Mr. Depleted (Part One)

My legs and back are sore as I climb out of my car, the fourteen-hour drive finally over. Damn, Mia, I think, why’d you have to move so far away? The sun beats down on me as I pull out my suitcase from the passenger seat. I slip on the pair of aviator glasses that Mia always liked, the leather jacket that went along with them stuffed inside my bag. I’m wearing both tonight, when I go see her. I know she’ll remember.

Of course, both the glasses and jacket don’t really match my nice-Jewish-boy-from-Long-Island aesthetic, but fuck it, I trust Mia’s judgement.

I walk up to the adjacent Hotel Lauren, which is really more an inn than a hotel, and step inside to a lobby full of tacky furniture. At the check-in desk, a bored-looking woman in her thirties or forties is staring at her phone. She glances up at me for a brief second but says nothing.

Awkwardly, I head over to the check-in desk and clear my throat before saying, “Um, I have a reservation under Grimes? Jerome Grimes?”

She looks up at me, tucking her phone into her back pocket, and wrinkles her nose. “Grimes?”

“Yeah,” I say, suddenly embarrassed. For some stupid reason, I add, “Used to be Grimestein.”

“That’s worse,” she says. With a sigh, she turns to her computer. “Hold on.”

“If it’s possible, I’d love a room with a view. Not even a great view, just, like, not a view of a parking lot or the back of another building. The last two places I stayed at, I had to stare at a wall the entire time I was there—five days—and, I don’t know, maybe it’s my claustrophobia talking, but—”

Stop,” she says. I stop. “That’s wayyyy too much information. Hold on. I need to unpack what you just said.”

She stops typing, turns away from her computer, and sits there idly, as if letting my request fully wash over her. I shift my weight from one foot to the other, the handle of my heavy suitcase starting to dig into my hand. “Funny you should mention unpacking,” I say, nodding toward my bag, “because that’s what I’d really, really love to do right now. Just forget I said anything.”

She nods. “Wise choice.” Turning back to her computer, I watch her hands fly over the keys again. This goes on for a while. Eventually, I’m checked in and she hands me a room key. “You’re on the third floor, which is also the top floor,” she says. “Congratulations.” Her voice is dripping with disdain. I think she hates me.

“Thank you. Three’s a lucky number, right?” Stop talking, Jerome. Stop talking. It’s like a compulsion—someone hates me and I suddenly can’t shut up. “I think I read that somewhere. I mean, I guess you could argue there are no lucky numbers, that it’s all superstition, and, sure, I’ve never been adversely affected on Friday the thirteenth or won the lottery by playing my birthday—”

“HAROLD!” she screams. Her shout is so sudden and startling that I jump about a mile. Worse yet, I let out this noise that can only be described as a childlike whimper. My heart pounds.

Enter a gangly man in an oversized T-shirt with a ponytail, eating a banana. He comes in from one of the lobby’s side doors and regards me a moment with foggy eyes. “I’m Harold,” he says, nodding absently. He turns to the screaming maniac at the check-in desk and asks, “Third floor?”

“Yes. Room #30.”

“Oh,” he says. “That room.”

“Please show Mr. Grimy to it.”

“Grimes,” I correct.

She just shrugs.

Harold comes over to me, taking a bite of his banana. With his mouth full, he asks, “Room key?”

“Right here.” Stupidly, I raise it to show him. Like he wouldn’t have believed me otherwise.

He nods again. I get the sense he’s stoned out of his mind.

“This way.” I follow him to a staircase. As we walk in silence, him two steps ahead of me, I try to come up with something to say.

“It’s pretty quiet,” I settle on. Jokingly, I add, “Am I the only one here?”

“No,” he says. “There’s one other guy in Room #9.”

“Oh.” I pause. “And that’s it?”

“Yeah. Pretty busy weekend for us between the two of you.” It doesn’t sound like he’s joking. But he must be joking, right?

We get to the first floor, then have to climb another staircase to get to the second. “No elevators?” I ask.

“It’s only three floors. Well, four, including the lobby and the breakfast room. By the way, we don’t do breakfast anymore, so if you read online about a breakfast, that wasn’t accurate.”

“Oh,” I say again. “So what’s the breakfast room used for?”

“You can go down there and sit. Maybe play Candy Crush. And sometimes we put out Oreos.”

I silently curse TripAdvisor for recommending this place.

“If you want to rent a movie, talk to me.”

“Oh yeah? What are the choices?” I don’t really care—I have my laptop and Netflix—but I’m trying to make conversation.

An American Tail, Ghostbusters 2, Weekend at Bernie’s, You’ve Got Mail, and one of the Transformers movies. So there’s something for everyone.”

“Sure,” I say, as noncommittal as I am unimpressed. We finally reach the third floor and he walks me down the hall.

“Yours is at the very end,” he tells me.

“Oh great.”

When we arrive there, he holds out his hand. It takes me a second to realize he wants the key. As I give it to him, he gives me his banana. “Hold that for a minute,” he says, as if this is a reasonable request. I stare at the half-eaten, browning piece of fruit as he takes his sweet time opening the door. “The key’s not working,” he tells me.

“You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“Wait, might be human error. Lemme try again.” Seconds tick by. I feel myself starting to bond with the banana, the way one might bond with a fellow hostage. Finally, the door unlocks. “There we go. Well, be warned, the key’s acting up a bit. It’ll take a while to get going.”


We walk inside. It’s about as basic as a room can get. A bed, a chair, a bathroom. Worst of all, the window directly across from us faces a big, gray, ugly building. I wince just a little. “Um, tell me this Harold, who would I speak to about changing rooms? Lauren?”

He squints at me, scooping the banana out of my hand but leaving the peel. “Lauren?”

“Yeah. You know, Hotel Lauren?”

“You want to speak to the hotel?”

“No, I meant . . .” Stop, Jerome. Quit while you’re ahead. “Actually, never mind. Stupid joke.”

He pops the piece of banana into his mouth. I walk over to the trash can and dump the peel he so kindly bestowed me with.

“So you want to change rooms.”

“I’m just not a fan of the view. I get the feeling your receptionist put me here to spite me.”

He doesn’t even try to deny that. “You can talk to her about a room change. Maybe bring chocolates.”


“Yeah. Like a peace offering.”

“You want me to buy your receptionist chocolates so I can change rooms?”

“No. But if you want a good room, it couldn’t hurt.”

“There’s no one here. Shouldn’t I be able to get whatever room I want?”

“It’s all politics,” he says, as if that makes any sense. “Anyway, do you want me to give you a tour of the room?”

This room? What’s there to tour? I think I have a pretty good grasp of things just from looking around.”


I walk over to the window, figuring that if I can’t have a good view, I’ll at least have some fresh air. But when I go to open it, I see that it’s bolted down. I look over at Harold. “The window won’t open?”

“Yeah, we had a few suicides here,” he says flatly. “Jumped right out the window. Actually, one of them was in this exact room. That very window.”

I quickly step away from it.

“So we had to keep the windows from opening, y’know, for your own protection.”

“Right. Sure.” At this point, I have to remind myself why I’m there. Mia, I think. Mia’s so close. Mia makes all of this ridiculousness worth it. And, hey, she’ll probably get a kick out of the whole ordeal. Soon you’ll be out of this hotel, and with Mia, and none of it will even matter anymore.

Yeah. Definitely worth it.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Harold says. But he hangs around the doorway, lingering like he doesn’t want to leave. “Did you want to rent a movie?” he asks after a moment.

“You know, as tempted as I am to partake in the wonders of a Transformers film, I think I’m good for the time being.”

“Okay,” he says. He shoves his hands in his pockets and kind of looks around. “Well, let me know if you need anything.”

Oh great, now he’s repeating himself. Maybe I broke him. “I will absolutely do that.”

After several agonizingly long seconds, he turns and slowly shuffles off, back to whatever planet he came from. He leaves the door open behind him, which is an example of top-notch hospitality and foresight. Take note, kids.

When I walk over to close it, I swear I see a small patch of blood on the carpet. I try to tell myself it’s ketchup. Maybe the last person to stay in this room was a painter? Or maybe I’m seeing things. Either way, I resist the urge to investigate further and make a silent pledge to try to touch as few things as possible during my time here.

“Mia,” I say aloud this time. “It’s all for Mia, and it’ll all be worth it.”

The next time I head down to the lobby—mostly just to take a break from the dismal, dingy gray of my room, and maybe scour the not-for-breakfast breakfast room for those Oreos Harold mentioned—I find that the receptionist has switched off with someone else. This girl is young, excitedly talking on the phone while doodling on a stray piece of paper. Perfect, I think, heading over. Now’s my chance.

It takes her a few seconds to even notice I’m there, she’s so busy talking and drawing. I hear a snippet of her conversation: “. . . I wasn’t even, like, there anymore, you know? Like, I was there, but I wasn’t really there, and—” Then she looks up, sees me. Her cheeks go red as if she’s said something incriminating. “Brenda, I gotta go,” she whispers, “there’s a guest here.” Only she says the word “guest” like someone would say “amazingly stunning magical unicorn.”

She hangs up. Her already-big, cartoonish eyes have gotten bigger. She stares at me as though I really am a magical unicorn, before breathing in wonderment, “Hi, are you checking in?”

“No, already did that.” I pause. “You don’t get a lot of tourists here, huh?”

“No, not really.” She giggles. Actually giggles. The cartoon resemblance grows stronger. “This town’s not really much of a must-see. Not like Denver or Cleveland or Reno.”

“Uh, yeah. Those are definite must-sees.” I clear my throat. “So, um, I was wondering about maybe changing rooms?”

“Really? Wow.” She grins. “I never get to do these! Okay, I’m not entirely sure how this procedure even works, but let’s try it together.”

“Sure,” I say, the weary caution in my voice more pronounced than I’d intended.

“What room are you currently in?”

“Room #30.”

“Oh,” she says, and I swear she winces just slightly. “That room.”

“Yes, that one.”

“Can I have your name?”

“Jerome Grimes.”

“Ooh, that sounds like a detective’s name,” she says.

“I’m an accountant.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says, like I just told her I had cancer. She gives me a look of pity.

I shift uncomfortably and decide not to talk after that. But, of course, being me, that never lasts.  

“So,” she says, staring at her computer screen, fingers poised above the keys, “what kind of room are you interested in switching to?”

“Something with a view, ideally.”

“Hmm. Well, we have one room that overlooks a Taco Bell, and another that overlooks a Starbucks. Any preference?” I swear she’s not joking. Though I hope to God she is.

“Surprise me,” I respond.

“Actually, you know what, let’s first discuss the rooms themselves. We have a Deluxe, a Standard Deluxe, a Deluxe Premium, a Small Deluxe, a Superior Deluxe with a fold-out couch—”

“Wait, what’s the difference between these? What room am I in now?”

“You’re in room #30,” she reminds me, in the patronizing voice someone might use when reminding a child that the sky is blue.

“No, I mean, you know, the classification. Whatever you were just listing.”

“I’m not following.”

I run a hand through my hair. Mia, think of Mia, think of Mia. But it’s not working. I’m feeling a strong urge to jump out a window, myself.

“Okay. Well, you know those deluxe categories you were just reading to me?” (Now it’s my turn to be the patronizing ass.) “Room #30 is which one of those?”

“Oh! I get it now! Yeah, Room #30 is a Large Small Deluxe.”

This one takes me a second to process. “What?”

“A Large Small Deluxe,” she repeats. “There’s a Small Deluxe, a Medium Small Deluxe, and a Large Small Deluxe. The Large Small Deluxe is also called just the Deluxe.”

“I . . . actually, no, I won’t even get into that. Just do me a favor, let’s call that a Deluxe, okay?”

“It is called a Deluxe,” she says. “It’s also called a Large Small Deluxe. You can call it either one and I’ll know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, well, in that case, I will be calling it a Deluxe.” I nod here as if to punctuate my point. She looks confused, which is just amazing to me, because I feel like I’m the one who has earned the right to confusion. But anyway. “I’d like to change to another Deluxe. Something for the same price, but with a better view and maybe, I don’t know, a little closer? Because I hate to walk, I genuinely do.”

She gasps like I’ve revealed something scandalous. “You’re so thin, though! Do you bike ride?”

“Not that often.”

“Oh, you must do yoga.”

“Never once in my life.” I pat my chest. “Good genes. Good metabolism.”

“I’m trying to lose five pounds right now by eating nothing but spinach, but I really hate spinach, so—”

“You know, as fascinating as this conversation is,” I interrupt, “and, believe me, it is fascinating, I’d really love to get this whole matter with my room sorted out. Can we do that?”

“We surely can!” She glibly turns back to her computer. “So, you said you wanted a Small Deluxe?”

“I said I wanted just the standard deluxe—is that the Small Deluxe?”

“The Standard Deluxe?”

“Yeah, the regular Deluxe.”

“The Standard Deluxe is our Medium Small Deluxe,” she says.

“Okay, is that the one Room #30 is?”

“Room #30 is the Large Small Deluxe.”

“Oh, so that’s the standard deluxe.”

“The Standard Deluxe is the Medium Small Deluxe. The Deluxe is the Large Small Deluxe. And the Small Deluxe is just called the Small Deluxe.”

I’m getting that window-jumping urge again. “I just want to switch to whatever room #30 is,” I tell her. “Okay?”

“You’re already in room #30.”

“Are we reenacting ‘Who’s On First’ here?”

She tilts her head to one side like a dog. “What’s that?”

“It’s . . . unimportant at the moment. Listen, whatever room #30 is classified as, I want that same kind of room. That same price. Can we stick with that, please?”

“Let me write this down,” she says, pulling at the piece of paper she’d been doodling on. She writes down “LARGE SMALL DELUXE” in huge letters, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t read. Then she starts drawing a butterfly as she talks to me: “So, you want the Deluxe. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer an upgrade to our Superior Deluxe?”

“What’s that? Like a suite?”

“We don’t have suites here,” she says, folding up the piece of paper and putting it neatly to the side. “Our Superior Deluxe comes with all the accommodations of our Large Small Deluxe, but with the addition of a fold-out couch, a complementary bottle of water, a complementary movie rental, and . . . wait, no, I think that’s it.”

“Okay. Well, as nice as that sounds, I’m not really in need of any of that.”

“My advice to you would be to upgrade,” she says. “I really, really suggest you consider this, Mr. Grimes. Because, listen, when your friends come to visit, where are you going to put them? Under your bed? You’re not going to get them a separate hotel room. They can’t sleep on the floor, you can’t make your own friends sleep on the floor. You will need a fold-out couch to accommodate them.”

“I don’t have any friends coming—”

“Did you bring an air mattress?”


Air mattress.

“Um, no, but—”

She interrupts. “Exactly. Where are they going to sleep?”

“The Breakfast Room,” I joke.

“We don’t serve breakfast anymore.”

“Yes, I’ve heard.” Just to appease her, I play along and ask, “Well, what’s the price of this deluxe room?”

“The Deluxe or the Superior Deluxe?”

“Whatever one has the fold-out couch.”

“Both our Superior Deluxe and Premium Deluxe have fold-out couches, but the Superior Deluxe includes bottled water and—”

“The movie rental, yes, I know.” Okay, yeah, I’m frustrated here, and it’s begun to show. Sue me.

“Our Superior Deluxe also has an extra 50 square feet over our Premium Deluxe and Large Small Deluxe rooms,” she chirps.

“Well, give me a quote on all these.”

“You got it!” She types in some information. “Okay, currently, the room you’re staying in, the Large Small Deluxe, comes out at $150 USD. The Superior Deluxe—which includes a complementary bottle of water, movie rental, and 50 extra square feet—comes out at $300 USD.”

“So it’s double the cost of my deluxe-whatever room just for a bottle of water? Jeez, I’d think for that kind of money, you could at least supply free refills.”

“It also includes a movie and—”

“Yes, I know, the extra square feet.” Was it bad that a part of me wanted to strangle her? “Well, I think I can live without the leg room.”

“Can I at least price the Premium Deluxe for you? That’s the same as the Large Small Deluxe but with a fold-out couch. I promise you won’t regret it.”

“I really don’t see the point in doing that. I’m not going to pay extra for a fold-out couch if I won’t use it.”

“But when your friends—”

“My friends are not coming,” I tell her, emphatic now. “They have literally no reason to come to a town in the middle of nowhere that’s fourteen hours away from where they live. I can confidently, completely assure you of that.”

“Okay, but what are you going to tell Harold?”


“When Harold comes around tonight and asks if he can crash in your room because he has nowhere else to go—”


“—are you going to tell him to sleep on the streets, or be a compassionate person and welcome him into your room and your fold-out couch with open arms?”

“You’re telling me Harold expects me to share my room with him? Because, what, he’s just so terrific at renting movies?”

“Harold’s going through a difficult time right now,” she says. “He’d appreciate your kindness, not your judgment.”

“Well, my thoughts and prayers are with Harold. But I never signed up for living with the guy.”

“It’s a temporary arrangement. Listen, we’ve all pulled our weight with this,” she tells me. “I let him stay at my apartment. My boyfriend wasn’t crazy about it, but we made it work. Sandra did it. Steve did it.”

“Who even are these people?”

“So, since we’ve all done it, yes, I think it would be a kind gesture, I really do. It would require very little effort.”

I can feel a rage-stroke coming on. Mia, think of Mia, I tell myself. But I’m still losing patience, and fast. “There’s a million empty rooms in the ghost town ‘hotel’. Tell Harold to sleep in any of those. Hey, let him have the one with the fold-out couch! Then his friends can all stop by.”

“He would get fired.”

“Oh, right, yeah, of course. Obviously begging guests for a place to sleep is the more appropriate option.”

“Please don’t raise your voice at me, sir.”

“What? I’m not even yelling!” I pause. “Okay, now I’m yelling . . . but I wasn’t a second ago.”

“I can’t handle being yelled at, it makes me nauseous,” she says.

“Well, I feel myself getting very close to yelling at you, so I’m just going to go now.” I start to step away from the desk, but she grabs my arm like a frantic prisoner.

“Please don’t! Okay, okay, let me just level with you here . . . the hotel’s not doing so great.”

“I’ve noticed. Can’t imagine why.”

“We’re not going to last much longer unless we start being savvy. So I bought this book”—she reaches down and shows me the cover of some self-help/how-to-succeed-in-business guide—”and I’m trying some new things. If you could rent one of our more expensive rooms, you’d be doing us a favor. Think of it like charity.”

“No thanks.”


“I just want a regular room change. I already paid $150. I’ve done my charity for the week. Be glad I’m not demanding a refund.”

“Fine!” she snaps, in the voice of a moody teenager who was just ordered to clean their room. She jabs at the keyboard like a maniac, scowling as she does it. Then her brow furrows. Her scowls shifts into a look of puzzlement. “Hmm,” she says.


“I don’t know how to do this . . .” She swerves the mouse around, staring intently at the screen. She squints. “I’ve never changed a guest’s room before,” she reminds me.

“Well, you certainly could’ve fooled me.” If she picks up on my sarcasm, she doesn’t let on. “I already paid for my room. If you’re switching me to a room of the same value—which is what I want—can’t you just give me a key and let that be the end of it?”

“I dunno, that doesn’t sound right to me. It’s probably more complicated than that.” She pauses. “You know, I think I’ll just hand this off to Melinda. She’ll know how to switch you. And she’s about to take over the desk from me anyway.” She looks toward some kind of break room off the lobby. I see a woman stepping out of it. It takes me a moment to recognize her: The other receptionist from earlier, the one who stuck me in Room #30. She frowns when she sees me.

“Melinda!” Receptionist #2 calls. “Mr. Grimes here would like to—”

“Forget it,” I mumble, shoving my hands in my pockets. “I have officially changed my mind. Room #30 it is.”

Then I get the fuck out of there as fast as my feet will take me.

I leave my room again about an hour later. This time, I’m a man with a plan, and that plan is Mia. No, let me rephrase that: The plan is Win Mia Back and Never, Ever Lose Her Again (working title). I don’t stop in the lobby, don’t make eye contact with whatever nightmare receptionist is currently staring daggers at me, I don’t allow myself to walk slowly down the stairs, I don’t allow myself to be lured by the possibility of Oreos, and I don’t collect $200 when I pass Go. Instead, I head straight for my car. I am determined.

I’m wearing the aviators, the leather jacket. I bear a striking resemblance to an extra from Grease, more so than I’d like, but again (and this is the important part): I trust Mia’s judgement. And hey, if Mia can get me to wear this outfit, if I really do trust her that much, then clearly I’m crazy about her.

Now I just have to make sure she feels the same. Then it’s smooth sailing.

I get in the car, I punch in her new address, then I listen to the robotic woman who delivers my voice navigation—Katherine, if you’re wondering—as I speed off to Mialand.

(Let’s pretend I didn’t just say “Mialand.”)

I’m in good spirits. I mean, sure, I’m nervous (who wouldn’t be?), but I feel good, too. I feel confident in my plan and more than a little eager to rendezvous with the love of my life (who wouldn’t?). I blast some music on the ride over—the playlist labeled “Mia’s Favorites”—and occasionally find myself smiling stupidly, just thinking about her.

The nerves—and the excitement—really pick up once I arrive at her place. It’s a duplex, a normal, gray building in a busier part of town, across from a grocery store. It’s a bit dreary and doesn’t really look like Mia, but then, it’s just the outside. She moved here for work, and beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I know she moved here from work, and how I know her address, well, let’s just say that a lot of social media-stalking and one PI really do pay off.

Okay, I just now realized how that sounds. But, hear me out: I’m not a creep.

Oh God. “Creep” by Radiohead just came on. Dammit. Why does Mia have to have such a penchant for 90s music? And why does the Mia playlist have to be so eerily well-timed?

Well, anyway, regardless of what the universe or the playlist gods have to say, I’m not a creep, and I do belong here. It’ll be romantic, someday. We’ll laugh about it in a month. We’ll tell our kids about “that time Daddy had to win Mommy back by hiring a private investigator and staking out her house.” It doesn’t sound cute right now, but it will be. Really.

Anyway. I get out of the car, go around to the back, and pull out the surprises I brought with me. There’s a bottle of champagne and two flutes, a Ziploc bag of rose petals, and, oh right, my ski mask! I forgot I brought that. See, Mia was the first person to introduce me to skiing—she’s amazing at it, been doing it since childhood; I’m, well, non-athletic—and we had this fantastic trip to the slopes a while back. She helped me pick out a ski mask, and we laughed about how weird I looked in it, and the trip and the mask became this great running gag between us . . . oh man. Actually, you know what? I’m putting on the ski mask. Fuck it. The mask is better than the aviators, and I know she’ll appreciate it more.

I take off the glasses, slap on that puppy, and then—champagne, glasses, and Ziploc baggie in hand—I skip over to the duplex. Mia always keeps a key under the doormat. I constantly told her that, as far as key-hiding places go, the doormat’s pretty unoriginal, but she never listened. “What criminal’s going to take the time to check under someone’s doormat?” she’d say. Not fabulous logic, but at least she had a comeback.

I put down the surprises, check under the doormat and, sure enough, there’s the key. Good thing she never listened to me. This is another thing we’ll probably laugh about soon.

I take the key and unlock the door, then slip inside. It’s dark—she’s fastidious about not leaving any lights on; she hates to waste electricity. I flip the switch just so I can quickly scatter the rose petals around the entryway and up the stairs—of course, I run out of petals by the fourth step, but it’s the thought that counts. Then I go into her kitchen to pop the champagne and pour two glasses, even though she isn’t there yet. They’ll be flat by the time she arrives, but again: It’s the thought that counts.

I’m giddy. Okay, there, I said it. And yes, while I suppose those who abide by traditional gender roles could argue a grown man should never be “giddy,” I’ve never been one for traditions. Neither has Mia. One of the many, many things we have in common, and one of the myriad things that made us work well as a couple.

And by this point, you’re probably wondering, “Well, hey, if you two were so great, why’d you break up?” Okay, that’s a fair question. I don’t like it, but it’s fair.

Well, here’s the thing . . . Mia didn’t want a serious relationship. And Mia maybe liked her then-neighbor—some guy from Germany—just a little too much. And, look, I can’t blame her for that—dude was gorgeous. But you know what’s better than looks? Brains. And sure, while German Neighbor (don’t ask me his name; I refuse to say it, think it, write it or acknowledge it exists) may’ve had a PhD and may’ve spoken four different languages, I have emotional intelligence on my side.

Now, can I say with confidence that the reason Mia and German Neighbor broke up following our relationship was because she was still hung up on me? No, I can’t. Can I guess that was the reason? Yes. And that’s not just a wild guess, either. I have evidence.

See, when Mia broke up with me to go out with German Neighbor (and let’s just acknowledge for a second that breaking up with me before anything happened between them, rather than cheating on me, was a classy move on her part), I was crushed. But I moved on—reluctantly, with a heavy heart, I managed to move on. For a while.

Then shit hit the fan and my life started to fall apart, and I just kept thinking, I miss Mia. If Mia were here, all of this would be more bearable. So, as any rational person would do in this situation, I looked her up. And, sure enough, her relationship status? Single. I scrolled through her posts and traced the evolution of her brief fling with German Neighbor, all the way to its bitter conclusion (she even posted the lyrics to “I Will Survive” the day after the breakup—and, I’ll tell you, it broke my fucking heart, seeing that). She moved shortly thereafter, probably because living close to the son of a bitch was too much to take. And also, you know, her job thing. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Point is, she left little, subtle clues throughout her social media pages, sprinkled like breadcrumbs for me to find. For instance, a week before she broke up with German Neighbor, she posted: “I need to get to the slopes. Miss skiing. Need to be back there, doing what I love.”

Remember the ski mask, the trip we took? Now, with that in mind, reread her post—slowly. Actually, I’ll do it for you: “I need to get to the slopes. Miss skiing.” You can see what she’s really saying is, “I need to get to the slopes because I miss Jerome.” Then, as if that weren’t enough, she added, “Need to be back there, doing what I love.” Back there. Back to the slopes, OR . . . back to the past? With her reliable, dependable, romantic, sweet boyfriend who adored her—and who she loved? You tell me.  

And I know what you’re going to say: That I’m delusional. That I’m kidding myself. But that’s simply not true—see, that was only the tip of the skied-on iceberg. Take this gem, dated four days after the anniversary of our breakup: “The city is so gross and filthy right now. Even more than usual. Got home last night and found all this grime on my shoes—so now I feel grimy and like I can’t leave my apartment in nice clothes. Lol, maybe I’m paranoid?”

See what I mean? She used the words “grime” and “grimy” twice. My last name is Grimes!

You can’t make this shit up.

So now, here I am, ready to bear my soul to this beautiful, fierce, amazing woman. In her home. With rose petals and champagne. You can call me a hopeless romantic, and maybe I am. But I’m not the only one.

(She also posted the lyrics to “Imagine” eight days after my birthday. Coincidence? Maybe. A signal? I’d say so.)

I turn the light back off now that I’ve poured, scattered, arranged, and prepared myself. Then I wait in the darkened entryway, anxiously fiddling with the ski mask. She should be home soon. She works late, but I timed it so that I’d get there ten or fifteen minutes before her arrival. I timed everything exactly, and carefully.

As I wait, I look around her apartment. It’s nice, actually. Decorated with her typical style. Pretty curtains. There’s a picture of her and her parents next to me, on a bookcase; I strain to look at it through the dark. She’s beautiful as always—long dark curls, a goofy grin. She’s biracial, so she’s got this kind of ethnically ambiguous look. We’ll have stunning kids. Well, maybe not as stunning as the kids she would’ve had with German Neighbor, but—

I hear footsteps, noise outside. I look out the window. Under the glow of streetlamps, I see her. She walks to and from work since it’s right nearby and she’s all about the environment, but that seems like a bad idea since she gets out late and there are scary people all around. I guess she figures that it’s just a harmless little suburban town, and I know she always carries pepper spray. Plus, she’s got some skills from those self-defense classes she took after there was that burglary back in her old neighborhood. (The self-defense class, coincidentally, was where she first got to know German Neighbor. So that sucks.)

She doesn’t notice my car—it’s parked across the street, discreetly as possible, and anyway, it’s a different car than when we were going out. She strolls toward the front door, and I see her reach in her pocket for her key. I take a deep breath. This is it. Get ready, Jerome, here she comes.

I hear the key shift in the lock, the doorknob turn—it’s overwhelming and scary and wonderful, this moment, knowing that, in less than a second, she’ll be right here. It’s been ages since I’ve seen her. Well, in person. I’ve certainly studied her social media pictures a few dozen times—for research.

She opens the door. She steps inside. She reaches for the light switch but, noticing the rose petals, stops, her hand an inch or two away from it. Thanks to my eyes, which have adjusted to the dark, and the glow of the streetlamp coming in through the open doorway, I can see her frowning and squinting at the petals. She leans down cautiously for a closer look. She hadn’t noticed me yet—I kind of blend in with the bookshelf and staircase. I don’t say anything, waiting to let her inspect the petals first.

Then I step from the shadows. She looks up. Her eyes meet mine through the ski mask. I grin and say, “Welcome hom—”

She screams.

Not just an ordinary, little, tiny scream, either. She screams. It’s horror-movie-level. It’s bloodcurdling. It’s terrified. It’s traumatized. It’s the worst noise I’ve ever heard.

It takes me a second to realize she’s screaming because of me.

“Mia, Mia!” I say, frantically trying to calm her as she just as frantically stumbles upright and begins searching through her purse for her pepper spray. “It’s me! It’s Jerome!” I pull off the ski mask and flip the light switch.

She looks at me, eyes wide and full of fear . . . and then, a tired, baffled kind of recognition. She squints again. “Jerome?


“What the fuck are you doing here? In my apartment?”

“Well . . . it was supposed to be romantic.” I nod toward the kitchen. “I brought some champagne! Already poured it, too. Wanna—?”

“No! Oh my God. I’ve never been that scared in my life. In my entire life, Jerome. Do you understand what I’m saying right now, or have you completely lost your fucking mind?”

I wince. “I’m really sorry, Mia . . . obviously I never intended that to happen.”

“Your intention is irrelevant.” She points toward the rose petals by her shoes. “And this! I thought those were drops of blood, Jerome. I thought there were blood scatters in my apartment.”

“Oh God.”

“And then I turn, and I see you—in a ski mask! Watching me!”

“The ski mask, it’s—well, it’s . . . don’t you remember, from our ski trip? We laughed about how funny I looked. It was an inside joke between us.”

“We laughed because I said you looked like a serial killer—and you do. Think about that for a second. Now think about wearing the exact manner of dress that makes you look like a serial killer when you go to someone’s house unannounced, break in, and wait for them to come home, by yourself, in the dark. Think about that.”

I do think about it. And then I cringe. “Oh. Okay. I just now got it.”

“And what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’m sorry. This was a stupid idea.”

“To say the least.” She glances again at the rose petals, leading up the stairs. Her eyes widen with a sudden realization and her hands clamp over her mouth. “Oh my God. Did you think I was going to sleep with you?”

“What? No! Well, I mean, maybe if things went really well, but—”

“Oh my God!”

“No, listen, I only brought the rose petals so it’d look romantic! I mean, I couldn’t ride in on a white horse, so I did the next best thing.”

“They’re leading up the stairs. Toward my bedroom.

“I didn’t know your bedroom was upstairs!”

“Oh, sure. Because that’s really difficult to figure out.” She gasps. “And the champagne, too—oh my God! You actually thought you were going to break into my house with a ski mask on and then have sex with me!”

“Hey, c’mon, when you put it like that, it sounds a lot worse than it is. If anything—and sex was definitely not my end game, let me tell you—it would’ve been purely consensual.”

“Did you snoop? Answer honestly. Did you go through my things and look around my house?”


“You’re lying.”

“I’m not! I didn’t!”

“How’d you even get in? Did you break a window? Oh God, Jerome, please tell me you didn’t break a window . . .”

“Of course not. I used the key under your mat.”

She shakes her head. “That’s worse, somehow.”

“I feel like we’ve gotten off to a bad start here,” I say, “and, okay, fine, maybe this idea was flawed—”

“Extremely flawed, at best. Horrible and gross and disgusting at worse.”

“—but I still think it’s salvageable, because none of this changes how I feel—and how, I think, you might feel, too. If anything, this proves the extremes I’m willing to go for you. The passion I have for this relationship. And Mia . . . I know for a fact that you and I aren’t done yet. Not even close. We can get back together. We can have another go of things. And, not to get ahead of myself, but I honestly think we’re meant to be and that everything will work out beautifully between us. I’m talking marriage. Kids. A house. A dog. The whole bit. And at the end of the day, I did this, I came here, because I want those things—more importantly, I want to do those things and have those things with you. It’s always been you. It’s only ever been you. And why? Because I love you, Mia.”

“Get out.”

Not the reaction I was expecting. “What?”

“Get the fuck out of my house. Now. Or I’m calling the police.”

“Mia, please—”

“We dated for six months, two years ago. Clearly, you’ve attached way more meaning to this relationship than it actually had or deserves. And it’s scaring me. Now get out of here, Jerome. I’m not kidding.”

“It was eight months, and it happened a year and a half ago. At least be fair. Just because you don’t feel the same doesn’t mean you have to shit on our beautiful relationship.”

“It wasn’t beautiful to begin with! I broke up with you for my neighbor, who I barely knew, just because I thought he was cute and that something maybe could happen between us. Does that sound like something a desperately-in-love person would do?”

“Well, no, but you’ve always had commitment issues—”

“Get out.”

“Mia . . . Mia, please, I came all this way, I’m staying at this crazy inn with these crazy people, and I’ve done it all gladly for you.

“I never asked you to do that, and frankly, it makes me uncomfortable and frightened that you did. Now get out.

So I leave. Reluctantly. Sadly. But it’s not like I can stay there forever, in Mia’s house, when Mia clearly is not in the mood to hang out with me. Or look at me. Or be within fifty feet of my face.

To say I’m hurt would be an understatement. To say I’m heartbroken and devastated and confused would be slightly more accurate, but it’s worse than that, too.

Maybe I was a jerk to come all this way, based on some silly social media posts and not much reason, without even telling her in advance that I’d be stopping by. And yes, in hindsight, entering her house without her permission, and waiting in the dark with a ski mask, was probably not the most intelligent plan. But still! I love Mia. Surely she can appreciate that? Surely she can appreciate my effort to show her how I feel, if nothing else. Right?

Yeah, fine, I’m a jerk.

I walk across the street with my head hung in shame. There’s my car–not quite a white stallion, but it’ll do. Back to the inn, I guess. That stupid, motherfucking inn. I think that maybe I’ll come back tomorrow, before she leaves for work, and try to explain myself again . . . or maybe not. Well, one way or another, I have to head home tomorrow afternoon. I’d hate to have come all this way for nothing. But I’m not an idiot, I know the chances of a reconciliation are growing fainter. And that really sucks.

As much as I hate the inn, the prospect of driving fourteen hours, back to an empty apartment and an empty life, sounds, perhaps, even worse. This is not how I wanted things to go. If ever there was a time for a do-over, it’s right now.

Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

I kick a rock as I walk around to driver’s seat, stubbing my toe in the process. This time, I curse aloud: “Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I feel tears burning my eyes. Get ahold of yourself, Jerome. It’s a tiny rock. But, of course, it’s not the rock. The rock is the straw, and Mia, this trip, that stupid hotel . . . they’re all the heavy shit the camel’s already carrying. Or something. I don’t know, analogies are hard.

I bite down on my lip and try to keep myself from crying, just because, you know, I want to leave here with at least one single shred of dignity. I have to, in fact.

Opening the door to my car, I get inside with a heavy sigh . . .

. . . and then I see the gun. And then the gun is pressed to my temple. And then a voice: “Drive, Fonzie.”

And oh God. Oh God oh God oh God.

Oh shit.

And now I’m crying.