I’m silent for a moment as I absorb the weight of his question. I know why I did it, but I’m not exactly sure how to voice this because it’s a stupid reason: I was suffering and I wanted someone else to suffer with me. I have no doubt that this conversation could get messy, and end up ruining any chance I have at friendship with the man waiting patiently across from me.
I lift my eyes from my fidgety fingers in my lap to see curiosity etched into Trevor’s features. His left brow is slightly arched and his eyes are squinted just enough to make him appear interested. He doesn’t say anything as he waits for me to put my thoughts into words.
“I uh...” I pause briefly, deciding to word my answer a bit differently by starting at the beginning. “So, several years ago my family went through something pretty tragic.” I’ve closed off my brain to any sort of emotion, and force myself to just state the facts. “It tore us up pretty badly, and completely changed my outlook on life.” I push a strand of hair over my shoulder.
“I used to be pleasant. I had friends. I had boyfriends. I went to parties - the typical teenage life,” I explain, as I take a breath and glance back down at my lap. “My family was close. My dad worked in criminal law, and his job was extremely stressful, but he always managed to be home for dinner so he could spend time with my mom and me.”
I can feel my lungs getting heavy, and my breathing quickens. I take a moment to attempt gaining back my composure.
“He had one case in particular that was extremely stressful,” I tell him. “See, my father was a prosecuting attorney, so he was responsible for putting the bad guys behind bars, which is never easy.”
Trevor is so quiet that for a moment I wonder if I’m just talking to myself. I peek back up at him to find his green eyes glued to me. My breath hitches in my throat momentarily due to the attentive concern churning beneath his gaze. I go on.
“We had noticed a change in him. His job had become more burdensome. His cases becoming more crucial and his work load way more than one man should have the burden of dealing with. Over the next year, he began to change, becoming more easily irritated, snapping at my mom for petty things. We began to avoid him, hoping to not have to deal with his moods.” I sigh as I pull my hair over to one shoulder. I know where this is headed and I’m dreading the climax of my own story.
“He had just completed this really stressful case one night,” I continue. “We could tell by his posture and the heaviness in his eyes that things didn’t go well. Something about a mother and child. The mother was guilty of multiple DUI’s, child abuse, drugs...all that crap. He hates separating families from each other, but in this case, it was better for the child.”
I grab Trevor’s drink without thinking and take a sip. He doesn’t say anything, and I’m not even sure if he notices.
“Anyway,” I go on. “He wasn’t handling it well already, and then, just before dinner, he received a call. Apparently, a few weeks prior to this phone call he had discovered that one of the offenders that he had personally put behind bars had committed suicide. He felt horrible, but the news he received that night from that phone call broke him.”
I’m sure Trevor is wondering where this is all going, but he doesn’t interrupt.
“He found out that the guy was innocent. He’d spent five years of his life in prison for murder, and couldn’t take it anymore. He’d suffered while all along being completely innocent.” I take a deep breath in preparation, and I’m begging myself not to break down. “My mom and I ate in silence that night; my father couldn’t even bring himself to leave his office to join us.” My throat suddenly closes off, crippling my ability to speak. I know I can’t finish the way I had planned, so I end the story with one final sentence. “My father committed suicide that night.”
Nothing happens for a moment, and I’m scared to look at Trevor. The silence is like a persistent hum that’s damaging my eardrums and igniting a flame of panic. And then I hear his voice. It’s nearly a whisper.
I can sense sympathy wrapped around the husky word. His voice sounds dry and rough. I almost shiver as I meet his gaze. He looks like he’s literally in pain. I let out a shaky breath. There’s no way I would have been able to give him the entire story, but he seems to understand, and I’m so grateful that he’s not pushing for more detail. I finally pull myself together and wave away his concern.
“Anyway,” I say, hoping to sound a bit more spirited. I smile tentatively before continuing. “I changed that day. I became withdrawn and quiet. I basically faded into the background. I survived, but I didn’t really live. Most people seemed to understand. They heard the basic story and knew that I was grieving. My friends tried to help, but I just blew them off. They eventually left me alone...completely. This just added to my bitterness because even though I forced them to leave me alone, a part of me was hoping they would at least fight for me, or continue to badger me until I pulled through. But nope.”
I don’t realize that my face has warped into a perfect picture of hostility and bitterness until I feel his hand brush against mine where I’m gripping his glass. My knuckles are white underneath his firm strength. Goosebumps spread down my spine at the warmth engulfing my skin. There is so much emotion and meaning behind this simple connection, and I’m melting underneath my hard exterior. He offers me a gentle smile.
“You don’t have to go on if you don’t want to.” His voice still carries a gravelly quality, giving away his own emotion.
“No, I need to do this,” I tell him.
He eyes me closely for a couple seconds before giving my hand a light squeeze and releasing it. I stare at my abandoned fist for a moment before starting where I left off.
“My bitterness kind of ate me alive over the span of a year, and then you arrived.” I clear my throat, suddenly embarrassed about my next words. “As you probably read in my messages earlier today, I kind of have a thing for you.” I instantly regret my word choice and hurry to correct myself. “Had!... I had a thing for you. I saw who you were. How you treated your friends, and, most importantly, how you treated people who most would consider low and repulsive. Everyone was equal. There was never any judgment.”
I pause when I notice him shifting uncomfortably in his seat. I guess he wasn’t expecting a sappy confession.
“Then your sister arrived a few weeks after you,” I proceed to tell him. “She was everything I wasn’t—beautiful, bubbly, and blonde. She was the female version of you because she loved and accepted everyone.” I pause. “Even me.”
I look back down to hide the shame in my eyes before continuing.
“I hated this. I hated her joy. I hated her smile. Her positivity. So, I slowly removed the smile and light from her life, until she was as miserable as I was.” I chuckle lightly, but it lacks humor. “Funny, though, because ruining her life never made me feel any better.”
I pause briefly and then finish off the story quickly.
“So, basically,” I say. “Once she moved and I realized why she moved it was a major wake up call. I realized I couldn’t continue on the way I was going, so I gradually emerged from my shell, and got reacquainted with my old self. Of course, by this time, you completely hated my guts. Understandably so.” I smile at him so he knows I don’t hold a grudge, but he just looks confused.
“I’m sorry you went through all that. If I had known...” he pauses without finishing his thought, and I can see the question on his tongue before he even has to ask.
“If you liked me,” he says, “why go after my sister? What would make you think that that would get my attention?”
Before I can answer he goes on.
“I mean, it did get my attention, but in a completely negative way. I’d never go for someone who treats my family like that.”
I’m already nodding before he finishes his sentence.
“I know. And, this is a horrible reason, but if I had known you two were related I would have never treated her that way,” I explain. “I was very much out of the social loop. I didn’t hear any gossip because no one ever—and I mean ever —spoke to me. So when she joined the school a week or so after you did I never put two and two together. Especially considering that the two of you never really hung out at school and you both had completely different friends.” I pause. “I guess the last name should have been a huge giveaway, but I don’t know... I guess I was blinded by my own chance at revenge against the world. I was stupid.”
There’s a long silent pause. It’s not uncomfortable because I can tell that we’re both just absorbing what’s been said.
“Anyway, sorry for that extremely detailed, and lengthy answer to your question, but I just really needed to get that out,” I tell him.
Trevor just looks at me thoughtfully for a moment.
“I really am sorry,” I say, dipping my brow in remorse. “You’ll never know how much I mean that. If I could rewind time, I would. I made a massive mistake, and I regret it with every ounce of my being.”
I’m surprised by how humbling this experience is. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m taking a deep breath. Trevor continues to observe me for a moment before the stormy veil evaporates from his pained expression. He offers me a tired smile.
“Thank you,” he says with an exhale, and I get the sense that he too has just felt the same weight lifted.