My mirthful laughter died faster than someone in a gas chamber.
What is he doing here? Quick, pretend like you didn't see him. Wait, crap, will that work? He knows how attentive I actually am. Shit! Okay, play cool.
I turned my head back toward my friend, laughing again at her joke, but she read me all too well. "What happened, are you alright?" she asked, concerned at my sudden change in mood.
"It's nothing," I assured her. Okay, not my greatest response/excuse/lie, but I honestly had no clue on how I should handle this. He just looked so different now, changed immensely. That light expression darkened, clean and crisp attire dirtied, long confident stride reduced to pitifully short and shy steps. Even his hair color lost its brilliance. I tracked him through the corner of my eye, surprised at his choice of seating. Alone. In a corner. Since when did he choose that?
What happened to him?
"What are you doing, stop looking!" I blurted. My hands flew to her shoulders as I twisted her to me, attracting even more attention to myself. Some random people around looked at me funnily. She followed my painfully obvious eye movements to him, jaw agape when she finally discovered what unnerved me so. "Don't. Do. Anything." I whispered and half threatened.
She paused, conflicted. Concerning a mutual friend - more specifically, a once mutual friend, and considering her considerable knowledge of why this affected me, her inner dialogue she might as well have screamed. As much as she would love helping, knowing how things ended horribly, especially for me, which she thinks is exactly why she should interfere, why I should do something.
"Don't. Whatever you may think and want, please: don't."
Her mouth zipped shut, shoulders straightened, and eyes soaked in mine. She analyzed, dissected them. My fear, desperation, or maybe even rejection, whatever what secret those almond barriers hid beneath their cracks, she backed off. I sighed in relief, hoping this day ended soon, and by soon I meant right fucking now.
When I invited her for a day of fun and relaxation, I did not recall the brochure mention a horrible and recent blast from my past as the main attraction. Okay, maybe he's just a straggler, not part, just lost. Yeah. There're plenty of reasons for him coincidentally being here as I am. Remember, even The Doctor said ignore coincidences. Wait, but I'm not busy… Alright, again, deep breath. It will all be fine. No doubt about it.
Literally, I focused on anything else but him. Did you know that staring into the sun freaking hurts, the stones below my feet all had at least five cracks in them, everyone around me thought I lost my mind as I swept my gaze multiple times; well, except for one creepy old man who kept winking and raising his eyebrows at me. Ugh, I'll just suppress that memory later.
"All tourists approach the bus, we will begin in a few minutes," a voice announced over a speaker.
"Thank God," my friend and I muttered in unison. We burst into laughter for no apparent reason, welcoming that minute of carelessness. She stood up first, smiling and grabbing my hand, pointing with her head, "Come on, let's go. You promised me a day of fun and adventure, remember?" Our laughter reverberating throughout the bland hallway, footsteps echoing in unison against decaying cobblestone road.
Then a third pair joined, ruining our synchronization. From the corner of my eye I saw him approach timidly, uncharacteristically, like he still debated everything mentally. If he still doubted himself, he must possess courage because he went to my side, making me the middle person, the position I hated most. I preferred standing at the left flank, which he probably still remembered.
"Hey…" a small sound sound escaped from his lips. I strained my ears so I could actually hear it. His voice normally flowed and spread so well. Roadkill died louder than his anticlimactic greeting.
"Hi." One word responses I hate, but it captured everything: stoniness, regret, confusion, hope, rejection. I turned to my friend and politely asked if she could leave us alone. She squeezed my hand affectionately and encouragingly. Since we got up, she never let it go.
"So… how are you doing?" he offered awkwardly, doubtful. He lost any previous resolve.
What's his game plan? What's his motive? Why do this now, after months? How did he even find me, dumb luck? I can't do this. Not anymore. Things ended, I ended it, hell, even he fucking ended this fucking shit for some goddamn reason. I'm not fucking opening Pandora's-fucking-Box. And yet, I answered him anyways. A vague and open-ended answer, but still one nonetheless. He tried reading me; I could see it in his expression. I could also read him, and noticed that while I succeeded, he failed. Reason why: I changed for better, he didn't. Underneath his outward disaster persona lied the same teenager from high school, still searching for the person he once knew. Evolution, I embraced it, and he still struggled with Natural Selection. Eventually, he gave up his search, probably realized its fruitlessness. "How about you, how are you doing?"
"I-I'm alr- actually not alright. I'm having a bad day. Several bad days. In a row." He gestured at his tangled, uncombed hair, tattered suit, poorly made tie, like that explained everything perfectly.