I change my shirt, grab my coat and rush from the hotel. I drive too fast all the way back to Sydney’s small apartment. When I reach the front doors, I press the buzzer for her to let me in. I hear it click, open the door and take the stairs two at a time. When I reach her door, I don’t even have to knock because Sydney is already standing there with the door open.
“Hi,” I breathe.
“Hi,” she responds, looking uncertain, “before you come in, we need to set some rules.”
“Rules?” I repeat and she nods once.
“We can’t be physical,” she says, her voice steady.
“Why not?” I challenge. I know why, but I want to hear her say it.
“I have a boyfriend, and it would be unfair to him if we did anything. Before, I had a moment of weakness, but I have to do the right thing Conrad.”
“I understand,” I say and see her shoulders relax, “But I hope you won’t have that boyfriend for much longer.”
Sydney steps aside and waves me in.
I walk past her and drop onto her couch. I take a look around, absorbing my surroundings. I hadn’t paid attention when I was here earlier. The space is small, but immaculately tidy. There’s a small flat screen television set against the wall facing the couch, and surrounding the tv is bookshelves, all of them full with books, picture frames and trinkets, but mostly books. I stand up and scan the photos. There are photos from Desiree’s wedding, lots of just Desiree and Sydney, and then one that drives me nuts, of Sydney and Dane. His arms around her, his mouth near her neck like he’s about to kiss her there, but his eyes are staring back at the camera, taunting me.
“That was from a party we went to a few weeks back,” Sydney says from behind me. She reaches past me and sets the frame face down.
“Does he make you happy?” I ask her.
“He does,” she answers.
It is and isn’t what I want to hear. I want to know that she’s happy, just not with him. Feeling frustrated with myself, my hands find their way into my hair and start tugging, a habit I’ve had since I was a kid. I do it when I’m upset, nervous, embarrassed, and sometimes for no reason at all. I’m able to catch myself most of the time and make it look like I’m just brushing my fingers through it.
“But never as happy as I was with you,” she finishes.
I turn to look at her. Her face is serious, but soft at the same time. I reach out and cup her cheek with my palm. I want to kiss her, but I’ll respect her rules. Her eyes close briefly from the contact. When she opens them, I see moisture gathering there. I gesture towards the couch and we each take a seat, but she leaves a little space between us, it’s mere inches but it feels like miles.
“I would do anything to make you happy again Syd. When I left you, I thought I was doing right by you. I thought I was freeing you to live your life like a girl your age should, not tied down to me when I had no time to be with you. I know you think that I just got scared and took off, but it wasn’t like that.”
“You promised you wouldn’t leave me. Again and again you told me to be strong, to fight for us, to never doubt you, and just when I finally knew for certain that I never had to worry, you turned around and left. What am I supposed to think?”
“No Conrad, you don’t. For two years I walked around feeling empty, I was a zombie. The pain from losing you was almost too much. All I did was focus on school and nothing else. By my fourth and final year things finally started getting better, mostly because I got this apartment and I started to realize that life would get better eventually. Then I graduated and got back in touch with Dane, and he was different, grown up. He made me see that I could be happy with someone again.”
The tears flow steady down her cheeks now, and I feel like a complete and total asshole. I failed her, I let her down more than I could have imagined. I thought she would have been stronger, I thought that she would be okay. I didn’t know it was as bad as it was.
“Then I talked to Desiree today and found out that you had been contacting her, and all that you would ever ask her about was how my schooling was going.”
“I wanted to know that you were okay,” I offer lamely.
“Regarding school I was doing great because that was my whole life. I didn’t want your father’s gift to be a waste so I made it my mission to excel in his honor.”
Hearing this causes my heart to constrict and I feel the pressure forming behind my own eyes.
“If you would have just called me yourself...” she continues.
“I could have saved us both a lot of heartache,” I finish and she nods.
“Would you have come back then?” She then asks.
“Sydney, if I knew how badly you were hurting, I would have come back in a heartbeat because I was hurting too. Desiree never offered up more information.”
“Yeah well she thought there was no point in giving me false hope in case that weren’t the case.”
I shake my head adamantly and drop my head in my hands. I’m so god damn stupid.
“Of course I would have come back,” I mutter into my hands.
“We didn’t know that.”
“No, I guess I didn’t give you a reason to think otherwise.”
“So you can see why I’m so scared? You see why it’s hard for me to just give myself back to you?”
We both go silent for a long time, the air heavy around us with the information she has just given me. I process what my leaving did to her and I can’t believe how foolish I was. I should have followed my initial gut reaction and took it back right away. I knew that night when I left her asleep and heartbroken in her dorm room that I was possibly making a huge mistake, and she has just confirmed those fears.
“So you can’t tell me to just dump Dane. It’s not as easy as that. He deserves better than that from me.”
“So what you’re telling me is that you might actually stay with him? Even after you just told me that he doesn’t make you as happy as I do?”
“Well what he and I have is so new. Maybe someday...”
Are you fucking kidding me? I want to say this but that may seem too harsh.
“I think that you are just saying that to punish me right now,” I mutter instead.
She sighs loudly and I peek over at her. I can tell by the expression on her face that I’m right but she’s being stubborn.
“Sydney, you told me that your heart belongs to me. You told me that he can’t make you as happy as I do. You told me that you wished every day that I would come back. Now here I am and you’re pushing me away. I know I hurt you, but you have to know that I feel the same way as you do. My heart also belongs to you, I’ve never been happier than when I was with you, and I dreamed of dropping everything and coming back to you every single day. I just wish I followed my heart instead of my head.”
“Oh Conrad...” she groans, I’m breaking her down.
I scoot closer to her, the inches between us disappearing. I take her hands in mine and bring her fingers to my lips and kiss them. Her eyes don’t leave mine.
“Please baby,” I plead.
She opens her mouth to say something, but is interrupted by the door swinging open, and Dane storming in.
Conrad kisses my fingers and gives me a pleading look. I want to kiss him and tell him that everything will be okay. He’s the love of my life, so why am I resisting him? Because he broke your heart, that’s why. He has to know that he can’t do that to me again. Deep down I think I know that he would never hurt me again, but I’ve been wrong about that deep down feeling so many times before that I can’t trust it. So is it him or myself that I don’t trust? Maybe both but I need to figure it out. It’s a confusing feeling really. On one hand, I feel like I trust Conrad more than anybody, aside from Desiree. I would trust him with my life, but my heart? Before I can consider it further, my door swings open and Dane strides in, looking far from happy. Crap!
“I knew it! I fucking knew it!” he shouts as he slams the door behind him and storms over towards us.
Conrad is on his feet in an instant and positions himself between me and Dane.
“Da...” Conrad starts but is cut off by Danes fist slamming into his chin.
I scream in horror as Conrad falls back onto the couch and Dane jumps on top of him and lands another punch to Conrad’s face. Before Dane can land yet another hit, Conrad gains his bearings and puts his arms up to block the blows, and then is able to shove Dane off of him. Dane falls onto the floor between my couch and coffee table, and Conrad is on him in a flash, returning a swift hit to Dane’s nose. I’m scared stiff and have to force myself to move. I have to stop this before someone gets really hurt or they destroy my apartment.
“I’ve wanted to do that for years!” Conrad shouts in Danes face as he hits him again.
“Please stop!” I scream, but they continue to roll around, keeping up with each other shot for shot.
I have no choice but to put myself in there. It’s risky but I can’t just stand by and watch like a coward. I throw myself onto Conrad and grab his arm.
“Conrad stop!” I shout again, “please!”
He turns his face and the expression there startles me. I’ve never seen him look so angry before. Quickly, his eyes soften and he lets go of Dane’s now torn collar. He stands up and backs away. I can already see that Conrad now has a split lip and a black eye forming. I look down at Dane who picks himself up off the floor. His nose is bleeding and he too has a black eye beginning to form. Both of them are breathing hard from exertion.
“What the hell Dane?” I yell at him.
“Me? What the hell to you!” he yells back, “He’s back here as soon as I take off? When I left I had a bad feeling, but I ignored it. But it kept bothering me so I came back...and boy was I on target.”
“We were just talking,” I argue.
Dane scowls at Conrad who I can feel is standing directly behind me.
“Right,” Dane grunts, “I can only imagine about what. Why are you letting him mess with you all over again?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Conrad growls.
“Really? So you weren’t begging her to take you back?”
Dane waits for an answer but Conrad remains silent.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Dane continues, “I feel like I’m that same loser from back in High School all over again.”
“No Dane, that’s not true,” I say.
“Really? Then if that’s not the case, then tell him to go.”
My eyes go wide, and I glance back at Conrad who is scowling back at Dane. I return my gaze to Dane, and he’s nodding at me.
“If you care about me at all, Sydney, you’ll tell him to leave right now,” Dane reiterates.
Oh god. Slowly, I turn to face Conrad and he looks at me, a look of hurt forming on his face like he already knows what I’m about to do.
“Please don’t,” he mouths to me.
Tears form in my eyes and fall as I say the words.
“Conrad, you should leave.”
“What?” Conrad gasps.
“You heard her,” Dane says quietly, but I hear the smugness there too, “she’s with me now.”
“Not for long kid,” Conrad retorts as he turns and walks towards my door. He stops and stares at me for a few seconds before opening my door and walking out.
I wipe my tears with my sleeve before turning to face Dane who is watching me like a hawk. I walk past him and into my kitchen, grab a washcloth and run it under cold water before handing it to him. He winces as he dabs at his face, the cloth quickly saturated in blood. I take the cloth from him, rinse it out and help him clean the rest of the blood off his face before either of us say anything else.
“I can’t believe you attacked him like that Dane. What the hell were you thinking?” I ask, keeping my voice level. I’m furious with him for doing what he did, but I suppose he has every right to be just as mad, if not madder, than I am.
“I was thinking that I was going to walk in on you two fucking, actually. I’m glad I was wrong on that, but I couldn’t control myself when I seen him sitting there with you. If I waited any longer, who knows what would have happened.”
I won’t tell him that it almost happened earlier this afternoon. But I don’t think that’s where it was headed this evening.
“I’m sorry Dane, but with all of our history, it’s hard not to want to hear what he had to say.”
“I get that, but at the same time, he doesn’t deserve any more of your time. He had his chance to be with you and he blew it. He just gave up on you,” Dane implores me, “but Sydney, if you had chosen me back then, I would have never let you go. And I’m the one that’s here now, ready to give you everything you ever wanted. Doesn’t that count for something or are you still too blinded by him?”
“I’m not blinded,” I argue weakly.
“But he is affecting you. He’s the reason that you and I still haven’t slept together, isn’t he?”
“What does that have to do with anything? Maybe I’m just not ready to go there yet.”
“Oh come on Sydney. Admit it. You told me yourself that you haven’t been with anyone since him, and that was over three years ago. We’ve been together for over two months now, and we’ve known each other since we were kids, so you can’t say it’s because you don’t know me well enough.”
Dane sets the cloth aside and pulls me against him before stepping forward and trapping me against the countertop.
“I know it’s not because I don’t turn you on either, because we’ve done all sorts of other things and you always respond favorably to me. I know you’re attracted to me, so what is it?”
He dips his face closer, his lips hovering less than an inch from mine.
“Give me a chance to show you how good I can make you feel. Let me show you that I can be everything you want and need.”
With that, his lips are on mine. He kisses me hard and deep, his hands hold me firmly against his hard chest. Despite the new blood stains all over his white collared shirt, he still smells really good. I remember that I actually enjoy kissing him, before Conrad reappeared into my life this morning. Tentatively, I reach up and wrap my arms around his neck. I mean, he is my boyfriend after all. Does he have a point? Should I just give myself to him to see what else is out there? Isn’t that what Conrad wanted? For me to experience what else life had to offer me aside from him? I’m sure he’d disagree with this being the way to do that, but part of me wonders if this is exactly what I’m supposed to do.