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A Similar Solitude photo

Recently, Rachel recycled the text message manuscript of conversations with her first successful Hinge match, The Poet.

In the early days of the pandemic, Rachel downloaded the dating app strictly for entertainment purposes. Most men hahaha-ed or lmao-ed at her responses to the prompts; how she would be down to date a divorced dad so long as he had a corgi, but what she’s really looking for is someone driven, reliable, comforting, and who otherwise embodies most characteristics of a quality pre-owned car.

Then, there was The Poet.

I won’t give up even as my engine starts to clank and crunk, he wrote.

Rachel has always been a sucker for alliteration. Plus, as she scanned his profile, Rachel thought The Poet looked an awful lot like her hallucinated boyfriend; the unidentifiable man with the clear acetate glasses and shaggy black hair who vaguely resembles Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride if someone gave him a Freaks and Geeks makeover. He’d been accompanying her to dream dinner parties over the course of her last dozen or so sleeps. The Poet wasn’t wearing that guy’s usual plaid shirt, but it wasn’t impossible to believe he might own one.

Rachel wrote, I still want to see the Carfax report, but I appreciate the commitment to the bit.

I think that’s what would print on the top of my Carfax fact sheet, he wrote back. He isn’t afraid to commit, nay, overcommit to the bit.

They were both writers, having attended the same MFA program. They actually shared a few friends. The Poet lived in Brooklyn doing something in the Asian financial markets, whereas Rachel was unemployed upstate in her childhood bedroom desperately trying to find a job.

A couple of days passed before they agreed to exchange writing. At first, it was just links to their portfolios. The Poet responded a few hours after Rachel sent hers.

You have a lucid and vulnerable prose style. I’m envious, he wrote. Plus, I enjoy your use of masticating metaphors. When words congeal to a point where devouring them produces a physical sensation...*shivers*

Rachel smiled. No one had ever said her work made them *shiver* before.

When he realized the line breaks on his webpage were muddled, The Poet begged Rachel to consider an emailed packet.

I feel like I took off my pants and there’s a mole on my penis I’ve never noticed before, he continued.

Laughing, Rachel agreed. She thought reading it might remind her of the before times when her life felt more . . . together. The next day there was an email in her inbox signed with The Poet’s name.

Rachel mostly enjoyed the poems despite a few points of confusion. Having him describe emotions through math was a little like reading in a foreign language. She was also disappointed when she had to look up the word ‘spaghettification’ and realized it had nothing to do with pasta.

She sent him her notes the following afternoon, adding her phone number in the postscript. The Poet texted her that night; the first of many messages to come.

Rachel says one morning that her love language is judgment, The Poet replies that night that he thinks his is being told he’s a good writer, which is really more of a way to make him feel good rather than how he shows he cares. Rachel doesn’t correct him. For once, she’d prefer consistency rather than perfection.

The Poet shares his feelings on how people should describe eating ice cream.

The same as the weather; total localized physical, emotional and meteorological conditions, he wrote.

Rachel explains why she hates the word ‘appreciate.’

She wrote, It always feels fake, like it doesn’t mean anything.

The Poet takes any opportunity he can to teach Rachel something, like the origin of ‘weird,’ or where the metallic scent from metallic things comes from, or what cocktail party syndrome is/why the word ‘cocktail’ itself is actually redundant. It’s the sort of education Rachel was both too tired and too over-worked to absorb in the partying dive bar hours of her Columbia days. Clearly, she missed out.

If The Poet feels particularly frisky, he sends her photos of pages from a book he’s recently acquired called Foyles Philavery, a compendium of rare and unused words that he loves more than most of his friends. He boldly calls them book nudes, sharing the page with the definition for ‘lestercock.’ They do the same sort of thing with their journals where The Poet’s scrawled, shaky black handwriting across his Moleskine makes Rachel thirstier than any shirtless shot. Hands down, handwriting is hotter than chest hair.

The messages always come in small spurts, back to back to back with hours between. Often, The Poet ends his mile-long missives with miniature poems:

 _and the farmer admired his vertical blue fields of letter flowers, and saw that it was good;

And said, yeah this is probably good_

.does 16 in a row count as a double text or still just one.

After they reach so many simultaneous letter flowers that Rachel’s phone overheats receiving them during an interview call (spoiler alert: she doesn’t get that job), they come to an agreement at The Poet’s suggestion that if either of them sends more than twenty messages, they have to answer a vulnerable question.

When he hits the benchmark first, Rachel asks The Poet who he’d invite to a no-restrictions dinner party.

At least two poets—perhaps Robert Haas and Lisa Russ-Spaar. A friend from the MFA who was maybe more than a friend but we’re no longer friends because it got too complicated. The scientist Frederick Kantor. And a rabbi.

When Rachel reaches the same threshold, The Poet asks her to tell him something she doesn’t want him to know about herself.

Everything flips inside Rachel’s chest. Her best friends from Oxford Jess and Shruti (who have been following along) assure her it will be fine. The friends she shares with him—Allison and Nick—actually think the whole thing sounds similar to Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva, Russian writers who had a decade-long affair entirely through letters during the tail end of the Revolution. Their exchanges on literature, sex, and politics were collected and analyzed in the book The Same Solitude.

Knowing him, Allison and Nick also think The Poet is different than Rachel’s usual guys, at the very least because he’s in therapy. But Rachel isn’t so sure. The Poet is asking her to say the exact things she’s trained herself to keep inside. She’s afraid of what will happen if she lets loose.

She waits until late that evening to reply.

There’s a heck of a lot I probably would prefer you not to know. 

She takes a deep breath before letting the confessions pour out. Oddly, it’s the most liberating writing prompt in the world. She starts to feel like she can share anything, everything.

I Googled you after we matched, and then I did it again when we kept texting.

I have you in my phone as ‘Maybe: Your Name’ because it feels right for you and right for the moment and right in a way that makes me sort of uncomfortable because if I explained it to anyone else, they’d probably stare back at me blankly to the point where I’d say ‘Forget it, nevermind,’ but I feel like you wouldn’t do that, that you *do* get it.

I keep a lot of cheesy inspirational signs in my apartment.

I need to travel with a stuffed animal to quell my anxiety.

I call my mother every night before bed.

I share our messages with my friends sometimes because I need a second opinion on whether or not you’re actually flirting with me.

I fear I might still be a little bit in love with someone since his Instagram stories bring forth my most emotive reactions and I don’t like that version of myself.

I swore off intimacy for a long time and tried to replicate the feeling with a heating pad, a body pillow, and a vibrator but ended up most nights just crying in bed with a bottle of vodka.

I tend toward one-sided love affairs, because they afford me a false sense of power.

And in case it wasn’t clear, I think I really, really like you.

Rachel tosses her phone to the side once finished and goes to sleep. She doesn’t check the device first thing in the morning, nor second or third; the most restraint she’s had since opening dreaded college decision emails. It’s not until the afternoon that she finally picks it up and finds another train of messages.

You’re not going to be able to scare me off, just, you know, if that was a subconscious plan haha. At some point I hope you’ll internalize that I’m not going to disappear.

I’m really into you, too. I’m really excited to meet you.

The words repeat in Rachel’s mind throughout the day. Maybe she didn’t have a job, or even a plan beyond answering The Poet. But she did have a love interest who finally saw her for exactly the wonderful weirdo she was.

Because her mother is immunocompromised, there is no imminent hope for her return to Manhattan with COVID. Surprisingly, The Poet doesn’t mind.

Instead of a date, they have long messaging threads considering what their first encounter will be like: they’ll meet in Washington Square Park, Rachel will wear her new mustard-colored dress, and they’ll get gelato because ice cream really does make everything better. They imagine doing other things together for the first time, too. Sexy things. For Rachel, it would be her first time doing most of these things full-stop. Not that she tells this to The Poet. Besides, in between the sexiness is a lot of sentiment. 

When Rachel tells The Poet nobody really attended her Sweet Sixteen party, he envisions a redo where she can be Molly Ringwald and he’ll be the nerd from The Breakfast Club (it’s actually Anthony Michael Hall’s character who contributes to ruining Ringwald’s birthday in Sixteen Candles, but given that Rachel has always had a soft spot for dorks she sets semantics aside). When he makes her a Spotify playlist entitled RG 1 on a day she gets turned down from another job, Rachel listens to every track before returning the gesture, wondering if the ‘1’ implies there are going to be others.

All of this combined makes Rachel’s brain soggy with hope of a world where she can spend days publishing her work with a bio that ends, ‘She lives with The Poet in New York,’ and nights falling asleep reading side by side. She wonders what his therapist might think, if The Poet has ever mentioned Rachel, if all of these thoughts mean she needs a therapist herself. It becomes increasingly easy for Rachel to forget in her big fantasy that she’s never shared space with The Poet; never smelled his shampoo or heard his voice. 

The urge for more clouds her mind so densely that instead of texting her usual replies, she calls. He doesn’t answer and the voicemail box is full. But the personalized greeting gives her a taste of what she craves.

Rachel explains the missed call in a voice note she sends post-texts where she makes sure to tell him he’s a good writer, so he can hear her say it. He responds hours later.

Haha, I was wondering if in my delirious half-awake state that was indeed you calling or if I hallucinated it. Now I’m nervous what my voicemail message sounds like because I’m pretty sure it’s from high school. On the other hand, and I hope this isn’t too weird a thing to say, but I love how your voice sounds, it’s beautiful.

Beautiful. The Poet actually thought she was beautiful. 

It’s what she can’t stop thinking about when (after learning he listens to audio porn) she records herself reciting an erotic scene she wrote for him. A day later he responds with his own dirty ditty and Rachel records the sounds as she touches herself, moaning his name. It’s the first time she ever masturbates with someone in mind. It’s also the moment she realizes she must meet him, and soon.

Rachel feels like she’s back in high school explaining to her mother that she needs to go to the city the week before Labor Day. She says there’s some business with the graduate literary journal she used to edit. It also happens to be the week The Poet is taking a staycation. Her mother is worried but amenable. More surprisingly she asks no questions about Rachel’s insistence on being brought to Bed, Bath, and Beyond for new bedsheets. 

When Rachel tells The Poet about her visit, he’s excited. He says he plans to see her multiple times.

Nerves slowly start crawling up Rachel’s throat. They’re suffocating on the day she finally returns to her apartment. Everything is in stasis. A March calendar with ultimately cancelled events. Food gone so far off that it’s hard to tell what it was supposed to be before turning green. A suitcase packed for Oxford prior to the travel ban, filled with things she intended to wear with a very different man. It’s hard for Rachel to consider the past version of herself that lived here, especially as she’s supposed to get ready for a date with someone she hopes will be her future. She puts on the mustard-colored dress, trying not to think about it.

Jess texts Rachel on her walk to the park with a code word system. Corgi puppies if it’s going well, red panda if she needs help, and drowsy pelican if bored. Rachel agrees. Her feet have started rubbing uncomfortably inside her sandals.

The Poet texts, too. He’s arrived, posted up with his bicycle next to the Washington Square Fountain.

Crossing into the park, skateboarders block Rachel’s most direct path to The Poet, looping around in endless circles. Once past them, there’s then a young kid standing with a box of fruit snacks who’s raising money for his basketball team. Rachel tries to outwalk him while awkwardly patting where she would have pockets were she not wearing a dress to indicate she’s not carrying cash, but he still follows her all the way up to The Poet, only for him to tell the kid he’s also cashless.

Eventually, they’re alone.

‘Hi,’ The Poet says.

‘Hey,’ Rachel replies.

They lean in for a half hug then take seats on a nearby bench, a few feet apart, slipping their masks off.

Rachel’s eyes go over each strand of The Poet’s mop-like dark hair and every big, bushy eyebrow. He resembles his pictures that made her swoon but she can see things now that an iPhone can’t catch; thin forehead lines and little red dots beside his sideburns trimmed too square. His nose bumpier and longer. His mustache more ginger-tinted and his lips thin. It’s less alluring and more dizzying, sort of like the palm tree print on his shirt.

Her eyes pivot to his clear-polished fingers as she realizes he’s probably carrying out his own evaluation of her. Her thighs start to sweat.

The Poet tries a couple of times to start a conversation, but the subjects fall flat or get interrupted, like when a panhandler approaches them. He pretends to be a Ravens fan upon learning The Poet’s from Baltimore before telling them a convoluted story about his mother in the hospital. After he leaves there is more silence.

‘You know, this isn’t too far off from how I act at parties,’ Rachel says. ‘Avoiding everyone until I can go home.’

The Poet doesn’t laugh. ‘I don’t know, this happens to me a lot.’ It’s unclear if he means being asked for money or being out with socially uncomfortable women. ‘Must be my face.’

‘Do you care about the Ravens?’ Rachel asks, genuinely curious. ‘We’ve never talked sports. I’m a soccer fan, and hockey, too.’

‘I mean, I don’t cry when they lose or anything.’ He shrugs. ‘Do you cry when your teams lose?’

Rachel cries at everything.

A third person wanting money approaches, but this time the man looks at Rachel. ‘I should probably ask your husband’s permission before I talk to you, huh honey?’

Rachel squirms as The Poet repeats that they don’t have anything. They might be uncomfortable with each other, but not enough for the world to miss that they’re clearly a couple; albeit a couple where every time her legs fall asleep and she has to re-cross them, Rachel accidentally kicks him and mumbles ‘sorry.’

Describing how she’d get on her knees and blow him in a stationary store over text? No pleasantries required. But apparently, a small tap on the leg is different.

‘I’d still be down for gelato,’ The Poet says, ‘but should we do drinks instead?’

They find a spot for The Poet’s bike and settle into the outdoor section of an Italian place. Rachel takes a moment to check her phone and sees Jess’s text. She isn’t sure which animal has shown up tonight, but she doesn’t feel in danger and doesn’t want Jess to worry.

I guess corgi puppies?

‘Everything okay?’ The Poet scans the table’s QR code for the menu.

Rachel nods. ‘It’s Jess. She made up this whole system to help me escape tonight.’

The Poet sips from his water glass. ‘How did you meet Jess?’

‘I’ve told you. We went to Oxford together, as did Shruti.’

‘You know, my sister was going to call me, too,’ he says. ‘She’d tell me she was in an abortion clinic and needed me to come right away.’

‘That’s terrible.’

The Poet opens his mouth to say something then stops.

‘What?’ Rachel asks.

He shakes his head. ‘Nothing. It was stupid.’

‘All the more reason to say it.’

He exhales. ‘I was going to ask if I passed the test.’

Rachel presses her lips inward against her teeth. ‘There was never a test,’ she says. ‘But I didn’t reply Red Panda.’

‘I take that as a good thing.’

‘What about me?’ she asks. ‘Did I pass your test?’

The Poet nods. ‘So, some sangria?’

By some, he means six pitchers.

It takes a few hours to get through it all on empty stomachs, but they do, in between flirtatious conversations and Rachel making a dozen trips to the bathroom. On one of them, The Poet handles the bill before she even sees it arrive.

‘I just figured with the job search and everything I could take care of it.’

Rachel’s a little too tipsy to determine if she finds it condescending or considerate.

They put their masks back on and fetch The Poet’s bike. ‘You know you’re going the wrong way, right?’ Rachel says, pointing over her shoulder. ‘The bridge to Crown Heights is behind us, away from the park.’


‘We’re not doing anything else tonight.’

Rachel decided this earlier; new sheets be damned. If what she wants is something serious with The Poet she should make him wait, at least a little while.

‘Well, what are you doing tomorrow? We could hang out then.’

She smirks for fear of looking desperate. ‘Sure, I’m free tomorrow.’

They keep walking toward the fountain. ‘So, I know I can’t come home,’ The Poet says, ‘But what about a kiss? On the cheek. I’ll even keep my mask on.’

‘Oh, please.’

Something drunkenly shifts inside Rachel’s mind as they cross Fifth Avenue. It makes her unsteady. Reaching into the right pocket of The Poet’s pants, she intertwines her fingers with his for support before latching her other hand on top of the pile. She’s a little terrified and disbelieving. She feels she is being bold.

‘This is a big deal,’ she whisper-shouts.

The Poet looks down at their hands and rubs his thumb over the stretch of skin between Rachel’s left thumb and pointer, sending sparklers off in her chest.

They stop at the corner near the Cardozo Law School building. It’s a lot less sensual than the park, but that doesn’t stop The Poet from asking, ‘Can I kiss you now?’ Nor does it stop Rachel from consenting.

They lower their masks again. It’s as if they’re taking off their clothes. ‘I’m really bad at this,’ Rachel says against The Poet’s face as he approaches. He replies but she doesn’t catch it before their mouths lock, and she doesn’t care once their tongues get involved, exploring the gummy texture on the inside of each other’s bottom lips and the sharp, straight edges of teeth.

It’s unlike anything Rachel has ever experienced, worth every moment of the wait. It’s enough that she forgives him for being a terrible in-person conversationalist.

Rachel’s fingers run through his hair just like she’s been fantasizing. She can hear herself whimper as The Poet pulls her close, one hand pressing into her lower back and the other reaching for her ass. She’s never had her ass grabbed this way. It’s not bad. It’s even better as The Poet pairs it with breathy statements into her neck.

‘You’re so much better,’ he says with a kiss, ‘and smarter,’ another kiss, ‘than you think you are.’ He moves up again to her lips. ‘But you’re definitely as weird.’

Rachel gets a little louder as her hands run up inside his shirt. She’s managed to work her legs in between either of his and, with the height difference, to put the pressure of his thigh in the place where her fingers were when alone and thinking of him. It doesn’t take long before she’s pulling his lips away from her ear to put them again on hers, moaning into the crook of his neck as something warm shudders across her body. She’s almost forgotten they’re still on the street until she hears a few whistles of approval from some passing NYU freshmen.

‘I really do have to get home,’ Rachel says into The Poet’s chest. It’s either the alcohol or the orgasm but something makes her stick her tongue out and drag it along the base of his neck. ‘I also think I have a little cum in my underpants.’ 

The Poet holds her closer, which makes her laugh.

‘I can feel you tenting your pants…’ she adds, high-pitched and playful.

Still, he doesn’t move.

All of it—the kissing, the cum, the hard cock against her—makes part of Rachel want to renege on her earlier ‘not tonight’ pledge. Yet there’s some little voice inside still stopping her; probably the same one who thinks it’s a good idea to look him in the eye and start singing Carole King’s “Will You Love Me tomorrow?”

‘Okay,’ The Poet says, pushing her away, ‘Enough.’

‘C’mon! I was kidding!’

He lets out a decidedly non-sexual groan.

‘Should we still take a picture?’ Rachel asks, holding up her cell phone.

They stand side by side on the sidewalk, squished together as Rachel snaps one selfie with pouty lips and another where she leans in and kisses his cheek. With a wave of a goodbye, they head off in separate directions. Rachel conference calls Shruti and Jess immediately to recount every detail on her walk home.

She doesn’t sleep much that night thanks to her heart beating so loudly. She’s been drunk, the usual lot of college buzzes and a few grad school brownouts, but she has never endured anything like this. Her head feels detached from her body as she rises the next day long enough to move to the couch, to text The Poet about hanging out again. It’s late in the afternoon by the time he responds and tells Rachel he can’t make it. She suggests they try Thursday. Another twenty-four hours of sitting around in her apartment pass before The Poet finally delivers the message he told Rachel he’d never send.

 Hey, I had a really good time, but I do think it didn’t really match up with how I thought it might be - which we knew might happen! Also, I haven’t talked to you about this, but I’m currently in talks to move to Singapore for work and that makes things even more complicated.

I don’t really know how to explain but I don’t think it makes sense to pursue this further, even though I really liked sharing our work and appreciated our brain connection in the last few months. Best of luck in the job search.

Rachel drops her phone and picks up one of her throw pillows from the couch. Holding it to her face, she screams. She only really stops after the panic attack.

That happens two days later in the dishwasher section of Lowes upstate again with her parents. Rachel tries to hide it, pacing around the tiling aisle, but the pain down the side of her arm into her neck won’t subside. Her mother finds Rachel bent over by the linoleum and has her hold onto an empty shopping cart to stabilize herself on their way out of the store. Her stepfather pulls the car around front.

‘Should we make a stop for ice cream?’ he whispers.

Rachel’s mother turns to the backseat. ‘Do you want ice cream, Rach?’

What Rachel wants is to continue staring at the scar on her foot that her sandals made rubbing the night she met The Poet, evidence of their connection she will now carry around indefinitely. ‘Sure,’ she replies. It doesn’t help her pain much but at least it gives her parents the illusion she will get better.

Denial hits harder and bleeds into anger. Rachel refuses to accept the consensus all of her friends have reached that perhaps The Poet fooled them into thinking he wasn’t trash because they were sad and vulnerable. That’s not enough for Rachel. She wants to egg his apartment windows. She wants him to fall victim to the city’s surge of bicycle thefts. She wants him to be more than just another asshole.

She also can’t bear to touch her phone. The entirety of their connection lives there. Instead, she insists on typing the messages into a Word document and promises herself she’ll delete everything afterward. She then writes The Poet a 4,500-word email throwing his words back at him; calling him a lying narcissist and attaching an epigraph, excerpted from Mark Bibbins’ 13th Balloon. The Poet never replies.

Rachel later writes over 9,000 words of journal entries trying to bargain with her brain, to figure out if she had done things differently if she still would’ve ended up in a universe where scratching a bug bite on her hand reminds her of holding his. She becomes obsessed with a narrative. She wants a better ending.

Soon enough, she’s wasted almost 215,000 words on The Poet; enough for at least three commercial novels. That’s how she realizes she hasn’t written a productive, publishable word in months, even though he was cranking out new poems daily. Then she goes and writes about how shitty that feels, too.

What Rachel forgets about in all her emotion is that—before the alcohol—The Poet is actually correct: there wasn’t much of a connection. It wasn’t like Rachel could picture them meeting organically at a party, and not just because it’s been a while since she’s attended one. She simply couldn’t imagine herself ever being attracted enough to approach him. He seems like the guy that meanders with a beer bottle sort of cockily whereas she prefers hovering in the corner. Perhaps their eyes would flit over each other in a small, shared moment across the room, but even if they did, the same thing would happen.

Nothing. Nothing important, anyway. 

The Poet soon becomes a symbol for general failure, because that’s how Rachel feels, like she’s failing constantly. Job prospects enjoy the interview but have no desire to move forward. Agents feel her black humor might be a shade too dark for the current reading climate. The Poet is different only because he was the place where she had the most hope.

Her eventual win finally arrives a month later, during the depression phase. She gets a freelance job followed by a full-time offer, moves mostly back to the city, and reclaims the sexy things she wrote for The Poet by publishing them in an erotica magazine. She even starts going on dates. Allison and Nick invite her to their Bed-Stuy apartment on the premise of celebrating, but after a disproportionate ratio of wines to hummus, Rachel is on again about The Poet.

Or maybe she never really left. She has, after all, travelled there with a printed out, spiral-bound edition of the typed-out text messages, fully annotated: the manuscript. Rachel can quote it better than any book from her undergraduate dissertation.

‘You know he unfollowed me everywhere,’ she says. ‘Not just Instagram and Twitter but Co-Star, the fucking astrology app. Who does that?’

‘Sociopaths,’ Nick says. ‘Definitely sociopaths.’ This isn’t comforting.

‘I actually met this girl who’s joined his workshop group,’ Allison says. ‘It was funny because she was scathing about his work. She said it goes so far over your head.’

‘Poetry shouldn’t do that,’ Nick says.

Allison nods. ‘I told her one of my best friends dated him. Because it wasn’t just text messages with you two. It wasn’t. It was a relationship.’

Rachel drains another glass of wine. ‘I don’t see why he bothered with me at all, not if he was thinking of moving to Singapore.’ She shakes the 600-page text manifesto. ‘I mean, he made me solve a graphing equation to figure out that he’s bisexual. We took a fucking photo together. What the hell did he want?’

‘As I said,’ Nick repeats. ‘Sociopath.’

Swallowing, Allison sets her wine glass down. ‘The Singapore thing is fake. And also, he liked how it felt good to have you trust him.’ She looks Rachel straight in the face. ‘I think he got exactly what he wanted.’

Rachel places her hand on her stomach. ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’

The rest of the evening is hazy: the feeling of the shower curtain rod collapsing as Rachel tries to steady herself against the alcohol, the sound of her sobs over the toilet after she falls against the edge of the sink, Allison opening the door and sitting beside her as Rachel repeatedly vomits.

‘He broke me,’ Rachel cries out. ‘I am fucking broken.’

‘No,’ Allison says. ‘He hurt you, and you feel very, very bad, but you are not broken.’ She squeezes Rachel’s hand. ‘Come on. Say it with me. I’m not broken. I am not broken.’

It’s just a whisper at first. But eventually, Rachel says it louder.

‘You are far more talented and special than you will ever give yourself credit for, Rachel,’ Allison says. ‘I just wish that you would believe it.’

Rachel picks herself up and moves to the couch, taking off only one shoe. Allison and Nick prop Rachel’s head on a pillow and place a weighted blanket over her before going to sleep themselves. After a moment, Rachel closes her eyes.

She opens them again at 6 AM, unsure whose bookshelves she sees. Slowly, parts of the night putter back on her way to the bathroom. The entire right side of her body hurts. She looks in the mirror over the sink and touches her forehead where there is a small bump. There is also a bruise the size of a plum blossoming on her jawline plus a mark on her cheek. But she realizes she doesn’t really care about The Poet anymore. Wherever he lingered has cleared out, as if someone coughed up a big loogie on the sidewalk. The fall knocked everything back into place in Rachel’s head. It finally feels like home again.

Later that day, Rachel deletes the messages from her phone, including the photo of them. She blocks his online accounts from being searched on her web browser just in case there’s ever the urge, but it doesn’t happen. He doesn’t come up until after her health insurance finally kicks in come February; when she can afford a dermatologist.

The doctor examines her skin closely. ‘Is there anything besides the acne that’s concerning you?’ she asks while running a magnifying glass over the moles on Rachel’s neck. ‘Fillers? Botox?’

‘No, but I do have small cysts on my head.’

‘Probably more trouble to remove than it’s worth.’ The doctor pauses over the spot on Rachel’s right cheekbone. ‘You’ve got this broken capillary here,’ she says. ‘That’s easy enough to fix. I could laser it away today, no problem.’

Rachel’s hand flutters up to her cheek. While the bruising faded from Allison’s bathroom, there was a small, reddish oval that persisted. It probably looked to most people like a freckle or a birthmark. To Rachel, it was a necessary reminder: never get so caught up in anyone again.

‘Actually,’ Rachel says. ‘I’d prefer to keep it.’

The dermatologist shrugs, picking up her iPad to start paperwork. ‘Did you get it from picking at a zit or something?’

‘Kind of,’ Rachel replies. ‘I tried to date a writer.’