Maybe Too Late
©2014 dear-llama. All rights reserved.
3. Maybe Too Late
He'd turned it over in his mind over and over all throughout the summer, before he'd finally made his decision. What could it hurt, anyway? He was leaving.
He'd stood aside for almost two years now, waiting, waiting – and he was damned if he was going to wait any longer.
Pulling his phone from his pocket, he started dialling.
She picked up after two rings. "Dietrich?"
"Iola," he said. "I need a favour."
"So," Kara said, lifting the cup to her lips and taking a sip of her iced latte, "what's up? Not that we need a reason to hang out, but it sounded pretty urgent when you called."
"Oh, nothing much," said Iola airily, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. "It's just been a while since we met up after graduation."
Kara threw her an odd glance. "Graduation was two weeks ago."
Iola threw up her hands. "And you're going out of state for college! We don't have much time left together." The corners of her mouth turned downward and Kara groaned inwardly. Iola's puppy-dog look was not one to be trifled with.
She reached over to pat Iola on the hand even as she laughed. "I'm going to Vancouver, not Venezuela!"
Iola squinted, distracted for a moment. "Where is Venezuela?"
Kara just shook her head and chuckled. "Point is, we won't be that far apart. Just don't get so caught up in college life that you forget to reply my emails."
"You're one to talk!" Iola huffed. "You've never replied any of my emails."
Kara rolled her eyes. "That's because I see you at school every day! And stop sending me those chain mails, they're annoying as heck."
Iola pursed her lips. "I don't want my mother to die."
Kara cast an exasperated glance upward, as if seeking divine intervention. Then they looked at each other and laughed, the air of camaraderie enveloping them like a warm hug.
Then Iola jerked as if she'd suddenly remembered something very important.
"What's wrong?" Kara asked, noticing the way Iola's eyes brightened.
"Nothing." Iola sat back in her seat, clearing her throat. She looked so self-conscious that Kara narrowed her eyes. "So," Iola said, striving to sound casual but failing completely, "did you know Dietrich's going to England?"
Kara couldn't quite hide the jolt that this information brought. It was her turn to clear her throat. After a little while, she said in a strained voice, "Oh? That's really cool." Behind her impassive face, her mind was working furiously to consider what it meant that Iola and Dietrich were apparently still in close contact.
She hadn't heard from Dietrich in all of the two weeks since they'd last seen each other.
"He received a full scholarship to do Architecture at the University College London," Iola said wistfully, a hint of envy in her voice. She shook her head, "Surprising, isn't it? Architecture. I'd never have thought."
Kara smiled. He was another step closer to achieving his dream of becoming an architect. "It suits him," she said softly, so caught up in those late-night memories that she missed the calculating glance that Iola shot her.
"So…" Iola chose this moment to pounce. "What do you think of Dietrich?"
The question took Kara by surprise. "What are you talking about?" she laughed uncomfortably, after a pause. "He's your crush."
"I'm totally over him," Iola reassured her. "It just seemed like… I don't know, you two seemed to be pretty close at some point." She nudged Kara, grinning slyly.
"We just… talked," Kara replied, forcing herself to sound dismissive. "It was nothing."
Iola frowned at her. "Honestly, just tell me. Do you like him in the least bit?"
Kara stared at the girl who had been her best friend for over ten years, since the day they'd met in first grade. She thought about the way Iola had been holding onto Dietrich's arm at the graduation party, and the fact that Iola had just broken up with her boyfriend. Then she laughed. And for the first time, straight-out lied to her best friend in the world. "Don't be silly. Why would I like him? He's all yours."
So that was it. He had his answer.
"I'm really sorry," Iola said. Even through the phone, he could hear the sympathy practically dripping off her voice.
"It's fine," he said. "I'm leaving anyway… It never would've worked out."
Sensing that Iola was about to spout more platitudes, he cut her off. "Look, thanks for helping. I'll talk to you again, okay?"
When she'd hung up, he sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. The phone was suddenly heavy in his hand.
He should have seen this coming.
Without even consciously making the decision, he found his thumb swiping at the screen until he was scrolling through his address book. Then he took a deep breath and pressed down.
He didn't know how long the phone rang. He was too distracted by the sound of his own heartbeat ringing in his ears.
There was a click signalling she had picked up. "Hello… Dietrich?"
"Kara." His voice came out in a croak and he cleared his throat. Shit, that was lame. "How are you doing?"
"Fine," she replied, with a quizzical note in her voice that said she was wondering why he had called her out of the blue. "Oh hey," she exclaimed abruptly, "I heard you're going to England. Congratulations on the scholarship, that's really great!"
"Thanks." He racked his brains for something to say. "I heard you're going to UBC, huh? What are you thinking of majoring in?"
"I don't know," she said. "Probably English."
"And then a Master's degree in Journalism?" He remembered her saying, that one time, that she wanted to become a journalist.
There was a surprised hesitation, before he heard her say, "Yeah. Journalism."
They were both silent, remembering that conversation that had taken place too long ago.
He cleared his throat again, "Well, I just wanted… to wish you luck. I'm leaving next week, so…"
"Oh, that soon?" He couldn't tell if there was a note of disappointment in her voice. It couldn't be, he told himself. "Bon voyage! Take care of yourself over there, okay?"
"You too. Take care of yourself in Vancouver."
"I will," she said, laughing a little. "Thanks."
There was another silence, where each of them was holding on, not wanting to hang up. Eventually, Dietrich shook his head and spoke. "Keep in touch, yeah?" The tiny piece of hope that still hadn't died pushed the words out of his mouth. Then he scowled at himself – could he sound any more desperate?
"Of course," she replied.
But they both knew they wouldn't.
Not long after she'd moved to Vancouver, Kara heard from Iola's email that Dietrich had gotten himself an English girlfriend. That night, she'd gone out with her dorm mates and gotten smashingly drunk.
She'd slept with someone for the first time that night.
When morning had come, she'd tiptoed out of the guy's dorm room, cringing inwardly with every step of her walk of shame.
Then a year later, Iola's email had gleefully announced that Dietrich and his girlfriend were over.
She'd smiled a little; told herself she didn't care. It had, after all, been two years since she had last seen him. That one and only photograph of them together, pinned up on her wall among the rest, was already beginning to furl at the edges.
It was freezing outside.
She pulled her coat more tightly around herself, muttering under her breath about mothers who sent you out on errands in the freezing cold when all you wanted to do was kick back on the couch after a long exhausting semester away at college.
Then she turned the corner and – literally – ran into Dietrich Summers for the first time in three years.
Her face hit him somewhere in the vicinity of the collarbone, and she felt his hands come around to hold her by the elbows, stabilising her. By the time she'd righted herself and stepped back, she was sure she was flushing. "I'm sorry!" she squeezed out. "I wasn't looking…"
She looked up at his face and saw that he was fighting a grin. It was only then that she realised it hadn't been a stranger she'd run into, but… well, what was he to her now? Not a friend exactly, but not a stranger either.
"Oh, hey!" She exclaimed, eyes wide, heart thudding erratically in her chest at his sudden appearance, "I didn't know you were back."
He smiled at her, grey eyes warm. "Yeah, I'm doing an internship in Toronto now."
"Oh!" This was news to her. Why hadn't Iola told her about it? She was usually so prompt with news about Dietrich. "Are you back for good then?" She tried to push down the little bud of hope beginning to bloom in her chest.
Just seeing him, talking to him like this was making her face feel hot and her heart flutter tightly in her belly. Her cheeks were burning and she hoped her blush wasn't still all that visible. Maybe she could blame it on the cold weather. Or that embarrassing collision back there.
He was shaking his head. "No… It's going to be my last Christmas here, actually."
"Are you moving or something?" She smiled to hide the fact that her heart had just sunk to the bottom of her stomach.
"I'm going back to England for my Master's degree… And probably staying there after I graduate, if I can get a job."
"Not coming back even to see the 'rents, then?" She asked, a little teasingly, a little probingly.
"I would," he smiled a little now, "but that would be a moot point since they'll be in London this time next year."
She took a while to digest that. "Your parents are joining you in London?"
"They've decided they miss the motherland and want to go back." He shrugged, the movement of his shoulders fluid from years of practice. "Go figure."
"… I see," she said. With no family here, he had nothing left in Canada to pull him back. She guessed that this would likely be the last time they would meet.
He rubbed his hands together to warm them up and she noticed he wasn't wearing gloves. "So, you're back on Christmas break?"
"Oh." She supposed it was her turn to talk about herself now, even though she'd wanted to find out more about what he had been up to over the past few years. "Yeah, I am. Just got back a couple days ago, actually."
"You're in your last year, right?"
"Yep," she confirmed, nodding her head in agreement. "And then grad school." She made a face.
He chuckled at her expression. "I know. Grad school sounds like a total pain."
She laughed suddenly, "I just realised we're both going to be Masters of something."
His laughter mingled with hers. "I sure don't feel like a 'Master' of anything."
"Do Ph.D.s feel like Doctors of Philosophy?" She grimaced. "How does that even feel?"
He nudged her playfully. "Why don't you get one and let me know?"
"A Ph.D.?" She stared at him in mock-horror. "No, thanks."
They smiled at each other.
"Have you seen the others lately?" Kara asked then.
He looked pensive for a while. "Not really. I saw Rion not long ago, but that was back in England. He came over on an exchange programme."
"Oh, that's cool. You guys are still close?"
"I guess so," he shrugged. "You? Keep in contact with anyone?"
"I meet up with Iola every time we're both back home at the same time. And some of the other girls, sometimes. It's kind of hard to meet up now that everyone's away at college."
He nodded. "Craig and the guys wanted to meet up a while back but," he spread his hands in a 'what can you do' gesture, "I wasn't in the country then."
"How's Craig?" She asked, not because she wanted to know, but because there was a lull in the conversation and she was deathly afraid he would end the conversation and walk away. Who knew when she would ever see him again?
There was a long pause, before he said, serious all of a sudden, "Why don't you get in touch with him?"
"Don't be crazy," she said, slightly horrified by his offer. Did he think that she still had a thing for Craig?
"How is it crazy?" He wanted to know.
She shifted her right foot to cross over her left in an effort to stop herself from fidgeting. "I don't know," she mumbled, "I haven't seen him in three years – I wouldn't know what to say to him."
"You haven't seen me in three years," he pointed out wryly. "Isn't it the same thing?"
It's different, she wanted to say, because I actually want to talk to you.
Then he flashed a mischievous grin, "But okay, I see that I'm easier to talk to than he is. I've always been the friendlier one out of the two of us."
This statement was so ridiculous that she almost snorted. Was she the only one who remembered him always hiding out alone on the bench in the courtyard, isolated from the rest of the student population, staring into space? Craig, on the other hand, had boisterously invited himself to any conversation that he had chanced upon. Craig had definitely been the more outspoken of the two. But Dietrich had irrefutably been the more popular one. Everyone had wanted to be his friend. It was the brooding aura that drew them in, she thought. People saw him as a puzzle waiting to be solved.
"And also more shameless, methinks," she muttered, choosing not to burst his bubble.
"Oh, don't be like this," he said, chuckling under his breath. "It's always nice to catch up with an old friend."
She felt the corner of her mouth twist. Three years on, she had been delegated to the 'old friend' category. "Okay," she conceded, just to give him a reason, "I guess you are more approachable than he is."
This time, he threw his head back and laughed.
She stood watching him, an involuntary smile on her own lips. The years away had done him good. He looked... happy. Content with his place in the world. His sullenness from high school had melted away into confidence, a kind of sureness that could only come from maturity. He knew who he was now, and what he wanted. She felt a pang in the region of her chest.
Too much had changed, and she hadn't been there when it had been changing.
It had probably been a good thing that they hadn't gotten together back then, after all. Neither of them had been ready – she had been too unsure of her place in the world; he had been too sullen, too prone to hiding his emotions. He would have gotten sick of her clinginess, while she would have become increasingly insecure from his stoicism. It wouldn't have worked, she told herself. She had needed to find herself, and he had needed to find a way to open up. Now they had – but along the way, he had found himself another life.
Maybe one day in the distant future, they'd run into each other again. Maybe something would happen, or maybe they would've both found other paths to follow and other people to follow them with. And when that day came… Maybe it would finally be the right time. Maybe then they could finally say all the unspoken words they'd never quite had the courage to speak, or maybe they'd realise that these words no longer had to be spoken, because they'd no longer matter.
Because maybe some love stories weren't meant to have happily-ever-afters. Maybe some love stories were about a series of almost-destined events that never quite came to fruition. Maybe some love stories were special because they were the big 'what-if' in your mind that you would never find the answer to.
Maybe some love stories were about growing up and letting go.
A/N: Wow, okay, it's done. I'm sorry for all the time skips in this story, all the events were supposed to happen over a long period of time but I didn't want to drag it out. It has some potential as a novel-length story, I think, but I probably won't be touching it in the near future. Maybe someday.
When I started this story, I was struggling with whether it'll have 3 or 4 chapters. If you've been keeping track of the chapter titles, you may have guessed that it's been following a pattern… Basically, chapter 4 ("Maybe Forever") would've been a happy ending. Now, it's just… this.
But I think this ending is, in a way, fitting. The story is called 'Maybe Too Late', after all. And under the circumstances (the ones that led me to write this story in the first place), I wouldn't feel comfortable with having a chapter 4. Not everything needs a happy ending. Sometimes all we can do is… let things be, and see where they go.
In the words of Topanga, "I do my thing and you do your thing. I am I and you are you, and if in the end we are together, it's beautiful."
I hope you guys don't hate me for the ending. To be honest, I have the very very last scene of what was supposed to be chapter 4 written, but… No, there won't be a chapter 4.
Also, one last big thank you to everyone who has reviewed or even just lurked on this story! To my reviewers especially: thank you for all your words of encouragement and feedback! I will be attempting my first novel-length story this year and I hope you guys will read that too, when I post it.
One last review, please? :)