update: what's this? a sequel to a one-shot i posted four years ago? whaaaaaat? who does that, right?!

inspiration is a funny thing. and i have to admit, i can't promise this will live up to the hype of its predecessor (err, is that the right word?), but time and time again, i go back to lilia's story and wonder whether or not there is a happy ending there. when i first posted this, i hadn't finished part 2 yet, but i have now so...

enjoy! xx

the exception, act ii, part 1

"I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing..."
-song for zula, phosphorescent

Sometimes she remembered him when she came across something that made her laugh.

Sometimes in a coffee shop, drinking her espresso shot, she'd remember his stupid face and the countless nights they stayed up until 3am at Starbucks, sitting across from each other, talking about random things, random people, random pieces of their hearts they never dared share with anyone else. Then she'd miss him. Not that she'd ever admit it. She'd pick up her ancient phone, scroll down to his name, and do nothing. Because she hasn't seen or spoken to him since Thanksgiving.

Three weeks ago.

His wife was due in December. Lilia hated December babies, mostly because she was one. It felt like cheating, you know? Receiving one present instead of two because your birthday fell on the day before Christmas.

Such is life, she supposed, returning to her Pablo Neruda, only to be interrupted by a text.

Lil, pick up your phone.

It was him.

Five seconds later, her phone rang.

Three weeks. They haven't spoken in three weeks. They haven't spoken for longer than that before, like right after he got married in June and he didn't try to reach her until August and only because it was the wife's birthday and she wanted to know if Lilia was coming for the dinner party. Lilia had said yes and spoken exactly six words to him the entire night: Happy Thanksgiving and Please pass the salt. The wife couldn't cook if her life depended on it.

Lilia picked up the phone. And said nothing.

"Hi," he said. "Don't hang up."

She was mute.


"Wasn't planning on it."


"Why did you call?"

"Listen," he said. And she knew immediately he was about to ramble. "I know we haven't spoken in a while and I have a feeling you're still mad at me but I miss you, Lil, and—"

"Remember when you told me not to hang up? Kind of hard to do right now, Josh."

"She's in labor."


He never mentioned her name to her unless necessary. Lilia appreciated it. And despised him for his sweetness.

"Right now?"

"Right now."

"What are you doing on the phone with me then, knucklehead?"

"I wanted you to be the first to know."

"Go back to your wife and stop talking to me. Right now. Go, Jay."

"We're at the Kingsphere Hospital, maternity ward, ninth floor."

"I'll be there."

"I know you will, Lia."

Silence followed. The kind of comfortable silence that never failed to put her at ease when she was with him. Because they could say so much more to each other when they were silent.

I miss you.

I still love you.

I think about you all the time.

I hate that we're not speaking anymore.

How one person could simultaneously complete her and disfigure her heart baffled her.

"I'm going to be a father," he whispered, breaking the silence.

"You deserve all the happiness you receive, Jay. Every bit of it."

After he hung up, she stared at her book, at her drink, for what felt like an hour.

She hasn't picked up her once-overused copy of Shakespeare's Complete Works in months since they got married, the Bard's rhymes almost completely faded from her memory. And Lilia wished she had it in front of her now, to search for the perfect words that could encompass the perfect pain.

Instead, the lyrics to Ed Sheeran's song New Man pervaded her thoughts as the tune played in the background. That one specific line: Please remember you're still free to make the choice and leave.

He may not be Shakespeare, Lilia thought, but it'll do for now.

Sometimes she thought about him when she came across something that made her laugh.

Like that Friends episode where Phoebe decided to change her name to Princess Conseula Bananahammock and Mike changed his name too. Then there were the sad days, tragic life moments, like attending a friend's wedding, stag. Worse, with her sister Jenna whom she's barely spoken to since high school after she moved out for university.

They stood near the back of the church, on the groom's side, as Canon in D swelled, and Lilia couldn't help but think how overrated it was, that stupid, sluggish piece comprised of eight dumb notes in perpetual loop, how so many brides wanted it played at their wedding when there were hundreds of others that could just as easily work.

Lilia bit her tongue, along with her rant that begged to be spilled out, if only Jenna bothered to look at her. But her sister, twice engaged then never married, gaped in awe at the bride, and stared at the man she once dated in high school semi-seriously and was now marrying this girl she met only once before. Greg and Jenna had remained friends, and he was a good guy. Always treated Lilia with respect, like a little sister , and was one of the many people shocked when he found out Jay was getting married but not to Lilia.

Marriage—what a crock, she thought. Love is patient, love is kind...well, it was definitely stupid if it was waiting forever for a guy who's already married. And kind? What's that old platitude? Kill them with kindness and bury them with a smile?

Sometimes she thought about him when she remembered something that had made her cry. Like her mother's death, which, of all her friends from university, only Jay knew about. Only one other time did she cry like that: to sleep, after he got married.

As she listened to the couple's vows, forever they'll take care of each other, 'til death do they part—ephemeral, empty promises that seemingly have never heard of the word "divorce"—she remembered her kiss with Jay in the women's washroom of the church on his wedding day, and his text afterwards that she saved, the only reason she couldn't replace her ancient phone and buy a new one. And her heart broke in half all over again.

Jenna mistook Lilia's tears for happy tears for the couple, and Lilia swallowed hard to keep herself from throwing up.

Throwing up sounded like a great idea right about now, Lilia thought.

Sometimes when she found herself inside a hospital, strolling down its depressing sky blue halls, the essence of death and finality and puke green melancholy all around her, she'd remember his stupid face and that time he got alcohol poisoning.

It was after their last midterm before spring break. There was a celebration. Byron residence building, fourth floor, water balloon fights, half-naked everyone.

They were in her room. The Serpent had already returned to her hometown, probably on her way to some fancy cruise with her rich family.

Lilia was engrossed in Love in the Time of Cholera. He was wondering how she could still be reading when there was a party to be had outside.

"Dude," he said. "Let's goooo."

"Hang on, I'm almost done."

"Lilia, come on."

"I've been trying to finish this for three months. Shut up."

Jay shut up.

He waited.

He got bored.

"Lilia, let's go or I swear I'm calling—"

"Okay, done."

She shut her book.

He smirked.

"Why do you hate her so much?" he asked.

"I never hate. I tolerate."

"You tolerate because you hate."

"Don't put words in my mouth. Let's dash."

They dashed.

She never cared for parties.

He mildly enjoyed them.

She saw him a total of three times before The Incident.

Once, outside the pool of the Delta-Omega-SomethingSomething sorority house with a couple of scantily clad women—girls—who she assumed were ignorant freshmen.

The second time, he was upside down drowning in beer with the keg tap in his mouth and with a group of what her first-year Reasoning and Thinking Philosophy prof might have referred to as neanderthals cheering him on.

The third, he passed by her, eyes glassy, inhibitions shot and she called out, "JOSH."

And he yelled, enthusiastically spinning around, "YEAH BABE."

Then she lost him in a sea of well-educated idiots.

The fourth time she saw him, The Incident, he was passed out on the bathroom floor beside the disgusting toilet with the disgusting vomit in it and he was barely breathing.

It was the only time she had ever had a panic attack.

Because for at least a whole minute, sixty seconds too long, she thought he was dead. And the idea of losing him, of a world—no, a universe—devoid of his existence, rendered her so inconsolable that she could barely speak for hours when he finally regained consciousness after his stomach was pumped.

"Y'alright?" he asked from the hospital bed, swallowing hospital Jell-o like everything was A-OK. "Sorry about that. In my defense, I've never drunk that much before and I swear I never will again."

She didn't respond.

"Is it because I called you babe? I vaguely remember that part."

She still hadn't gotten over that either.

"Lil, I'm fine. I'm as alive as that lab mouse in the science building though, of course, more adorable."

She opened her mouth to lie about how he was so far from adorable but all that came out was air.

She was a poet with no words.

His eyes softened.

He put aside the Jell-o.


He'd only taken to calling her that recently and he did it because she hated it. What he didn't know was that she hated it from everyone else but him.

"Babe, c'mere."

And he enveloped her in his arms and her sadness evaporated and found their way back to the melancholy hospital walls.

You could've died, she wanted to say but her words came out as a sigh.

"Did you think I was dead?"

Lilia nodded. He pulled her closer.

He smelled like the promise of eternal friendships and Shakespearean sonnets being read under the shade of the majestic oak tree outside the Tennyson building while the robins sang their love soundtrack.

"I'd probably haunt you to death if I prematurely died."

She giggled. Actually honest-to-God giggled. She was goo.

She could feel him smiling against her hair.


She didn't respond, just inched closer.

"I'm glad you found me," he whispered.

I'm glad I found you too, Jay, she wanted to say.

But words were not enough.

Words were not enough to describe how much Lilia had come to hate—no, despise—no, abhor—weddings.

Here was a multibillion-dollar industry dedicated to bankrupting couples before they could even say, "I do".

"That was a lovely wedding, right?" Jenna asked with a sigh, as they stepped through the doors of a gorgeous two-story Normal-style chateau, the venue for the wedding reception.

"So lovely."

Lilia could fake a smile, but she had to admit, the English Georgian architecture left her breathless, a romantic fairy tale setting that must've cost—

"Please, sis, you could look a little bit more sad than that. I mean, look at this place. You're across the lake—"

"Across the pond."

"Whatever, and like, this is a wedding. You know what you need to get over what's-his-face Jenson?"

"Joshua. You met him several times. You wanted him to be a groomsman."

"I don't dwell on the past, sis," Jenna said dismissively. "You need a man. And this is a wedding. There are many men here who are probably single. I mean, that guy over there is Tom Bennett. The Tom Bennett and Lisa's very available, very bachelor, very British and very beautiful cousin."

"For a second there, I was afraid you'd run out of adjectives."

"That's the only reason I said yes, you know? Greg and I have barely talked since high school—"

Like you and me?

Lilia kept her mouth shut, following Jenna who, at the very least, looked like she knew where she was going. Probably the open bar.

"But Tom Bennett." She pronounced his name like his very essence was contained in them. "I mean, c'mon!"

"You say his name like I'm supposed to know him."

"Are you still on your pseudo-leddite kick?"

"Luddite, Jenna. Neo-luddism. And it's not a kick."

"No, it's just literally dumb."

Lilia cringed.

"No movies, no Internet, no phone—"

"I have a phone," she said, rather weakly.

"That dinosaur BlackBerry in your purse that can barely send texts and you no doubt only keep for what's-his-face in case he calls does not count as a phone. It's sad, Lil. It's sad and pathetic like your lack of a love life."

Lilia bit her lip.

Jenna's words were too true to be ignored, and Lilia was sick of the truth and reality.

Instead of responding to her sister's unfounded accusations, she said, "What exactly does literal dumbness look like?"

Jenna rolled her eyes at her. "When did you become so mean and bitter, Ms. Grammar Nazi?"

She backtracked.

Jenna was right. What was wrong with her? Why was she in a perpetual bad mood, black cloud hanging over her head, ready to pour down on an unsuspecting stranger at any moment?

"God, I'm sorry, Jenna. You're right. You've been nothing but kind, letting me tag along. And it's been nice catching up with you. Thanks for taking me here. I needed a vacation."

Wow, she thought, that almost sounded genuine.

Sometimes, when her older sister smiled, Lilia was reminded of their mother. Jenna had their mom's lips and the golden hair, which Lilia envied and unfortunately did not inherit.

Jenna's smile almost put her at ease. Until the next crazy thing would stumble out of her mouth.

"You also need a man and I'm going to make that happen."

"I don't need one, thanks."

"Sister to sister, when was the last time you—"

"I'm taking us off this line of questioning immediately."

"Pining over one guy for five years, have you ever even—"

"Jenna," she hissed, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks, feeling ridiculous at her inexperience at twenty-four. "Shut up, please."

"You don't get it, do you, Lil?"

"No, but I'm sure you're about to explain it to me."

"There's a fine line between what you want and what you need. The Rolling Stones."

The laugh that escaped her lips surprised Lilia. It felt like it's been forever since she last laughed, felt genuine happiness, stretched her mouth to smile.

"That has to be the worst misquote of that song I've ever heard, Jen."

"Well, I'm sorry but I was too busy ogling Mick Jagger to pay attention to their lyrics."

"I'm more of a Shakespeare fan," Lilia said. "His words are what make him irresistible. Beauty fades."

Jenna threw her a look. "He's several millenias old."

"Centuries. And millennia is already a plural. No 's' needed."


"Poetry is timeless, Jenna. It speaks to the very essence of our souls, it delves into the inner workings of our hearts, our thoughts, our wills, and betrays our depths to the world. People hate poetry today because we've become shallow as human beings. Our entire culture obsessed with vanity, with external beauty, with technology that corrupt our sense of self—"

"You know what's timeless? Weddings."

"Sometimes, I think you just want the wedding, not the marriage."

"And sometimes I think you're just a prude on purpose."

"Yeah, you got me," Lilia said. "I'm a regular Katherina."

A pause.


"Who else?"

Jenna shook her head. "Let's get you a drink, dork, before you infect the room with your bitterness. This is a wedding, not a divorce settlement."

"Yeah, because tomorrow, they won't be able to afford a divorce settlement."

"Have you always been this cynical and I just didn't notice?" Jenna asked, and to Lilia, it sounded like she had asked it jokingly.

So why did it bother her so much?

Why did it bother her so much anyway? This whole thing was ridiculous. Josh and his wife have been married for months. Dating for at least five years. Why was Lilia not over this yet? She should be over it, right? She should've moved on by now. At the very least, she should've mastered controlling her feelings.

But every time something new happened, she was a bundle of nerves, fear, and agonizing pain.

God, she didn't want to do it. She didn't want to find him. She didn't want to see his first child. She didn't want to be there for him. She didn't want to be the best friend anymore. She didn't even want to be anything.

Like a fish out of water. Her life was suffocating her.

Jay was suffocating her.

"LILIA! It's a girl!"

He ran—no, sprinted—down the hall towards her and she stumbled backwards from the impact. He held her for way too long, unable to contain his joy. And when he finally released her, she knew it was the kind of joy she'd never be able to give him.

"I'm happy for you," she said.

Not a lie.

He grinned. "I'm happy for me too. Man, I don't even—I have no words. It really is a miracle of life, experiencing that. Mind you, it was utterly disgusting and a bloody mess—literally—"

Lilia smiled at his correct use, reminding her of one of the reasons she was still in love with Josh.

"—and I love her and all but she murdered my hand when she was holding on to it but seeing our baby girl for the first time—God! It's surreal. It was one of those I-can't-believe-this-is-happening moments. I am in love with her. With my child. How is that possible, to fall in love so fast for someone you've only met? Lia, she's the most gorgeous, precious, human being in the world. C'mon, you have to see her!"

Lilia's heart died.

For several reasons.

For every reason.

And when she watched him hold his baby for the first time, the image so beautiful and heartbreaking, her chest empty except for a thousand sonnets she would never write about him, all she wanted to do was bury herself in her coffin of despair and cry.

"She's precious, isn't she?"

Lilia's voice broke. "Completely precious."

Not a lie.

"Do you want to hold her?"



Half a lie.

She held the baby girl. His baby girl in her arms. She had his eyes. And mouth. And the Serpent's nose and chin. And Lilia knew then it was real. For sure.

This was real.

"I don't think I've ever felt this happy, Lia. I don't think I can ever feel quite this happy again."

"You will," she promised him.

Not a lie.

"And I'm so happy for you, Jay. I'm so happy for you."


Lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie—

She needed a drink.


She needed a bar.

The bar was packed with people.

Lilia wanted to die.

"What did you say?" she repeated, a little louder than she meant to, right behind Jenna who was beelining for the front of the line.

"I said, words are not enough to describe the specimen that is Tom Bennett. He fills in that suit way too snuggly—"

"Snuggly? Is that even a word?"

"And those glorious dark locks that fall just so over his eyes. And those lips—like they could just take you—"

"He looked young."

They reached the front somehow, by some miracle, and her sister surveyed the options.

"He's probably a couple of years younger than you, Lil," Jenna said, "but age is but a number."

"That number means you could be his older sister," Lilia pointed out.

Jenna glared at her. "Brat."

And for the second time that night, Lilia laughed. It felt good, to laugh. Years of friendship with Jay, she realized, had made her tremendously bitter and angry. More Iago, very much less herself.

She needed her life back. Her life before Jay. But who was she before Jay? The Lilia who didn't have a mother? Who struggled through her entire senior year academically because she spent more time in the hospital by her mother's deathbed than in class and barely made the grades to get into a decent college? The girl who missed Prom because nobody asked her and she was too busy planning her mother's funeral anyway? The girl who vowed never to watch movies again after her mom's death, because her mom—who once dreamt of being an actress until she met Lilia's dad in college and he made her fall in love with words, inspiring her to become an English prof instead—loved movies, loved them, next to Shakespeare, until she met Jay four years after her mom died and he made her believe in them again, convinced her deprived, abandoned heart that movies were an escape from reality, and it would've been her mom's wish that she kept watching them.

Who was she now though? Without her mom? Without Jay?

"What do you want?" Jenna's voice was a respite from Lilia's existentialist thoughts. "We got a couple of drink tickets each."


"Boring. Try harder."

"Iced water."

"I swear I will smack you on the head if you say water one more time."

She grinned at Jenna.

"Look," Lilia said, eyes running over the different choices and finding them all repulsive. "I don't know."

She had long ago associated drinking with Jay and the mere sight of a beer bottle reminded her of that one time, after hanging out with friends, two months before his wedding, he had dropped her off at her apartment and inquired, in a state of mild inebriation, How come we never dated?

Dumb boy.

Lilia shook her head at her older sister.

"Alcohol and I are...what do the kids say these days…frenemies?"

"I have to admit," the voice on her right said, catching her off guard. Thick accent. Very British. "I've never heard it phrased like that before. We love our pubs here in London."

Lilia raised her eyes to see who had spoken, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's words came alive.

that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.

"What do you feel like having?" Tom Bennett asked Lilia, and when she met his eyes, deep brown, self-assured yet kind, she remembered meeting Jay for the first time at that indie concert years ago while the song about yellow shoes played in the background.

She remembered her reaction to her best friend.

Jay was cute.

But Tom Bennett was…



Up close, he didn't look that young. Up close, he seemed mature. Confident. His features intimidatingly beautiful, the chiseled jawline, the defined slant of the nose, the delicate lashes, the immaculate skin, the way his brown locks fell over his forehead just so

Lilia tore her gaze away.

Between the two of them, it was Jenna who always had the more confidence. Jenna could have any guy she wanted. Getting them to commit, on the other hand, was a different story.

God, she was mean. Wasn't she? How did she become so mean and when?

"Water," Jenna answered for her. "My sister is more boring than watching paint dry."

Lilia blinked, suddenly feeling justified for her own thoughts.


"Hey, don't pretend you care now, lil sis." Jenna flicked her eyes towards Tom Bennett who seemed unfazed, maybe even amused, by the sibling banter. "She only wants water, but I'm trying to get her, well, drunk enough so she'd loosen up, you know. Get laid. You got any recommendations?" Jenna realized what she said and promptly giggled. "For a drink, I mean, not a man. But if you have some friends who are available, she'd take them."

She extended her arm across Lilia's middle and held out a hand towards Tom Bennett.

"I'm Jenna, by the way," she said, beaming.

Tom Bennett's eyes crinkled when he smiled at you, and his face lit up the whole room. Life and energy seemed to naturally emanate from his entire being. He could look so mature one second, and a complete innocent boy the next. And the tension between the two puzzled, and fascinated, Lilia.

The man could be a model, she thought. He could be on the cover of GQ if he wanted.

She instantly imagined his background: Oxford graduate, maybe in something genius like Astrophysics. He'd have an expensive telescope by the windows of his minimalist yet classy bachelor pad that overlooked the Thames River, and he'd watch the stars right before bed. He was probably close to his mom, had one younger brother and older sister who loved him to bits, and growing up, whenever he had girl troubles, his sister was the one he confided in.

And Jenna was right. Obviously, the guy worked out, judging by how well his gray suit fit him. Too well. She imagined him reciting Byron's poetry to her, or perhaps Shakespearean sonnets she had loved and memorized at thirteen, by the fireplace on Saturday evenings while the snow fell outside. And, with his accent by her ear, she'd fall in love with each of the Bard's delectable rhymes for the hundredth time and Tom Bennett would piece her heart back together again.

It occurred to Lilia right then that it had been a while since she had spoken to a member of the opposite sex in a casual setting whose name was not Joshua.

"Jenna," Tom repeated, snapping Lilia back to reality. "Pleasure to meet you."

She couldn't—could not—get over his accent. A thought shared by her sister, it seemed, as she heard Jenna say, a little too flirtatiously, "God, my name sounds so much better with your accent."

And when Tom Bennett laughed—

Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

Act 3, Scene 5. As You Like It. Taken from Christopher Marlowe, of course, because Shakespeare was a brilliant thief who bartered his soul for stolen gold.

"I'm Tom." He shook Jenna's hand. Left his hanging in front of Lilia. Peered at her curiously with his inquisitive brown eyes that paid way-too-careful attention. "And you?"

She was a witless, unintelligent poet with no words, reduced to silence at his acknowledgement.

When she raised her eyes to meet his, open and friendly, Lilia forced herself to snap out of it and take fate by the balls.

This was no Marquez novel. It was her life. That casual glance was not the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later. The Bard may have believed in love at first sight, but it was a different time, five hundred years ago. Back then, people didn't live as long. Back then, of course you had to fall in love at first sight, because your object of affection could just as easily die tomorrow. There were no forevers, not even 20th wedding anniversaries. There were plagues and diseases that guaranteed premature arrival to the other side. It was reality.

Lilia blurted out the first thing that came to mind—"Thirsty"—brushed her hand against Tom Bennett's, and let go before he could grasp hers.

The sound of Jenna's giggles irritated her like her cat Dickens when he would scratch at the leg of the kitchen table, reaching for Lilia's purse.

"What?" Lilia demanded. "What's so funny?"

"Dear sis, that means something else these days, if you cared to pay attention to the online culture."

"Unless, of course, she knew that and that was a brilliant play on words," Tom pointed out.

Why? Lilia wanted to ask out loud. Why did she have a soft spot for British men?

"I get things wrong all the time," Tom said.

The smile plastered on Jenna's face didn't seem to have plans of leaving anytime soon.

"Oh, I know," Jenna replied to him. "But it's practically become your signature."

Lilia had no idea what they were talking about, which happened ninety-eight percent of the time when she hung out with her peers. Jay—it was only him who understood her, and she understood him too.

"Play on words, they were not." Lilia forced herself to look at this Tom person, wondering if there would ever come a time when Jay didn't intrude into every thought or invade every situation. "I'm genuinely thirsty. For water. And alcohol is dehydrating."

Before she could say anything else, Tom was ordering her water and Jenna her choice of drink. His initiative added to his appeal, revealing that he was a man who, when he knew what he wanted, never hesitated to go for it.

Unlike her best friend.

What a first-class moron.

Lilia thought it was kind of Tom Bennett to order for them, but she also wondered whether he did it out of kindness or simply to impress Jenna.

"Thank you, Tom, you're such a sweetheart," Jenna said and Tom returned her smile, his manners easy-going, disarming Lilia's guards, unfettering her from years of unrequited-slash-technically requited-slash-unreturned-slash-unsatisfied dumb love for her dumb best friend.

Tom Bennett knew he was good-looking, she thought. He knew. He must know. He no doubt was the kind of man—no, guy, for he remained younger than her, yet deceivingly so—who was so full of himself, he probably took selfies while shirtless in his bedroom at his parents' house and posted it to be admired by his throng of followers on Photogram, or whatever new-fangled application controlled her peers these days.

Yes, Lilia decided, that was him. And it turned her off. Vanity. Overindulgence in self-love. How different was he from every other guy out there who was obsessed with himself? Who probably had Tinder, no doubt, and said dumb things like "roast" and "extra" and—God, he was probably still a child. Glaringly different from Jay who was a man, who had a child.

Beauty fades. Lilia knew this. Intellect, a mastery of the English language and poetry, a mind that explored questions of existence, origin, morality, philosophy and religion, and was not immersed in videogames or social media or blockbuster franchises like superhero movies. These are what she gravitated towards, not some GQ model-wannabe with a face.

But God, what a beautiful face.

And Jenna—she looked like his type. Growing up, it was always her, wasn't it? The center of attention. The cheerleader. The favorite.

Glancing at both of them, Lilia had a sudden urge to call Jay and rant about her sister. But the urge just reminded her of Jay, period. She couldn't believe that his ghost had haunted her all the way to London, England, just to mock her with his perfect little life and complete new family. She had hoped going to this wedding would help her forget about him. Enlighten her mind, transform her perspective, so she could move on.

But change wasn't like that though, was it? Change came slowly. In small increments over time. Like the soft patter of rain against the window at ten in the evening in the quiet of your room on your worst day, with silence suspended, and the stench of loneliness, asphyxiating, but beyond the dark clouds was bright hope for a new morn.

She knew it was probably rude to leave, but staying one more second could lead to her demise.

"Excuse me, will you?" She almost felt bad for breaking up their new, shiny, disgusting friendship.


"I just have to—"

"I have to see you."

Lilia swallowed hard, the desire for alcohol and to drown herself in her miseries was growing stronger, and she needed to leave this place immediately, this stupid hospital, the sight of Josh holding his stupid baby.

She had to—

"We need to catch up, Lia," Josh said. "We should catch up. I miss you. So much. It feels like I haven't talked to you in forever and…you're my best friend, Lil. You're still my best friend."

It wasn't fair, she thought. This life thing. It wasn't fair.

Suddenly, Lilia remembered her sister's text from yesterday. Greg's wedding invitation. England. Jenna's insistence that this would be the perfect holiday vacation for the two of them, perfect place for celebrating Lilia's 25th birthday. It's been so long since they truly hung out, Jenna said. London would be brilliant. As if London in the winter was any better than here?

She flicked her gaze towards Jay who was preoccupied with the new life in his arms, and she decided that, yes, anywhere was better than here. Plus, Greg used to throw the best parties in high school. His wedding would likely be the most extravagant affair Lilia would ever have the opportunity of attending.

Three weeks. Far away from Jay.

It was the vacation she didn't know she needed until she found herself blurting it out to him.

"I'm going to a wedding."

He turned his attention back to her. "You are?"

"In London."

"Like Shakespeare London?"

"Yes, Josh, that London. Are there any other Londons out there?"


She couldn't help it. She laughed, despite herself.

"Whatever," she said. "Shakespeare London. England."

"England," he repeated. "How long?"

"Three weeks."

"Your birthday—"

"Probably celebrating there."

"But it's your 25th—"

"Josh," she said.

"I'm just saying. Three weeks...that's a long time, Lia."

"Yeah, well, not much for me here anyway."


"I need this, you know? Don't I need this, Jay?"

And he didn't answer her, his eyes saying everything he needed to say.

Of course you need this.

But I'd miss you.

I can't do this without you.

She leaned over, gave him a half-hug. Pathetic, really. Didn't want to hurt herself more than that. A peck on the cheek.

"I'll text you when I get there."

When she turned around, she sprinted towards the elevators. Getting inside, she let out a deep breath she didn't know she had been holding.

Three weeks without Jay in a new place. It was, for what it's worth, the beginning of something.

Something else.

Anything else.

This was her life now.

This—far away from Joshua—was her life now.

It had to be.