One step at a time. Slowly. One foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter how hard it gets to breathe. I have to keep walking.
I try not to strangle my flowers as I draw closer. Three bridesmaids stand to the left of the altar, four groomsmen to the right. And…him. For half a second my steps falter, but my dignity keeps me going. The pews are packed full of strangers, and I won’t make a fool of myself.
I climb the steps up to the altar and take my place beside the bridesmaid closest to the center, and then I wait. I watch the door, holding my bouquet almost as tightly as my breath. She’ll appear any minute on her father’s arm, one slow step after another, to pledge her life away.
A few creaking pews break the silence as attendees start to crane their necks in search of the bride. I see him shift, all tall, dark, handsome and stupidly perfect as he bites his lip. He turns his eyes to me, worry etched into the lines at their corners, and I see just how much this ceremony means to him.
“Where is she?” he whispers.
I give him a tight smile. “She’s coming, Connor.” My voice is stiff. “I’ve done my job.”
With a small breath, he turns away again, eyes locked on the door at the end of the aisle. No “thank you” for talking his fiancée through wedding-day jitters, or for painstakingly lacing up the dress that he’ll unlace tonight. Not even for the damn decorations. Does he have any idea how many flowers and pristine white streamers I hung from the walls for his wedding?!
No. Of course he doesn’t. He is, as usual, paying me as little attention as the ground underneath his shoes. Always underfoot, always an afterthought, always taken for granted.
He likes to pretend we didn’t meet at the worst St. Patrick’s Day party of my life, when we were both drunk. He likes to conveniently forget the fact that whenever he and Nessa grin sheepishly when asked what they were up to last night, I can vividly imagine every part of it, because I remember that night and I know he does, too.
I wonder if he regrets it as much as I do.
How was I supposed to know my intoxicated misjudgment would lead us here? How was I supposed to know that some equally drunk clown from the third floor of my dorm hall would run by at two in the morning and steal the sock he’d placed on the door? How was I supposed to know that Nessa would come back from her parents’ house at eleven o’clock the next morning, right as he was reaching for his pants?
And how was I supposed to know what these two are? Because they’re like those frighteningly strong magnets—the ones that even a bodybuilder can’t stop from slapping together, and the noise they make when they meet makes you glad your finger wasn’t accidentally caught between them.
Which is why I never doubt that the door will open and she’ll walk through, graceful as always. But my certainty does little to stem the doom swelling in my gut when the moment finally arrives. She makes her way down the aisle, toward him. Always toward him.
And I’ve never been fast enough to pull all of myself out of the way in time before they collide.
She hands me her bouquet, and I try not to throttle this one, too. She gives me the most radiant smile—green eyes shining like neon lights, fiery orange hair cascading perfectly down the side of her head before falling down her back. It’s not like I haven’t just seen her in the prep room, but somehow, in the lights, she looks even more perfect.
I look from Nessa to Connor and back again. The perfect couple. I smile back, and half of it is genuine, because they deserve to be happy. But as I step back into place, I can’t help asking myself as they join hands: Don’t I deserve to be happy, too?
The minister starts the ceremony, and I hear their vows as though through six feet of soil. Like every word is more dirt hitting the coffin, cutting off my oxygen. Nessa is facing away from me, but I can see the way Connor looks at her and I imagine she’s got the same silly grin, like their world has narrowed down to a tiny bubble containing only the two of them.
“Do you, Connor Edward Mariani, take Vanessa Elizabeth Williams to be your partner in life, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, until death do you part?”
Are those tears in his eyes as he grins a lopsided grin? His words are a murmur, but they carry, and I know everyone in attendance can hear.
He slips the ring on her finger, and I imagine its weight on my heart.
“Do you, Vanessa Elizabeth Williams, take Connor Edward Mariani to be your partner in life, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, until death do you part?”
Connor lets out a choked-up laugh. Typical Nessa.
“I do, sir,” she amends under the priest’s stern gaze.
He watches as she slides the second ring onto Connor’s finger and then continues, a little disgruntled but professional all the same. “You may now kiss the bride.”
Connor’s fingers cradle her neck gently, drawing her closer until their lips meet. I have to look away.
I chance a glance up after adequate time has passed. Nope, still kissing.
The best man, Connor’s brother Cameron, whoops loudly, and they finally pull apart. I’m almost grateful for Cam, but then I have to link arms with him as we follow the bride and groom back down the aisle. As evidenced by his outburst, he’s not shy, and neither is the wink he gives me as he holds out his arm. I sigh, making sure he sees the disappointed heave of my shoulders, and slip my own arm through his.
Why couldn’t Connor have a sister? And why couldn’t she have been the maid of honor? Not that being a bridesmaid would have been painless. But there’s something intimate in holding this coveted position, and intimate is the opposite of what I want to be today.
Be happy. I force a smile on my face. Nessa is my friend. This is her day. I’m being selfish.
I line up outside the church to wait for the countless unfamiliar guests to exit. I shake hands, I give hugs to people I’ve never met before. Not one of them knows my name, and it hurts just a little bit to think how different it could have been if I was standing at the head of the line. They would know my name then.
I sigh with relief when someone’s grandmother, the caboose of the interminable queue, hobbles away with surprising vigor. As the wedding party gathers to take photos, I hope my smile isn’t too strained. The last thing I need is my anguish imprinted forever in the photo albums of how many strangers.
So when the photographer asks for silly poses, I throw myself into it. Cam gets bunny ears. I grab a different groomsman around the shoulders and stick my tongue out. I’m happy. I’m unaffected. But I don’t miss the fact that I never touch the bride and groom.
It’s not until we collapse into a rented limo for the drive across town to the reception that I realize how hot it is. A light sheen of sweat coats all of our skin. I can smell it in the suddenly close quarters of the spacious backseat, and I wonder how the oppressiveness of outside managed to follow us in. But looking from face to face, it becomes obvious no one else feels it.
I want to escape. The happy couple’s joy is like an expanding bubble, only one that doesn’t pop. It just keeps expanding, pressing the air out of my lungs like an out-of-control airbag. And maybe that’s fair. I’m the one who steered this careening car out of control in the first place, after all.
I thought I could handle being back here, in the town where it all started. As we pass through the campus, I try not to look out the windows at the students walking along the sidewalks. I try to pretend I was never them.
The bar where I met Connor flashes past in a blink, but I don’t miss it, nor the fact that the limo pulls into the parking lot next door.
It’s okay. I’m prepared for this. I’ve known for months now. I firmly ignore the building as we walking into the reception hall.
I thank the heavens for the air conditioning inside. Cam tries to steer me and my dress right over the rushing air of one of the floor vents, but I punch him. Hard. If my own melancholy hadn’t pulled us to the back of the line, it might have earned me a reprimand, but as it stands there are no witnesses.
“You deserved that,” I hiss when he pouts at me.
He doesn’t answer. He seems like a smart guy, I’ll give him that.
“Alana and Cam, where the hell are you?” Nessa’s voice floats back as we come to a halt. “Come here, you enter right after us!”
And just like that, we’re at it again, parading in their shadow like show ponies for an audience of strangers.
I spend dinner at a round table, trapped between the two Mariani brothers. I can’t imagine a more awkward place to be. I’m just glad that Nessa and Connor spend most of their time traveling from table to table, talking with their guests, and when they come back Nessa plops herself down in the chair to my right.
“This day is so exhausting!” she exclaims, staring at the untouched plate of food in front of her like it’s a marathon. Or an ultra marathon. One of those big fifty-mile ones that must mess up your body.
“That’s the price you pay for making it perfect, I guess,” I offer. My own food vanished into thin air ages ago.
“To be honest?” she says, picking at the food even though it’s her husband’s. “I would’ve been fine with a courthouse and two witnesses. Connor’s the one who wanted all this.” She waves her hand at the flowers and white tablecloths and friends and family.
“You’d have been a witness, of course,” she adds, misinterpreting my pinched lips.
“Oh,” I manage. “Thanks.”
Maybe I’ll look back on this one day and laugh.
The ping of a fork against a glass reminds me that today is not that day, and I look up as Connor nods at me to stand. Right, the maid of honor makes a toast. I’ve known that for months, and I thought I’d used the time well enough to prepare, but my legs suddenly fail me.
Cam pushes me to my feet. What a helpful guy. I just love swaying in front of a roomful of expectant faces while my heart gallops out of control and my brain implodes.
Someone hands me a microphone, and it trembles in my hand. Or my hand trembles around it. I don’t understand. I had my toast memorized and suddenly it’s gone in a puff of pink, flowery-scented smoke and “Newlyweds!” banners. My dinner shifts menacingly at the bottom of my throat.
“Hello,” I finally stammer, to the amusement of my table. The audience waits patiently, indulging me for the moment.
Okay. I can still save this. I glance at Connor, then Nessa. Then I look at both of them together, so perfect and meant for each other, and I definitely ate something I shouldn’t have earlier because a hard lump has situated itself right in the area of my throat that I need clear to breathe.
“I’ve known Nessa and Connor since—”
The next word is “college,” and I know that, but it seems so woefully inadequate next to the truth. But what am I supposed to say at their wedding? That Connor had approached me at the bar next door, and I’d obliged? I can probably recount the whole sordid affair in detail that would haunt these people’s dreams for years.
I can’t do that to her.
She’s my friend.
That doesn’t change the fact that my one-night stand with her husband only solidified my position as third wheel to a person I knew I could never have.
I try to forge on. I really do. But the words are like quicksand in my mouth. Soupy, meaningless. A trap.
A loud thump echoes from the speakers as the microphone hits the table. “Sorry,” I whisper as I pass Nessa and make a beeline for the door. I can’t do it. They can have their happy ending, but I can’t be part of it. I know I’m selfish. I know I’m being childish. I’m an adult, I should be above this high school-level drama. But none of those realizations change the fact that I just can’t.
I wrench open a door at random, not really caring what’s on the other side as long as it’s not family of the bride and groom or friends of the bride and groom. I just want to be alone.
I fall to my knees beside a cushy ottoman, digging my elbows into its plush depths and squeezing my temples so hard I wouldn’t be surprised to find brain oozing out my ears like a pimple.
Maybe that’s all I really am in the end—a big zit. The unobtrusive kind that don’t even know is actually a pimple until you randomly squeeze it anyway one day and you’re just floored at the amount of crap that comes out. I feel that crap coming out now in the warm tears pressing past the corners of my eyelids.
Great. This is what I get for telling myself I could do this—a stupid decision to forgo the waterproof mascara earlier this afternoon, and now I’m about to look like a raccoon caught robbing the trash can.
I force myself to take deep breaths, counting the seconds in and forcing them back out through my nose. It’s more effort than it’s worth, mainly because getting any air through my snotty nostrils is a full-body workout, but I have to get myself in shape to go back out there and suck it up. It’s not that hard; I’ve been playing the thrilled best friend for months now.
The thing is, it’s a lot easier to suck it up over email than it is in person. How many times had I typed “lol” with a completely straight face? And they had no way of knowing the beating my keyboard had taken as I wrote “Congratulations!” with a bride emoji and five hearts on Nessa’s Facebook post marking their engagement. I never use emojis.
I let my head sink into my arms, my nose squashed completely against the fabric. My transition to mouth-breather is complete.
Those hearts were purple. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody else, but it’s the closest I’ve ever come to admitting the truth to anyone who isn’t a total stranger.
I jump like a deer when the door sweeps open behind me. Crap. I’ve taken too long and now they’ve sent someone after me. Probably Cam.
“Go away.” My voice comes out muffled and slurred, a bad combination. Between the snot and and the echo chamber of my arms, I sound like a drunk person in a toilet.
“Lana, are you okay?”
The voice is Nessa’s, and my tears want to shrivel up and hide away. When they do, I chance a glance up.
And immediately regret it. Connor hovers a few inches behind her. I shoot him a glare that he meets with a sigh.
“I think she’s fine,” he notes, fingers already wrapping around Nessa’s arms to steer her back the way they came. For once I want him to take her. I’m tired of third-wheeling everywhere.
“You don’t look fine,” Nessa comments as if I’m the one who said it. She crouches down beside me, her white dress rustling and planting its wide folds between us until she finally gives up closing the distance.
“No, really, I’m fine,” I humor Connor’s assumption. “Just ate something, or—you know what, I think it was the champagne?”
“The champagne?” she repeats skeptically.
I nod. “Mhm. You know I’m a lightweight.”
She laughs a little, and I close my eyes at the sound. “We never got to the toast.”
“I know. I’m sorry. You should go back and enjoy your party.”
“Not until we know you’re okay,” she says firmly. Connor looks like he wants to protest, but keeps his mouth shut.
He does really love her.
I die a little inside when her hand lands on my bare shoulder. Goosebumps raise themselves in her wake. If she knew how many times I’d wished ruin upon her relationship, she’d never even look at me again.
I push her hand away.
“Talk to me, Lana.”
The lump of whatever-I-ate is back, pressing painfully into my chest with sadistic pleasure. I want to obey her. I want to tell her everything. I’ve known her for six years, that has to be worth something, right? The truth is a rising tide on my tongue, but I fight to hold it back. I’m afraid she’ll run if she hears it.
Connor sighs. “Look, I’m sure if Alana wants to say something, she’ll say it,” he says simply. “At the reception.”
Yes, Connor. It’s really something I should say in front of all your guests. You really want that, trust me.
Nessa gives me one last chance, imploring me with earnest green eyes. I open my mouth and choke on the words.
She stands up reluctantly. I watch the way she sinks into Connor, and the way his body so readily folds around hers like one of those ridiculous blanket-capes that somehow make everything better.
It just doesn’t seem right.
“I’m in love with you,” I blurt to the room in general.
Complete. Silence. It rings in my ears, louder than the afternoon’s church bells, and I know I should have kept it to myself.
“What?!” Nessa exclaims, her voice echoing off the high walls, taking its time reaching the ceiling before coming back down. I wince at the reverberations of her sudden outrage. Where is my friend?
“I’m so sorry.” I’m babbling now, running my mouth as fast as it will go because I know when it stops they’ll both kick me out. “I should have said something a long time ago, but I just—”
“Why would you say anything?”
Nessa’s hiss is like a slap in the face. What else am I supposed to have done? Kept it bottled up inside until it was too late?
Then I finally take a good look at them, holding onto each other like lifelines. Or rather, like he is her lifeline.
It already is too late.
Because she’s clutching him for support, and he’s trying to hold her up but she’s collapsing under the weight of my confession.
I just ruined the best day of her life, how is she supposed to feel?
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, “but I—I—”
“Alana.” I feel hands take a stranglehold on my wrists, large enough that they have to be Connor’s. “It was one night. In college. Five years ago.”
I stare up at him in confusion. “No.”
He nods, eyebrows rising into a peak. “Yes.”
“No!” I repeat, my eyes clouding over as a painful clump of frustration lodges itself in my throat. “You don’t understand—”
The click of heels across the wooden floor cuts me off, followed by the slam of a door. My vision is blurry, but when I finally blink quickly enough to clear it, Nessa is gone. I’m alone with him.
He lets me go abruptly, as if burnt. As if I’m a huge, stinking garbage fire. I sink back, my hands trembling without his fingers clutching them like a vice.
“I should have known,” he whispers, turning away. “All these years, I thought you hated me, and I couldn’t understand why. But it was the opposite.”
Wow. The ego on this guy. What does Nessa even see in him?
“That’s it.” He turns back to me now, a disbelieving, almost mocking smile distorting his lips. “All that…overdone venom, it was just overcompensation to cover what you really felt.”
He doesn’t even ask. He just assumes. They all just assume.
Even though I know it’s coming, it still steals my breath. My heart stops beating for half a second, then resumes, slower than before. Almost melancholy.
“Get! Out!” he repeats, more forcefully this time. I don’t want to say he’s yelling, because Connor never yells. But if he’s ever going to break that record, it will be today if I don’t leave.
So I stand. My legs are wobbly, but I force them to hold me up. I square my shoulders and straighten my back. Take one step at a time, and the walk to the door takes a lifetime. But once I’m there, I face him with a steady glare. I know my eyes are red, their corners are shiny with moisture, and I’m cursing my own stupidity for giving in to the wedding culture and wearing mascara this morning. But I make sure my voice doesn’t waver as I address him.
“For the record,” I spit as I twist the knob, “it was never you.”
I’ve never been a door-slamming kind of person, but I’m pretty sure the whole venue hears this one shut behind me.
I stumble out the back door. No way am I risking the walk back out past the open doors of the reception hall.
It’s cooled down rapidly, and the shock of it slaps some composure into me as I loop back around the front of the building. I don’t even have a ride home. I wasn’t expecting to alienate everyone before the end of the night.
I pull my phone out of my bra and sigh. At least I have that and a credit card. Uber, it’s your lucky night.
Loud laughter interrupts my silent lament as a rowdy group of tipsy twenty-somethings exit the bar beside the reception hall. I watch them stumble to the curb, and something about their carefree giggles pulls at me like the moon does the tide.
I glance back at the bar. Carlow’s, only the “w” in the neon sign is burnt out so it looks more like Carlos. I shrug. Why not? I’m already six feet under. Might as well drown myself in the memory of the night I accidentally sent Connor and Nessa into each other’s orbit.
I trudge up the rickety steps and push the door open. The interior looks just like I remember it: Riding a debatable line between rustic and run down, with heavy wooden chairs and even heavier tables. The bar has more modern decor, with cushioned round stools anchored to the floor, and I make a beeline in that direction.
The crowd tonight is much thinner and mellower than it was the last time I was here, but the slow night comforts me.
“I’d like to start a tab,” I announce to the young woman behind the bar. She peers at me from under her jet black bangs, and I remember that I’m dressed for a wedding. The only thing I’m missing is a sash that reads “Former Maid Of Honor.”
She grabs an orange bottle from the center of the rack and pours me a shot even though I haven’t asked for anything. I don’t care. I grab it enthusiastically, spilling a little over the sides.
“Runaway bride?” she asks.
I scowl. “I wish.”
She nods. “He’s bad for her?”
I sigh and shake my head. I might hate Connor, and his head might not fit into the state of Texas, but he and Nessa have always been perfect for each other. Even I can admit that.
She tries one last time. “Handsy groomsman couldn’t take a hint?”
I snort into my shot, then swallow it anyway. “He wishes.”
“Okay.” She leans forward on her elbows, tilting her head at me. “I’m intrigued.”
“And I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’ll trade you,” she says, pouring a shot and showing it off in front of my face like Vanna White. When I reach for it, she pulls it back.
I sigh, my throat still burning from the first shot. I’m already buzzed, but I still want the second one because I still remember everything.
“Friend of the bride or groom?” she asks.
“Bride.” Then I give in and mumble, “But I slept with the groom.”
She sets the shot down in front of me and pours another one, raising an eyebrow. “These’ll keep coming as long as you keep spilling.”
“Can’t you get in trouble for that?” I ask, but she just shrugs.
I blow out another gusty breath, my lips flapping, and lay down another layer of drama. “And I might be in love with her. And I might have told her that tonight, but she thought I was talking to her husband. He did, too.”
The next shot lands on the bar, and I seize it without remorse.
By the third one, she doesn’t even have to bribe me. The whole story is flooding out faster than she can pour. I came here to drown, and I am.
“Did I mention I’m a lightweight?” I slur thirty minutes later.
“Yes. A couple times, I think.”
“Well, now you know.” I nod emphatically, not sure what my point was.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” a man asks from behind me.
“Yes,” we both answer. I don’t even look up, but from the corner of my eye I see his bulk settle at the other end of the bar.
“I’d better go,” the bartender says, nodding toward the new customer.
I watch her walk away. Was she always that blurry? She should get that checked out. Doesn’t seem safe. A blurry person in such a blurry world is a recipe for disaster.
I fold my arms on the bar top and lay my head down in them. I just need to rest my eyes for one second before she comes back.
Pulsing music thumps me back awake after what feels like only seconds. I raise my head like a grumpy goose, looking for who I need to murder to restore the peace, and I notice that the crowd is at least three times the size it was earlier.
And everyone is wearing green, including me. My dress is gone, replaced by jeans and a tank top whose armpits have seen better days, and blessed sneakers have replaced the uncomfortable fancy shoes I wore earlier.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asks over the music, waiting expectantly. She’s still here, only she’s dyed her hair; about half of it is dark blue.
“Your hair,” I reply. “It’s…different.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” she shouts back. “What do you want?”
“Um, water please.” I’ve already had quite the night, but as I take stock of myself, I realize I don’t feel the effects of the earlier shots at all.
“Actually, can I have that clear thing in the orange bottle you gave me earlier?”
She leans over the bar, tilting her ear toward me. “I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”
“You know, the….” I start to point to the center of the wall of alcohol, but the orange one is noticeably absent. Maybe I drank it all. “Whatever you recommend,” I finish instead.
As the drink lands in front of me, I notice the green shamrocks decorating the walls. I’m having deja vu.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” someone asks from behind me. I roll my eyes and shrug. I don’t care anymore.
Connor sits down beside me, a green sparkly tiara nestled in his hair and a string of paper shamrocks dangling around his neck. He looks exactly like he did five years ago—and, I realize, so does the bar.
Somewhere deep inside, I realize I’m dreaming. In real life, I must have passed out at the bar. I’m probably getting dragged out like a sack of potatoes at this very moment.
Of course this is the dream I would have. I couldn’t have superpowers or lose all my teeth or something. I have to relive the night I met Connor.
“Little overboard, don’t you think?” I comment on his decorations.
“This?” He lifts the shamrock streamer off his shoulders. “Where’s your spirit? At least you’re wearing green, right?”
I give him an unamused glare.
He raises his hands. “Touchy. What, did you get stood up or something?”
“You have no idea,” I shout over the music. Stood up? Sure. The girl I love married someone else. Him. Does that qualify?
I vaguely remember a similar response and a similar train of thought as the real scene had played out five years ago—Nessa had promised for months to come to this party with me, but at the last minute she’d gone home to visit her parents. When I’d joked about it back then, it had actually come out as a joke; in this dream world, it’s more of a dismal statement.
“Well, it’s your lucky night,” he says, plopping himself down on the stool beside me. “I did, too.”
Are dreams supposed to be so accurate to the memories they’re derived from? Or patched together from random occurrences? Like being on the Flash’s team in a special version of the Hunger Games taking place on Captain Picard’s U.S.S. Enterprise.
Not that that’s ever happened to me.
I take a large gulp of my drink.
“I’m Connor,” Connor interrupts my thoughts.
I really wish I was one of those people who can control the direction of their dreams. I would spill my freakishly green drink on him. Or make the ceiling fall down on his head. Not to kill him, of course. Just a concussion and maybe a minor fracture. His nose doesn’t need to be that perfect.
And he doesn’t need to be that built, either. If I could resculpt him just a little bit, tone down the muscles, make the crinkles around his eyes just a little less genuine, maybe Nessa wouldn’t feel the need to marry him.
“Could you stop mentally undressing me?” he asks. “It’s making me uncomfortable.”
Crap. I forgot I’d done that that night, too. For different reasons, of course—but I can’t really blame myself for it back then. I can appreciate beauty when it sits in front of me wearing a plastic tiara.
“Hey, you got stood up, so….”
“That makes me fair game?” he infers. “Because that makes you fair game.”
“I was going to say that you have nothing better to do, but by all means, find yourself a better conversation partner.” I finish my drink in one gulp and signal desperately for another one.
“Probably wouldn’t be hard.”
He wouldn’t be smiling if he knew how much he’d mean it in a few years. “I’m starting to see why you got stood up. Maybe your date could see the future.”
“Maybe yours saw your nasty-ass shirt,” he says, glancing pointedly at the grayish discoloration seeping through the bright green fabric at my armpits.
I shrug. “Didn’t seem to scare you away.”
“I’m a little drunk,” he calls.
“Me too,” I admit after another large gulp of my second drink. I remember that I’m still in college, and I haven’t yet experienced the following years of painstakingly building up an alcohol tolerance to manage his and Nessa’s couple cuteness. That’s probably why the buzz is so strong already. It’s also probably why I don’t quite hate Connor at the moment.
I’ve forgotten how endearing he was that night.
Too bad he had to go and ruin it by dating my roommate.
“Never get married,” I comment. It probably seems random to him, but after the night I’ve had I feel like I deserve to insert at least some of reality into this fictional conversation. It’s strangely comforting to know that I can. Not that it will change the outcome of the dream.
“Don’t worry,” he replies. “I don’t plan to.”
I nod with satisfaction. No matter that I know it’s a lie. It makes me feel better for a fleeting moment.
“It’s kind of loud, do you want to get out of here?” Connor asks.
I feel my mouth open. I try to stop the words. But they have a mind of their own.
“My place is empty.”