you pick me for the transfer? You were part of the discussion, no?”

Myriam shuffled, “quite honestly, there wasn’t much of a discussion. We will open up the position for whomever wants it if you refuse.”

“So you unanimously agreed to ship me off.” Ellie nodded, “I see how it is.”

Myriam laughed at her candor. “You just seemed like the logical candidate. You’re good and you have a good work ethic.” She paused, “Plus, when we mentioned your name, Max seemed eager. Do you know him?”

Ellie looked at Myriam, silent as she computed the information. “Max…” She was literally buffering.

“Max, the manager at the Dublin branch - we’ve been coordinating with him for the transfer,” Myriam suggested.

Something in Ellie’s brain finally clicked, “Oh! Max! Yeah, he’s friends with my brother. We met when he was here for a semester abroad.”

“Well yeah, he seemed happy to hear you’d be interested,” Myriam finished off her glass, and cast Ellie a side glance. “Is he as sexy as he sounds and looks in his Skype picture?”

“I wouldn’t know as I do not have him on Skype.” Ellie laughed at Myriam’s annoyed look. “Yeah, he’s quite good-looking from what I remember from university, I won’t lie.” She looked up his Facebook profile page on her phone and showed an appreciative Myriam.

The waiter approached them and asked if they wanted another glass. Myriam asked him if they had any Irish wine, “for my friend here who’s moving soon?”

“I haven’t made up my mind just yet! But yes, do you have some?”

The waiter stared at the two girls a bit before hesitantly answering: “I don’t think the Irish make much wine…”

“Blasphemy.” Ellie’s eyes were round with shock that could be mistaken as sarcasm.

As Myriam burst out laughing, she gave the waiter a smile: “I like wine! But in any case, give us some more of the same - it was delicious. I love that dark cherry oak taste.” She wondered if her sarcasm was too obvious when Myriam stifled a laugh.

-

Dim lights set the mood, scented candles diffused a vanilla odour throughout the apartment. Ellie sat covered in a blanket on her couch, staring at her laptop. The herbal tea laid untouched on her table. She had set out to ponder the pros and cons of moving to Dublin but had quickly wandered into the darker sides of the Internet and YouTube, looking up videos of creepy, unsolved mysteries and ghost stories.

It was only after a compelling video about the Hellfire Club in Dublin that Ellie realized it was past midnight and she had not given moving abroad any thought. Time had flown by. But it was late and she needed her sleep, perhaps her dreams would enlighten her, she thought. After making sure the front door was locked, she blew off the candle and jumped into bed. The only thing she dreamed about was ghostbusters.

Chapter 3: Fallen Apple Sets Plan in Motion

It was a usual weekday morning. The weather was getting colder, but not cold enough to completely give up on fashion yet. Ellie carefully layered up her business outfit. After a few sprays of her perfume, she grabbed her travel mug and her briefcase and left her house. Right on time, she thought, as she spotted Diego walking just a few meters in front of her. The chrome-pink-framed sunglasses gave her the pleasure of giving him four double look-overs in complete anonymity. She couldn’t help it, he looked fine in any outfit, and he was just her type: clean cut, with just the right amount of scruff.

As she stood in a sea of perfumes and colognes in the metro, she thought ahead to the glass of wine that awaited her after work. Another presentation would be done and over with, another headache gone. Maybe she would ask one of the girls at work to have a glass with her. She got along well with the new girl from HR.

Her day did not go completely as planned. She leaned back into her chair after her presentation, her fingers playing the drums on her neat desk, and contemplated whether to invite Myriam – the girl from HR – or not. She decided drinking with someone was always more socially acceptable and the wiser decision.

The office was quiet, with most people rushing to get some last-minute important things done before the end of the day. No one likes to stay over unless they really needed to, and Myriam wasn’t any different. Her desk was cluttered and she seemed a bit exasperated. Ellie knocked on the frame of her door.

“Hey Myriam. I was thinking of grabbing a glass of wine after work – seeing as I’m finally done with the presentation. Would you want to join? You look like you could use one too.” She attempted as she waved at the desk.

“Oh, yeah the construction company’s plan – good job on that. You sold me.”

Ellie thanked her quietly. She waited patiently for her co-worker to decide.

“Yeah, let’s go for a couple of glasses actually.”

“Great, I’ll meet you at the front desk then!”

On her way back to her own desk, her boss interjected her and called her into his office. She sat at one of the uncomfortable chairs in front of the modest wooden desk. Various frames were hung on the cream wall: his diplomas and prints of famous street artists – one by Jason Botkin caught Ellie’s eye. One day she’ll be so successful she’ll be able to ask him to design one of her tattoos, she thought.

“Our company is looking to transfer someone to the Dublin branch for several months for a new contract they have.”

Elena focused on her boss: the way his tie knot was slightly higher on the left side, his rolled-up sleeves, the part in his black hair… She wondered if his wife had helped him pick his light grey dress shirt and blood red tie combination this morning. She wondered if she would do that to her future husband, or if he would already have a deadly fashion sense. Maybe she would meet him in Dublin – wait, what? Dublin?

“We thought you would be a great fit there. Would you be interested?”

Had she heard correctly? Had her boss just transferred her to Dublin, Ireland? Everyone knows that you simply cannot refuse a transfer, especially if you are young, single and it is only for “a few months.” Was she doomed to have constantly puffy hair for the foreseeable future?

“Elena, let me assure you, you are in no way obligated to accept. Think it over and let me know.”

She knew he was lying. He was giving her time to process the information, but he expected her to pack her bags. And who was she kidding? She most likely would – after the shock would dissipate.

Chapter 2: Gemini Winds

Fresh out of hot yoga class, Alex and Ellie were waiting in line to buy overpriced popcorn and coke. Looking behind her yoga mat, Ellie noticed that there weren’t that many people at the movie theater for a Sunday afternoon.

“It’s literally just 1pm. I doubt anyone else is even out of their houses,” remarked Alex. It was finally their turn to order, “Can I have a large popcorn - no butter please? And 1 large coke.”

“Throw in a bag of skittles too please,” Ellie smiled at the staff. “This is why we go to hot yoga even though we find it pretentious.”

They made their way to the condiment table and sprinkled ketchup powder atop the popcorn.

“How was your evening, after you ditched me?” Ellie grabbed a handful of popcorn.

“Oh you know, the usual. Attempting to make dinner, feed the child, clean up half of the dinner that is now on the floor, put child to bed, open bottle of wine and drink. Fall asleep after 10 minutes of watching… You know, I don’t even remember what we put on. Yours? You look quite fresh today actually.”

They had entered the theater and were now standing at the bottom of the stairs, both scanning the room and pointing at empty seats, while nodding or shaking their heads. There were only 2 other people in the movie theater. So they did the socially accepted thing and picked their seats two rows away from the other couple.

“It was actually not that different from yours really. Jason left me a gift - a bottle that we bought for our third anniversary.” She paused her thought as she put down her yoga mat and bag on the seat next to her. “Or was it for valentine’s day that 3rd year? Doesn’t really matter - really nice bottle. Only had it that one time.”

“How nice of him. I’m sure you really did want that memory.”

“Oh yes, yes. It was quite enjoyable you know. Drinking a glass while bathing. I did the whole shebang - lighted scented candles in the bathroom, put on some relaxing music.  I came up with 50 different ways to ruin his upcoming wedding.”

“All of which you will not attempt,” Alex said matter-of-factly.

“Definitely. Will not attempt.” Elena took a sip of the coke and put it back in the holder between the two of them. Alex was not convinced.

“Elena, look at me.” She grabbed her friend’s face and forced her to lock eyes with her. “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

“Define stupid.”

“Nothing stupid.”

The first movie trailer had started rolling: it advertised Lion.

“I want to watch the trailers Alex.” But her friend only squished her face even harder. “Okay, okay, nothing stupid. What could I do anyway? It’s none of my business. He can get married if he wants to; this movie looks a crying fest.”

Alex had finally settled back into her seat. “I really want to watch it.” The bag of skittles made annoying noises as she tried to pull it open.

“Me too. I totally have a crush on Dev Patel.”

With a pock, the bag opened and skittles spread all over Alex’s thighs. Ellie looked over. With no comment, she took a handful and started eating the candies. They had gone through all of the skittles and half of the popcorn bag by the time Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children started.

Adelina had joined them as soon as the movie had ended; now, all three of them were at their favourite Korean restaurant waiting for Ellie’s other friends. During the evening, Ellie had texted them desperate messages about Jason and her life in general. Faced with those messages Ellie only had a vague memory of sending, they had no other choice but to meet with her. As she waited for them, and Adelina and Alex were catching up, Elena looked around herself.

The small restaurant was cozy, the wooden picnic-like tables close to each other, complimenting nicely the brick walls. Some of the tables had matching wooden benches which she loved. Small paper lanterns hung around the half of the room that was up a couple of stairs; light trees and candles bordered the windows and the sides of the rooms. It was both romantic and casual.

Erica greeted her with, “You’re so dramatic, seriously. Like, I get it. I feel you.”

“But do you really?” asked Elena. Not so subtly Ellie stared at the ring on her left hand, before pointing at it.

“No, you don’t get to point that out, okay? Sometimes I feel like I’m forcing the husband to have sex. Fairly sure it should be the other way around, so count your blessings.”

“Are we already talking about sex?” Kayla had popped in at the right moment. She sat next to Erica, “Sorry about Jason, Ellie. How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay. Why did you send me a picture of a cat?”

“I thought the cuteness would cheer you up. Wasn’t it cute?”

“Sure,” Adelina handed everyone menus. Ellie continued after barely glancing at the menu, “I just don’t get it. Don’t they say you’re supposed to go through every season to get over a break-up? What did he do, hop each continent and hemisphere to go through them in a month’s time? How do you get engaged within a year of breaking off a four-year relationship? Whatever.”

The girls remained silent as they all shared the same thought. Adelina broke it: “Sometimes it’s just about the timing and meeting the right person.”

Ellie played with her chopsticks. “How do you know when you’ve met the right one then? He walks in, you lock eyes, then BAM!”

The waiter came by to get their orders just then. Ellie smiled at him, “Hey Joon, how are you?”

“Good, glad to see you again Ellie. How are you?”

“I’m good. Always excited to be here.”

“Right,” interjected Erica, “can I have the dolsot bibimbap please?” The girls finished ordering. After Joon left, all smiles, Erica grilled Ellie: “you’re always excited to be here?”

She gestured around herself, “the restaurant is really nice. And the food is great.” They all stared at her. “Okay, I also low-key have a huge crush on Joon. But that’s really just a bonus to the entire experience.”

Kayla looked after the waiter, “He is cute. Why don’t you say something to him?”

“Like what? Let me be the red chili pepper to your kimchi?”

“I want to rub you like kimchi paste on cabbage,” Erica mused.

While Kayla stared mouth open at Erica, Ellie sighed, “I wish I had the courage to say something like that.”

Adelina nudged Ellie, “You know, it’s not a bad idea. You should definitely get back on the dating scene. You haven’t been with anyone since Jason.”

“I know, while he’s clearly been having sex left and right.” Ellie tried to look as though she didn’t care, but she could feel the emotions bottling up, so she looked down at the table, then picked up her glass of water and took a long chug.

“Can you really say that when he’s obviously been in a relationship for quite some time?” Erica pointed out. Ellie dropped her glass and pointed at Erica.

“You’re right, maybe she’s pregnant.” Ellie said, hopeful.

Alex shut her down quickly: “Eh, who gets married because of a baby today. She wouldn’t want to not drink on her wedding day. Don’t be cray.”

Erica cleared her throat attracting the attention. She dropped her voice to a whisper, “Okay, I really don’t want to be that person but...” The girl stopped mixing her bibimbap. All the girls stared at her, “Do you think that maybe Jason... was seeing someone else at the same time? And that’s why he’s you know, already engaged now?”

The thought had crossed Ellie’s mind. Silently she blew her spoonful of kimchi jjiggae.

Adelina’s face clearly showed her annoyance at that comment, “No, Jason’s not like that. He wouldn’t.” She squeezed her sister’s arm, “He’s the type to come pick you up at my house in the middle of the night because you had a nightmare.”

While Ellie shoved a massive amount of rice in her mouth, Kayla cooed.  

“We promised never to talk about that. And it wasn’t just the nightmare, so don’t give him that much credit.” Ellie went back to blowing her food. “How did my life get here? I was excited Friday night because I went to bed past 10. I fell asleep while watching a rom com. I had ice cream on my PJ’s and not only did I not care, I only noticed when I spilled coffee on the same spot the next morning.”

Kayla interjected “That happens to me all the time.” She tried to grab meat with her chopsticks but it kept falling through. Exasperated, Ellie fed the meat to her.

“I’m serious. I haven’t gone out in forever. If it were winter, my legs would be like a bear. I’d be cast in The Revenant.”

Between mouthfuls of bibimbap and kimchi, Erica said matter-of-factly: “Well for one, no one’s stopping you from looking like Seal anytime. For two, then make a change. Go out more often. Get Tinder and get swiping.”

“That’s a lot of work,” Ellie answered. Her next spoonful of kimchi stew had hit the spot.

“Yeah, and it gets tiring really quickly. Bumble too… Happn… You know, you keep mentioning your cute neighbour, he could totally be on one of those apps. And it’d be so easy,” Kayla enumerated, still struggling with her food. 

“Yeah I guess. Keon keeps telling me to get on those apps. But I already have Diego’s number.”

Alex slapped the table so hard Kayla had to hold her glass. “Wait a second, you already have his number? And you’ve never used it?”

Ellie jumped at her friend’s hyperness. “Yeah, we exchanged numbers just in case, like we exchanged spare keys. Neighbourly stuff. I really don’t think dating will change anything though. I just work. I feel like life is passing me by.”

Erica dumped some more red pepper sauce into her meal, “Maybe you just need a break, a vacation. Why don’t we go away for the weekend, rent a chalet somewhere?” For once Adelina nodded at one of Erica’s suggestions.

“Ouh, I’d be so down. One with a spa please! And a guy would at least provide you with an occasion to get out and shave. So text Diego.” Kayla had finally stopped fixating on her food.

“You could also write down your number on the receipt for the waiter. Maybe include some of the lyrics of this song,” Erica added raising her eyebrows and nudging a blushing Kayla.

“I think I’ll pass, I don’t want to be barred from the place.” The more suggestive part of the song made them dance in their seats.

“Then text Diego. Didn’t he mention drinking wine together? Text him. Now.” Alex insisted. Without anyone realising, her sister had already taken hold of her phone; she gave it back to a clueless Ellie. The screen showed the text: “Hey Diego, it’s Ellie. Wanna come over and drink all of my Cabernet?”

Chapter 1: Whiskey Isn't Meant to Gather Dust

Saturday morning came too early. Ellie sat on her couch, laptop on her lap and a stack of papers next to her. She reached for her mug filled with hot coffee and took a sip. As soon as the hot liquid reached her lips, she jerked and spit it out on her pajamas. “Who needs a life when you can get burned by coffee while working on a Saturday morning at home?” she mused. It did not matter. At least she was going out with her friends that night. She just had to get through that one painstaking report, that never seemed to end.

And just in time for a much-needed break, her good-looking neighbour stepped outside for a jog. He was wearing those typical tight shorts. No matter how hard Ellie tried, her eyes slowly dropped down his body. He stretched for a good bit on their veranda, while Ellie washed her brain and burned her lips repeatedly. Sometimes she wondered if he took his sweet time on purpose. Did it really matter though? She would gladly partake in this game anytime. “That’s right, stretch them glutes.”

He turned toward her window at that moment. Had he heard her? She quickly diverted her gaze back to her laptop, spilling some more coffee on herself. “Oh that’s hot, that’s hot, that’s hot.” She wiped herself with a tissue and looked back outside. He had just gone back to lock his door. Safe, she was safe.

-

The night settled in, her supper was cooking in the oven, the music was blaring and her glass was filled with a good red wine. Ellie danced in her little black dress in the bathroom as she applied makeup. In between a dab or two of eyeshadow, she took sips and swayed her hips from one side to the other.

“Mamma mia! Here I go again…”

She struck various poses in front of the mirror while holding her hair up then letting it down, deciding that letting her brown hair loose was the best option. As she gave her reflection a last glance, her doorbell rang.

It was Jason. He was too well-dressed. That bothered Ellie.

“Hey Elena,” he offered a smile as he stepped into the house.

“Hey Jason…” They stood in front of each other until Elena stepped to the side to close the door behind him. However, since her arm was raised to hold the wine glass, Jason thought she was reaching for a hug. He reciprocated the gesture. What resulted was a collision of two straight bodies followed by an attempt to correct the situation by one party stepping aside, and the other patting the back.

“Right… well you look good. Plans for the night?” Jason asked as he walked through the living room into the kitchen. “You haven’t changed much of the place.”

“Well, it hasn’t been that long.  And yeah, I’m going out with Alex. How have you been?” She followed him in and pointed at the cardboard box with the barely started whiskey bottles. They had been gathering dust in her kitchen for too long since they had broken up.

“I’ve been well, and you?” He took a breath as he checked the many bottles. “You sure you don’t want to keep some?” There was a pause, too long, as they both appraised the other. The small talk was wildly unnecessary, they silently agreed.

As Jason picked up the cardboard box, his back still to her, he jumped the gun: “Actually I meant to tell you something. I’m engaged.”

She set down her glass on her table and squeezed her arms across her body, in front of her chest.

“Engaged… to be married? Oh well. Wow. Congratulations. It hasn’t even been that long.” She muttered.

“It’s been a year,” he stated as he finally faced her, confronting her. As he straightened up, so did she.

11 months and 25 days, but who was counting? Neither of them.

“Right. A year. Nevertheless, good for you. I hope my invitation got lost in the mail. Congratulations again.” She was already halfway through her living room on the way to the door. Unconsciously she had stopped where a picture of the two of them had hung. Jason’s eyes scanned the wall behind her but all they found was a painting of a woman and a swan.  

“Elena,“ Jason hesitated. He found her eyes, innocent and lost. They were such a contrast to the rest of her look, so confident and regal, “I - I’m going to get going now, I think.”

“Let me help you with the door.” She held it open for him. As he passed, she caught a whiff of his scent, a mixture of his cologne and Jason’s particular smell.

“I’ll see you soon,” he told her as he exited. She closed the door behind him, and stayed there holding her breath. She couldn’t yet hear the perceptible sounds of someone going down the metal stairs. Hand over her mouth, she silently backed away.

As she slowly made her way back into her kitchen, she changed the music to Leon Bridges and turned the volume up. Going through the motions her mother had taught her years ago, she set down the plates, the cutlery and napkins. Her simple decanter had enough for two glasses already – she knew that was the limit. She simply refilled her wine glass and took her seat, inspecting the green tree that peeked through her kitchen window.

She felt cold as she took in her empty kitchen. She lit the musk-scented candle that stood as a centerpiece and resettled into her seat. The oven alarm beeped loudly.

She got up, took the pot out of the oven, turned it off, and put some of the food in her plate. The smells already made her feel better. She licked the lime juice from her finger after decorating her plate of Moroccan tajine with a wedge.

Her phone started vibrating as she dug in. A text from Alex: “Elle ma belle, I’m so sorry but my sitter cancelled on me because she’s sick. I have to stay home. :( “

Elena stuffed an apricot piece in her mouth and chewed. She texted some of her other friends to go out; someone was bound to be available. The replies came quickly. “Date night with the hubby <3 <3 next time!” and a picture of a cat. Were her friends telling her to get pets?

What is life, Ellie thought as the decanter slowly emptied out and the music got louder. Her twin sister Adelina sent her a quick reply at that moment: “You have to stay positive in life gurl! Think positive attract positive!”

Who the hell even asked her about anything positive anyway? Did she look like she was having a rough time? Elena stared at her sister’s text. At least it wasn’t anything close to what their younger brother Keon had just texted her – in their group chat: “You should get on Tinder.”

Mouth still full, she let out a half-grunt, half-scream. “But seriously now!”

She decided she was not going to let this get to her. She switched up her Spotify to blare hits from all the decades; nothing could hold her from dancing. She emptied the rest of the wine bottle in the decanter.

The unidentifiable lyrics of Blue Da Ba Dee rang through the kitchen and Ellie jumped around as she had a realization: She did not need anyone to go out. She could go to the bar alone, who needs people? Not Elena.

And so she texted her siblings to let them know she was going to do just that. Adelina told her not to talk to strangers. Keon just said “ok.”

She was going out. As soon as she would finish her wine. She grabbed a bag of goldfish, her wine glass and turned on the T.V.

Love, Rosie had reached its climax, when the leads finally understand the meaning of life and – three soft knocks resonated. Somehow those woke up Elena from the alcoholic slumber she had fallen into.

She was swimming in a pool of goldfish and the poor crackers crunched under the weight of her body as she sat up. She checked her phone quickly to see if it could hint at who might be on the other side of the door, but there were no messages or missed calls.

Grunting as if every move was painful, she made her way to the front door. On the other side, for the second time that night, stood a good-looking man staring at her. This time however, the man was hispanic-looking and barefoot. Diego, her hot neighbour.

He spoke softly, “Hey Elena, sorry to bother you. Can’t seem to find my bottle opener, could I borrow yours by any chance?” He showed her a bottle of wine.

She was entranced. Music and laughter flowed through an open door - probably Diego’s open door. He waited patiently as she registered what was happening.

“Yeah, sorry, of course, come in.” She turned around and led him into the apartment. “Here you go.”

He opened the bottle in her kitchen and handed it back to her, “Thank you!”

“Oh, you can keep it for the night if you want. I won’t be opening any more bottles.” She laughed.

He chuckled, “It’s also the only bottle I’ll be opening tonight I think - it’s just me and a friend, no big party.”

They had walked back to her front door, “Ah I see.” Ellie was desperately trying to think of something clever to say, “well, have fun!”

He had crossed the doorframe already but he turned back, “Thank you.” His hand suddenly reached toward her face, her hair. He was touching her hair and she stopped breathing, “You’ve got something in your hair, sorry.” He pulled out a goldfish cracker and handed it to her.

“I was obviously fishing earlier,” she grabbed the cracker.

“We should have a bottle of wine together soon,” he winked.

“Anytime, you know where I live.” She leaned against the door and popped her hips to one side.

He chuckled and left - leaving her feeling embarrassed, alone and hopeful all at once. The music became a soft murmur in the air as he closed his front door. She ate the cracker.

It was not too cold outside - the fresh air felt nice against her alcohol-flushed cheeks. Elena stepped outside on the veranda and breathed in several yoga breaths. Chills overtook her body quickly enough. She turned around to get back inside when a reflection at her feet caught her eye. There was something by her door.

She crouched to stare closer. A bottle of Glenmorangie Signet eyed her back. “Hmm,” she grabbed it by the neck.

Back into her living room, she poured herself a glass - the perfect one to finish the evening. Clear now that she was not going out, she turned off the T.V., walked into her bathroom and drew a bath.