Something was… weird today. I hadn’t seen Dakota all day, even though it wasn’t one of his usual days off, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t here. I went about my job as I always did, helping performers, making sure everything was where it was supposed to be in the costume room. At one point, Val sashayed in and kissed my cheek, then sashayed away again to work with the costume crew of the morning dance show. Poor thing was here a good two hours before me nowadays, but she still managed to have more energy than Tinkerbell on crack.
At lunch, I walked into Pizza hut with the crew, just in time to find Dakota walking away from the counter. I stuck my tongue out at him when I caught his eye, but he just walked past me. Frowning, I turned back and watched him walk out of the restaurant and back toward the theatre.
I brushed it off as we ate, and by the time we were prepping for showtime, I was in a pretty good mood again. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off about the energy backstage.
Bowie made faces at me while one of my other regulars flirted with him (were they a couple? I wasn’t sure), and then saw a flash of plaid cross my line of sight to my left. I whipped around, watching Dakota hug someone else, and smiled. He walked up to Bowie without looking at me, hugging the other man tightly.
Someone snagged my attention– it was Liza, needing her corset tightened. I plastered on a smile again, ignoring what was happening behind me as I chatted with Liza, but once she was off to preset her changes, I turned back around. Dakota was still there, joking with the boys I was still supposed to finish dressing. I watched them, waiting to be acknowledged so I could say hi.
The stage manager called five to places.
Dakota turned to go to his spot, looking me dead in the face. I waited for the millisecond he stared at me, wondering, hoping, praying…
Without a word, he turned on his heel, and walked away.
Something in me cracked.
“Bye Nerd,” I called after him, rolling my eyes as I turned my attention back to Bowie. Bowie didn’t appear to have noticed the moment between myself and Dakota, and for that I was amazingly grateful.
The rest of Brigadoon passed in a haze. I had clothing thrust into my arms, found myself zipping and buttoning and lacing up whoever reached me first. I didn’t even register who was in front of me. The rest of work felt like being dragged through tar with what I hoped was a convincing smile on my face. I ended up in my car without realizing how I’d gotten there, and just… sat.
I’m not sure how I ended up calling Emma, but in moments, I heard her sweet, adoring voice on coming through the speakers of my car.
“Hi Sweetie, what’s up?”
“I…” it seemed so ridiculous. It was so stupid. I was stupid. God. “I ah… didn’t have such a great day today.”
“Oh no,” she cooed, “what happened?”
“Ah…” Why, why was it so difficult to make words when I felt like this? “I went to lunch, and I saw Dakota, and he just… walked past me? Like I didn’t exist? Except– except he made eye contact first, he definitely saw me…” Oh, god, and there were the tears, prickling at me eyes as I stared out at the slowly setting sun. “And then–” I sucked in a breath, trying to ignore the nearly suffocating tightness of my throat. “And then right before the show, he was talking to Bowie… he couldn’t have been more than five feet from me… and he turned and looked at me– he looked me dead in the face— and– and–” Not just stinging in my eyes anymore, but full on, flowing tears, streaking down my cheeks as I struggled to inhale enough to speak. “He just– he just turned around and left. And I don’t know what I did.” It ended on a sob, my fragile composure dissolving completely.
Emma, bless her, waited until the worst of my sobs subsided. “It’s okay, honey, it’s alright. I know. He’s a jerk. I’m sorry that happened.”
The hurt was quickly transforming into anger– not at Dakota, but at myself. I dragged in a breath, smearing the back of my hands across my cheeks. “I got too attached too fast,” I told Emma, choking on the words. “I can’t fucking believe I let myself get attached at all, how stupid am I?”
“You’re not stupid,” Emma soothed. “You’re so loving, you care so much for people. You’re empathetic and kind, and you literally love everyone.”
“I hate everyone,” I muttered, “that’s why I never talk to anyone.”
“No,” Emma corrected, “you care so much that you get overwhelmed. It happens to me, too. You know it does.”
“That’s some classic heart-on-your-sleeve, middle school Piper right there.” My bitterness was apparently lost on Emma, who said nothing, but I didn’t care. “I don’t even know what I did,” I whispered.
“You may not have done anything.”
Sighing, I scrubbed my face with my hands. “I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it. I’m just gonna give him space since he clearly needs it.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Emma agreed. “It might help you, too.”
“Yeah. I’ll just… wait til he starts talking to me, I guess.”
A day went by without hearing from Dakota. I walked into work and realized that, even if I saw him, I wouldn’t get to talk to him. Another piece of me cracked away, taking my enthusiasm for work with it. I found every excuse not to be in the costume room, and then to avoid Dakota backstage, and managed only to catch glimpses of him. The usual rush of joy I got from seeing him in the morning was replaced with a soul-sucking void of apathy. That effortless brightening of my day had played a larger part in my enjoyment of coming to work than I’d realized. I loved Brigadoon, I loved the people I worked with, I loved the rush of keeping the show running. But those things got monotonous. Something about not knowing what Dakota would do from day to day had given me a sense of excitement. It had given me a reason to wake up in the morning and face the day. I found myself feeling grateful that Dakota had the next two days off, so I wouldn’t have to deal with avoiding him. I wondered idly if he’d even bother texting me.
Another day went by without a word. And another. On the third day of silence after the initial snub, people had noticed a significant change in my behavior. I’d used my go-to excuse of sleep paralysis fucking with my sleep patterns and told them I’d be fine in about a week. It worked to keep them off me, but it didn’t help me in the slightest.
I was on my way out of work when I saw him. I’d forgotten about the Halloween show. He was in it whether it was his usual day of work or not. I caught a glimpse of him in his zombie makeup as he rounded a corner, and felt my soul leave my body. I shut down, my vision glazing over as I forced myself not to look at him, to just keep walking, to get out. I didn’t allow myself to care whether or not he saw me.
Kimmy refused to believe my bullshit about my sleep paralysis, knowing full well what that looked like when it happened. She cornered me at dinner that night, downright withholding my food until I talked to her.
“It’s not a big deal,” I muttered. “Dakota and I haven’t spoken for a few days.”
“So he came here, boned you, and then ignored you for no reason?”
“We didn’t–” Okay, we hadn’t been discrete about that one, lying to her was a waste of time. It didn’t matter, not like it was going to happen again. “Okay, it looks bad, but I don’t think it’s actually how it looks. I’m sure he had a reason, and for whatever reason, he can’t tell me right now.”
Kimmy’s expression spoke volumes, leaving me with no doubt of her thoughts. It clearly said: That excuse is bullshit, and I will fuck him up for you.
“Look, I was gonna talk to him tonight anyway, just to like… touch base, I guess. Maybe salvage our relationship.” That word sounded too romantic. “Friendship, not relationship. We’re not in a relationship. We’re not even in a friendship right now.” I rubbed my hands over my face as I realized I was babbling. “Jesus. God. I sound ridiculous. Help me. Kill me now.”
For what it was worth, Kimmy chuckled. “No, babe, I like you too much.” She came over and wrapped me in one of her wonderful bear hugs, squeezing me until I returned it. “You’re a gem, Piper. If he’s gonna be a dick, he can suck my entire dick.”
I burst out laughing. “You’re a delight. No wonder I love you so much.”
“I know,” Kimmy said, pulling away to get my plate and hand it to me. “I’m the best.”
I’d been lying when I told Kimmy I had planned to text Dakota, but now that I’d said it, I felt guilty not doing it. I missed talking to him. Maybe reaching out would help? If nothing else, he’d know I wasn’t (very) mad, and that I wasn’t ignoring him. Not really.
Laying in bed, wrapped up in blankets, I cuddled stuffed animals close to me, as though they would somehow protect me from my own anxiety. With the room dark except for the light of my phone, I stared at the blank text draft. It seemed too straightforward. I didn’t have anything other than text and Facebook messenger to talk to him through. Facebook somehow seemed more detached. If he didn’t have messenger on his phone– and he probably did, but the shred of doubt eased my anxiety– he might not get the message immediately. I’d probably have time to go to sleep before I got a response. And even if he did have messenger on his phone, it was easier to ignore than texts. At least, it was for me.
For Christ’s sake, did I have to overthink everything?
“Chill the fuck out, Piper,” I whispered to myself. “Get a grip. It’s a text. Just be nice, be polite, and get the hell over yourself.”
I still went with Facebook, but at least I took my own advice.
Hey, I just wanted to know if you’re okay. You weren’t talking to me the other day so I wanted to give you space but I miss talking to you. Hope Halloween went well today.
The quiet buzz of his response made my stomach lurch. It hadn’t even been a minute. I didn’t even bother stopping myself from checking it.
I’m ok. Just got into my own head.
God, I knew that feeling. His response, although quick, felt detached.
Okay. I’ll go back to giving you space.
I’m fine. Texting is easier.
I’m here if you need/want to talk.
I’ve already talked about it to people so I’m fine.
I rolled my eyes. This conversation was going nowhere in a hurry, and I honestly didn’t have the energy to keep talking to him when he obviously didn’t want to talk.
I turned my phone onto Do Not Disturb mode and rolled over, hugging my stuffed animals more tightly. I felt better having talked to him– a sense of relief– but at the same time, something was still aching in my chest. I didn’t want to think about it.