She walked into the cafe. Her hands were folded behind her back, her neck was straight, her eyes unnervingly focused. As she sat down, her sleek hair toppled over one shoulder. Her glass eyes now faced me.
Yes, she had been broken. Many times. By me. Yet, she remained strong. Beautiful. I could see how strong she was, yet how hard she was trying. It was taking everything in her to not scream at me. To not rear her fist back and land a hard blow to my face. It took it all for her to not break down right in front of me.
“How are you?” The match had been lit.
She exhaled, letting herself relax for just a moment. “Good. How are you?”
She looked up at me, just for a moment. I could see the endless questions written all over her face. She had changed, I could see it now. She wasn’t nervously twisting her hands like she always used to do. They remained folded, on top of the table. Her eyes weren’t roaming, they were staring straight at me. She had no fear.
“Why am I here?” she asked.
For the first time, I was afraid. “I wanted to see you.”
A laugh cascaded from her mouth. It ran out of her and flooded the restaurant. Her laugh had even changed. It had more of a sharp edge to it.
“You must need something.”
Her words stung me, yet they rang true. I had taken so much advantage of her. She cared for me like no one else. She never gave up on me. She had been relentless in her desire to help me, to make me better. But I hated her for it. I grew tired of her incessant checking up on me, and eventually she finally left. For good.
She left home after her freshman year of college and we hadn’t talked since. It had been a year. No contact, no seeing each other, no nothing. Dead silence.
Now we were sitting across from each other in a downtown cafe outside of Atlanta. Although the energy was different, things still felt just as they did a year and a half ago.
“I-I’m sorry.” I blurted it out, suddenly. Unexpectedly.
Her eyebrows began to rise. “You asked me here so you could apologize?”
I leaned my head into my hands. “I have no idea. I just missed you, I guess.”
Her laughter splashed all over me yet again.
“Do you have any idea how much time has passed? That it’s too late?” Her eyes were glistening. “If you wanted to apologize, it should have happened back then. Not now, not here. I’ve moved on from it, so I’ll accept your apology but…things will never be the same.”
I nodded. I knew she was going to say that the minute she walked in.
“I know. I just…needed to say it.”
“That’s fine.” I watched her glance down at her phone, eyes squinting. She abruptly stood up. “I have to go.”
She turned and walked into the cerulean afternoon. Something wasn’t sitting right with me. I did the most idiotic thing and jumped up. I chased after her. Me. The one who is so used to running away.
“Wait.” I called, grabbing her by the wrist.
She roughly jerked out of my grasp. Anger flared up onto her face. It rolled in in waves.
“Listen to me. I get you’re sorry, okay? I do. But I moved on. I used to build my entire life around you. I spent every second involving myself in other people’s lives so I wouldn’t have to deal with my own. When I was forced to do that, when you decided our friendship wasn’t worth your time anymore…it changed me. It was hard. I had no idea who I was. So I found myself. It was the greatest experience I have ever had. I know myself now. I can look at myself everyday and be proud of who I am. Notice how, the first thing you did when we got here, the very first thing, was make this about you. If you would have asked me what I’m studying, or where I’m living, or even tried to be interested in my life, maybe this would have worked. But you didn’t. You made this entire thing into a situation for yourself. To absolve yourself over whatever guilt you’ve been feeling about our past. But it’s done, okay? I am happy now. It is no longer my responsibility to make sure you’re okay. You have to do that for yourself.”
I was taken aback. She was right. Everything. I couldn’t speak.
“It is a cliche thing, that actions speak louder than words, but I believe it more and more everyday.”
I was embarrassed, shocked by how incredibly naive I have been. All my life, I have wanted people around to tell me I’m okay, not to actually build off of their advice and better myself, just to feel a temporary relief.
She gently put her hand on my shoulder. “Goodbye.”