© Still by Rae Lamar — A Serial Short
“Who’s your Hello?”
The not-so-innocent question slipped from Kiva Burke’s plum-stained mouth as a commercial interrupted the college football national title game that her fiancé had been intently watching. The buds Kiva had in her ears were now in her lap, connected to her smartphone that had just played a soul-stirring song that had been eliciting a series of unwelcome, overwhelming memories since she’d first listened to it before Thanksgiving.
When Todd didn’t offer a reply, she mistook his lack of response for misunderstanding and tried again. “You can’t tell me you haven’t heard that song before. The world stopped rotating for like five seconds when it dropped back in November.”
“A whole five seconds, huh?” His mouth twitched in amusement. “Forever dramatic, you are…yeah, I kind of heard it but not really.”
“It’s a pretty hard one to ignore,” Kiva replied. “Not to mention it’s been shattering all kinds of global records…but that’s not my point.”
Todd finally looked at her. “What is your point?”
Kiva pushed one of her buds into his left ear, accessed the music app on her phone and pressed PLAY. “Listen.”
Todd was disinterested for the better part of a minute but then his eyes changed. She would’ve missed it had she not been looking for it to happen.
Everyone had a Hello.
Kiva continued to watch him though Todd didn’t give very much away…but it was enough for her to recognize what she was seeing given that the song had affected her in a similar way weeks ago. Truthfully, she’d been floored by the lyrics but honesty wasn’t something she cared to embrace then or now or ever because the reality was that Kiva’s world had stopped turning when she first heard the song. But it wasn’t because she was a card-carrying Daydreamer like all the other super fans of the soulful British singer…it was the fact that the song instantly brought back memories of him.
He had been in her head every day since — when she woke, when she ate, when she drove, when she worked, when she showered, when she turned in for bed at night. Thoughts of him goaded her, almost compelling her to do things that were unquestionably irresponsible. Like reach out to him, talk to him, see him…
The song was over.
Todd removed the bud from his ear and continued watching the game like all was still right in his world. It relieved and tormented Kiva all at once, the former producing gratitude because Todd’s indifference signaled that there seemed to be no one significant in his past to interrupt her future while the latter triggered shame because she couldn’t say the same.
“The song is all right,” Todd finally mumbled.
She hesitated. “So who’s your Hello?”
Kiva simply stared, allowing her silence to speak volumes.
“I don’t know,” he replied, running a hand over his face. “Who’s yours?”
Her heart seized as she casually dropped her eyes to kill the music app on her phone. “I asked you first.”
It happened that quickly.
The texture of the conversation had changed.
Two people who were once able to share anything with each other and now…now, they were both suddenly pensive. Apprehensive. Edgy.
Kiva bit her lip, approaching the point of no return. She could laugh it off and sweep it all under the rug. It shouldn’t matter. It hadn’t in the two years they’d been together nor the night Todd had proposed to her. She could forget it all — the song, the memories, everything — but it was too late. What was conjured could no longer stay buried…and Kiva’s sudden need to purge superseded her common sense.
“Seriously.” She blinked. “I wanna know.”
Staring at her with a blank expression, Todd cleared his throat. “Tiana.”
“Your Hello is a Disney Princess?” Kiva rolled her eyes. “Eww.”
He chuckled at that. Or maybe his sudden humor stemmed from a long lost memory. Either way, she didn’t like it. Because it felt like he had a secret too. The assumption made her stomach churn, but she accepted the possibility. Perhaps they had always been keeping secrets, truths that were better left buried. Not that they were liars who preferred to be dishonest with each other…
Apparently, they just never asked the right questions.
“Not Disney,” Todd corrected, pulling Kiva from her thoughts. “But Tiana was a bit of a princess.”
He shook his head and chuckled again. A private laugh. One that excluded her. Todd was now in a place where Kiva couldn’t reach him, swimming in memories. A place she’d provoked. His countenance was still the same, but his eyes…
She understood because she’d been in a similar place herself.
Kiva jerked her head to look at Todd. “Huh?”
“Your Hello, as you put it.”
“Dyl—” She stumbled on his name, the significance of it feeling in its own way like the ultimate violation of her brand-new engagement. “Dylan.”
“Your Hello is surfer dude from 90210?”
“Umm…negative,” Kiva replied, attempting to keep things light although her breaths were coming in shorter intervals than they were before Dylan’s name left her lips. “Double eww.”
“So what happened?”
Todd was watching her too closely, so she immediately corrected her posture, her face, her…everything. “Summer before college drama. Teenage angst. Blah, blah, blah.”
“Ahh, so you were the heartbreaker.”
“I was just confused back then, all emotions and no clarity.” Kiva’s eyes bounced all over the room before focusing on Todd again. “School is no good for anything real.”
He nodded. “College and love are not synonymous.”
“Exactly,” she agreed a little too quickly. “Like or lust maybe…but not love.”
“Yeah, I was the heartbreaker in mine so I get it.”
“Really,” Kiva said with added interest, thrilled to shift the spotlight away from herself. “You were confused too?”
“Nah, just immature. Tiana refused to accept I was an asshole, always believing in that frog-to-prince shit she consumed as a kid so I took advantage. I was feeling myself back then and got caught with too many other girls, way too many times to count. It was messed up…she didn’t deserve it.” Todd shrugged. “The things we do when we don’t know better…”
“Yeah,” she replied, absently. “Crazy, right?”
She was crazy.
Correction — batshit crazy with a penchant for all things preposterous.
It wasn’t enough that she minimized Dylan’s significance to her fiancé. She had to take it to social media and type Dylan Davis in the search box. Then she took it even further, mindlessly clicking on the button to re-friend him before sending a dumb-ass, inbox message that literally read, “Hey there…remember me?”
Not her finest moment by a long shot.
But — despite Kiva’s corny-ass, social media resurgence — Dylan responded less than a day later with a five-word, rhetorical question that she’d secretly hoped for but definitely didn’t need to read: “How could I ever forget?”
She didn’t reply.
Instead, Kiva allowed a full week to pass to put distance between her and his answer to her useless, selfish question. Seven whole days of self-imposed distance that was supposed to get her mind right, her body in check and her heart corrected.
Fail. Fail. Fail.
She didn’t need this. Not one bit of it. Especially after the bomb she’d set off with Todd that now left them in an adverse aftermath.
“Who’s your Hello?”
An entirely innocent question that somehow turned the corner and went totally awry. Who knew that one simple question could so quickly undermine a recent engagement resulting from a two-year commitment that she’d worked damned hard to maintain? An unnecessary question that now left them in limbo…all because of a sappy-ass song that drop-kicked her heart, jacked her judgment and stole every ounce of do-right that she possessed.
Kiva dropped her head in her hands, grateful that it was a slow day at work. Her office door had been closed since she arrived to block out the colleagues that she had no energy to endure because she was too busy trying to understand what the hell she’d been thinking to continue down the rabbit hole with Todd that night and then go resurrect the past the very next day, foolishly risking her future for a fantasy.
Lowering her hands to her lap, Kiva swiveled her chair to take in the midtown skyline. It was a gorgeous, winter day. Unseasonably warm with lots of sun and not a cloud in sight. She leaned forward and gazed several stories down to see numerous figures dotting the sidewalks and countless cars cruising along the one-way roads. Mother Nature had been harsh since the Peach Drop at Underground and the city was apparently grateful for the respite, especially since the good weather was predicted to extend into the upcoming Valentine’s Day weekend…a love-filled holiday that Kiva had been planning to celebrate with Todd up until her recent lapse of logic and lucidity.
Now, their engagement was up in the air.
Along with everything else.
“What the hell were you thinking,” Kiva mumbled to herself as she searched the sky.
Todd Watson was ideal. They met through mutual friends at a rooftop party in the design district on the west side of Atlanta. Slept together after three-point-five dates over an equal number of weeks. Traveled together to Miami, Vegas, Seattle and Punta Cana with no strings for the better part of the next six months. Declared themselves a couple on the final day of the year then announced their pending nuptials exactly three hundred and sixty-five days later.
And then she had to go and fuck it all up by asking him the wrong damn question.
Kiva glanced over her shoulder at her phone thinking that it was a text message from Todd. Swinging around, she grabbed it and checked the screen.
It was indeed a message.
But it wasn’t a text…and it wasn’t from Todd.