“Hey.” The young woman started hearing a deep tenor behind her. She hated when people stood behind her, or tried to reach around her, it freaked her out. People have no sense of personal space. She turned and frowned seeing her unexpected guest.
“Xavier. What are you doing here?”
He grinned. Ugh, still so good looking. He held up a small white card. “I got a library card today.”
She rolled her eyes upon seeing the card. He could have gotten that when he came last week. What made him change his mind? Xavier stood there with that broad grin on his face, that card in his fingers, and today he was wearing nice pressed jeans, a button down navy shirt and a nice jacket… he still smelled good. Unfortunately, he was invading her senses and she hated it already.
“You could have gotten that last week. Instead you threw a tantrum because I didn’t remember your phone number.”
He shrugged, sticking the card back into his pocket. “It wasn’t a tantrum.” She lifted an arched eyebrow and turned back to stick a book on the shelf. “What time do you get off Leah?”
“What do you want Xavier?” She moved away from him to continue her job. He only followed, a slight hop to his step. Leah wrinkled her nose at his close proximity, he was always persistent. It was pretty annoying. It was back then and it still is now. “Stop doing that and walk like a normal person.”
“Get a coffee with me.”
“I don’t like coffee.”
He laughed, his expression determined. “Okay, one of Starbucks’ speciality drink things. We can sit in the shop or we can walk around the Boardwalk.” Leah paused in the motion of shelving another book, she glanced at him, he leaned against the shelf waiting her confirmation. Xavier wasn’t going to leave until she gave him an answer, if it wasn’t going to be a positive one, then he’d come back every day till she did. While he waited, he allowed himself to take her in again, she was always thick, maybe not as much as when they were younger but she wore it with confidence now.
“I get off at five.” He grinned.
He stood at the front entrance of the Starbucks, about five minutes from her library. To be honest, he was a bit nervous. She was right before, it had been years since they’d seen each other, but he wasn’t going to let it go that easily now. He checked his watch. 5:15. Damn, she probably changed her mind. He let out a sigh and prepared to head back to his car when a Honda Accord pulled up next to his black Mazda.
“Giving up so soon.” It wasn’t a question but he couldn’t help but to smile sheepishly. She stood before him, her curly hair blowing in the wind. He held the door open for her.
“No, just a bit impatient.”
They sat down at a small table, his coffee with a bit of cream and a few sugars, and her vanilla bean frappe with coconut milk. They sat in silence, sipping each drink, neither knowing what to say now that they’ve made it to this point. A soft melody played over the speakers in the shop. Xavier felt nervous, his entire game plan was failing and he wasn’t sure how to save it. She sat there, her hazel eyes focused on something outside the window.
“So, this is awkward.” She finally uttered. “I’m sure you didn’t want me to come to coffee so we can just sit here in silence.”
“I guess I lost my nerve.” He sipped his coffee once again before speaking “It’s been so long that I think we should catch up. I mean, after all, you stopped talking to me.”
Leah’s eyebrows shot up, she couldn’t help but to tilt her head to the side an amused expression covering her face. Xavier kept talking and she just let him continue. He really thought their friendship ended because she stopped talking to him? Perhaps she did stop texting and reaching out, but it wasn’t like she did it out of spite. It just stopped. When there was a pause, she couldn’t help the astonished expression on her face.
“Wow. I can’t believe you actually think I stopped talking to you. I actually completely ignored you just now because you’re so full of crap.”
“How? It’s true.”
“No it’s not.” She released her cup and leaned forward being sure to lower her voice. “You know what? I’m glad you asked me to coffee because there are things I didn’t say to you and now I get to.” Xavier’s expression shifted from playful and engaging to closed off and wary; however it was too late because Leah pulled up a bag of closed off emotions she hadn’t thought about in years.
“You were my best friend in that group you know. I considered you my best friend and I would have thought I was yours considering but you never really acted like it. I remembered your birthday, I called you every year on your birthday, I went to your graduation, I helped you with your homework when you were struggling in school.”
“I told you things I never told anyone else. Is that not a best friend?”
“Apparently you doing all the talking is all a friendship is. You never listened to me because I doubt you honestly knew anything about me. I thought you’d treat me differently compared to all the girls you flirted with, I thought because we were friends, you wouldn’t do to me what you did to everyone else.”
“No.” She shook her head, she was on a roll. “I listened to you, I encouraged you, I was on your side. I can’t remember the times you actually listened to me. You never remembered my birthday-“
“That’s not true. I told you on your sixteenth-“
“No, I waited the whole day, then texted you to say something and then you said it. You didn’t even bother to come to my graduation. You didn’t even give me a good excuse. You didn’t even try. I made sure I was there for yours, I made sure I had a ride and I stayed for pictures afterwards.” All of that teenage anger was bubbling up. Perhaps it was anger she never put to rest, now she had the chance.
“I think I told you what happened. It rained and I didn’t have a ride.”
She scoffed. That was hardly an excuse. It was extra hot on his graduation and both her parents were at work, but she managed to get to his, to show her support. Xavier leaned forward as well, their voices hushed but intense. Leah’s eyes slightly narrowed.
“Let’s not forget, you didn’t exactly treat me like a best friend either. When I found out you had feelings from me, it was from someone else. You never said anything. How do you think I felt after you basically shut me down multiple times?”
“I shut you down? What about all the times you told me that you would wait for me because I was oh so different.”
“Because you were. You don’t know how intimidating you were, how you still are. You were the one who told everyone that I was like your brother, you were the one who told me you couldn’t have a boyfriend, you were the one who slapped me when I was dared to kiss you.”
“You know what, I can’t even believe that you still try to push this on me. I believed you, all of your crap and then you turned around and lied to me, over and over again and just kept right on flirting in my face.”
“We weren’t dating remember.” Xavier did not understand how he was wrong in this. Sure, he told her that he liked her for such a long time once he found out her feelings for him. Yeah, he told her that he wanted to take her on a date, ask her parents himself so they could be comfortable with it. He wanted to be more than her friend but she wouldn’t take that step, she just wanted to maintain their friendship so what was he was supposed to do? Stop talking to the other girls who showed interest?
“No, but you made me believe I had a chance. I thought things would be different because you made it seem like it.” The young woman stood so quickly, her chair almost flipped over to the ground. This conversation was going to turn bad. This wasn’t such a good idea. “But don’t worry, we’ve been done for a long time. Thanks for the coffee.”
Leah snatched up her purse and made a frustrated dash for the door. Xavier was frozen, unsure of what to do. This was not what he had in mind. You can’t let her walk away again. It could be another five years… he grabbed his jacket and followed her, almost crashing into an incoming customer on his way out. “Leah!” He pushed her car door shut, his tall frame crowding her slightly shorter one.
“No. I need you to listen to me.” She crossed her arms, the look on her face reminding him of that time everyone in their group told him to leave her alone, to back off because this look… this hurt and anger was familiar. “That day, that day everyone kept telling me to leave you, I didn’t understand why. Everyone knew what was wrong but me and it pissed me off.”
She opened her mouth to respond, but he put a finger to her lips silencing her.
“I called and called, left a bunch of messages-” she remembered, they were on her phone for a long time. “-you wouldn’t answer. I didn’t know what to do, I was freaking out. I knew something was wrong but you wouldn’t tell me, when you finally answered you were just quiet, then you hung up on me.” He tried to push down the emotions he felt that day. The confusion, the worry, the anger because she ignored him. “When you answered again, my friend was on the phone and you actually talked to him.”
His friend managed to calm her down enough to talk. She could hear Xavier in the background, going off because she was talking, but it wasn’t to him.
“He told me that you were upset because I lied to you.”
“I told you, I just wanted you to be honest with me. Yes, it hurt me that you were dating and flirting with other girls because I wasn’t going to be sneaky and date you, but if you were going to do that, I just wanted you to own up to it. You never did. How could I trust you to not do that with me, when you couldn’t do that anyway? When you lied to me?”
Xavier fell silent. What else could he say? He honestly thought all of this went away but it never really did. After that night, that big fight, things were never really the same between them. Their group still met to hang out, but they didn’t talk as often. He remembered getting two more birthday texts but soon enough even those stopped. To be honest, he still wasn’t sure if this was resolved, if either of them said all they needed to say but he supposed this was better than nothing.
Leah watched his brown eyes as he focused on her face. It was slightly uncomfortable, made her feel like that teenager again, the self conscious one who struggled with her body image. Weirdly, she felt better. She was upset with herself for harboring these feelings for so long but at least they’re out now. All of them? Probably not but this was enough for now. She glanced to her car door, Xavier took a step back allowing her room to her door. With one more look, she waited to see if he was going to say something else but he didn’t, so she climbed into her car and backed away.
This was a long one, a companion piece to “When We Were Young“. If you managed to get to this point, thank you for reading. I don’t think Xavier and Leah’s interactions are over though lol.