Synopsis: Coming home after a long day of work to the one she loves has never felt better.
Word Count: 1735
Date Written: July 2021
Elle walks through the front door after a long day at work. It’s one of the few times where Matthew actually got home before she did and judging by the lack of a suit jacket draped over the back of the couch, he’s been there for a little while now.
“Hey,” he calls out from the other room.
“Hi,” she calls back, closing the door behind her.
The first thing she notices as she takes off her jacket is the smell. It smells like something is on the stove, and she knows that Matthew is likely making dinner. She smiles to herself at the thought. She knows he tries to be home at a decent hour when he can, but it’s still the first few weeks of his new job and he only eats about half his meals in their apartment these days. He’s not entirely at fault for that, considering most of the time when he eats dinner at the office it’s usually with her, but the effort he’s making tonight—the one early night he’s had all week—to cook for her makes her heart flutter.
She takes a few steps through the apartment, heading through the living room and on her way to the kitchen. She leans up against the door frame separating the two rooms and just watches her boyfriend for a minute.
He knows she’s watching him – he’s as tuned to her as she is to him – and he can’t help but grin a little to himself. He makes no moves to call her out on it. God knows he’s stared at her enough times to let her have this one. All he does is continue on with the cooking, pretending like she’s totally not checking him out.
Elle sees the smile sneak up on his face. He likes to think he can hide it when he senses her, but she’s the master of hidden feelings. She can always tell.
Right before she asks him about his day, she finally notices the music playing. It’s coming from the stereo in the living room. It’s not all that uncommon for them to listen to the radio or a CD in the evenings, but what is unusual is the song playing right now.
“Matthew,” she starts slowly, “what’s going on?”
Matthew looks down at the food in front of him with a furrowed brow like he’s doing something wrong with it before looking over at Elle “What do you mean?”
“The music,” Elle answers, one eyebrow raised.
Matthew looks at the stereo, then at the food, then back at his girlfriend. “…I’m listening to music while making dinner, what about it?”
Elle rolls her eyes. “You’re listening to the Goo Goo Dolls.”
“Iris, to be specific.”
Now he looked really confused. “Elle, the point? Find it.”
“You hate the Goo Goo Dolls,” she explains, arms folded over her chest.
“No, I don’t,” he says unconvincingly.
“Yes, you do,” she replies, as if it’s the most obvious statement in the world. Well, maybe not the world, but she supposes to them, it probably should be fairly obvious.
“Summer of ’98,” she cuts him off, “and I quote, ‘If I have to listen to that goddamn song or that goddamn band one more time, I swear to god Elle, heads will roll.’”
“You played Iris 95 times in one week!” his voice rises in pitch and volume in defense of his words.
“And you hated every second of it!” she counters.
There’s a moment where Matthew realizes that he walked right into that one, and Elle smirks. He lets out a breath knowing he lost that round.
“So why are you playing it now?” Elle asks calmly, bringing the tone back down from playful exclamations to a serious conversation.
Matthew shrugs and fiddles with the pan on the stove for a minute before he answers. “…because I know you like it.”
Elle can’t help but let her smirk turn into a smile at that line. She pushes herself off the door frame and walks the three steps it takes to get to her sometimes very sweet boyfriend.
He’s still fiddling with the pan, so she wraps her arms around his midsection and lets her head rest against his back. Matthew pours something into the pan, shifts the contents around a little bit, and then sets it back on the burner. He leans back into Elle a little and lets himself relax.
She can feel his shoulders drop three inches, the tension leaving his body almost immediately. Sometimes (read: most times) after a long or draining day at the office, all they really need to feel better is each other. They don’t need to talk—and after days filled with countless meetings, most of the time they don’t really want to—all they need is to be near each other.
They learned that part a long time ago, but the part they’re still getting used to now is being able to hug, or hold hands, or sit snuggled up on the couch any time they want to just because they can. Going from best friends to more than friends was the best thing they ever did, and now eight months later, neither one of them is looking back.
They’re enjoying the quiet minute together when the song ends, and the next track comes on. Elle, knowing the album by heart, is surprised when a song by an entirely different band comes on next.
“Wait a minute,” she muses, looking towards the stereo.
“Hm?” Matthew hums, having forgotten about the song already and directing his attention once again towards their dinner.
“Is this a mix?” asks Elle.
Matthew’s body stiffens at the question, which does not go unnoticed by Elle. “Uh…”
She takes a step out from behind him, trying to read his face but coming up empty. Now it’s her turn to look genuinely confused.
“You own a mix CD with Iris on it?” she asks incredulously.
“…sort of,” is all he manages to say in response.
Elle heads into the living room, the notes of another familiar 90s hit floating through the air. She knows the song well, and for a minute she swears she used to have a mix that played it right after the Goo Goo Dolls. She takes another look at Matthew and finally places the expression he’s wearing.
She hits the button for the next track to play, and gasps when it is yet another hit 90s song that she loves, and that Matthew absolutely cannot stand.
He has the good grace to look sheepish in the kitchen, as he pours the contents of the pan onto two plates. “…yeah?”
“This is my Y2K mix!” She hears how dorky she sounds as the words come out of her mouth, but at the moment she does not care.
Matthew must hear it too because the sheepish look is replaced by a dimpled grin. “Yeah, see, about that-”
“I thought I lost this thing! Where did you find it?”
They’ve only been living together for a couple weeks, and there are still several boxes in the guest room that need to be unpacked. Elle doesn’t remember seeing the CD in at least five years, but maybe it ended up under the couch or in a drawer she never went through in her old apartment. Someone probably just tossed it in one of the boxes with the rest of her junk, and never thought twice about it.
She thinks that maybe Matthew started to unpack some of the leftover boxes when he first got home, and he found it among a pile of extra blankets or empty file folders. Maybe it was buried under a mountain of old documents. Maybe it was just hidden in the wrong CD case all this time.
She thinks that any one of these scenarios could be true, until she realizes that a full minute has passed, and Matthew still hasn’t answered her question.
Elle narrows her eyes and puts her hands on her hips. “Matthew.”
“I may have…” he pauses, running a hand through his hair, “borrowed it at one point.”
Elle’s arm shoots out and she points right at him. “Thief!”
“There’s a word for this,” he starts, hands raised on the defensive. “There’s a word for this, and it’s ‘borrowed’.”
“When did you take this?”
“2005?” he asks more than tells.
“Liar,” she folds her hands over her chest.
“Okay, so I may have hidden it deep in my office around 2001 for it to never be played again.”
She knows he’s telling the truth, but there’s more to the story. “And in 2005?”
Matthew takes the two plates from the counter and moves towards the table. He sets them down at their usual spots and avoids meeting Elle’s eye. “I took it home.”
“Why?” she follows up, sitting down at the table next to him.
He pushes the food around on his plate for a couple of minutes before finally taking a deep breath and looking at his girlfriend with a sad smile.
“Because you were working halfway across the world that year and I was… missing you.”
“…Matthew,” she says softly, the tears already threatening to form.
“No, don’t,” he says quickly.
“Don’t make this a thing.”
“Yes, you were,” he says as he covers her hand with his. “It’s a mixtape of all the worst songs from the 90s that was buried at the bottom of a drawer of briefing memos for four years, let’s not get emotional about it. Not tonight, okay?”
Elle keeps her emotions in check; her eyes are a little glassy but not a single tear falls. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real to her that she has this wonderful man in her life. This thoughtful, kind, wonderful man, who she’s just now realizing insulted every song on her favorite CD.
“I’m sorry,” she starts in a playful tone, “are you calling I’m Just a Girl a bad song?”
He grins. “I’ve always been more of a Spiderwebs guy, you know that.”
She scoffs as she takes the first bite of her dinner. “I cannot believe you some days.”
“Yeah,” Matthew muses, taking a bite of his own, “but that’s what you love about me.”
“Yeah,” Elle agrees, her tone genuine, “that’s what I love about you.”