This story is by Alexandra McGrew and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was like the air had been sucked out of the room.
His mother’s Facebook post showed the two of them smiling, their dog sitting in front of them, his tongue sticking out of his mouth.
“My baby’s back home!” her caption read.
He’s back home.
He’s ten minutes away.
I didn’t think. My coat covered my back and shoulders before I had time to process what I was doing. The post was a week old, but the message remained the same. He had returned. He was home.
And he didn’t call.
He hadn’t even thought to let me know he was home.
The sun was setting as the front door slammed shut, fallen leaves crunching underneath my boots. I breathed in the cool air, turning left and beginning the familiar route to his house.
He didn’t call.
“Mia,” he breathed excitedly, his emotions clear on his face. “I got it.”
“Got what?” I asked absent-mindedly, tucking the bottom of my sheets underneath my mattress.
“The internship. Mia,” he took my hands, stopping me from placing my pillows back in their place. “I got the internship.”
“Oh…? Oh! The London internship?”
His smile seemed to take up his entire face as he nodded, squeezing my hands. “The London internship.”
“Ezra!” I threw my arms around him, excitement and pride and joy filling my mind as I laughed. “Congratulations!”
What would I say to him? He threw away the past three years like they had meant nothing to him. Part of me wanted to believe that was true. It made it easier to be angry with him. But I knew he had loved me. I knew it had been as real to him as it was to me.
“I want to see the London Eye. And Buckingham Palace! And—”
Ezra laughed, placing my empty suitcase in his closet. “We will, I promise we’ll see all the tourist sites. But there’s a lot I want to show you.”
“Like what?” I asked, looking out his window. I couldn’t believe it—Ezra was in London.
“The average stuff. My favorite coffee shops and parks and all the places I first visited and thought you would love. Here, you’ll need your coat.”
We crunched through the multicolored leaves scattering the streets and sidewalks. It was the first time we had seen each other in months, and regardless of what we were doing, we were touching—holding hands, linking pinkies, wrapping arms around waists and shoulders.
I felt my heart beating in my throat and stomach. This wasn’t right. He was the person who made me feel the happiest. Now, the memories seemed like a movie playing in the apartment across the way—I could see everything unfolding, but they no longer felt like my memories. They were a distant story to which I no longer had a connection.
“This is Ezra. Leave a message.”
I pulled the phone away from my face and glared at the screen in frustration. Voicemail, again. I threw my phone at my bed, taking a deep breath and running my hands through my hair.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
My phone was in my hands again before I knew what I was doing.
My eyes went wide and my heart fell to my stomach, the fast-paced beating felt in every part of my body. It was the first time I had heard his voice in months. “Ezra?”
“Yeah, sorry Mia, I can’t talk right now…”
“Right, of course you can’t. When are you going to stop brushing me to the side?”
“Mia, I’m serious, I can’t talk right now.”
“You never can. I’m sick of spending all my time waiting to see if you’ll decide I’m worth yours. I—”
“Ezra!” A voice called. A chorus of laughter. “Mate, we’re leaving!”
“Just a minute,” Ezra’s muffled voice replied. Then, “Can we talk later?”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m… I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
I kept the phone to my ear. He didn’t hang up. He was still there. He would come back. He had to come back.
It was the last time we spoke.
I turned the corner. Marched up the steps. Knocked on the door before I could talk myself out of it. Counted to ten. Again. Again.
The sun had set. The autumn breeze made me shiver. I pulled my coat tighter around my body, waiting.
He stood in front of me, his hands in the pockets of his black coat. The black coat we bought together. Before he left. Before he moved nearly five thousand miles away.
I stood in the doorway, clenching my jaw, willing myself not to cry. Not to scream. Not to throw my arms around him. Instead, I gave him the most neutral look I could muster. It couldn’t have done much to convince him of my nonchalance. I had shown up. I heard he was back and I went to him. He didn’t even call.
He didn’t even call.
“I don’t want you to go.” My voice was muffled by his jacket, and I was grateful. It masked the shaking.
“I know,” he kissed the top of my head, rubbing my back in the surefire way to soothe me. It didn’t work. “I don’t want to leave you.”
But he did want to go. He chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to leave me, but he did want to go.
“How long will you be gone?” I turned my head to the side, not pulling back to look at him. The shaking in my voice was evident now. If he noticed, he didn’t say anything.
“I’m not sure. The season, maybe? It depends on how long they need me, and if it turns into a job.”
It was the beginning of the end. He stayed in London past the season, but our communication didn’t last that long. Five months in, our endless “I love you’s” and “I can’t wait to see you’s” turned to “I’m not sure’s” and “I can’t do this anymore.” At least, on his side they did. The “I love you’s” were endless to me, and even after we became faces in a crowd, I felt the words in my chest.
I was sure he would call. I was sure he would tell me when he came home. I had sent him off, it only made sense that I welcomed him back. Yet here he was, home, without so much as a call.
He didn’t even call.
“I don’t know why I’m here.” I said finally. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and put his right hand on the door, stepping back and gesturing inside. His left hand was weak as he did so. Uninviting.
“Do you want to—?”
“No. I should go.” I turned away before he could respond, shoving my hands into my pockets. I could feel my body growing hot as I walked down the steps. I clenched my fists. My hands sweat.
I heard the click of the door closing. Footsteps followed me down the stairs, but I didn’t stop, my eyes examining the ground as I walked. Leaves stuck to the sidewalks. “Wait,” he said again, and grabbed my elbow. I shook him off, looking at the oranges and reds and yellows as I crunched across the pavement. “Please, wait.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” I said, turning on my heel to face him. He took another step before realizing I had stopped. I could see the freckle in his left eye. I took a step back. “Why didn’t you—?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed, tugging at his hair, putting his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” He stayed quiet. “I was wrong to come here.”
“No, you weren’t. It’s just…” I didn’t wait for him to finish the thought. I turned again, looking straight ahead.
“Let me explain.”
“You don’t want to.”
“But you didn’t call.”
“Mia.” Three more steps. Again. “Mia.”
I spun around to face him.
The world stopped turning. The breeze came to a halt, a leaf pausing mid-air.
“I don’t need an explanation. I thought I did, but… you didn’t call. I don’t know if that means you didn’t care, or—”
“Mia, I do care—”
“—but I don’t want to anymore. I’m happy you’re home, Ezra, and I hope London was everything you wanted. I hope it was worth losing what you claimed to love most in the world. I hope they offered you a job, and I hope you get everything you ever wanted. But I no longer want to be around to see it.”
He stared at me. His mouth opened. Closed. Opened. “Mia.”
Behind him, the leaf hit the floor, unidentifiable the moment it joined the other leaves cluttering the street. Just another face in the crowd.
“Goodbye, Ezra. And good luck.”
The world began to move. The breeze danced with the bottom of my coat, muffling Ezra’s words as he called to me.