39 | Letting Go and Bittersweet Goodbyes
My eyes are drawn to the wooden table in front of me and I stare at nothing except that table like a weirdo and I wasn’t paying attention to anything around me. That is, until blue jean legs stops right in front of my table.
I frown and look up to see Veronica standing there, looking skeptical and hesitant. She has already glanced back towards the door twice in ten seconds. But then she sighs and meets my eyes. “Can I sit here?”
“Veronica.” I breathe. “You came.”
She winces slightly at my use of her full name. “Yeah. Sorry about being late.”
“Late?” I repeat, frowning. “A few minutes don’t matter. It’s fine.”
She nods towards my phone. “But an hour doesn’t.” I look at my phone to see it’s a few minutes past seven, it’s past dinner time and I didn’t even realize that I had been waiting for over an hour. “I didn’t think you’d be waiting this long.”
I purse my lips and sit down and she follows the suite. “But you came.”
“I wasn’t going to.” She says, sighing and looking away. “But there are things I wanna talk about and clear too.”
“Have you told him that you’re here to see me?” I ask, referring to Sean.
She shakes her head, still not looking at me. “I wasn’t planning on coming here so I didn’t bother mentioning. He would have insisted on accompanying if he knew.”
I purse my lips and nod, looking away. “You guys made up.” I comment.
“Yeah.” She chuckles bitterly. “Much to your displeasure.”
I scoff. “Trust me, I don’t care. Not anymore.”
She passes me a glance but continues roaming her eyes around the diner before settling her on the scene outside the glass window beside us. I turn myself to look the same way too, not having the strength to face her while we have this last heart to heart.
“What happened to us, Ronnie?” I ask softly.
I hear her scoff and I don’t have the energy to look at her. “You left me when you got popular.”
“And you tried so heard to mend things back, didn’t you?” I snap, my voice laced with venom. How can she even blame me for this like that? Popularity? Fuck that, she doesn’t know anything. I take a deep breath, calming down to not lose my temper. Not now, not until I’ve made everything clear and closed one past chapter of my life. “I came to see you on your birthday, Veronica. I left you a gift too. You never called back.”
From my peripheral view, I see her gulp visibly. “I didn’t want you pity charity gift, Leah. I threw it away.”
Fuck, why does it hurt to know that?
“And you got yourself new friends.” I point out, ignoring the ache in my chest.
She turns to look at me, eyes cold. “Don’t say it like you didn’t do the same. What did you want me to do? Wait for you on the sidelines to pay attention to me all alone?”
I purse my lips and don’t say anything. I don’t need to. She won’t care anyway.
I sigh and brush my hair back, looking away. “So you thought it would be fun to get revenge on me by going behind my back with my own boyfriend?” I ask.
She breaks and her squared in defense shoulders sag. “I love him.” She whispers, loud enough for me to hear, her voice breaking at the admittance.
The heart breaks all over again hearing that and I blink back the tears. “Since when?” I ask instead of commenting I loved him too. I know I’m digging myself a deeper pit to get hurt but I have to know.
Veronica hesitates but nods to herself, mumbling something under her breath. I turn to look at her too, my arms crossed on my chest as I lean back in my seat, pinning her with my intense gaze.
She shifts uncomfortably and doesn’t meet my eyes when she starts. “Since the summer before senior year.” She says in a small voice and I swear I hear my heart crack. That long? And he was still with me, kissing me, fucking me, telling me he loved me when he was doing my very own ex best friend behind my back?
“What?” I choke out, my confident posture deflating.
She looks guilty, her eyes teary but I don’t sympathize with her. “I’m sorry.” She says, sobbing. “But I swear, Leah, I didn’t plan for it to happen. I didn’t do it for any sort of revenge.”
I keep quiet, letting her continue. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep my composure if I open my mouth. Thankfully, she takes the cue and continues.
“We were both working at this bookstore for summer, I’m sure you already know that. At first, I strongly ignored him but he approached me one day. He wanted to know about why we drifted apart - you and I. He had wanted to mend our broken friendship, Leah. It wasn’t his intention to hurt you either. Apparently you talked a lot about me with him, didn’t you?” She asks, a small hesitant smile on her lips. I don’t say anything and she sighs.
“Working together and talking about you is how we got closer. So when you would be busy, he’d hang out with me. He was a good friend to have but I was still scared to face you and restart the friendship we both walked away from without a proper goodbye. I don’t know why I was scared but I was. And sometime between everything, I fell for him first. But you have to know, Leah, that I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was never going to reveal my massive crush on him to anyone, not even Amelia and Denise.”
I scoff at that. Yeah, right. “First, I was never busy that summer. And even if I was, I would have left everything to run to him, he knows that. Or he once knew. He has always been my priority. Stupid, foolish me.”
“I know you don’t believe me.” She says, wiping away her tears and nose on her sweatshirt sleeve. “But I swear I’m not lying. I even started hanging out with him less. I refused to see him outside work and even at work, I busied myself so as to avoid talking to him. My plans failed when he confronted me about ignoring him and ......” She trails off but I hear the unsaid words.
She looks away, back to the view outside. “I thought it was a one time thing. Labelled it as a mistake and swore to never see him again, never alone at least. I even got my shifts changed so to ignore him successfully but he always had a counter attack for every one of my move. I fell for him harder when I saw him trying so hard to get me back to talking with him. For the first time in my life, I felt wanted. And I know it was wrong, I know that I hurt you but I couldn’t help my heart. It fell for him, fast and hard.”
I’m well aware that I’m crying, hearing how exactly I was betrayed by the two people I loved more than anything else in this world. She looks at me, guilt weighing down her shoulder and eyes teary, like my own.
“And you got together.” I conclude, my heart being crushed, stabbed, twisted, over and over again.
She shakes her head. “Not until the school started. He came to pick me up for school on the first day and told me he wanted to talk. He told me he liked me and I, like a foolish person I was, admitted to liking him too.”
I wince, remembering the lie Sean had told me for not being able to pick me up. “Baby, the guys are hitching a ride with me, ask Grant to drop you to school, yeah?” And soon, it had become a regular thing, me catching ride with Grant while he and.........
“He suggested keeping it quiet, at least until you and he broke up and I agreed because I didn’t want to be in limelight suddenly for dating the most popular guy of the school. But it was already over a month into senior year and I was tired and ashamed of being his hidden girlfriend, specially when he was showing you off to the world as his girlfriend. I felt like I was his mistress and I felt guilty.” She looks up to meet my eyes but I look away.
“It was your birthday, still set as a reminder on my phone and the guilt eating me from the inside. I decided it was enough and told Sean I was ending it from my side. That was when he chased me to not ‘break up’ with him and you saw us. We ended things that day, Leah. But I saw him again at your place the same evening and he offered to drop me home. I should have denied but I didn’t. And we talked. He said he’ll end things with you properly and then we can be together. And I agreed because you knew now. I didn’t even think about how much I hurt you. All I could think was about how much I loved the same guy you loved and how much he loved me back.”
“He showed me how it feels to be loved, Lee, and I just couldn’t help falling for him deeper than ever.” She finishes making me wince at the nickname she used.
We stay silent, soaking in the details that now left scattered in front of us to observe and accept. There was no other choice and I was done ignoring the reality. I didn’t have enough energy or strength to look at her, honestly, I was disgusted. So I turn towards the glass window, observing the streets .
“I never moved on from you, you know?” I start, knowing I had to let it all out of my chest. “Even when the friendship between us died, I was still confident that you are that one person who’d never hurt me. You knew me better than I knew myself, Ron. And somewhere, I always thought that you felt the same for me.”
I sigh and look at the mess of the girl sitting in front of me. “Tracy was always there for me, she was my first real friend that I had after you. Being totally consumed in Sean drifted me away from you and I didn’t want that to happen with Trace too, so I hung out with her often. But I never gave her the position of my best friend. In my heart, it was always reserved for you and I knew it would never change, didn’t matter if we didn’t talk anymore, if we weren’t close anymore.”
I smile softly at my foolish, naive thoughts. “Trace always introduced me as her best friend but I didn’t. I couldn’t. It was always you for me. And even if it fucking hurt to see you replace me with Amelia and Denise, I couldn’t replace you. And then you hurt me like I had never expected to get hurt, not from you anyway and it took me by sudden surprise. But I still couldn’t bring myself to hate you. You hurt me, yes, and I wanted you to get hurt too, but I couldn’t do that to you.”
“Those pranks, it wasn’t me. I don’t know if you’ll believe me but I’m putting myself out there, for one last time. I know I didn’t deny the accusation when everyone said it was me because it made me feel powerful in a weird way. I wanted you to think that I can hurt you too, just like you hurt me, when in reality, I couldn’t even think about it. But none of it was me, it was just pretend.”
“I know.” She whispers softly, taking me by surprise but I compose myself.
I turn to fully face and her she’s looking down in her lap. I take that moment to look at her, to observe her. Her long brown hair tied in a ponytail is not the same chin length bob I remember. Her little make-up clad face is not the bare one I’m used to. Most importantly, this defeated, guilty looking girl sitting in front of me is not the one I’m used to.
“You’re not the best friend I once knew, Veronica.” I say softly. “You changed a lot and I don’t recognize you anymore. And I know, somewhere, somehow, I’m responsible for it too. You changing and our friendship dying.”
“You changed too.” She whispers.
I smile bitterly. “No, Veronica. You did. If you were my Ronnie, the girl I grew up with, you would see that what I am today is not me changed, it’s me being a little modified. Many things happened this year that shaped in a slightly different way than I was. But you can’t see it. Ronnie, my best friend would have known without me saying it out loud. But you’re not Ronnie, my best friend. You’re just another girl I had the chance of knowing once, Veronica. You’re not my best friend anymore.” I say the last words in a soft, goodbye tone, a soft whisper that the winds carried to my ex best friend’s ears.
Veronica starts sobbing hard, hiding her face in her hands and I myself blink back more tears, wiping the ones that had betrayed me and fallen on my cheeks. It’s silent for a while and it feels as the world has stopped with us too, experiencing the bittersweet heartache of this goodbye. But there is chatter around us that we are aware of but can’t listen too. The silence around us is too loud to focus on anything else.
I get up, breaking the thick hazy blanket that has been covering us for who knows how long. Startled, Veronica stands up too, looking at me with wide, red, teary eyes. I smile softly and take three steps towards her, wrapping my arms around her petite body. She doesn’t waste a second before hugging me back, crying harder, hiding her face in my neck.
I rub her back soothingly, unable to stop my tears anymore and we stay like that for another few minutes. “Goodbye, Ronnie.” I softly whisper in her ears and pull myself away, turning around without casting her another glance and walk towards the door. I know it will hurt twice as much if I look back.
I turn back slightly in the opposite direction and smile and wave at Derek who’s looking intently at me, trying to figure out the reason behind this goodbye and he smiles back a small smile, a look of understanding passing between us.
I walk out into the cold air of the night and take a deep breath, rubbing a soothing hand on my chest. It hurts, but it is bittersweet. Saying goodbye to a beautiful relation that you have known as long as you were old enough to remember things is not easy. It is a poignant moment, as all our memories, good and bad play like a movie in front of my eyes.
My eyes are teary and I’m way too emotional but a small smile is playing on my lips. I’m happy and sad both at this particular moment but I know that my smile is not a fake one anymore. And I know that even if I’m breaking apart right now, I’ll be alright , sooner or later.
I look back towards the glass window Veronica and I - no longer a we - were sitting at and she’s looking at me, tears still glistening in her eyes. I smile and give her a small wave, letting her know that I’m not mad at her, not anymore.
With this goodbye, I leave behind all the past hatred, dislike and bad intentions and thoughts behind. With this goodbye, I leave all the hurt and betrayal behind. This hurt in my chest right now is not because of how she betrayed me, my ex best friend. It’s because I’m finally closing one of the most beautiful chapters of my life.
With this goodbye, I selectively pick up all the best memories and preserve them in a small corner of my heart, leaving behind everything that went wrong between us and head back home, silently hoping that we both could forgive each other and ourselves for all the wrongs we had done in life.