Contest #28 shortlist ⭐️

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Submitted on 02/15/2020

Categories: Creative Nonfiction

This is it. This is the last time.

I mindlessly ran a finger over the lip of my coffee cup as I repeated the phrase to myself over and over, hoping somehow the repetition would help it stick in my stubborn skull.

You can’t keep doing this. You can’t keep loving him like this.

The drops of rain tapping on the metal roof had woken me up in the early hours of the morning — not that Ben and I had been doing much sleeping to begin with. I’d finally decided to squeeze my way out of his tight grasp when it became clear I had too much on my mind to let a peaceful dream overtake me. I’d moved silently through his small apartment, around the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen and back, as if I were meant to be here. I could’ve lived this life with him. We could’ve been happy.

I looked over at the cluttered desk sitting opposite my position on the cushioned seat by the bedroom window. Unpaid bills and month-old receipts decorated almost every inch of the antique table. Ben had an awful habit of throwing mail and other scrap pieces of paper onto the desk, creating mountains of disorganized piles. Thankfully, I was always able to find whatever movie ticket or restaurant reservation number he’d lost in the mess. Just like how my eyes managed to zero in on the one-way plane ticket he’d tried to hide in-between his copy of The Alchemist and my copy of Cien Sonetos de Amor.

He’s leaving the country in less than twenty-four hours. And he’s not taking you with him.

This domestic life wasn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t ever going to be something he wanted. He made that clear from the very beginning. I was just stupid enough to think I could change his mind.

I leaned my head against the window, letting the cold ease the heat of a breaking heart. I wondered when my life became this complicated. Just four months ago I was freshly graduated journalist-in-training with a sense of adventure and a plan. But now I felt like a shadow of myself, like someone I didn’t recognize. I was the person I never wanted to become. I was a woman chasing after a man who will never love her back.

I’d spent the whole morning trying to convince myself that I would be fine letting him go. That the time we’d spent together was beautiful and magical, but that it was always meant to end here. Love doesn’t have to last forever to be meaningful. 

I wanted him to be happy. And if moving to Spain was what was going to fulfill his life’s mission, then who was I to stand in the way? I loved him enough to let him go. That’s what I told myself, again and again in my head. But sometimes your head and your heart don’t always match up.

No, this is it. This has to be the last time. You have to let him go.

“Baby,” a voice called out, interrupting my bleak thoughts.

I smiled instinctively, sadness filtering out of me like water down a drain.

That was me. He was calling out to me.

I turned my head to see him feeling around the bed, searching for my warm body. He lifted his head from the pillow, hair was sticking up in all directions. A bright smile spread across his face the moment his chocolate-brown eyes met mine.

“Come back to bed,” he said, sleep still laced in his deep voice.

I nodded, leaving the relief of the cold morning without a second thought. Whatever he wanted, I would do. If this was the last time I would ever see him, I wanted to leave him with the best memory of me.

I lifted the heavy covers on the bed and crawled my way back into his open arms. Resting my head on his chest felt so natural, like this place beside him was carved out just for me. He immediately wrapped my body in his embrace, gingerly running his fingers up and down my bare arms. I could hear his erratic heartbeat slow as we settled into what should’ve been our forever place.

Sometimes I thought I was imagining it all. I always used to think that falling in love couldn’t possibly happen this quickly. You couldn’t know someone’s heart in just four months—that’s barely the length of a season of television or a semester of classes. But it turned out time was more complicated than any kind of explanation a first-grade teacher could give. 

“Hey,” Ben said.

“Yeah?” I asked.

He didn’t answer right away. Ben was a man who chose his words wisely.

For the last twenty-four hours, we’d carefully been avoiding the topic of his impending departure. It wasn’t something we’d planned on doing together. It was more of an unspoken agreement. I guess we’d both wanted to keep the dream alive as long as we could. Surely he was hesitant to break our implicit rule. But sooner or later we’d have to wake up.

“I’ve got a couple of hours left before my flight,” he said. “Do you want to take a walk? Maybe grab some brunch?”

I smiled at the thought of sipping watermelon mimosas in a cozy booth at our favorite restaurant. Before the weather had turned sour, we’d sit out on the covered patio and indulge in the prevalent summer breeze. We’d pick food off each other’s plates like children. I’d tease him about drinking too much coffee and he’d laugh when I’d ask for a take-out box after only four bites of my breakfast potatoes.

When we tired of the table talk, we’d walk around the small plaza. Our eyes would shift and search for something new or exciting to talk about. Neither one of us wanted our time to end.

Brunch was our first date. It seemed almost fitting it be our last. But the more I thought about getting out of bed, the less and less I wanted to.

“Actually,” I said, lifting my head so I could see his face, “can we just stay in?”

He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.

“I just—” I sighed, trying to find the right words to explain what I was feeling. For an avid writer, I wasn’t a very gifted talker.

“I just want to lay here a little bit longer. Is that okay?”

He smiled softly, seeming to understand my heart’s desire. He understood me more than I could ever explain. Our connection was electric. We just… clicked.

“Of course,” he said.

I curled my way back into him. As he pulled me tighter into him, I thought in my head that this was what happy felt like.

“I could fall asleep like this,” I muttered mindlessly.

“Forever,” he responded.

It wasn’t forever. But it was right now. And I would make right now last.

I brought my face up to his, pepper kisses on his chin and on his cheeks before molding myself into his soft lips.

One more. Just one more time. One last time.

***

“Do you have everything?” I asked Ben as he lifted the last suitcase from the trunk of my car.

“Yeah, I think that’s everything,” he said.

He shut the trunk and stuffed his passport and boarding pass into the pocket of his backpack. He looked around, muttering lightly to himself as he mentally checked things off his invisible to-do list. I watched him patiently until, finally, he decided I was the last loose end for him to tie up.

He looked at me with so much sadness and longing that I wondered if I gave him the same look back. But there was also adventure and determination, things I couldn’t give him here.

He suddenly pulled me into our last embrace. I locked my fingers into his back, as if somehow I could meld myself into him.

“You take care of yourself over there, okay?” I said into his sweater, holding back tears.

I felt him nod against the side of my head, once again at a loss for words.

He pulled away before I was ready to let go.

“Bye,” he said.

He grabbed his bags in one swift move and walked through the airport doors without a single glance back. I stood there, watching the door for what felt like hours before I realized my tears had already come and gone.

“Bye, Ben.”

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