If I hadn't met you, I wouldn't have nights like this, nights where the tears won't stop...

Anthony

The house that awaits me is a barren one. The lights flicker on automatically one by one as I pass each room, through the hallway entrance, past the kitchen, the living room, through my bedroom and finally my study. Each illuminated room reveals an untouched and unspoiled dwelling, all similarly stark and pristine in appearance, as if they were picked out of a real estate catalog.

I unceremoniously drop my suit onto my seat, not particularly caring for the creases that would form as I loosen my tie. When I first signed up for teaching at a rich prep school, all I cared about was the substantial pay rise. The zeros were hard to resist for anyone who'd spent their entire career teaching in public schools. Not that disliked teaching there. I was idealistic, as many teachers were in the beginning I suppose. I made do with tightening budgets and understaffed departments, but at some point I just couldn't do it anymore.

What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer amount of ego clashing happening from all sides; teachers, students, parents, staff, all strutting about acting important and waving their dicks about. It grated, still grates, on me every day I get home from that bureaucratic nightmare of a school. The administrators were so far up their own ass all that they could speak was shit.

I let out a long, laboured sigh and drop into my seat, shaking my desktop out of sleep mode. It presents me with a screensaver photo, a random one from the various images I have saved onto my computer. I blink several times, struggling to parse the image's contents in front of me, as if it's in another language. How did that photo even get onto my computer? I don't get to see the photo for much longer anyway as it fades into another one.

Not wanting to dwell on heavy memories in my fatigued state, I quickly log onto my computer, my fingers moving all on their own, trained by years of muscle memory to open the various tabs I frequent for work.

At the end of all my tabs, my hands seem to lurch themselves into logging into one more email before I even realise what I'd done.

In it, I can see the last message sent. Eight years ago. September 25th.

From: Katherine
Subject: Re: I think this needs to stop

The email, that subject line, acted as a bomb, destroying the dam of emotions I had long locked away. The tidal wave that crashed into me was filled with the stagnant water of memories that, though once joyful, was now tainted and toxic. As the torrential wave continued its path, my mind is forced to relive every painful moment leading up that email, while twisting the good memories into fragments I could never retrieve.

After the wave had passed, all that was left was an empty void. The torrent of emotions had so easily swept away all the meaningless, superficial crap that I didn't even know had been piling up. My grating job, this empty house, the nights where I would go through the motions with coworkers and the days where I slaved away at a superior's behest; it was all just stuff that made it look like the void was filled but it was never even anchored in the first place. As loose as a piece of plastic drifting in the wind.

I saw everything being played back through a faulty projector, eight years worth of film reel eroded by time, yet somehow it didn't make those memories play any worse. The emotions were still so vivid, tarnished and distorted by time into something uglier, but no less vivid. I was an unwilling audience strapped to my chair as the movie of a time forgotten began to play.

The faint smell of lavender in a bathroom. A stocked fridge and dishes to be cleaned. A pair of shoes that were not mine, next to my own on the shoe rack. A single king-sized bed in a dingy room with two sets of clothes on top of them and the unmistakable scent of sex. A sofa for two, the cushions indented from having been sat on for an extended period of time. A song being played through bluetooth on my car's speakers. The 1975, I think it was.

I bury my face in my hands, trying to stop the tears from leaking out, trying to banish those moments from my head, trying to grab onto anything to keep the loose collection of pointless titles and hollow traits from falling apart. Anything to scrub myself of the unbearable tightening in my chest.

I was a coward.

I didn't want to remember.

I forced myself to not remember.

And that's why I didn't deserve her.

Katherine

I left before he woke up.

That's how it always is for me. They never know and there's a sick sort of amusement in leaving the ones who thought they'd be able to keep me till the next morning. It's nice to knock down those guys a peg. At this point I've mastered the art of traversing through whatever types of floors they bring me up to. Creaky floors, slippery marble floors, the ones with kids are the worst. At least the cheating ones know how to be discreet. Except that one time… god what a clusterfuck.

That's not to say I hook up with just anyone. You'd be surprised how many men aren't willing to take me home just because I make more money than them. It's less to do with my standards and more to do with their absolute weirdness of a standards checklist. Guess that's what most guys are looking for in a club. Pretty, dumb, easy. Pretty, fuck yes. But the latter two I am most definitely not.

I was pretty sober on the drive over last night so, thankfully, I know where I am, and it happens to be pretty close to my place. Some nights I take one too many drinks and it costs me a pricey Uber. Not that I can't afford it, but I'd rather not.

He was a good lay. Better than most. He, at least, had the skill to back up his confidence. Tall, a bit too muscular for my taste, but he had a silver tongue, a sharp wit, and I enjoy men like that. I love proving them wrong, but loved it even more when they were right.

I arrive at my apartment, the trip over a complete blur.

I lie down on my couch, the wooden, open architecture of my flat doing nothing to make me feel welcome. Funny how that works. I was assured the large windows with their natural light and the bright tones of birch wood would make the whole place seem homey. You know, like I won't feel confined. One with nature. Or whatever architectural fad was in vogue.

Just makes it seem like I got no privacy.

I sigh, curling myself up into a fetal position as I pull out my phone. I try to find my routine. What do I usually do on Saturdays?

Catch up on work, make calls to the team, a session on the treadmill, then make some lunch. Yup, that's a Saturday alright. Rhythm, clockwork, it's what I do to keep myself moving these days. Helps you think about only the task ahead and not much further. Though none of that really helps if you're not going to get your ass out of the couch in the first place.

Way to go, me…

After a cursory check on my social media accounts and online dating profiles (christ there really are way too many notifications) I scroll through my gallery feed.

I still store photos on my phone when I can. Call me old fashioned. Why would you even put them on the cloud? At the mercy of the servers and the companies who own them. It's not like those photos are going to run off from your phone.

It does mean that I tend to keep a lot of useless photos, however.

Choosing which photos to keep and which to delete, this happens sometimes when I end up looking through my gallery. I enjoy it. It's like an impromptu trip down memory lane as I reminisce and chuckle to myself at how much of a big deal I thought things were back then and realising how small its impact truly was on my life now.

I continue swiping, deleting, the occasional chuckle, until I reach one particular photo, one that I didn't even know I still had on my phone. It's time-stamped eight years ago. One of the few photos that survived being transferred over from phone to phone. But it's not the date that has me stunned. It's the contents of the picture.

A much younger me stares back through the phone. My hair was still a bright, almost platinum blonde, reaching up past my shoulders. A stark contrast to the dyed raven black I wear now. I was a little chubbier too, dressed in a pink tank top and blue skinny jeans. I looked… happy? Content? Why can't I place that expression? The girl was smiling unfettered. She's waving to the camera and has an arm around a boy's waist.

The boy next to her… Ruddy black hair, a set of dull dark eyes that betrayed an intensity about them. He had a lanky frame and was wearing dark clothes. A black t-shirt with some cartoon logo on it and a pair of dark brown cargo shorts. He was slouched slightly and showed off a crooked smile.

I stare at that photo, at the boy in it, his image bringing memories I didn't want to remember and feelings I wanted to forget.

The last time I ever saw him in-person.

There was no one to blame but myself. I feel myself shatter into a million tiny pieces for the second time in my life. The first was eight years ago and I've spent those eight years trying to put myself back together, piece by painstaking piece. I somehow managed. It wasn't perfect, I had cuts all over my body and my reflection looked horrible as I stared back at that broken woman. I knew some pieces were completely lost. But I did it through sheer effort.

Now, as I feel myself breaking apart all over again, there was no way I'd be able to put myself back together on my own.

I receded further into myself, curling into the couch as I sought to scoop up the tiny fragments of glass that was myself.

He knew me better than anyone.

And I let him go.

I didn't fight hard enough.

And that's why I didn't deserve him.