Lev has been sitting in his office for the past 24 hours and never gets enough sleep. He hasn’t been home for the last day or has it been weeks. He hasn’t had any decent meals always takeaways or Red Bull that’s in his mini fridge. Today was a special day. Supposedly. Lev should have left an hour ago for a book launch. His long-time girlfriend’s book launch. But he forgot about it. He hasn’t thought about it. Avery would understand. He sighed as he continued to put his head down to figure out what was wrong with the program he was doing for a big client.
At the same time, Avery was welcoming her guests. Friends, family, and fans if you might say. She’s been struggling for a few years to have her book published. After a handful of rejections, finally, today was the day that the world would read her work. The very thing she’s been dreaming since she started to read books that her father keeps giving her. She’s finally doing it.
“Avery, it’s time.”, her editor told her. “But Lev isn’t here yet, Em.”, she said worriedly. “I know, Av. But you can’t keep people waiting too. I’m sure he’ll be here before you’re done. I promise he’ll be here.” Emma assured her while typing, ‘COME HERE NOW.’ on her cellphone sending it to Lev.
Later that night…
Lev opened the door to their apartment slowly to not wake Avery up. He noticed that there were bags ready in the living room and that Avery was sitting down on one of the couches. “You’ve finally decided to come home.”, she said, clearly upset. He stood there confused looking from Avery to the bags, “What’s this, Avery?”.
“What do you think, Lev?”, she stood up. “I’m leaving.” He scoffed not believing a word she said. “C’mon, babe. Don’t do this now. You’re just tired. Let’s go to bed and talk about this in the morning. Hmm?”, he took her hand. Which Avery immediately pulled back. “No, Lev. I don’t want to talk about this in the morning. I want to talk about it now.”, her voice broke.
He stood there, angry and tired, “Okay. Sure.”, he said bringing his hands up as if surrendering. Avery bit the side of her thumb, hesitating. “Do you remember what today was?”, she said through her teeth. Lev fully knowing what she’s referring to, thought of a way out. But this is no ordinary petty fight. This is more. “I’m sorry. Okay? Yes, I know what today was. I went to Strand but they were already cleaning up—” He stopped. Avery was already shaking uncontrollably with anger. “It started around 7:30, Lev! What time is it now?!”, she said pointing to a glowing clock on the wall saying it’s 2 in the morning.
“You of all people know how important this is to me! I’ve been writing my book for years, you were there. You know this is my dream. When I got rejected by other publishers because they thought it was not fit for the current trend, you remember what you said?”, Avery asked with tears streaming. “You can start a different one, that fits the norm.”, Lev sighed. “But—”
“But what, Lev? What?!”, clearly disappointed, Avery stood up walking towards her bags. “Av, please. Don’t do this.”, Lev begged, “You know why I’m doing this. This is for us. I thought we were in this together.” He saw a smirk from the corners of her mouth, “In this together? Tell me, Levi Fenley.”, she said slowly moving toward him, “When was the last time you thought of this relationship? When was the last time you thought of doing something with me involved?”, she asked. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came. “Exactly. Never.” She spun around and almost lost her footing to grab her bags, “I can’t do this anymore.”, she said as she threw her apartment keys on the floor and stormed out the door.
Late December 2019, Winter
It was a few days before New Year’s Eve, and he doesn’t know where to go. It has been his routine since his vacation started is to wake up early, get dressed up to 3 layers of clothes and brave the cold to get his coffee. He sits there for a few minutes and looks around at the people coming in and out for coffee. Eyes down, phone on his hand, or the day’s paper. But today, he has this feeling to go somewhere.
He took his coffee and smiled at the Barista who’s been flirting with him for the past few days. I can’t do this anymore. He was never able to take those words out of his head. I can’t do this anymore. It’s been haunting him since she left. I can’t do this anymore. He was not able to continue with the project and almost lost his job. I can’t do this anymore. He sighed as he sipped his morning brew.
It was the first time he got back to Strand. Avery’s favorite bookstore. He took another gulp from his coffee, “You’re thinking about her again.”, he said under his breath. He looked from his left to his right, checking people didn’t catch him talking to himself. He moved forward at the big window saw her name in front of the book that she has worked on for years. Avery Branden. He gave out another sigh and walked inside the bookstore.
Glad that it was warm inside, he took off his coat and started to walk around and scan the books. He grabbed a copy of Avery’s book and walked towards the back of the store. Lev was never someone who reads for pleasure. He didn’t get the point why other people bother, but he never questioned Avery about this. He loved looking at her reading her favorite books over and over. The look on her face when she’s reading the sad parts, or how her lips curl whenever the book has a satisfying and happy ending. How excited she gets every time a book is coming in the mail, and how weirdly she smells the book pages may it be new or old. He didn’t get to see this since he started working on that stupid project.
“Hey,”, he heard a familiar voice, “Never thought I’d see you here.” Lev looked up from the book. “Av.”, startled he stood up as fast as he can and hit his head on a sign that read Fantasy, “Ow!”. He heard her laugh. He felt good to hear it again. “Oh. Sorry.”, she stifled a giggle.
“How—How you’ve been?”, Lev stuttered. He never stuttered. Avery gave him a look of surprise, “Did I just hear Levi Fenley stutter?” He scratched the back of his head and blushed. “I—I guess.” She looked down at his hands and saw her book, she smiled. “Congratulations on being New York’s bestseller.”, he said.
Avery just smiled at him and hesitated but asked anyway, “How are you, Lev?” That took him by surprise. He knew Avery long enough to know that her tone in asking that question actually meant something. “Not good. Since you know, that night. I almost lost my job and barely able to keep it, if it wasn’t for Aiden’s help. I thought I’d be back to delivering pizza.”, he sniffed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”, she started playing with her fingers, “I know that it didn’t end well between us. And I shouldn’t even be talking to you. I’m here for my book signing today. This part of the bookstore has been my favorite. I thought I’d look around for a while before the event starts.”
“It’s okay.”, Levi smiled, “I’m glad you came up to me. It’s good to see you, by the way.”
“I’m glad to see a familiar face too.”, she blushed. “Want to stay for a while and I don’t know, get some burger later? Maybe?”
“I’d love that.”
“Welcome, Avery Brendan!”, shouted a staff. People were piling up looking very eager and happy to see Avery.
Lev stood at a nearby bestseller section with a clear view of the makeshift stage made for the event. He and Avery were looking at each other, giving one another familiar and warm smiles.