I can see the dark silhouette down by the lifeguard tower on the beach in front of me. My head is still a little foggy from the earlier drinks, but seeing Evan in the distance has a very sobering effect on my body. I turn around, looking over my shoulder to get one last glance at Andrew as he walks down the barely lit strand. If he turns around I might lose my nerve to have this conversation and beg him to take me back to the safety of my hotel room.
He doesn’t turn around.
My sandals sink into the sand beneath my feet and I stop for a minute to take them off and dangle them from my finger. My stomach is queasy and my heart is pounding as I approach Evan. He must hear the crunch of the sand and turns around to face me as I continue to close the distance between us. Unlike at the bar, Evan smiles at me and opens his arms to invite me in for an embrace. I look back to where the lamps shine down on the strand, but can’t spot Andrew in their orbs.
“Hi, Sophie.” His arms wrap around me and I feel myself tense. He must sense it because he releases me and takes a step back.
“Hey, Evan.” I brush my bangs to the side and tuck them behind my ear to help keep them from blowing with the warm breeze that is drifting in from over the ocean. I can smell the salt and feel the moisture in the air around me. This time of the evening in Florida might be the only thing about this place that I will ever miss.
“Thanks for meeting me.” He tucks his hands into his pockets and pulls his shoulders back preparing for my words.
“Of course.” I wonder if he can see in my face how badly I have wanted to have this conversation. While I have a lot to say, I want to hear him out first. It’s been four long years since I’ve been alone with him face-to-face and I feel like this confrontation has been a long time coming.
His right hand moves to rub the back of his neck like he always does when he’s feeling nervous. I guess there are a few things that four years has not erased. I can still remember his mannerisms and feel the slight pull to reach out and to soothe him like I had done for the years we were together. Instead I curl my hand into a fist and let it stay safely at my side. He looks around for a minute before focusing on me.
“Look, I know this is horrible timing. We should’ve had this talk years ago, but I guess I just wasn’t ready,” he admits. I nod my head eager to hear the rest of his thought. “I think I made a mistake. I miss you. I know this isn’t ideal and that it could really screw things up, but I need to tell you how I feel.”
I shake my head and turn into the breeze again to help keep calm by letting the air sweep over my features and push back against the tears I feel burning my eyes. When I don’t speak he continues. “I needed to grow up. We were just moving so fast I got scared. I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?”
I turn back to his face so he can see the concern in my eyes. “What exactly are you asking my forgiveness for? Do you even know what your actions and choices have done to me? How they’ve changed my life?” I know he can’t, but I want him to try. I need him to search his soul for the apology I deserve after giving him those precious years of my life.
“I shouldn’t have broke up with you. We should’ve talked about it. I shouldn’t have forced you to walk out of my life.” His nervous rubbing has stopped and his body stands tense in front of me.
“Breaking up is part of life. It’s the risk you take every time you enter into a relationship. I don’t hold our break up against you,” I tell him. His lips curve up into a sly smile and he takes a step towards me. I instantly retreat a step away from him and watch his smile fall. “I don’t hold that against you Evan, but your next move I will never understand. Of all the girls in the world, of all the women who crossed your path after you broke my heart, why did it have to be her?”
“You took something from me you’ll never be able to give back. I trusted you. Losing that was hard enough, but losing Rachel was devastating. You shattered my world and then took the one person from me I needed to help get myself back together. You humiliated me and made my hometown too painful to return to. How could you do that if you loved me?”
“I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I wasn’t thinking and she was there, so close all the time.” He moves towards me again and this time I put my hand up to stop him.
“It’s been four years. Are you saying you haven’t been thinking for four years? Am I supposed to believe the feelings you’re claiming to have for me now have been there this whole time? Through falling in love with her to planning this elaborate wedding? Through four years of radio silence as I rebuilt my life in California? You might not have changed in four years, but I have. I’m not that naive little girl who fell in love with you. I’m a grown woman with an older and wiser heart. You will never get to do that to me again. I don’t love you anymore.”
I can see the surprise in his eyes. “You don’t mean that. If this is about the wedding I can fix it. I’ve been thinking about this since the first night. I can leave now and say I’ve changed my mind. I won’t even tell her it’s because of you. Or maybe I can marry her and then just not sign the forms or something. We still have time. I can get out of this. We should be together, Sophie. We can put this behind us.”
“You can’t be serious.” The words practically hiss from my mouth. “Rachel is my friend. I wouldn’t do that to her even if I were in love with you—which I’m not. You haven’t changed at all. You’re just as selfish as the day you ended things with us. You need to figure out if getting married to Rachel is really what you want, but don’t think for a second I’m going to factor into that equation. Come Saturday, I’m getting back on that plane and flying to California where my true friends are.
“It’s hard to build a life somewhere new, and it’s even harder when you try to do it with a broken heart. I’ve done my time in this relationship hell with you and I survived. I’m not going back there. You. Can’t. Hurt. Me. Anymore.”
His hand encircles my wrist and he tries to pull me closer but I yank myself free. “Sophie I get that you’re mad,” he says softly. “I did a really shitty thing, but come on. You can’t mean this. We aren’t done. If this has anything to do with Andrew you’re making a huge mistake. He’s been infatuated with you since we were in high school. He only thinks he wants you so badly because he could never have you. Once you let him in he’ll get over you.”
My stomach rolls again and I feel the bile rising up in my throat. My finger flies up and I press it pointedly into his chest. “You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to be a giant fucking hypocrite. You were dating my best friend before my heart even had a chance to process you being gone! You didn’t just end our relationship; you lit it on fire and burned it the fuck down! How I feel about you has nothing to do with Andrew. This is just your way of not taking responsibility for the shit that you do that doesn’t work out. Maybe Andrew has liked me for a long time, and maybe it won’t work out between us—but at least he knows how to wait and respects the unwritten rules between friends rather you deserve that respect or not.”
His voice is laced with desperation as his hand flies up to his neck again. “What am I supposed to do? I don’t want you to walk away from us. I still think this is a big mistake.”
“Grow up. Learn to make your decisions from a position of consideration for those who love you. I don’t care if you don’t want me to walk away, you don’t get to dictate what I do with my life anymore. If it makes you feel any better, I thought you were making a big mistake four years ago but now I know it was fate. Marry Rachel—or don’t. It makes no difference to me. The world will keep turning and I’ll keep living. Maybe my friendship with Rachel will survive you again, or maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter anymore—you don’t matter anymore.”
He flinches like my words have physically hurt him. It’s almost as if the weight that has been on my shoulders lifts and takes up residency on his. His shoulders drop and his eyes look away from mine. He opens his mouth to say something, but must think better of it. His lips pinch together and he finally looks me in the eyes again.
My voice is stronger now as I finish my thoughts. “I’m not going to tell Rachel about this conversation because it would only hurt her. There is nothing between you and I and there never will be. I’m not a threat to your relationship.” Taking a few steps back, I turn and head towards the strand. His voice behind me stills my legs.
“I’m going to marry her. If I can’t have you, then she’s the best I can get. She loves me. She put your friendship on the line to have me. Just know that if one day you change your mind, I’ll be here. I’ll love you forever.” He hasn’t moved, but it feels like he’s too close to me even at this distance. His words fall over me like ice, chilling my blood. I turn around and face him.
“Evan, that’s not true. There’s no way you have that much room in your small heart. It’s already too full of love for yourself. I wish you the best of luck in your life, but know I won’t be stepping back into it even if hell freezes over. You made your choices, not it’s time to live with them.”