Chapter 7 – So Easily

.so you've returned. and so easily. i can't seem to remember. that you're still standing there. a piece of my heart. still clutched in your hand.

Winter was the coldest it had ever been in our town. By October one could see their breath dancing its way through the air and dissipating into the chill. Fingers froze and noses were cold, scarves were worn and layers became 'in fashion'. Our first snow came mid-November, not much, but enough to create a stir at the ski hills. Each day I braved the frigid temperatures to venture to school. It was my fourth year, my last year. The workload was heavier than usual, but my own pride got caught in my throat each time I tried to voice that I needed to slow down.

School wasn't he only thing that needed to slow down. Josh and I seemed to be getting more serious by the day; it scared me. I didn't say anything, but I knew that there was a goal in mind when it came to Josh. He was adorable, he was sweet, he was a gentleman, but somehow, he just seemed too perfect. He was my knight, and I was his fairytale princess, but it never really felt quite right.

I had all but given in to the fact that Jaymes would never come back. I'd heard that Mr. Maholley had retired from my old high school, but any tidbit of news about Jaymes was nonexistent. I told myself that I had moved on with Josh, and that he treated me the way a boy should have, better than Jaymes ever could. And then something odd happened.

Mrs. Maholley died.

It was one of those rare nights that I had gone to bed before one in the morning, and I was just about to fall into a blissfully deep sleep with the knowledge that I didn't have to wake up until seven the next morning. The small house stood in peaceful slumber, with the occasional creak or rattle from the aged floorboards and beams. I was snuggled under the covers of my bed, eyes heavy with sleep as they closed and prepared the venture to the land of dreams.

The phone rang.

My heart pounded.

I didn't know who it was, but I had an inkling, which was odd in itself. He had never called, never written, nothing. But I knew. I just did.

I let it ring; over, and over, and over. The machine picked it up and I listened to the happy voices of Terra and I carry over through paper walls from the living room. "Hey, you've reached Terra and Maddie." Terra said with a small laugh.

"We're probably not around so leave a message and we'll try to get back to you." The loud ringing of the beep sounded – forever it seemed.

I heard sobbing; he was sobbing uncontrollably, and I wasn't there; I was lying on my back, in bed, just listening. "Maddie," he cried brokenly, more like a child than the confident young man I had met so long ago. "Maddie, wake up; I need…"

I willed myself not to pick up the phone, too much hurt convoluting my insides that I couldn't seem to breathe properly.

"She's gone," was all he could manage, and cried for a little while longer. "They said she still had time, Maddie. They said!" he sniffed and I felt liquid building up behind my eyes, getting ready to spill out. He swore, and I could hear him drinking something, probably beer.

"My dad called me." He calmed down slightly, but he was still crying, his words a bit slurred. "He just said she was gone. Jus' like that. He didn't call to tell me to come home – he wouldn't even tell me when she – when the funeral…oh god!" he sobbed. "I didn't even know she was that bad – I thought… It's my fault. It's all my fault…"

I swallowed hard and clutched the lifeless cordless phone in my hand, willing myself not to press the 'Talk' button. After four long years he was finally talking to me. I didn't know what to feel, what to think, so I just took it in numbly.

"I could have stayed. I could have been there to take care of her. I just should have stayed!" he sobbed. "She asked me to stay, Maddie. She knew she was dying, and she didn't say anything. She didn't…"

I could feel the tears coming, tried to suppress them, but I couldn't.

He swore. "I'm sorry, I just…didn't know who to call, and your mom…your mom gave me your number. I just – I needed to talk. I…I'm sorry, Maddie, for everything."

"It's been almost four years, Jaymes." I whispered as I stared up at the ceiling.

Silence. He swore again. "You have every right to ignore me right now. After what I did… I jus'…Maddie," he slurred finally. "I love you."

"I know." I surprised myself by saying aloud.

My insides twisted and my brows drew in confused anger. No, he wasn't allowed to love me, not after what had happened, not after all the time that had passed. He wasn't supposed to love me – that was why he had left to begin with! Wasn't it? I wanted to scream with all the pent up frustration that had grown and festered over the years. Instead I let silent tears slip down my cheeks.

"I'm coming home." And then he hung up. I erased the message.

I didn't sleep at all that night. I tried not to think about it for the next few days, but it was hard not to.

I had told myself over and over again for almost four years that I was over him, that I was done with him. He'd stripped me of my old self and had left me with nothing to fall back on. For almost a year I had been left stumbling blindly, unable to stand on the legs of the 'real' Maddie, the girl behind the mask. It hurt.

The weekend swam into view, and I found myself working. I was still at the café next to the bookstore; it hadn't seemed practical to change jobs.

He stood five feet away and didn't notice me.

My heart pounded in my throat as I blinked and stared. He was still the same, the same Jaymes. Nothing about him had changed, except he had dark circles under his eyes, whether from crying or not enough sleep. He wore a zip-up sweater and black scarf, a new pair of dark jeans, and the same worn shoes. Dark hair fell across his forehead and past his ears, wavy and in a state of disarray. He didn't smile to Jamie, the girl taking his order.

He didn't recognize me, even after three glances. Maddie had changed not just on the inside.

My hair had grown long and curly, a phenomenon I was unable to explain; it was still auburn, like fire when touched by the sun. Not even my mother had recognized me one day at the supermarket.

As he left I felt my pulse slow down to a regular speed, as if death had passed over me and left me living.

I didn't think after I got off work, I just headed towards the Jam House, an automatic reaction that had been integrated into my routine over the years. The house stood solidly, tranquil as always. I'd fallen in love with the place, and couldn't imagine another place like it; it just wouldn't be the same. You could never duplicate such a feeling, but I knew it was more than the house, but the people inside that made it so safe for me.

Terra and I had done some gardening in the front one day, but one couldn't tell due to the snow and frost that had descended upon the blooms early. What I did notice caused my heart to race and my hands to shake. My eyes rested on a vehicle that I hadn't seen in almost four years.

The same rusty exterior, eating away at the brown paint, and a cracked windshield stood out. It looked older, exhausted from miles of travel, but still the same.

I drove by the house once, and suddenly berated myself for doing so. I should have been expecting him to show up, expecting him to go to the Jam House: his only haven. So he had left; big deal. I had no problems with his being there. The lie stabbed my conscience so much so that I physically winced. Truth: I was still confused about my feelings. If I were to see him, I knew it would only stir up more confusion.

Parking across the street, I sat staring, wondering. Part of me desperately wanted to see him, wanted to see his eyes and feel reassurance. The other part of me couldn't let go of the wheel, knuckles clenched so tight, they were starting to turn a shade of blank white.

Swallowing hard, I pulled my key from the ignition and got out, pausing with unsurity as I locked the door. Would it be awkward? Of course. How could it not be? Perhaps he would just pretend, as I had done, that nothing had happened. I crossed the street and stood staring at my newfound sanctuary that felt as though it had been invaded. He had been there first, but he had left.

Glancing backwards at my car, I contemplated going home, back to the quiet, back to wondering. I chewed on my bottom lip and faced the house once again, putting one foot in front of the other. They were hesitant steps, played out to be nonchalant, but it probably wasn't hard to tell.

A ball of newly-born cocoons were beginning to break open inside my stomach, causing my heart to leap for joy – or utter nervousness – at the new life, and my insides to churn in merriment. As each butterfly dried and flew, so did my feet hit each step that led up to the front door. Hundreds seemed to be dancing inside that organ, perhaps thousands. Their wings fluttered faster as soon as I stood on the front step, staring at the door as if it were the entrance to death itself.

I turned around, just about to search for my keys, but something stopped me. I chewed on my lip and spun around to meet my fate.

As my pale, shaking hand reached for the door knob, it seemed to come alive on its own accord, twisting by the force of an invisible hand. Suddenly the door was pulled open. I jumped, a bit surprised, and looked up: my mistake.

Grey eyes that had previously been twinkling in mirth stared at me, locking me in an all too familiar gaze. I stood with my mouth half open, unsure of what to do, what to say. He didn't seem to know either.

Move! My body screamed, so I did. I spun around and retraced my once heavy steps with haste, though refusing to run. Running was for cowards; speed-walking was for those who still held out hope.

No one came after me, but then, my key was in the ignition before they could spot me. The tires ate up the road for miles, silently taking me to where I didn't know I wanted to go. I drove aimlessly for an hour, muddling through thoughts and tears, and unable to push away either.

Finally I turned the car around and headed for home.

He sat on the front steps, illuminated by the porch light against the growing dusk of the late afternoon. His breath danced and swirled from his mouth and nostrils, and, had I cared, he looked cold without a jacket.

I wiped my face of old tears as I exited the car and walked to the front door. He wasn't smoking, just sitting with his head in hands. He looked up at me when I came close enough, but I stared at my door, refusing to meet the penetrating grey.

"Hi." He said so softly, I almost didn't catch it.

I cleared my throat inaudibly. "Hi." After crying for so long, my voice seemed unnatural, like some other girl.

As the keys slipped into the lock, Jaymes stood and followed me, unasked. His nose was a shade of red from the cold wind and all he wore was a faded t-shirt and a pair of worn jeans: the usual. I took my coat off before heading to the kitchen and turning on the kettle.

Silence was thick, so heavy I could feel it pressing against my eardrums, threatening to make them explode. I didn't want to break it, but neither did I want it to continue. After ten minutes the kettle sang and I poured a cup of tea for the both of us. I don't know why; I didn't want him to stay.

"Are we going to talk?" Jaymes asked finally as I handed him his tea and went to sit across the room, on the counter.

"What did you want to talk about?" I replied with a bit of ornery sarcasm.

He set his cup down at he table he had been sitting at and stood, running his hand through his hair. Finally he looked at me, really looked at me, straight into my eyes as if conveying everything through that gaze. I hated how he did it so easily. "You know." was all he said, but the rest didn't need to be spoken out loud.

I looked down at my tea, fiddling with the string hanging off the side.

"Maddie." He said gently, taking a step towards me, to breach the long gap between us.

I cowered and pressed my back against the cupboards as if they would offer me protection. "No!" I cried, surprising myself. "You…You don't get to do…this!" I pointed at him as if indicating what I meant. "You left!" My anger was beginning to bubble to the surface, and my voice rose, springing with it a dam of tears that I had been saving for this very moment. "Don't you understand? You left! You didn't say goodbye, and – and you didn't… You never said what it was… - And I waited! I waited for two years, hoping that maybe you would come back and tell me what it was that I…that I did wrong!" Tears dripped off my chin into my cooling drink. "You didn't talk to me for four years, Jaymes. Four years! How can you expect me to just…?" I raised my hand helplessly before wiping some of the tears off my face.

"You knew why I left." His voice sounded desperate, like he wanted me to know. He seemed so shocked, so confused, as if I should have known all this time the reason he'd been gone for so long.

"No!" I yelled, balling my fists in rage.

He swore and paced, rubbing his hand through his hair, pressing his palm against his forehead – up, down, up, down. I continued crying, watching blindly through tears as he paced for a good five minutes.

He stopped and stared at me. "You…You were going to university, and everyone had said that – that you didn't need distractions from your plan. I thought you would have wanted me out of the way…so – so you could…" the words trailed as he shook his head. "I never meant to hurt you, Maddie. I could never…"

A sob broke the silence, and it was mine. I slid off the counter and reached for a paper towel. Its rough surface scratched my skin, but absorbed some of the wet that blanketed my face.

He was there in less time that it took to breathe. His strong arms wrapped around me, pulling me into his chest; we fit so perfectly, like puzzle pieces. I shivered, but couldn't help but cling to him. We were so opposite, so different. He with his fear, and I with my unsurity.

He pulled back and stared down at me, his grey gaze just as intense as the night he had left. His kiss caught me off guard, but I should have been expecting it. The hungry passion licked its way through my body, through all of my nerves, until I was lost in a hopeless battle of practicality versus my own emotion.

Emotion won.

A/N: More to come, but probably not for at least a couple of weeks due to more midterms and a gig with my band that involves travel (woot!). Just for some reader candy, I'm posting the first chapter of a new story I've started, but that'll be all for a long time. Thanks for all of your feedback! Please review!