Categories > Original > Drama0 Reviews
Justin was not an outside observer. He was stuck right in the middle of all the happiness and it made him sick to his stomach. Not that happiness wasn’t exactly what he wanted for Emily. Her happiness was what he wanted more than anything in the world. Which was why he was still here, doing his best to add to the joy around him when all he really wanted to do was curl up in a corner and die.
He wandered along the paths on the perimeter of the garden. He was pretty sure he could hide the pain he felt when observed from a distance, but he wasn’t so confident he’d be able to keep it hidden if he actually had to face the bliss firsthand. A conversation was bound to end badly.
A roar of laughter went up from the center of the garden. Justin looked over his shoulder towards the noise. People were dancing, the girls were flashes of color and spinning fabric, many of the men had removed their jackets. Several champagne bottles had been opened and were spraying their contents everywhere. He wasn’t even aware he had been looking for her until he realized that he was disappointed that he did not see her. He turned and continued down the path leading out of the garden and away from the party.
He found himself walking along the edge of a pond, the path lit by small sparkling lights. He kept his eyes fixed on the ground and so did not notice the path’s destination until he had arrived. The gazebo sat at the edge of the pond, perfectly framing the moon’s reflection on the water. The railing was wrapped with white Christmas tree lights. In the center sat a small wrought iron table painted white, with two matching chairs. Justin didn’t notice any of this. His eyes were fixed on the woman in one of the chairs. The only woman in white.
He had promised himself he wouldn’t do this. He had promised himself that he wouldn’t face her, not tonight. He would leave a note with the flowers – he could trust himself not to slip up in a note – he would talk to her later, in a few weeks, or years, when he felt fully able to control his emotions. Not tonight, when it was all so real, so unavoidable.
Emily was sitting with her back to him, facing the water. He should just leave, just keep walking. But he knew he couldn’t. This was the only time all night he would see her alone, and he just couldn’t make himself leave. He’d left her once before and he would not make that mistake again.
He stepped up into the gazebo. She turned at the sound of his footsteps. She smiled at the sight of him. His heart ached as he remembered that smile. He remembered a day when she would light up like that only for him. That day was gone.
He cleared his throat, gesturing toward the empty chair. “Is that seat taken?”
The jacket strewn over the back of it told him that it was taken, and by whom, so he spoke again before she could answer. Before she could ask him to leave. “Congratulations.”
The air got heavier. Neither spoke, there was nothing to be said. Justin felt himself suffocating. If there were any possible clearer indication that he was fighting a losing battle, that he should quit while he was ahead, he couldn’t imagine what it was. But he couldn’t quit either.
He felt himself about to say something he needed to but shouldn’t say, so he took in a deep breathe and hurled the words out before he could think about what he was doing. “Would you like to take a walk with me?”
Emily looked up, startled. Justin kept talking, he wasn’t sure why. To keep her silent, to keep her listening, to keep her here with him for just a moment longer.
“My mind, it kind of goes fast. I’ll try to slow it down for you.”
Emily smiled, a sad rueful smile. “You never could slow down. Not for anyone.”
Justin’s heart clinched. Memories flooded over him. He and Emily as children, barely eight years old, climbing Ol’ Mr. McPhearson’s apple tree. The two of them in high school, awkward freshmen at homecoming. As seniors, holding on to each other all night at prom. Every memory he had of his childhood had Emily hidden in it somewhere – laughing in the background, or haunting his thoughts.
On impulse he blurted, “I want to give you something I’ve been wanting to give to you for years. My heart.”
Emily’s head shot up and Justin knew he had crossed a line. Emotions played across her face. Shock, anger, fear, regret, pain. At the look in her eyes a more recent memory forced its way to the front. Emily, belly round with child, standing in a doorway, the came look in her eyes.
When she spoke her voice was barely a whisper. “You left me, remember?”
Justin did remember, as much as he’d tried to forget. He looked down, unable to meet her eyes, the look there was killing him. “Yeah, I do,” he said, his voice even quieter than hers. “I didn’t come here to do this.”
“What did you come here to do, Justin?” But her voice was gentle, no trace of accusation. That was so Emily. He met her gaze again.
“I came to see my best friend. You seem happy. That’s all I can ask for.”
Justin turned and started down the walk, unable to believe that he was letting himself leave her again, but unable to see any other way.
He heard Emily whisper behind him. “I can’t change this time.”
He stopped and turned back. “And I can’t change your mind.”
She gave him one last smile. It was an ending. A farewell. He nodded, but could not bring himself to smile back. He made his way alone down the path into the darkness.
“Make it go away,” he whispered to himself. “Make this go away, please.”