This story is by Karen McCandless and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
As the doors of the metro closed between them, one on the inside and one on the outside, that split second of indecision created a hole – just a small crack of space, but wide enough to become a cataclysmic chasm that created two very different people on two very different paths.
Anna stared at the train as it sped away down the tracks towards Placa Catalunya, the breeze cooling her face against the heat of the summer. Now she wouldn’t catch him. He’d be gone by the time the next train arrived at a Sunday’s snail pace of seven minutes. His flight was in less than two hours. She was relieved, glad that now there would be no expectation, no words of goodbye, no feelings needed on her part. She didn’t feel anymore. On paper, he was perfect for her, but paper had never really mattered.
She picked up the phone and called her sister.
“And? You’re going to keep in touch now, right?”
Her sister sounded so hopeful. She was part of an increasing large group of friends and family who seemed to feel slightly uncomfortable around her due to her complete rejection of anything that resembled a relationship.
“No, what’s the point? He lives in Canada. There aren’t even any direct flights from Barcelona.”
There was a pause – during which Anna felt a kind of familiar kick in her stomach – before her sister replied. “That’s why you met him, isn’t it? The fact that this could never be anything other than temporary was the only reason you even saw him.”
There was a catch in her sister’s voice. “We all love you and want what’s best for you. That’s why I’m saying this. I know you think you can carry on like this forever, but you can’t. It’s a natural reaction after what happened, but please don’t shut down like this.”
Leah swayed along with the metro, her head full of what had happened. She looked at her watch. He’d be at the airport by now. His flight was in less than two hours. He’d jumped out of the taxi as if his house was on fire. But it had been special – they both recognised that. Special, but with an expiry date. Ten perfect days. Then time to get back to their normal lives. That’s what he wanted, anyway.
Leah thought of the three most recent men. Each had seemed special, and each had rejected her. What was it about her that kept these men away? Did she reek of neediness? She’d been open, taken her opportunities, lived life to the full, no regrets. She had taken on board all the cliches.
Her intense hangover and the guilt of a day off work weighed heavily on her, as the sweaty smell of the people on the metro next to her turned her stomach. She picked up her phone to call her best friend.
“How are you holding up – honestly?”
Leah paused, choked back the start of what could be an endless stream of tears. Years of practice meant that she could perfect the casual, carefree tone necessary in these situations. “Oh I knew it was just a temporary thing. He lives in Canada. It was just a fling.”
“Are you going to see him again, sweetie?”
Leah rubbed her wrist. Long sleeves were a another necessity, even in the warm weather.
“Shouldn’t think so. We didn’t exchange details. I could still look him on Facebook, but what would be the point? It was only ever meant to be a fling.”
“But sweetie, you told me you can’t do flings, that you only get attached.”
As Leah breathed deeply, her stomach flipped. It was akin to butterflies in the stomach, that feeling of first love. A feeling she had long since forgotten.
“This was different. It wasn’t a fling. It was just like a short relationship. I’m good, don’t worry about me.”
She breathed deeply, using an old technique that she’d learned in the days after it. She put on a bright tone.
“I gotta go anyway, I’m just about to get off the metro. See you soon. Bye!”
“Take care of yourself, sweetie. It will get – ”
Leah ended the call before the kind yet futile words of her friend spilled over into tears.
Anna paced the platform. Should she still go there – say goodbye even though it had already ended? Would he care? He would go back to Canada, too far away with too big a chasm, a whole sea between them, insurmountable challenges. She shouldn’t get involved.
As the metro arrived, she stepped onto the train and reached up to grab the handrail. A man opposite her was staring at her exposed stomach where her t-shirt had rode up. His eyes were the same blue-green as Luke’s. She remembered the last time she’d looked into them. He’d been so still, lying there motionless as she cradled his head in her hands. The last time she’d let herself feel something before she’d shut down.
Leah twirled her phone in her hand. She wouldn’t look him up on social media. She wouldn’t mesh the disappointments of daily life with the starry-eyed feeling of last night. Ten perfect days with a man seven years younger than her. One year ago today, she thought. It had been 365 full days of trying to replicate that feeling. She could still see his expression whenever she closed her eyes. Every day she convinced herself she was moving on, that it hadn’t meant anything, that she was ok.
She’d channeled the usual get-over-it elements: gym, hobbies, clubbing, sad songs, crying, drinking, working her fingers to the bone. She’d reveled in her pain by listening to Ed Sheeran’s songs and then ten minutes later she’d get up and carry on. Luke had left her. But she was still here and that’s all that mattered. And there were any number of men who could fill that hole in her heart.
As Anna reached into her purse to look at the photo, to run her hands over the grainy photo, she thought back to last night. She’d given him the tourist experience he’d wanted – sangria on Las Ramblas and paella by the beach. You’re such a typical tourist, she’d laughingly told him. But that night she had felt hopeful, got carried away. As he twirled her around in an attempt at salsa on the beach, as they’d watched the sun go down and come up again, she’d told him.
Even after all the alcohol they’d consumed last night, Leah could still remember every detail. The way they’d talked, laughed, danced, walked, ran, shouted, screamed and laughed some more. They’d talked and talked. She had opened up in a way she’d never done before. She’d become a person she had mocked all her life. She’d talked about hopes, and dreams, and inspirations. She’d looked into his eyes as he told her how special she was. She gave him her favourite book. And then she’d told him.
Anna and Leah stumbled out of the metro station, feeling physically sick with the memories, as if they were happening all over again. The intense physical pain, the hope of a new beginning, of new life. All that suffering for nothing, as those beautiful blue-green eyes closed forever.
As they steadied themselves on a wall, they pushed past the throng of tourists taking selfies in front of the fountains, hoping it wasn’t too late.
“Anna…” His voice tailed off as he looked into her eyes. “Anna…” he started again. His eyes filled with tears. “Anna, I never knew. I never knew we had a son.”
“Leah…” His voice faltered. “Leah…” His eyes filled with tears. “Leah. I’m so sorry. I wish I’d known Luke. He sounds like an amazing man.”
Anna’s tears soaked his shirt, as he pressed her against his chest. “Anna, my love. Anna you have to let go of Luke. It’s time.”
He pressed Leah up against him, her tears soaking his shirt. “Leah, my love. Leah you have to let go of Luke. It’s time.”