“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Day 2 – Evening
I stared at the empty darkness, unable to move, unable to feel, my thoughts disjointed and scattered.
My head was a crazy mess. Well, crazier than a messy mess. Despite my efforts to organize it, hours had passed by in vain. The sun had already gotten tired waiting for me and so decided to set, leaving me engulfed by the night and still inside the school campus to boost.
I couldn’t see anything within three feet outside my car.
It was as if the blackness was set to match my mood. Cold, depressing, detached …
Ugh! Stop! I’m being melodramatic again, ain’t I?
I started my engine and drove slowly, not in any real hurry to go anywhere. Honestly, I didn’t know where I was headed. Left, right, inside, out, it vaguely mattered. All I wanted was to be able to take my mind off things even for a while. Perhaps driving would do the trick.
I glanced at the clock.
Wow! It’s so late! I really shouldn’t let my mind wander like this. Time seemed to be running faster than usual – I was just oblivious to it, matter-of-factly speaking. So much time was wasted, and all I did was to stare at nothingness, hiding like a scared kitten inside the safety of my car.
Why, you ask?
Too much a coward to visit the basketball courts and apologize, I locked myself here. Aethan had gone home almost one and a half hour ago.
Maybe I could come to school early tomorrow and sincerely ask for forgiveness, if I ever deserve one. But was that really okay? Would a simple “I am sorry” erase all my guilt? Would he easily accept my sorry and forget what I did – my rude attitude, the haughty responses?
I think not.
Erase, erase. I shouldn’t think about anything. Nothing, remember? Breathe. Nothing... That’s the main reason I was driving, right? Erase, erase.
Besides, why was I giving myself a brain hemorrhage?
I am hungry! Yes, that’s probably it! I was thinking this way because I was starving. I felt so hungry I could probably eat a whole pig, if not two. A nice, hot dinner was all I need, something to satiate my palate.
With a place in mind, I made a quick U-turn, almost hitting the silver Volvo speeding behind me. Biting my lower lip in unease, I ignored the driver’s furious rant, focusing only on arriving fast at my destination.
Miraculously, it worked. Somehow, all I could think of was eating some monstrous carbohydrates and steamy meat. My head was filled with vivid pictures of every mouth-watering food I could imagine. Ha ha. Weird. I felt like I haven’t eaten for days.
You remember the café where I went before graduation? My favorite place? Good. That was where I was headed. Unfortunately, there was some nasty traffic in the main road. It was like a turtle march, or was that called snail? Figures, it’s the rush hour.
Not wanting to wait for hours, I took a detour.
It’s been so long since I used this road, a route usually taken by people headed towards the famous beaches of California. Under the evening sky, the dark waters were dangerously inviting. The golden sand paled against the current, looking so peaceful and panoramic – it was so out of place. The scene took my breath away like it did when I first saw it… roughly seven years ago.
As I enjoyed the view of the Pacific, it made me remember things from the recent past. But that was forbidden. A giant, bold NO.
Evidently, I should have avoided this road.
From a distance, lights of all sorts flashed brightly, a sure sign that a party was going on at the safer part of the beach. The sight steered me out of my thoughts and made me recall why I was using this road. I wasn’t here to reminisce. Those memories should be locked up safe and tight at the back of my mental drawer.
I was off to grab dinner.
I was supposed to be hungry.
I should be in great, great hurry.
But then, as I slowed down before a treacherous curve, a familiar car came into view. Even in the dim light, it was unquestionably a shiny red Lamborghini.
Oh my god.
Without thinking twice, I went off the road and parked my Ferrari beside the much more expensive car. I climbed down from my seat and immediately hiked the rocky slope, carrying with me a bottleful of excitement and agitation.
I didn’t know if I should expect to see Aethan. (How big was the probability that it was his car? Zero to none.)
Just thinking about this lucky coincidence, my heart seemed to jump off my chest and was hammering behind my ears, pounding noisily like there was no tomorrow. I knew that my hope had a huge risk of back-firing – well, it was only in movies things like this occurred, and my life story was one helluva of a crappy primetime drama. But I might as well see.
There’s no harm in checking, right?
If it’s not him, well, it would be just another addition among my heavy stack of disappointments. Wouldn’t hurt that much. It seemed silly that I should worry about it. Everything was one bitter moment after another. There's no reason for me to be surprised anymore. Another false alarm shouldn't bother me.
I carefully scanned the area, and I could feel the heavy blanket of chagrin gradually settle down my shoulders. Crestfallen, I stifled the urge to punch myself.
So much for coincidence.
Determined to drag myself up the slope, before the full force of defeat hit me, I began to move. But my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of someone just beyond the shrubs.
My heart skipped a beat.
Aethan West was sitting on the sand, his back on me, watching the graceful waves of the sea. I couldn’t make out his facial expression, but I could tell by the loose tension of his frame that he was angry.
I knew it was because of me. He had valid reasons to hate me.
I had to apologize. It was the right thing to do. That was the main reason why I decided to come here in the first place – to apologize. But I couldn’t make my feet work. It was as if the sight of him stuck me on the sandy silt, a massive boulder pinned on the ground.
What should I say? How should I call him?
My nails were digging painfully inside my palm. This was my chance! A perfect chance to redeem myself in his eyes, to defend myself against whatever raison d'être he had constructed in his mind. I had to ease his anger towards me, or else I would loathe myself.
Aethan, I’m sorry…
I couldn’t move a muscle.
Please forget what I said earlier. They’re all lies. It’s impossible for me to hate you. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m so sorry I am like this…
If only I had the courage to say those words, I was sure he would understand. Yet despite knowing that, I couldn’t make my jaws work. I could only stare at his silent form, wishing I could read his thoughts.
I was a pathetic coward for venting my anger on you. It was wrong of me. Can you forgive me?
He was so important to me that even if he did, I could never forgive myself for my actions. But my unspoken feelings would never reach across. He would never know how I truly feel, and I would remain alone and detached like this until the end. My end.
How could he forgive me, how could he believe me, when I am the worst liar imaginable?
I forcibly closed my eyes, and with them I tried to shut off the real world. Not seeing him made breathing easier. I imagined being alone, away from anyone and everyone and everything. I cherished the seductive whispers of the ocean, tasted the salty flavor of the air, and lost myself in the sensation of the caressing breeze against my skin.
This was my world; this was my element – darkness and solitude. It would be probably impossible for me to escape this dungeon which I made with my own two hands.
How long had I suppressed my emotions inside me?
For what seemed like eternity, I had learned to hide what I felt, to deceive people by my mask of apathy. It usually worked for my benefit, my inability to respond correctly, my failure to express what I want. It became my source of strength and shield against people who might hurt me. My indifference was my protection.
Right now, it was the opposite.
I couldn’t say what I feel.
I couldn’t do what I want.
I couldn’t break free.
How can I ask for his forgiveness this way?
Something warm and gentle traced my cold cheek. Abruptly, my eyes fluttered open.
Aethan was right in front of me, his penetrating gaze cutting right through my carefully-constructed façade. He tenderly brushed my cheek with the back of his hand, making my skin burn under his touch.
My heart was stuck on my throat. I couldn’t breathe.
“Liliana, what are you doing here?” he asked in his low, calm voice. He brought his hand back to his side as he waited for my response, but I only looked at him, not trusting my voice yet.
Wait. Not Veggie girl? Not Evans? How did he know my first name?