March 30, 2013 – Word prompt: Guard.
March 31, 2013 – Reflection day
. . .
Charlie Swan's green sofa – which is actually only a loveseat – is lumpy and uncomfortable, and yet there's nowhere else in the world I'd rather be than here, my feet dangling over the arm, the house quiet around me. It occurs to me, as I shift on the rough upholstery, that Charlie's house is a home for two: a kitchen table with two chairs, a loveseat instead of a full-sized couch, a single bathroom. I wonder, faintly, when it was that he resigned himself to the fact that Renee was never coming back. I can't remember all those years ago, and if there was a bigger table or a bigger sofa or a bigger…anything. All I remember is Bella's tear-stained face at her bedroom window the night her mom left and didn't look back.
A noise from the doorway startles me and I lurch upward, peering over the back of the couch.
"That sofa always reminded me of you," she says, long hair a mess, long sleeves pulled down over her hands, long pale legs stretching out from beneath sleep shorts. I'm treated to flashes of our fumbling teenage explorations on this couch, and I can't stop the surprise from stealing over my face. When she notices and correctly infers where my mind went, she flushes, the stain of her cheeks visible even in the dim moonlight. "Not because of that." She picks at the hems of her sleeves. "The color. It…reminded me of your eyes."
If possible, this revelation hits my heart even harder than the memories of heated kisses, her hair fanned out over the very same couch cushion on which I'm currently sitting. I think about the deep, dark chocolate of her eyes, and the way I tried to find that same color in strangers' faces to no avail.
"Couldn't sleep?" I murmur finally, and she shakes her head.
"Kind of wired," she admits.
Somehow, the silence crackles in a way it never has over the phone line, and I can almost see Bella's spine straighten, her shoulders tipping back, and in the pool of moonlight, this girl in her pajamas, I realize who she is. The girl I loved in a woman's body: the beautiful mind that pens poetry inside a head with a slightly narrower face; the heart that loved me and broke because of it behind that beautiful, maddeningly perfect woman's chest. And I realize, with a great, sweeping wave of relief, what's missing: the hunched posture, curled shoulders, downturned face of a girl who erected a guard wall to shut me out, to keep herself safe.
Before me stands the girl I loved, all grown up. The girl I broke, all put back together.
As if she's been watching my thoughts play out on my face, Bella holds out a hand. Wordlessly, I rise from the couch, my heart kicking up a cacophony in my chest when she threads her fingers through mine, and even with all I remember, I realize with this little gesture how much I'd forgotten. The simple surge of protectiveness that would rise in me every time she slipped her tiny palm against mine. The warmth of her skin. The delicate, bird-like bones of her fingers. The complete and utter perfection of it. Of her.
She leads me up the stairs, and the second one from the top still creaks.
She pauses only momentarily outside the door of her bedroom before leading me inside, and it's still a girly swirl of green and purple.
She doesn't hesitate before slipping beneath her comforter and holding out her hand, and even after everything, she's still Bella.
I slip in beside her, our bodies curling toward each other beneath a cocoon of blankets, and the darkness of the room around us is nothing compared with the bottomless dark of her searching eyes, which ping between mine. There's so much in them I remember: friendship, affection, something that almost looks like love. But mixed in there is something new: understanding. "Hi," she murmurs, her small fingers still knotted with mine.
"Hi," I whisper back, squeezing her hand gently.
She smiles, soft and indulgent, her dark eyes falling closed. I watch her for the space of a few breaths as the night settles around us, feeling as though her still-lingering smile tells me we're finally, blessedly, home.
And we sleep.
. . .
Six years. This day has been six years in the making. You'd think I'd be better prepared. I try to picture seeing Bella after all this time, but there are too many scenarios hurtling through my mind for me to pin one down.
Will she look different? Taller? Shorter hair? Heavier? Will she dress differently, act differently? Will her voice sound different? Will she still hate me?
I stand before my suitcase in my childhood bedroom, trying to breathe deep and even. Eyeball the pile of clothes I brought with me, feeling suddenly as though none of them are right; feel ridiculous because I did this very thing less than twenty-four hours earlier, standing before my closet, imagining seeing her again.
There's a part of me that wonders if it'll be anticlimactic, if I'll realize that I've built the memory of Bella up in my mind, that there's no way for the reality of the woman to compete with the memory of the girl. But then I remember the way my heart damn near froze in my chest when I saw her author photo inside the dust jacket of her book, and I know the truth.
One more glance at the suitcase, its pile of sweaters.
Settle on gray, because it was her favorite on me, once upon a time. The color of armor – fitting, in preparation for the metaphorical arrows she could fire at me.
A tiny bit of cologne, as a reminder to myself that she might not be that girl anymore, but I'm not that boy anymore, either.
And a deep breath, for courage.
I already lost her. I lost her years ago.
Tonight is the night I start trying to find her again. Find me again. And maybe, some distant day, we can find us again.
. . .
A/N: Here's where I blather. An enormous, heartfelt, from-the-toes-of-my-shoes thanks to HollettLA, whose cheerleading reached new heights with this one (even as she wanted to punch numerous characters in their baby-making parts at various points in the story). You're sublime, lady; I'm so glad to have your friendship. xo
And deepest thanks to you all for reading and for your thoughtful feedback.
Stay awesome. xo