Tonight was the night. Penelope could feel it. The text saying “We need to talk…”. The way he had avoided her gaze on their last date. Meeting at a bar instead of at a restaurant.

She was positively giddy.

When they first met, Alan seemed like a perfect match for her, but in the last month, she had been getting more and more bored with him. His previously vivid blue eyes now seemed dull and listless. The way he slurped his food had originally been cute, but now it seemed like a cacophony every time they ate. His once quirky and unique model train hobby now simply looked sad and childish.

She knows she should have broken things off a month ago, but every time she thought about doing it, she found herself dreading the emotional fallout. Would there be tears? Would there be begging? Would he be angry? Even just imagining what might happen sent a shiver of secondhand embarrassment down her spine. Rather than find out the answers to these questions, she decided it would simply be easier if he broke up with her.

For the past month, she had tried everything. She slouched and stuck her stomach out. She purposefully put make-up on badly. She interrupted him whenever he was talking. She left her trash all over his place. When none of these things seemed to be working, she labored in her apothecary, reading tomes and tomes searching for a hint at making an anti-love potion. After spending last weekend buried in research, she did it. It was clear with a tinge of violet, and she slipped it into Alan’s drink the next time they met.

Now would be the first time they met since then. She arrived at the bar a little early, ordered herself a congratulatory drink, and suppressed a smile as Alan approached.

“Hey”, they both said to each other tensely.

She started mock-apprehensively, “So, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Alan hesitated before responding, “Look, I think we should break up. I think you’re a wonderful person and anyone would be lucky to have you, but I feel like this just isn’t….”

Penelope wasn’t listening anymore. She was ecstatic. She was overjoyed. She let out a sigh that she didn’t even realize she had been holding. The potion worked!

“…and the truth is, I had wanted to break up with you for a few months now but I just couldn’t…”

She had wondered when she made it if she had got it right. She had wondered if this breakup would go poorly regardless. She had had a million little anxieties, but now she savored in feeling each one slide out of her consciousness into oblivion, Everything was going according to plan.

“ … and I know this is so fucked up, but I actually even tried using anti-love potio-”

Penelope froze. “What?”

Alan hesitated, “Uhhhh. Yeah. I got an anti-love potion from a witch about a month ago and spiked your water bottle with it. Like I said, I know it’s fucked up, but as far as I can tell, it didn’t seem to work at all…”

Alan’s voice faded again, but this time, it was overtaken by a different feeling - one that Penelope couldn’t quite pin down.

A thousand memories bubbled up in her mind. How Alan seemed to always forget her order when picking up food. How Alan would invite her to hang out with his friends ignore her the whole time. How Alan would always buy her things that she could have sworn she told him that she didn’t want and how she felt obligated to keep those things even though she hated them. She had shouldered a thousand inconveniences, always little things that she felt guilty about judging Alan for. After all, they had always been innocent mistakes, failures of execution, but at least his heart was in it, or so she had thought.

The new knowledge that all those things were intentional evoked a hot anger inside her. A part of her wanted to lash out in anger, in disgust, but hadn’t she done all the same things? She wanted to call him a selfish coward, a fool too self-absorbed to think of anything beyond their own fear, who had thrown away something good out of childishness, but every accusation she could think of would apply to them both.

Another memory came up, unprompted. Alan had invited her to a concert that he had been waiting months for, but, as she ran out the door, she found that her bike had been stolen from her front porch. The bike was nothing special, something she easily had the funds to replace, but it had been a long week and Penelope found she suddenly didn’t have the energy for anything anymore. She texted Alan to tell him she was feeling under the weather and wouldn’t be able to make it out (this was early on enough in the relationship that she didn’t want to burden him with her complaints) and gave him some other dates they could hang out.

30 minutes later, there was a knock on the door and a box of cupcakes. They were from a bakery her eyes had lingered on for maybe a second before moving on. They came with a note, generic, encouraging. The cupcakes were beautiful but bland - she ended up throwing out the cupcakes but kept the note.

This memory wasn’t special. There were endless kindnesses and sympathies that they offered each other, but not one fight. They were careful to never offend, never judge out loud, never hurt each other, but how much hurt did that really avoid? The past few months had been an escalating precession of one “innocent” vile act after another.

“…Anyways… it looks like you’re processing, so i’m going to give you some space.” Alan sheepishly looked at his shoes before eeking out “Sorry again…”, before walking away. She thought about calling after him, telling him her side of the story, but why? Did she want some validation that what she did wasn’t so bad? Did she think that giving him a second chance would make her feel deserving of a second chance? In the end, she did nothing and Alan left the bar, leaving Penelope all by herself.