She wasn’t sixteen anymore.
That was the inane, repeating thought running through her mind as she gripped the desk behind her; the grain of the wood biting into the flesh of her hands. Her mind spun, a dizzying blur of colors surrounded her was she struggled to gain purchase on her world. Five words. Five words had sent everything she thought she knew and burned it to ashes around her and she now stood in the remains. She loosened the grip of her hands, bringing them forward to look at them; angry pink lines against pale white skin as the circulation once again flowed. She still felt his hands, now long gone, as if they had branded a path on her skin. The feeling of his body as he had pulled her to him washed over her again and she felt unsteady; the axis of her universe had now shifted and realigned itself to his. The taste of him was soul-stirring and frighteningly familiar. Like a home, she was experiencing for the first time. Exciting and comforting in equal measure. She closed her eyes hoping to make the spinning stop, but her mind pushed forward against her wishes and she swore she could still detect the ghost of him in front of her.
There was a finality to the door of the taxi shutting behind her. A conclusion in the way the key turned into the lock of the door. The dim flickering light of the TV drawing shapes on the wall beside her, a recapitulation on the last ten years of her life. She hated this house, she realized with certain clarity; the couch she didn’t choose, the recliner that was given to them, the TV that was far too expensive and obtrusive for the small room. The veil of complacency that she had worn for a decade had fallen from her eyes and she now saw everything anew.
She stood in the doorway, keys in hand, purse still on her shoulder as she listened absently to the crowd on the TV cheer at the football player’s breakaway run.
“You’re home early. Did you lose all your money that fast? I knew you were going to.” He didn’t bother to look around as he spoke and she studied the back of his head, the light of the TV creating a glowing rim around it. There was a peace to her next steps. She saw it all laid out in front of her, the series of events that brought her to this defining moment.
She wasn’t sixteen anymore and this wasn’t the life she was meant to have.
“We need to talk.”
The rain fell in large drops around her, washing away the remains of her indecision. She felt it begin to soak through her clothes and the chill that it sent reminded her she was alive. She heard the church bells begin to chime the hour down the street and she knew she had to speak. He had said his mind, and taken a chance; laid part of himself bare in front of her. Hers to do with as she wished and she had left it there. For the first time in her life, his face was indiscernible. She drifted her eyes over him, taking in how he was now redefined to her. His gray t-shirt revealing to her the planes and surfaces of his body that she now allowed herself to notice. His unshaven face and the vulnerable lines of his neck below the hair that she had run her fingers through, the skin there that she longed to know the taste of.
“I left him.” She stated needlessly as if her presence on his doorstep could be explained any other way.
“You said you were going to still marry him.” His words sounded broken, laced in bitterness.
She shook her head and looked down at her soaked shoes, the brown leather ruined.
“I was afraid. I still am, but I’m here.”
When he didn’t respond, she looked past him, brown boxes stacked high in the hallway, and for the first time noticing the packing tape clutched in his hand. Her eyes flew to his with dawning realization.
“I took a promotion in Stamford,” an answer to the unspoken question in her eyes. She felt a chasm open up beneath her, threatening to swallow her entirely into its abyss. This was her punishment; her penance. She had been a coward for years. Seeing but not acknowledging the look in his eyes and the way they held hers a second too long. The way he seemed to have a magnetic pull to her, being in her presence continuously and making himself scarce when her fiancé would appear. The sad anguish his eyes would unknowingly reveal as he waged an internal battle only he could see, hiding it instead with a flippant comment. The deafening silence between them when some errant phrase had crossed the line into the dangerous territory of certitude.
She had denied the truth in front of her for fear of shaking the carefully constructed vision of the future she had built atop a sand foundation; had long taken advantage of the solace that he would always be there to assuage her insecurities. That was no longer the case, and it was her fault.
“Were you going to tell me?”
“I wanted to but…” he faltered, the implication that if she had asked, he would stay; endure the pain of her being promised to another man if that’s what she had asked of him.
The question of what she truly desired for him stared her in the face and it came down to this. Every molecule in her screamed for him to remain; to stay in this dead-end job in this dead-end town, for her, with her. Her soul wanted him to have everything, and her soul won out over the unrelenting pull of him.
“You were made for so much more than this,” she said resignedly, the words tasting bitter on her tongue, “This job and this place.”
His challenge was unclear and instead of probing for clarity, she fell back into the familiar space of self-deprecation. The most definitive point she had used to argue away the obvious in her mind all these years: she wasn't nearly good enough for him.
She pulled at her lip with her teeth and shook her head with a relinquished tilt. “Even me.”