He said something to me then, in a tone I interpreted as anger or maybe fear, but the words were in French.
“Come on, let’s just get to class.” He started walking.
“David?” I said. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
“I—” His chest heaved, almost unnoticeably, as if he were regurgitating or maybe choking on words.
“Oh God, there is something wrong.” My heart picked up again and everything around me disappeared to insignificance. He didn’t move, didn’t speak, just stood—motionless, wordless and unresponsive. Tiny bubbles of despair flitted around my stomach. I felt like everyone on the school grounds was watching us. But the field was empty; we were late, and I didn’t care. “Does this have something to do with the reason you don’t wanna kiss me?”
“What? Is that what you think? That I don’t want to kiss you?” He shook his head and started walking away. “Honestly, Ara, I don’t know where you come up with these things.”
“Well, then, tell me what’s wrong. What am I supposed to think when you act like this?” I stepped out onto the road, pointing back to the spot where we’d just been standing.
He stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“David, what is it, what’s wrong?”
His head rolled downward. “I spoke to my uncle last night.”
“And—” He turned to face me again. “When he comes to visit today, he has requested I return with him.”
He looked up then, and I don’t think he expected to see the hurt I could feel coming from my eyes. Without a word, he closed the gap between us and wrapped his body around me, pinning my face to his cool silk shirt. And though the warmth of his hands invited my soul to feel love, his heart betrayed the anguish in his eyes—seeming completely still, as if it weren’t even beating—certainly not feeling the pain I was. “Ara, leaving was never optional for me.”
My stomach sunk. “But…you said. You told me you weren’t going anywhere.”
His shoulders dropped. “I know. I—it was silly of me to say that. I got caught up in you, in this, and I made promises I knew, even then, that I probably couldn’t keep.”
“C—” My mouth hung open, stuck on a word. “Caught up? You don’t just get caught up, then make fake promises.”
“It wasn’t fake. When I made that promise, my every intention was to try to keep it.”
“Well, what’s changed? Why can’t you keep it now?”
“You might say reality came back to pay me a visit.”
I stared at him. “What kind of answer is that? That tells me nothing, David.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ve done everything the wrong way here. I just wasn’t prepared to come here and fall in love, and now that I have, I need to rethink everything my life means.”
“But…can’t you rethink your life…with me in it?”
“Viable? Viable?” Incredulity rose up in me like heat. “So, that’s it? No negotiations. You’re just leaving me?”
“It wasn’t supposed to be for another few months.”
“Months? You said never. When were you going to tell me this—that you were leaving?”
“You weren’t, were you? You were just going to leave?” I edged forward, my hands on my hips.
He moistened his lips. “It was one option.”
I died inside then. “I mean so little to you.”
“Get off me!” I rolled my shoulder, pulling my arm away from his touch. “God, you’re a player. You—how could you do this to me?”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I wasn’t supposed to love you this way.”
“But you do. Doesn’t that, I mean, can’t that change how things have to be?”
Slowly, he turned and looked at me. His eyes shimmered so green in the morning light, so liquid with troubles that I wanted to look away. “I wish it did.”
The world went dark behind my eyelids. I bit my quivering lip, then folded my arms, standing straight, and walked right past him.
“Ara, where are you going?”
I couldn’t speak—couldn’t even think; I just had to go to school, go to class, just move.
“Ara?” He grabbed my arms and pulled me back gently. “Where are you going?”
“I have to go. I—” I spoke to his chest. “I can’t hear this.”
“Don’t you get it, David? You can’t leave.”
“No.” I shook my head, folding my arms tighter. “I’ll die. If you go, I won’t be able to go on. You’re the glue. You’re everything that’s holding me together. How will I possibly be okay without you?”
He dropped his arms to his sides. “Don’t say that.”
“Why? Would you rather I lied? Would you rather I said great, let’s have a freakin’ celebration—a farewell party. What did you honestly expect by telling me this?”
He looked down. “I’m not sure.”
I wiped my face with my hand and walked away again. “I’ll see you in class.”
“I wish I’d told you the truth. I should have told you I’d be leaving, Ara.” He caught up and stood in front of me, blocking my path. “I’m sorry for that.”
“But you didn’t. And you wait until now, when I finally let myself need you, finally let myself feel okay again, to tell me you’re going to take all that away.”
“I won’t take it. You’ll be okay. Don’t you see? You’re okay now. You have Em, you have your dad, Mike—”
“They mean nothing to me, David! They’re not you.”
He rocked back on his heels. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” I nodded, smiling, though the lump in my throat wanted to rip me open. “Of course you are.” And it all broke apart. I dug the heels of my palms into my eyes, and my shoulders hunched, shaking, as everything I thought was okay fled my heart. I felt so unsteady, like I was standing on the street, alone, in the pouring rain, and even the smell of the cut grass and the vapours of the melting dew on the hot pavement couldn’t change my mind, couldn’t make me believe this was not some horror movie where my hero walked away, got hit by a taxi, and I never saw him again.
“You will get through this,” he said coldly.
I stifled my tears, straightening, like the strong girl I could pretend to be. “Is that what you really believe?”
He let out a long breath. “It’s not my heart’s desire to leave you. If you only knew how much you mean to me, you’d know how the very idea of not being here to hold you, to see you smile, to be the one that makes it okay, is killing me. I’ve lost sleep over this, Ara. It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he said, his voice losing that deep, strong tone.
“Nothing’s ever what we want it to be.” My lip quivered; I bit it.
“No, it’s not. And I betrayed you—betrayed your heart by allowing you to love me, when I knew this would end.”
“Did you think you could control this?” I dug my finger into my chest. “Did you think you could stop me falling in love with you, like it’s some accident?”
“So, before my first day—before English class, before you took me to the lake and made me open up to you in a way I never thought I could with anyone.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is a mess.”
I rolled my shoulder back and looked around the field. “Will he let you finish out the day, at least?”
David shook his head. “He’ll arrive just after lunch; I need to be there to meet with him.”
I looked at my dad’s house, then at my own feet for a long moment. “Just go then.”
“Go now. Just go. Don’t drag this out.” Each sentence became more breathy, the composure I was attempting being slaughtered by a lack of control over anything in my life.
“Ara, don’t cry like that. You’ll make yourself sick again.”
“I can’t help it. Do you think I’m doing it deliberately?”
“Come here.” He reached for me.
“No!” I shoved his chest as hard as I could. “I said go. I don’t want to see you anymore. I don’t want to even look at you.”
“No. You hurt me. You made me love you. You made me want to be happy with you—” I drew a deep, shuddering breath and folded over as he moved in and wrapped me up in his arms—tucking my hands into my chest so I couldn’t fight him.
“Shh. It’s okay,” he said into my hair. “It’s okay.”
“I thought it was for always. I pictured a future,” I sobbed inaudibly.
He slowly reached up and rubbed his mouth with a tight hand, his eyes closed. “I know. I did too.”
“Then what happened? Why are you just letting this go?”
“This isn’t what I want. I was stupid—I thought I’d be the exception, but Ara, I’m not. I can’t change this.”
Like accepting death, his words rolled over me, and I nodded. “Do you know what will happen to me—when you’re gone?”
He grew taller, inch-by-inch. “Don’t think that way. You’re a strong, capable girl.” He grabbed both my arms. “You will be okay. I know this.”
I shook my head. “No, that’s just what you tell yourself.”
“It’s what I have to tell myself,” he yelled, his gaze fixing mine. After a moment, he gently pushed me away and walked toward my dad’s house, stopping after a few steps. “Goddamn it, Ara.”
I crossed my hands over my stomach to keep the contents in, drawing a few deep breaths, watching him do the same; his back to me, hand to his face.
The bell tolled behind us and students broke through the school doors, their noise filling the field—first period.
David quickly turned and stalked closer, grabbing my arm again before he was fully at my side. He pulled me close, glaring down at me. “What would you have me do?”
I shoved his hand off my arm. “Stay.”
“And what if those secrets of mine, those secrets you’re too innocent to handle, were stopping that from ever being possible? Would you be ready to hear them then?”
He doubled back, his eyes narrowing for a second. “Liar.”
I twitched a little. “I just…I don’t want you to be something bad, David.”
“Because you’re not sure if you could love me?”
“I’ve never been in love like this before; I just don’t know what it can withstand, and I feel so fragile—” I touched my chest. “I just feel so afraid to lose you—afraid to even want to stop loving you.”
He looked around as the students branched out in several directions, intruding on our little battle over the end of the world. “I can talk to my uncle. Maybe I can convince him to let me stay—at least for my original designated allowance.”
He exhaled slowly, and I knew it weaselled its way in there—the idea that a few months wouldn’t suffice. “There are other options—some I, until now, haven’t been willing to explore; but staying is not one of them.”
“None of them, really, Ara.” He groaned, scratching his brow fiercely. “None of them are right—not for you.”
He closed his eyes. “Because I love you. Because I want better for you. And because all your dreams, Ara—everything you want in life could be destroyed if we stayed together.”
“That, my love, is as far this explanation goes without formal approval.”
My eyes narrowed as I stepped into him, peering right into his soul. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’ll find a way to explain this to you. I’ll talk to my uncle and return for you later.”
“After lunch,” he said, and walked away without waiting for a response.
“Hey, Ara,” Emily beamed, racing up to where I stood; she smiled widely, looking at me then at David wandering away. “Missed you in roll-call today.”
“Em?” I rolled my head to the side, knowing full well she could see my tears. “Don’t pretend there’s nothing going on—that just makes it worse.”
“Sorry.” Her shoulders dropped. “Are you okay? Did you have a fight?”
I watched David getting smaller and smaller as he briskly walked toward the front parking lot. “I gotta get to class.”