Crisp autumn leaves littered the ground as I made my way down the familiar driveway.
“I’m pulling in now.”
“See you soon?”
I hesitated, my breath catching in my throat when I heard the words. “See you soon.”
I ended the call, placing my phone in the cupholder, where it’d been for the duration of my three hour drive. I kept it on silent, much to the dismay of my colleagues, supervisor, and close friends. I never heard it ring unless it was directly next to me, the incessant buzzing forcing me to take the call.
I lived a non-stop life, going a mile a minute. I’d been like this for years, pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion, only to take a day or two off before going at it full speed again. I drove the people in my life crazy, but I thrived off of the frenetic energy in my life. I wasn’t happy unless I was throwing myself headfirst into something – a work project, a personal project…
My breath hitched again as the thought crossed my mind. I focused on driving, though I only had a few more feet before I would be forced to park, get out of the car, and finally confront the one thing – the one person – I’d been avoiding for years. I knew how long it’d been, how long I’d been dodging calls and ignoring the emails.
But I wasn’t about to admit that to myself.
The garage door was shut, just as he’d told me it would be in his most recent email. I parked outside of it, looking around to see if he’d shown up yet.
And of course, he hadn’t. He’d just finished telling me that he’d be a few minutes late, caught up with some last minute work business. He was always true to his word – even if all he was doing was telling me he’d be a few minutes late. It would be no more than five minutes, and I knew I would see him.
For the first time in a decade.
I pulled my bottom lip into my mouth, worrying it until it started bleeding. I tasted the tangy copper in my mouth, knew that if I kept it up my lips would be chapped. I hadn’t packed lip gloss for this weekend, didn’t even know if I’d be around the whole weekend to really need lip gloss. Nevertheless, I quit chewing, pursing my lips instead.
I could do this.
I opened my car door and stepped out into the cool autumn air. More leaves rustled as the wind picked up, chilling me to the core. I tried to ignore it, that nervous feeling in my chest. My heart was beating rapidly, my breaths were becoming shorter…
I was panicking.
Of all the things I could do, losing my composure was not one of them. I tried desperately to get my breaths under control, to calm myself down. I tried to think of something – anything – else, but it was no use. Our two minute conversation was already replaying in my mind, and thoughts of what would happen over the course of the next few hours – or weekend, I had chosen to take a few days off – clouded my mind.
I slammed my car door shut and made my way up the walk, pausing only to grab the key from underneath the ficus plant that sat outside the front door. He told me it would be there and, true to his word, there it was. I would eventually learn to stop doubting him.
But then again, my reservations were not without basis. I had history to back me up.
Feelings of nostalgia hit me like a ton of feathers as I walked inside. No, they weren’t bricks. These memories were not rough, not hard, not cold. They were soft, pleasant to the touch, but weighed me down nonetheless. They sat on top of my heart, crushing me, reminding me of a time in my life that, in hindsight, was certainly not better, but simpler.
The feathers tickled my nose, reminding me of the smell of brownies wafting through the house. They curled around me, like the red blanket that was still draped across the back of the couch. They surrounded me, floating through the air like the snow that fell the last time I was here.
I moved to the kitchen, taking a trip down memory lane – allowing myself one weakness, finally, after ten years of pushing weakness as far away as possible. I felt it all coming back to me at once, those feathers pelting me. They didn’t hurt though – a pleasant surprise. I anticipated the bricks, anticipated having the wind knocked out of me.
But it wasn’t like that at all.
And there’s where you danced with him in the kitchen, the voice in my head reminded me. I saw us glide across the floor, felt his hand at the small of my back, leading me, showing me the way.
There’s where you had a flour fight. I smiled at the words, remembering the flour from the cookies I was trying to bake ending up everywhere but in the bowl. I remembered my hair being coated, my face white as a sheet from the flour, but my cheeks bright and red from laughing so hard.
I moved through the kitchen to the stairs, walking up them until I got to the next floor. There’s where he told you he loved you, the voice said. I remembered him sitting with me in the middle of the floor outside of the bathroom, fresh from a shower but nonetheless determined to tell me how he felt – a first for him, he claimed. That was something I actually believed, even a decade and a dozen lies later.
There’s where his parents slept. My chest tightened as I felt that familiar tug. His mother loved me like one of her own. I hadn’t been around when she died, showing up only for her funeral before hightailing it back home. I couldn’t risk seeing him, being alone with him. I allowed my bitterness toward him taint the relationship I had with his mom.
I wiped away a stray tear as I continued my trek, knowing where I was going but nonetheless feeling the butterflies all over again as my feet carried me forward.
And that’s where you told him you loved him, the voice reminded me. It was nearly a month after he’d uttered the words, so many days afterward when I’d finally confronted my feelings for him. I’d been scared, afraid of what saying those words out loud would mean. I didn’t want to get hurt, didn’t want to have my heart broken.
And in the end, that’s exactly what happened.
I stared at the perfectly-made bed in the center of his room. The walls were the same color blue they’d been the last time I was here. The comforter was still black, the floor still white carpet, save for the stain I spied by his night stand, where I spilled my red nail polish the day of prom.
There were so many memories, but they didn’t hurt, didn’t make me feel like I was going to die from the pain. It hurt to breathe. I felt myself gasping for air as I turned and made my way back down the stairs, my trip down memory lane finished for the time being. There would be a new set of memories that I knew I would have to deal with when he arrived.
Here is where you said good-bye. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, taking a seat in front of the door to the study – his father’s study, the same study where I found out the truth about everything. I remembered my words to him clear as day as I sat there, taking in my surroundings. On the wall opposite the stairs, near the kitchen, was a growth chart. His height throughout the years. I studied the pink crayon mark more than five feet up the wall, where his mother measured me on my first visit.
I studied the place where our feet stood ten years before, where he told me the truth about everything, and I ran away from him, telling him I never wanted to see him again.
And then bright and early one morning, I received an email from him. In a moment of weakness, I responded, extending an olive branch. We made peace via email. And now, he wanted to make peace with me face to face.
I shivered involuntarily, pulling my coat tighter as I stood. I stared out the window, trying to keep warm by folding my arms around me. Like that’ll do you any good, the voice inside my head said. It sounded like another version of me – a me who was older, more aware of her surroundings, someone who would certainly never have come here.
“I shouldn’t have come,” I said quietly.
“I’m glad you did.”
I whirled around, taken aback by how different, and yet how familiar the voice was.
He studied me intently, looking me up and down. I did the same, my eyes scanning down the body I once knew like the back of my hand. I called him my map once, covered with freckles, places I longed to discover. He loved me so completely, and I shared his passion.
And now… we were strangers. It amazed me how quickly it’d happened.
Once upon a time we were strangers, people who didn’t understand one another. Time went on, though, and we fell into a pattern. I learned his habits. He learned my quirks. We studied each other, fell harder for each other and allowed ourselves to get caught up in it all. We went from strangers to lovers – people who at one point did not know one another suddenly knew each other completely, inside and out. He was my fortune teller and my fortune. He was the sun, and I was drawn to him, caught in his warmth. I was his captive audience of one.
I was his everything – literally, everything. I didn’t understand until much, much later just what everything encompassed; but when I did, I flipped the switch. My sun became my night, a darkness I could not escape fast enough. He went from being my safe haven to being my worst nightmare.
And just like that, the two people who knew one another inside and out became two people who knew nothing of each other.
I lived that life for ten years, pretending he didn’t exist, pretending that I didn’t care. I took care of only me, looked out for only me. And in a moment of weakness, the ten years of care I took with myself were ruined completely.
I realized all of this as I studied him, and a thought came unbidden into my mind that I could not erase, could not walk away from. Yet it was true – the truest thought I’d had in a decade, and brought on by him. The irony was not lost on me. The liar became the beacon of truth. My darkness became my light.
I could not outrun him. I could not live a life where he did not exist. The years I spent running from him were useless. He would always find me, and I him. There was not a place in the world that existed where we could be without one another.
My carefully laid plans were ruined, and it was all because of him. But I couldn’t fault him that. It was to be expected. He’d ruined my plans once, long ago. He had an aura about him that demanded attention, and I knew this would be no different.
I thought back to the first time I saw him, the first time I talked to him, and smiled. It would go without saying that the boy who came into my life with a crash and the loudest of noises would re-enter it in the same fashion.