The back of my neck breaks out in a sweat, and I’m getting nervous. Why is he just standing there, staring at me? What do you want? I press, my tone curt.He opens his mouth but then closes it swallowing.Pike, Jesus—The day you left, he blurts out, and I stop.I wait, listening as a look of fear crosses his eyes.The house was so empty, he continues. Like a quiet that was never there before. I couldn’t hear your footsteps upstairs or your hairdryer or anticipate you walking into a room. You were gone. Everything was… he drops his eyes, gone.A ball lodges in my throat, and I feel tears threaten, but I tense my jaw, refusing to let it out.But I could still feel you, he whispers. You were still everywhere. The container of cookies in the fridge, the backsplash you picked out, the way you put all my pictures back in the wrong spot after you dusted my bookshelves. He smiles to himself. But I couldn’t rearrange them, because you were the last to touch them, and I wanted everything the way you had it.My chin trembles, and I fold my arms over my chest, hiding my balled fists under my arms.He pauses and then goes on. Nothing would ever go back to the way it was before you came into my house. I didn’t want it to. He shakes his head. I went to work, and I came home, and I stayed there every night and all weekend, every weekend, because that’s where we were together. That’s where I could still feel you. He steps closer, dropping his voice. That’s where I could wrap myself up in you and hang on to every last thread in that house that proved you were mine for just a little while.His tone grows thick, and I see his eyes water.I really thought I was doing what was best, he says, knitting his brow. I thought I was taking advantage of you, because you’re young and beautiful and so happy and hopeful despite everything you’d been through. You made me feel like the world was a big place again.My breathing shakes, and I don’t know what to do. I hate that he’s here. I hate that I love that he’s here. I hate him.I couldn’t steal your life from you and keep you to myself, you know? he explains. But then I realized that you’re not happy or hopeful or making me feel good because you’re young. You are those things and you’re capable of those things, because you’re a good person. It’s who you are.A tear spills over, gliding down my cheek.Baby, he whispers, his hands shaking. I hope you love me, because I love you like crazy, and I’m going to want you the rest of my life. I tried to stay away, because I thought it was the right thing, but I fucking can’t. I need you, and I love you. This doesn’t happen twice, and I’m not going to be stupid again. I promise.My chin trembles, and something lodges in my throat, and I try to hold it in, but I can’t. My face cracks, and I break down, turning away from him. The tears come like a goddamn waterfall, and I hate him. I fucking hate him.His arms are around me in a second, and he hugs me from behind, burying his face in my neck.I’m sorry I took so long, he whispers in my ear.
― Penelope Douglas, Birthday Girl
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