Stranger In A Strange Land, short story by George Gad Economou at

Stranger In A Strange Land

Stranger In A Strange Land

written by: George Gad Economou


An exciting time for a young girl; traveling to a new country, leaving the safety of the nest for the first time. An Erasmus student and thus the stay only six months long, yet, more than sufficient time to experience a new culture, to see and feel new things.
A small dorm room and a shared kitchen with seven others. At first intimidated, the conservative upbringing not letting her enjoy the crowd. Sexual cries coming from the other rooms made all blood rush up to her face, but she quickly learned to block them out, wishing to integrate to the new societal norms. The roommates—both male and female—welcoming and friendly, helping her adjust to the new reality.
Dinners and discussions in the shared living room; at the university in the morning, the only one not to speak the local language, hence for her sake only the lectures done in English and her heart quivered every time. Alas, a new country, a new town, new people; it felt right despite the weight of her roots crushing her chest.

It was an evening like all others; she sat at the shared kitchen and talked with one of her roommates. She spoke of home, of life back there. Revealed her desire to leave, for good, and how she couldn’t for too many things kept her shackled to the streets of childhood. He spoke of his life, the struggles of being a divorce child and the issues he had with his girlfriend. They talked for hours and warmth engulfed her palpitating heart. The color of his hair and beard—red—similar to that of the only man she ever kissed; a boy from her hometown, who betrayed her, despite his grand proclamations of believing in the strict moral laws. Her gaze met the roommate’s and in his eyes, she saw the passionate kisses she’d shared with the other.
Abruptly, the young man leaned forth and kissed her; horrified—for he was in a relationship—she rushed to her room and locked the door.
“Let’s talk, please,” the man pleaded.
Neither of them knew what to do, how to proceed. The kiss awoke buried instincts and desires within her, which she had spent years learning how to subdue them. She stared straight into the darkness, unwilling to become the third wheel.
He persisted; knocking on the door and begging for a chance to explain. She caved in, still tasting him on her lips.
“I’ll fix everything,” he promised.
And he kept the promise. He broke up and they were together; thus her second man entered her life. And it was glorious; they kissed, embraced, talked. She refused to give up her virginity—and he showed nothing but patience and understanding.
The first dark clouds descended upon them, as it was time to return to her homeland; the Erasmus program ended and she had to go back to conclude her studies. He didn’t mind and they promised to make the long-distance work. No way to tell her parents, nor friends, about the man for whom her heart skipped a beat; he was a foreigner, of another religion, they shouldn’t be together.
Therefore she kept her relationship a secret, only telling her closest, and most openminded, friends, and the burden tortured her soul nightly. She lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and a hand would clutch her heart, loathing lying to her family. And yet, she’d taste his phantom kiss and daydream of the times they spent together, watching a movie in each other’s arms. Her lips would curl into a smile in her sleep and she’d leap off the bed drenched in an icy sweat when her family’s reaction visited her nightmares.

Technology allowed for communication, despite their living in different countries—different continents! The memory of their kisses and the nights they spent together warmed her heart; as did his patience and how he never rushed her. Not pushing her to give up her virginity had certainly helped in the ever-growing feelings.
He was to visit. And oh! how she rejoiced. Alas, no way to tell her family and dread replaced joy.
She feared the hostile environment and the problems that’d arise, but, her young, squirming heart did not care. She was in love and merely the prospect of seeing him again, of kissing him, of getting lost in his strong arms was more than sufficient to eviscerate the guilt that tried to poison her soul.
She waited at the airport and her heart skipped a beat, when he stepped through the door, accompanied by his sister. She galloped into his arms and kissed him—for the first time not caring about the glares directed her way—and offered them both a tour of her hometown. Her parents were angry and worried she spent so much time out in the city, but, she’d grown tired of the ball and chain.
She talked back to her mother and they had a fight—love conquers all, she reminded herself and devoted all of her time to him.
She took him, and his sister, to all the coffee shops and restaurants she held near. She sat with them for hours at a time, wishing she could introduce him to her family. They’d never accept him; only her mother knew about him, she’d revealed his existence during the fight, and she nearly had a coronary. In the end, she agreed not to tell anything to her father and brothers, both fearful of their violent reaction.
Hence, she learned to live with the burden of keeping the secret, no matter how it crushed her chest. While he was around, however, even the virtues that had hitherto governed her life became insignificant. All she needed was to be near him, be held by him. His glance turned more loving with every passing day; neither was willing to discuss the giant grinning gorilla sitting between them, both fearful of the repercussions.
Young and madly in love, they would overcome all obstacles; even the geographical distance, as he had eventually to return to his studies and life.

After eight months of being together, she was about to give up her virginity, because she knew she’d otherwise lose him. Besides, love was growing and curiosity was increasing. And so the night finally arrived, where making out was not to be the final step.
Her heart pounded on her chest as clothes were tenderly peeled off. Naked in front of him, her skin turned red, even if he had earned her trust. Despite the safety, guilt poisoned her quivering heart. Yet, she succumbed to the bodily lust, the desire; and to the fear of losing him.
Sex wasn’t as good as she’d dreamt of and throughout the act, she couldn’t shred off her shoulders the weight of impending doom. She smiled and rested her head on his chest, listening to his fast heartbeat.
It was wrong; they weren’t married, weren’t starting a family, her family would never approve of him. But, at the same time, warmth swarmed her body and embraced her heart, feeling safer in his arms than she ever had before. She’s sinned, but, his tender kiss on her forehead was the absolution.
She moaned, judgment day becoming all too real in her head, and he mistook it for a joyous sigh. Her eyelids flickered, then shut; and she slept peacefully in his arms.

The distance was slowly destroying them. Traveling wasn’t easy; he visited for a second time and one of her friends let him crash on his couch. Hence, they met daily and spend the days together. Never the nights.
She came home late every day and fights with her family ensued; they had learned the dreadful truth, namely that she dated a non-believer, and her brothers threatened to kill both him and her. Her mother cried, her father fumed…the family’s pride had been ruined. She locked herself up in her room and muffled her tears on the pillow, at the age of twenty-four finally deciding to revolt.
He had to leave, again; studying to be a doctor and leisure time was luxury. Alone in her room, with him thousands of miles away, she lay awake and daydreamed of the day they sinned and of ways to make things right.
She had to graduate, too; most days filled with studying and going out for coffee with friends. Those that knew of the situation offered advice she couldn’t heed.
Many a-nights they talked online, about everything but the grinning gorilla never leaving their side and threatening to go on a rampage. She longed for his embrace, for his kisses, to spend another night in his bed. Slept alone every night, crying till Morpheus offered his cold embrace.
She graduated, finally. With a bachelor degree, the whole world lay open in front of her. Yet, there was nothing to do but slumber through the days; unable to talk to her family and only a handful of friends to talk to.

Decision was taken and with her heart sinking deeper down the lake of contradiction she boarded the plane; destination, the place where love was discovered.
Paperwork completed, she registered as living with him—thus, in the eye of bureaucracy they were family—and she moved in his dorm room; the same dormitory she lived in as an Erasmus student and wherein they met and the first sparks of love were lit.
She kept it a secret from her family; they couldn’t know she lived with someone outside of marriage. Her family knew of the relationship, but, not remained oblivious to many a crucial detail. The guilt decimated her soul, but, she had to live in the double lie for she would abandon neither her family nor him.
Sex remained a guilty pleasure; she succumbed to the newfound bodily needs and after the act combated the remorse that assaulted her heart. As time went by, and their relationship grew stronger, she overcame the guilt and began dreaming of a family. He gave her a ring, which she proudly wore on the wedding finger; it was merely the physical sign of their ever-lasting love. It couldn’t have been an official proposal, but, tears welled up in her eyes whenever she looked at it.
They shared the tiny room for nearly a year; they didn’t mind being crammed in such tight confines. The complete lack of privacy could get frustrating, but, love conquers all. She enrolled in a Master’s program while contemplating what she wanted to do; a family wasn’t enough.
Shortly thereafter, and due to their improved finances, after she received financial aid from the state, they moved to a two-room apartment in the dormitory. Nothing fancy, but it’d be their love-nest till they graduated, found jobs, and could afford the house that’d be their home for decades to come.

Their apartment always crowded with his gaming friends, who’d sit in the living room in front of their laptops, guffawing and discussing. She often hid in the bedroom, to study or to talk with her friends over Skype and Facebook. Sometimes, she’d go out with friends. They’d decided it was crucial to spend some time alone, so as to not allow living together to extinguish the flames of passion.
She came close with one of his gaming friends; they danced and talked at the dorm’s bar on a Friday night and she unknowingly became too flirty, naive and innocent to understand the easiness with which her friendliness could be misinterpreted. He remained a good friend and did not seek the kiss; a strong bond formed between them.
She had finally found someone who understood the struggle of living in a foreign country; he’d listen to her for hours at a time and offered advice that failed to comfort her. They spent plenty of hours together; both just the two of them and with her boyfriend and the rest of the gaming crew.
One night, while her boyfriend was aboard, doing a short-term internship at a hospital, she sat with the friend. She confessed the issues of the relationship, she mentioned her fears about the uncertain future that often looked too bleak. He was compassionate, affectionate. Suddenly, guided by her flirting ways, he leaned forth and his lips touched hers.
Taken aback, she accepted the kiss, in dire need for comfort. Just a kiss and the night to its end came. She was riddled with guilt, failing to comprehend how she was capable of such a terrible deed of betrayal. Come morning, she talked to him and they decided it’d be for the best if they didn’t talk for a while, till things settled down.
She missed their long conversations; she missed him. But, it often grew painful to look into her boyfriend’s eyes, remembering how she’d betrayed him. She shoved the kiss under the rug and convinced herself it was a mistake committed in the heat of a vulnerable moment.
A few months later, she reconciled with the friend; they agreed the kiss was a mistake. Hence, she found her smile as she regained her precious friend—though, guilt refused completely to leave her heart.

Dark clouds are never too far away; we all live in the eye of the storm, always at risk of being caught by an F-5 storm ready to swoop away everything we ever struggled for.
Having to live a double life—a different person at home with her boyfriend and different when in her homeland and among family—began having a tremendous toll on her psyche.
At the same time, her boyfriend demanded something more serious, more official. He wished to meet her parents, eventually for them to tie the knot and start a family. It was impossible for he was a non-believer and he expressed his fear their relationship led to nowheresville. She feared it, too, but, neither was capable of ending the relationship. They disagreed and fought on many things, depleting their apartment of oxygen.
However, they kept on fighting to keep their relationship alive; love was too strong, they would eventually overcome all hurdles. They believed in the happily ever after they both hoped for.
A new semester began, early autumn and the dark clouds sped up. An introductory meeting for the faculty staff and the new students. Several familiar faces, the professors she already knew, a few of her classmates. And new faces, too.
Next to her sat a new man, different than those she knew; long hair, dense beard, a distant glance. He smiled, she sniggered. After the brief meeting, people stormed back to their work. She stayed and he stayed, too. They talked.
After years of struggling with her beliefs and moral virtues, she had been somewhat liberated and a bizarre sensation assaulted her heart and mind.

They went for coffee after every class; in him, she found a window from the often too heavy air of home. They sat at the cafeteria talking and smirking. His eyes often were covered under a film of a strange and brilliant glint and her lips curled wider, whenever she met his gaze. In the first week of their acquaintance, their dates were restrained for after class; when at home, he’d penetrate her thoughts despite the love of her life sitting right next to her.
The first time he hugged her—just a quick goodbye embrace—she was taken aback and failed to conceal the warm wave that traversed her heart. She observed him sauntering away and she waved with a beaming smile, when he threw a final glance at her. She arched her eyebrows, then shrugged her shoulders, when she noticed he wore sunglasses on a cloudy, grey day.
After a week, they had their first real outing; a simple date, they strolled around town and checked the autumn festivities. They got some coffee and tea (coffee for him, tea for her) on the go and ended up at a small concert of elementary school students. They listened to the music and discussed. Afterward, they visited a tent of her fellow countrymen serving local products and coffee. There they sat, in the park, and continued their conversation. He confessed he had been diagnosed as bipolar and she explained her having to juggle between her family and boyfriend.
They trekked around some more and eventually sat on a bench. He rested his head on her shoulder and she caressed his thick, uncombed beard, while they both stared at the canal traversing the small town. The date had lasted almost eight hours and her heart fell to the floor when the time came to say goodbye. She had to go home, someone was waiting.
When she reached home, she texted him, as he had asked, and they texted all night long. They met again the next day and for a few weeks texted daily from morning till night, and would often go out for coffee and walks. She sat on the couch, her boyfriend on the dining table in front of his laptop, and her face was illumined whenever her phone vibrated.
The emotions that resided in her heart remained incomprehensible to her mind, but, she thoroughly enjoyed the warmth in her soul; when she caught herself thinking of him, while her boyfriend kissed her, her heart sank deeper into the sea of despair and guilt.

They stood on the roof of the modern art museum; the sun shone bright and she needed temporarily to escape home. Her eyes illumined, making the contrast to her gloomy expression even clearer when he said his couch would always be available. She thanked him and they leaned over the railing, observing the town expanding in front of them, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
A weight crushed her chest and squeezed all blood out of her withering heart; it was an impossible situation. She loved her boyfriend and yet couldn’t stop thinking of the man standing next to her. And now the double lie had become triple; further intensifying the storm brewing in her mind.
They embraced each other too tight for goodbye and she climbed on the bus. She dashed to the bedroom, unable to withstand another confrontation. She couldn’t breathe; she sat in front of her computer, recalling the magnificent emotions of earlier while now she couldn’t even draw a breath of air.
She went to the kitchen, her stomach rumbling. The discussion moved to the future, to her family that would never accept him. A film of sorrow fell over her watery eyes and all air was evicted from her lungs.
She flung a few things in a purple backpack and stormed out. Where to go? She texted him.
Her lips twitched, when she was on the bus, heading to his apartment. He was drinking coffee—even though it was 11 pm—and reading Poe. They talked, she burst into tears. She talked about the need to live in a constant lie. He took her in his arms.
He tried to distract her; they discussed novels, authors. She inspected his bookshelves and noticed the bottles sitting majestically on the middle shelf; yes, he had been a heavy drinker. But was trying to quit.
They sat on the floor, holding each other tight, and she battled the oncoming tears, when he suddenly confessed; he had once tried to commit suicide, only he had been too drunk and didn’t plan it properly. She wrapped her arms around him tight and begged him never to do something like that again.
It got too late and they had to sleep. She lay on an old, blue couch and shut her eyes while he had a last smoke in the kitchen. She craved to slither in his bed and be held through the night, but, an invisible force kept her chained down on the couch. She was horrified of betraying her boyfriend once more.
She tried to sneak out in the morning; her boyfriend had texted to ask for a meeting and reconciliation. He woke up, they said goodbye, and she shambled away. She met her boyfriend at the university, they had a lengthy, heartfelt talk and decided that what they had was too beautiful and precious not to give it another chance.
They went home together and things appeared brighter. The night she slept on a blue couch and the man that had held her tight in his arms in her time of need remained imprinted in her brain. The weight adamantly refused to be lifted off her chest.

Days turned into weeks and the situation at home remained stale; every morning she kissed her boyfriend goodbye and went to the university, where the other one was and they had coffee and tea at the cafeteria before taking a stroll around town. In his gaze, she discerned the fire of affection and she feared the same sparks illumined her eyes, too.
She’d smile mysteriously and invitingly and when they hugged goodbye at the bus stop—whenever time came for her to go back to the one waiting for her—she wished to kiss him in spite of the promise she made to herself only to kiss one man. She visited his apartment frequently and he cooked for her and they watched movies.
These movie nights ended with them sitting on the couch holding hands in silence; lost in a warm embrace that felt both right and wrong. She longed for those silent moments, where she felt his body heat against hers and listened to his palpitating heart synchronizing to her rapid heartbeat.
They knew their little affair led to nowhere but heartbreak and they couldn’t end it. On occasion, their conversations took somber turns and they wished to make promises to each other; and promises they gave, which both knew were meant to be broken—like all promises are. She’d always be around, was her promise. He’d change his life, start living healthy and abandon for good the days of drinking and substance abuse.
It was all right, they told each other, for—despite the growing strong emotions—they would find a way to remain just friends. A task impossible, naturally, but naiveté and hopefulness always defeat rationality.
It was yet another innocent movie night. As always, they watched the movie while holding hands. After the movie, they talked; their affair had grown one and a half-month-old and each day was yet another dagger through her heart.
They stared into each other’s eyes, their lips separated by a mere inch. She saw affection in his eyes; the emotions burning up in her soul reflected on hers. He didn’t make the move to kiss her, refusing to do so unless it meant the beginning of something. He said he wanted her to be his last first kiss and the beautiful words had gone straight to her heart. She wished for it to happen, she often closed her eyes and wished it was him next to her in bed, but, she still loved the first man to whom she’d given herself body and soul and whom she wished to marry and grow old with.
She succumbed to the desires of her heart; she begged him to kiss her. He didn’t comply immediately, knowing it was the end and not a beginning. He gave up and their lips brushed. She lay back on the couch and caressed his back while he softly explored her body, cautious not to move too south.
She quivered and stared deep into his eyes. She said it had to be just for the night; he nodded and the sorrow in his hazel eyes clenched her heart tight. She kissed him again, offered a wide smile, then hurried to catch the last bus. The man she loved sat blissfully oblivious at home, playing video games with his mates, and waiting for her.
In the bus, she sniffed the oncoming tears back in, not knowing why she wanted to cry. Was it because she had once again betrayed the man to whom she had promised eternal love, or because her heart desired nothing more than to return to the old blue couch?

The memory of that fateful night, and in particular of the fateful kiss, tormented her day and night. She would still see him, they’d go for coffee and walks, but was adamant in not returning to his apartment, fearful of what would happen if they were again isolated from the world. Nonetheless, they still texted all the time, even though they didn’t meet for a while, as she tried to occupy herself with other tasks meant to subdue the desires burning in her heart.
Every morning she kissed her boyfriend and infernal flames scorched her insides. She wanted to come clean with the truth and be liberated from the guilt, but, she lacked the courage. And while she did her best to turn the kiss into a momentary mistake caused by weakness she found it impossible to lie to herself.
The heart often refuses to be denied; she asked him out. Besides, they attended the same classes, she couldn’t avoid him for long. They embraced and didn’t discuss the kiss. Things at home were improving since guilt had turned her warmer toward her boyfriend, more receptive to his kisses and embraces.
Whenever he was around her, however—the third wheel—her body desired his, her lips were longing for his kisses. She couldn’t help but stare into his eyes, mesmerized by the beaming film of powerful emotions.
He walked her to the bus stop, they’d embrace and she refused to let go. She got on the bus and throughout the ride she imagined leaping off at the next stop and dashing back to him.
At home, her boyfriend often played video games—sometimes alone sometimes with friends—and she hid in the bedroom in order to calm down her shuddering heart; at the same time, she texted with him constantly.
There was no way out; she desired to stay home with the man she loved and yet her heart gradually grew dichotomized.

The few friends that knew of the situation advised her to stay home with her boyfriend. Regardless of how hard it appeared, she knew they were right; he had made numerous sacrifices to be with her and they had fought together all adversities to create what they had. She couldn’t (and shouldn’t) throw it all away for a whim. Alas, part of her desired nothing more than to return to the blue couch.
And, she did; the movie nights were reinstated because they both desired those few hours away from the eyes of the world. At first, they had dinner, which he cooked. She leaned against the door with her arms crossed around her chest, observing him affectionately and with fiery passion move swiftly across the counter.
After they ate, he connected the desktop to the tv; however, as soon as he brewed coffee and boiled water for her tea, they started talking and the movie was forgotten.
With watery eyes, they discussed their dead-end affair. He said, I fucking love you; she dropped to her knees and rested her head on his lap. I love you too, she confessed and the all too true words wounded her heart. He kisses me and I think of you, I sleep with him and I dream of you, she concluded the confession and had no idea how the words managed to escape her lips. She wanted to confess to him, even though he was the cause of all the heartache that kept her up at nights.
Their glances met and he wiped her eyes. He smiled; her lips twitched. They kissed; again. Another last time, another heat of the moment mistake. It’s beautiful to dream, she said and felt his heart-shattering. It can’t happen. I love him, too, and I want to be with him. He nodded and she pressed her lips on his.
They hugged goodbye and she sniffled and wiped her eyes all the way back home. Only when she reached the front door did she forcefully put a happy mask on, for someone waited for her right behind the door. She thought of running away, back to the other apartment that wasn’t home but sometimes felt like it.
She opened the door and kissed her boyfriend with dry lips and a frozen heart.

Christmas came and the holidays meant going back to her homeland for a couple of weeks. Back in the streets of lost dreams. More confrontations with her family and meetings with friends. Most importantly, she’d be away from both and have time to think and ponder without distracting lips, warm words, and grand promises.
Her boyfriend wanted to spend Christmas together; she considered it, but, it couldn’t happen. Guilt, dilemmas, and thoughts would prevent her from enjoying it and she didn’t want to ruin his holidays.
He was to go back to his homeland for Christmas—after all, their both being strangers in a strange country was one of the reasons they bonded so fast. The afternoon before he was to travel, he invited her for dinner at his place, which she heartily accepted.
The conversation took a grave turn and the end of their affair was brought up. He didn’t want to lose her but was unwilling to share her. She wouldn’t leave her boyfriend; despite the fights and talks about breaking up they still loved each other and she had promised to fight for their relationship for as long as she loved him.
Hence, their little affair reached its quick, abrupt ending. She refused to hug him. She shambled away, her teeth buried deep in her lower lip.
Was this the final goodbye? She had wanted to hug him, kiss him—the thought of sleeping with him crossed her mind —yet, she was horrified of the potential consequences. She returned home, embraced her boyfriend icily, and lay down. She boxed with the sheets all night, thinking of him traveling in the morning, perhaps never to return.

The holidays were over and she was back. Her boyfriend picked her up at the airport, they returned to their little apartment, and everything was as it should. Her stay at her homeland had been all right, although plagued by too many fights with her parents and siblings; they still didn’t approve of the relationship. Now she was back home, her heart longing to see someone else.
They did talk during the holidays, albeit only twice, and she knew he wasn’t completely out of her life. They met for coffee and a walk. The conversation quickly turned grave once more; no hope, she said again, hating she had to break his heart. She wondered if he understood how much uttering these harsh words hurt her.
It was all over, they agreed. One last hug at the bus stop—both struggling with their tears and silent sobs—and she was off, never to see him again; it was the right thing to do because for him she had betrayed everything she had ever believed in.
She checked her email a couple of hours after the horrendous date. A long text, where he explained his emotions in beautiful words, in lines written with fire and blood. She smiled pathetically; she wanted him back in her life, even if it was wrong. Her boyfriend was staying in another town for a few weeks, for work. She left the apartment in haste.
She asked if she could visit him only when she had already reached his apartment. He said yes, it was late at night, and she knocked on the door. She smiled at his astounded expression. They embraced, he boiled some water for her tea, and they sat on the same couch once again to discuss the reasons their affair had to end.
It was the end, the last meeting. They embraced tightly and she sobbed on his shoulder; his palpitating heart beating against her chest. Her phone rang; if she was to catch the last bus, she had to go.
She pulled him closer when he tried to loosen his embrace. Her face buried in his shoulder, the alarm blaring demandingly in her head, but she couldn’t let go. It was their last hug and it shouldn’t end so abruptly.
Finally, she let go and checked her phone; she had missed the bus. With hope and distress, she asked if she could stay for the night. He nodded. It felt both wonderful and horrible. She burst into tears for having, once again, broken her promise to her boyfriend, namely that she’d always return home. That night she didn’t and the largest dagger was driven through her heart by how good it felt being in the small apartment reeking of strong tobacco.
They didn’t kiss until it was time to go to sleep. At first, she tried to resist the temptation of sleeping in his bed. The lust and desire proved too powerful and they lay down together, spending the rest of the night kissing. She did, however, resist the desire to have sex with him. It was the final threshold and, despite the fire raging under her skin and ravishing her heart, she withheld it.
Morning came and with a heavy heart, she clambered to the bus stop. They did meet a couple of times—they attended different classes now—after that fateful night that altered her life, but, they decided the affair had to end.
For a month, they didn’t meet nor talk.

For a month, she moped around the apartment; she had to start working on the master’s thesis, finish her studies, and move on to the next chapter. Nothing could stimulate her thoughts, she could find no reason to work, go out, live. Always lost within a dense fog of thoughts and regrets and the dread engulfing her heart intensified exponentially whenever she met the film of misery over her boyfriend’s eyes. A misery she had caused. She had ruined his graduation day—after six years of hard studying and labor he had finally graduated med-school and he failed to enjoy it due to her being lost and blue.
Her thoughts were all about him and the night they slept together. She wanted him back; missed his smile, his eyes, their talks…the kind of missing that physically hurts. She lay awake at nights, her boyfriend sleeping next to her, and she fantasized about him being next to her; even these thoughts felt like betrayal and dozens of knives stabbed her heart.
After a month of internal suffering, they broke up. She couldn’t bear watching him suffer because of her and she couldn’t withstand the hurtful missing. How she came to miss someone so much even though she knew him so little and even had the courage to end the long-term relationship for his sake she didn’t know; her heart operated outside the realm of rationality and beliefs.
She attended a class knowing he’d be there. He sat next to her and they both smiled, timidly. But, he remained distant, foreign, and whenever she opened her mouth, her jaw snapped shut. She had to leave after the first hour; he went out for a smoke and they didn’t get the chance to speak. She left him a note, it was nice seeing you. That was all and the thought of what else she could have written tortured her.
Back home she returned, to the hostile atmosphere. They still lived together for neither had anywhere else to go. Besides, she was still dependent on her boyfriend for her visa; her studies, her very livelihood, depended on him. In yet another instance of sacrifice and goodness, he promised he wouldn’t cause her a single problem. She doubted her decision often; after all, he was such a nice person and had stood by her for so many years, through thin and thick. The other man revisited her mind and her decision made more sense. She returned to the class—the professor was her thesis’ supervisor, it made sense for her to attend his class—but, they didn’t sit next to each other. They hardly talked; she stole glimpses of him, praying for the smile she had missed, but, it proved fruitless. She succumbed to the pain and sent him a long email, confessing her emotions.
She paid him a surprise visit. They took a stroll to the nearby beach. Finally, she kissed him and told him about the break-up, about how things would now be different. No rose garden and they kissed despite the dark clouds looming over their heads.

Their affair became a turbulent relationship. At times she was riddled with guilt and painful remorse about breaking up with her boyfriend and the quickness with which she jumped into another man’s arms. Her ex-boyfriend and she still shared the same roof and being together in the same room was unbearable. It was what drove her to his apartment often, seeking refuge and a safe haven from an air unfit for breathing.
They slept together, they went out together; despite the beauty of the situation, her guilt and love toward her boyfriend remained strong, poisoning the beautiful moments. It was when she was alone she could put things down in order, undistracted by kisses, embraces, sweet words and grandiose promises.
She found a new place to call home; a room in a shared apartment. For the first time in years she experienced something she had completely forgotten: freedom.

Her friends dragged her to parties and bars. She met new people and enjoyed flirting about. She flirted, this time knowingly, because for the first time in a way too long time she was single; moreover, she had grown; matured. The naïve girl of seven years prior was no more. She’d become someone, who while still believed in the same morals as that girl could also enjoy life to the fullest.
She started seeing him less and less, because she wanted to enjoy the newfound freedom and live a life she never thought existed. At the same time, she noticed some of the habits he had once talked about making their return; he was more melancholy whenever she saw him. His eyes were darkened as if mirroring Inferno. She saw him drink one night and was terrified by the pace with which he choked down a river of beers.
She returned to her homeland for the summer and sent him a long email, wishing to explain what had transpired. She told him about the new man she met, after the second circle of their affair had ended and how, despite her denying his kiss, he agreed to be just her friend. She wrote about how she still loved her ex-boyfriend and that he was the only one she had ever loved. And therefore they couldn’t be together.
She didn’t believe everything she wrote and knew the mail was too cruel; but, she couldn’t be with him, because he reminded her of her past wrongdoings. Every time he kissed her, she remembered how she had betrayed the man she loved, the man that once gave her a ring as a memorandum of ever-lasting love. Every kiss was both a shot of warmth up her spine and a dagger through her heart. And she couldn’t bear it; especially not after she discovered a different side of life.
He replied, after a day or two, with the cruelest words. She read the mail twice and each line made her heart writhe. A short email, in comparison to earlier ones, telling her how they wasted ten months of living chasing a dragon. She cried, she wished to ask if he truly believed these words. She never did. Perhaps, it was better not knowing how much truth the cold words contained. Maybe he exaggerated like I did, she repeated whenever she revisited his email.
Life went on; she went out with friends, she had fun. Her ex-boyfriend asked her to get back together. And she considered it; she would have to tell him what she’d done, but, maybe, it would be for the best. At least, his embrace was safe even if lately had turned cold. She was the untrustworthy one, after all, and cold shivers numbed her spine.

Summer ended, autumn came; she returned. Worked on her thesis, battled to finish it before the deadline and succeeded. She handed it in, passed. Graduated. Suddenly, she was stranded in the country that still felt foreign, despite the long stay, and she was all alone and with nothing to do.
She did have her friends and went out with them, but, she had nothing else to do. Her ex-boyfriend pursued her. She told him everything and the pain in his watery eyes made her heart wince. He still wanted her back; he blamed himself for what happened and promised that things would be different. He understood the reasons she sought a foreign embrace.
She was befuddled by his response and reaction; it was pity that swarmed her heart when tears welled down his eyes. She couldn’t say yes. She looked at him and saw the other one. If she were to escape the past, she’d have to start anew.
She wanted to call him, but, couldn’t muster up the courage. After his final correspondence, she feared he had returned to older ways. She doubted he’d want to hear from her, let alone see her. She was all alone, trying to find a reason to stay.
Everywhere she looked, wheresoever she went, there was something to remind her of the two men that had occupied her heart. Memories flooded her mind and there was no escape.
She packed her few things up and booked a one-way ticket back home.

George Gad Economou

George Gad Economou

George Gad Economou holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy of Science and resides in Athens, Greece, doing freelance work whenever he can while searching for a new place to go. His novella, Letters to S., was published in Storylandia Issue 30 and his short stories and poems have appeared in literary magazines, such as Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, The Edge of Humanity Magazine, and Modern Drunkard Magazine. His first poetry collection, Bourbon Bottles and Broken Beds, has been published by Adelaide Books.
George Gad Economou

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