She wasn’t expecting him. She had given that up long before. She had stopped hoping to see a text, a missed call, a note, a letter, an email—any sign he still existed in a world apart from hers. She had let go. She had abandoned the plans and dreams, the memories. She didn’t expect him.
So when she found him there, standing at her door in his black fleece, hands in his coat pockets, staring at the ground, she could find nothing to say. She just looked at him, blankly, and watched him breathe, puffs in the cold night air.
He looked up. He was familiar, and yet a stranger. His eyes were the same blue, his skin the same white, the freckles in familiar places, and a tinge of pink to his nose and cheeks. He was the same height, he had the same slouch, he wore the same khakis and shoes. He was just as he had left her. Except that he was back. And for that, she didn’t know him.
“Hi,” he said at last.
He shuffled his feet awkwardly, looked down, and up again.
“Do you have a minute?”
His hands were still in his pockets, and she wondered why she noticed. Then, she nodded.
“Um, can I come in?” he laughed, a little self-consciously. It was familiar but out of place. Still, it awakened her.
“Oh! Of course,” she stepped aside to let him through the door. “Sorry.”
She stepped back, and he shut the door behind them. She stood uncomfortably beside the couch, not sure where to look. He looked around her apartment.
“This is nice,” he offered. He pointed to the artwork above the television. “I like that.”
“Yah,” she nodded. “Me too.”
He looked at her for a second, smiling, and said, “I kind of figured that.”
He laughed a little, and she didn’t know what to do. He was teasing her. Why was he teasing her? This whole exchange was starting to feel too normal, too familiar. She felt the shell around her heart start to crack, worried what might spill out.
“So what’s up?” she asked, wary now.
His eyes dropped to the floor, and his hands were back in his coat pockets. He scuffed his foot lightly across the carpet. Finally, he looked up.
“Sorry for what?”
“Everything. Everything that happened between us—I know it was mostly my fault, and—”
She interrupted. “It wasn’t all your fault.”
They stood in silence.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he finally said.
That part was his fault.
“You didn’t need to come here to apologize,” she said in reply.
They stood there, awkwardly. She looked at the dog, the floor, the couch and TV. She didn’t know what he looked at. She hoped it wasn’t her.
“Well, I just, I found this,” he stumbled over his words, fumbling, disjointed. Uncomfortable.
He pulled a thin silver chain from his pocket, at its end hung a crimson red treasure, a memory. How long ago that was now—the trip east, its discovery in the sand, and the birthday gift. The last birthday gift.
“Here,” he handed it to her.
“Oh, thanks. I had forgotten about it,” she mumbled and rolled the stone between her fingers. It had broken, and he said he would get it fixed… And it had sat in his truck, was lost in his truck, and eventually it was just one more thing he hadn’t done.
“I found it. Sorry it took so long,” he laughed a little, and she smiled.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” and she laughed a little.
“Anyway, I just wanted to drop that off. It was yours, after all,” he shrugged.
She nodded. It was, after all.
After he had gone, she found herself examining the stone and the tarnished chain. She couldn’t help the memories as they surfaced in her mind. She was surprised to find they didn’t hurt, they weren’t painful. They were just there, a part of her.
She had thought once that she had been in love. Her very first love, he had been her best friend. It had been an up and down love, an anxious love, a nervous and urgent and important love. He had been part of every moment of her life, he was always in her mind. She couldn’t breathe when he was gone.
But somehow she had survived, she had surfaced with some semblance of a heart—not completely whole nor completely ready but a heart nonetheless. And she had met someone, and she had loved him.
When it was all over, when the necklace sat lost in his truck and her cell phone was silent, she thought maybe she had been wrong. Maybe she hadn’t loved him, or at least, maybe she hadn’t loved him as much as she had her first. And she wondered if she could ever love anyone like her first.
It’s funny how time changes things, like light shifting shadows, revealing what had been there all along. She had once thought her first love, that was what she wanted again. That was what she needed. Yet in hindsight, it wasn’t the first love who had made her happy, it wasn’t with the first love that she had felt secure. It was her second who had set the bar, who had shown her what it really was to love. With passion, fire. Selflessness. Contentment and security. With no need to worry, no need to doubt. They had really been happy. She had really been happy.
And she could finally appreciate that.