J- my J, if I was lucky- opened the door, and I really wasn’t shocked that everything I had planned to say a second ago just left me. I had always looked at her and forgotten what to say. It was what I did.
Julia expected me, today because she knew I wouldn’t leave without my beloved closure or whatever psychobabble that was probably true. Most definitely.
I wasn’t even a book to read anymore; I was a self-loathing, pitiful autobiography written by the skeleton in The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was the Holocaust thrown into the flames then put out then dipped in cyanide and gutted.
But really, I was simple and stupid. I had been all my life, and it was one of the few things I could do. But I did stupid things, stupid things everyone else around me did, and then I spent the rest of my time fixing everything.
Does a fault like that make me forgivable? For being naïve?
“Hey, sweetie, what do you want?”
Oh, that was not passive-aggressive at all. I would’ve laughed if I was watching. She would’ve, too. I could see it in her alight green eyes and the curve of her jaw- but at the same time, I didn’t think I could see someone hate me so much. I hated me.
“Can I talk to you?” I whispered, hoarse. J kept one hand on the door, ready to close it. A week ago I stood here picking her up from school. The weekend before that we went to the circus and she told me she loved me. And three months before that I stood in this spot picking her up for our first date.
I remember sitting in her room watching her change and lying to myself that that’s mine. That one day it could all be mine. No, it’s not, idiot, you don’t own people. We’d eat breakfast in her kitchen because she was alone in the mornings and I was around the corner, she in her pj’s in my lap sometimes, telling me about some dumb or not-so-dumb misadventure she was tying me into that day. Sometimes I’d scramble to finish her online tests. The things you do for love. Sometimes you’ll even pass your senior year of high school a second time just for love.
“Talk.” She followed me out onto the porch, her arms crossed over her chest, looking down. Didn’t look me in the eyes once.
Exactly, I didn’t have any right to be here. Of course she knew that.
“I-I…I,” I kinda stuttered, really, really lost. When I pictured myself getting this far I didn’t really think about what I’d say to stay there.
“I don’t know what to say.” I said plainly, and shrugged. “Don’t have a damn clue. Nobody ever tells you what to say when you wanna get back together, so bear with me, I’m on my own.” She cracked a smile. I could babble all day and not get it out. My throat started to choke up, and I thought I was going to cry.
“Well, I can go back inside.” She said dismissively.
“No!” I almost shouted. I reached out for her hand, just brushing the tips of her fingers with my thumb, and she looked right at me finally. Her green eyes finally met mine, hurt and mean as anything.
“Remember when all we did was hold hands?” I asked faintly, my head light. She doesn’t leave my sight.
“You used to get so nervous your hand would shake.”
“I loved you already.” She didn’t respond, and looked down at her own hand. She ran her hand over the back of mine, and I was just a little too scared to move. I paused, my breath held, at her white skin on my dark palm. This was where it started, you know? Being different.
When your parents say don’t climb too high, it’s a metaphor for life. They are warning you for the rest of your life. Don’t climb where you can’t get yourself down. Don’t jump. Someone’s not always gonna be there to catch you. Because it’s gonna hurt more every fall you take. I would know.
“I don’t know, J. Don’t know anything. I can’t imagine what I look like to you, still begging, but I’m out of moves. It’s scaring me, J. I can’t even put into words how horrible I feel. And I’m gonna feel horrible for the rest of my life for this. But I can’t sleep anymore, goddamnit. I need sleep, J. Just let me do this.” I whined, something I’d never done ’til that point.
“I-I’m sorry, Julia. I’m so sorry. Please.” I whispered, on my knees at her feet. She looked at me like I was an overtired five-year-old. I was one, in more ways than one.
“Yeah, but you’re sorry today.” She whispered finally, her gaze gone again.
“No!” I shook my head, not believing it for a second. I grabbed onto her wrists and begged her to look at me.
“I know I was stupid and blind and I’m sorry it took me this long. I’m sorry I did it all, J! I don’t think you get how horrible I feel. I’m sorry you actually thought I didn’t care about you anymore. That’s always going to be the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone.
“I just- you remember how stupid I used to be around you when I first met you? Well, I’m there times seven thousand, I’m that totally unsure what to do.”
“No, okay!” She exploded suddenly, and I staggered back. “You’re sorry today. Right now. And I can’t sit around and wait for you to take it back, Elliott. I know you. You have taken back everything you have ever said to me! I can’t hold on waiting for when you just drop me, Elliott, that’s not okay. You think have everyone figured out, you think you’re so clever! But you’re just another underhanded jackass who’s only in it for yourself! Okay, that’s what I know about you! And you lied about everything.” She backed me up off the steps, all five feet of her.
“Just let me say what I have to say, okay?” I pleaded. “If you don’t believe me at the end…..I’m gone. I swear. We’ll graduate and you don’t ever have to see me again.” I swore, and she looked back at me stonily.
“Why……” She started, “Would you think you can come back here and everything would just be fixed, huh? That your presence in my life fixes everything, Elliott?” She hollers.
“I just want you to know I know what I did. I should’ve known better; J, you have been the only one who’s ever been ther for me always. Always. Nobody has ever stuck around before. I used to want to give the world for my mom to talk to me, J. Isn’t that ridiculous? I shoulda known nobody was gonna stick, you know? I was just totally fooled. I just- I hadn’t really seen my mom in three years, alright? I had no idea what parents were! And I know that doesn’t excuse anything, but I guess if I did everything she told me and believed everything that she’d stick around But I was wrong, very wrong, okay? I-I wanted a parent, and I shoulda known she wasn’t gonna be one.” I shrugged.
“I shoulda known no matter what that you were gonna be there for the entire thing. I should’ve never treated you like that, and I can’t believe I deserted you like that. I hurt you, but I love you, J.” Her expression melted. She looked undecided. “Remember, we said we didn’t do this race thing. We’re not playing that card or whatever. So I’m sorry.”
I think I laughed. “I know I treated you the way I did, the way I have, but I miss you. All I think about anymore is calling you and kissing you and talking to you and all that. It’s ruined me. All the time now I’m just kicking myself for being so fucking stupid and I’m so sorry, J. I am so sorry.” I said slowly. “I think about everything I wanna try saying over again to you, but I see you everywhere and it really doesn’t matter. I see you smiling and laughing still and that’s all I ever wanted to see, J.”
“And it all just didn’t matter because you were talking to me and you were smiling at me and everything was alright- except it just wasn’t because I’m the dickhead I am, okay? I just, I am.” I blew my breath out softly, and I swore she’d moved closer to me.
“I know you’re the only one that’s always gonna be there for me. I knew it before, too; I was just overexcited, I guess. But she’s gone again, I shoulda known. J, you’re all I have. I can’t lose you, too.
“I don’t know what I’m still doing here.” I finished softly. There wasn’t really anything else to say. There was nothing I could say from the beginning.
I could apologize for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t change anything. Because I didn’t just break up with her- I deserted her.
So it was 7:42 on a Wednesday and I had no idea what to do next.
Julia leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead, where my head was rested in my hand. I was honestly surprised. I just really hadn’t expected it. I looked up, almost scared, and she looked just as scared, too. I’d never been so scared, actually. I sat up, and she crawled into my side on the bench. I rocked her back and forth and smoothed back her shiny black hair, and how her creamy skin seemed to melt against mine, and how it was all just such a real moment. There was something so starkly real and tremulous and undecided that it was all just us, it was all we ever were, or had been up to that point. The past three years were encompassed completely in that moment.
“Thank you,” I whispered against her neck. “Thank you.” I whispered blindly, holding her tight against me. “I love you so much, J, I miss you, I’m sorry.”
“I wanna be so mad at you, damnit.” She whispered, her glass-like voice shining with emotion. “I wanna hate you, I do.” She hugged me tighter.
“Do it. Hate me for the rest of my miserable life. Just love me, too. Cuz you’ll love me. And that helps.”