If Only We
To everyone who needs a second chance.
Saturday afternoon, August 22nd
I never imagined a day when I wouldn’t want the sun to shine. One of the best things about summer is the sunshine; its warmth and the light it casts late into the evenings. It beats the chill and shorter days of the winter. Today is different. Today isn’t just another summer day.
Today I am heading to the cemetery.
I flip the dial on my car radio to find something to listen to on the way. I hate driving without something playing. Nothing comes on that is appropriate. No music sounds good right now, so I just turn it off. I wish something would feel good and distract me from the already awful day I’m having.
Since I got in late last night, I didn't speak to my mom until this morning. I should have just skipped breakfast and avoided the kitchen entirely.
When I sat down, she said, “Based on what Lyndsay has told me, River's Bend would be a great place to work.”
I tried to not openly flinch but it was impossible. Not only impossible to not do, but also impossible for my mom to not notice.
“What was that for? It's not my fault you missed out on that opportunity because you ran off to your father's.”
“I'll be going to school on Monday. I'm still going to be a nurse. You should be happy.”
“I am happy that you will be a nurse.”
I sighed. “Then why is it such a big deal that I didn't volunteer this summer? It's not like that one thing makes a difference in the long run.”
“It shows how dedicated you are in carrying out family tradition.”
Instead of rehashing the same conversations I had with her all summer, I stood up and left the house without another word.
I pull into the drive for the cemetery and park under the shade of a maple tree. I sit there with one hand on the wheel and the other on the key in the ignition. It’s time. Time to get out of the car.
It's time for me to face him.
Why am I hesitating? I knew this day was coming. I knew I would see Chevy again. It’s not just seeing him, it’s the circumstances. I haven’t had anyone remotely close to me die before now. Though I didn’t know his father, I know Chevy, and Chevy needs me.
After a deep breath, I get out of the car. The heat beats down on me twice as much in my black dress. The sleeves are longer, going down to my elbows. It seemed more appropriate than the sleeveless one. I stand there a moment to figure out which direction to go and finally settle on the center path.
I would have been here for the funeral yesterday if I hadn’t taken my car in to get the air-conditioning fixed. My dad is on call a lot, since he’s a surgeon at a prestigious Cincinnati hospital. He can’t leave town at the drop of a hat, even if it is to take his daughter to a funeral. I wasn't able to find anyone else to drive down to pick me up, not even my mom.
I should have called Chevy. Why didn’t I call him? Not only did I not call him when I heard about his father, I didn’t call him once the whole time I was away. I kept thinking about the reason I left to begin with. I couldn’t pick up the phone because I couldn’t tell him the reason.
Because the reason was him.
Right when the pangs of guilt spin through me, I spot him in the distance. I stop dead in my tracks and my heart races at the sight of him. I want to turn around but I can’t. I've come this far; he needs to know I’m here.
Stepping warily in his direction, the suspense builds inside of me. Will he appreciate that I’m here? As much as I want to know, I'm more worried about his reaction. He's wearing a black blazer over a white button-down and black slacks. Judging by the wrinkles, I would be willing to bet he slept in the clothes he wore yesterday.
Before I can get a read on his face, he notices me. The instant our eyes connect, I am immobilized. I didn't prepare myself for how I would react to seeing him again. He stares blankly at me, as if to figure out what is going on. Then his expression changes.
“What are you doing here?” he asks indifferently, turning his attention back to the grave. The sound of his voice sends a shiver through my whole body. It's the first time I've heard it since that day.
I say softly, “I came here for you.” I stay silent awaiting his response, but there is none, not even a flinch. Taking a deep breath, I continue. “I'm so sorry about your father, Chevy.”
He stands there for a moment. In the same tone as before he says, “Yeah, everyone is sorry. I’ve heard that all week.”
He’s right. When a person loses their father, especially so suddenly, the pity is endless. He's probably been hearing a mixture of the same words repeatedly. My words were unoriginal. It's the customary response given by the general population in these circumstances. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it was a true statement. “I know you have, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not sorry. I am.”
“Well, I’m not,” he says, turning his head sharply in my direction. I recoil at the sudden change in his demeanor. “He did this to himself.” He pauses as he looks off in the distance. A soft breeze ruffles his light brown hair. He adds quietly, “He left me all alone.”
“You're not alone.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you're not.” I step forward. “I’m here for you.”
“No, you’re not!” He looks at me with wounded eyes. “Where have you been all summer? Not ‘here for me.’”
Cringing at the disdain in his voice, my eyes start to water. “I’m sorry I wasn't here this summer but I’m here now.”
“Why did you leave anyway?” His blue eyes stare intently into mine, attempting to ascertain the answer in them. “What made you leave without saying goodbye? Huh, Adrienne?”
The way he says my name is cutting. As if it's a bad taste in his mouth. I press my lips together to fight away the tears. “I just needed to go. I needed to-to be somewhere else for a while. To have a change of-of scenery.” The way I stumble over my words makes it clear I have no idea what I'm doing, either now or then.
“Change of scenery?” he scoffs. “I tried to call you. I tried to text you. I tried to email you. You didn’t respond. Why? Why did you avoid me?” He comes closer with each word, stopping within arm's length of me.
I swallow the lump forming in my throat, knowing I can’t keep the truth from him any longer. It's time to come clean. “I was angry.”
This isn't what he was expecting. “Angry? What made you angry?”
Looking down, I whisper, “I was mad at you.”
“Why would you be mad at me?”
His confusion is apparent, as I expected it would be. I wish I hadn’t brought it up. I shake my head. “It isn’t important anymore.”
“Of course it’s important!” he snaps. “I want to know. No, I need to know. Tell me.”
“I can’t. It doesn’t matter anymore. None of it matters anymore.”
“Yes it does.”
In his eyes, there is a genuine interest in the reason. As much as I want to keep it from him, I am afraid there's no turning back now. “Because,” I start, struggling with how to tell him. “Because of what you said to me at graduation.”
The hope of him understanding with no further explanation vanishes when he asks, “What did I say to you at graduation?”
“You rejected me.”
He thinks for a moment. Then sudden realization of what he said makes him wide-eyed. “I didn't reject you. I just said I wanted to be friends.” Upon hearing that word again, I cringe. He notices my reaction. “Is that why you left?” I bite my lip and look away. “That's ridiculous. There's no way that can be true.”
His refusal not only to believe it but also to acknowledge my feelings infuriates me. “It is true!” I cry, causing him to jump back. “I was pissed off at you for doing that to me. After all we have been through, you tell me no. And why? I have no idea why you wouldn’t be interested in me.”
He is looking at me incredulously, as if seeing me for the first time. He says, “Did I say I wasn’t interested in you?”
“Then why did you jump to that conclusion?” Unable to come up with an answer to his question, I stand there staring. He sighs and says, “That’s a line, Adrienne, and you know it. I never said I wasn’t interested. You meant a lot to me. Taking that step with a good friend could compromise the relationship we already had. I didn’t want to damage what we had. You know, ruin the friendship.”
It's all I can do to keep my mouth from dropping. “'Ruin the friendship?'” I repeat slowly. “That's bull. Completely and utterly bull.”
“What do you mean it’s bull?”
“That’s the line! Not the ‘let’s be friends’ thing. When someone says they’re worried a romantic relationship will ruin a friendship, it is one of two things. Either he’s lying to protect the girl’s feelings, or he’s lying to himself. It doesn’t matter which because when those three words come out, the friendship is never the same. It inevitably ruins the friendship.” My hand closes over my mouth but I have already said too much. It’s not like me to blurt out things of that nature. He gapes at me. Some part of what I said struck a chord in him. My heart flutters in anticipation as to which part it was. Somehow, I know that no matter what the answer is, the reality is truly far different.
His face becomes indifferent again. “You’re right.” He glances over at the grave. “Sometimes you can never go back.”
“What are you saying?”
“Maybe we can’t have what we used to have anymore. Some people can move past those moments in time and continue as if nothing ever happened. We didn’t. So,” he says with a shrug, “maybe we weren’t really friends to begin with.”
My heart breaks with how easily he speaks those words. I try to keep my composure as I struggle with what to say. “What? No. That’s simply not true. How can you say we weren’t friends?”
“Because friends talk to each other. Friends stay in touch. Friends don’t run away without a goodbye.” He counts each down on his fingers like a list. “Friends are there for each other.”
“Sometimes even good friends lose touch with each other.” Out of nowhere, I recall something important that might change his mind. “Remember what I talked about at graduation?”
He nods, looking down at his shoes. “Yes, I remember. You said you didn’t want to lose touch with me.”
“I didn’t. And I still don’t.” I want to touch my hand to his arm, reach out to him and draw him back to me.
“Well, you did.” He sighs, shaking his head. His eyes meet mine. “You can’t just erase and rewrite what happened. What’s done is done.”
I blink and swallow. The hand that wanted to touch his arm closes into a fist. “I know, but what about forgiveness?”
He looks over at the line of trees, thinking over what I said. Then he turns to me, and says, “Why should I when you couldn’t forgive me?” The look on his face says it all. Standing before me is a person I care for deeply. I would do anything for him. I would risk everything for him. It doesn’t make a difference. He turns away from me. “Just go.”
My hand absently clutches my heart. My legs can’t move. My tears are near the threshold. I say, “Chevy, please.”
“Just leave, Adrienne. We’re done here.”
Taking a small step back, I take one last look at him. Forlorn. Broken. Hopeless. It takes everything in me to turn and walk away. I don't look back. I can’t look back. This can’t be it; I shouldn’t be walking away from him. He needs me as much as I need him. My mind tosses me a glimpse of what we could have if we were together. Still, I can’t will myself to turn around. Deep down I want to, but I can’t look at him again.
Once I am over the hill and out of his sight, I break into a run and keep running until I reach my car. I get in and drive. I keep driving until I reach the abandoned barn just outside of town. When I park in the overgrown driveway and turn the car off, it happens.
I break down.
The tears drown as the sobs choke. Everything I kept bottled inside comes out in them. Everything from that moment at graduation through the horrible summer up until this moment. Memories tumble over the mess created today. Words left unsaid on top of the words said. They push at me, rip me up, tear me apart. A sharp pain crashes into my heart. It is unbearable. The culmination of the last couple of months collides into my body, taking away my breath. Regaining control will likely continue to elude me until further notice.