“Migas...Senor Migas....” Nai speaks the name slowly, testing it. “I remember now.” She looks him in the eyes. “You’re the tutor. The one I mentioned before, who did my assignments and helped me cheat. That was you?” It comes back more and more as she speaks out loud. “That was you!” She smiles, remembering him.
Lukas nearly wants to cry, but he holds it in. “Yes, that was me Nai. I was assigned to be your tutor in my Senior year. I remember the day we first met. You were reading the textbook and seemed like you might start crying because you were so frustrated. I introduced myself as Miguel Arias; it was what I preferred to go by back then. I expected you to introduce yourself too, but instead you looked up at me from your book with hazy eyes, and you pleaded, “save me Senor...Mig...as...Migas! Yea, Senor Migas, help me understand this stuff! Please...”.” He can’t help but laugh at his own impersonation of her. “I’m sorry, but you were adorable, even back then. I think it was over for me at that very moment. I was instantly smitten.”
Nai turns away bashfully, remembering that moment clearly now that he’s acted it out. “Oh, I was still a kid back then....”
He can see she’s embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel awkward, it’s just that stuck with me for so long.”
“I’m sorry, I had forgotten that, and you it seems. I don’t know why I did, but it’s like that entire year is hazy. Maybe that’s normal though, it was my freshman year after all.” She rubs her arm instinctively. “In my defense though, you looked really different if I’m recalling you correctly. Unrecognizable even.”
“Uh...yea. I did look quite different back then. My hair was shorter, I dressed in a simple jeans and a t-shirt every day, and I was a skinny kid with little presence. My glasses obscured my face too. I was basically a loser and my peers made sure I wouldn’t forget it. They were the ones making all those stereotypical claims I mentioned. They said I was a failure because I didn’t live up to “my kind”, whatever the hell that was supposed to be. I was too passive, too weak, too straight-laced, too “artsy”. I much preferred to be sat under a tree sketching as opposed to in sports or stacking up the ladies. I was boring and uncool.”
“I think I remember. You never really stood out much, and you kept to yourself. I think we passed each other a few times in the hall, but we never really spoke or interacted during those times. However, when you came to tutor me after class was done, it was different. It was as if we both showed a different face of ourselves. You were funny and charming, a bit poetic too. I was outspoken and careless; I didn’t mind my manners as much. It was kind of like we could be ourselves for that hour. We could be who we were without fear or judgement or expectations. We didn’t have to hide when we were together. We had fun.”
“Yea, we had a lot of fun. Kind of reminds you of how we’ve been these last couple of months, doesn’t it? It felt like old times, at least for me, since I never forgot our time together.”
“Yea, I guess it was kind of like it is now between us. Though, I think you have a lot more confidence now than you did before. You’re much smoother too. I’m pretty sure you failed hard back then. I still appreciated your efforts though.” She pauses, thinking about it more. She begins to smile. “Yea, I remember it much better now. Those were probably my happiest moments. I used to look forward to the end of the day and would be so excited to spend that time with you. It was like an hour to be totally free and uninhibited. An hour that I could talk about anything I wanted with you, and you listened like it was the most interesting thing. That was a peaceful and happy time for me, but then....” She pauses again but loses her smile this time.
“Nai?” Lukas can see her eyes cloud over and becomes alarmed. “Nai, what’s wrong?” He watches as tears start to slide down her cheek. “Nai seriously, what’s wrong?” He raises his hand to her cheek, and gently wipes her tears away with his thumb.
“You left....” Her face suddenly becomes twisted in rage and she smacks his hand aside. “You left me behind and made me alone again! Even though you said you’d stay my friend even when you graduated and went to college, you left without a word!”
“No, Nai, you’ve got it wrong. I didn’t-.” He starts.
“No, I don’t have anything wrong. I have an excellent memory as I’ve said before, and now that I remember that time, I recall it clearly. Our last session before Winter break, you promised that we’d see each other. We made plans to go see the tree in the square on Christmas Eve, and call each other at exactly midnight on New Year’s. We were going to go see that new Thriller at the movies too during that time. We made a lot of plans and I was all excited about them because it was my first time doing those things. You were my first real friend! My first-.” She silences herself, not finishing her statement.
Lukas grabs her hand. “What Nai? Your first what? Tell me, please!” He pleads with her, his own tears breaking out.
She stares at him in pain as she has an epiphany. The last piece of their puzzle snaps in place, and with it, her mind. “I can’t....” She snatches her hand away and runs into the bathroom. She can’t face him now. She can’t face the truth that’s been in front of her this entire time. The truth she desperately tried to fight.
Lukas clutches his head and groans in frustration, as the tears fall freely now. “Why is this so hard?” He feels a hand come to rest on his shoulder and sits up, hopeful. “Nai?!”
“No, sorry honey, I’m afraid not. But maybe I can help.”
He’s disappointed to see it’s just their waitress, but he manages a polite smile. “Sorry Ma’am, I guess we caused a bit of a disturbance. I’ll pay the bill and we’ll leave as soon as....” He looks towards the bathroom. “Maybe I should just pay and go.”
“It seems to me that you two have done a whole lot of running from each other, when you need to be running to each other. It’s clear as day that you love her, and if I know anything about a woman, I’m willing to bet she loves you too. But that’s not enough to make a relationship. You need to communicate those feelings clearly. Talk to each other, clear up the mess, and get to lovin. Call me an optimist, but I think you two have what it takes.”
Lukas looks down at his hands. “You’re right, I need to face her properly. I want to, but...well, she’s in a place I can’t reach.”
The waitress realizes he’s referring to the fact that she’s in the women’s bathroom. “Don’t worry darling, I’ve got you covered. Just get on in there and do what you have to do.”
He looks at her with uncertainty. Did she give him the ok to enter the women’s restroom? As if to answer his unspoken question, she nods at him and gestures to the door. He stands up, determined to take the plunge. “Thank you Ma’am.” He makes his way to the back, and after a moment of hesitation, he walks inside the forbidden zone to his blessing, or his doom.
It’s too much. It’s far too much for Nai to handle in the span of twenty-four hours. First Adam and his lies coming to light, and now Lukas. The old wounds he’d left her with are festering from the inside and threaten to tear her apart. Just when she thought he could be her salvation; he became just another curse. She wants to be done with all of them. Maybe men aren’t for her. Perhaps she’ll take a page from her mothers’ books? She shakes her head. “No, I’m as straight as it gets unfortunately.” She’d laugh at herself if it wasn’t so sad. “Maybe a nun...?”
“Nai!” She can hear Lukas burst through the door. She scrunches her legs closer, hoping he won’t be able to tell she’s sitting with her knees up towards her chest on top of the toilet. “Nai, it’s ok, you don’t have to answer me, I just need you to listen.” She can hear him slide to the floor with his back against the door.
“You’re right, I did make those promises to you, and I had every intention on keeping them. Hell, I practiced my lines for each event in the mirror every day leading up to them. I wanted nothing more than to spend that time with you, but then I succumbed to my own demons. I let too many people get in my head and they broke me down. You can only get told you’ll never amount to anything and be a failure so many times before you start to believe it. I shut down, became depressed, stopped drawing, and took comfort in alcohol.”
“I started drinking whatever I could find in my foster mother’s cabinets, and when that ran out, I stole what I wanted. I stopped going to school, and eventually I ran away from home. It got to the point that I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror without feeling disgusted. I couldn’t stop blaming myself either; for what happened to my parents.”
“It was a pleasant day like any other, and we were in my father’s sailboat. They told me many times not to play on the edge, but I didn’t listen. We hit a rough wave and I fell overboard. I knew how to swim, but the waters were too rough for me to handle and I panicked. My mom saw it happen and jumped in to save me. My dad heard the commotion and ran out to see what the matter was. When he saw us splashing in the water, he jumped in as well to save us both. However, when he reached me, my mom was nowhere in sight and I was barely conscious. He brought me back to the boat, resuscitated me, told me to stay put, and went back in to search for my mother. Hours passed, and neither resurfaced. I was found by the coast guard, and my parents were later found dead. They died trying to save me.” She can hear him sob.
“I blamed myself, and no one tried to make me think otherwise. My grandmother was my only remaining relative, but she couldn’t look at me without spite, for basically killing her daughter. So, I ended up in child services, and eventually ended up in the US. I was bounced around from home to home; the usual story, until I ended up with my final foster mom. She was nice at first, but over the years she came to find me troublesome and grew tired.”
“However through that, I still found my freedom in art. I drew to express my emotions, my thoughts, and my desires. I drew to escape from my life and all my pain. It turned out I was really good at it too. My art teacher submitted a piece I made in my Junior year into a contest in secret. Somehow I won, and it caught the attention of a top name art college. They offered me a scholarship for the entirety of the program at the start of my Senior year. Right after that, I came to know you.”
“I thought my life was finally looking up and everything was good, but then I crashed hard, and in one night, my future was destroyed. I got caught stealing and drunk off my ass. I’d been staying in an abandoned warehouse just outside the city. I was arrested and kept overnight, until my foster mom picked me up the next morning. I was given a year’s probation. She packed up my things and kicked me out as soon as we got back home, as I’d turned eighteen the week prior, valentine’s day. I ended up in a shelter for that year, and naturally once the school found out, I was expelled. Of course, the art college followed, and retracted my offer and scholarship. I suddenly found myself with nothing again and to make things worse, I no longer had you to brighten my day Nai. I became lost and had no direction.”
“However, there was a kind old man in the shelter that was kind of like a mentor to me. He inspired hope in me, got me to pick up my pen and draw again. He also encouraged me to study and get my GED. I followed his advice and passed. At the same time, my probation ended, and I was free to go anywhere I pleased. There was only one place I wanted to go though, and that was back to you. I practically sprinted to the school, hoping to catch you after it let out. I was going to confess everything then and there. Even if you shot me down, I was ready to try.”
“However, when I did finally come across you, that man had you in his arms and you were basically making out behind the gym. I’d recognized him; Adam McKinnis, the resident playboy. He would’ve been a senior then and you a sophomore. It was May, so you were already sixteen. I was devastated, not only because I’d lost you, but because that fiend had gotten his hands on you.”
“I don’t know what sweet words he used to trap you, but I knew he was no good. I was a watcher back then, and at the start of his Junior year, he seemed to have gone through a metamorphosis. The Adam I’d observed in the past was timid, skittish, and reserved. It wasn’t until his Junior year that I noticed him become extremely outgoing and charming. It wasn’t until then, that he started watching you.”
“I noticed it but didn’t do anything about it. I focused only on getting closer to you myself. I figured I’d always be there by your side and could protect you if he made a move. If I could make you mine by graduation, then even when I was at school, I’d be able to keep you from his grasp because you’d be focused on me. You weren’t the type to stray if you chose to commit to something. If only I’d stayed the course. If only I hadn’t succumbed to my weakness. If I hadn’t destroyed everything, you would’ve been mine for these past five years. You would’ve been mine....”
She can hear him begin to sob and sniffle, and it finally hits her too. There’s a lot to unpack in his story, but the conclusion is simple. They were on their way to finding love, but life had other plans for them. She sniffles and wipes her tears, before finally saying, “It broke my heart when you left so suddenly, without any word. It hurt me so deep that I think I wiped it all from my mind just to numb the pain. I became even more reserved and focused on my studies. Eventually I found a new normal and became content to be alone and pass the time in abandoned railroad yards.” She pauses for a moment and then finishes with, “I’m pretty sure I was in love with you back then.”
He must laugh at the situation even through his pain. “I’m pretty sure you loved me too.” They both start to laugh, and slowly transition to crying again. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you Nai. It’s my greatest regret, even more so than my parents.”
“There’s no point in apologizing Lukas; it’s in the past now.”
“I know, but I still needed to say it anyway. Seeing you with him woke something in me, and maybe that was the spark for my transition into who I am today. I buffed up, got stronger and joined the police force after passing my exam. I decided to build myself up and become a man who could protect you. I swore on that day that I would find you again, no matter where you ended up, and if you were still with him, I’d free you. I never expected that I’d be placed on a case that directly involved you both.”
They are silent for a few moments, reflecting on everything. “So, you really believe Adam is a killer? I mean, he’s a liar for sure, and an ass, but I never saw him as particularly violent. What’s your basis for that serious claim?”
He sighs. “I think it’d be best if you could see and hear the evidence for yourself. My superior; he’s waiting for our return. I explained the gist of things last night while I was out to get food. He wants us both to report to him Monday morning, if you’re willing, so we can go over everything. He thinks that if we put our information together with your experience with him, we might be able to find the missing link. So, what do you say?”
“I don’t know that I can offer you much help, but if Adam is the monster you say he is, then I want to do all I can.” She slides off the seat and finally opens the door. She finds a teary-eyed Lukas on the floor, looking miserable. “Monday you say?”
“Yea, he has another obligation today and doesn’t work on the weekends. Monday is the soonest he’s available.” She walks over to him and pulls him by his hand, encouraging him to get up. He does as she requests and says, “Nai? What are you doing?”
She wipes his face with her sleeve and with a smile she says, “I’m pretty sure I promised you a date for Friday, didn’t I? It so happens to be Friday today. Is the offer still on the table?”
He looks at her, slightly confused, but then he gets it. He turns his lips into a smile and replies, “For you, the offer is always on the table. What did you have in mind?”
She gives him a wide grin and takes his hand. “Do you trust me?” She uses the same line on him as he did her.
With a smirk, he says, “With my life. Lead me and I will follow.” She pulls him along with a mischievous glint in her eye. He gets a shiver of excitement down his spine, and the feeling she’s about to introduce him to a side of her he’s never seen before.