they never knew how to say goodbye.
Madison woke up in a sweat, her head and body curled into a ball, hands over her
ears. She snuggled deeper under the covers as the loud grinding noise of the coffee
machine bored into her. After struggling for a few more minutes, she got frustrated and
threw the pink floral cover off. Spread out on top of her mattress, she laid completely
still, attempting to will the pit of emptiness in her stomach away.
“Maddie!” Chloe yelled. Her voice was barely audible over the grind of the coffee
Madison buried her head in the pillows, ignoring it.
“Maddie!” This time the voice was clear and loud, and she realized that was
because Chloe was standing in the doorway.
“Get up!” she said. She was still in her bright pink PJ set that Madison had got her
for Christmas, in line with the matching slippers that hung loosely on her feet.
She mumbled into her pillow as Chloe brushed her brown hair back, and sat on
the edge of the bed.
“You look like shit.”
Madison flipped over and stared into space. “I’m still going home today.”
“Oh god.” Chloe sighed deeply and flung herself back on the bed.
“I’m going back to Chicago.” Madison stood up for the first time in three days,
startled by the reflection in the mirror over her dresser: red eyes, black circles, her hair
one big ball of curly fuzz. “I need a change of pace.”
Chloe looked over at her. “Your crazy.”
She whipped open her dresser door and threw clothes onto the rumpled sheets of
her bed, including Chloe.
“Maddie.” Chloe’s voice didn’t have any humor in it this time. “You’re not going
to do this.”
“Why not?” Madison moved into her closet “I haven’t seen my family in ages.
Haven’t shopped on Michigan Avenue, ice-skated at Millennium Park. I haven’t even
been in a Target in years.”
“You haven’t been home since college.”
“I want to go.”
She grabbed her suitcase and it trailed after her to the door, along with the
familiar shuffle of Chloe’s feet. When Madison turned to say goodbye, Chloe grabbed
her into a tight hug. She let her go gently, and whispered into her ear, “Running away
from Nate isn’t going to stop what you feel for him.” And with a small ponytail tug,
Madison was out the door.
She stepped out into the rare London sunshine and slipped on her Audrey
Hepburn sunglasses thinking about what Chloe just said. Walking haphazardly for a few
blocks, she ran into the outdoor restaurant where her and Nate dined three nights ago.
Their corner table was empty, and she slowly slid her finger across the cold metal grate.
She remembered how they had sat across from each other in silence. Nate staring
down at his half-eaten fettuccine, fork thrown aside, a look of anger and shock paled onto
Madison had tried to speak.
“Nate…..,” The words turned flat in her throat. The pounding of her heart was the
only thing she could hear, filled up the emptiness until Nate finally spoke.
“I don’t understand why you are breaking up with me." She watched him try to sit
up straighter, tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
“Dammit, Madison. After six fucking months.” Nate’s voice was raising, and
people started to notice. Madison felt sick from the look on his face, from the way he
was yelling at her, the way he swore. Nate never yelled. Never swore.
“I don’t feel it anymore,” she said quietly. “And it’s not fair to either of us.”
He just stared at her, breathing deeply through his nose. She began to ramble.
“You deserve someone who will appreciate you.….you know the way you mess
your hair up when your thinking, the look you get in your eyes when you hear something
funny, the way you make pasta every Friday night, the religious way that you watch
Saturday Night Live-“
“OK,” he answered solemnly, pushed out his chair. “OK. I get it.” He began to
walk out the door, threw a big wad of cash on the table.
“Nate, wait!” Madison cried. She stood up and got yanked back down by her
chair, the purse strap strung around it. By the time it came off the tumbling chair he was
halfway out to the sidewalk.
“Nate!” she yelled, running after him as he picked up pace. “NATE!”
He turned around swiftly, Madison nearly knocked into him.
“Nate,” she panted and stopped.
His cheeks were moist and slightly red. “I don’t get it Maddie,” he said quietly.
“I don’t expect you too.” She looked away.
He nodded, kicked at the dirt on the ground. “Then I guess this is goodbye.” He
stood there for a moment unsure of what else to do as Madison’s eyes still focused on the
travel bookstore beside him. So he walked away from her, from her life, his body slowly
turned into a black dot and disappeared into darkness. She just stood there, hands limp at
her side, as her purse dropped slowly and soundlessly.
Madison walked downtown, expecting to be hit with the sights, sounds and smells
of her city. She stood there, took a deep breath, and then started coughing because of the
cigarette smoke wafting in her face. She waved her hand and gave the guy a dirty look,
continuing to walk down the street towards the L. She closed her eyes momentarily to try
and get that Chicago feel she knew so well years ago: but the smells of hot dogs and
pizza were all foreign.
She hurried along. Black circles hung underneath her eyes and her pants were
loose around her waist. Shocked, she saw the twenty-two year old she thought she left
behind in the glass window of a Subway.
“Madison? Is that you?”
Madison saw her in the reflection. “Dhara?”
“It’s you!” she cried. “I can’t believe it!”
They hug each other comfortably. A smile was planted on Dhara’s face when they
finally let go. “What are you doing back from London?”
Madison fidgeted with the hem of her black shirt, avoided the eye contact that
would spill the truth on the floor.
“You know, visiting,” Madison said. She forced a smile.
“I ran into your brother a couple of weeks ago,” Dhara continued, a hint of
amazement on her face. “He said he hadn’t seen you in years.”
“I’ve been busy,” Madison said uncomfortably, shifting her foot.
“Walk with me,” Dhara smiled, linked her arm in Madison’s. “You’re headed
towards home right?”
“Yeah, well, my brother-“
“Let’s walk,” Dhara said. They continued down the sidewalk, as she glanced at
Madison cautiously. “I saw your breakup on E!.”
Madison felt her stomach sink.
“I’m sorry.” Dhara squeezed Madison’s hand. “I know-“
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Dhara looked hurt, but she covered it up quickly.
“Listen, I better go meet my brother, but how about we go out sometime soon?”
“Alright,” Dhara said, quickly cheered.
Madison walked quickly to the L station. Nate, Nate, Nate, she thought. Why is
everything still about him? She came here to get away from him, not be reminded.
Madison’s stomach sank lower with each step she took, overtaking her sight and
sound until everything was a blur around her.
Stretched out on the blue corduroy couch, feet in the familiar concave spot,
Madison browsed through the Sun Times. Her brother Jared sat in the connected kitchen
and looked at the comics, every so often lifted his head up to look out the window.
“Where’s Carl?” Madison asked him.
“He ran out to get some groceries for dinner tonight,” Jared said, distracted.
Madison peered back into her newspaper. Her feet rubbed up against the
corduroy and it reminded her of her childhood. This couch came from her parent’s house
and it was the one thing that reminded her of being a kid all over again. Afternoon naps,
sticky popsicles, and Alex Mack on Saturday nights. She looked back at Jared who had
shared it all with her. At that moment, there was a burst of fresh air through the door and
Carl came in with groceries in his hand.
“I’m so sorry, hon,” he said quickly, giving Jared a kiss on the cheek. “You know
me, I forgot my cell. I had a few more errands to run this morning and didn’t want to
wake you.” He spotted Madison on the couch. “Maddie! Honey! So good to see you
again!” He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Same back,” Madison said, a smile crept up from ear to ear. She had loved Carl
from the moment she met him. Matted brown hair, black glasses, a dimple on his left
cheek; slightly crazy and always absent-minded. She was the first to know about him and
Jared, and the only one in the family to except it.
Later that night, they all sat down to dinner with Carl’s baked mostacholi and
gooey cheese that was Madison’s absolute favorite. When piled high on her plate she
forgot about everything as the past melted on her tongue.
“So tell me Maddie,” Carl said. He tossed the salad and dished it out on the side,
gave her one of his stares. “Why did you get rid of the man? Not only is he absolutely
gorgeous, he’s hilarious. His movie was fantastic.”
Madison choked a little on her pasta. Sometimes she forgot how blunt Carl was.
“Carl,” Jared warned.
“It’s complicated.” Madison said. She gave Carl the stare and he got the hint.
After dinner, Madison exited into the guest room, which consisted of a bed,
closet, and treadmill. While Madison put her clothes away in the closet, she spotted a box
in the corner with her high school yearbook on top. She dragged it out of the closet and
eagerly dug through it. She had totally forgotten all about this box: tennis medals,
academic awards, pictures of her and Dhara. A completely different life, so long ago, it
didn’t even feel like her own. It felt like a character’s from a movie she used to watch.
She picked up a picture of her and Dhara, and laughed. It was a goofy picture
from the last lunch day at school, them hugging their beloved chicken patties with
crossed eyes and tongues out, heads touching. She ran her finger on it. Was that really
At that moment the phone rang, and Madison realized it was nine. She had
promised Dhara they would go out tonight and she was nowhere near ready. Shoving the
box back in the closet, she frantically looked through the rumpled clothes in her suitcase.
She felt a sudden burst of energy, and for the first time in days, she felt ready to live
“Whew! This is wiiiild,” Dhara yelled.
She danced around Madison’s chair in circles, flipped her head as her long dark
hair bounced up and down. She downed another cocktail.
Madison was on her third and felt a little woozy. This evening had been way too
much ear splitting techno music, seizure lights, and sleazy guys. It had been so long
since she went out; she wondered why she used to love it so much. Sitting at home with a
good movie and Chinese food was so much more appealing. Especially when she was
“Your thinking about him again aren’t you?” Dhara asked. Her hands are on her
hips. “Cmonnnn girl. Get your groove on!” She wandered back out into the swarming
crowd and bouncing neon colors.
Madison leaned back in her chair and let her hair flow out behind it. Building
herself up to have a good time, she felt someone beside her.
She looked up into the eyes of a girl that was not familiar.
“Are you Madison Daugh?”
“Um, yeah.” Madison racked her mind to pick out this girl’s name from
somewhere: high school, college..
“You dated Nate Brindy.”
“He is sooo funny. And such a good actor!”
Madison noted the raised octave in her voice.
“Me and my girlfriends, are like, totally in love with him,” she continued up
another octave, started to babble. “When we were out in London, we saw him in this
comedy club, and he was sooooo great. And his movie this past summer…oh my god. So
Madison suddenly saw how young this girl was. Squinting at her, Madison
realized she couldn’t be more than nineteen.
“Oh my god, so sorry. I’m Tasha Ho,” she held out her hand, and Madison
reluctantly shook it.
“Don’t blame me for this, but we were totally psyched when the magazines
printed that you guys broke up. I mean, you are cute and all, but c’mon, Nate is too hot
right now to be coupled. I completely understand why he broke up with you.”
Taken aback, Madison opened her mouth to shoot something back but realized
she didn’t know what to say. Is that really what the magazines printed? She hadn’t picked
up any lately, and those first couple of days after their breakup Chloe had hidden all the
magazines from her.
Madison suddenly felt very sick. “Listen Tasha, it was nice meeting you. But I
Tasha’s face fell at the sudden thought of her new celebrity connection leaving
her. “OK, well, like, can you give him my phone number?”
Madison stared at her and couldn’t believe her nerve. “I don’t talk to Nate
Madison whipped her purse on her arm and dug through the crowd for Dhara.
She found her in the middle of the dance floor.
“Dhar, I’m leaving.”
Her face fell a little, but quickly recovered. She seemed to understand and
nodded. “OK girl. See you later.”
Madison pushed her way out of the crowd and into the night air; a rush of late
night pizza and garbage struck her nose. She took a few steps over to the rail that
overlooked over the lake. It soothed her no matter what mood she was in. Leaning on it,
toes raised, elbows planted, she closed her eyes and breathed.
Madison started to get agitated by the sound of his name.
Her heart dropped. Eyes were suddenly opened, glued to the ripples in the water.
That was not his voice. She just imagined it.
There was laughter and doors opened. It’s not him. Please not him, Madison
wished into the water.
She turned around slowly, and sure enough, there he was in front of her. With that
hideous orange shirt she loved to hate.
She knew he would wear that forever.
Her breath slowly got sucked away the longer she stood there, and every attempt
at a word failed before it reached her lips. He didn’t say a word either, and looked at her
in that way she loved. Used to love.
“Nate, buddy, come on!” someone said, coming up from behind him. Madison
doesn’t recognize him. “Hello? Nate?”
“I got to go,” Madison said quickly. She shook him out of her head, walked away
fast, her turquoise skirt whipped out from behind.
“Madison!” he called out from behind. But she kept walking as her tears fell, like
raindrops on her burning cheeks.
Madison found herself in the same position the next morning that she was in the
morning after the breakup. Twisted in the sheets, tear stained pillow, puffy eyes.
Straining herself, she looked at the clock beside the bed and realized it was past noon.
Jared stood in the doorway, a cup of Madison’s favorite lemon tea in one hand.
He sat on the edge of her bed and pushed Madison’s hair out of her eyes as she took a sip
of the warm tea.
“Are you feeling any better?” he asked.
Madison swallowed deep. “I’m not so sure.”
Jared stared at her more intently while Madison avoided eye contact. “I know you
ran into Nate last night.”
Madison felt one tear slide down her cheek.
“It’s OK to make a mistake, hon. Nobody’s perfect.”
Madison looked up. “But I lost him. I lost him because of my stupidity.” She shut
her eyes tightly to make her brain stop thinking; her heart stop pounding at the sound of
Jared didn’t reply, just pushed Madison’s hair back as her head leaned on his
shoulder. They communicated to each other in silence, each one taking in the other’s
“I’ve really missed you, hon. ”
Madison smiled for what seemed like the first time in days. “Me too.” I didn’t
realize how much until now, she thought to herself silently.
Madison spent the next couple of days eating, watching movies, and hanging out
with Jared and Carl in their apartment. Madison avoided the topic of Nate every time
Jared tried to bring it up. Not thinking about it was better for her sanity.
Dhara came with Madison to a yoga class down the road a couple of weeks later.
Madison hadn’t exactly been practicing, and since the breakup with Nate, she had gone to
doing it all day at work to too tired to bend over and stretch a leg. Her bones were aching
to move around.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Dhara said, shaking her head as they
walked down the street. “You know how much I despise going to classes with all those
thin stretchy women.”
“Hey, I usually teach those classes with thin stretchy women.”
“Yeah, but that’s back in London. They are all such exerciseaholics over here.”
Madison stifled a laugh. “You would be surprised.”
They reached the gym down the road from Madison’s home, her face lit up
remembering the yoga classes she used to attend regularly in high school and parts of
college. In class, Madison was finally able to let her mind relax and focus, be Nate-free.
She was enjoying it so much she didn’t even realize class was over in hour later.
“Never again,” Dhara said after class, linked arm in arm with Madison. “I don’t
know why I still am going to classes with you after all these years. I hated it before. I hate
it still now.”
Madison giggled, “It’s because you looooove me.”
They walked down the sidewalk, talked and laughed, stopped for orange juice and
a bagel at the coffee shop. The sun was shining, and there was a slight chill in the air
despite the August heat. Outside at the table while Dhara went on about class, Madison
leaned her head back and let the sunshine soak her face, feeling the most alive she had
felt in days.
The constant buzz of Dhara’s talking stopped suddenly, and Madison lifted her
head up. She wished she hadn’t.
She followed Dhara’s eyes, and looked right over into the coffee shop to see the
back of Nate’s head ordering a coffee.
Madison started to feel her breath get short again, but this time controlled it. She
started to feel angry instead. “Dhara, why does he show up everywhere I am? It’s
Dhara swallowed deep and murmured something.
“He is doing a movie here.”
Madison felt her stomach drop. “What.”
“He moved here recently. Saw it on TV.”
“Probably same reason you did. It’s just dumb luck that you guys ran away from
each other to the same place.” She snorted into her orange juice, and Madison shot her a
“Why didn’t you warn me?”
“Honestly, I didn’t know how. You avoid the topic of Nate like crazy.”
Madison was silent.
Dhara sighed. She reached over the table and took Madison’s hands in hers,
looked straight into her eyes. “Go talk to him.”
“Madison, stop being so stupid. You ran away from Nate because you were
scared, and then you ran away from London because of it. ”
Madison’s face paled. “I didn’t run away from Nate because I was scared!”
“You were scared. Of the way you felt, and the fact that it might be real. I know
you all to well, girl.”
Madison went to slam back, then stopped.
Dhara was right.
Oh God. What did she do?
Madison let go of Dhara’s hands, stood up and ran into the coffee shop on the
whim. There she saw him in the corner, sipping, staring out the window as people
gawked at him from corners of the room. Nate never did care about his new celebrity
status after that movie…he went about his life just like before, shopping at the same
places, going to the same places, doing the same things. Some people thought he was
ignorant, but Madison just knew he didn’t care …he loved his life the way it was.
In the doorway, she tried to pull together enough strength to walk. Out of the
corner of her eye she saw Dhara outside, encouraging her to move forward. At that exact
moment Nate looked over and saw her, frozen in midair with his drink.
People come in and out of the revolving doors. They look at each other from
across the room, much like the first time they met. Barely blinking, staring, wondering.
Madison took a deep breath and walked over, slid into the seat across from him.
Her heart pounded in her chest. The blue lines in the wallpaper spun in circles
around them. She planted her feet firmly on the carpet, but couldn’t stop her leg from
Just hearing his voice again sent her nerves wracking as she fidgeted in her seat,
and made her swallow the golf ball that was lodged in her throat.
“Nate,” she said. “I haven’t been fair to you.”
He looked intently at her, which caused her to lose her grip in the carpet and she
slid forward. He reached out his hands and grasped hers tightly, their hands sitting in the
middle of the table.
“You hurt me.”
She focused her complete attention on Nate, ignoring everything and everyone
else. His hands were still warm from the cup of coffee he held, and she began to feel her
pulse slow down and mind relax.
“I love you Nate.”
She finally said it: said what her heart burned ever since the break up. They sat
across from each awhile longer, hand in hand. People came in and went, stared, some
whispered, others laughed, enjoyed the sunshine.
“Come home with me,” Madison whispered.
He stared at her with silent eyes. “I love you Madison. But you have to
understand why I can’t.”
He let go of her hand and got up, walked out the door, left her starring at a half
empty cup of coffee on the table. Stunned, Madison sat there, took it all in. No, her mind
burned. No, No, No. Not again. I can’t let this happen again.
She chased after him, passing Dhara in a daze. His feet pounded on the sunburn
pavement as they took up pace. The calling of his name didn’t seem to phase him, just
“Nate,” Madison panted. She grabbed his arm at last, pleaded with him. “Tell me
why Nate. Please, why. I love you.”
He stared at her like she was crazy. “You broke my heart Madison!”
She let go off his arm like an electric shock.
“You broke my fucking heart!” His face turned red and people stared.
Madison was tempted to back away, run away from it all and curl into a ball. But
“Please take me back,” she whispered. Her mind was no longer thinking, just
spinning. “Don’t make me live without you. I can’t bear it.” Her shoulders started to
shake, as she looked straight into the emerald green. “I love you.” Her eyes burned to
look away and cry, but she stood there and stared, water creeping around the edges.
He was silent.
“I know what I did was stupid,” she shook. “But I don’t deserve the punishment
you are about to give me.” She burst. “I have to be with you. I have to. I have to. I have
to. I have to. I have-“
Her mind kept repeating it as he grabbed her and held her. They stood there
hugging for maybe seconds, maybe minutes. Madison couldn’t remember. They walked,
hand in hand, brown eyes locked onto green. They continued down Aldine as the sun still
shined brightly, light reflecting in Madison’s curls and Nate’s orange shirt. The first time
she had met him he was wearing that orange shirt. It had reminded her of candy corn,
made her crave fall. She had just moved to London. In the coffee shop, their first
amazing eye connection that felt cliché: heart pounded, pulse raised.
But so unbelievingly real.