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August 1, 2036, 9:25 p.m.
14 Years, 124 Days Ago
Lidia sat next to Paul with her head on his shoulder. From her point of view, she was reading a book while they waited for Jordan to get out of the bathroom. She had no idea how much it tortured Paul to feel her on him. The first reason he didn’t say anything was because it made her happy and comfortable. The other reason was that he couldn’t understand how he’d end up in this situation.
He worked so hard to help Lidia and Jordan see that they were the ones who liked each other, and somewhere along the way he came to realize how wonderful Lidia was. The one of the only things more powerful than his jealousy over their relationship was how stupid he felt for being jealous in the first place.
But neither of those were the worst of it. Jordan came out of the bathroom, and Lidia basically teleported to him. She flung her arms around him, and they kissed each other. They they started walking along the mall. It was like every time one saw the other, Paul vanished. The world fell away when they were together, which meant Paul ceased to exist.
And they had no idea how lonely that made him feel. He didn’t just miss out on any hope or chance at a relationship with a wonderful woman, he felt like he somehow lost his best friend. They found happiness and love, and he was just more alone than he’d been in his entire life.
They actually made it to the end of the long segment of stores as Paul watched them walk. They turned the corner, completely unaware that they’d left him there. For a moment, he wondered if they’d notice if he went home. Maybe then they’d be ashamed. Maybe then they’d realize how insensitive they were being. But if he left, and they never even realized it, it would be the final proof. It would prove they didn’t care about him in the least. As long as they were together, nothing else mattered, especially not Paul.
He couldn’t bear that thought. Better for them to occasionally offer him some sort of token comment or chance to contribute to life before they vanished into one another’s eyes. Better to be a footnote in their lives than a distant memory. They didn’t even thank him for setting them up together.
So Paul headed after them in a sort of jog. He ignored the panic in his heart as he turned the corner and couldn’t see them right away. He caught sight of Lidia’s hair and followed it to a pet store.
They were peering in at a group of puppies.
Lidia cooed at a small white dog that had a single black spot where its back met its tail. The dot looked a little like a bullseye that made Paul chuckle a bit.
“Aren’t they adorable?” Lidia asked. “Paul you should get one.”
“Why?” Paul asked with a chuckle.
“Because they’re adorable!” Lidia’s overuse of the word didn’t really justify the reason in Paul’s estimation.
“I wouldn’t even have the first clue how to care for a dog. Also, they’re—“
“Jordan, can we get a dog?” Lidia asked.
Paul smiled. “ I don’t know that Jorda—“
“I’ll tell you what,” Jordan said. “Let’s not buy a dog now. We’ll talk about it. And if we still want a dog when we’re not looking at one, we’ll see what we can afford.”
“We?” Paul asked.
“I think it would be fun,” Lidia said.
“Dog’s are pretty hard to ta—“ Paul said
“Maybe, but let’s not make a decision in the moment,” Jordan said.
Paul let out a sigh. A few deep breaths helped him calm himself.
“Paul,” Lidia said, “do you think that getting an animal is a good test run for having a family?”
“There’s no way I’m going to get—“
“Maybe we should talk about marriage more before we talk about having kids,” Jordan said.
“Wait, you guys are talking about marr-“ Paul said.
“It’s just a dog,” Lida said. “And it might help us see how we think as adults and parents.”
Paul realized he really didn’t want to be involved in the conversation, but it seemed clear they were already thinking about marriage and family. He wanted to be happy for them. He wanted to be excited. But given how the current conversation was going, he couldn’t help but feel even more left out.