Chapter 1: A Million Miles Away
It ended in June 2014.
It all started again in June 2019.
“So you see, he didn’t stop me from boarding the plane that day. I’m pretty sure he stopped waiting for me too - at least that’s what I’ve heard from various sources,” I explain. “Maybe he has a new girl on the sidelines…” I pause before shaking my head, not at all a fan of the idea, “I don’t know,” I confess truthfully. “I’ve been out of the loop for five years, by my own doing,” I tell her in confidence as I pick at my nails casually, slouched across the chair.
I think if Jay had begged me to stay, I would have. He didn’t though. He couldn’t find a reason for me to stay. ‘I love you’ was never good enough for him. He proved that. Technically, he didn’t break my heart. I didn’t break his. It was a joint effort. We broke each others’.
I could have stayed in touch, but I didn’t see the point at the time. I was blinded by personal issues and I was hurt. Instead, I changed my number so that the people from my past could no longer contact me. It just made things easier. Up until now, I never realized how essential leaving Minnesota was for me. I’ve learned, experienced and grown up so much in the five years that I’ve been gone. It was for the best.
The woman standing before me opens her mouth to speak, but I shush her as I continue telling her my bizarre life story just as she had requested, “Fast-forward to exactly a week later after leaving and you’d find me up in the bustling cities of New York - Manhattan, to be specific.”
New York was quite the change for me, but that’s what I needed - change.
“I found my father after two weeks of searching, but I came to regret it.” Thinking back, I wish I hadn’t found him. Things between us never went as planned. If anything, we’re further apart than we ever were before.
I carry on with my story (much to the impatience of the elderly woman before me), “But my dad didn’t seem to care that I’d been tracking him down with Jay - my lifeline back then - for the last year,” I elaborate to keep the women updated and interested with the events that went down five years ago.
“Jay was right,” I sigh in defeat. “In the end, my father did not want to be found.”
In fact, my father barely gave me a second glance. The wound is still fresh in my heart, hence why I refuse to tell the lady exactly what happened between us. My dad’s a cruel man. I’ll leave it as that.
“I know I should tell you everything, but I have a hard time opening up,” I confess truthfully, hoping that she’s taking down some notes.
I might not have gained a father out of leaving, but I did go through a valuable learning curve. Looking back, leaving Minnesota was for the best. I’ve overcome past obstacles and internal issues - specifically with my birth mother’s death, as well as my stepmother’s abuse. I’ve grown. Never before have I felt so content in life. The heavy weight that I’d previously been carrying is no longer upon my shoulders. For the first time, I feel entirely free.
I inspect the woman in confusion, “Aren’t you going to write that down?” I query, seeing the notepad and pen in her hand but not seeing her jot anything down.
The woman opens her mouth in protest, “Ma’am-“
I unintentionally cut her off once again as something else springs to mind, “I was supposed to return back to Minnesota after that, but when my father - a wealthy businessman - relocated, I didn’t see the point in leaving New York. He was no longer there to hold me back. I could actually make a life for myself in New York City. So I did.”
I carry on with my long explanation as I get comfy in my seat, just about lying down across it, “Skip to now, five years later, and here I still am…in New York.” I come to a dark conclusion, “I never went back home.”
Shaking my head in despair, I glance back up at the woman in uniform to see her annoyed facial expression - I should probably get back on track. “Sorry,” I apologize to her, then seeking clarification, “what did you ask me again?”
The women, silent, blinks down at me in frustration as if trying to work out what is wrong with me. I’d be offended if I wasn’t already used to that look. I’ve received that look all my life.
“What do you want to order?” the woman finally answers me, clearing her throat in wonder as she breaks from her stupor. She’s puzzled by my mentality.
I watch as a misplaced frown slides upon her lips, her eyes expressing her anger. It’s enough to bring me out of the story that had been constantly replaying through my head for the past week.
“I distinctly asked you - about an hour ago - what you wanted to order to eat, Miss. That’s all I asked,” she clears up, her tone revealing her impatience.
Ignoring her brash personality, I rather take the liberty to conclude, “So that’s my story, that’s me.” I huff in exhaustion, leaning further back in my seat as I cross my arms behind my head, “Lay the advice on thick for me,” I request, eager to hear her opinion on the matter.
They say that the older you are, the wiser you are.
The older lady rolls her eyes at me, puffing out a breath of pure irritation, “For the millionth time, girlie, I’m not a shrink, a therapist or any of that sort. I’m not qualified for that stuff. I’m just a waiter. I’m just trying to do my job here.”
She huffs in irritation before motioning to me to sit on my seat properly. I’d been slouching comfortably whilst revealing my entire life story to her from start to end (in detail). I waste time in doing as she says, slowly pulling myself into an upright position.
“This is a café, not a counseling room. It’s inappropriate to lounge across two seats like that. It’s not a beach either. And for goodness sake, get your damn feet off the table!” she scolds, shaking her head at me as if reprimanding a small child. “People eat there, you infant! Again, just so you get it this time ’round, I’m not your shrink,” she reminds me in a harsh tone, emphasizing the ‘not’ part.
It’s not my fault that it’s easy to forget. She would do well as a shrink. It’s this kind of attitude from others that I need in order to stir up some common sense within me.
“But you’re old,” I mumble lazily, hoping she’d catch the hint.
I quickly jolt up straight when she narrows her eyes at me. She’s almost as terrifying as Grams, almost.
From what I’ve seen in movies, old people are supposed to listen to young strangers and give them advice. It happens all the time. Old people should all be shrinks. I’m sure it’s an unspoken rule of some sort. It has to be. They’re all qualified through their own life experiences.
“I’m just a waiter,” she corrects, glaring daggers at me as she folds her arms across her chest in a defiant manner. “I asked for your order and you gave me your life story. I asked you what you wanted to eat, and instead, you asked me for food for thought,” she grumbles, unimpressed with me for wasting her time with my terribly long story. “If you want advice, go see a damn psychologist, not your local food court waiter!” she raises her tone as if to get it through my head once and for all.
Her blank notepad is starting to make some sense to me now…
I chew on my bottom lip in contemplation before quickly getting up and grabbing my bag, making a straight b-line for the exit.
The woman gives me a once over, confusion embedded in her eyes, “Where are you going?” she asks me, at a complete loss.
Home, I’m going home.
“Take a hint, lady…” I turn back to face her, “if I’m here at a food court to use it as a therapy room, the food here must be dang awful.”
“You mean to tell me that you reserved your own table for nothing? You sat down here for two hours straight just to tell me your entire life story?” she sputters, blinking rapidly as her fury sets right into place.
“Who sits down at a café, for hours on end, only to order absolutely nothing in the end?!” she hisses at me, her words falling on deaf ears, as she comes to register and process everything, including what I’d done.
And to think that I was going to tip her…
“Since when did it become a crime to talk to someone about life issues?!” I call to her over my shoulder, no longer holding back.
“Since shrinks came into being!” she answers me in a shout of infuriating noise.
People begin to turn to see what all the commotion is about.
I improvise, lifting my chin high as I waddle out the food court with the last of my pride and dignity intact, “It was a rhetorical question! Need not be answered!”
Totally won that!
“And who wears pajamas and slippers when going out?!”
She’s adamant in having the last say.
“I do! It’s a free country! You don’t see me whining about your ‘back in my day’ comments!” I yell in spite of her not saying that once. I’m just making a petty generalization to point out how incredibly old she is.
I’ll just ignore the middle finger that she’s currently showing me.
Lying atop the roof of his car, under the warm sun, while I patiently wait for him is enough to kill me. He’s taking forever. The sun’s rays feel great, but it’s also draining up all my energy. I’m going to fall asleep here if he doesn’t pitch soon.
A loud tapping on the side of the car startles me awake. In shock, I end up losing my balance, resulting me in sliding right off the car and onto the hard ground below.
The sound of his lively laughter brings me back to the land of the living. My eyes settle upon him in a glare, “Took you long enough,” I huff from my position in the dusty sand.
“I was busy, Leech,” he remarks nonchalantly, referring to me by the nickname he’d used on me all the way through high school.
He has a mischievous grin on his face as he stands above me, refusing to help me up, totally milking this.
“You can help me up now, ‘CityBoy Maggot’,” I order, pouting up at him, silently willing for his help.
“Nah, I’m good,” he winks at me teasingly, laughing the matter off as he heads back inside his mansion.
“Mason!” I scowl after him before lazily getting up from the dirt and following after him with a casual stroll.
He was supposed to return to Minnesota too, but I guess he got carried away with the idea of New York as well. New York has something refreshing about it. The city grows on you rapidly, like a fungus. You can’t help but not want to leave.
Mason and I, without jobs or money, shared a flat for our first year spent in New York. In the second year, I decided it was best to find my own place, especially when he made it apparent that he wanted something more to happen between us. Unfortunately, I had to clarify and make it explicitly clear that nothing would ever happen - nothing more would come from our friendship.
I told him that it was always going to be Jay. I told him that he had to let me go for good. We didn’t speak for a while after that. Yet now, we’re good friends again - the way it was meant to be from the very start.
Mason changed after that. He became more distant to the whole concept of dating, love etcetera. He became withdrawn from it entirely. It’s almost as if he just gave up on that area in life. Instead, he focused all his energy into his work efforts until he became physically drained and exhausted by the stress. At least something good came from all of it - he’s now stinking rich, hence his mansion. His hard work paid off in the end.
My father must have been some kind of inspiration to him because today Mason is also a multimillionaire.
‘Montry Enterprises’ was started up as a small company by the amateur entrepreneur himself - Mason. Couple years down the line and let’s just say that Mason is no longer an amateur in the corporate world anymore. He’s made quite the name for himself. As his friend, I couldn’t be more proud.
In the third year, Laiken - Mason’s best friend - moved up to New York too. Mason made him a partner in ‘Montry Enterprises’. Laiken’s definitely reaping the benefits through helping Mason in the business. Their turnover is massive. Mason is the one that works the background scenes, all the important work, and Laiken is the face of the company - the charismatic one who attracts potential investors and clients.
Currently, the two of them were just discussing strategies for their next ‘Go Live’ - hence why I was forced to wait outside for so long. Apparently, I can’t be trusted enough to sit in on their stupid meetings. It’s not like I’m going to steal their work. That’s only a last resort option, say me failing in life.
“What up Law?” Laiken greets me enthusiastically upon seeing me. I smile when he raises his hand for a high five.
Him and Mason - businessmen - are both dressed in suits like always. As for me, I prefer my PJs, for today anyway. It’s an off day. I don’t really care what they think. They’ve both seen me at my worst in any case.
“’Sup ‘Home Slice’,” I grin, returning the high five. Laiken’s become a good friend too. We’ve really hit it off. He’s a dork, but a cool one nonetheless.
“What brings you to Mason’s place, huh?” he teases, wagging his eyebrows at me as if to imply something else altogether. He knows fully well that nothing has ever happened and nothing will ever happen between Mas and me. I’ve just never felt the same way. “I see that you’re in your pajamas at his house again. Come now, ‘Law Law’,” he winks playfully, making a joke out of it as per the usual.
“I’m curious too,” Mason admits, speaking up to make his presence known, “you did say it was important,” he reminds me of the urgent matter I have to discuss with him.
I’ll use Mason as my shrink instead of that old grumpy pot at the food court.
“Ooooh,” Laiken smirks in delight before emphasizing, “important, you say?” he winks at me and pats the empty seat beside him on the couch, interested to hear what it is that I have to say.
It’s not very often I use the word ‘important’. If I do use it, I usually use it lightly.
I help myself to a seat before getting straight into it, “I think it’s time I go back home.”
Laiken raises an eyebrow in interest, “You are home,” he states, confused as to what I mean by that. He knows just how much I love New York. I haven’t brought up Minnesota to him in years.
Jay was once my home, the only home I ever really knew. When I left him, I left home.
I shake my head at Lai, disagreeing with him, “No, I don’t think I am.”
Mason, knowing what I meant by my initial statement, offers me a soft smile in turn, “I knew this day would eventually come,” he says as if having predicted this. “You’re talking about Minnesota, aren’t you?” he asks knowingly.
Laiken sputters out all the coffee he’d just been drinking, “What?!”
The poor guy’s obviously in shock. He did not see this coming.
“I want to go home,” I repeat, clearing it up for him. Laiken is sometimes a bit on the slow side of things. “I wanted to get Mason’s opinion,” I inform him, briefing him.
Laiken knows that I trust Mas a lot. Through the past five years, we’ve grown close. I value his opinion. What he says, matters. I don’t take him for granted anymore. I appreciate the friendship we have. It took a long time, but we’re finally in a good place.
“You can’t leave,” Laiken suddenly frowns, directing his words at me, “I’d miss you constantly annoying me on a daily basis,” he confesses sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck as he averts his brown eyes from me.
It’s very rare he says such sweet things to me. He prefers teasing.
I smile at his words, knowing that I’d miss him and Mas too if I were to leave. I’d miss them both immensely.
“Our agreement was that if Mason’s company stopped kicking at any point in time, we’d go in business together instead - behind his back of course,” Laiken recovers, shooting me a half smile as he recalls that discussion we once had when Mason was not around to hear any of it.
However, Mason’s company is a huge success. They’re both rich bachelors as a result. They can have anything and anyone for the taking. Laiken definitely takes advantage of his fame and fortune. He’s had so many flings in the past three years, I stopped counting. Mas, not so much. Mas stays low key.
“Love the faith you guys have in me. Such good friends,” Mason retorts, sarcastic. He then gets serious as he suddenly glances my way, “You need to do what you need to do. If going back is what it takes to make you happy, then I support you in this decision.”
I knew Mason would get it.
“Well, I don’t.” Laiken glowers at me jokingly, “You’re a loser for leaving.”
I pull a face at Laiken, only for him to do the same, pulling a face back at me.
Mason rolls his eyes at us, managing to capture my attention. “Thank you, Mas,” I shoot him a sincere smile from the heart, glad that he is choosing to offer his support.
“Anytime,” Mason whispers, genuine.
He means it. I can come to him about anything at any time.
I hug him and Laiken goodbye after that.
I want to leave as soon as possible. I think I’m finally done with New York.
“Say hello to Luce for me, yeah?” Lai requests, his parting words to me.
“Obviously,” I wink, wondering how different Lucy must be by now.
I’m sure a lot has changed.
I can’t help but get butterflies at just the thought of returning to Minnesota. It’s been so long - five years to be exact.
“Aqueela!” a voice calls from across the streets.
Being the absent-minded idiot that I am, I act on instinct, stopping dead in the middle of the busy street as I turn to face the person calling me. I let go of my suitcase and lift my hand to wave at him. The people all blow their horns at me as they slam on brakes as if to avoid driving right over me. They all have to swerve to a brutal halt.
“Get out the road first, you dweeb!” he exclaims in worry when realizing that he could have got me killed just then.
He caught me off guard - his fault.
I reluctantly obey and make my way over to him. I stroll slowly, with my suitcase on wheels, across the busy street infested with cars. I blatantly ignore all the impatient people cussing me out from within their vehicles. Some even roll down their windows to flip me the bird, but I pay no attention to them, lost to my own world.
When I’m halfway across the street, I realize that I’ve left my second suitcase on the other side. I quickly do a one-eighty and head back for it, much to the rising tempers of all the people waiting for me for me to get out of the street already.
Fortunately, I eventually make it off the streets alive.
“What is the matter with you?! Don’t stop in the middle of the street! I almost had a heart attack!” he lectures me first thing upon spotting me.
Thankfully, I changed out of my PJs or this could have been a lot more embarrassing than it already is.
“Heyo!” I greet him happily with a wave. My high spirits are accompanied by a bright, peppy smile on my face.
I step forward to hug him, but he’s not having it today.
“Thank goodness luck is on your side today,” the man in the suit and tie breathes out in relief. “You could have got hit by a car just then,” he points out, breathing heavily as he holds on tightly to the black briefcase in his hands.
He’s dressed formally, as always, yet still ran to try and save my life.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” he states frantically, still heaving slightly from having to sprint over.
I grin up at him in reassurance, “You worry too much, Keag.”
If I did get rammed by a car, it would be his fault for distracting me.
I think the main reason why we’re friends, would be because of his obsession with hats. He’s never seen without one. He reminds me of Neal from ‘White Collar’. The only difference is that Keagan isn’t quite as laid back. Keagan has it together. He’s very organized, not to mention paranoid. He’s a bit on the nerdy side, but I like him all the same.
“Your photography is brilliant. You have raw talent,” he says randomly, out of the blue, after having first caught his breath.
Keagan’s not one to dish out compliments easily. It’s just not his style. Instead, as my friend and boss, he prefers to insult my work in order to show off his superiority. He’s a perfectionist like that. I tend to throw it in his face every now and again, if, on rare occasions, his work is not up to his usual high standards.
He insults me; I insult him. It’s only fair.
“Thank you for finally stumbling upon this magnificent truth that I’ve always known to be true,” I reply back, humble and modest as ever.
I’m actually confused as to where he’s taking this. His remark is so out of character for him. It’s odd.
“You have a bright future ahead of you at ‘Worldwide Coverage’,” he casually drops in, “so my question to you is, why are you giving it all up?”
I predicted this coming.
After I left Minnesota, I put my photography skills to use and got myself a job at a huge photography company - ‘Worldwide Coverage’. Ever since, I’ve been working under my superior - none other than bossy Keagan McCray himself.
“Some things are just more important than photos, McCray,” I tell him, earnest in my words, hoping he’d understand.
Memories are more important than photos. When asked to put together a project for work, I was forced to go through old photos in search of all the best ones I’d ever taken. What I found got me thinking, hence my decision to leave New York for good. My time here seems to be up. I need to leave.
“I saw your resignation letter that you left behind. You were just going to leave without a goodbye or a form of an explanation?” he questions in dismay, disappointed.
I nod, refusing to shy away from the truth.
He shakes his head at me in turn, “You are just as uncultured as when you first came. I’ve taught you nothing.”
Not going to deny it.
I don’t take what he says to heart. Keagan McCray, I’ve come to find, is a difficult person. He’s not exactly ‘nice’ per say, but he’s not exactly a grump like Grey Ferrot either. He’s a mix. He’s in between. I’ve come to accept it, accept him.
He’s a few years older than me, so he also lacks patience. He’s a lot more mature than me as well but still tolerates me anyway. I can’t ask for more than that. If anything, I should be thanking him for being so lenient with me.
“In all seriousness, what are you doing, Aqueela?” he asks me sternly, gripping onto his hat as to prevent it from blowing away with the strong gush of wind. “You were about to be promoted to chief photographer,” he informs me of a revelation that I already knew.
When Keagen’s out, I enjoy looking through the personal file he has on me, along with all my records. It’s always nice to keep tabs on myself and the impression I’m making on others.
He resorts to pitiful begging, “Please don’t go. You still have that major project to put together. Let’s talk about this rationally before you make any more rash decisions,” he suggests kindly in the hopes of getting me to change my mind.
Leaving has been set on my heart for a while now. It’s not a rash decision. This is a well-thought-out decision.
There was a time when I had to leave Minnesota, now it’s time I go back. I know that with certainty.
Keagan was the first to befriend me in New York. He’s the one who got me my job at ‘Worldwide Coverage’. He pulled some strings for me because he was able to relate to my love for photography.
Since then, I’ve been working alongside him for the past five years. We make a fantastic team despite our obvious differences. I owe him everything and he knows that. However, there’s someone else in this world that I owe more, so much more.
“Did you even go through all your photos like I asked of you?” he quizzes, trying to persuade me to stay. He’s not letting up on this matter anytime soon.
I nod at him, “I did.” I confirm.
“And?” he prods.
“And with past photos come past memories.”
When I went through my photos, I came across all the old ones taken, the ones from five years ago. The image of him and me just happened to set something off. Seeing his face, despite it being just a picture, resurfaced all the feelings that I’d been trying to bury.
“It’s thanks to your advice that I’ve made the decision to quit,” I vaguely explain, aware that he’s not following.
With my pointer finger, I motion, impassively, to around us as if the world itself is eluding me, “New York is toxic,” I finalize in conviction.
“Are you insinuating that this is all my fault?” Keagan asks in disbelief, lifting a challenging eyebrow as if daring me to say ‘yes’.
In some ways, he reminds me of the male version of Bells.
I take up to the challenge and nod in confirmation, “Yup.”
He gives me a deadpanned stare in response.
I ignore his look and yank him in for a much-needed hug instead. “You’ve done so much for me, McCray,” I whisper. “Thank you for opening up my eyes. I now see that home is where I need to be,” I pause, “all rhymes intended,” I wink at him as I step back, releasing him from my tight, suffocating grasp.
He rolls his eyes, not sure how to react in this situation, “You’re so dramatic, it’s nauseating.”
I notice him trying to stifle a smile and swallow back a laugh.
“If this is what you really want, I’ll accept it,” he finally comes to terms with my decision, choosing to let me be. He has my best interests at heart. I can see that.
“Thanks, McCray,” I conclude, a faint smile on my lips as I savor the bittersweet moment shared.
“Keagan, it’s Keagan,” he huffs for the umpteenth time this week, wanting me to use his first name instead.
“Keagen,” I correct with an amused grin, deciding to let him have his moment seeing as it will be the last between us.
“If you ever want back in ‘Worldwide Coverage CC’, then just come to me.” He sighs, “All rhymes intended,” he mimics, sending me a wink to humor me. “I’ll find a way to rope you back in if you’re ever to return. After all, you’re the best colleague I’ve ever had the privilege of working with,” he admits, still clinging to his hat as the wind does its best to try and blow it off the top of his chestnut colored hair.
I hold back a chuckle at the sight. He’s such a goof. Nonetheless, the fact that he referred to me as his colleague warms my heart.
“Wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere, Keags,” I reply, truthful.
He’s been my anchor through the struggles. He’s guided me through the toils of life. He’s been my mentor. I’ve learned a lot from him in these past five years. He’s watched me mature and grow…well as much as any Aqueela can.
“When’s your flight?” he asks, breaking the emotional atmosphere. He doesn’t do sappy. He doesn’t quite know how to behave or act during tragic times.
My eyes widen in alarm at the reminder. I quickly grab hold of his arm, without his permission, and roll up his blazer sleeve to check his watch.
“In ten minutes,” I answer in an ‘easy-going’ manner, letting out a breath of relief. I still have a few seconds to spare and a few more minutes left to kill.
Keagan’s face is overcome by concern as he gives me an encouraging push in the direction of the airport, “Don’t just stand there, get going!” he orders, bossing me about as always.
I listen and run back across the street with all my suitcases in tow. The cars honk repeatedly when I fail to look both ways before crossing.
Despite all the noise, I only hear his parting words:
“Get your life back!”
I intend to…
“Minnesota huh?” The black-haired girl, beside me on the plane, asks, trying to initiate some conversation between us.
I nod at her, “I grew up there.”
Fortunately, the flight from New York to Minnesota is only two hours and twenty-seven minutes. I might as well talk to pass the time. I need the distraction.
“Nice,” she smiles in a friendly manner as we take off into the air, “my boyfriend lives there,” she tells me, her blue eyes shining with fondness as she refers to him.
“Yeah?” I ask just for the sake of taking my mind off things.
“I work in New York, but I often visit him. It’s kind of a long distance thing. His name is Benley,” she answers. “We’ve been dating for three years now. Hopefully, I’ll be sharing his last name soon,” she smiles coyly at the idea before tucking a dark strand of her hair behind her ear.
It could just be a coincidence…
“His surname?” I question, hoping I don’t come across as suspicious.
I just have to know.
The Benley I knew always had game, but to score such a girl in front of me…well it’s just difficult to believe. I mean, it’s Ben Ben we’re talking about. He’s a loon - a goofball. This girl is the definition of beautiful and sweet. She is approachable and way out of his league. How he landed her, I’ll never know.
The girl raises an inquisitive eyebrow, but slowly answers nonetheless, “MacAllister.”
The surname brings an enormous smile to my face - it is him!
“Do you by some chance…”she pauses, hesitating, as if putting two and two together, “know him?”
I shrug and nod, “I guess you could say so. Something like that.”
He used to be one of my best friends…
It’s as if she registers something because suddenly a panicked expression crosses her features, “Oh gosh!” she gapes in thought, “You’re not ‘Bex the ex’, are you?”
I burst out laughing at that, shaking my head at her.
Benley had obviously told her about Bex leaving him for Dylan then.
“Oh hell no,” I answer through my fit of giggles. “My name is Aqueela,” I clarify, introducing myself properly.
Before I can say anything more, she’s already speaking over me in an enthusiastic tone of voice, “You’re Aqueela? Aqueela Lawson? You’re a legend, judging from the stories I’ve heard from him and the others.”
“Really?” I ask, wondering who ‘the others’ are.
She nods, a smile on her face, “Benley talks about you all the time.”
I thought I’d be forgotten by now.
“He does?” I question, glad that Benley finally found himself a nice girl to settle down with. If they’ve been dating for three years, it has to be serious.
She nods, “Totally.” A grin spreads across her features, “He also mentioned that you’re a little on the whacky side…” she trails off in good nature as she analyzes me carefully, “I personally don’t see it,” she winks at me playfully.
“I guess I’ve grown up since then,” I say, returning her grin.
“Maybe so,” she agrees, both of us falling silent.
I always said that I’ll never grow up.
“He’s picking me up at the airport,” she breaks the silence. “Maybe you can stop by for a sec and say hi?” she suggests. “I know that he’d love to see you again.”
“Sure!” I agree excitedly, slightly apprehensive as to how he might react to my return.
“Great,” she flashes me another warm smile.
I hope it will be.
“So, Aqueela, if you don’t mind me asking…” she starts and then stops mid-sentence as if doubting herself.
I motion for her to continue, now curious to see where she’s going with this.
With some encouragement, she finishes her sentence, “why did you leave Minnesota in the first place?”
“Internal struggles never truly parted ways with me,” I decide to confide in the stranger before me, leaving out the details whilst avoiding her invading blue eyes in shame.
My gaze strays to where the scars on my arms used to be.
“There were just some nightmares I wanted to escape,” I make an attempt to explain as she listens attentively to every word.
Back then, I thought laughing and smiling was the key to being happy, the solution. I never really dealt with the real issues - abuse and neglect. Thus, subconsciously, the torment still lingered.
Her blue eyes soften, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked-“
I wave it off, “It’s alright,” I reassure her.
The weight I once carried has dissipated with time. The constant battle in my mind has ended. I’m no longer bound by memories or caged in by a horrific past. It’s behind me now. Fives years, alone and in a new city, has taught me to become independent.
“So why go back there at all?” she asks, cautious as not to upset me yet still inquisitive to hear more.
I falter, sucking in a deep breath, contemplating on how to answer such a question.
“To face what I couldn’t.”