Short Story: Three Years Later
I didn’t think it was her at first.
The bar was busy, but it was at that time when people started to leave to either head home or find some late night food.
She was standing with two other female friends, finishing off their mixed drinks.
My buddy elbowed me asking me if I was ok. Apparently I had been looking off into the distance for some time. I was, in a way. It felt like I was looking at my distant past. It had been three years since I had last seen this girl, now a woman.
Three years can feel like a lifetime, or the blink of an eye. Its all perspective, I guess.
While I was debating whether or not to walk over, she turned her head and our eyes met. For the first time in so long, we held each other’s gaze. Without breaking eye contact, I told my friend I would be back in a minute.
The walk over felt like a mile. I couldn’t hear anything around me. In my head, images and bits of sound replayed from our three year relationship. Isn’t that strange? We were together for three years, then did not see each other for another three. Until tonight. Until this moment.
She must have said something to her friends, because by the time I reached her, they had moved further down the bar.
“Hey”, I said with what I hoped was a genuine-looking smile on my face. “Hey”? Was that really all I could bring myself to say? After all this time, all these mixed feelings, and after all we had been through together?
“Hi”, she replied back with a bit of a smile.
And for a moment, I couldn’t speak. There she was. Right in front of me. Those big brown eyes looking up at me just like they used to. Well, almost like they used to. That little spark that used to say “you’re everything to me” wasn’t there anymore. I felt an ache deep inside.
“It’s been a while”. No shit. But again, I wasn’t prepared at all for this encounter.
“Yeah, it has been. Like three years?”
“Yup, three years. Wow, can’t believe it!”, I managed to somehow chuckle after that last part, hoping to make it sound like those three years weren’t some of the longest of my life.
“So how have you been?”, she asks me.
She sounds genuinely interested. I believe it. She did try to stay in contact after we broke up, or rather, she broke up with me. The first year or so was fairly frequent. Every few weeks or months I would get a “Hey, how are you?” or a “I read your last post! It was great”. There was even a “Omg, congrats on the first book!”.
I didn’t reply to any. I wanted to. I desperately wanted to reach out and talk to her and have her be a part of my life, even if it was just to a small degree. But I knew it would never be the way it was, and I couldn’t handle being just friends or casual acquaintances. Eventually I guess she got the message and stopped trying.
“I’ve been good! I was finally able to quit my daytime job a few months ago. A really great book deal came through for a series I’ve been planning on writing.”
All of this was true, but I felt like I may have jumped the gun a bit in telling her. I wanted to impress her. Maybe, in some small way, make her feel like she was missing out.
“That’s so awesome! I always knew you’d make a great writer. I’m so happy for you!”, she said excitedly.
I didn’t know whether I liked this enthusiasm. What she said is something that is always nice to hear from someone. I guess I hated the feeling like she was talking to a friend of hers. Just a friend.
“Thank you! What about yourself?” I posed this question which, on its surface is a standard part of any conversation between two people who have not seen each other. To me, though, this question weighs heavily. It is a question I have been wanting to ask since the day after she ended things with me. For three years I have not asked. Mostly out of fear of what she might say. It was out of self preservation.
“Pretty good, actually! Last year I started my own home-decorating business. In the past couple of months, business has really picked up. So I am busy and stressed, but the good kind”. She waved her hands a bit as she said this to me.
Something on one of her fingers caught the light and glimmered for a second. I knew instantly what it was. It felt like I had been sucker punched. On her finger, was an engagement ring.
This was inevitable, I knew that. We followed each other on social media until a year ago. I had to stop following her after I saw she changed her relationship status from single. This was the second time she had been in a relationship (at least one serious enough to make public), but this time felt different.
He seemed like a nice enough guy from the pictures I had seen. Good looking too. Some snooping revealed he owned a successful residential construction business. Good for him.
Maybe I shouldn’t have unfriended her. Maybe finding out online would have made the blow a bit easier than in person. Then again, I wasn’t expecting to run into her again. Hoping, maybe. But not expecting.
It was obvious I had seen the ring. So I had to ask the next question, even though it hurt.
“Is that an engagement ring?” I asked with wonderment, trying to mask how I felt inside.
She looked down at it as if to confirm for herself.
“Yep, he popped the question 3 weeks ago”. She returned her face to look at me. You could detect a bit of sadness in her voice. Sadness for me.
“And you said yes?”, I asked.
“And I said yes”, she replied.
We both paused for a moment.
“Well, congratulations. I wish you all the best.” Could she tell how difficult that was for me?
“What about you? Are you seeing anyone, Mr Famous Author?”, she asked this a bit mischievously.
“Oh, nothing serious. A few flings here and there”, I answered.
This was the truth. Since her, I have not been able to have any meaningful relationships. The longest lasted for four months, but both of us knew it was only for fun and nothing more.
There was something about the relationship her and I shared that I simply have not been able to recapture. There was a love. That love. The kind of love where you are comfortable laying next to each other completely naked, in both body and soul. Where you can lay like this and talk for hours, or not talk at all, and not mind either way. The love I shared with her was something I never thought possible before. Now I fear it may not be possible again.
Why did it end, then? That’s a fair question. I guess it was because, for her, that love faded. Or maybe it turned into a different type of love. Like a verb that turns into a noun.
Looking back, I don’t blame her. Not entirely. It was the beginning of my writing career. That time when you aren’t sure if you’re only good enough for it to be a hobby, or you can turn it into a whole career.
I spent most of my evenings reading or writing. My days were spent at the office I worked at; a job I hated besides for the fact that it paid the bills. This left little time for a relationship.
I thought she understood and would be patient and allow me the time to focus on my work. I guess I didn’t understand that she needed some focus too.
The last six months were just an escalation upon escalation of arguments. The tension only increased after we began to nitpick over smaller things we each did that annoyed the other.
Eventually, she had had enough. It was strange when she told me that she thought it was best we part ways. Mentally, I knew this was inevitable. We had always been different people, but it seemed as though the real issue was that we were at different places in life. Emotionally, however, I felt ripped apart. Destroyed. Annihilated.
When she told me her reasons, all of which I knew, she was calm. It wasn’t until I asked her if we could give it another try that she began to break down. She said she wanted to, but knew it would only end up pushing back the break up. Her mind was decided.
What really got me, though, is when she said “I will always have love for you”.
For the longest time afterwards, when I would look back, that one line would torment me. It was clear from that statement she wasn’t in love with me anymore. But to say “I will always have love for you” meant to me that we would never be getting back together. That this was a final goodbye to the relationship we knew. I couldn’t go from being everything to each other to being simply friends who “have love” for one another. Which is, again, the reason I couldn’t reply to any of her messages.
Apparently, while all of this was going on in my head, she had tried to offer my love life some hope by saying “Oh, I’m sure that won’t be the case forever. You’re too much of a catch.”
A catch that you threw back into the ocean.
My mood was dropping quickly. As if sensing this, she reached out and placed her hand on mine.
I couldn’t breathe. Her skin was as warm and soft as I remembered. It radiated this positive aura that soothed me instantly, just like it had whenever she touched me before.
When I looked at it, I saw it was the hand with the engagement ring. It felt like my heart broke all over again.
“I still miss you”, I whispered.
There was silence. So many silent breaks in this short conversation.
When I looked up to see her face, I could see she was holding back tears.
“Why didn’t you ever reply to my texts?”, she asked softly.
“Because I couldn’t talk to you like we were just friends, when I still thought of you as being so much more”.
“I guess I can understand that… You know I still think of you? There’s still so much that reminds me of you”, she says as she wipes away a tear.
“Same here”. I can feel my eyes tearing up.
“Listen, I hope I’m not crossing a line, but I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t at least try”, I began. Well, here it goes.
“Do you think there is any chance of you wanting to give us another try?”, I managed to ask.
My body instantly tensed up. I had no idea what her answer would be. Neither one of us thought this was going to be how we ended a night out.
To be honest, I played a scenario similar to this one in my head thousands upon thousands of times. Sometimes she said yes, sometimes she said no. Sometimes when she said yes, it still didn’t work out.
But this wasn’t in my head. This was real life.
The only true love I had ever had in my 30 years of existence was standing in front of me for the first time in three years, wearing an engagement ring from another man.
She just looked at me. Her eyes moist. Her mouth slightly agape.
Oh, how I have missed both.
Each moment felt like an eternity.
My heart felt like it would explode right out of my chest.
My very existence felt like it was in the balance as I stood on the edge. I was about to either fall into the abyss, or be lifted towards the heavens.
Finally, she seems to gather herself.