Dakota became more than an affair, more than an obsession. He became an addiction.
It was a dangerous game to play, but my favorite game all the same. Sending texts every day, even on our separate days off, sometimes just to say hi. Eating lunch with him, whispering innuendos, making plans, flirting impossibly. Stolen kisses, and sometimes more, when we hung out together. It was wrong, so wrong, but so hard to keep myself from him.
There were moments of clarity. Times I would look at my reflection and ask myself what the fuck I was doing, making time with someone who wasn’t mine to have. The answer eluded me, vanishing whenever I saw Dakota’s name on my phone, heard his voice at work.
Often I’d be rudely reminded that he was still, in fact, with Alexis. Saying her name, even thinking it, made my stomach turn. Not out of dislike for her, not even from jealousy. The self-hatred really came through when I reminded myself that she existed. Yet still, Dakota would seek me out, through text or at work, and the cycle would continue. It was a constant battle with myself.
My moods began to shift to match the madness. So much so that Kimmy took notice. I’d be on an emotional high one day, and completely detached the next. Sometimes the depression was so strong I’d stare into the blackness of night in our room and wonder if living was really worth it. Other times I’d be singing show tunes and cleaning like some sort of “College AU” Snow White or Cinderella.
The rollercoaster caused Kimmy so much stress, she staged an intervention. The sneak caught me in her trap effortlessly: by baking cookies.
“Piper, come have a cookie while they’re still warm!”
I’d been reading on my bed when I heard her call me, and jumped up at the prospect of warm, fresh baked cookies to munch on. It was better than the constant cycle of soup or spaghettios. I rushed out to find Kimmy plating a couple of cookies and setting them at my usual barstool with a glass of almond milk.
“Oh, they smell divine,” I practically moaned, settling onto the stool and grabbing a cookie. I bit into it, gooey chocolate chips melting in my mouth, and actually moaned. “They taste better. You’re a kitchen goddess. How have I lived without you?”
“Cookie-less,” Kimmy teased, plating some for herself. She joined me at the bar-top counter, giving me a slight pat on the back. “Now tell me about whatever’s been bothering you for the last almost month.”
I stared at her. “I… have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Well,” Kimmy said, dipping her cookie into her own glass of milk, “it seemed to start up when you went to go hang out with Dakota–” she brought up her fingers to do air quotes, “just as friends.”
I swallowed. “I mean… that’s… what happened.” Shit, I could lie if I had to, but Kimmy made it so damn hard, her face knowing but expectant. I flushed, with the uncomfortable sensation of drowning in guilt, and looked down at my hands to avoid her gaze. “It… isn’t what you think.”
“Do you know what I think?”
I peeked up at her. Her eyes, warm brown like the chocolate in her cookies, were patient. “What do you think?”
Kimmy placed her hands primly on her lap. “Well. I think you and Dakota slept together that day he came over. Then once you found out he was taken, you realized he was complete, cheating trash, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and tried to salvage your friendship.”
“That’s… pretty accurate, yeah.” And god, it felt like a weight had been lifted out of my chest, like the guilt was receding from my lungs.
“Then he turned it around and used you, again.”
Well, there went the happy, fuzzy feeling. “No, it wasn’t– it’s not like that. He didn’t use me. I was right there with him, making my own stupid but consensual decisions.”
“And rather than putting up your boundaries, you let yourself get drawn in, and repeatedly hurt, because you’re the kind of person who keeps giving people chances.” I didn’t respond, because I didn’t have to. Kimmy knew she was right. “I’m the same way, I did the same thing with my ex– even after I found out he was cheating on me. I kept going back because I was addicted to him, because I was scared no one else would ever love me the way he did.”
It stung, like being slapped, to be so easily read. I remained silent for a long time, just staring at Kimmy. She knew, impossibly, what it was like to live in Hell and think it was Heaven. She knew what it was like to walk those first months after leaving abuse, to feel shattered and empty, the pain of being unwanted. She knew the truth of being free, and the doubt that being free was better than the abuse was.
I drew in a shuddering breath, not realizing that I had begun to cry. “I… I didn’t ask to survive. I didn’t want to. When the abuse stopped, I asked to die, because anything was better than living, day in and day out, completely detached from the world around me, completely separate. The emptiness, the solitude. Being unwillingly ostracized because no one had a clue what it was like.”
Kimmy stayed silent. I was so far off the topic she’d set up, but she listened anyway, nodding occasionally, watching with those patient, loving eyes.
“My heart was beating, I was breathing, I could smile and people would believe that I was alive. But I wasn’t, not really. I wasn’t healthy, not by any standards. Healthy people didn’t lie awake at night wondering if death was a better alternative to waking up in the morning. Healthy people didn’t spend their days like a zombie, walking through life like the reanimated dead, completely detached from reality. Healthy people didn’t have the constant fog in their head, muddling their memories, making it harder to pretend to have basic intelligence and common sense. Healthy people didn’t spend some days eating everything in sight and others refusing to eat at all. Healthy people didn’t pick at their skin until they bled, or rip out their eyelashes, or make shitty, rash decisions, just for the rush, the feeling that they were finally, finally alive.”
The tears were flowing freely now. I didn’t try to stop them, only grabbed a paper towel and tried to keep my cheeks and nose dry. “I always had an obsession. Always. There was always that one person who would get me through the day, who I’d wake up just to see, to talk to if I was lucky– which I rarely was. That person, and any encounter I had with them, no matter how small, helped me feel like I had a purpose, a reason to go to school.” I sighed. “Then I went to college and even that wasn’t enough.”
I’d gone insane. Literally, descended into madness, so profound I’d dropped out of college for nearly a year in a vain attempt to recover enough to function. Returning to college and work had been miserable, and had virtually remained that way. Theatre work had gotten me through several months, times I’d starred in Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Jesus Christ Superstar, Charlotte’s Web. I’d come out of the living hell long enough to hold down a job and land an internship with Chance Theatre. It had turned my life around, just enough.
“It started happening again when I got to Chance. First with Jay, and you saw how that ended.”
“Then with Dakota,” Kimmy supplied, and I nodded.
“Then with Dakota.” I shook my head. “I didn’t want it to happen. I never do. He just…” I laughed, a distracted sort of laugh that held little humor. “He’s so funny. So flirtatious. He has a quick wit and a kind smile.” Lost in memories of those first few months, before it was complicated, before I’d lost my mind, I smiled, and put a hand on my heart. “He gives amazing hugs.”
I looked down at my hands again, clutching a paper towel, not bothering to wipe the tears anymore. “It’s not fair, Kimmy. I know that’s childish and stupid to say, but it’s really, so horrifically unfair. Why did he have to be the first guy who didn’t hurt me? I’ve been with four different guys, a handful of girls, and that one trans guy– he gets his own category because he was technically the first guy who didn’t hurt me– and Dakota’s the only one I’ve actually enjoyed having sex with. I was convinced my bisexuality was completely invalid, despite being attracted to both guys and girls.” I sucked in a breath, overwhelmed. “And then fucking Dakota comes along, and he’s a wonderful lover, and kind, and caring–”
I shook my head at Kimmy’s interjection. “The chase is why I keep going back. That and the hurt. You can’t know, Kimmy.” I looked at her, imploring her to understand. “You can’t know what it’s like to have someone who is, almost, the perfect person for you, and have them perpetually slipping in and out of your grasp.” My smile turned wry, almost bitter. “It’s a vicious, beautiful cycle. He’s my favorite form of self harm.”
That seemed to resonate with Kimmy, for she merely reached out a hand and put it on my knee.
Shaking my head, I continued. “I’ve been seeing him on and off for almost a month, and it’s starting to kill me. Every time he’s distant, I drop, and the depression comes back. When he seeks me out, I rise, and the depression is so far away, and I get high.”
“You’re addicted to him.” Kimmy squeezed my knee, and I nodded.
“I didn’t mean to be. I don’t want to be. I wish I could change it, to turn it off, to move it onto someone else, someone more deserving. But I don’t know how.”
Her eyes went from patient to piteous. “You love him.”
My throat closed. I didn’t want to say yes, but who was I really fooling? Not myself, certainly not Kimmy. I nodded. “I don’t want to love him. He’s not mine to love.”
“He’s doing a fantastic job and solidifying that for you,” Kimmy said dryly. I found myself laughing, a sharp crack of sound that bordered hysterical.
“I know, right? The mixed signals are driving me insane. I just want a solid friends or lovers decision, but I don’t want to force him to make that choice, and obviously I’m doing a shit job at choosing for myself.”
“You have hope.”
Disgust washing through me, I scowled, almost ready to spit. “Fuck hope. Hope is a pitiful emotion that makes people do stupid things and stay in unhealthy situations. Of course I have hope.” Useless, awful, blinding hope. “I’ll always have hope, and faith, and trust. That will always be my downfall, my fatal flaw, my kryptonite. I trust people, I put my faith in them, I have hope that they’ll make the right decision– or in this case, make any decision at all.”
Sighing heavily, I leaned toward Kimmy, resting my head on her shoulder. My tears had finally slowed to a stop. “I’m addicted and stupid, I’ve caught feels when all I wanted was a friends-with-benefits arrangement, and now I’m a disaster because I know this is a stupid choice I keep making.”
“He’s still a cheating bastard.”
I nodded. “But he’s my cheating bastard, sort of. I’m the other woman, for the second time in a row.” And knowing that made my heart break just a little more. “Poor, clueless Alexis, with no idea that her sweet, perfect boyfriend is seeing someone else on the side.”
Kimmy wrapped her arms around me and squeezed. “The minute you want him dragged through the mud, tell me. I’ll ruin him for you.”
“You would,” I giggled, winding my hands around her waist. “I love you, Kimmy. Thank you for making me talk.”
“I love you too, Piper.” She kissed the top of my head. “Now finish your cookies.”