Before you read:
This is a part 2 of my original story “Inside The Room With The Grey Walls”, which I submitted a few months ago. You need to read that beforehand so you know what’s going on in this part!
I open the door, and my eyes land on the woman sitting behind what was once Mr. Ayton’s desk. She’s typing on a computer, but that’s not the first thing I notice. No, it’s her deep red hair that catches my attention. She looks up from the computer and stares at me with piercing, sea-green eyes.
Her lips part slightly in surprise. “Trey?”
I blink, stunned, and nod. Maybe this Christmas will be different after all.
I finally manage to unstick my throat. “Y-you?”
She smiles. “Me.”
“Huh?” My conversational skills really are mind-blowing.
I clear my throat, then cough, then clear my throat again. “This is...odd. Very odd.”
She nods slowly in agreement. “It is. Well, why don’t you sit down?”
I stand awkwardly in the middle of the room. I know there’s a small leather sofa a few paces away, but I’m too in shock to move, let alone sit down.
When I don’t move, she doesn’t look surprised. She starts talking, but I don’t hear a word she says. The memories of me, alone, with nothing but a silent telephone to keep me company. When Scarlett was here all along. The messages, my desperation so obvious within them, and she was here, and she ignored them. Ignored me.
“…tell me what’s been bothering you?”
I barely register her words, but I catch the last bit, and a distant laugh escapes my throat. “Bothering me? Did you get my messages? Any of them?”
“Did you get them?”
She sighs. “Yes. I got them. I listened to them every single night.”
“Every single night,” I repeat, “and...what, you couldn’t call back a couple of times? Even once would have been enough.”
She looks at me, pity written all over her face, but I don’t want pity. “Trey, I would have called you back, but—”
“Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty,” I whisper.
She blinks. “What?”
“That’s how many messages I’ve left you. I had no idea what had happened to you.” I rarely yell, and I had never thought there would ever be a time when I would yell at Scarlett, but I can hear my voice steadily becoming louder, harsher. “I didn’t know if I had the right number, I didn’t know if you were listening, I didn’t know anything.”
“I know,” she says placatingly, “I know, Trey. But this is a therapy session. What do you need to talk about?”
I stare at her in disbelief. “You! I come here every Tuesday night to talk about you! I lost you, Scarlett, and you were right here all this time, and I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do about it.”
Now Scarlett looks angry. “You think you’re the only one who’s lost people, Trey? The only one who’s ever felt helpless and broken beyond repair?”
I shake my head. “Of course not. I just never thought I would feel that way because of you.”
And with that, I turn around and start to walk out. I’ve just opened the door when I hear her say my name, not as a command, but as a request.
I grit my teeth. But I slowly wheel back around and cross my arms over my chest. Why do I always have to go back to her?
“My intention was always to keep you safe,” she murmurs. And then she walks
towards me and takes my hand. It’s a warm, ironically comforting feeling.
“I know you’ve always thought you were forgettable—I know you think I forgot you—but you aren’t. You never were.”
“Until I wasn’t.”
She flinches as if I’ve struck her, and instantly I feel guilty. The words I’m sorry dance on the tip of my tongue, but I manage to hold them back—surely I can’t be the one to blame. At least, not for this.
“I wanted to call you back,” she continues. “But I just...I was going through so much, Trey. I had to take care of my friend’s kids for a while, I bailed my brother out of jail, my goddamn dog died...I wanted to tell you everything, so badly, but I didn’t want you to be involved in any of it. I couldn’t decide if I should call you or not so I just...didn’t. And I guess that ruined the only thing—the only person—I wanted to keep safe: you.”
I blink. “I...I don’t know what to say.”
“Your messages,” she says, and I see her eyes are glistening with tears. Scarlett—the girl who scaled the roof of our school building like it was nothing, who had a record mile time of less than six minutes, who did outlandish things every single day without batting an eye—is showing me her vulnerable side.
She shakes her head a little. “Your messages...they were the only thing keeping me from falling apart. I waited by the phone every night, and hearing your voice...you were my one constant.”
I want to smile—after all, she just said everything I’d wanted her to say ever since high school. But now, all I feel is betrayal.
“You used me, Scarlett,” I say coldly. “I may have been your constant, but you were mine, too. You were so focused on keeping me from your own problems that you only made mine worse. Just admit it—you were protecting yourself, not me.”
“No,” she insists, “Trey, I’m not...I wouldn’t...”
I snatch my hand away, feeling more alone than I’ve ever felt before in my life. “But you did. Goodbye, Scarlett. And don’t bother waiting by the phone.”
And then I turn around and really do walk away. Away from the girl I was infatuated with, away from the woman who used me for her own relief, away from the only person I had left who might have cared. And, most painfully of all, I walk away with the knowledge that this Christmas will be exactly the same.
I begin to walk home, and the silence seems louder, now. For eight years, I’ve managed to ignore it. For eight years, I’ve managed to feel okay about being alone. But now my shoes hit the deserted sidewalk a little too loudly, the wind rustling the leaves is, for the first time, making me feel cold. When I get to my apartment, the door creaks as I open it and the noise startles me, though I knew it was coming.
And the telephone sits right where I left it on the small, rickety table beside my small, rickety bed. And then my eyes lock on the notepad beside the phone, with its curling, yellowing paper filled with tally marks. Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty of them, to be exact.
And I think of Scarlett, and how much she needs me, despite ignoring the fact that I need her, too.
Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty tally marks. Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty messages.
I suppose one more wouldn’t hurt.
I slowly begin to dial her number.
And this time, she just might pick up the phone.