The rain doesn’t bother me.
Gray clouds and dark skies fit my mood better than sunny days have in years.
I’m better off without her.
The lies come easier these days. I used to mentally stammer over the words even if I wasn’t voicing them out loud. I thought it would become second nature to tell myself she was wrong for me. That I was wrong for her. When we were together, she was a girl becoming a woman and a beautiful fucking mess of emotions. When we were together, I was a boy becoming a man, a fuckup compared to who I wanted to be.
But I loved her. Loved us. I loved every fucking emotion and remember them like it was yesterday.
Only it wasn’t. It was five fucking years ago.
“I’m better off without her.” I repeat the lie, still not believing a damn word. The words are bitter on my tongue, such a contradiction to how sweet the memories taste.
She was my everything.
Until she wasn’t.
My fingers tighten around the steering wheel, and I exhale a slow breath. The raindrops become sprinkles and then stop altogether. As if the universe is clearing the path for me to follow my heart, I get out of my 4Runner and lean against it, facing the school.
Five years have dragged since I walked away, leaving my heart broken at her feet. I can’t go another day pretending she wasn’t my every-fucking-thing. That’s why I’m back. For her—Stella Lilith Fellowes.
Star of the night.
Star of my life.
I miss her so fucking much, but I begin to debate if I have a right to be here at all.
What am I doing?
She hates me. This is such a bad idea. It’s after five, so she might not even be here. I open the door to leave but still when I hear, “Rivers?”
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and am slow to exhale. It starts drizzling again. Is this a sign? Will we always be trapped under a dark cloud, or can we find blue skies again?
When I turn around, my breath stops hard in my chest.
She’s absolutely stunning.
I’ve rummaged through a box of photos a million times. I’ve watched video upon video on the loneliest of nights. I’ve had dreams that feel so real that I wake up expecting her to be next to me.
But my memories don’t do her justice.
I only remember the girl.
Before me now stands a woman. The woman she’s become without me. Her brown hair is pulled up, but some strands have escaped, the misty air making them stick to her skin. I can’t stop from smiling.
She’s better than any dream could ever be.
The white shirt she’s wearing reveals lace under the wet fabric. Too much of her legs are covered by a skirt, but I still remember the great shape of her calves. Her glasses slip down, but she pushes the middle back up the bridge of her nose. She never wore glasses when we were together, so it serves as another reminder of what I’ve missed.
“God, you’re beautiful.” I don’t mean to say it, but I don’t regret it either.
She gifts me with the smile I’ve missed every minute of every year we were apart, but it fades away too fast. “What are you doing here?”
What am I doing here?
There are so many possible answers, and while all of them are true, none of them are right.
I miss her. I love her. I’m so fucking sorry for ruining everything.
My first album set the charts on fire, and all I wanted to do was come home and find her because celebrating this achievement or any without her was never in the plans. Shutting the door, I shove my hands in the back pockets of my jeans and shift. “I needed to see you.”
She moves her bag to her chest and wraps her arms around it. “Needed?”
The rain still touches her, but she makes no move to leave, willing to brave the elements just like me. “Are you asking me, Rivers?”
“I wanted to see you.” Shaking my head, I know I’m fucking this up. “I wanted to come because I needed to see you.”
“Why?” She looks around as if to make sure there are no witnesses before she comes closer, keeping some distance between us.
I take a few steps but don’t invade her space like I want to. “When did you start wearing glasses?”
“Did you come here to ask about my glasses?”
The answer to that question isn’t what she really wants to know, but maybe she’s stalling like I am. It feels good to be this close to her, to be talking to her again. I smile, and this time, it tempts one from her. But she’s stronger than I am. She held out longer, didn’t take my calls, didn’t return my texts, never contacted me.
We stand face-to-face with a thousand unspoken questions jostling between us. I could take another step, two maybe, and breathe in the faint smell of oranges. I could extend an arm and touch her. But I don’t. She’s not mine anymore, and as natural as it would feel to do either of those things, I know there’s an ocean between who we are and who we used to be.
Glancing at one of the few cars that remain in the parking lot, she says, “I should go.”
As I try to come up with something to say, I start memorizing everything about her in case I’m not given another opportunity.
She doesn’t wear a ring on her left hand.
I used to kiss the soft skin behind the earrings that dot her earlobes.
A simple thin gold necklace highlights the delicate curve of her neck.
Even though raindrops coat her lenses, her green eyes still shine behind them.
When my gaze dips to the lace that clings to the skin I used to kiss, I search for the one thing that will always bind us together. She turns to leave, so I say the first thing I can think of to keep her here. “Your earrings. I remember buying them at a stand in South Padre during spring break.”
Two fingers touch her right earring and spin the little turquoise teardrops. When she looks back at me, she replies, “You did. I remember.”
Relief washes across her face, and she finally smiles as if we’ve come to an understanding. The smile is smaller than I want, but more than I deserve. “It was good seeing you again.”
My heart lurches in my throat, desperate to keep talking to her, even if only for a minute. But I can’t find the words when I need them most. “Stella—”
“Goodbye.” She turns on her heel and heads across the parking lot. Water splashes under her feet as she moves quicker than necessary.
With each step she takes farther from me, my mind races faster. And by the time she’s backing her beige sedan from the parking spot, I’m next to her window. She takes a deep breath and exhales before rolling it down. “It’s good to see you,” I choke out.
Her glasses are on the seat next to her, and she tugs at the seat belt across her body. Although she peeks up at me, she’s quick to look away again. With her head down, she says, “It’s hard seeing you on TV and hearing your songs on the radio . . .” When her eyes find mine again, her shoulders drop as if she’s given up. “But hearing your voice, and you standing so close that I can touch you but . . . but can’t. It . . . Why are you here? Tell me, because I was doing just fine, and now . . .”
The rain isn’t to blame for the water in her eyes.
Pressing my hands against the car, I lean over, looking into her eyes while ignoring the lump burning in my throat. “Because I’ve spent five years regretting every day that didn’t have you in it. Can I see you again? Can I come over and talk—”
She shakes her head, and then says, “It’s too late for us.”
“But I just want to—”
Of all the things I expected to hear, that wasn’t one of them. My hands fall off the car as I take a step back. “Stella?”
“No, Rivers. Just . . . no.”
She pulls away, and I realize I wasn’t prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared for goodbye. I look at the sky, broken open and raining, and that familiar feeling returns. What I’ve felt for so long.