all too well

The brisk New York air was a nice change of pace from the chilled winter we’d just endured.  Nonetheless, I wore my jacket, because I could hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me that I’d catch a cold for wearing nothing over my grey tank top.  I had no scarf, though, and could not for the life of me remember where I’d seen it last.

I had reached my destination, however; and as I entered the restaurant, all thoughts of my missing scarf were replaced with older ones – thoughts of a time that had long since passed.

***

                “You’ll love my sister, Alison, I swear.”

                I smiled at him, too in love with him to not get caught up in his excitement.  I threw my jacket and scarf on the bed, allowing him to take my hand and pull me downstairs.

                “Can’t believe I’m meeting your sister before I meet your parents,” I said to him as he led me down the hallway.

                He turned to me and smiled. “You’ll have fun.  I swear.”

***

He loved to swear to me – that I’d love something; that I’d have fun; that I would never regret it – whatever it was, precisely, I couldn’t say for certain.

“Ali!”

My best friend was a giant bundle of energy, and I allowed her to pull me into a tight hug and a dance around our table before we finally sat down next to one another.  She shook her knee and drummed her fingernails on the table, regaling me with stories of her recent trip abroad.

“And their traffic lights are exactly like ours!”

I smiled at her, laughing at her description of another country, while my mind went back to that time long, long ago…

***

                “You have a beautiful voice, Ali, you should do something with it.”

                I smiled at him, in awe that this beautiful person – inside and out – was looking at me like I was the only person in the world.  I looked up just in time, thankfully.

                “Red light!”

                He slammed on the brakes, and laughed heartily at his mistake.  I smiled at him, interlacing our fingers.  He kissed my hand as we sat and waited for the light to change again.

***

“Let’s go dance, Ali!”

I smiled at my best friend as she pulled me onto the dance floor.  I didn’t see – nor did I pay any mind to – the men at the bar who were eyeing me with amazement and audacity.  They didn’t understand my happiness, I suppose; or why I was allowing this short, fragile girl with so much energy tell me what to do.  I didn’t care about them, though.

I laughed out loud, my cheeks red and my smile radiant.  A guy – a friend of my best friend’s boyfriend – came up behind me and spun me around.  He led me around the tiny dance floor, and my best friend waved us on, cuddling up to her boyfriend as the song changed its pace.

I still paid no mind to the men at the bar.  Who cared about them?  Certainly not me.

I was dancing; and this time, it wasn’t a two-step.

***

                “And then, oh my goodness, Ali, he lets out this scream of just… TERROR!”  His mom dissipated into a fit of giggles.  She couldn’t finish her thought; which was just as well, because my laughs were already drowning out whatever she’d planned on saying next.

                His cheeks were red.  His palms were clammy.  He was so embarrassed by the story; and yet, he didn’t stop his mom from telling it.  I peeked down once more at the picture of him – glasses, freckles, and the cheesiest grin I’d ever seen on a small child – and slipped an arm around his waist, curling into him.  He kissed my head, hugging me close to him.

                His mom gave me a knowing smile then, as she picked up the photo album and hugged it close to her chest.  She kissed my forehead and gave her son a peck on the cheek.

                “You were the cutest little tee-ball player, son,” she said to him.  “Don’t let anyone ever tell you any different.”

                She dimmed the light in the kitchen as she walked away, up the stairs to her room.  He spun me around, placing a hand on my waist as we stood in the kitchen.

                “You’re not going to make me dance,” I said.  “I don’t dance.”

                “It’s a two-step,” he replied, smiling brightly at me.  “I’ll lead.”

                We hadn’t even made our way around the kitchen once before we realized we couldn’t see.  I let out a small giggle as he searched for a light before turning us around toward his refrigerator.  He opened the refrigerator door, shedding light on our makeshift dance floor in the kitchen.

                Two turns on the floor later, and he was closing the door and carrying me down the stairs to his bedroom.  I smiled against his mouth as we kissed, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world, in the arms of the most handsome, loving, caring man I’d ever met.

                “I love you, Alison.”

***

We made our way back to our table and sat down.  My best friend curled up to her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s best friend sitting next to me with an arm around my shoulder.  I leaned over to whisper something in his ear, and that was when I noticed them.

I’d met his friends on only a few occasions, and they were nice to me each time.  Tonight, however, they were eyeing me with both curiosity and anger.  I’d never seen a group of men gawk like they were.

And I knew… I knew he wasn’t far behind.  I had to get out of there.

“I have to go,” I said to the group as I stood.  I pulled my jacket on quickly, nearly missing the arms because I was so shaky.

“Ali?”

I glanced over to the bar, telling my best friend all she needed to know.  “I have to go.”

She nodded in understanding.  She knew those men.  And she knew where my train of thought had gone.

“I’ll see you around?”

I stared at the beautiful boy in front of me, and willed myself to not cry right there in the middle of the restaurant.

***

                “See you around, Alison.”

                “Wait… please…”

                “It’s over.”

                I shrunk to the floor, holding the phone to my ear; hoping he’d say it was all a joke, that he loved me and he knew we were meant to be together and he was sorry for being so silly and—

                “I’m just being honest.  We aren’t right for each other.  The sooner we accept it, the better.”

                I nodded, knowing he couldn’t see me.  I couldn’t speak, though, and I was not about to try.  I was not about to let him know how he’d crushed me.

                “See you around, Alison.”

***

“Bye,” I called out, ducking my head to avoid the glares of his friends.

They didn’t know the whole story; though I doubt they would care either way if they did.  They didn’t know how he’d crushed me, turned me into a zombie – how I’d spent days upon days in bed because I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong.

They didn’t see the tears I still shed over this man nearly three months after he’d left me high and dry and without explanation.  They never would, though; because I would never let them.

I ducked under the arm holding the door open, pushing my way beside the body blocking the door.  Oh, my scarf…

I walked quickly, knowing it wouldn’t be long before the person to whom that scarf belonged would be coming after me.  I couldn’t allow him to find me again.  I couldn’t allow him to hurt me again.  I’d made so much progress in the three months since we’d separated, and now—

“Alison!”

I walked even faster, pretending I hadn’t heard him.  He was running after me now; and I picked up my pace to make sure he couldn’t catch up to me.

A million scenes flashed through my mind as I power-walked back to my apartment.

                Plaid shirts tangled together under the sheets of his childhood bed…

                Forehead kisses as we waited outside in the cold for hot chocolate…

                Singing our favorite songs as we made our way to visit his family and mine…

I ducked behind a pillar, concealing myself.  He was still coming.  I could hear his feet as they hit the pavement.  He’d picked up his pace because he thought he’d lost me.  He had no idea he was a mere ten feet away from me.  I was going to keep quiet, though; because I did not want him to find out.

“Ali?”

I bit my lip, stifling a cry.  His voice was so different, and yet it hadn’t changed at all.  I had no idea how that was even possible.  Perhaps, I thought sadly, you know who he really is now, and that is why he’s so different.

I folded my arm across my chest, remaining quiet as possible.  He stayed for only a handful of seconds – that felt like hours – before giving up his search for me and walking away.  I stayed hidden by the wall, waiting until I knew it was okay to come out.

My apartment was just around the corner.

I pulled my keys out as I rounded the corner and took a deep breath.  This night had been too much for me – though it was no one’s fault but his… and mine.

I pulled my tank top over my head as I entered my bedroom.  I just wanted to sleep.  And maybe tomorrow, I’d be better.  But maybe I’d be worse.

He’d been the love of my life.  That was something I couldn’t refute.  It was something I would never try to refute.  But I also wouldn’t refute that sometimes the loves of our lives hurt us.  They hurt us so badly that we can’t seem to rebound from it.  Sometimes we’re stuck.  And right now… I could say with certainty I was stuck.

I didn’t know if I’d be stuck here forever.  I didn’t know if I’d be pining over him for the rest of my life.  But I did know one thing:  tomorrow was a brand new day.

I also knew where my scarf was, too, incidentally.  I remembered leaving it at his sister’s house, hung up on one of the pegs behind the door.  I had no doubt he kept it for the sole purpose of remembering me.  I had no doubt it gave him comfort on nights like tonight.  I knew his game.  I knew his story.  I remembered every second of the eight months we spent together.  I remembered it all too well.

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