I keep scrubbing with the yellow sponge in hand, trying to get rid of all the stains imprinted onto the table surface, my hands red.
“I think it’s clean now, Princess.”
I drop the soaked sponge back into the bucket of soapy water beneath the table, glancing up at my co-worker, Kyle. He looks tired from the day’s events as well. It has been a busy day. The diner was just about full and as waiters we were stuck taking orders all day.
“I’d ask if you want some table with all that soap, but uh…” He trails off teasingly, implying that I’d over washed this one specific table. I don’t bother to crack a smile, frustrated.
“What’s up with you today? You’re more grumpy than usual.” Kyle states as he runs a hand through his ginger hair, unaware of my past or what had happened to my best friend in the last few weeks since the accident.
I shrug, my usual habit - safety mechanism - when I didn’t feel like answering. But still, Kyle doesn’t seem too bummed about my silence. He expects no more than just a shrug.
I ignore his stare as he inspects me thoroughly, burning holes into the side of my head. I grab the bucket and head to the backroom, ready to lock up, go home, sleep, and hopefully never wake up.
But Kyle follows after me once the table he’d been working on had been rinsed from the soap.
“You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that something is up.” He pauses hesitantly before coming out with it, “What’s going on?” Kyle asks as he comes to stand beside me, his green eyes never leaving that of my own.
“Nothing.” I mumble, averting my eyes from his green ones that tend to plague me. His eyes are nothing but a cold reminder of everything I’ve lost. His shade of green reminds me of Brent’s emerald eyes. It bugs me more so than I’d like to admit.
I wouldn’t classify Kyle as a friend. We’re acquaintances who happen to work together. That’s it. But still, it doesn’t stop Kyle from trying to befriend me. He never quite catches the hint - him being that typical ‘laid back’ person that fazes for absolutely nothing being the sole reason.
Insults don’t get to him.
“Liar.” He retorts, not believing me, “What’s up? You can tell me.”
Why would I?
We’re not even friends.
My only friend is dead.
But Kyle’s right. There is something bugging me. I’m transparent when I’m upset or distraught over something.
Three weeks ago, I was on the beach just after Brent passed. I had his ring in my hand. But then stupid Chase came and I hid the ring. He distracted me so, that when I went home afterwards, I realized that I’d left the ring somewhere in the sand.
I ran back to retrieve it, searching hopelessly through the sand, unable to find it.
The last thing Brent gave me - gone, never to be found again.
It feels like the proposal never happened, like it vanished with the ring. There’s no proof that he ever asked me to be with him.
The ring got swept in with the tide, I’m sure of it. It’s joined the sea, the expanse of blue…where maybe it should stay. I have no other use for it in any case, not without Brent.
I sigh aloud, “Kyle. Just leave it.” I order harshly, “I’d like to go home, so can we just finish packing up without all the small talk please?” I beg, needing to get outside so that I can breathe again.
I’m suffocating inside here.
Kyle must see my anguish; he drops the subject. “You go home. I got the keys. I’ll just finish up here and then lock for the boss.” I shake my head, protesting. It wouldn’t be fair. “Gabriela, just go home. You need this.” He insists as he gives me a little push toward the exit.
Feeling my resolve die at his last sentence, I simply give in and shoot him an appreciative nod before grabbing my things and exiting the little, yet popular diner.
Just before leaving, I turn and glance back at the outer appearance of the diner, making sure that this is all real.
I miss my old school job at the surf shack where I sold and maintained surfboards right on the beach front. But then Matt’s accident happened; being close to the sea all day long didn’t feel right anymore. I wanted to study Marine Biology, however, my mother needed me during that time. I gave that up and here at Bev’s Diner I found myself.
I hate this diner.
Yet it’s my future, my bleak future.
Getting ‘hit on’ all day long by absolute strangers, or shouted at for my co-workers’ mistakes, or being tripped on purpose and breaking cutlery, isn’t my idea of a rewarding job.
Far from it.
That’s when I grab my car keys and start the car, escaping this place for at least the rest of today.
I unlock the front door, entering as quietly as possible as to not wake up my mother. It’s late and I just worked a full night shift.
“Gabriela, that you?” I hear a faint voice from the lounge as I hang up my keys in their usual place.
I follow the voice and find my mother sitting in one of the dinning room chairs with a mug of coffee in her hands.
Confused, I check the time on my cellphone. “Mom, it’s four in the morning.”
“Can’t sleep. Self-inflicted insomnia I suppose.” She replies back as she takes a sip of the hot brown liquid. I frown, sensing her sadness. I take a seat across from her as I get comfortable, ready to do this all over again. She breaks down at least once every two months. “He was still so young Gabriela. He had his whole life ahead of him.”
“I know.” I reply back bitterly. I could not save my baby brother.
This is the only time my mother opens up and expresses her feelings. Other than that, Matt and my father were never dared to be mentioned in this house.
“What’s done is done.” I reply back coolly. Sometimes, you had to be cruel to be kind. I want her to realize that Matt is never coming back. Living in the past can be dangerous, it might even end up in you reliving it all over again.
She has to let go of him.
And I, I have to let go of Brent.
It’s been a month and I’m still walking around like a lifeless zombie.
My mother furrows her eyebrows at the lack of sympathy shown from my perspective, “You’re so bitter.”
I shake my head. She misunderstood my intentions. I miss my brother every single day of my life too. “It’s not bitter when it’s done to help you live.”
A flash of realization crosses her brown eyes. I’m helping her move on before she gets trapped in a past life that one cannot escape no matter what one does or how hard one tries.
There’s a few moments of silence before she speaks up again, “I’m sorry about Brent. He was a good kid. I know how fond you were of him.”
She was with me at the funeral. She held my hand when I cried, and cried with me. But she’d never extended her empathy like she was currently doing, catching me way off guard. I didn’t anticipate for her to say that.
I nod silently, reminiscing my friend. It feels unreal. It’s been a month and yet I’m still convinced that tomorrow he’ll pay me a visit like he’d always done on Saturdays.
To me, he’s still alive.
He’ll never die.
He’ll never really be gone.
In my mind, he’s still here.
And that way of thinking - that way of holding on so tightly to someone until it becomes an obsession - is a dark path I don’t want to go down again.
I’ve been there. I don’t want to go back.
“He’s dead.” I say aloud for the first time. I had to hear myself say it, even if it was just once.
My mother looks at me with a puzzled expression, blinking in bewilderment as it slowly sinks in, “Gabriela…” She trails off with no words to comfort me in this time of vulnerability.
I put my hand up, shushing her, “I just need to convince myself.” I reason, hoping she’d understand since we’ve both experienced grief like no other.
I chant it over and over again mentally, with the intention to realize it. Instead, I end up crying all over again as I hatch up things I thought I had buried.
My mother’s beside me in a flash, holding me against her as I continue to sob, “He proposed to me.” I finally tell someone and it happens to be my mother, the one who wished Brent would propose.
“What?” She asks, shocked, as she pulls away slightly with a questioning look to her eyes.
“Just before the truck came, he proposed.” I cry frantically, finally letting myself grieve the way I should have a month ago. “And he didn’t even get an answer before he died.” I sob hoarsely, my shoulders shaking and my whole body trembling as I say all what had been bothering me internally.
Why did he choose me above everyone else?
“Honey.” She sighs aloud as she takes a minute to process it all. She wraps her arms tighter around me as she tries to soothe me, “You didn’t have control over the situation. You didn’t know that time was limited.” She tells me, trying to reassure me that it’s not my fault that Brent didn’t get an answer before he died.
I push her away, not wanting her to see me so vulnerable and weak like this. I’m supposed to be supporting her, not the other way round.
I stand up and head for the door, “Gabriela, don’t do this. Don’t shut me out like always. Let’s talk this through.”
She’s the one who always shuts me out.
I shake my head, not facing her as I open the front door, “I’m going out. I’ll be back much later.” I say, not giving her room to argue. I’m old enough to make my own decisions and she knows that.
I leave the house and head down a familiar path leading to the tree house Chase and I built as kids. It’s down the secret path Chase and I created to get there. We’re the only ones that know about it. It’s just some tall grass that has been flattened into the earth where Chase and I had often walked.
By now, the path should have grown back. Yet it hasn’t. Despite Chase never returning here, I always found myself coming back to this place where our friendship began. Simply because I miss it. Thus, the grass never grew back because I kept walking the path…alone.
The path comes to a halt and that’s where my eyes find the tree house that had been built by two children several years ago. It’s old and the wood is beginning to rot, yet it will always hold a special place in my heart - not the tree house, but the memories that came with it.
I climb up the unsteady ladder and open the hatch above me. I crawl inside to clear my head and readjust to the way my life has turned out. I need to adapt once again.
The special thing about this tree house is that it has electricity. One day, my dad was worried as Chase and I had went missing. He followed the path only to find us and our secret tree house. To say we were not impressed would’ve been an understatement. My dad wasn’t suppose to find us or our tree house. But my dad made it up to us by installing electricity. We obviously forgave him, but not before first forcing him to keep our secret to himself.
Back then, my dad still cared. He still gave a damn about my whereabouts. Everything use to be perfect. Then, a few years down the line, and I’m watching perfection slip right through my fingertips and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. Instead, I have to learn to embrace it.
I switch the lights on and the room instantly brightens, revealing another presence.
I’m not alone.
My eyes meet his piercing blue ones and I find myself caught off guard, “Chase?” I question, confused. Why is he here? He stopped coming here a long time ago.
“I wasn’t aware that you still come here.” Chase replies back, his tone flat and his face expressionless, as he takes a swig of the bottle of alcohol in his hand. My eyes follow his movement before I see all the alcohol bottles resting in front of him, surrounding him. He’s drunk. “I saw the path. It hadn’t grown over. That means that you come here still.”
More than you’d ever realize…
“I never stopped coming.” I confess aloud with a frown at seeing him like this. “Sorry for interrupting, I’ll just go.” I turn back to the hatch to open it before a single word slips from his lips, halting me altogether.
I turn back around, seeing the desperation in his eyes. Right now, he’s vulnerable and he isn’t thinking straight, or he would have never made such a bold and daring request.
But I can’t just leave him when he’s like this - drunk.
I nod at him.
It hurts like hell to see him hurt. I’m quick to wipe at my eyes before he sees that I’m feeling his sorrow with him, that he’s not alone, that I never really left him - that I never abandoned him.
He’s always in my thoughts, my prayers and my heart. He just doesn’t know it.
I crawl my way beside him, shuffling all the beer bottles away as dust flies up, causing Chase and I to cough in unison. ‘This place really needs to be cleaned up,’ I think to myself as I sit next to him. “Why are you drinking so much?” I question out of the blue, curious.
Fortunately, I know Chase better than anyone else. Meaning, I know how he tends to behave when drunk and the good thing about him being drunk is that he’s more caring and less hostile. He also opens up when he’s drunk. He’s one of those brutally honest drunks. Sometimes, it works in your benefit, other times, you end up with a handful of hurtful insults. Hopefully, I end up with the former this time round.
“Because I hate life.” Chase scoffs, his blue eyes glimmering brightly beneath the dim lighting. “Do I really need a f**king reason?”
He also has a foul habit of cursing more when he’s drunk. Usually, he’s well behaved in his words - well at least when he’s not around me.
Acting on impulse and pure heartfelt emotion, I take the bottle out of his hand, unexpectedly, and throw it against the wall of the tree house. I’m more than satisfied when I hear the smash before the glass cracks and the alcohol comes splattering out like a waterfall, staining the wooden floor rather that than staining Chase’s life in grief.
Chase blinks, his hand still curled around air as if still holding the bottle that I’d taken from him. He stares at the alcohol pouring through the cracks of the wood (no doubt rotting the wood all the more in the process) almost as if his life just crashed into tiny bits of fragments. “You didn’t have to do that.” He says softly, completely wasted.
“Yeah, I did.” I disagree. Maybe it was a bit reckless, but seeing him so helpless and drunk pisses me off. He’s not supposed to be this way. It’s all my damn fault. I did this to him. I made him this way.
He shakes his head, unimpressed, before falling silent, staring out into nothing - making me wonder what exactly is going through his mind. I’m sitting right beside him, yet I feel like we’re worlds apart. He’s out of my reach and just out my grasp. He’s detached and distant from this world. I don’t know how to bring him back to earth, I don’t.
I watch him carefully, waiting and hoping for him to reveal an old piece of himself. But it never happens, making me wonder if the old Chase is even still somewhere in there. But I have to believe that he is or what hope do I have?
He senses my staring, his head snapping to me with his eyebrows furrowed. His eyes harden at the sight of me watching him. “Would you please stop looking at me like I’m some kind of monster.” He whispers.
But he’s not angry this time. He’s hurt. I can hear it in his voice. It’s his mind. He’s convinced himself that I see him as some kind of monster, when in reality I see myself as the monster.
I voice my thoughts aloud, “I’m the monster.” I confess in conviction.
He laughs aloud bitterly, humorlessly, as he shakes his head profusely. “No.” He disagrees, protesting against my words, “No.” He repeats in a scoff before scuffling closer, reaching up and placing one of his hands against my cheek.
My breath hitches at the contact, my throat closing up and leaving me speechless. I hadn’t been expecting that from him. Then again, he is beyond wasted.
I try to shuffle away, but his hand on my cheek keeps me in place gently. I feel his heat seeping through his palm and surrounding me. He leans in closer toward me. It’s almost suffocating, but in the good sense.
His eyes leave mine for a split second as they flicker down to my lips.
He’s drunk, Gabriela. He’s only behaving like this because he’s drunk.
I still when he meets my eyes again, his filled with such emotion and he’s allowing me to see it. They’re so clear and beautiful, reminding me of a calm day on the ocean. Peace. But his eyes convey something I can’t quite place.
However, at least he’s finally taken off that stupid mask of his.
He’s letting me see him and reconnect.
“You’re one of the saints Gabriela.” His voice rings in my ears, the second time I’m hearing it from him, making me question just what he means by that.
I place my hand over his hand resting against my cheek, closing my eyes for a brief second, “I’m not a saint Chase. Far from it.” I admit honestly, relishing in the comfort his simple gesture brings me. I then open my eyes to face him as I slowly remove his hand off my cheek, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m sorry Chase. I’m sorry for destroying you.”
He blinks, registering my words as he shifts back as if I’d slapped him. “You can’t destroy something you made.” He says into the tense air, leaving me breathless and confused as always.
A traitorous tear slips out the corner of my eyes as I begin to understand what he’s trying to imply.
He reaches up and brushes the tear away with his thumb, “You made me, Gabby.” He whispers, his warm breath caressing my face in a gentle kiss. At hearing my nickname, I subconsciously lean in toward him as if needing him. He moves his hand to caress my cheek affectionately with his thumb as if I’m priceless and effortlessly irreplaceable, “I was nothing without you. I am nothing without you. I will never be anything without you. You make me, me. There isn’t a me without you. You’re responsible for making me, not breaking me. Gabby.”
I love hearing that nickname roll of his lips smoothly like soft pollen and sweet honey.
“But Chase, I’ve hurt you in a way I can’t seem to fix no matter how hard I try. It scares me to see how far we’ve drifted when I all I want is to have you back-“
He cuts me off as he places a soft lingering kiss on my cheek, soft tingles running up my spine at his movement. He searches my eyes fervently with his own as if seeking permission. He pulls back, only to cup my face in both of his hands. He stares at me intently as if searching my heart and soul. He closes his eyes and rests his forehead against mine as if to remember me and my expression in this moment. I suck in a deep breath as I thrive in him holding me so lovingly, a little lost to what it is he is doing.
But that all comes to and end when I hear his next sentence, his voice laced thickly in pain and remorse.
“This is me saying goodbye.”
I open my eyes and blink, pushing him away in a panic, fearing that it would come to this, “What are you saying?” I ask hoarsely as my eyes begin to water all over again.
I know exactly what he is saying. He can’t be more blunt about it.
He releases me and moves back, sobering up. “You know what I’m saying. Some things just can’t be fixed no matter the effort, need and desire put in. You can’t fix me this time, Gabriela. I’m too far gone. Not all of us can be saved.”
I shake my head, swallowing back the tears as a pang of pain enters my soul. I won’t cry in front of him, even though he’s crushing me, “You don’t need a savior Chase. You just need to let go.” I reply back, trying to persuade him to not walk out of my life in the way everyone else did when I needed them most.
Chase just needed to let go of the pain and sorrow I caused him all those years ago.
Chase and I haven’t been close for a long time, but I’ve always known he’s here. I’ve always know that I can still somehow hold onto him in troubled seas, but now…now everything is about to change.
“I know. It’s why I’m giving you up. I’m finally summoning the courage and justice in letting you go.”
I didn’t mean me.
“Don’t leave me.” I beg and plead, not caring how desperate and pathetic I looked, so long as he agreed to stay.
I need him more than he needs me.
Chase’s eyes soften a fraction, his blue hues parting as if a storm had just come to terms with the winds of the ocean. “It’s time we both stop holding each other back. I need to be me again, but this time, without you. It’s time we step forward and move on from each other. I’m doing what’s best for me because I can’t go on living like this. It’s killing me. I need to move forward in life, not backwards. I need to move on from you and everything that is you. I have to let you go. For good this time.”
I nod, understanding where he is coming from no matter how much it killed me to hear him say it.
I am holding Chase back from living out a life of joy and pure bliss.
I am the obstacle in his path that he can’t quite remove.
But now I’m removing myself for him.
For once, I’m thinking of him. I’m putting him first,
“I get it.” I whisper, hurt beyond recognition, my heart feeling heavy and my throat dry.
He gives me one last glance filled with so much compassion that it has me dumbfounded.
Then just like that, he’s already gone, leaving me alone with his bottles of empty alcohol, dust and rotting wood.
My eyes find the last bottle filled with alcohol. He’d left it here unintentionally. I don’t even think before reaching for it, unscrewing the lid and gulping down the contents in haste.
But it fails.
It doesn’t take away my pain. I’m still reeling in it.
I pull my legs up, curling myself into a ball as I hit my fist against the wooden floor in frustration, anxiety and fear.
I throw my head back and glance up at the wooden ceiling, thinking that if Brent was now looking over me, he wasn’t doing a very good job. I’m sick of always hurting on the inside. I cannot handle it anymore. It must be hell for Chase in the same way.
Like a blinding avalanche, all the tears previously held back begin to fall in endless waves down my face.
But there’s nothing I can do.
He is right.
I can’t fix this.
How am I supposed to fix something undefinable, something so lost, so broken beyond repair?
I have to let go, really let go if I ever want to move forward because I’m done falling backwards.
I’m just done.