We met for the second time in the dairy aisle.
I wasn't sure what to say at first. I just stared at her. She stared at the floor. Finally, I opened my mouth. “You look the same.”
She didn't look at me as she talked. “Do I know you?”
Something violent rose in my chest. “You know who I am.”
“No, I don't.” She tried to maneuver the cart passed me, but I stepped in front of it. “Please, I don't know you. Can I just go?”
“No.” My fists were shaking. “You don't get to say that.” How was she the same? Everything, exactly how I remembered. The same brown hair. The same green eyes. The same same thin nose and perfect teeth. The way she stood, the way she looked away when she was nervous. Exactly the fucking same. “Where the hell did you go?”
“I can't tell you.”
“Yes, you can.”
“I promise, I can't. Please.”
People stopped and stared. For a second, I wondered how this looked. Not good, probably. Then I pushed the thought aside. A trickled of blood oozed from my palms where the nails pierced the skin.
Finally, she looked up. “Why is it so important, Aaron?”
“Because you left me. No warning. No reason. I came to the park one day and you were gone. Nobody remembered you. Jesus fucking Christ, I didn't even remember you until five minutes ago. You just… faded. For a week I was a mess, and then I forgot what the hell I was worrying about. And then you show up again and you look exactly the fucking same and I look like this and you won't even admit I exist.”
She stared, taking in the scars, the graying hair, the torn ear.
“I joined the Army. A month after you left.”
“I don't know. I'd thought about it as a kid. I needed to get away from home, and it seemed like the easiest way. I thought leaving would make me happier.”
“No.” I felt ugly next to her. I always had, even as a kid. She was a goddess among women, the one they all wanted to be, and all the men wanted to have. I was… well, me.
She sighed. “No, it wouldn't have. Did anything?”
“Nothing that lasted.”
“I'm sorry about that. I really am. If there was another way to have done it, I would have.”
“Do you hate me, then?”
God, I wanted to. “No.”
“It would make things a lot easier if you did.”
“You think I don't know that?” There was a long silence. Then, I said, “What do I mean to you?”
“You…” she paused. “You meant a lot.”
“That's not what I asked.” Blood from my palms was dripping, forming little flower patterns on the floor.
“It's been ten years, Aaron. What do you expect me to say? That I still love you?”
“Fuck you, it's ridiculous.” I took a step forward. She took a step back. “Do you know what you mean to me?”
“I don't want to.”
“You mean everything. You're the reason I can't sleep. The reason I spend every day doing the same exact same routine. The reason I've never been in love. And I didn't even remember until I saw you.”
“You need to move on.”
“I don't want to move on! I want to be with you. That's all I've wanted since I was sixteen. And if you can't give me that you can give me a goddamn explanation.”
“I can't give you one. Listen, this isn't worth it.”
“I know what it's worth. Why won't you fucking listen? Why don't you care?” I was dimly cognizant of more people gathering around us. They whispered to themselves. Good. Let them watch.
“I'm not telling you because I care! Aaron, think. We were together for less than a year, ten years ago. You can't latch on to that. It's never going to be the way it was, and if you try to make it, you'll end up hurting worse. Let. Go.”
“Don't tell me what to do.”
She turned, and began to walk away. “Goodbye, Emilio.”
She kept walking.
She didn't look back.
“I don't want to forget you again!”
She walked out the door.
I sprinted after her. But when I emerged from the store, she was gone. And I was alone, again.