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Love is the Punchline 2

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Your heartbeat demanded to be felt through the entire body, your attention memorized by the motion of right to left from your chest to your fingertips. They were tapping irregularly on the dining table, as if they instinctively knew the beat of your heart breaking. As it had been all week, truthfully, but since work had ended for the week, your thoughts were dominated by the shadows you had hoped left. Liquor didn’t help, particularly the cup in front of you that sullenly watched you make an idiot of yourself in front of your potted plants.
“The cactus doesn’t care, Mr. Grey Goose,” you reasoned, leaning back on your chair slightly to point at the plant, who seemed generally unimpressed by your antics. “He’s a prick anyways. You care too much what others think, just be you.” You blinked, soulfully, at the cup, trying to mentally send it the emotional strength you were lacking.
The cup said nothing, but you felt the stare go from critical to one of pity, the exact emotion you were drinking alone to avoid. Company would just feel sorry for you, and you didn’t know if you could handle the atmosphere of sympathy. It was your fault, anyway.

If anything, you deserved the harsh disapproval of alcohol. Perhaps you even deserved his silence, though it felt incredibly wrong.
You traced a line of dew down the side of a water glass, which hadn’t been depleted after an hour of your Official Weekend Breakdown. It had swooped on you quickly. Your morning had been normal, and at work you even managed to forget about the situation for a few hours. When you got back to your home, you had decided to undergo a quick cleaning.

Your closet was under siege, shoes littering the floor from when you kicked them off without bothering to check they went into proper storage. The Questions You Didn’t Like To Ask had been lurking in the corners of your mind, but you managed to set them off for the most part. Who had the strength to go through all that mental analysis, when the answers couldn’t be properly found? You didn’t know what Harry was feeling, because he didn’t tell you. Nothing more to it.

Then, you saw them. A few shirts folded up in the corner, stacked high and surrounded by a fancy ass designer cologne you had never bought before. You still recognized it, and the bitter pain flooded your senses again. The loopy writing of ‘Styles’ on the pocket confirmed it (as if you need confirmation that the silk Gucci shirts weren’t yours, being stuck in the midst of random 5k shirts you had collected over the years).

The entire situation still confused you, whether it was a proper fall-out or just a miscommunication. How to go about solving it was a mind fuckery, leading down roads of self-criticism you couldn’t deal with at the moment.

Your head swam a bit above the current of drunkness to realize the idea of ordering pizza was remarkably brilliant. However, there were a few flaws that kept you from going straight to your phone.

It involved sitting upright, getting out of your chair, and moving to the front door to then converse with the pizza man, collect the pizza box, hand over the money (which then meant you would need to go get money before reaching the door) before coming back safely inside. Which was a problem, because the ceiling kept becoming the floor, and the floor itself kept swaying.

Your body felt smooth, in a numb, little-bit-over tipsy sort of way. Your day had started the same as they had been for the past week, without any texts from him. It wasn’t entirely unusual for Harry to go a few days without contact, his job being fairly demanding, but the situation at hand made you feel as though it was something more. Something more than not having the time to send a quick text.

Not that you had sent one, either. You had written plenty, enough to possibly draft a book called Regrets and Texts, an Autobiography. But none had made it through the consideration pile to be properly sent.

Sometimes there simply weren’t words to explain yourself. (Which might have been a lie, because you had three perfectly good words, but they did a lousy job at making up for your actions).
You groaned, loudly, like an injured cow. Unattractive, and somewhat cathartic, because after you got it out of your system you were able to take another sip from your drink. Your eyes squished together as you got it down, your tongue sticking out in half-disgust and half-instinct.

“Why does it hurt so good?” you groaned, keeping your eyes closed.
Your cactus mumbled, “What a mess.”
You agreed.
Everything echoed of repetition; your daily life was holed by what was missing. You didn’t know what could fill it, you were frustrated by the isolation you had trapped yourself in and the physical borders that kept you from where you wanted to be.

Harry wasn’t everything in your life, not even close. You had a multitude of friends, a caring family, those people at work you talk but never tell anything personal to, and you had a lot of hobbies that typically kept you busy around town. You loved Harry, but you weren’t usually constantly consumed by the thought of him.

Harry wasn’t your air, he never was, but for the past few days you couldn’t fucking breathe.

Essentially, you had only begun to realize that you had collaborated with your demons, your own fears, to keep you away from the possibility of happiness. All for what? The fear of being vulnerable, the fear of opening up and saying, “Come take me as you can find me, Harry, this is all I am and I hope to God it’s enough.”

Instead, all you had to say for yourself was, “Don’t.” All you had to text was, “No.”

All he had to say was that he loved you, and put himself out there. Twice. Which you knew, from having plenty of romance-oriented conversations with him in the past, was a big deal. He wasn’t the type to make a huge move, too wrapped up in having to know it would go perfectly before he even considered making a tiny move. He knew he was phenomenal on stage and with his words, but sometimes as a person, there were doubts.

You shifted in your seat and regretted it immediately. Perhaps it was all in your imagination (who knew, at this point), but the sloshing around in your stomach was enough convincing to make you dead-set on finding some starch to consume, and fast. And honestly, fuck the saltines in your pantry – you needed some good, gooey, cheesy pizza to get through tonight.

Your hands, finally, made their way towards your phone, and you opened up the dial app, your fingers clicking on their own accord.

Sometimes our bodies know how to fix our lives better than we do. After all, that’s how you ended up hanging over the toilet at your senior prom, vomiting for 30 minutes. It had meant you lost your chance at hooking up with the cute guy from your physics course, but later in the year you found out he had been sneaking shady stuff in the boys’ drinks to try and up his chances with some of the girls.

If it hadn’t been for your inability to hold a proper amount of drink, you would’ve most likely victim to that type of absolute, unforgivable douche-baggery. Your body was looking out for you, you reckoned.

Now was a similar moment, it seemed. Your body had leaped at the chance, saw your incapable state and just went with pure instinct to try and straighten out your course.

So, instead of the friendly, middle-aged woman named Andrea at your local pizza shop (who you occasionally went to Thursday Knitting Club with, and who knew more about your emotional life than perhaps even you did) it was a deep, slow, masculine voice.

You froze in your chair, feeling aggressively more sober than moments before.

“Hi, this is Harry. Leave meh a message, I’ll get back to yeh when I can.”


Stupefied, you pulled your hand back and looked at the screen. The photo you took of him at a carnival was shining back at you, his face painted like a tiger. It had been a fun few days, especially since a family member of his needed a quick babysitter. Walking around with Harry and a tiny child clasped between the both of you had sent your emotions all over for the next month and a half. You’re pretty sure your friends who had kinda picked up on your thing for Haz had been truly tested by your maternally-driven rants for that portion of your life.

“Noooo,” you groaned, putting your phone back down and propping your elbows on the table. You put your head in your hands, mumbling several profanities. The tiny voice in your mind wondered, simultaneously, why you hadn’t hung up yet. You told the voice to mind its own damn business.

“I’m sorry, Haz, I meant to order Andrea. Or the pizza, not the lady. Like, human trafficking is fucked,” you began, squishing your cheeks between your hands and looking at your fridge. His face was too much to look at, it would be too real. Although his cheeks didn’t have pink, sparkly whiskers in real life, the idea was still prevalent.

You fell silent, toying with various words in your mouth and wondering if you would be able to properly speak this time.

“I’ve been thinking, a lot. Questions I don’t want to ask, about myself. They’re conversations with myself I’ve tried to avoid, at all costs, for years now.” A pause. Then, furthered confession.

“I don’t imagine you’re super interested in them, I don’t think I would be if I were you. I think I just hope you hear this and regret not texting me back. Which sounds super elementary once I’ve said it out loud, I mean, I guess I could’ve texted too. But what was I gonna say?” you drawled, gesturing outwards with an open palm to signify that no, you had nothing to say.

Which was a lie, but you hadn’t had much success in telling the truth as of late.

“You wanna know what’s really funny, Haz?” you stared out into nothing, as if you were truly speaking to him and had a momentary revelation. Completely fabricated, but in the haze of your mind it felt like a brand new concept all over again.

Your cactus was suffering from very deep, very tragic second-hand embarrassment in the corner.

“I wanna capture all your words. They’re so beautiful, you’re like a masterpiece and I just want to be there all the time. I wanna see you at like, 1:42 pm and see how the light goes differently ‘cross your face, as the day goes on. Am I making sense? Like, I want to see your morning hair and your afternoon stubble and how quiet you get at night. I’ve gotten pieces of it, but not in full.”

A moment’s pause, a quiet reflection.

“But that’s not what’s funny,” you admitted, sullenly. Your nails grew more interesting as the confession grew deeper, and you picked at them as you spoke. Your apartment was starkly silent, compared to the rush of noise you felt in your head.

“It’s funny how much I love you, that I love you so much my heart hurts and my eyes can’t help but cry because it’s overwhelming.  I don’t think it’s strange, though, but it’s not like I’m well-equipped with this. So I end up pushing you away. That’s fucked up.”

You hiccuped, a sad smile pulling at the corners of your lips.

“Really fucked,” you agreed with yourself, your fingers twirling around a loose piece of your hair again and again. Your phone didn’t have much to say back, so you pushed onward.

“I love you, so I’m trying to let go. I truly am, Haz, swear it, for you and I guess a little for me? You don’t deserve this, you know,” you gestured at yourself, eyes widening to emphasize your point. 

You two had equally seen each other at some of the lowest times, in the worst situations. It was nothing new to have Harry see you breaking apart, and likewise vice versa. Yet, the idea of needing to be put-together in order to jump into something serious was engraved on your skull, the necessity of not needing someone else before having someone else.

“I can’t ignore my fear forever, that I have some secret I didn’t even know about. I don’t want to see the disappointment in your eyes, like I do in theirs. It would break me, Haz.

“It happens every time, I start off going steady with some guy and it’s great, I’m so happy. And I think maybe I’ve got it wrong, that love is possible for me. That it’s not just for our rom-coms and Ryan Goslings of the world.

“But then I start seeing it. And it’s the worst, you know? ‘Cause I can’t stop it, it’s just a byproduct of being with me. The disillusionment starts in their eyes, it’s when they find me. It’s like a curtain’s been lifted and the guy started tearing down my walls because he thought that’s what he was supposed to do.

“And it turned out, what was behind it wasn’t what he was looking for. Which has me freaked, because how is my true self different from what I’m aware of - I’m not projecting a false image of myself out there, right? I’m just altogether too much, and not enough. And I don’t know how to fix me.”

You traced the condensation of your water, tears glassing up your vision. This was a portion of insecurity you hadn’t fully shown Harry before, mostly because it felt like a massive pity-fest and you knew he would listen with large, puppy eyes and hold you until your chest didn’t feel so tight. Nothing would be solved, though, so it didn’t seem worth mentioning.

“And I don’t want that for us,” you confessed, choking back the urge to properly cry, “I like it when you look at me and I don’t notice any change in your eyes. It’s just you and it’s just me.”

You sniffled, the tears escaping nonetheless and rolling down your cheeks. You smudged them off with hurried hands before they went much further, wanting to fully focus on the task at hand.


“For me, I don’t know if I could’ve, if I could’ve survived seeing us break apart, like that. Dramatic, yeah, but I’m just tryin’ to be honest,” you took a deep breath.


“Yeah, honest. But I suppose we have, now, haven’t we? Because I couldn’t say the right words when it mattered.”


You laughed, a feeling of foolishness washing over your soul and delighting you in the most tragic of ways. How sad, drunkenly calling the boy you loved when you had told him, only a week ago, that he wasn’t worth the risk of going for it? A mess of hypocrisy, you knew you had called your friends’ exes horrible names for doing a lot less.


What was most frustrating, was you clearly could see how unproductive your mind-set was. You knew the proper tips and training for taking care of yourself (the amount of bubbles that had been born in your bathroom the past two days alone could fill the entire sky, you swear) and you recognized your self-worth. It wasn’t a situation of having a devastating wreckage of insecurity to battle, but more like when it was called into question, your ego hesitated a bit too much to claim the title as Worthy.


Letting out a bitter sigh, you put your head on the counter, next to the phone that was recording one of your lowest lows and transferring it in waves to the man who used to help you back up. And all he would do is realize how fortunate he was, to have escaped the mess you felt colliding against your rib cage and into your throat.


Kissing him had felt like you had never kissed anyone, before. He felt assured, comfortable. It had taken a lot to help ease you into ‘romantic’ situations before, but with Haz it felt more like an expression than a deed. More like a physical manifestation of how he made you feel, how you wanted to share that love through your lips. How you wanted to draw his feelings out from his. It was a symphony of simplicity, which was mind-blowing because you had never imagined it could be that good without the nervous laughter and self-conscious puddle of anxiety beforehand.


“I heard you crying,” you murmured, half-unaware you were speaking out loud.


“I heard it, and I didn’t know what to do. And that scared me, maybe even more than how I feel for you in general. Because I always thought I would be able to go and fix things, situations, people...but all I did was listen. All I did was listen,” a lump in your throat began to obstruct the passage of your voice, you knew he could hear the tears coming now, faster “and I hate myself for that. I hate that I couldn’t have been there for you, when I’m trying do to right for the both of us. I just can’t tell anymore, where the lines are. Where I love you as a friend and love you as something more.”

Your voice cracked by the end, a breakage of both spirit and will. Your chest felt tight, your heart had given up long ago, sitting in its cage and chain-smoking until the doomsday. Nothing could be salvaged from this, speaking to him in that state would only prolong the suffering between you both.

“I gotta go, Haz,” you apologized softly. “I need my pizza, and you need to stop listening to me word-vomit everything when it’s frankly too late in the game.”

Your finger hesitated over the red ‘end’ button, unable to bring itself to do it before you could plead for a sober chance to discuss everything.

“Just text me, okay? I don’t want this to change things between us, I want us to look at each other.”

With that, a singular beep signaled the end of your Next Big Regret. Or what would be, when you remembered in the morning.

You groaned again, moving to properly call the pizza shop, being very conscious of the buttons you pressed along the way. Maybe you’d make it a deep crust, you deserved it.


“Thanks, have a nice night,” you grunted, accepting the box and handing over what was most likely an absurd tip for the 10-minutes-late delivery. You didn’t particularly care, half-hoping the karma would impact your life in the future and maybe you would win the lottery. There’s no harm in trying, after all.

When you shuffled back to your dining room, your phone screen had just turned to black again. Racing over, dumping the box on the table, you reached out and snatched up the device quickly, feeling your heart beat back to life and pittering up your throat.

When wouldn’t nerves be the absolute death of you?

One missed call from “Hazza Boi”.

You stared at the notification for a long time, allowing it to register in your psyche before unlocking your phone. Calling him back meant the continuation of a conversation you were, at the time, very pleased to be having one-sided. It took away the possibility of hearing his response in real life, in hearing his breath and knowing the thoughts in the intricate patterns of his sighs and groans.

The drunk part of you urged your fingers to hit ‘call back’ so that any fuck ups could be blamed on the vodka, as opposed to your sober self who would have no where to hide behind. It was quite the conundrum.

Another notification.

This time, Voice Mail from “Hazza Boi”.


You hit “Listen.”


He sounded tired. Really tired.

“Hey. I, I just got a message from yeh. Dunno if you’re awake still and just didn’t wanna answer. Or if yeh fell asleep. Or got pizza, I don’t know, fuck.”


An exhausted laugh.

“I truly...God, Y/N, I truly don’t know what to say anymore. Those men were properly insane, to not love every bit of yeh. I wish I could say yeh could have all of me, but I...”

A lump rose in your throat, eyes filling up quickly with tears. You sat down as he was speaking, covering your eyes with a hand and shaking your head. Hearing his voice again, was just too real. Everything felt overly saturated and dramatic, but that little voice in your head reminded you this was what love was, sometimes. Just on another level from all else, the craziness is just a slice of the experience.

When you said we wouldn’t be worth it, that shattered me, love. Not love, sorry. Didn’t mean to, slipped.”

He groaned, and you could practically see him in a hotel room somewhere, sitting at the business desk over his phone, rubbing his hands down his face. The desk lamp would be glowing, the only light source in the room.

Yeh can’t say we’re friends and just friends, and call me with this. Isn’t fair. Not when I’m tryin’ get over yeh.”

You knew, you knew that. The guilt was already creeping up your lungs.

“I still love yeh. But I can’t love yeh and know yeh love me, and’s just….I can’t. ‘M sorry. I also don’t think it’s best we talk over phone, yeah? Just complicates things.”

The message ended.


Your apartment was cloaked in silence, a deep depression. Harry had been so rational, when you were the one fighting for the title. You were utterly confused as to what you were supposed to do now, after such emotional turmoil. Your drunken mind was bitter, mostly at yourself.

Why wasn’t Harry worth fighting for, to you? A day ago, you had realized how much you would’ve sacrificed for him, if given the proper chance, and then it had occurred to you that the chance had come and gone. And for some odd reason, you hadn’t recognized the flashing neon lights until it was too late.

“He still loves me,” you whispered, curling up in the seat and blinking at the wall.

You stayed like that for a few more minutes, mind racing a million miles a second. Eventually, an idea came to mind. One you felt would solve everything, would change the tragedy to something salvageable.

Maybe the flashing lights were still there, ‘late’ was better than ‘never.’ You had previously only wanted Harry to see you for your strengths, for him to see you in radiant light and want nothing but your positives. Perhaps to show more of your weaknesses, it could make the situation more fucking realistic. You huffed, silently telling yourself off for not registering how insufferable the idea of giving up loving Harry was. This was worth it, it moved your soul into something more aligned, closer to the emotion of feeling ‘okay.’ And maybe that’s all you could do, fight to feel more okay. Do the actions that made your heart feel lighter and true, and let the outcomes fall as they may.

The next morning, your bank account had a flight ticket to America charged. The price was an absolute joke, but if that’s what it took to get to Harry, love was going to be the punchline.