We asked readers to submit their least romantic stories for our Valentine's Day issue. To read the other tales of woe and regret, see the rest of our (almost) romance-free ode to Valentine's Day.
One hot, sticky summer day, I wiped away the sweat collecting on my forehead and held a large garbage bag open as Evan, who worked with me on our college's grounds crew, raked a heap of leaves in my direction.
"I wouldn't tell many other people because it comes off the wrong way," he divulged, "but I think that most girls won't date me because they're intimidated. And I'm pretty sure that's the reason my ex broke up with me."
I asked why someone would be so "intimidated."
"My looks," he said. "My school record."
As far as the latter, he was referring to his coveted title as the star runner on the cross-country team. Evan had bragged that college recruiters were looking at him as early as junior year of high school. "My school's pretty well known," he said.
This would never work, I thought. He was a jock. I was an artsy type who could only hope to lift ten-pound dumbbells. He was supersocial, and I liked to keep my circle nice and tight. He struck me as an individual more interested in himself than other people, namely me. But I succumbed to looks.
Evan invited me over for pancakes one morning, and soon we were holding hands and making out on his couch during every lunch break. He made a practice of vehemently pressing his palms into my face as our lips touched. On our wayblissful for about a week. Then Evan sprung an impromptu camping trip on me. I could still count on one hand the number of times I'd been camping. In addition, the only route to the campsite, a few miles away, was by bike. I feigned excitement, hoping to impress him.
I borrowed his roommate's mountain bike, a formidable hunk of metal. The first mile seemed to breeze by. We were riding in the open air, the sun peeking behind a few bright clouds. The terrain was even, level, and smooth. I felt invigorated.
Soon, however, the landscape changed to an uphill battle. Evan not-so-surprisingly showcased a surge of energy and made it past the half-mile hurdle with more vitality than before.
"Woooooooh," he said. "That was freaking awesome."
Not hearing an immediate response, he turned his head. Coming up the hill was a pathetic version of my former self, drenched in sweat, breathing heavily and wobbling. "That. Was. Tough," I finally let out.
"That's just the beginning," he retorted. "You really need to get in shape."
My face was already beet red, turning more so with anger. "Get in shape? You're an athlete! You're on a completely different level."
I tossed him the water canteen and sped forward. We would make this into a race.
I held the lead for five minutes, depleting every source of energy I could muster and going back for more. Coming into view was a large expansion of water, undoubtedly the reservoir. The campsite was close by, and I was about to win the race. Then he zoomed past me. "Motherfucker!" I yelled.
By the time I made it to our destination, he had unpacked our bag and was starting to set up camp. Before long it was nightfall. As the fire flickered, he put his arm around me and I pushed away slightly. "Sore loser," he said.
"Not that," I said. "Just don't like feeling like I'm incapable."
He looked down at the fire, up at the sky, and at the fire once more. "You could try losing a bit of weight," he offered.
"What?!" I exclaimed.
"Well, maybe if you lost some you'd be fitter. Just an idea."
"But I hardly weigh anything," I said. "Do you see my arms? They're sticks."
Not knowing when to give up, as the old adage goes, he continued. "But you can lose some from your thighs, maybe."
Starting to think this was a brilliantly evil joke, I laughed and said, "Oh, yeah. I guess ten or 15 wouldn't be a bad idea."
"It's hard to stay skinny," he responded sincerely.
Dumbfounded, perplexed at how he found 120 pounds at five feet and seven inches overweight, I changed the subject.
An hour later, we had swapped good and bad stories. Funny and sad ones. Stories of lost virginity. He was too old, he thought. I was too young. We seemed to be moving toward a similar page.
"She wasn't really a stepmother," I continued on our tangent. "She was actually an aunt. But she was horrid . . ."
He gasped and stopped me midsentence with a palm on my chest. "That reminds me of this movie I saw the other day—The Uninvited."
I wasn't familiar. He continued.
"It was this horror movie about these two sisters whose mother died in a fire. They spend the movie thinking their dad's girlfriend was the killer," he said, his face incandescent. "In the end, we find out that the events were imagined by one of the sisters. She was a schizophrenic and had an identity disorder. She was crazy."
I said that sounded like a lot of horror movies I had seen.
"But it makes me think," he said. "You know, people with these handicaps . . . are they really people?"
"Are they people? Do you consider them to be human?"
"Well, yes," I said.
"I don't," he said, with finality. "I think these kind of people are a fragment of what we are. Humans are identified by their contributions to society. In our ability to function."
I was at a loss for words.
"It really would be a better world without them," he said.
"You can't be serious!" I yelled.
"But I am," he said.
We spent the rest of the evening on separate ends of a log, not even our sleeping bags touching. I woke up the next morning with a flurry of bug bites. Without a word to each other, we biked back to his apartment. I placed his roommate's bike in the appropriate rack, and I headed home.
I wouldn't hear from him until a year later. I was at dinner when my phone vibrated, and I saw a text with his name attached:
"Nicole," it said. "Hey. Wat up. I met Alyssa your roommate the other day. She was pretty cool. I think I want to ask her out? Can I get her number from you? Thanks!"
I took a bite of my pizza and texted a response:
"Evan, nice to hear from you. Fuck off."