That winter was the longest I had ever known. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but they also say time heals all wounds. I am not entirely sure which applies to me just yet; if any. I am trying to move forward, but it feels like I am doing it with a rock attached to my back. My dreams are so vivid, so painfully real- bringing intense joy and comfort- only to be shattered upon waking. I sometimes think I see him in crowds of people- I have since read though that this is a form of a coping mechanism, the brain giving us comfort in a time of extreme grief or sadness.
Because that is what this feels like, like he has died.
I walk past his house everyday, which is always empty. No sign of life, but no for sale sign either. I’ve knocked on, peered through windows. I’ve sat on the porch and sobbed like a mad woman but still, nothing. How could he just leave me? I can only imagine he had no choice, and that terrifies me.
I have found it easier these last few months, I have started skating again, I read more, and I spend alot of time in my room. I recently got accepted to the college I wanted- I should have been elated, my parents certainly were. Nothing held any excitement for me now. I know it sounds maudlin but I have never felt like I did when I was with Cal. The end of the school year loomed which inevitability brought prom. I had decided I was not going to go. The last time there was a dance was the happiest day of my life- how could I put myself through that again? I had promised to go dress shopping with Rosie and Sienna though, I was so happy for them. So this is where I found myself, in the mall waiting by the doors impatiently. I watched an elderly couple laughing together as they walked past me, a private joke only they would understand. The familiar pang in my chest came and I breathed deeply. The one good thing about my new college was its location- it wasn’t anywhere near Winterburg and I didn’t know anyone who was majoring in Psychology there like I was. I notice Rosie walking towards me, drawing approving glances from a group of guys from the year below us as they called out to her. Her slender frame was encased by jeans that look like they had been sprayed on, with a cropped long sleeved shirt- her skin glowed and her eyes shone. She laughed and came up to me, bringing me into a big hug.
‘Hey girl! How are you?! I can’t wait to pick my dress! Thank you so much for being here with me, I know it must be really hard for you.’
She stuck her bottom lip out in an attempt at humour to lighten the mood.
I plastered a fake smile on for her, taking her arm as I said,
′Do you have a colour theme?′
We linked arms as we walked in to the mall, the stores all showcasing the most beautiful dresses in the windows.
‘Yes and no. I was thinking like, gold? Or maybe red? Like a dark red, obviously.’
She wandered over to look at a dress and I spotted Sienna in the distance.
‘Sorry I am late,’ She said breathlessly. ′How are you Gretchen? I’m so glad you are here today. I need a green dress. Emerald green.′ I held my hands up, laughing.
‘Ok, lets go and see if we can get you both ready for the ball!’
Sienna regarded me sadly.
‘I can’t believe you aren’t coming Gretchen. So many boys would have taken you!’
I shook my head.
’Si, really this isn’t as big of thing for me as it is for you so honestly, please don’t worry about me...′
I tried not to think about what I would be doing if Cal was here. He would’ve took me to prom, for sure. I would be picking my dress too. We walked into Camille, one of the larger dress shops.
‘So whats with the green theme Sienna?’
I cleared my throat, desperate to change the subject.
I noticed Rosie texting on her phone, and tried to sneak a peek. She clutched the phone to her chest and giggled.
‘Nope, you are not seeing who I am texting.’
I shrugged and walked around, my fingers touching the different fabrics, the embellishments shimmering under the store lights. I turned to see the girls gasping over a deep crimson dress, in a mermaid off the shoulder with split front style. Rosie selected her size and I walked with her to the changing rooms to try it on.
’Omg it is so tight Gretch,′ I heard her cursing as she wriggled around. ’Almost got it!′
She pulled back the curtain a few minutes later and I gawped at her. ′Shit Rosie....′
′How is it possible that this is THE dress?! The FIRST one I have tried on?!′
She twirled around and I clapped my hands.
′You look absolutely amazing, I bet your secret date will feel like the luckiest man in the world!′
She laughed as she fixed a diamond choker around her slender throat. She was beaming, she clearly knew how good she looked.
’I am sure he will. Stop fishing, its tradition in my family that we NEVER share our dates name until the actual prom. Even to my bestie.′
She gave me a puppy dog smile that made me laugh.
I felt a pang of regret that I wouldn’t be doing this tonight, but I know there would be no way I could. Rosie went back to get changed and as I came out Sienna passed me in a flurry of green. I sat in the plush red armchair reserved for people giving their verdicts on the dresses, pulling my phone out to see an empty screen. I slid my phone away and smiled as Sienna came out in the first of what would be many dresses.
A few hours later we sat in ‘Guilty Pleasures’ finishing our delicious ice cream, a comfortable silence between us. We had gossiped about who was going with who to the prom, the latest scandal being that Luke was taking Krystal. It didn’t matter to me at all, being with Luke felt like a lifetime ago. The girls hugged me goodbye as they headed off for their hair and makeup appointments. I gulped down tears as they hugged me tightly.
‘Ah group hug!’ cried Sienna.
‘I feel like such a shit friend,’ sobbed Rosie as she pulled away. ‘How can you not be coming to prom....’
I wiped her eyes and squeezed her hands.
’This is my decision ok, don’t you dare let this ruin your night. You will be making memories that you will remember forever! But will you do me a favour? Can you PLEASE text me the name of your date?!′ I had a lump in my throat as I said it.
Sienna rolled her eyes and started reeling off names of potential dates to which Rosie ignored.
‘Yes, of course. It’s just a silly family tradition....’ She blushed.
We said our goodbyes and I walked back to the car park, slipping my earphones into the socket of the phone to play my latest mix. I walked down the stairs, not looking where I was going in particular. I came out onto the street, the sky already dull, the clouds dark and the air was charged with the promise of a storm. I huddled my coat around me until I reached the bus stop, music blaring in my ears. I didn’t notice the car pull up beside me until it was blocking the bus stop, and I saw a familiar head lean out the window.
’Gretchen, let me give you a lift. Please.′
I took my earphones out and walked over to the car. His blue eyes were full of concern as he motioned to the seat beside him. I just couldn’t understand this boy. What makes him think that I would ever get in a car with him again? Better yet, why did he want me to?
‘Luke, I would rather walk, you know this. Please leave me alone.’
I went to put my earphones back in when he touched my arm.
‘You know what Gretchen, we both kinda fucked up this past year. You really hurt me, you did. But then I was a dick, and I really upset you. I’m truly sorry.’
He sounded genuine and I finally met his gaze with mine.
‘I love him Luke. I’m sorry that I hurt you, but you and I have nothing else to say to each other.’
I noticed the hurt in his eyes when he nodded.
’I know, but you know what G, he isn’t here, and I am. I just want to be friends.′
He said softly, his eyes on mine. Part of me wanted to scream at him and beg for any information on Cal, but I couldn’t bring myself to.
’Thank you Luke, I really do appreciate your offer of a ride. I hope you understand why I am saying no. Have fun tonight.′
I said this as firmly as I could, aware his eyes were still on me. I stepped back as the rain started to fall. He gazed at me for a beat before smiling sadly and then pulled away from the curb with speed.
The bus eventually came towards me like a beacon in the night, and I gratefully climbed on board. I sat by the window and stared out into the darkness, the music filling my ears. I still wasn’t able to banish the thoughts in my mind that were ever there, reminding me that once I had felt something instead of this constant state of nothingness. I got off not too much later, the rain heavy now. I thought of my friends in their beautiful dresses having to contend with this weather. My boots disappeared into the small puddles that were forming on the ground as I put my face back to feel the rain on my face. I walked past Cal’s house, my heart rate increasing as it always did, to see it shrouded in darkness. I stood for a minute, the tears that fell from my face blending with the rain, making it impossible to tell the difference. Would this pain ever end? Would the thoughts ever go away? I pushed away from the fence, heading towards my own home. The rain was heavy now, I could barely see in front of me. Typical Winterburg rain. I didn’t mind it tonight, it soothed my soul. I could see an orange glow in front of me for a split second and I stopped in my tracks. I searched for it with my eyes but it was gone. More mind tricks Gretchen. Maybe I was finally losing it, hallucinating along with everything else. I shook my head and started to move faster, head down now against the wind. I ran up the drive to my house, peeling off my coat and shouting hello. It was warm and welcoming in the house and I was grateful to be away from the world. I wandered into the kitchen to find a note from my parents letting me know they had gone out for dinner. I sighed, I knew they felt guilty for my unhappiness, but really it wasn’t their fault. I pulled the elastic from my hair and flipped my head over , shaking the curls out. I flipped my head back and left it loose. I headed upstairs, thoughts of a bath and a book coming to mind. I walked into my room which was shrouded in unusual darkness. I frowned, feeling the wall for the light.. my fingers brushed the switch and flipped it on. That was better. I slung my dirty clothes into the laundry, unclipping my bra with relief. What was it about taking your bra off at the end of the day? Sheer relief. My phone pinged and I reached over and picked it up. It was Rosie.
I gasped. FINN? he was her date to PROM? How did I not guess? A million questions ran through my mind as I texted back a simple,
′Omg! Have fun, I love you!′
I walked into the bathroom smiling to myself as I imagined Finns eyes falling out of their sockets when he laid eyes on his date in that dress. I turned the taps on, hearing the rain battering the windows outside. I drizzled some bath creme into the hot water and watched idly as the water turned soapy and full of bubbles. Just then the doorbell rang, and I frowned. Who could that be? Part of me was concerned, Luke seemed to be having a hard time actually leaving me alone. But surely he would be at prom, or getting ready for prom? If it was him, I was going to lose my shit. I will hand deliver him to Krystal in a body bag. I grabbed a towel and quickly turned the taps off. I made my way downstairs and tried to see through the glass who it was. Whoever it was they had a hat on. Cautiously I leant close to the door.
’Who is it?′ I demanded. There was no answer. I started to feel uneasy. Why would someone ring the bell then not answer when asked who it was? It had to be Luke.
Fucks sake. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I gripped my towel around my body tighter, wondering what the hell I was going to do. The doorbell rang again.
’Who is it! I’m not answering the door until you tell me who it is!′ I practically screamed this, my heart pounding.