The past week has been the most excruciating of my entire life. I’m not even sure how I got through it; it passed in more of a daze. I didn’t feel like sleeping or doing anything but lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling. The one time I left the house was to do some essential grocery shopping, only to leave the food I prepared untouched.
One thing occupies my mind: Aaron. Thinking about him and what he told me sends me on one rollercoaster ride after the other, and I go through the whole range of negative emotions.
Anger gnaws at my nerves because Aaron left me like he did, throwing all these things at me and then abandoning me to my own devices to digest everything. I feel hurt by what he said and worry at the same time that he—even though he told me otherwise—regrets what happened between us. It might not have been this intense if those things hadn’t happened? Fuck this! Frustration makes his words echo in my head over and over, but then fear takes over. Worst-case scenarios play out in my mind, and it disturbs me that I don’t know if Aaron is all right.
Then the worst feeling of them all surfaces—longing. Despite the anger and frustration, I miss him like crazy. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me—either with his actions or with his words. At some point, I thought this was one big joke—that he was trying to sell me some stupid story so he could break up with me. But he said he didn’t want to end things, and I have to believe him; I have to hang on to the hope he’ll return to me.
As promised, Aaron texted me a couple of days after he dropped that bomb on me, but it wasn’t much. He apologized again and reassured me he was doing his best to fix this.
Starting a new attempt at finally having some lunch, I sit down at the kitchen table with a heavy sigh. I stare at my sandwich, rubbing my chest. Not even one minute passes where I don’t yearn for Aaron. I know I can’t do this much longer. Maybe I should return home after all.
No, that’s still not an option. I haven’t spoken to my mom since she called to tell me she knew. I certainly can’t go back with a broken heart; I don’t have any strength left in me to face my parents because I can’t give them an explanation for the state I’m in. I could call Amber, and I’m sure she wouldn’t hesitate to book the next flight to New York, but I don’t want to entangle her in this mess as well.
With a groan, I pick up the sandwich, take a bite, and wash it down with some water. When I take another sip, a knock on the front door startles me, and my drink goes down the wrong pipe, making me cough like crazy. My heart races from that alone, but when thoughts pop up about who my visitor could be, it beats even faster. I break out in a cold sweat when I take into account it could be the guy Aaron warned me about. But why would he turn up in broad daylight?
Damn, I’m getting paranoid.
Once my coughing fit is over, I approach the front door with careful steps, and that’s when I hear it—a happily giggling infant and her mom, who tells the little girl to stop fidgeting. Just like that, the tension leaves my body, and I let out a shaky laugh. I open the door and greet Amy and Bella with a smile. “Hey, guys!”
“Kaitlyn!” Amy smiles back at me. “So you are home.” Her smile turns into a frown when she takes a closer look at me. “Are you okay?”
“Um, sure.” I nod and step aside. “Do you want to come in?”
Tilting her head, Amy gives me a sad smile. Yeah, I wouldn’t believe me either.
With Bella still in her arms, Amy follows me into the kitchen and gratefully accepts the water I offer her. She puts down Bella on the floor, gets a sippy cup out of the diaper bag she brought, and hands it to her daughter. Bella takes a few sips before she grabs the bag to look for some toys. While the little girl is occupied, Amy turns to me. “I’m sorry for showing up unannounced,” she says. “And I’m not gonna beat around the bush. Phil sent me.”
I frown and let out a heavy sigh. Of course. Philip came by yesterday, and as much as I wanted to act like everything’s all right, I obviously failed. “Why?” I ask, at least trying to pretend I don’t know what she’s getting at.
Amy looks over to the kitchen table. “Let’s sit down.” As soon as we do, she scrutinizes me. “Phil is worried about you. He hasn’t seen Aaron around for a few days, and now he thinks something happened.”
I lower my head and bite my lips. There’s no way I can keep up appearances, so I might as well confide in her. “Yeah, well...” I clear my throat, still avoiding Amy’s gaze while fiddling with a napkin that’s lying on the table.
She leans closer and places her hand on my forearm, giving it a soft squeeze. “You’re really not looking good, Kaitlyn. What happened?”
With a deep breath, I look up into her face. “You’re right,” I confirm with a curt nod. “Something happened.” Directing my gaze to my fingers, which pick apart the napkin, I continue. “Aaron came by last week, telling me about his past.” I throw her a cautious glance, not sure about how much she knows and what I can share with her.
“About the gang?” Amy wrinkles her nose. “I know about that part of Aaron’s—and also Ben’s—past, so this isn’t news to me.” With a reassuring smile, she motions me to go on.
I clear my throat. “Okay. Now there’s this guy who wants to buy the bar where Aaron works so he can use it as a new location for his drug trafficking. To get Aaron to do what he wants, this guy uses me as leverage.”
“Fuck!” she says, but she covers her mouth as soon as she realizes what she said. She gives Bella a quick look, but luckily, the girl is immersed in her book and didn’t hear what her mom said. “Shoot. Gotta be so careful what I say around her these days.” She sighs. “So is this about Jackson?”
My eyes widen. “You know him?”
She grimaces. “Well, we had one unpleasant encounter, and I’ve heard a few stories about him. He pulled the same sh–shenanigans,” she corrects herself again, “when Ben and I had just started dating. He found out about us and thought that would give him some kind of advantage. Aaron owed Jackson some info, and according to him, it was time for Aaron to pay up. One night, he ambushed me, mainly to give me a good scare.”
“No way!” I exclaim. A cold shiver runs down my spine when I listen to Amy’s story, making the hair on the back of my neck lift.
She nods and lets out a heavy sigh. “Yes. I gotta admit, he succeeded in scaring me, but it all turned out well, and he hasn’t come near me again.” With her arms crossed in front of her chest, she leans back in her chair, furrowing her brows. “Come to think of it, this explains Ben and Aaron’s weird behavior. They’ve been talking more, just the two of them. I was wondering what that was all about.” She studies me a moment with a frown forming on her forehead. “Did he break up with you?” she asks just above a whisper.
Biting my lips, I shake my head. “He wants to stay away from me until this is over. And now I’m waiting.”
Amy lets out a long breath. “Man, what a mess. I’m sorry.”
Before she can say more, Bella interrupts us by turning up next to her mom with outstretched arms. Amy picks her up, and Bella snuggles up to her, rubbing her eyes. Amy checks the time. “Oh, you’re right, sweetie. It’s naptime.” She gets up, placing Bella on her hip. “I’m sorry, but we gotta go.” Amy grabs the toys and stuffs them in the diaper bag. “Call me if you want to talk, okay?”
I nod as I get up and walk behind her to the front door. “I will. Thanks.”
“Anytime.” She gives me a warm smile. “If you’re up to it, we could even have lunch tomorrow and talk more. Ben is looking after Bella, and I have some free time on my hands.”
“Sure, I’d like that.”
After discussing the details, we say goodbye, and once the house is quiet again, I sit on my usual spot on the couch with my phone in hand. My whole body feels cold and my limbs heavy. My eyes prickle with tears while memories of Aaron and me overwhelm me once again. Like so often over the past days, my fingers hover over the screen before they type a message out of their own accord. With a heavy sigh, I hit send.
I miss you.
Not expecting to get an answer, I put the phone back on the table and lie down. Aaron answered none of my texts or calls. He thinks it’s for the better to refrain from any kind of contact, but I can’t help it. I have to try, but I usually try in vain.
That’s why I almost fall off the couch when my phone beeps. I sit up abruptly and grab it but drop it—twice. “Fuck,” I curse under my breath. When the phone is finally securely in my hands, I unlock it and stare at the message.
Aaron: I miss you too, Sunshine.
My heart hammers in my chest, and I expect it to burst out of my ribcage any second now. The adrenaline rush sets off a heatwave in my body as I keep staring at Aaron’s answer with wide eyes and trembling hands.
Me: U txted bcak.
Groaning, I send another text.
Me: Sry, my shaky fingrs cant type.
It takes another minute—which feels like half an eternity—before my phone beeps again. The corners of my lips lift the tiniest bit as relief washes through me that he’s not ghosting me.
Aaron: Fuck, Sunshine. I’m so sorry.
Me: Stop apolgizing an do smth useful w/ ur time.
Aaron: Okay, take a deep breath. You’re a writer and not some teen that’s in a hurry ;)
After reading his text, a cathartic laugh emanates from my chest, and my eyes well up with tears. My blurry vision makes it even harder to type my answer.
Me: You are right. I am. I can do better than that.
Aaron: See? And it only took you about five minutes to type those three sentences.
A half-laugh, half-sob escapes me, and I cover my mouth with one hand, while the other types my next text with a newfound lightness.
Me: Shut up!
Me: Oh, no, I didn’t mean that! Talk to me. Any news?
Aaron: Only little progress, unfortunately.
The smile on my lips falters as reality comes crashing back. My shoulders drop, and I have to swallow hard to get rid of the big lump in my throat. The giddiness from just a moment ago is gone. My stomach clenches, and I take in a long, slow breath, but out of nowhere, a flicker of hope emerges. If I could talk to him...
Me: Can I call you?
Aaron: Better not :( If I hear your voice, I won’t be able to stay away. I’d be at your doorstep in a heartbeat.
And gone is that flicker of hope too. A tear escapes the corner of my eye. As much as I want to see it as a sign that he hasn’t given up on me—on us—this is tearing me apart.
Aaron: I’ll figure this out. Soon. Then we’ll enjoy the rest of our summer. That’s a promise.
Aaron: Gtg, Sunshine.
That’s the last I hear from him. I read and reread our conversation with a heavy heart. My eyes are glued to one text in particular, bringing out that nagging voice again. The rest of our summer? If we get that far.
One question weighs me down more than all the others.
If we do—then what?