This story is by Emily and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Could I get a bag of ice?”
That’s all anyone wanted. That, or a gallon of gas for their lawn mower.
“That’ll be $3.83, sir” I replied.
Most people presumed this shack-like convenient store doesn’t carry much. I would think the same, had I not been raised in this tiny town. I loved, my job but hated the judgmental stares that I occasionally received.
What they didn’t know was I worked here by choice.
A lot of the customers were familiar faces from growing up here. It was rare to have a customer whom I didn’t know somehow. That was comforting. I enjoyed the peacefulness.
I handed the man his receipt and with a sigh I replied, “Have a good one.”
No reply from him.
I scanned the now desolate store.
Today’s shift was slow now that school resumed, so only a few items needed restocking. I made my way to the back to grab a few Red Bulls. As soon as I got my arms full, the door jingled and heavy footsteps entered the store
“Hello.” I yelled aimlessly from the back of the store, so they knew someone actually worked there.
There was no reply.
“Another pleasant customer.” I thought, sarcastically.
Hearing the sound of cans hit the counter,
I set aside my things, and turned glancing at his items to ring up. Still not making eye contact, I asked, “Is that all for you?” He responded, “I need a pack of Marlboro Lights in a box, as well.”
His voice made the hairs on my neck rise.
I knew that voice.
My eyes darted from the register to the counter.
Two green Monster Energy drinks.
I looked up and saw his face. Standing only inches from me was the last person I would expect to see. I tried to act as if my heart wasn’t pounding like a fucking hammer. Wondering if my facial expression spoke for me, I could only mutter, “$10.86.”
He handed me a twenty dollar bill.
“How have you been?” he asked.
“Good.” I replied, trying not to give any sign of feeling.
“How’s the family?”
“Good.” I repeated.
Good God Beth, think of a different word, ANY other word.
He smiled, sensing my nervousness. He knew me like that.
“How’s your family?” I asked.
“Good.” he replied with his crooked smile and subtle laugh; he was clearly mocking my repetitive answers. He grabbed his things and made his way to the door. Still stunned, I wondered why I reacted the way I did after five years.
The bell rang again as he pushed the door open to leave. He paused midway, turning to speak over his shoulder. He looked back at me with his bright, blue eyes and softly stated, “Take care, Beth.”
“You, too.” I replied quietly.
I couldn’t even say his name out of fear of falling apart right then and there. The way our eyes looked at each other told our whole story with no words needed.
Why did watching him drive away hurt just as badly as the last time I saw those taillights many years ago? I suppose it was because he was the love of my life. The man I could never have, but never stopped loving.
He did that to me.
We met through mutual friends at a BBQ before our fall semester of college began. It took only a few snide comments and quick witted remarks until we were unable to stop smiling like love struck teenagers.
After that night, well, it was a whirlwind of long phone calls, endless e-mails, and spending every second wrapped up in each other’s arms.
The bond became stronger after Derek became familiar with my complex health. He had carried me through Emergency Room doors countless times. Never leaving my side, he promised to always keep me safe. As a gesture to prove his words, he gave me his military dog tags.
Knowing I loved the symbol of his bravery and willingness to sacrifice his life for the ones he loved, he had never asked for them back.
November came and Derek surprised me with a trip to Virginia. He wanted to show me the beach and where he had lived shorty while serving in the USMC. The trip was extraordinary. We took pictures on the pier, gazed in the immensity of the ocean, and walked under the massive trees that resembled skyscrapers with leaves painted oxblood and puce. We wrote our names in the sand at Virginia Beach, as if marking it our own forever.
That moment stayed with me like a home movie constantly on replay. The amount of pain it caused me was immeasurable, but yet I refused to stop the reel. A perverse conflict between the desire to forget the pain and the need to remember refused to subside.
I never saw him again after that night in the airport lobby.
It wasn’t until the next fall, a song on the radio played while driving home. It was our song. I realized that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. Those internal realizations hit me like a brick wall. I exhausted all efforts over the following months to reconcile, but he was gone.
I was young, scared of the feelings he brought out in me. Five years later, I am still searching for a rewind button. I wish I could run to him as fast as humanly possible and tell him that after all this time; I am still here. Waiting for him.
I’ll wait for him forever, but my hope for his return is dwindling.
I would give the world to have his arms around me.
Even if it was the last time.
He took care of me.
Taught me how to feel loved, and I left him out of adolescent stupidity.
He is now on the verge of marrying someone else and I ache to hear his voice.
Tonight my heart is calling, yelling, and screaming for him.
He saw me.
Really saw me.
My soul. My heart. Sometimes I think he knew my dreams before I did, because he would watch me; seeing the wheels in my mind turning while reading or sketching. I could feel his smile as he watched me and just seconds before I would turn to him to tell him some crazy idea, I already felt his attentiveness.
Waiting for my unpredictable words.
Whether it be crazy or amazing, he always patiently listened. Watching me as I rambled on about my crazy theories or random trivia about everything pointless. He always responded with a big smile and simply say,
“You watch too much Jeopardy, sweetheart.”
God, that smile.
My heart is breaking because the reality of this is, I will never see that smile again.
He isn’t coming back, he will marry eventually, yet, I can’t bring myself to move on.
Going the rest of my life without seeing his smile, the one that was specifically for me, now adorns someone else.
Or his eyes, the way they always watched me but now watch her.
However, if he is truly happy, then I am happy for him.
She could never love him the way I do, but is all I wish for him.
I’m not sure how I will live without him.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice.
Destiny isn’t real, fate is a fraud, and all that remains are the ashes of our hearts that use to burn for each other souls.
I once told him “He was it for me.” “If I am ever without you, I will remain that way.”
Five years later, here I am.
No one else could be considered comparable. So, if I remain alone, that’s ok. After surviving so much, you would be surprised to read “Death by a broken heart” on my headstone. A loss that I will endlessly grieve, is all it took to end me.
Strange how delicate our hearts are. The thing is, a broken heart is hard to repair.
An empty heart is a challenging fix.
But a shattered heart…
That is when you reevaluate if “lasting love” exists
Or only a few good ones strung together throughout your life.
I took my shattered heart piece by piece and buried it.
Scattered throughout myself. Making it impossible to find all the pieces.
I carefully hid slivers of my heart, because you can’t shatter something that’s nonexistent, can you?
The air is starting to turn cold, leaves now shades of ocher and sepia.
I am going back to Virginia, Derek may not be there but my heart remains on that beach.
It’s time for me to return to the last place I felt love.
Where the sun beamed down on my cheeks but cold crisp air made the hair on my neck stand straight.
However, if I shall fall ill before I depart, go ahead and bury me in Virginia.