Her heart begins racing wildly in her chest, the abrupt change in pulse bringing with it a sharp pain. It feels very much as if her breath has been stolen right out of her lungs, as if someone reached down through her throat and harvested it for themselves. No amount of time passed could ever make her forget that voice, much less the decade she's lived without hearing it. She turns, almost too eagerly, knowing exactly what she would see. The familiar face of her former lover greets her unbelieving eyes, the face of the boy who had stolen her heart and her innocence and left without warning. Though his features have aged since their seventeenth year, his eyes are still the same shade of green and his smile still makes knots out of her stomach.
"John." His name is spoken so breathlessly she almost thinks she's suffocating. She then suddenly becomes very aware of everything: the disheveled auburn curls falling from her sloppy bun, the chunky black glasses slipping off the bridge of her nose, the maroon sweater falling off of her shoulder. She hurriedly pushes her glasses up her nose and pulls her sweater back into place, trying her hardest to remember how to speak without stuttering.
"Laurel, it's so great to see you!" He pulls her into a familiar and foreign embrace of mint and cinnamon. "How have you been?"
"I've been great," she internally winces at how fast she talks, at the way her voice just barely cracks, at her unorganized thoughts and her awkwardness in its entirety. Her hand reaches up, adjusting the bag on her shoulder, "I – I started writing. I just finished writing my first novel, actually, I mean. I sent the draft to my editor two days ago."
She doesn't mention the hundreds of poems she's written in a book beneath her nightstand, laced with heartbreak and not completely devoid of his name.
She watches as he nods his head in an almost approving way, "That's great, Laurel. That's fantastic."
She smiles in return, brushing a wire of russet from her flushed face, finding herself so desperate to continue to speak to him, so desperate to keep his attention, "How – How have you been, John?"
"Oh, I've been great! Everything's just been going – here, let me just show you – "
He begins rifling through the pockets in his khakis, retrieving a worn black wallet, and it's then she sees the ring on his left hand. Her heart leaps into her throat and she nearly chokes, hardly able to swallow when he reveals to her a photo. She sees him, with a golden headed toddler adorning his broad shoulders. She sports his eyes and the sweetest smile and it stings a little for Laurel to look at her. She sees a beautiful blonde woman with soft looking hair and pretty blue eyes, holding a newborn in her slender arms. It becomes harder to bite back the tears when she sees how happy they look together.
"This is our daughter, Zoe. She just turned three two weeks ago. It was a princess party; there were unicorns, and crowns, and the whole nine yards. You should've seen what a mess she made with her cake! Nearly ruined her dress. And this is our newest edition, Chandler. She was born back in September, and she's so great it's unbelievable; we sleep nearly the whole night through with her! Zoe used to wake us up every two hours, oh God, that was awful," he pauses, his green eyes lighting up and the most beautiful smile she's ever seen crossing his face, "And this is my wife, Sarah. God, Laurel, she's amazing. The most incredible woman I've ever met. We got married in the spring a little over four years ago. Just as we left the venue – out at a country club upstate, it really was a nice place – it rained. The luck we had was unbelievable. I'm so glad we had the reception indoors! You know, I met her back when I was a dental assistant, and she'd always had this weird fear of dentists and by chance or luck, or serendipity, or fate – fate, yeah, that's a good word – I was there when she started to have a panic – "
She tries to keep listening but finds she isn't masochistic enough to continue. She finds it funny, because she remembers a time when she thought she'd be the one he was bragging about to a stranger on the street. She remembers when she thought she was going to be the one to make him happy.
She feels as if with every word he speaks, with every animated gesture he makes, he twists the dagger in her breast a little more. Every time his eyes twinkle, he weaves it in and out between the intricacies of her rib cage. Every syllable kills her. Her head feels light and she finds it hard to see. She isn't sure how it could be that her chest could feel so empty, but her heart could feel so heavy.
"– It's funny to think we were together once, isn't it? God, that was so long ago. All that crazy, stupid shit we did. Damn, we were young. We didn't even know what love was, did we?" He chuckles, shaking his head in such nonchalance that she thinks she might decorate the pavement with her vomit.
She almost chokes, feeling everything in her shatter into little glass pieces. A fool, she's been. A fool all along. She avoids his gaze and laughs, in spite of the tears in her eyes.
"Of course not."