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It was scary to see him again. We’d seen each other in school, of course, but that was nothing more than a: “Oh, hey.” And then a “um… yeah. Hi.” The “um… yeah. Hi” would be me. His wording was always more smooth and precise, so urbane (seventh grade vocabulary. The only reason I remembered that was because it described him so perfectly).
My hair was in a messy bun, hastily put together when I dragged myself out of bed to respond to the ringing doorbell. After tripping over half-packed suitcases that reminded me of my impending move to New York, I made it to my bedroom window that looked over the front yard. Seeing him standing there with his hands clasped behind his back (his slightly-nervous-but-sucking-it-up-like-a-man stance) fully woke me up and sent a flood of memories that seemed so carefully and permanently packed away cascading back into my conscious mind.
The first time I brought him to see my parents, feeling so foreign in my own home, his sturdy hand clasping mine. Our first kiss (just a quick peck), when mom stood in the doorway looking somehow like she wanted to be mad but was struggling to hide a smile. Prom, when he came wearing a handsome suit (a hand-me-down from his older brother) and I hurried to put on some lipstick before rushing down the stairs to meet my prince charming. Then that December night, when he came…
The door creaked open and he was standing there. Tanner than I had remembered, dark hair longer than usual and eyes devoid of the sparkle I had gotten so used to.
“Hi.” My voice sounded surprised. It sounded breathy, and weird. He looked surprised too, as if I had caught him off guard.
“Hi. Are you busy?” He looked at my rumpled hair, barely tamed by the bun, and my t-shirt and pajama pants. A flicker of his old smile played across his face. He already knew the answer.
“Um. No. It’s fine. Thanks for taking time to come over.” Recovering, I add: “Would you like to come in?” He steps in, and a cloud of pain creases across his face. He remembers. All the times he came over, a millennia ago, last summer. Before the cold set in, when days were spent swimming in my pool, doing summer reading, being content to just be in each other’s presence, and warm nights ending with a soft kiss…
I grab a cup of ice tea from the fridge and let the coolness wash through me and rinse out any feelings of regret and sadness. One cup isn’t enough. He settles on the bar stool across the counter from me. “You excited for NYU?” He asks. I’m touched he remembers.
“Yeah. Nervous. You’re going to Stanford, right? That’s far.” My voice quivers, not quite nonchalant.
“I guess. But it’s okay. My brother’s there.” His voice drifted off, and he changed the subject. “How’s your family?”
“They’re fine. Glad that I’m staying close. Mom’s all for me coming back home every weekend. Keeps saying that if I come back, then she’ll be able to do my laundry.” I crack a smile, hoping to lighten the mood. It doesn’t work.
But we continue talking. Small things, petty things. He says he’s busy, I say I am too. I ask how swimming is going, and he says fine. He says the weather is unseasonally cold, and I agree. Then, when neither of us can think of anything to say, he fills me in on his previous victories and his butterfly, which has improved by three seconds. His walls are up. And I swear, when he tilts his head, I can see the image of that December night branded into his head.
The image of that blood red rose. His explanations, apologies for being away so much. A hysterical girl, me, screaming how apologies aren’t enough before crumpling in a heap in the middle of the floor. My tears. Slamming the door in his face. His stricken expression. Running up the stairs to my bedroom, flopping on my bed, sobbing so hard the floor shakes. Then grabbing the rose, fumbling with the latch, and opening the window. Shredding out petals, letting them fall through my fingers and float away in the wind. And then me glancing through my tears, realizing too late that he’s still there, sitting on the porch swing, red rose petals littering the ground around his feet.
“I’m sorry.” I break into his sentence. “So, so sorry.” My voice is a whisper, and my gaze is on the counter supporting me.
“For what?” I guess I had wandered off topic. We weren’t talking about that night, were we?
It hurts to break down the wall created by my pride. “Overreacting. Ignoring you, not apologizing sooner.” He stays silent, gazing at my face. “I missed you.” Missed you’re smile, you’re surprise visits, the way you ran your hand through your hair whenever you laughed, you’re flips off the diving board… “I’m sorry.” And I wish I could undo that night.
But then, last December. His sincerity, and my rash response.
“I’m really sorry.”
“But ‘sorrys’ aren’t always enough, now, are they?”
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