I opened the door to let him in, smiling as he hugged me before automatically sitting down in his usual seat to chat whilst I finished making diner. These days he came over for meals often. At least twice a week.
‘Lasagne okay?’ I asked, hardly able to tear my eyes away from him for a second.
He smiles, tilting his head slightly to the right, ‘Anything you make will taste great.’
My eyes stayed glued to him as I finished preparing dinner, sliding it into the oven a mere ten minutes later. ‘So…’ I washed my hands and sat across from him. ‘How’s life?’
‘Well, you know… It’s good.’
He laughed a soft easy laugh and ran his hands through his hair. It was longer now, I noticed. He stood to get a bottle of Solo from the fridge and I realised he was taller, yet again. His sheer perfection almost made me want to shoot myself. Why was I watching him so closely? Why did I want to ask about any recent dates he’d been on? He’d never want me anyway… I glanced down, smoothing my skirt and brushing a loose strand of hair behind my ear.
‘Well, nothing has really happened since I last saw you.’ He passed me a glass of the cool, bubbling liquid. ‘I slept, I ate, I worked, I played video games. Life is good. Boring, but good. Movie?’ He held up a disk. It was a new romantic comedy that he knew I’d wanted to see about a journalist who had to date a guy and do everything in her power to make him break up with her in ten days, meanwhile he was a part of a bet that he could get her to fall for him in ten days.
I bent down to turn the oven timer on. ‘Sure.’ I was happy enough to watch the movie; after all I knew it would be one that I would enjoy. It just... confused me. It was hardly Aiden’s type of movie. Not that I really cared. It had been ages since I’d seen a good chick flick.
I put the disk in and sat on the couch. He sat at the other end, and we watched the movie in silence. The oven timer went off about halfway through and we stopped to eat dinner.
The girl was almost eight. She wore her chocolate brown hair pulled into tight pigtails and tied with sparkly pink ribbon that she loved because of the way it glittered in the light, shining crystals of colour onto the ceiling. She was bent over her bed, stuffing things into a pink back pack, her pigtails swinging as she constantly looked over her shoulder to make sure there was no one behind her.
Once the back pack was full she grabbed her teddy bear – a much loved bear with only one ear and almost no remaining fur – and went to the window. She crept out onto the sill, looking at the ground below and remembering the last time she’d done this. With him. Before they all left. But this time, she had no one waiting to catch her.
As I pressed play and restarted the movie, I stretched my feet out, trying to reach the table. ‘Too. Far…’
He reached out and pulled my legs towards him until they rested on his lap. I smiled and turned my face back towards the movie, trying to pretend that my heart hadn’t sped up to at least twice its normal speed. It suddenly felt like there was a whole new energy in the room, all of my senses were tingling and I was suddenly hyperaware of every movement he made, of his hands gently rubbing my knee. As hard as I tried to keep my eyes on the movie they kept sliding back to him, watching as his eyes flicked back to the television, neither of us wanting to be caught looking. His fingertips slid up my thigh as he reached out for my hand.
‘Aiden…’ The credits rolled down the screen. ‘What exactly is this…?’ I squeezed his hand.
‘Well… I was kind of wondering if you might like to have dinner some time…’
‘We had dinner tonight.’
‘Yes. We did. And it was delicious by the way… But I’m sick of going on dead end dates that I know will never work out.’
This confused me a little bit, so I asked the obvious question, ‘Why won’t they work out?’
He smiled at me, a hint of sadness in his eyes, ‘Because there’s only one girl who I truly want. Because someone else already has my heart.’
‘Oh…’ I dropped my eyes, fiddling with the edge of my skirt.
He squeezed my hand, ‘You, silly.’
‘Me?’ I tried not to get my hopes up too high, the knowledge that the higher I was, the further I had to fall, weighing heavily on my mind.
‘From the first time I saw you, I liked you. I looked for ways to be around you. Even if I never spoke to you, I just wanted to be near you. And then I got to know you...’ He stood, pacing back and forth a little before going to the window and watching the rain that had started to pour down outside. He turned to face me, his liquid chocolate eyes melting me to the core. ‘And I realised that it wasn’t just a silly little crush. It wasn’t going to go away. But I didn’t know how you felt, and so I tried to keep my life normal. You know, keep dating and everything. But every time, I failed. I spent the entire date wishing I was with you instead.’
I pulled my knees to my chest, laying my head on top of them and watching him carefully as he paced back and forth in front of me. I couldn’t grasp it. He liked me? No. Surely not. Oh, but I wanted him to…
‘When I was dating all of these other girls, it made me realise that all I needed, all I wanted was you. And as soon as I realised this, I understood the pang of jealousy I got every time you had a good time on a date. But you always stopped dating them. And then I realised that neither of us had really dated seriously, maybe because we are truly meant to be together. Because I need you. And because somewhere, deep down, you need me too. I guess what I’m trying to ask is whether you feel the same way.’
He watched me for a moment, before turning away, back to the rain outside. He told me later that he couldn’t bear to watch me reject him. As if I could. The thing he didn’t realise was at this point was that I was in so deep with him that there was no way I could ever find anything as strong as what I had with him again. And here he was offering me something stronger. I don’t think he realised that there was no way I could ever turn him down.
‘I do…’ I whispered.
He turned to face me, the smile on his face contagious, spilling over to mine. ‘Come here.’
He held his arms out and I dove into them, not wanting to let go.
She’d been on her own for almost an hour before anyone caught up to her. The found her hiding in a bush at the local park. The man she didn’t like grabbed her roughly by the shoulder.
‘Get up,’ he growled, tugging her to her feet. ‘You’re going to be punished for this you stupid child.’
He pulled her all the way back to the house. The pretty woman wasn’t home yet. No one was home yet. The girl shrieked and tried to run but the man pulled her back, forcing her down. And this time, she didn’t pretend not to be affected. He hurt her and she cried out, a loud wail that she knew might alert people to what was going on.
‘Shut up, you little slut!’ he hissed, finishing up before pushing her away.
As soon as he let go, the girl ran away. She locked herself in the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror for a moment, before turning away, repulsed by even the sight of herself. Even at such a young age she knew that what had happened was bad. Even at such a young age she felt dirty. She stood under the steaming water of the shower until her skin was red, until she had grown used to the marks that now covered her.