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I'm Pretty Sure You Loved Me
Her eyes are intensely blue, penetrating mine like they’re about to spill over. I would know, I guess. I’ve made her cry enough times to know.
But she doesn’t cry. She stiffens her lip and stands up a little straighter, blinking back the trace of anything vulnerable left in her face. She tries to sidestep me, to pretend like I’m not even here at all. But I’m here. And now I’m standing between her and the exit.
“Don’t do this,” she mumbles, staring down at her perfect, size six feet. She’s wearing the sandals I bought for her at the pier- the violet ones with the little blue dolphins. If she wanted to forget me, like she told the judge, she’d have thrown them away.
It’s only then that I notice Jenny standing beside her, glaring at me like nothing has changed. Her fingers are buried in Caitlin’s arm as she tries to pull her away from me, again. I won’t let her steal Cait away from me again.
“I’ve missed you,” I say, blocking Jenny out of my mind completely. “Come talk to me, somewhere quiet. Please.”
She gazes up at me through wheat colored hair; the same pretty hair I used to run my fingers through when we kissed, and when we laughed, and when she cried. She’s wearing the sky blue tank top that she bought with Rachel that day they went shopping. My head is flooded with memories.
Caitlin is waiting. I wonder what’s going through her mind. I wonder when I stopped being able to read her thoughts.
I wonder if we’ll ever be the same.
I stare innocently down at her, trying to make her remember all the good times we had.
“What, Cait? Don’t what?”
I think Jenny says something now, something about me not talking to her, something about me being a creep, but all I can do is focus on Caitlin. She looks like maybe she’s about to give in- like maybe I didn’t treat her as badly as everyone says I did.
I reach out and run a finger softly over her cheekbone, rouged in a pale pink color like her glossy lips. She’s frozen now, unable to talk, or to tell me no, or to push my fingers off of her pretty face. I drop my hand suddenly, feeling for the first time like I’m taking something that might not belong to me.
I look at Jenny, whose fat mouth is still moving, going on and on and like she doesn’t plan on stopping any time in the foreseeable future.
“Just for a minute?” she says quietly, and it takes me a second to register the expression on her face. She’s asking for reassurance.
“Just for a minute.”
“Caitlin-” Jenny starts, but Caitlin brushes her off and steps toward me. I want to reach for her hand, but I am somehow able to stop myself. As we head to a quiet hallway, I am aware of the hush that has fallen over the party. I’m sure the whole world is staring at us. They all know. Every last one of them. My face is burning.
We reach the hall and Caitlin stands rigid, her back against the flowered, peeling wallpaper. She blows a strand of hair out of her face, and I take a breath.
“I am, um… how are things? With you?”
“Things are how you made them,” she says, her eyes gazing through mine. In that instant, I feel like she can see straight to my soul, and all of my secrets are on display. I look away, knowing my desperation is obvious.
“You know I still feel the same way I always did. About you.” I draw in a breath, feeling a little glimmer of hope. It fades as she opens her mouth.
“If you’re waiting for me to say the same to you, you can forget it,” she says. “I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m going out with Teddy now, anyway. He’s good to me.”
“Do you love him?” I ask, and she hesitates, shaking her head as the song comes to an end.
“I don’t know.”
“Because I’m pretty sure you loved me.”
“I did,” she says, hesitating. “But things have changed. I’ve changed.”
“So have I.”
“Do you remember that night, Aaron?” she asks suddenly, her voice surprisingly level. Her eyes are shaded by long, dark lashes, making her almost impossible to read. She has taken a step back, though, like she’s afraid of getting too close.
I shake my head slowly.
“You don’t remember it at all?”
“Can’t we talk about something else? Please? This is the first time you’ve let me talk to you in… well, I don’t know how long. Can’t we talk about something good, Cait? Please.”
It’s like she hasn’t even heard me. “Because I do. I do remember it. I remember everything.”
“I don’t think about it. I don’t. And I don’t want to talk about it, either.”
“Maybe you should think about it,” she says. “Maybe you should, because I do. I think about it all the time. And maybe it was partly my fault. Maybe it was my fault because I was stupid and I let you back into my life so many times. But I honestly thought that, if you loved me like you said you did, you would try harder. You would try harder to be different. Try harder to be better. For me.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” I say quietly. “Don’t you ever say that it was your fault.”
“How do you not remember?” she says again, ignoring me. Her voice has risen an octave or two, and the girl down the hall looks over to make sure everything is okay.
“I can still taste the blood in my mouth, Aaron.”
“Don’t say things like that.”
She stares. “You don’t get it. You have no idea what you did to me, do you? Even after all this time, you still don’t get it.”
I can’t look at her. “Get what?”
She throws her hands into the air. “Everything! How embarrassing it is when everyone knows what happened. That sense of betrayal from the one person who is supposed to take care of you.” She draws in a breath. “To be broken at the hands of someone you love.”
And then she stops, and she turns away, because she knows that I do get it. I understand what she felt, if she really did feel all those things. I just didn’t understand that I had made things that bad for her. I swear all I ever wanted was to love and protect her.
We stand there together, until the music fills my ears and my head starts to weigh me down like a ton of bricks. And when I can’t take it anymore- the unsettling combination of slamming drums and piercing guitars and Caitlin’s silence- I turn and walk away. Through the crowded living room, pulsing like something alive, and out the empty front door. I never look back.