Adding UpAdding up

Math was always difficult for you. The simplest of equations, formulas, and concepts were impossible and evasive, always leading you to answer problems incorrectly. The only time you were right was when you admitted This is hard.

You consider your lack of math smarts now, with his fingers strung through yours, his breath against your cheek. It doesn’t make sense, but here he is, and so are you. Because for you, the answer is him, even when it’s not reciprocated.

I love you more than her still, he says, and your heart skids and sputters in desperation to make sure he stays that way. You take to the chalkboard and attempt to work out the solution to life’s most impossible equation.

For weeks, the mileage on your car accumulates as you work to subtract the physical and figurative distance between the two of you, but it doesn’t work. Days fall away, fall behind, and you realize that you have, too.

I love you the same as her now, he says with his hand on your knee, and you burn with a determination that’s fearfully too intense and too late. You are part of the triangle, and in a perverse version of the Pythagorean Theorem, you are becoming the smaller side. You stare impatiently at the chalkboard, but you still cannot solve for ‘x.’

Time passes, and you no longer own a spot in the triangle. You don’t know anymore, having pulled too many all-nighters searching for an answer that you’re starting to think doesn’t actually exist.

I love her more, now, I’m sorry, he says only minutes before he pushes his tongue between your lips. Before he pulls you beneath his body, and lets the necklace – a small key, from the new girl— settle in the hollow of your collarbone like an anvil. The weight of the truth, but you haven’t worked it out just yet.

All you can think lying there is that it doesn’t add-up. His words and his feelings for the other girl sound true, yet his actions subtract from them with every caress from him against your skin, every swipe of his tongue, the heat radiating between the two of you. Or the other moments, watching a movie within the circumference of his arms, a short radius between your hearts. These actions don’t speak of loving less, but rather that his feelings for you have multiplied. Love to the tenth power. His words don’t seem real, like the imaginary numbers that are real, but don’t make sense.

As he steals your breath in an effort to inflate your lungs with his own, you think about it.

He loves you…
Greater than her
Equal to her
Less than her.

You know why you couldn’t find a solution before. “Less than, Greater than, and Equal to” was never a math lesson you excelled at, and here you are, expected to figure it out again. You know the answer, but you always confused the signs. With his black curls tangled in your fingers, his eyes taking in every aspect of you, you don’t know which way the sign goes. You think you know the answer, but you’re hesitant to give it. Afraid of being wrong because reason doesn’t make sense here, looking into eyes that are neither truthful or lying.

As with every encounter, you’ll kiss him goodbye, get back in your car, and drive home. With clear skies and a clouded mind, you spend the drive rolling questions off the waves of corn fields.

The corn stalks transition into the Minneapolis skyline, and your thoughts bounce back and forth between the IDS Center, the Foshay Tower, and the Capella Tower without a solution. You parallel park and rework the whole equation in your head for what you hope will be the last time. He loves you less than her because his mouth is open toward you, but if you carry the one, two, three other times he’s made exceptions for you, multiplied by the endless compliments toward you and the broken truths, you don’t actually know which way the sign goes. You return to the chalkboard, your hand poised against the surface, with nothing left to write.


Erin Stevens lives in Minneapolis where she works as a freelance writer and struggles to understand the Twin Cities bus system. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire in 2014 with degrees in English- Creative Writing and Organizational Communication. When she’s not working or writing, Erin’s either eating pizza, playing skeeball, or taking her millionth selfie with her cat, Ollie. You can find her at