Caught in the Middle
By Shannon Hart
“Julian, what are you doing here?” I asked, despite the ache I was feeling in my chest.
He looked distraught. He looked… helpless and hopeless. He looked nothing like the Julian Mason I knew.
“I’m sorry to just show up here unannounced. I… I have nowhere else to go.” He looked over his shoulder, pointing me to the direction of his suitcases and bags.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I got kicked out of my apartment. I went to Danny’s house, but their apartment is cramped as it is with the new baby and all. I tried to go to Hugo’s loft, but it turns out he’s on an assignment in Frankfurt for three months and sublet his loft to a Korean couple. They had no place for me either.”
“And so you came here?” I had trouble wrapping my head around his choice of backup plan. “What on earth made you think that was a good idea?”
He shook his head. “I knew you’d react this way. I’m sorry, Z, I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.” He ran his fingers through his messy hair and sighed.
“Zo? Who’s at the door?”
I almost forgot – my boyfriend Scott was sitting on the couch, expecting to enjoy his favorite pizza with me while we watched the Knicks kick the Mavericks' ass.
“It’s…” I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer him.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you had company,” Julian said.
“I think there are quite a few factors you didn’t think through when you decided to come here.”
“Zoey, please. I know things between us are awkward now, but we used to be good friends. I moved to the other side of the world for you, remember? Besides Danny and Hugo, I have no other friends here. Where else am I supposed to go?”
“I don’t know… a motel? A hotel? Anywhere but here!”
Julian took a few steps back. Not because my tone had gone up a few octaves – as scary as it may have sounded – but because Scott was suddenly standing behind me.
“Is everything all right here?” he asked.
“Everything is fine. Scott, this is Julian.”
“Hey,” Scott offered his hand. Julian reluctantly took it. “You want to come in, man?”
I turned to Scott and gave him a nasty look. Why on earth would he want to invite Julian in?
“I would like that very much indeed. Thanks, mate,” Julian replied, sounding more Australian than he had ever sounded before.
“Scott! No! He’s not coming in.”
“Why not?” Scott asked, quite oblivious to whom Julian was.
“Because! This is Julian.”
I rolled my eyes. Scott knew very well who Julian was; he just wasn’t using his head. On our third date, he asked me why it took me a year to start dating again, and I told him our story – the story of how Julian and I had a roller coaster of a romance. I went through all the details of how I thought Julian was the one for me and how he moved from Melbourne to New York to be with me. He moved into my apartment, and we were engaged by our first anniversary, and it all went downhill from there.
The evil stepmother (his) who tried to break us up by offering me money to end things with him, the conniving sister (mine) who plotted to ruin his photography career, the psycho ex-girlfriend (his) that kept threatening to have me kidnapped if I didn’t break up with him, and the ill father (mine) whose dying wish was for me to marry a fellow Christian, and the immigrations officer that kept harassing him. There was a whole soap opera around our relationship, and we finally got tired. We weren’t fighting each other, but we were constantly in battle and just couldn’t deal with it anymore. As much as we loved each other, it just seemed too hard and complicated.
Scott wasn’t that great at remembering things like our anniversary or when we first kissed, but I would have thought he’d at least remember who Julian was.
“Seriously? You don’t remember who he is?”
Scott shook his head, and I wanted to scream.
“Look, mate, I appreciate your invite, but I realize it was a mistake to come here. I’ll just go…”
“Oh, wait. You’re Julian. The Julian.”
“I guess so.” Julian looked down. He stuck both his hands into the pockets of his filthy jeans, like he always did. He looked so… cute.
I hated it.
“Zoey, come on. He’s got nowhere else to go.” Scott turned to me, and I could feel my cheeks flush.
“Do you not see his luggage?” I couldn’t believe it. “He comes in and he stays, you know. You can’t invite him in now and kick him out later. You’d be comfortable with my ex-fiance crashing here with us?”
“I’m more comfortable doing that than letting him sleep on the streets. Come on, Zo, grow up.”
Bewildered, upset and annoyed, I left them both at the door and headed straight to my room, locking it behind me.
I heard a dozen loud knocks coming from the other side of my bedroom door along with Willow’s high-pitched voice.
“You’re going to have to come out sometime, Z. You can’t stay in there forever.”
“Oh yes I can!” I insisted.
“Umm, no you can’t, sister dear. You don’t have a bathroom in there.”
Crap. She was right. But I intended to hold for as long as I could.
“What are you doing here anyway?”
“If you’re not going to come out, can you at least let me in?”
I had an inner debate for a few seconds before I decided that letting Willow in couldn’t cause any harm. As the doorknob slowly turned, I pulled the door just enough to peek and make sure Scott or Julian wasn’t standing on the other side just waiting to push it open.
Not even close – they were sitting down on the couch together, like they were old college roommates or something. It was truly a remarkably disturbing sight.
Willow pushed the door open a bit further and pushed me aside as she walked in. “What the hell is going on here? I stop by to bring you some of the stuff you left at mom’s house last weekend and who opens the door? Julian! Freakin’ Julian Mason!”
“Now do you understand why I’d rather lock myself up in here?” The frustration in my voice must have been more obvious than I intended because even her dog Elphie – named after the Wicked Witch of the West – looked terrified.
“What is he doing here, Z?”
“He said he got kicked out of his apartment and had no other place to go.”
“You mean she kicked him out?”
“I wonder why…” Willow said, opening up the door a bit again so she could spy on the guys. “They seemed so happy the last time I saw them.”
“You saw them?”
“Bumped into them at that café over on Clover Street. They were holding hands, she was wearing a ring.”
“My God! Does he propose to every girl he dates?” I said, even louder than when I thought I was being too loud.
“Hey, hey. What are you so upset about? Aren’t you engaged to Scott, too? Do you say yes to every guy who proposes to you?”
She was lucky I remembered she was the cute little sister who always used to curl up in bed with me whenever there were thunderstorms because if she weren’t, I would have kicked her out of my room already. But she was, and I loved her to death, so all I did was give her a nasty look.
“Sorry, that was mean. I know the situation is a bit odd, but you’re never going to find out what’s going on unless you go out there and ask.”
“Why would I want to find out?”
“Because I can see it written all over your face! You’re curious as hell, and you’re pretending you’re not because you don’t want Julian to know you actually still care. Plus, you don’t want Scott to think you still care for him either. Am I right?”
I shook my head. “When did you grow up and get so smart? Where’s the perky little kid who only cared about princess costumes and tiaras?”
Willow rolled here eyes. “Just go out and ask him!”
I took a long deep breath, as long as I could in order to stall. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened the door and walked into…
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