“Can we talk?”
I turn, willing myself to not seem so eager. It’s a game of give and take between us, though; more often than not, he is the one taking. I am the one who gives.
“About what?” I ask, clenching my fists – anything to keep my mind preoccupied.
“Us,” he asks, waving his hand around.
I hope he doesn’t think that this entire room could hold all the issues he and I share. They seem to encompass so much more than this building, even. I sigh, closing my eyes once, twice, three times to make sure that I can handle talking to him at this point.
“What do you want, Justin?” I ask calmly, hoping my voice doesn’t give away the fear I have of being in such close proximity to him.
“I want to find out why you’re here,” he says to me, making a move in my direction. I step back, hoping that deters him.
It does not. He is directly in front of me in under a second, and it’s all I can do to not grab hold of his hands, his arms – anything to steady myself. I take a deep breath. I can handle being this close to him. I just can’t look into his eyes.
He hooks a finger under my chin, dashing those hopes as well. I look anywhere I can – until I’m forced to look at him. The look in his eyes is enough to break me. It’s enough to make me grab his free hand and lace our fingers together.
“Why are you here, Ella?” He asks, searching my face for any sign that my eyes will give me away. There’s no chance of that happening, though; his leaving taught me to guard myself. My guard is up even now, as he questions my reasoning for being here.
“Ella,” he whispers, his voice so low. I steel myself as he searches again for answers I refuse to give away.
“I had a job offer and I took it,” I say. “No more, no less. No use in reading into it when there isn’t anything there for you to find, Justin.”
I unlace our fingers, ignoring the protest in my heart from losing contact with him. I hate that I’ve let myself get so close to him once more. This brief contact was not enough – though I have the briefest of thoughts that I will never have enough. Nothing, no amount of time spent with him or contact with him will ever be enough.
Because he’ll never have me again.
I sigh, stepping back from him, immediately missing his warmth. I miss being so close to him and all I want to do is feel his hands again. Instead, I force myself to look him in the eye and square my shoulders.
“You couldn’t have thought I was here for you,” I say.
He shrugs. “A small part of me thought that maybe you’d come back to… to fight for us, maybe? Is that crazy?”
No. “Yeah, it is. What we had was great, but it was a long time ago, and we’ve both grown a lot since then,” I tell him.
He nods, seemingly accepting my answer. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“I am,” I tell him. Grabbing my bag, I turn on my heel. My head is still spinning from being so close to him, and I am not certain how I will be able to walk out that door and away from him again. The circumstances are much different than the last time I was forced to walk away, but it hurts nonetheless.
I grab the door handle, opening it quietly. If Kelly were anywhere close, I knew he’d be panicking about me coming out of a locked room with one of his friends.
I stop, releasing the door handle. I direct my attention to him, keeping my gaze level and my posture relaxed. I take a few slow steps back toward him, not wanting our voices to carry.
He shrugs, sitting at the desk and grabbing my paperweight. He shifts it between his hands before placing it back down on the desk. “Never mind, don’t worry about it.”
I offer him a small smile. “Okay. See you around.”
He doesn’t say anything, and I turn around once more. I make it to the door again, and brace myself before I open it. I do hope Kelly isn’t out there…
“I had my heart set on you,” Justin says then, just as I’m about to open the door, and I stop myself.
I turn slowly, and the sight of him sitting there, unsure and scared, breaks my heart. What can I say to that? How do I respond?
“You were the one who broke us,” I say, keeping my voice level.
He sighs, burying his head in his hands. “I wish you would have understood.”
“I did,” I respond. “I understood, and I accepted it. But that doesn’t change anything, Justin. I’m with Kelly now, and no matter what I wanted for us, it’s history. You didn’t think I was worth the wait, and quite frankly, you did me a favor.”
I give him time to answer – mentally beg him to answer me, even – but he says nothing. I walk back to the door, turning once more to look at this boy – no, this man. This broken man in front of me bears no resemblance to the one I met nearly five years ago – but I know his scars have multiplied since then, and I know nothing about them.
I take a deep breath, and allow myself this one moment of weakness. I’ll regret it shortly, of that I am sure, but I need to get this out. I refuse to go another day without at least letting him know what’s on my mind.
“Justin…” I begin, but trail off, unsure of how to word my thoughts.
He looks up at me, and I know he’s attempting to memorize this moment. The look on his face now is not unlike the ones he used to have whenever he was capturing a moment in his mind. He’s watching me walk away for the last time, and I know it must be killing him – it’s killing me.
I take a deep breath, knowing it’s now or never. I collect my thoughts. He’s waiting for me to say something, and while it’s not much, this is the best I can come up with.
“I had my heart set on you, too,” I tell him.
And with that, I open the door and leave the office. I leave the boy who held my heart for so long. I leave the memories that have haunted me since the day he wrote me the letter that ended our fairytale.
I search the halls for any sign of Kelly, and inwardly heave a sigh of relief when I see him at the end of the hallway. He laces our fingers together and we walk outside into the bright North Carolina sun.
And for the briefest of moments, I wish his hands were a bit more calloused, rough – perhaps even bigger. But I dismiss that thought quickly, and allow him to lead me down this road – no matter where it goes.