The bell above the door chimes merrily as I step uneasily into the diner, juxtaposing my inner turmoil. With my head down, I quickly make my way to the back to snag an empty booth and hopefully hide away for awhile. I turn the white porcelain coffee cup right side up, the universal signal for 'fill me up', and glance at the menu scribbled messily on a white board hanging on the wall near the register. I wonder idly if the Clearwaters still run the place as I unroll my silverware and spend a stupid amount of time smoothing out my paper napkin. The waitress appears and fills my cup with what could pass as sludge, and I fight the urge to raise my eyebrow at her overly teased and poorly dyed blonde hair and hot pink lipstick that bleeds into the dry, wrinkled cracks around her thin lips. I simply place my order without any small talk, and she moves on to refill other people's cups and put my order in behind the counter. I shift uncomfortably on the well worn bench seat, trying to avoid the spot where the vinyl has cracked with age and the yellow stuffing is poking out.
It's easy to people watch from my seat facing the door, and as I wait for my breakfast I make a game of trying to recognize those that are seated around the restaurant. There's Ben, the smartest guy in my junior class, sitting at the counter with a pretty brunette that I'm positive is Angela. She used to be my best friend, and she looks almost exactly the same as I remember. Her glasses have changed to a more mature look, but her hair is the same straight, shiny brown, and her style of clothing is a pair of casual jeans, as always. The thought of making amends with her is pushed to the back of my mind for the time being. I see an older couple that I don't think I'm familiar with sitting across from each other and holding hands as they sip coffee. They bring a tear to my eye with their obvious love and affection for the other, laughing over a quietly shared joke.
My attention is suddenly diverted to the door as the bell clatters noisily, and I'm thinking someone has pushed ridiculously hard on the damn thing for it to make that much racket. I can't help smiling when the cutest little girl comes racing in wearing a bright pink dress, dark curls bobbing haphazardly around her cherub's face. She clambers into a chair by the window, singing to herself, and just as I wonder where the hell her parents are, all of the breath leaves my body as he comes in.
"You are too fast for me, Mallie. You win again," he exclaims as he rushes over, sitting in the chair directly next to her. He picks up one of the crayons and writes on her paper mat with her.
I realize I can't breathe for the crushing weight on my chest, the pressure overwhelming me and pushing the tears down my face. My hand creeps up, fisting the ache in the hopes of quelling it, knowing it won't work. I completely ignore the waitress as she drops my food off, staring instead at his fascinating profile, essentially torturing myself with what I can't have. He was supposed to fill the empty space in my heart, the one that I created when I left him behind, but I don't know why I thought that he would, or even could. He looks… amazing. His hair is the same sexy mess it always was, his cheek and jaw just as sharp as I remember every night in my dreams. There's a stubble I've not witnessed before, giving him a more rugged appearance. I have to set aside the heartache for a moment as I study him with the small girl. She looks terribly young, with skinny arms and small hands, as she colors dramatically on her placemat, chattering the whole time. Her hair is dark brown, loose springy curls that frizz in places and stick out from the rest that lay obediently to just below her shoulders. She could belong to anyone, I remind myself futilely.
"Daddy!" she giggles, and my harshest fears are realized.
He's moved on. I wanted him to, knew he would after the way I'd left him, but it doesn't hurt any less.
If he'd known the truth about what I'd done it would've infuriated him, sent him running farther and faster than my horrible words did when I pushed him away. I can't choose my own fate, much less his, and there is no denying the cold facts. He has a daughter. He'd never been mine; it was only borrowed time that we used to love each other with a ferocity that I have never experienced again.
And I never will.
"We have to move, Dad's gotten out of control. I don't even know if Mom is safe anymore." I wrung my hands, my nerves about to kill me.
"Then I'll apply to the college closest to you, and we'll be with each other again before you know it." He tried to reach for me, but I took a step back and inhaled his scent one more time, letting it fill my throbbing lungs. I finally had to cross my arms to still the shaking before he noticed.
"There's no point." I shook my head, and I knew he thought it a denial of our love, the way I'd intended. "We can't possibly make it, we're too young and stupid. Nobody stays with their high school crush. Nobody."
He frowned, and I would rather carve out my own heart from my chest with a dull spoon, watching it take its last beat in my hands, than see that look of agony in his eyes. "That makes no sense-"
"Look," I'd meant to say harshly. It came rasping off my tongue instead. "We're done. Go to UDub like you always planned, or go to fucking Harvard. God knows you're smart enough to get out of this town, so do it. Go be an astrophysicist in Seattle. Go be a psychiatrist in Boston. Just don't follow me. I don't want you."
I turned then, before he could see the truth in my tears as they burned their way down my icy cheeks. I stumbled, and I was terrified he'd try to help me. I had to keep moving, had to put one foot in front of the other, even if it killed me.
"Bella! Wait! Nothing you said makes sense! Why are you doing this?" I heard a crash, but refused to turn around to investigate what he'd broken. I'd ruined the one I loved the most in my whole life; the one that trusted me with caring for his heart. I was cruel, and I was relieved. I'd done what I needed to do, and I knew he wouldn't try to find me. He could pretend I'd never come into his life, that we'd never shared our first time. Oh, God. I was going to die of the pain before we ever made it out of town, but I had no choice.
"I'll love you forever, Bella." It echoed in my head, a brutal taunt. Fuck if I didn't know I'd always love him, knew it in the recesses of my soul, in the parts of me only he had seen. That was the whole reason for leaving him behind.