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Anna - Flashback

We sat side by side, shoulders touching each other as we looked out into the ocean.

"I'm coming over to see you tonight," Ted texted me at 10 PM. "I'm already in my pajamas. No," I'd responded. We'd spent the past few hours talking about everything under the moon except for the looming goodbye. For some reason, every topic we'd picked ended with either him or me telling the other person how much they meant to the other. As much as I told him not to make the trip over to my place, I knew I wasn't stopping him once he wanted to do it. This night had an air about it.

Listening to me cheerfully complain as I changed, he drove himself to see me. The lack of traffic made the hour-long drive; a fifteen-minute one. He asked if I wanted to see him at the pier. I responded with a smug rebuke. "If you're gonna pull me outta bed, the least you can do is pick me up!" Ted didn't argue; he didn't need to. He made his way to my home.

I didn't mind dressing down when I was around him. He didn't seem to care. If my eyes were big and bold; and my hair smooth and long, he'd be busy losing himself in them. I hopped into his car but not before he'd leaned onto the gear stick and hurt his ribs, trying to be chivalrous.

"Wow! Do you do this only with me or with other girls too?" I joked as I sat.

"All the other girls don't have the nerve to make it past the first date after they get a load of me."

"Need to be more like them."

"Well, you wouldn't get to be with all of this then."

"You're not helping your case," I giggled. I wanted Ted to say something mean as a retort, but he didn't give me the satisfaction.

A part of me wanted this to end badly so that I wouldn't have to spend my life thinking about what could have been. In my experience, a fully formed grudge was much easier to reconcile than an unrequited love. We reached the pier in a minute and began walking on the wooden structure.

"So, is this a booty call?" I started.

"Yes. Yes, it is. Do you wanna get that booty out so we can do something about it," Ted said straight-faced.

"Are you sure you want the world to see what's under the covers before you've had your fill?" I wanted to call his bluff.

"I don't see much of humanity around us."

"What if the seamen see us?" I said, pretending to cover up, waiting for the reaction I knew would come. And just like clockwork, he burst out laughing.

He'd told a "seamen" joke from South Park no fewer than a million times. This de-escalation method worked against him every time. He'd continue laughing for the next few minutes repeating - "seamen," "swallow," and how they said, "swallow. come." A blubbering fool if there ever was one.

We made it to the end of the pier and sat next to each other. I gently kicked Ted's foot with mine, swaying with the wind.

"I just wanted more of you before my last day," he began.

"Oh, you know all the most romantic things to say."

"Do you want me to be sappy again?"

"Maybe," I had flip-flops on. I'd twisted my foot weirdly so that it circled his ankle.

"I'm gonna be kinda weird tomorrow," I said, almost hiding my voice.

"Mmm."

"I haven't processed everything properly. I don't know what I'll be like after today."

"Mmm."

"I'm sorry if I say or do anything to you."

"Mmm."

"Can you say something?"

"Something," he said. My fiery gaze shot toward him only to see his loving eyes looking back at me.

"I'm gonna miss seeing you every day so fucking much. I hate you for making me feel this way," he said. His voice was unlike anything I'd heard before. There was a deep sadness in it that took away almost all of his vibrant charm.

"I'm not sorry." I wasn't and never would be.

The bulb on top of a long lamppost at the pier's edge let out a dim light. It wasn't illuminating anything further than its own surface. I had an out-of-body experience. We sat, leaning against each other in the darkness. While our lips didn't move, the ocean breeze carried the words brimming in my heart. He fell deeper in love with me with every soundless whisper he heard.

The next day was his last at work.

For some reason, my happiest face plastered itself on me the whole day. Everyone else cared enough to be nice to him on his last day and expressed their disappointment at him leaving, but I couldn't. Most would have assumed I'd spend time with him outside of work, but they didn't know that soon, he'd be leaving the city.

I yanked him out of the office for the coffee run. We walked together on along the crowded sidewalk.

"Don't mind if I say or do something silly," I reminded him.

"Like what? You being super happy? Where is my beloved grumpy pants?"

"For once, I want to be the cheerful one."

"You know my cheer is a mask beneath which I hide my true self," he said with a chuckle.

"Yes, your true lame self."

"You like hanging out with someone that you know is lame. How lame does that make you."

"Did you just call me lame?"

"You did so first!"

"So? You're just gonna say that?"

"I wanna say other things to you too," he said, strong hits galore.

We walked into the coffee shop.

"Can we have two lattes, three espressos, a flat white, a black, and a hot chocolate for the kid next to me, please?" It got a smile out of the barista.

"Aye, what was that for?"

"Do you want marshmallows and cream with your chocolate milk?" I said, making silly faces at him and using the tone of voice I would with a child. He glared at me.

"Don't you want it?" I asked again.

"Only marshmallows. No cream" responded Ted, with a grumpy smile. A little part of me liked that the barista couldn't look away when our conversation played out. It was heartwarming to know that when we interacted with another person, they could see the sparks fly between Ted and me.

We didn't return to the cold halls of the office after we got our order. Instead, we took the elevator to the roof. I texted one of our colleagues to round up all the others and meet us here because I felt like taking a smoke break. I placed the cupholder on the side of the airconditioner's vent and leaned on it.

He immediately pulled me off it with, "It's so dusty. You'll ruin your pants."

"Really?" I turned around to see the damage. He began dusting them off.

"If you wanted to spank me, you could have simply asked," I giggled at him. I didn't know why I was so upbeat. I couldn't feel an ounce of sadness for some reason.

"If I wanted to spank you, do you think I'd have waited to ask?" he smirked, looking into my eyes. A wide smile came over my lips. It beamed so much that my eyelids arched up with it. At that moment of contentment, a rush of grief radiated out of my spine. It moved into every fiber of my body. Before I burst into tears, I heard our coworkers break the isolation of this moment. It was a much-needed reprieve. I could finally light my smoke and regroup.

I volunteered to do Ted's "thank you for your service" speech. The balloon of emotion within me needed its air let out before it popped. I took the length of the cigarette to frame what I would say. I pulled everything personal out of it and decided to keep it professional. I believed I'd have a chance, somewhere down the line, where I could tell him how I felt.

"Ted..." I took a deep breath.

"Ted wasn't the first person I met here. In all honesty, I didn't know he was a part of the management team. My first impression was that this guy was an anti-social, silent achiever. He hardly said more than a couple of sentences to me each time we spoke."

I glanced at him, and he had his head firmly pointed to the ground. The gaggle of people was looking at me intensely.

"I've never felt more supported than when he's been by my side. It's not that he got me out of a few jams or he'd never shut up around me; it's more that he was always around no matter what. Everyone told me this would be the most stressful place I'd ever work in before my first day. He made it feel a little easier every day. I don't know where he found the time to finish his work and help me with mine, but I guess we'll find out about all the corners he was cutting starting tomorrow."

I had to throw a snide remark for my and everyone else's sake.

"But until then, you've been so awesome. I speak for everyone when I say, "we'll miss having you around."

We toasted him with our coffee cups. I didn't mention one of the changes I'd made for myself. I wasn't nervous as I spoke to this group anymore. My arm didn't cross over my torso, my teeth weren't grinding themselves to a fine powder, and my eyes weren't looking at the ground as often. When he stood next to me, I felt invincible even though the first cracks on my breaking heart began appearing. The lines would soon become unmissable.

END OF CHAPTER

* Thank you for taking the time to read through my work.

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Submitted: November 24, 2022

© Copyright 2022 projectTJ. All rights reserved.

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