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Romance Drama Contemporary

A chirping bell rings noisily above the glass door as Callie nudges it open. The warm air evokes the fall of a small sigh from her chapped lips as her long chestnut hair settles around her small shoulders. The cozy Starbucks café is a pleasant escape from the busy downtown street and its crisp early autumn air. With grace to be desired, Callie shrugs her backpack to the side and pulls out a leather wallet, longingly imagining her favourite blueberry scones as she searches it. In the momentary distraction, she nearly stumbles into the counter before she finds it. 

Instead, Callie looks up into a face that was once as familiar as the freckles on her cheeks.

Standing wide-eyed, incredulous, and aproned behind the counter is none other than the infamous Eric Roster. Infamous to Callie, at least. A sensation like a punch in the stomach moves over her. Callie feels her cheeks go from peachy pink to snowy white, and watches as Eric’s do the same. Callie hasn’t seen that shaggy blonde hair and beachy stubble since her high school graduation. At least, not while being awake. Oh… my god, Callie thinks, and the words wipe every other thought from her mind.

“Callie…?” Eric whispers, looking slightly nauseous. She hears it as if through a tunnel. After several long moments of staring, Callie realizes that she should probably say something.

“Yeah, hi, Eric… um…”

“It’s been a while.”

“Yeah,” Callie nods. Her mind flashes back to the last image of his face it can remember, as it’s done so many times before. In her head, Eric wears a graduation cap and a tear-streaked face that haunted her every moment of the following months.

Seeming nearly speechless, Eric asks, “What would you like?”

It takes Callie a moment to clue in to what he’s saying, but when she does, she realizes she doesn’t feel hungry anymore. Not wanting to seem more foolish than she already does, Callie orders anyway. “I’d like a London Fog and two blueberry scones. Please,” she adds.

Eric gives her a brisk nod and sluggishly rings up her order. But when Callie pulls out her gift card, he shakes his head. “No. On the house,” he says, with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. 

“You don’t have to…” Callie starts, feeling embarrassed.

“It’s the least I can do,” Eric mutters, and the two share a long look, full of meaning. The short phrase has more implications than either can fathom. Another image takes over Callie’s mind, this time of Eric’s lips on Penelope Goldman’s neck. Just like she has for many years, Callie blinks harshly and pushes it away desperately, trading twelfth grade Eric for the one in front of her. 

“Listen… I can take my break anytime. And, well…” Eric trails off, looking nervous. “Would you like to sit… talk?” At the startled look on Callie’s face, Eric adds, “I mean, you don’t have to, I just thought -”

“Sure,” Callie replies, firmly, and with a small, nervous smile. Eric’s suddenly enormous grin brings back a long-forgotten pang of heartbreak.

-

“So… windy outside?” Eric asks, gaze constantly landing anywhere but Callie’s eyes. She chooses a different tactic, electing to stare holes into her tea instead.

Callie chuckles dryly at his feeble attempt at small talk. He never was very good at it, she remembers suddenly. “Yeah. My hair was blowing all over the place.” Or maybe it was me that small talk didn’t work for, Callie thinks snidely after hearing herself talk. Naturally, she doesn’t speak much, but she makes her words count.

Eric grunts in reply. For the first time since they sat down, the two meet eyes, and it seems to snap something in him. “Look, Callie, I -”

“Eric -”

“I’m sorry I -”

“You don’t have to -”

“Yes, I do,” Eric takes a deep breath, never breaking eye contact. Callie can see a deep and ancient shame in his eyes. “I’m sorry I cheated on you, Callie.” Hearing aloud the words that circled her mind for so many years further awakens an old sadness in her. “I was young and stupid, and you deserved so much better than that. You were smart, kind, and beautiful and I treated you like shit. I hated myself for years for ruining it. For hurting you. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to get to say it, because I don’t deserve it, but I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry, Callie.”

She smiles shyly to herself and feels herself falling, somewhere deep inside herself. Falling farther and farther down the rabbit hole left by the imprint of feelings long dead. It feels freeing. When Callie says it, she doesn’t hesitate, even though it surprises herself. “I forgive you.”

“You don’t have to -”

“No, I want to. Look, I -” Callie pauses, deep in thought about the time following her first heartbreak. “I wouldn’t have forgiven you ten years ago, or even five years ago, no matter what you said. I was hurt,” and then, even quieter, “I was broken. It was the worst kind of pain, a kind I had never imagined before. I carried what you did everywhere, the good and the bad. Some, I still do. But it sounds like you did too, and it’s been a long time. I think it’s what both of us need. So, yes, I forgive you.”

Callie feels the same invisible weight disappear that she sees lift from Eric’s shoulders. “Thank you,” is all he says, at a loss for words.

Callie chooses to move on from the difficult topic. “So what’ve you been up to? Still seeing Penelope?” she adds, unable to stop herself.

Eric looks startled, but realizing Callie’s joking from the rare smirk crossing her features, he lets loose a large laugh. “I haven’t seen her since I saw you last. No, I’ve been mostly single. Leaves something to be desired in my music.”

“Oh my god, you’re still writing songs?” Callie gasps, remembering his ratty old hand-me-down guitar.

“I never stopped actually. I’m trying to make a career of it,” Eric sighs to himself.

“How’s that going?”

“Well, I work here, don’t I?”

“Don’t be down on yourself. You weren’t so bad in high school,” Callie chuckles, taking a hot sip of her tea. A forgotten but familiar guitar strum pulls at the back of her mind, climbing up and back into her mind after a decade’s burial. 

“Of course you’d say that, back then most of them were about you,” Eric laughs. Callie almost spills her drink in amusement of his bluntness and laughs loudly enough that the other barista turns her head. “And what about you?”

“I went to NYU out of high school. Studied English and history for a few years, and then went to teacher’s college. I teach at a high school just a few blocks from here,” Callie says, shyly proud of herself.

“Okay, I get it, you’re more successful than me. No need to rub it in,” Eric jokes, rolling his eyes ironically. Callie laughs again. “Seriously though, it sounds like you’d be good at that. Teaching, I mean.”

“Well, I like to think so. It’s only been a few years, but I’m happy.”

“Good.”

Callie blushes and takes another sip of her tea. “It’s really good to see you,” she mutters, meaning it more than she knows.

“Yeah, you too. I’m really glad you came in.”

“Me too.”

Neither notices the scarlet-haired barista approaching until she taps Eric’s shoulder. He jumps, startled, and checks his watch.

“Damn. I’m sorry Callie, but I have to get back to work,” Eric says, disappointment and guilt dripping from every word. Callie feels disappointed too, realizing suddenly how much she misses her old friend, but she tries her best not to show it. It will be easier that way.

“Oh, it’s alright. I should probably get back to work too,” she replies, rising from the plush chair.

“You didn’t even get to have your scones,” Eric exclaims as Callie picks the small paper bag off the table.

“I’ll just eat them later. It’s fine.”

A moment passes in heavy silence as the two look over each other, trying to memorize one another.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you around then,” Eric mumbles.

“Goodbye, Eric,” Callie mutters, letting some sadness leak into her voice.

“Goodbye, Callie.” She hears the same in his and offers him a sad smile.

It takes all of Callie’s strength to turn away, and even more to move her legs toward the door. Behind her, she hears Eric’s footsteps walk behind the counter and velcro as he reapplies his apron. Tears threaten to fall in her eyes as she reaches to push open the door, recognizing the enormity of this moment, and remembering every one she spent imagining it in years left behind.

“Wait, Callie?” Eric calls from behind the cash register. Taking a deep breath, Callie turns around. His face looks like she feels. “Can I… can I give you my number?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

August 15, 2020 00:51

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2 comments

Mustang Patty
00:44 Aug 19, 2020

Hi there, This well-written story carried the very essence of the prompt. Thank you for sharing, and good luck. ~MP~

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Susannah Webster
22:37 Aug 19, 2020

Thank you! I'm excited about any feedback I get and I appreciate your taking the time to comment on my story. Good luck on any stories you post as well! -SW

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