\n__''It's 1 AM.''__\n<<set $straightforward = 0>> <<set $desperate = 0>> <<set $romantic = 0>>\nThe only party you've been to all year has turned out to be more of a mistake than you'd anticipated. Your presence in this musty cellar, where the air is choked with stale gas fumes and the stench of cheap beer, is just another ill-advised attempt to legitimize your presence in this city. Graduation in two months and not much to show for it. You're short on friends, short on interest in your studies, short on whatever nebulous quality defines a fulfilled life. Maybe if you knew [[what it was|What it was]], you could inject it into your quiet, vain existence.
\nAnd maybe that's ok.\n\nMaybe a collection of joints in time, moments that seem of cosmic importance, don't decide everything. Maybe some endings come no matter how hard you try to avoid them. Maybe some endings are unattainable, no matter how desperately you strive and yearn for them.\n\nMaybe endings don't have to be [[The End|The Beginning]].
//"We've been drifting apart for months, and I can't take the pain of it anymore. I love who you are, you're funny and sarcastic, you're raw and you're real, but you can also be cold. As much as I care about you, every day you seem farther away. Every time you speak you're more guarded. I can't stand the slow death of what we had. I'd rather remember every beautiful moment we shared untainted than let them all wither away with what's left of our love.\n\n...Please say something"//\n\n[[A second begins:|...]]
You nod at nothing in particular and peer over the edge of the roof at the street a dozen floors down, watching the paths of people below intersect and join and diverge again. Then you climb back down the stairs, back to your messy life and the million messy choices that fill a trillion messy moments.\n\n''A second begins...''
\n__''It's 1 AM''__\n\n//"I can't do this anymore,"// she whispers, rousing you from half-consciousness. You sit up in bed and turn on the light, and see that her eyes are red and raw, her cheeks damp.\n\nYou make tea, and sit with her at the table, and wait for her to fight her way through the web of silence between the two of you, keeping you apart and binding you together.\n\n<<if $romantic gte 2>>\n<<display "Romantic End">>\n<<endif>>\n<<if $straightforward gte 2>>\n<<display "Straightforward End">>\n<<endif>>\n<<if $desperate gte 2>>\n<<display "Desperate End">>\n<<endif>>\n<<if ($romantic eq 1) and ($desperate eq 1)>>\n<<display "Mixed End">>\n<<endif>>
Love and Loss in 10 Seconds
\n<<set $desperate = $desperate + 1>>''A second ends'', and she arches an eyebrow as you stumble over your words. You shrug and feel your face flush, but she seems to find your hesitance endearing, nudging your side and telling you to relax. Gradually, you do, and words start flowing between you like water under a frozen creek, quietly and constantly and effortlessly. With no good reason, you find yourselves volunteering personal secrets, core revelations about your lives and your dreams and your fears, and you feel a desperate magnetism building within you. As night turns to early morning you part ways, a phone number in your pocket and a chattering, electric energy filling your body. You feel right for the first time in [[months|A month later]].
\nMinutes later you are holding each other, the sticky heat of a summer come too early leaving the sheets piled at the foot of the bed in a clammy mess. One of you is sobbing quietly, but you can't tell which. Your shared despair in the growing space between you has brought you together, but you catch yourself thinking that it may be for the last time. You reflexively draw your arms around her tighter and gradually fall asleep. You don't [[dream|Nightmare]].
\n__''It's 1 AM.''__\n<<set $straightforward = 0>> <<set $desperate = 0>> <<set $romantic = 0>>\nThe only party you've been to all year has turned out to be more of a mistake than you'd anticipated. Your presence in this musty cellar, where the air is choked with stale gas fumes and the stench of cheap beer, is just another ill-advised attempt to legitimize your presence in this city. Graduation in two months and not much to show for it. You're short on friends, short on interest in your studies, short on whatever nebulous quality defines a fulfilled life. Maybe if you knew [[what it was|What it was]], you could inject it into your quiet, vain existence.
\n<<set $romantic = $romantic + 1>>''A second ends'', and the words sound insincere as you say them. You truly believe that she's everything you could ever ask for, but it just doesn't sound right when you say it out loud. You can see your hesitance mirrored in her anxious eyes, and she falls quiet, laying back again to look up at the sky. Concern builds in you, the silence buzzing louder and louder in your ears, but no words come. Finally you reach out, rest your hand on her arm, and she turns and smiles at you. It doesn't feel natural, or right. [[Something has changed]].
\n<<set $straightforward = $straightforward + 1>>''A second ends'', and she grins and agrees. With your shoulders touching and heads bowed together conspiratorially, you spend the next couple of hours whispering to each other disdainfully about the people around you. None of it is really malicious per se, it's simply an expression of your shared frustration with your lives. As the party wraps up you ask when you can spend another miserable night together in a tone that's trying too hard to be casual. She silently responds by writing her number on your forearm in red sharpie. You feel right for the first time in [[months|A month later]].
\n<<set $desperate = $desperate + 1>>''A second ends'', and she shifts uncomfortably and falls silent. You open your mouth to explain, but there's really no explanation needed. If she were to leave you, or if something were to happen to her, you can't imagine what you would do with yourself. She remains silent, and you stammer out a confused apology. Finally she smiles and tells you everything is fine. She sighs and lays back and changes the subject, and you try to release your anxiety. You talk about the sky and the invisible stars, and what it would be like to finally get out of the city, but soon you both fall silent again. [[Something has changed]].
//"You know I love you, but I can't take the pressure you put on me anymore. You tell me I'm everything to you, but I never asked for, never wanted that responsibility. As much as I care about you, I need to be my own person too. I need to live my own life, but when I'm with you I spend every second in terror that I'll do something to hurt you, to make you feel rejected. I can't be everything to you all the time. Nobody can.\n\n...Please say something"//\n\n[[A second begins:|...]]
\n<<set $straightforward = $straightforward + 1>>''A second ends'', and she looks crestfallen. You're not sure what you should have said differently, but it's clear that "fun" is not what she wanted to hear from you. Maybe even she doesn't know what she wanted to hear. You squeeze her hand, and tell her that you love her, and are truly happy with her, and you both try to laugh the moment off. No point in spoiling the "fun," you think to yourself bitterly. She shifts closer and cuddles against your side, but you're sure she's still unhappy. [[Something has changed]].
//"At first it was exciting to me, trying to understand you. It was like a mystery, a surprise every day. Sometimes you're needy, desperate for validation. The next day you can be sarcastic, blunt, even cold. Sometimes you just feel false, like you're trying to fit some ideal of what I want, or what women in general want. Even after all this time, as much as I love you, I still don't understand you. Everything about us feels so unsure to me, so insecure, so fragile. I wonder sometimes if any of it is real.\n\n...Please say something"//\n\n[[A second begins:|...]]
1 AM
\n''A second ends.''\n[[And another|....]]
\n<<set $straightforward = $straightforward + 1>>''A second ends'', and you both flush at the words. You grin, and she grins back, each so full of confidence and hormones and assurance in your mutual desire that the next step seems unavoidable. Nobody else is here but the night librarian, dozing in her cubicle on the other side of the building. Texts take off from the table in a flurry of paper wings, and cheap plastic groans in protest under the strain. The moments after are uncomfortably quiet, and she searches your face questingly as you huddle together, crumpled and depleted on the floor. You wish you knew what she was looking for with her worried eyes, and do your best to look as loving and rapturous and perfect as you feel. Finally you kiss her in frustration with yourself, and that seems to do the trick. She leans into you and murmurs a declaration of love in your ear. It's another hour before you collect yourselves and leave [[together.|Together]]
\n__''It's 1 AM.''__\n\nYou're fairly sure the roof of the new apartment you share is meant to be off-limits, but here you are, laying on a threadbare blanket with her hand in yours. You both stare up into the hazy halo of light the city casts, still holding onto a futile hope that you might catch a glimpse of starlight before the night is over. You still hate it here, but when you're with her that doesn't seem to matter so much. You don't realize immediately that she's talking to you. She repeats her question, and turns on her side to look at you searchingly. The question takes you by surprise - why are you with her? You can think of a million obvious reasons, but the answer seems to matter to her.\n\n''A second begins, and you turn on your side to face her:''\n* [[Because you're perfect.]]\n* [[Because I've never had more fun than I do with you.]]\n* [[Because I couldn't live without you.]]
\n__''It's 1 AM.''__\n\nYou've got a job interview in the morning and you still haven't slept. She shifts next to you under the sheets, and you watch her naked back rise and fall slowly. Last week was your first anniversary, and for a few days everything felt as fresh and unreal as the first time you met. Conversation came easily again, all anxiety and frustration disappeared, and you truly felt that you were in love with each other. You were sure it couldn't last, and you were right. Hesitantly, you reach out and run your fingertips over her shoulder, unconsciously leaning back as you do, keeping her at arm's length. Suddenly a swell of unwelcome emotion overcomes you.\n\n''A second begins'', and you can't lose her. You can't stand her. [[You can't stay here.]]
\nOr is it? Your broken heart claws at your mind like a frightened dog, desperate for reassurance, for a way out of this nightmare. There must be some way to fix this. If you had the chance to [[do it all again|Do it all again]], surely you could find a way to make it turn out alright.\n\nOr maybe not. Maybe that's the moral of your lost year. Sometimes best intentions and true love and all the effort in the world can't make every dream come true.\n\nMaybe this is [[The End]].
\n<<set $desperate = $desperate + 1>>''A second ends'', and her worried eyes look more concerned than ever as your words hang in the air. You feel as if you've ruined everything with your shameful confession, but you feel that what you've said is true. The thought of returning to your life before you'd met her is almost more than you can bear, and you can feel the prickle of tears forming at the corners of your eyes. You feel her kneeling next to you, her hand moving up to touch your cheek, and her words of reassurance begin to slowly melt the fear in your heart. You slide off of your chair and kneel with her, and as you hold each other you can feel the dampness of tears against your own shoulder. You hold each other and weep out your fear and insecurity and joy [[together.|Together]]
\n__''It's 1 AM.''__\n\nGraduation is weeks away, and then you can finally leave this city behind. For the first time you find yourself dreading your departure. Every second you've spent with her feels like a lifetime of joy, and yet the hours melt and surge by in a torrent when you're together. Sometimes you wonder if it's love, sometimes you wonder if you're both just lonely and lost, and sometimes you wonder if there's a difference.\n\nYou both spend most of your time studying in the library. You can't remember which of you decided that this would be your habitual place to study, but it seems sacred to you now. You're the only ones here this late, and you sit across from each other at a prefab plastic table half-reading. Much of your time is spent looking at each other and grinning crookedly, knowingly, your hands outstretched across the pale surface with your fingertips barely touching.\n\n''A second begins, and words swell up in your chest unbidden:''\n* [[I love you.]]\n* [[I want you.]]\n* [[I need you.]]
\nShe's leaned up against the wall in a way that suggests she's trying not to think about how filthy it is. Her eyes have a fixed look of mild concern behind her thick glasses, and something about that attracts you implacably to her, emotionally, physically, and literally. You don't remember making your way across the cramped cellar, but now you're standing close to her. Your eyes meet, and you stare blankly at each other. There's no shock of lust or love or recognition of a kindred soul, but the moment seems somehow comfortable to you, and not at all unpleasant. She breaks eye contact first, and wordlessly slides over to make room for you to lean with her on the greasy wall.\n\n''A second begins, and you lean in to speak softly into her ear:''\n* [[What's your name?]]\n* [[I hate parties.]]\n* [[I like your glasses.]]
\n<<set $romantic = $romantic + 1>>''A second ends'', and she smiles demurely and tells you. No matter what her name might have been you would have loved it immediately, and you do, and you tell her so. It seems like the right thing to say. Her smile turns less shy as the conversation continues, and your anxiety melts into a warmth that surrounds you in a shimmering bubble of comfort. You spend the rest of the night together, talking about student life and hinting at your shared disenfranchisement with the world you live in. You exchange phone numbers as you leave. You feel right for the first time in [[months|A month later]].
\n<<set $romantic = $romantic + 1>>''A second ends'', and she hesitates, her smile faltering and her look turning serious, that familiar worried look in her eyes suddenly turning your stomach to ice. She leans forward and slides her hand under yours, looking at you earnestly. When she finally says the words, warmth washes over you and you instantly forget that there was any doubt. You're suddenly aware of how achingly, earth-shatteringly beautiful each crease of her lips are. You stand in unison, leaning over the table and kissing each other with breathtaking gentleness. Suddenly studying seems like the least important thing in the world. You gather your things and leave the library [[together.|Together]]
\n[[And another|.....]]
\n''A second ends'', and your heart is pounding as you push yourself out of bed, falling on the floor in a heap with a thump that rouses her. She wipes her eyes blearily and looks at you with confused concern. You don't know why you're shouting, you don't know who to blame, and you don't know when you started crying. She cries and shouts and flounders in a perfect mirror of yourself. The bed stands between you as you fight, locked in some bizarre converse of your earlier lovemaking. You are a pair of magnets, and one of you had your poles suddenly reversed. You are fire and ice, and to touch would mean your mutual destruction. You are lonely and hurt and you want to take back everything you said. You [[reach out|Reach out]].
//"Ever since we met, it has felt like you're trying so hard to say or to do the right thing. Like you're going through the motions, trying to do whatever you think is going to fulfill some global template for a successful relationship. I feel like I don't really know you, and you don't really know me. I worry that that's the way you want it. Sometimes I think I see glimpses of your true self, but then they disappear again behind your veneer of paint-by-numbers perfect boyfriend. I can't live like that, always wondering what you're hiding, who you really are.\n\n...Please say something"//\n\n[[A second begins:|...]]
\n__''It's 1 PM.''__\n\nShe was gone by noon.\n\nShe's staying with a friend for the time being. Until you figure out what's going to happen between the two of you. The few belongings she left behind have been packed in a box and shoved into a closet, but your knowledge of their presence assaults you. You climb to the roof.\n\nThe city is noisy, even this high up, and it presses in on all sides. You've always preferred the night, but especially here, where the only time you can find a moment's peace, a moment's solitude, is when everyone else is sleeping. She used to call you a misanthrope, and she was probably right. It never seemed to bother her.\n\nYou're not sure how much of this is your fault. Maybe it's nobody's fault. But the undeniable truth is something about the two of you is incompatible. You can try forever to be right for each other, but sometimes that's just [[impossible|Impossible]]. No matter how much love you share.