Write a piece that takes place in the middle of the street.
It’s funny how you could spend your life searching for something that was there the whole time. Rather than wasting the precious years going through trials and tribulations, you could have taken the easy road if you had just realized what was in front of you. But it’s about the journey, right? As long as you finally get to the destination.
Anna inspected herself in the full-length mirror. The new forest green dress hugged her body tastefully, tapering down to her knees. Her black stilettos gave her enough height without compromising her confident stride, accentuating her calf muscles to look lean and strong.
She frowned, noticing a tiny wrinkle appearing on her forehead. It was amazing how quickly reflections changed over the course of ten years. She still felt young, but standing in her childhood room only made her realize how much time had passed and how much she’s grown up.
A light flickered on in the house next door and caught her eye. Anna peered at the window directly across from hers and saw a shadow pass behind the closed curtains. She wondered if it was Jack, the boy next door.
Well, it would be safe to say the man next door now. The fact that he was back in town could only mean one thing: he’d be at their high school reunion tonight, too.
Her phone chirped loudly from where it rested on her bed. A text message from David lit up the screen, asking for another chance.
Didn’t he understand that she’d run out of chances to give? She was tired of being disappointed. This time, he’d taken it way too far.
Anna sighed and tossed the phone back on the bed, leaving the message unanswered. She didn’t need him to cheat on her to know things weren’t going to work out between them. She thought moving from her small hometown to a larger city would open up opportunities to find a successful relationship. But year after year, man after man, it just never seemed to work out.
Nothing ever felt right. She kept convincing herself that love wasn’t like some high school romance or blockbuster movie. The fluttering in her stomach and the longing in her heart wouldn’t get her through the ups and downs in life. She needed stability. A companion. No matter how much she’d put herself out there, she couldn’t find someone who could be that person.
Someone she could count on.
A knock sounded at the bedroom door. Her mom’s head popped in. “Hi, honey. Look who I found at the door.” Her smile widened as she opened the door to reveal Sarah, her best friend growing up.
Sarah squealed and ran into the room, tackling her with a big hug. “Oh my God! I’m so happy to see you. I couldn’t sleep all last night knowing you’d be in town.”
Sarah and Anna had gone to different colleges and set roots in their respective cities after graduation. Although they’ve kept in touch, Anna could tick off on one hand how many times they’ve had a chance to see each other in person. Being a broke college kid made it hard to travel home or to see her friend, and once they both landed “adult” jobs, taking time off only got more complicated.
Sarah was the opposite of Anna. She was blonde, svelte, with a bubbly disposition, whereas Anna was dark hair, olive skin, hourglass figure, and mostly serious. That’s probably what drew Anna to Sarah in the first place. Sarah was an optimist, always looking at the positive things, even if finding good in a situation seemed impossible. Some of Anna’s best memories were with her. She always knew how to make Anna see that sometimes being spontaneous and having fun was okay.
Anna took in Sarah’s short, strapless, pink dress and her loosely curled hair. She was beautiful and probably turned a ton of heads in California. “I’m so glad you’re here. This will make tonight a lot less painless,” Anna said while grinning.
Sarah swatted at her. “Are you kidding? I can’t wait to see everyone. Go Tigers!” She clapped and threw her hands up in a cheer pose. Of course she would be excited. Sarah was a cheerleader with plenty of friends. Anna was a bookworm with a select few.
Jack being one of them...before he became something more for a short time.
Jack, Sarah, and Anna all lived on the same street and were close from grammar school through high school. They went through awkward stages together while growing up, including bad bangs, pants that were too short, and missing teeth. They were always together. As they matured, things changed. Feelings changed.
She hadn’t seen him in nearly nine years. He rarely was home at the same time she visited her family. She couldn’t even stalk him on social media. He was a ghost online.
“Let’s get going,” Anna said, shuffling them out of the room, dread turning her stomach. If she didn’t go now, she’d never go.
An hour later, the high school reunion was in full swing and Anna was a glass of wine deep, keeping her post at a table off to the side. Sarah came back from making her rounds, all smiles like the Prom Queen she was.
“Thank God things never worked out with Derek,” she whispered to Anna, eyeing one of her short-lived high school romances. “He did not age well.”
Anna gazed in his direction. The former quarterback’s pop belly and sloppy, ill-fitting clothes were hard to miss. It was amazing how he used to be the hottest guy in school who all the girls drooled after, feeding his already enlarged ego. Looks clearly faded. Too bad he didn’t have a winning personality to compensate for it now.
“Did you see who just walked in?” Sarah hissed in Anna’s ear.
There he was. Jack McAllister. Former best friend. Former love of her life.
Her breath hitched as he made his way through the crowd. His suit was expertly tailored and his longer, dark hair was pushed back, curling slightly behind his ears. He grew up to be a handsome man: clean, confident, and kind. But she knew the boy she grew up with couldn’t be completely gone forever. He’ll always have that mischievous side to him and that fire in his eyes whenever he talked about things he was passionate about.
Like her, once upon a time.
Jack was a risk taker. He went after the things he wanted in life. Her mother had told her he’d landed pretty well for himself, opening up a successful restaurant in a nearby city and eventually opening three sister restaurants a couple years after that.
He was everything Anna couldn’t be. She definitely wasn’t a risk taker. She was calculated, always researching something to death before deciding whether or not to make a decision. It was no wonder they didn’t work out. They were too different. They worked as friends, but not when it came to sharing a life together.
Her heart ached thinking about how she’d lost her friend in the process. He never knew how deeply she’d fallen for him that one summer. She’d tried to keep things normal after their breakup for the sake of their friendship. Eventually, it got too hard to pretend that it didn’t hurt to have him close, but not in the way she truly wanted. All she’d hoped was that the ache would ease when she went to college that fall.
Seeing him now, all those feelings came rushing back, robbing her of her breath.
His blue gaze caught hers from across the room and she instinctively looked down, feeling like an idiot that he caught her staring at him. She’d be lying if she didn’t realize at that moment that she still harbored feelings for him. Maybe it was why her relationships never worked. She was always comparing them to him.
Sarah looked at her and winced, rubbing Anna’s arm. “You okay?”
Sarah knew how hard Anna had taken their break up. As a loyal friend, she’d promised she would never talk to Jack again. At the time, Anna appreciated the gesture. Now she felt guilty their failed relationship ruined Jack and Sarah’s friendship, too. So much collateral damage for something that should have been easy.
“Yeah.” Anna forced out a laugh. “It’s been years. Why wouldn’t I be?” She looked away as she took a large gulp of wine. “We’re two different people now. We’ve changed. We’ve gone our own ways and both of us have built successful lives. I’m happy. I’m sure he is, too.”
Sarah didn’t look convinced, but said nothing. “Let’s go dance.”
“I suck at dancing,” Anna protested as Sarah pulled her from the table and toward the floor. Anna stood awkwardly as Sarah moved in rhythm to the music.
“Come on!” Sarah yelled over the music, lifting Anna’s arms and shaking them around. Anna rolled her eyes and bounced slowly to the music, swaying her hips off-beat.
The DJ cut to a slow song. A large hand touched Anna’s shoulder gently. Sarah’s eyes widened as she bit her bottom lip-- her tell for when she wants to squeal, but is trying to keep her cool.
Anna turned to find Jack looking down at her. His eyes piercing. Searching. Her heart raced. “Jack,” she breathed out.
He gave her a boyish grin and raked a hand through his hair. “Hi, Anna. Care to dance?”
She nodded, heat flashing to her cheeks. She took his warm, strong hand and allowed him to lead. “H-How have you been?”
He grinned with that devastatingly handsome smile. “Good… but busy. It wasn’t easy getting my business up and running, but I’m proud to know that what I built is mine.”
“Congratulations. Mom told me.” Goosebumps pricked her skin as his hand moved to the small of her back, holding her against him.
“I hear you’ve done pretty well for yourself, too. You’re a Director of Marketing for some big tech company in the city, right?”
“VP now, actually. Just got promoted a couple months ago.”
His eyebrows lifted with admiration. “Wow. That’s great, Anna.” He pulled her closer ever so slightly. Familiarity of his embrace washed over her. He rested his head on hers. “It’s been too long,” he said against her hair. A hint of regret lacing his voice.
“The phone works both ways. I tried calling you a few times over the years,” she replied, trying to hide the hurt in her voice. She pulled back slightly to look him in the eyes. “Why didn’t you call, Jack? I know we didn’t work out as a couple, but how could years of friendship not matter?”
He swallowed. His lips parted, but words never left them. She waited a moment longer and realized an answer wasn’t coming. Just like when she’d asked him why he wanted to end things.
He never could give her an answer. Instead, she was left wondering. Obsessing over where things had gone wrong and what she could have done to change it.
She wasn’t about to fall into that again.
She dropped her hands from his shoulders. “It was good to see you, Jack.” She looked at the floor and blinked back tears before turning to walk away.
“Anna!” he called out, but she refused to look back as she pushed through the crowd. She grabbed her purse from the table and took Sarah’s hand, whipping her around toward the exit.
“What happened?” Sarah asked as Anna dragged her across the floor to the exit.
“Years of silence can’t be erased by one dance at a stupid ten year reunion. This was a mistake.”
They wrapped their arms around themselves as the cool October night air washed over them. Their heels clicked on the pavement. They had opted to walk to the event since it was close by. Thankfully, their homes were only a couple blocks away. Anna couldn’t get there fast enough.
Sarah knew when her friend was hurting and allowed them to walk in companionable silence. Anna appreciated it and wondered how she’d survived all these years without a friend who knew her better than she knew herself. The realization that she’s been cruising through these years without a deep connection like she had with Jack and Sarah weighed on her. No wonder why she felt so unfulfilled despite her tremendous success.
Sarah’s house was first on their trek home. She gave Anna an empathetic smile. “You going to be okay?”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine.”
“Of course.” They hugged goodbye. Anna continued toward her house down the road.
She was so lost in thought that she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her.
“Anna,” Jack called out. She froze.
“Jack,” she said as she turned to face him, defeat making her voice weary. “What are you doing here?”
The glow of the streetlamps washed over them, illuminating their little spot on the otherwise quiet and dark road.
“You’re freezing.” He slipped off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. She breathed in his scent--the same woodsy spice he always smelled like, but this time a bit more masculine. Mature.
“Let’s not do this, Jack. There’s no point. We’re both different. You’ve changed. I’ve changed. We grew apart.” She threw up her hands defensively. “Let’s not make this something it isn’t. I just got caught up in the moment when we were dancing, that’s all.” She put up her protective walls.
He closed the gap between them and took her hands in his. “Don’t you do that. Don’t you do that thing where you shut me out.” He laughed to himself. “Maybe you haven’t changed as much as you think.”
She sighed. “Tomorrow night we’ll both go our separate ways. You’ll go back to Atlanta and I’ll go back to Chicago. One night isn’t going to change anything. It won’t close the gap that’s grown between us all these years. We need to let it go before we cause any more unnecessary damage.” Like the damage that would take years to get over.
“Anna, that’s what I was going to tell you. I’m opening up new restaurants in Chicago. I’ll be moving there in a couple of weeks.”
Her mouth fell open, unable to speak.
“I want to get to know you again,” he continued. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. I never called you back because I knew you were doing great things in Chicago and I didn’t want to disrupt that. But to be honest, I’ve missed you terribly.”
The blood roared in her ears.
He paused for a moment, his blue gaze locked on hers. “Anna, I’ve loved you since we were kids. I’m still in love with you. I’m sorry I never told you. I was an idiot, but I want to try--”
Anna cut him off with a kiss. A searing, soul changing kiss. As they held each other tightly under the streetlamp, she knew every fiber of her being that this moment had changed everything for them.
There was hope for them, after all.
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