"She should be here any minute," Trevor said, glancing at his watch restlessly.
I grinned and shook my head at my stepbrother's anxiety. My parents and I had found out that my stepbrother was engaged only a few days ago. He had really just sort of sprung it on us without warning. Of course, I couldn't help but be happy for him; he had sounded over the moon when he told us. My parents had wanted to meet the "poor, unsuspecting girl" as soon as possible, and Trevor had arranged a lunch meeting for today.
I sipped my water, glancing out of the large glass window and watching the traffic stream by. Trevor followed my gaze, brightening when he saw a taxi pull up by the curb across the street. I looked away as someone in the kitchen dropped a dish loudly, my attention having been grabbed by the noise.
"She's here!" Trevor exclaimed, bounding out of his seat and hurrying out of the restaurant to greet his fiancée.
I laughed, sharing a look with my mother. She smiled at me and took my step dad's hand, beginning to chat with him in hushed tones. I, on the other hand, turned my attention on the other customers in the small dining area. A cute blonde girl was sitting alone at the bar, and I checked her out quickly, winking at her when she met my gaze. She blushed and looked down at her sandwich.
Mom poked me, frowning at me when I directed my gaze at her.
"Elizabeth, stop eyeing the girls. You'll make people uncomfortable."
I rolled my eyes. "Mom, I'm frickin' twenty-two years old. I think I can sneak a peek when I want to."
Before Mom could respond, the door chimed and we all looked up to see who had entered. Sure enough, it was Trevor leading in his bride-to-be. I straightened in my chair a little before the big reveal, not wanting to look like a complete slob of my future sister-in-law and embarrass Trevor.
Trevor, as per his usual dorky personality, kept the girl shielded behind himself, grinning nervously when he approached our table. "Mom, Dad, Liz… This is Sandy." Then he stepped away, exposing an all too familiar face.
I felt all the color drain out of my face as Mom, Bill, and I gazed upon Trevor's fiancée. This had to be a nightmare… Trevor couldn't be marrying her!
I first met Sandy three years ago at my first job after high school. I'd finally landed a job as a barista at The Daily Grind, a coffee shop in the heart of the city. Sandy had already been employed there, a spunky, fun girl that was the wittiest girl I'd ever met. She started talking to me and practically didn't shut up the entire first day. We became fast friends.
The day I told her I was gay, we were the only ones there, waiting around during the slow period of the day. She'd looked a little surprised, then asked me if I 'liked' anyone. Feeling like I'd laid it all out on the table already, I told her how much I cared about her, right there in the middle of the empty coffee shop. She'd taken one look at me, then pulled me down behind the counter where no one could see and kissed me.
We'd been pretty much inseparable for the next month and a half, and I fell head over heels in love with her. We'd shared everything from our innermost secrets to our most embarrassing moments. And one single time, we'd slept together. It had been the most amazing night I'd ever had. The next morning, though, when I got to work, I was greeted with the sounds of shouting, and before I could even get behind the counter, a furious, crying Sandy had rushed out of the shop. Our boss had told me a few minutes afterward that Sandy had just been let go. I had bolted out of the shop and after Sandy, but I couldn't find her. She'd completely disappeared. By the time my boss had let me leave work and I'd driven across town to her apartment, it was vacant. She was gone.
I'd quit my job at the coffee shop and looked for her constantly for the next three months, but after finding no trace of her, I gave up. I managed to get my act together and quit wallowing in my self-pity after another few months, and had applied and been accepted to the community college on the north side of town. Everything had been going considerably fine, until just now…
Sandy was wearing a nervous smile as she murmured a greeting, but that smile faltered when she noticed me.
Trevor, being a gentleman, offered Sandy a chair, and she sat, trying to watch me without being obvious. Trevor took a seat beside her, grinning proudly at Mom and Bill as he took Sandy's hand and kissed her knuckles gently.
I felt sick to my stomach. "Excuse me," I said, getting up and heading for the bathroom. I could feel Mom's disapproving stare on the back of my head, but I didn't care, turning down the hallway that led to the restrooms. I pushed open the restroom door and headed for a sink, tears burning in my eyes. I was suddenly woozy, and gripped the sides of the sink for support, closing my eyes and trying to breathe deeply.
I stood there for I don't know how long, but it must have been more than just a few minutes, because the door creaked open and someone called my name softly. I flinched at the sound of her voice, though just hearing it again brought back so many memories…
Sandy stepped into the restroom and let the door fall shut behind her. "Liz," she tried again, sounding uncertain.
I opened my eyes and looked at her reflection in the mirror, tears burning in my eyes. We stared at each other for a moment, then I shook my head and broke the eye contact. "Why?" I breathed, gripping the sink a little tighter. "Why does he have to be marrying you, of all people?"
"I don't know," she responded softly.
I moaned, hating every second of the fresh agony in my chest.
"I had no idea," Sandy said after a moment. "I mean, you and Trev look nothing alike, so I just thought the last name was a coincidence."
I cringed inwardly at her pet name for my brother. "We're steps," I answered tightly.
Another silence came between us, and she stepped closer to me uncertainly.
"… Do you have any idea how long I looked for you?" I asked, my voice shaking. "I dropped everything and tried to find you, but you just disappeared…"
"Oh, Lizzie," Sandy breathed, sounding remorseful and sorrowful. She closed the distance between us and tried to wrap her arms around me. Against my better judgment, I shrugged them off, stepping away from her.
"No," I told her, shaking my head firmly. "We can't. You're marrying Trevor, and I… well, I'm obviously not what you want." You left me before, so why would you want me now? I added silently.
"No, Sandy," I said, interrupting her. I avoided looking at her, knowing that there were tears in her eyes. "Go out there and be my brother's fiancée. Do what you chose to do."
"It's Liz," I corrected her, hating the sharpness in my tone. Two and a half years of heartbreak had come rushing back all of a sudden, though, so I reasoned I was allowed to act a little harsh.
"…All right," she acquiesced, turning and walking toward the door. I heard her start to open it, but she hesitated.
"What?" I asked after a moment.
"What do you want me to tell your family?" she responded.
"Nothing. I don't wanna mess this up for Trevor." I bit back a strangled sob, miserable with the situation.
Sandy let out a strange, half smothered laugh. "I meant about you holing yourself up in here."
I cringed, mentally berating myself for not seeing what she'd meant. "I don't care. Something believable."
She nodded, slipping out of the restroom.
I glanced at my pathetic reflection, staring myself down before turning on the cold water and splashing some on my face.
I shook my hands off, reaching for a paper towel to dry myself with. Just as I finished crumpling the now-wet towel up and throwing it into the trashcan, the door opened again.
I looked up into the mirror and saw a very distressed Sandy. My heart, despite all of the pain that it was feeling, immediately ached for her, and I turned to look at her.
She looked like she was on the verge of tears. Sandy met my gaze and shook her head. "No, I can't. I just... can't."
"Can't what?" I asked, trying to keep all the bitterness out of my voice.
"I can't go out there… I can't do this. Not with you here." She was trembling a little, and I waited for her to gain the courage to speak. I wasn't sure I knew where she was going, and I didn't know if I wanted to find out.
"Do you want me to leave?" I asked after a moment, wincing when I heard the sharpness of my tone. I took a step toward the door, trying to show her that I was serious. I didn't know why it made sense for me to leave, but I just wanted an escape from the situation.
"No!" She sounded almost desperate. "I-That's not what I mean!" Sandy stepped between me and the door, trying to stop me from leaving. "Wait, just… just hear me out. Please."
I crossed my arms over my chest, raising my eyebrows to show her that I was waiting.
"I was an ass. A bitch. Call me whatever you want, I totally deserve it. I should never has disappeared on you." She sniffled and wiped at her eyes. "I was so heartbroken after I left, and I tried to blame you-"
That set me off. "Excuse me!" I cried, throwing my hands in the air. "You're blaming me for your broken heart? Funny, I don't remember being the one that disappeared without a trace! I don't remember being the one that didn't try to get in touch! I do remember being the one that was head-over-heels in love with a perfect girl, only to get left! Do you have any idea how long I looked for you?" I saw that her face had paled a few shades, but I didn't stop. I was on a roll. "Dammit, Sandy, I cried myself to sleep every night for the first three months! I was so confused and hurt that I couldn't function. That's why I'm back in my parents' house. So don't you dare tell me that I broke your heart unless you have a damn good reason to, because I still don't know if I even did anything wrong!" I forced myself to stop then, because I knew I'd only start saying things I'd really regret. I was breathing hard, tears were streaming unnoticed down my cheeks, and I could tell I was a little red in the face.
I took a moment to calm myself down, turning away from Sandy, who was standing there looking like a deer in the headlights.
Sandy swallowed and looked down at the ground. She opened her mouth a few times, closing it again. "I'm sorry," she mumbled finally. "I'm so, so sorry."
I could hear remorse and guilt in her voice, so much so that it sounded like she was drowning in a sea of those two emotions.
After a long moment, she looked up and sniffled again. "I can't do this. I can't marry Trevor. Not while you're here. God, Liz, I thought I'd lost you and would never find you again."
"Well, you obviously see something in him that you didn't see in me," I shot back. "Why else would you be marrying him?"
Sandy closed her eyes for a second. "I don't know. Look, this would be easier if you would just listen to me, rather than trying to throw this in my face every three seconds."
I bristled before forcing myself to calm down again. She was right, and I knew it. "Sorry," I muttered, biting my tongue so I wouldn't say anything else.
"Thanks." She looked at me and studied me for a moment, wiping a stray tear off her cheek. "I ran away, and I don't know why. I was so terrified… Liz, I loved you so much. I still do. It was… it all just happened so fast… I didn't know what to do. I'd never… I'd never been with another girl, and the fact that it was all so… so perfect was so scary." She closed her eyes again, as though she was reliving the time we'd spent together. "I fell so hard and so fast, and then…"
"And then?" I choked out. "Then what?" I removed all the hostility from my voice, trying to show her that I didn't want to fight. "Sandy, if it was because you lost your job, I woulda done anything. You could have moved in with me. Just… why did you leave me?"
The air in the room became suffocating. I was tempted to run out and run away, but my gut told me to stay. I felt my jaw tighten as I struggled not to burst into tears again. I closed my eyes, trying not to let my tears show.
Sandy drew a shaky breath. "Liz… I-I just… oh God…" She opened her eyes and looked at me, her teary gaze meeting my own. "I didn't want to burden you with my problems. I didn't want to mess up the only perfect thing in my life by asking too much."
I waited to see if she was done talking before I jumped in, and after a moment of silence, I opened my mouth to speak. "So you just ran away, then found yourself a man. If being with a girl was so 'perfect', why not find another woman?"
Sandy looked away. "No one could compare to you," she murmured as a slight blush tinged her cheeks.
I felt my heart skip a beat, a glimmer of hope rising in my chest for the first time in what felt like forever.
"And the only reason I started dating Trevor," Sandy continued before I could ask the question she was already answering, "was because he reminded me of you."
I almost wanted to cry all over again, and I wasn't sure why.
Sandy looked up at me and sighed before speaking. "I never forgot you, and I never stopped loving you. I promised myself that if I ever met you again, I'd beg for forgiveness and a second chance to show you that I'm not going to run away this time." Her voice took on a determined, hopeful tone. "I want to show you that I love you enough to stay through the good times and the bad."
"S-Sandy…" I stammered, watching as she took a step toward me, then another.
"I love you, Lizzie," she murmured, trying to smile through her tears as she approached me. "Give me another chance. Please."
It took me a minute, but I forced myself to step backward. "What about Trevor?"
"I told you, I can't do this with you here. As awful as it is, I'm going to break up with him. Even if you decide to give me another chance, I just won't be able to live around you without being the one that can love you."
"But…" I was distressed by the turn this conversation was taking. "No, Sandy. I mean, you can't! He's my brother, and I want him to be happy. I can't let you just break up with him now that you're engaged."
Sandy stopped immediately, her eyes going to the floor. She was silent for a long time. "Look," she said slowly. "I spent three months running away from the love of my life, then even longer wondering where you were, and by a pure chance of fate, I found you again. I don't want to have to give you up again."
"Lizzie, Trevor's a sweet guy. I hate to break his heart, but I think he'll understand." Sandy, though her words were a little harsh, sounded sad about it. "I hope he'll understand."
"Sandy, I just… I can't do that to him." My heart ached as I spoke, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
Sandy looked heartbroken, but after staring at me for a moment, she nodded to herself, turning around and heading for the door. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, bowing her head. "Then… God, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I guess I… Uh… Goodbye, Liz." With that, she slipped out the door, leaving me alone in the bathroom. The finality of her not using her pet name for me freezes the blood in my veins.
I stared at the door for a long moment, unaware of the tears streaming down my cheeks. After all my relentless searching, I'd just let the woman I loved walk out of my life again. Right then, it sank in that she'd said she was going to break up with Trevor no matter what I'd said to her, and I bolted to the door.
By the time I'd run out of the bathroom, I saw Sandy walking out of the restaurant, her shoulders slumped. My gaze immediately went to the table where Trevor and our parents were still sitting.
Trevor wasn't moving, just staring off into space, looking completely stunned. Mom and Bill were looking awkward, unsure of what to say. The customers sitting around them all looked sympathetic.
I ran over to them, calling my stepbrother's name. "Trevor! Oh, god, I'm so sorry! I didn't-I…"
He looked up at me slowly, confusion on his face. "What just happened?"
I cringed, palming tears from my cheeks. "Sandy-I just-we… Oh, holy shit, this sucks. Trevor, I didn't meant for this to happen. Hell, I didn't even know she was still around here!"
Trevor's eyebrows arched. "You know her?" His voice sounded hollow.
I nodded slowly, feeling like my chest was splitting in half. "She was that girl. The one from the coffee shop. The one that just disappeared."
Everything was oddly quiet. I stared at Trevor, silently begging for his forgiveness.
Trevor's gaze dropped to the table top as he processed what I'd just told him. When he looked up, his eyes didn't seem as confused. "She was that dream girl of yours?" I noticed his voice didn't sound quite as hollow anymore.
I nodded again, not trusting my voice.
"Then why aren't you chasing after her now that you've found her again?" he asked, a small, sad smile appearing at the corner of his mouth. His eyes looked watery and full of heartache.
I just stared at him, my mind whirling as I tried to comprehend what he'd just said. "What? I mean… Trevor, I didn't want to steal her from you when she made you so happy!"
Trevor waved my comment away. "The hell with that. I'll find someone else. God, Liz, seriously. I've never seen you so crazy over someone. What're you still doing here, anyway? Go get her!" When I didn't move, he rolled his eyes. "Liz, do I have to walk you through this? Get your ass outta here and go after Sandy! You deserve a chance to be happy, too, so get out there and go find your dream girl!"
"GO!" he shouted, slamming his fist on the table. A sheepish grin ghosted across his face. "Sorry. Liz, go get her! We'll talk later, all three of us."
"Make that all five of us," Mom added.
I stared at Trevor in disbelief. "Seriously?"
Trevor merely pointed at the door.
I shot him a grateful grin and shot off toward the door and out onto the street. I thanked my lucky stars that Sandy had come in a taxi; she probably wouldn't have been able to catch another one so quickly. I looked both directions to see where she'd gone, catching a glimpse of her rounding a far corner to my left. I took off after her, dancing through the crowd.
As I started catching up, people seemed to realize I was chasing Sandy, and parted a little to make a path for me. I gave them a grateful smile, sprinting for all I was worth. I fixed my gaze on Sandy and just ran.
The slapping of my feet against the concrete served as a mantra for me; with every step, I chanted her name in my head.
All of a sudden, it seemed like I was right behind her. She turned at the same time as I reached for her, and I stumbled, tripping as I tried to stop. I ended up sprawled out on the ground at Sandy's feet, wanting to smack myself for looking like an idiot.
"What the-! Liz? Are you okay?"
I blushed, crawling into a sitting position as she knelt beside me. I looked up at her sheepishly, my heart aching at the sight of tears in her eyes. The tears were my fault, and I knew it.
"I'm fine," I said quietly, smiling up at her gently as she rested a hand on my shoulder.
Sandy's eyes filled with tears, a few starting to spill over onto her cheeks. "Liz, what…?"
I hesitated for just a moment, watching dumbly as she looked away. "Sandy, listen. I just talked to Trevor and he said it was okay. He practically threw me out the door to chase you down."
Sandy was quiet for a moment before releasing me and getting to her feet. "Yeah, sure. Look, Liz, we just… After all that we've said, I mean…" She sniffled and turned away, all the courage she'd had in her while we'd been in the bathroom having disappeared.
I gingerly climbed to my feet, standing before her. I didn't know what to say to explain myself to her, but I opened my mouth to give it a shot. "I'm sorry, Sandy. I'm so sorry for everything I said back there. It was just… all the stuff I'd been bottling up since you left, all the hurt and loneliness, that all came and… I let it take over me. I let it start talking, and I shouldn't have. I hope you can forgive me."
Sandy was quiet for a few moments, finally snorting softly. "I guess we're even now, aren't we?" she asked, a hint of teasing in her voice. "We've both broken each other's hearts."
"Let's not do that again," I suggested, reaching for her and laying a hand on her shoulder.
"Sounds good," she agreed, turning to look at me.
We stared at each other for a moment, searching each other's eyes. Staring into her eyes brought back a flood of memories, and I felt a warm and fuzzy sensation filling me. I'd forgotten what it felt like to be around someone I cared so deeply about.
"Sandy?" I asked, surprised to find myself breathless.
"Hmm?" She seemed entranced by my gaze.
"I love you," I murmured, cupping her face in my hands and kissing her tenderly. She immediately started kissing me back, and it felt like our first kiss all over again.
I felt like I was in heaven; her kiss was just as amazing as I'd remembered. I only pulled away from her when I was about to pass out from lack of oxygen.
The moment we broke apart, Sandy rested her head on my shoulder, her arms slipping around me. I wrapped my arms around her tightly, hugging her warmly.
"I love you, too," she told me, the sincerity in her voice almost overwhelming.
I smiled into her hair, my heart soaring. We simply stood there in each other's arms for a few minutes, and I could feel my broken heart beginning to mend.
"I'm never letting you go again," I swore to her, cuddling her close to me. I was a little taken aback at the emotion in my voice.
"I'm not going to give you a reason to let me go," she retorted, a happy sigh escaping her a few moments later.
I couldn't stop my huge grin, and I looked up to the sky, silently thanking whoever was listening. I'd never been a lucky person, and after losing Sandy, I'd lost all my hope for a happy future. By a wonderful twist of fate, though, she was back and in my arms.
"What a lucky twist of fate," I murmured, kissing the top of her head.
Sandy chuckled, hugging me affectionately. "You betcha." She was quiet for a moment, then pulled away and looked at me strangely.
Sandy blushed a little, looking down. "I, um… Can we give 'us' another try? I mean, I-I know we can't pick up right were we left off, but-"
I swooped down and cut her off with a kiss.
"I'd like that," I told her breathlessly, grinning down at Sandy. "A lot."
Her face lit up with a smile, and she hugged me again. I felt my eyes burn with happy tears, and I hugged her back, never having felt so complete.