by Karen Kinley
You’d dated lots of women before, but this time was different. Tessa was different. She wasn’t one to swoon and bat her eyelashes (yes, you’d been with that type before). She wasn’t possessive and demanding, spitting out passive-aggressive remarks under her breath about what you did or didn’t do. She wasn’t heavy, but she wasn’t too thin either and seemed perfectly at ease in her own skin. (Unlike your ex, Maddie, who whined incessantly about how hungry she was but practically starved herself to stay a size 4.)
No, Tessa wasn’t a lot of things.
What she was…well, that was a lot of things.
Tessa was smart, finishing in the top 5% of her class with a double major in Finance and Marketing. Tessa was fun; the first time you saw her, she was on stage at Slippery Pete’s singing “Bad Romance” on Karaoke Night. What she lacked in vocal talent, she made up for in stage presence. Tessa was affectionate; she liked holding hands and giving backrubs. And perhaps most importantly, Tessa adored your mother.
You fell for her completely.
Except that you didn’t tell her this. You considered it a weakness to fall for a girl so hard and so quickly. So you played it cool. She had just broken up with someone else. He was handsome and tall and was working on getting his pilot’s license, so you figured it was only a matter of time until they got back together anyway.
You hung out with her every weekend, hiking and playing pickleball, taking in concerts and going to the beach. For your birthday, she bought you a Megadeth t-shirt (which you loved) and a fancy watch (which you didn’t, but pretended to anyway). You’d never been happier.
“I love you,” Tessa said to you one Friday night after you went bowling with a group of friends. Everyone had been passing around pitchers of beer and trading high-fives. You had laughed all evening and, more than once, caught Tessa’s eye across the bobbing heads as they took turns bending over to retrieve a bowling ball or a plastic cup. All felt right with the world.
But when she said those words as you walked her to her front door, you froze. Once uttered, that weighty phrase was hard to take back. Even though you’d been with her for months, you weren’t quite ready to admit that you loved Tessa to yourself, let alone to her. Those words were permanent or a promise of something permanent, and you weren’t willing to give that yet. Hadn’t you watched your parents’ marriage disintegrate before your eyes? Love doesn’t conquer all.
So instead, you reached down and grabbed both of her hands, pulling them up to your lips as if the movement could scatter the words that hung in the air between you. You gently kissed her fingers, her knuckles, her wrists. The gesture had the desired effect, the words forgotten. She melted into your arms, and you pressed your nose into her hair and breathed in her smell.
Tessa was patient but not a pushover. When several weeks passed without a call, it should not have surprised you to find her with the soon-to-be pilot at Slippery Pete’s. On stage, she swayed from side to side as she gripped the microphone, belting out her favorite song, “Bad Romance.” Her eyes caught yours halfway through the second verse, and she stretched an arm out in your direction.
I want your love, and all your lover’s revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
You were out the door before she finished the song.
“She’s cheating on you, bro,” one friend said.
“You’re better off without her,” added another.
You deleted her text messages, then all the photos on your phone. You threw out the Megadeth t-shirt. Two books she lent you that she said you “had to read,” the watch, and an air fryer she left in your apartment. Boxed up and donated.
But after some significant time spent moping, you heard from friends again.
“Dude, why didn’t you just call her?”
“I can’t believe you let that one go.”
“She was cool, man.”
Even a revelation from your own mother. “You’ve always had issues with intimacy.”
Shit. You blew it.
Everybody said that time heals all wounds. Months passed, but you couldn’t forget about her. Not when you got a new job. Not when your sister gave birth to her first child. Not even when your mom’s cancer came back. Tessa would’ve made everything more tolerable.
You finally swallowed your pride and called her. She and the pilot were nothing. Hadn’t been since before you. Just a big misunderstanding. After a long silence, she said, “I would never force you into something you didn’t want.”
But you did want it.
Yet when she hung up, you let her go once again.
You threw yourself into your work, picking up extra hours to keep busy. Rumor had it that Tessa moved to New York City to take a job as a stockbroker. Summer slid into fall, and you tried to stay festive during the holidays for your mom in between chemo treatments. She passed away quietly just after Christmas.
A buddy invited you to a New Year’s Eve party. “It’ll be good for you,” he declared. All shifts were already taken at work, so you went. It wasn’t long before someone hauled out a karaoke machine.
Before it even played, you knew that “Bad Romance” would be someone’s song choice. And when it did, you knew you were going to call Tessa.
You know that I want you
And you know that I need you
I want it bad
Your bad romance
She answered quickly, as if expecting your call, listened while you told her about your mom, and cried softly into the phone.
“Come to New York,” she said. “The train ride is only four hours.”
The morning could not come fast enough. Suitcase in hand, you headed to the station. You couldn’t wait to tell her you loved her.