The memories left him reeling by the constant ringing there in his head. The pain was slowly coming back no matter how much he tried so desperately to choke down. Just looking into those eyes of hers ruined the inner workings of his brokenness and there was a prominent part inside of himself that blamed her so viciously for the falling apart he had suffered from, the emptiness that she had inflicted on him. He knew that everyone had told her that blaming her meant taking a selfish approach on things and doing it that way meant never being able to heal in spite of his needing to but blaming her came naturally because she had been the cause of everything.
"Jared I just…" She was struggling with words like all those desperate times he himself had tried to come up with so many things to get him through the agony. There was a hesitance there in the glimmer of her gentle eyes and there was also an underlying secret that he wanted to reach inside of her to draw it out. Of course it wasn’t his place, it could never be. Not now. Not ever. "…I knew that you would be here." She softly said, eyes bravely meeting hers just then as she took the hair that had gently blew about from off her face. "I wanted to see you."
Those words were the ones he had been wanting to hear for such a long time. Those words that echoed inside of him now with a bitter aftertaste inside of him. His eyes only held hers, not giving her an immediate answer. He couldn’t think of one thing to say because there were too many words circling around in the clutter of his mind. He needed to turn away from her and forget that this had happened, maybe he would shut the door, pretend no one had knocked and resume the moment that he and his mom had just shared. Just this once forget the world and the problems that came with it.
But running meant giving into the weakness that was starting to slowly protrude from inside of him. He couldn’t give into that, not again. He needed to face all of this at face value and not ignore the heavy ache there inside of him- not anymore. He couldn’t deny the constant feeling of loneliness, couldn’t deny the need he had been filled with for such a long time. Was that so wrong?
He tried not to reach further down into the depths of his mind, the knowing that the past was so close to him drove his mind rabid with sorrow. Marissa was standing right there. Marissa. He tried so hard to forget that name, tried so hard to step back away from her and lose himself in the present, his work. But instead of forgetting Marissa he merely began to compensate for the lack of her in his life. Was that what Marissa was? A compensation for the loss of everything he had once had?
"Marissa…" He began, words choking up in his chest as he tried to stutter his way through the tremors and the hesitance that refused to fall away. "…you shouldn’t be here. Everyone is here and I can’t…" He shook his head, eyes closing as he let out a settled stream of breath. He didn’t want to deal with this, not here when his entire life was out on display. And Essie was here how would he explain that to her? "…I can’t talk to you."
That was genuine surprise there on her face at his response and she took a step back from the front door. Her eyes lowered, the soft fall of snow caressing into the strands of her blonde hair. She looked actually hurt as she stood there. Hurt by the abrupt words that came from him. What had she expected? To be accepted here with opened arms after everything that had happened before? Surely she hadn’t wanted that to happen. Why was she even here? There were far too many questions that Jared couldn’t bring himself to simply ask. Asking meant keeping her here and he wasn’t sure if he could handle that.
"Jared…" She softly called out, hand reaching towards him and lightly touching his arm. Her eyes were wide with pleading and the look on her face was full of need. She just wanted to talk to him, just wanted to look into his eyes and tell him that things were different now, that she had been wrong before, the entire time. "…please, I just need to talk to you. Just once?" She softly begged, her grip tightening a little onto his arm. After her initial step back she made the move to bring herself closer. "Jared please? Let me in?"
He let out a slow and shaky breath. He wasn’t going to let her in, that went against every part of his road to recovery from what had happened between them. He moved back from her touch, getting more and more deeper inside the shelter behind him. “Marissa I don’t even know why you’re here, what you want to talk about but…” He hesitated a moment, eyes holding hers for the longest time. “…but just leave.” Those words betrayed every part of him that needed her. Because he did need her didn’t he? To lure him out of the stupid lack of life he had submitted himself to.
He stopped when he heard Essie’s voice from behind him and everything felt like it froze inside of him. With Marissa there in front of him and Essie lingering in the house behind him he wasn’t sure what to do. What there was for him to say to either of them? He felt guilty suddenly of everything that was going to happen between now and whenever this cycle would end. Something inside of him didn’t want it to end though, didn’t want Marissa to leave, didn’t want to hear Essie leave. Did that make him torn? Did that even make sense?
Jared turned around, his hand lifting to tuck his hair behind his ear as he met Essie’s green eyes. Her presence was so demanding, pulling him towards her with an effortless ability. For a moment he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her, she was just standing there not doing a single thing and yet that felt like everything. Perhaps it was the forbidden draw because she was married? Because everything between them felt impossible and yet so tainted? Even though there was nothing at all between them, even though he had pushed her so far away for his own self benefit he wasn’t sure how long he would be able to.
"It’s just…’ He stumbled again, feeling that weakness that left him feeling absolutely hopeless as he stood there. He hated this lack of control, there had to be someway that he could escape this. He couldn’t continue on like this forever, couldn’t bring himself to cling this way to the empty hopes that would never be formed in front of him. He needed to reclaim the strength he had before, that strength that had helped him to become the man that he was.
"I’m Marissa." She answered, entering inside the house and stepping up alongside Jared. He glanced at her and was surprised to see the smile there lingering on her face but within that smile there was a curiosity, a sense of disbelief as she looked Essie over. Her eyes starting at the red strands of hair and lowering all the way down to the boots that she was wearing. Essie gave the same stare, from the blonde hair and over the gentle and fair features of her face.
Jared felt caught in the middle and he scratched at the back of his head. He didn’t belong to either of them and yet he felt like he was being pulled towards them both. There was so much there between himself and Marissa including the pain that took root permanently deep inside of him. And then there was Essie, the distrust and knowledge that none of this had been real, none of this had been true. He wasn’t even sure what he was thinking, what the hell he was feeling. Neither of them deserved a single second of his time and yet here he was trying to divide himself between them both.
"I’m Essie…nice to meet you." She held her hand out, the pale of her skin soft in the Winter glow of the afternoon whispering through the opened door. There was that constant coldness that she let roll off of her, her gaze was alive with something resembled a type of competition as she held Marissa’s eyes. Was that jealousy that sparked the air between them? Could they even tell what had happened? Could that even be possible? "Are you staying?" She gave Marissa’s hand a firm shake before quickly pulling her own back and pushing her fingers back through the strands of her hair.
Jared could tell that there was a question forming on Marissa’s lips and so he turned to face her and looked down into her eyes. The abrupt movement seemed to startle her and yet she leaned closer to him. Jared couldn’t help but wonder if that was because she wanted to prove something to Essie for some reason or if she was just instinctively doing something that she had been so used to doing before when they had been together.
"You said that you wanted to talk." Jared reminded her, eyes softening as he tried to convince her to step out of the house, away from this stifling atmosphere. He lowered his head a little, looking up at her from beneath his brows. "Come on, we can go somewhere, alright? That is if you still want to talk…" He bit down on his bottom lip, keeping his hands tucked closer to himself or else he would be prompted to set his touch onto her. "…we could go to that place that you liked so much." The memory of that place suddenly shot a pain right through him as he stared down into those familiar eyes. Was he even ready to go back there?
Her eyes didn’t bother going back to Essie, she kept her gaze locked onto his as she slowly nodded. For a moment it looked like she too was hurting at the very mention of it but it quickly faded and she gave him another short nod to his offer. “Okay…let’s go. If that’s what you really want.” She softly replied, hand reaching out to take hold of his but he didn’t allow it. He just stood there, very slightly pulling himself back as he watched her step away towards the door.
"Don’t be long." Essie stated causing Jared to turn and face her. "We’ll miss you." Her eyes were saddened by his decision and immediately Jared felt bad about it but he couldn’t stay here, he couldn’t let Marissa and her stand there including him in the terrible middle lingering there between them. Her hand touched to his and she sighed heavily. "I love you."
Her words resonated sharply at the back of his mind sending a million different emotions coursing right through him. Love? The idea was insane, that she would still use those words so loosely to him and yet he still couldn’t bring himself to push down the hope that maybe after this short time they would finally be true.