Mistaken by Jacqueline Doyle

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When the three of them shared a taxi on the way to an off-campus party one night, squeezed into the back seat with him in the middle, she could barely breathe, so aware of his body next to hers, how their legs touched, hip to knee. She was sure he was conscious of how she felt, had deliberately shifted nearer to her, casually touched her knee when the taxi braked.

She’d been resisting her feelings for months. The way her breath quickened when he glanced at her. How her heart beat faster when he drew closer. How the hair stood up on her arms when his hand brushed hers. Could it have been an accident, or was it intentional? When he walked into a crowded room, didn’t his eyes search out hers before anyone else’s? She spent weeks trying to decide. He was her best friend’s boyfriend. They seemed happy together. At least her friend seemed happy, he seemed—how to describe it?—amused, in control. Very cool. 

When he took her hand under the table at the bar a week after the taxi ride, she was relieved he’d made a move and it wasn’t all in her head. Even though it could destroy everything. Her relationship with her friend, who was also her roommate, and had always been good to her. (How excited they’d been in the fall. Rooming together in the same dorm suite!) Her belief in her own integrity. Could she really betray a close friend like that? Apparently so. When he followed her and stopped her in the corridor outside the restrooms, she turned to him eagerly, ready to say yes to anything, anything. He’d pulled her close and told her where to meet him the next day. And she’d gone without thinking twice, and he’d picked her up on his motorcycle and driven her to a friend’s apartment, and their lovemaking had been everything she’d wanted for weeks. He took his time, made her high school boyfriend seem callow and selfish. Sneaking around had added to the excitement, more stolen afternoons at his friend’s, a late-night encounter in a study room at the library, a breathless meeting before breakfast in her dorm suite once, when her roommates had already left for class. She agreed not to tell anyone right away, agreed her best friend was going to take it hard. She was dizzy with longing, couldn’t think of anything but him. The smell of his sweat. The tiny scar on his shoulder. How his hair curled when it was damp. His lazy smile after sex. 

It was a small town and it didn’t take long before someone saw them. Was it when he squeezed her hand outside the bagel shop? Or did someone see her dash out the door of his friend’s apartment building five minutes after he’d exited? Or spot her riding on the back of his motorcycle, arms circling his torso, breasts crushed against his back? 

The breakup with her friend had been as awful as she’d expected. Her friend had screamed and cried, called her a jealous bitch. She couldn’t shake the image of her face contorted with rage. They were no longer speaking, most of their mutual friends were no longer speaking to her either. She was aware of their eyes on her in classes, avoided the café at the University Union because she was afraid she’d run into one or another. Of course she wondered if it had been worth it, but every time he touched the side of her bare neck or ran a finger down her spine, she shivered; every time he slid a hand under her shirt, she stopped thinking altogether. She knew she wasn’t the first girl he’d been with—of course not, but she believed him when he said he’d been looking for her his whole life. None of the others meant anything to him. It was fated. Her world had narrowed to him, and for a few weeks that was more than enough.

The bar was noisy and crowded tonight. It smelled of wet wool coats and weed and stale beer. She’d been waiting, her coat and scarf and backpack piled on a seat to save it for him, and spotted him coming through the door before he noticed her. She was about to raise her hand to wave when she saw him searching over the heads of the boisterous drinkers until he found the person he was looking for and locked eyes with her. Startled, she turned her head to see who it was: the girl down the hall, one of the few mutual friends who’d supported her after the breakup. She’d slept on the couch in the girl’s suite while she looked for a new place to live. She’d had soulful conversations with her, about her regrets, about fate, about how irresistible the boy was. Her stomach lurched as she looked at him looking at the girl and the girl looking back at him. The girl was all rosy confusion, his gaze was enigmatic and intense. She must be mistaken.

 

Jacqueline Doyle’s award-winning flash chapbook The Missing Girl is available from Black Lawrence Press. In addition to a previous flash in (mac)ro(mic), she has published flash in Wigleaf, matchbook, CRAFT, Juked, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter at @doylejacq.

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