(Sally; I’m certain if you ask my editor she will tell you just to leave this one alone. I promise, soon I will put one up in which you will not be ashamed I am your son.)
This story is completely fictional. This is (as the title suggests) the prologue to a novel I am currently working on getting published. This was written as years after the novel was originally completed, and now I am sharing this bit with everyone so they can get a little taste of what it is like in the world of Neal Junior and friends before the book comes out. I hope everyone enjoys this story.
Fun game: if you can guess a): who the girl is based on in the story and message me about it I may throw in a free .pdf of the novel to the first person who guesses correctly, and b): if you can tell me what coffee shop Neal is in and are the first responder you also may get a free .pdf of the novel.
I opened my eyes and blinked away the light film that covered my pupils every morning. The sunlight exploding through the room blinded me for a minute as my eyes adjusted to the sudden change from darkness to light. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was, but the pounding in my temples led me to believe that I was having fun last night.
I sat up in a strange bed—nothing more than a futon on a metal frame only a few inches off the floor—and looked around the room. I was surrounded with white. The curtains, the walls, the carpets, the sheets, the furniture—everything was white, reflecting the early morning sun violently in every direction. The clothes that had been carelessly tossed to the floor at some point last night injected the room with an unexpected splash of color.
I rubbed my temples in a vain attempt to subside the headache that was growing worse by the second and making it hard to see anything in the too-bright colorless room. I took a deep breath, hoping that the taste of day-old beer and stale cigarettes would magically disappear with the fresh air of a new day.
I climbed out of the futon and found my boxers and pants. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. 9:45 in the morning. It felt a little weird to be out of bed before noon. I noticed my battery was less than 5%. That certainly wouldn’t last much longer, and my charger did not seem to be where I was.
I put my phone down on the bed and quickly pulled on my pants while looking around for my shirt and shoes. I still had no idea whose room I was in, but I wondered where she (or he) happened to be and where she (or he) happened to keep the aspirin. I spied my gray V-neck t-shirt on the ground and threw it on. Then I grabbed my black Converse, discovered by the dresser. As I sat down on the futon to loosen the laces, the bedroom door opened.
I turned, curious to see whom I would find. She was young with long brown hair, a beautiful and slightly crooked smile, and some rather obvious Jewish features. She looked at me with her huge brown eyes, and a smile crossed her face.
“You’re awake,” she said, standing by the door with a slight awkwardness that only accompanies the strangeness of the morning after.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just woke up.”
“How did you sleep?” she asked, clinging to the door as though it were a safety net, keeping her from falling into the potential danger of being in the same room with a perfect stranger.
“Good,” I said, feeling the tension that rested in the space hanging between us. “Got a little headache, but other than that, I’m good.”
“Leaving already?” she asked when she saw my shoes in my hand. She walked over to the bed and sat down next to me.
“I wasn’t sure where you were,” I said. “I thought you might have left already.”
She leaned in and kissed my cheek. “You think I would let you stay in my house without me? I barely know you.”
I nodded. “In all fairness, I barely know you so yes, you might have left me here alone.”
She smiled and nodded slightly. I was assuming that we had met each other very late last night. Odds were, around last call. I couldn’t even remember what her name was. I wasn’t sure how I could tactfully go about finding out that piece of information. This wasn’t the first time I had been in this situation. It probably wasn’t the last time either.
“I have a toothbrush in the bathroom you can use,” she said. “It’s the blue one.”
“You don’t mind me using your toothbrush?”
“After last night,” she said, “I think it’s a little late to worry about germ-sharing.”
I smiled, suddenly very aware of what my breath must smell like. I covered my mouth with my hand and blushed slightly.
“I should probably go and brush my teeth,” I said, standing up. “By any chance do you have any aspirin, or ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or anything that might help stop this pounding in my head?”
She nodded again with her slightly crooked smile.
“Yeah,” she said. “In the medicine cabinet to the left.”
“Thanks,” I kissed her on the forehead and walked out of the room. Cautiously I stepped down the hall, looking into each slightly open door, hoping that I didn’t accidentally spy on someone who wasn’t expecting me to be there. After passing a bedroom and a closet, I found the bathroom and the blue toothbrush. I quickly started to brush the funk from my mouth. While brushing, I opened the mirrored door to get the aspirin. As soon as I opened it, I stopped brushing. The toothbrush loosely hung from my mouth.
Before me were rows and rows of orange prescription bottles. I reached in and grabbed one. Adderall. I grabbed another one. Vicodin. Another one. Percocet. Another one. Lortab.
A chill went through my body, followed by a sudden urge to grab as much as I could and get out. My heart started to race. My mouth became dry. I noticed that my hands had started to shake.
I put the toothbrush back, pulled out the aspirin bottle and quickly swallowed four of them before closing the cabinet door. I walked out of the bathroom. I stood there for a second looking down the hallway toward her bedroom and then toward the front door.
I could easily walk out the front door and forget that I had ever met this girl, whose name I couldn’t remember. How bad would it really be if I left her there? Typically, I liked to say goodbye, thank you for a great time, even if I couldn’t fully remember the night—or any of it, for that matter.
I also knew that if I continued to hang out with her, I might find myself in a situation that I would not be able to say no to. I had made great strides in my travels, and I didn’t want to risk relapsing with a girl that I had just met because I was looking for a good time and possibly another chance to not remember sleeping with her.
I reached into my pocket for my phone, and suddenly a surge of panic took over my body. My phone was in her room. I was going to have to go back in and talk to her some more. Running was once again not an option.
I had been avoiding these situations since the day I left home. I never knew how I would do when faced with one, and luckily I had been able to make it through my first test without breaking down and grabbing as much as I could. A weaker me would have convinced myself that I was never addicted to painkillers or speed so I could happily and naively partake in all that was sitting in front of me. I felt proud that I had grown stronger since hitting the road, away from the pressures and temptations of home.
I walked back to her room and opened the door. She was lying in bed, looking up at me, still smiling.
“Your phone just rang,” she said, pointing to it on the bed.
“Thanks.” I walked over and picked it up, but nothing happened when I pushed the sleep button to wake it up. The battery must have died. I slid it into my pocket.
“Was it important?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Battery died. I’ll find out later.” I sat on the edge of the bed and picked up my shoes.
“You sure you want to leave?” she asked.
“I have a lot of stuff I need to get done,” I said, not wanting to admit that I didn’t trust myself around her.
“Will I see you again?” she asked.
“Of course you will,” I said, knowing that I was without a doubt lying to her face. I didn’t like the stigma involved with one-night stands, especially those lost in a night of an alcohol haze and blackout dreams, but I also knew that on occasion they happened.
She laughed a little. Her laugh was raspy and mildly gritty, probably the result of smoking too much at such a young age. “That didn’t sound anywhere close to comforting,” she said.
I looked over at her. Her brown eyes gazed at me with a level of respect that I had come to know as ill-informed adoration. I had probably told her that I was a successful writer, which I then proved by writing her a poem “on the spot” that included her name. I had used that trick many times in the past with great success, but I only attempted it when there was no way I would remember the rest of the night.
I had grown tired of the games and the lies. I really just wanted to sit down with this girl and tell her that, yes, I really wanted to see her again, to get to know her. I wanted to find a way to lie back down in bed, gingerly wrap my arm around her and fall asleep, smelling the sweet scent of her hair, as we drifted off into a dream world where everything was perfect, where life wasn’t a series of disappointing endings and heartbreaking moments of clarity.
Instead, I put my shoes down, gently placed my hand against her alabaster cheek, and smiled. I leaned in and kissed her, using every ounce of passion and lust that I could muster. I pulled her close until I could feel her body pressed close to mine. We leaned back until we were lying down, wrapped in an embrace that she may have considered epic—but I was counting the moments until I knew I could slip out unnoticed.
Her breathing intensified, and I knew that she was feeling every moment of this encounter as if it were the first time she had experienced anything of the sort. I thought about how young she was and wondered if it was possible that this was the first time any man had touched this emotional level that I had worked on perfecting. Since I was never able to feel the emotions I was supposed to feel during these times, I tried to make her feel every ounce of emotion in her body. Not only with this girl but with all of them. I wanted her to cry from the enjoyment, and often times I succeeded. And while she was there, overflowing with emotion and love, I would feel something that seemed to give me life, a purpose, something that I only felt when I was using.
I didn’t know how long the trail of broken hearts was, left in my wake while I searched for the pure and utter enjoyment of experiencing something other than the typical and organic feeling of breathing. Besides, this girl was young. She would be fine after a few days. Maybe one day she would even come to think of these moments fondly.
That would probably be around the same time that I would be able to lie to myself successfully.
She positioned herself on top of me, the weight of her body pressing flirtatiously against mine. I could feel her breast expand and contract with the excitement of what was about to happen. Sitting up, she pulled off the ripped t-shirt that was only slightly hanging from her body and tossed it to the side. Her perfect breasts were exposed, as much as the rest of her, to someone that wasn’t even worth a glance. A slight twinge of guilt shot through my body as I carefully, softly, seductively ran my hand across her chest and up her neck, placing my hand against her cheek.
I sat up and kissed her fully. Our lips fit perfectly together, and I’m sure that in her head that meant something more than a rare and unusual coincidence. I knew the truth though, and as we slowly undressed each other, I spied around the room so that after she fell asleep in the glow of what we were about to do, I would be able to sneak out undetected. Without even a note in my place to tell her how sorry I was that I was not anywhere near the person she thought I was. I already knew she was not the person she wanted me to believe she was.
I stood in line at the coffee shop where I spent most of my days, thinking about her and wondering if she was going to be okay when she woke up. I was certain that she would be—she seemed strong. I stared up at the hand-drawn chalk menu, as if I was going to order anything different today.
When I reached the counter, I leaned down, supporting myself with my arms, smiling at the girl behind the counter.
“Hey, Neal,” she said with a smile.
“Hi, Heather,” I said, slightly biting my lower lip. I had often wanted to ask Heather out, but she had an intimidating quality about her that made it impossible for me to get beyond small talk and exceptionally mild flirtation. “How are you today?”
“Good,” she said, shaking her head at my poor attempts at boyish charm. Any boyish charm I once had must have abandoned me years ago when I was preoccupied with losing my soul. “The usual for you?”
“Of course,” she said, taking my phone and plugging it in below the counter. “I hope that you didn’t break her heart.”
My smile faded slightly as I realized that I had become somewhat of a cliché. And if she saw me as a cliché, there were lots of other people who also saw me that way.
“She’ll be fine,” I said, my voice ringing with doubt.
“You know how much it is,” she said with a coy smile.
I pulled $5.00 out of my pocket and smiled back. I was never able to get past that part of the conversation with Heather, and I actually preferred it that way. The air of mystery that surrounded her, along with the picture of perfection that I had built up in my head, would never be broken.
I walked over to a booth and waited for Nate, the employee working the steamer, to call my name and give me my drink. I put my bag down, and then sat down myself, taking a quick moment to look around at all the people in the coffee shop.
There were stories everywhere I looked, as people walked through the door and stood in the slow moving line, as they sat at the booths, talking to friends or neighbors. The girl in the booth next to me was telling the guy she was with about her love for Jesus, and he was listening intently, pretending he actually cared. I could tell that all he wanted was to take her home that night but was too naïve to realize it wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t decide which one of them was more naïve.
A few students sat adjacent to my table, discussing their biochemistry homework like quasi-experts—something about the chemical energy of metabolism. They soon switched subjects to talk about their futures as doctors. I shook my head, knowing that if they were lucky, only one of them would make it to their dream, leaving the others far behind in a fit of betrayal and heartbreak. After all, that’s what friends do.
“Neal, you’re up!” Nate called out from behind his wooden sanctuary that protected him from the class of people surrounding the counter, waiting like Russians in a Communist bread line for their precious coffee.
I walked up to the counter and grabbed my piping hot mocha with an extra shot of espresso. I fitted it with one of those cardboard heat-absolving sleeves to protect my hand.
“How are you today, Neal?” Nate asked, as he quickly started on the next drink in the never-ending line of them that continually grew.
“Surviving, Nate,” I said, looking across the solemn faces of those standing in line. “How about you?”
“Ready for this day to be over,” he said, motioning his head toward the mass of cups with orders written on them that covered his workspace.
“You’ll get through it.” I saluted him with my drink. “I’ve got to get some work done. Cheers.”
“Enjoy your drink,” Nate said as I walked to my table and he continued to blend together various espresso drinks.
I sat back down, took a sip of my coffee, pulled out my notebook and a pen, and started to write:
There is a world
I have created
on sheets of paper,
and in different parts
of my ever-running mind,
where I have convinced
the person everyone sees
this is a dream.
He will one day awake
to a world in which
he is loved and admired.
He is just asleep
and it’s 1994.
A lifetime of mistakes
have all been results
of bending steel
and breaking glass.
A lifetime blinked by
with every bad decision
that has created
the person sitting beside you,
who seems a little lost
in a world
fitting him poorly,
like an ill-tailored suit.
Not that he could
ever own such things
in the sad life
he wishes to believe in.
I put the pen down and looked over the page. Carefully, I read and reread the words, allowing each one to sink in, burrowing itself into my mind and planting a seed that desires to take root and grow. Hoping that I would be able to find something new, something worthy, something good that might find its way into the hearts and minds of people worldwide. Deep down I knew that if I were lucky it would reach even one other person, and make him think, if only for a minute.
“Mind if I sit?” a voice said as I reread what I had written for the fifth time.
I looked up to see Heather standing table-side, wearing skintight black jeans and matching shirt that showed every curve of her body in a flattering way. Her smile sat playfully on her face, and her hazel eyes danced in her head. In her hand was a plate of organic corn chips and freshly made, organic salsa. Must be break time.
“Please,” I said, grabbing my bag from the chair so she could sit.
She put her plate down and sat. I gave her an awkward smile, unsure of what to say. She had breached the protective barrier that I had strategically kept between us, creating an entirely new dynamic to the non-relationship that we shared. This was no longer about mutual niceties and politeness, now it would have to be based on honest-to-goodness respect and a series of potentially shared interests. I wasn’t sure how to react to her brazen move.
“What are you working on?” she asked, as she dipped a chip into her salsa and took a small bite, being extra careful not to spill over herself.
“Nothing really,” I said. “Just a poem.”
“Can I read it?”
She looked at me as she carefully licked a touch of salsa from the corner of her mouth. I looked down at the poem, and then back at her. I did want other people to enjoy my work. Slowly I slid my notebook across the table.
I watched as her eyes moved back and forth across each line, occasionally jumping back to reread something, presumably to make a decision on how she interpreted each line, every word, the poem as a whole.
There was something voyeuristic about watching someone read my work. I equated it to videotaping myself in the act of making love and then watching it later to experience the entire manifestation of joy all over again. The ability to watch something I’ve created cause happiness, sorrow, or simply an opportunity for someone to think about her life and what it all means—if any of it means anything at all—is a joy that is better than self-gratification. Unlike self-gratification, it can only be practiced with another person present.
“Wow,” she said, as she finished reading. “So…you think this life is nothing more than a dream?”
“I wish parts of it were only a dream,” I said, looking away slightly. “Did you like it?”
“It’s good,” she said, taking a bite of another chip. “What parts do you wish were dreams?”
I smiled and bit my lip slightly. “The past.”
“All of it?”
“Most of it,” I said. “Enough to reset me.”
She cocked her head slightly to the side and looked at me with concern in her eyes. “You’re a nice guy, Neal. Everyone here likes you. You are obviously talented. Everything from your past made you who you are. Why would you want to reset yourself?”
“I think that it is slightly arrogant to say you couldn’t be a better person than who you are now,” I explained. “Maybe I would be completely different than who I am today if I changed or erased parts of my past, but who’s to say that I wouldn’t be better?”
She took another bite of her chips and looked at me as she thought about her next response. I smiled slightly. It had been a long time since I had talked philosophy with anyone, not since I left so long ago.
The past year and a half seemed to have gone by in the blink of an eye, but at the same time, it felt like I left a lifetime ago. This was exactly how I would have spent a Tuesday morning with my friends in Virginia—nursing a hangover, writing, and discussing different philosophies of life. I missed them a little more than usual at the moment.
“Couldn’t you just as easily say that you may have become a worse person than who are?” she asked, arrogantly grinning.
“Valid point,” I said. “It truly is nothing more than speculation…and hope…that you would have done things correctly if you could go back and redo them.”
“So the arrogant view is that you couldn’t be a better person, not that you would do things better the second time around?”
I couldn’t really argue. Both were rather arrogant viewpoints. I guess the answer mainly depended on whether or not you wanted a chance to change your past for the hopes of a better present. Entirely individual.
“I suppose,” I said. “It just depends on if you want to change things about your past or not.”
She smiled wider and held a chip in her hand, waving it over me in a display of victory.
“And what do you think would make you a better person?” she asked. “What would you so readily change about your past?”
And there it was. I hated that question more than I hated any question in the history of the world. In a lifetime filled with mistakes, how could I pick out the one mistake that quite possibly changed my life forever? I had it pinpointed to one moment, one individual instance. There never has been an answer more perfect for any question in the history of the world, and I never wanted to give it to anyone.
“Tell me, Neal,” she said, as she dipped her chip. “What would you change about your past?”
The smile quickly faded from my face. No one outside of a very small group of people knew who I really was, and I had done everything within my power to keep from showing the real me to anyone else.
I looked into Heather’s hazel eyes and sighed as memories flooded back to me. Twice today I was reminded of a past life that I wanted nothing more than to forget.
“Dying,” I said. My gaze remained unwavering as I let her process my one-word answer. It was the only explanation I was willing to give.
Her eyes filled with confusion, concern, and sadness all at once.
“Do you mean that you wish you had died?” she asked.
I shook my head and looked away. The pain of the memory flooded my entire body.
“I’ll be right back,” I said as I stood and walked to the bathroom. I closed the door behind me and slid the latch, locking myself in. Resting my head against the white paneling, I closed my eyes. My hands had started to shake a little when I was sitting at the table with Heather, but they had since moved on to full fledged convulsions.
I turned around and slid my back against the door until I was seated on the floor, my head between my knees. My head suddenly felt like it was filled with pressure, and a ringing that had been planted in my ears kept getting louder, to the point where I couldn’t hear anything else. The ringing screamed, deafening me. I covered my ears in hopes of subduing the siren-like sounds, but it was no help.
My hands shook terribly, and I felt my eyes welling up with tears behind my closed lids. I clinched them tighter, wishing that the ordeal would come to a quick end. Sweat started to drip from my forehead, sliding down my face and falling to the ground.
My body was tense, and my joints started to ache. I wanted to stretch them out, but it hurt to move any muscle in my body. I begged for the pain to end. I wanted to feel normal. I wanted to be normal. I wished that every decision I had made leading up to this moment was non-existent. I didn’t want to be me anymore. I wanted to be someone completely different. I wanted to be someone that didn’t have to deal with the constant struggle I had literally injected myself with.
I hated myself. I hated who I had become. I hated my life and what little I stood for. In an evaporating haze of broken dreams and promises I had made to myself—and others—I felt my life slowly ending. I wished that I could simply take myself out of the world to make room for someone else who would be able to make a difference. A life of wasted dreams resulted in nothing more than a wasted life.
I felt the door push slightly against my back, snapping me out of my past-induced trance. Another coffee-filled customer must need to use the facility. I ached from head to toe. Sweat covered my face, and I could feel that it had soaked into my shirt. My hands were still trembling, and I was slightly afraid that my legs weren’t going to work when I finally stood up again.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, and reaching up to the sink, I pulled myself to standing. I placed all of my weight on the porcelain bowl and hoped that it was firmly attached to the wall.
From within the large mirror, my reflection stared at me—red face, bloodshot and puffy eyes. The tears had stained tiny saltwater pathways on my face that cracked when I moved my mouth or blinked. I turned the water on and waited for the steam to rise.
I leaned down and used my cupped hands to splash the extraordinarily hot water against my face. I wished that the hot water could melt away every memory of the person I kept running from, but knew he would always be deep inside. I knew that I would cling to that person in an attempt to hold on to a dream that I used to believe in. Letting go of someone that you used to be is not as easy as people say it should be. Saying goodbye to an old friend is very difficult; saying goodbye to yourself is nearly impossible.
I wiped the excess water from my face and exited the bathroom where the young hipster with Buddy Holly glasses, a bad moustache, and extremely tight jeans was waiting with a very impatient look on his face. He kind of scowled at me as he shoved past me into the bathroom, closing the door and violently locking it.
I walked back toward the table where Heather was still sitting. She looked up at me as I approached.
“Neal,” she said, her voice filled with concern and a mild amount of fear. “You are really pale.”
“Yeah,” I said. I nodded. “I’m not feeling so good.”
Heather quickly stood and pulled out my seat for me. “Here,” she said. “Sit down. I’ll go get you some water.”
I sat down, and held my head in my hands. The façade that I could normally put on had been stripped away from me during my time in the bathroom, battling the demons that plague me day in and day out. Anything that may have attracted Heather to me moments before I walked into the bathroom had surely disappeared in the time that I was gone. My past was a cross that I had to carry. I knew that not everyone could accept a past such as the one that I had procured for myself. I had come to acknowledge these truths. In another life, I knew I would have problems dealing with someone who had been through the same things I had.
Heather came back with some water and my phone. “Here,” she said, handing me the glass of water and putting the phone on the table. “Drink this.”
I took a sip of water. It was the first hydrating liquid I had drunk in days. After that one single sip I felt slightly more whole than I had only moments before. I took a deep breath and shook my head. I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t believe that in the first real conversation I had with this woman, I regressed to the person I had pushed so deep down inside I thought he would never again see the light of day.
“Feel better?” she asked, after I finished off half the glass.
I nodded and looked at her. She radiated beauty. There was a purity about her that was absolutely magnetic. There was a sweetness to her that could only be authentic. Nobody could fake the niceties that she exuded. I thought that maybe I was so attracted to her because she was the exact opposite of who I was on the inside.
She sat back down across from me, reached out, and placed her soft hand on top of mine. “What was that?” she asked.
I looked down at her hand, and I could tell that she truly cared about what I was going through. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just think I’m not exactly feeling like myself today.”
She smiled. “We all have days like that,” she said, lightly stroking my hand.
I smiled back at her, and the feelings of fear and regret that had been resonating throughout my body slowly started to subside, replaced by something else. Something new. It was a strange sensation. I looked into her hazel eyes, and suddenly I started to wonder if this new sensation was admiration of some sort. I started to wonder if all the playful small talk and adolescent flirting had actually grown into a form of respect. Did I actually have feelings for this woman?
“I have to get back to work,” she said, patting my hand lightly with hers. “Glad you feel better.”
“Thanks,” I said, forcing a smile. I felt awkward and out of place in my own body for the first time since I had beat the addictions and started to see the world clearly again.
Heather looked back at me as she walked behind the counter and went back to work.
I had never wanted to get rid of the fear and the anger inside of me more than I did at that moment. I didn’t want to have to worry about having a breakdown while talking with someone. Somehow I fumbled my way through it this time, but I didn’t know how I would respond if it happened again. I knew that I was going to have to face this buried part of me soon. I knew it would have to be exorcised. I thought I would be able to hide it forever, but apparently it didn’t want to remain hidden.
Glancing around the coffee shop, I wondered if anyone else was dealing with the same torment that I was going through. The memories of my wasted past, talents, and abilities hung before me as a constant reminder of the person I could have been if I had just been a little smarter, a little stronger. I wished, more than ever before, for the integrity that my parents had tried to instill in me.
When I turned my phone back on, I heard the voicemail chime. As I waited for the voicemail prompts to pass, I watched Heather taking orders. By smiling and being genuinely happy, she brought a few moments of joy to whomever she was talking to. I wondered if she was one of those people who were actually happy, those people that I envied on occassion. There were times I wanted to be one of those people. They would take risks and chances in areas of life that I never would because they believed in and trusted people. I stopped trusting when I became someone not worth trusting.
I knew that Heather and I were never meant to be. I was not the type of person someone like Heather could ever want. I was a bad person, not worthy of someone that could so easily bring joy into the lives of others.
I hit play on the voicemail, smiling at the thought of a night of solace with her and enveloping myself in the idea of a life I knew I was not born to live.
Suddenly, everything changed.
The voice on the other end of the phone was one from my past. I hadn’t spoken to Rich in six months, and even then it was barely a conversation. He was in pain, and he had asked for a favor, just one tiny little favor.
I could feel the color in my face fade away. I went from being red and puffy to pale and frail. Heather looked over at me and must have seen a serious change in my appearance because she immediately ran over to check on me.
“Neal,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding my head as I put my phone down. “I just, I have to go.”
She looked at me, bewildered. “Go?” she asked. “Where are you going?”
“Virginia,” I said, quickly packing up, shoving everything that was sitting in front of me into my backpack.
“Virginia?” she asked again.
I nodded as I tossed my backpack over my shoulder and stood up.
“What’s in Virginia?” she asked.
I looked at her, and wasn’t really quite sure what to say. I never considered it my home, and I hardly had any connections left there.
“What’s in Virginia?” she asked again.
I shrugged. A momentary thought about kissing her passionately flitted through my mind. I shook it off and said the only thing that could define Virginia to me. “My past.” I shook my head and raised my arms helplessly. “I’m sorry,” I said, slowly backing away from Heather and walking down the few stairs that separated the two floors of the coffee shop. “I have to go.”
I turned and ran out the door, throwing my bag into my car as I jumped into the front seat. New life had been suddenly injected into me. I was excited about a new adventure. I was going back to Virginia, and with that meant seeing my old friends, coming face to face with my old life, and possibly meeting a new beginning.
I turned the engine. As I pulled out of the parking spot I thought about my experiences here and how they would add to the many that continually shaped the person I had and would become.
Headed for 40 East, I wondered if I ever would get to a point where all of my experiences, including all of the mistakes I had made and had spent so long running from, would finally get me to a point where I could forgive myself for the things I had done.