She looked up and I froze. I'd seen that look before, right before my mother had walked right out of our lives. She hadn't even packed a thing, just told us she was going to the grocery store and left. That was the last time I'd ever seen her. It took me three weeks to realise that she wasn't going to come back.
Hell, no grocery store had queues that long.
It broke my dad's heart.
He'd worried for a couple of hours, then called the police. Eventually, I think he realised that she just didn't want to be found. He went from worry to panic to anger to resignation.
Through it all he fed us, spanked us and tucked us into bed but I could tell that he was hurting.
He would walk around with this look in his eyes, like he was constantly searching for something he'd lost. Sometimes, I'd catch him scanning the crowds unconsciously, like she'd just gone on holiday and he was waiting for her to come back. Sometimes, he'd sit on the porch and stare out at the street, like he could make her appear through the force of his will. I'd sat right next to him.
She never did. Come back, I mean.
Sometimes I wondered if she'd already left before she walked. Sometimes she'd get this look in her eyes, almost desperate, like a cornered animal, or like the walls were closing in on her. But then she'd look over at us and her eyes would soften and the clouds in them would dissipate and I would start to breathe again.
I wondered for the longest time when we stopped being enough to keep her there, wondered if it was something I'd done, something we'd all done, wondered if she'd just stopped caring enough.
I never found out.
That's why it scared me, when her eyes met mine. I recognised the look I'd first seen sixteen years ago and it's implications terrified me.
She cocked her head and I realised that she'd said something. "Sorry?" I murmured, my head still reeling from the sense of dÈjý vu.
"Do you want to go out for dinner or stay at home?" she repeated, looking at me oddly.
Dinner? Who cared about dinner?
"You decide," I mumbled.
"I guess we'll grab something outside," she shrugged, before going back to her book.
I watched her, studying her the way a starving man might his last meal.
My God, she was beautiful. I'd forgotten just how much.
Her buttermilk hair ended just under her ears, sticking up here and there, attesting to her habit of perpetually running her fingers through her hair. Her brow furrowed in concentration and periodically she would bite her lip absently as she did when she was thinking. Her eyes were a deep forest green, clear and rich like stained glass.
She lay curled on the sofa and I sat opposite her, like a stranger.
Once upon a time, she would have had her head on my lap and she would read to me, slapping my hand as I interjected with sarcastic comments every now and then.
Once upon a time, she would have laughed at my jokes, all of them, even the bad ones.
Once upon a time, I would have been able to tell what she was feeling from the look in her eyes and I would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I'd found the person I wanted to be with forever.
She caught me staring at her and raised an eyebrow in question.
My heart lurched. There was so much I wanted to say.
I wanted to say that I knew things weren't perfect anymore. That it wasn't my fault, it wasn't her fault, that it didn't matter whose fault it was. That I'm sorry that things had come to this and I missed my best friend.
That I still loved her, it had just been overshadowed by the petty squabbles and the bitterness and insecurities.
That I hoped she still loved me too.
But I said none of these things.
I was too afraid that the answer would be no.
Somehow, we'd been locked in this world where we were both playing parts to perfection. The forced politeness, the artificiality of it all made me sick but it was both my bane and savior.
It allowed me believe that she was still mine, that she still cared and that at the end of the day she'd be right here next to me.
Even if she wasn't really there.
So I sat there, knowing that nothing I could have said would have made enough of a difference.
I shook my head mutely and averted my gaze, burying myself in the magazine I'd been holding.
I didn't know what to do. We needed to talk and that wasn't going to happen in a restaurant. I think one of the reasons why we started going out to eat so often was because we didn't know how to be alone together anymore. At least in a restaurant, we could study the menu fervently and discuss dessert choices like we were a parliament about to implement a bill.
"Beth?" she looked up once again, with a trace of irritation. "Let's stay in tonight".
Before, this would have been the perfect opening for an argument(if merely for argument's sake), which would end with the occasional broken vase or two. As it were, she merely nodded and returned to her book.
Her apathy brought me both relief and fear. Relief because it meant her mother's china would survive another evening and fear because...she didn't seem to care enough to argue.
Being the lawyer she was, Beth could unravel an argument faster than a loose thread could a sweater. She knew just the right places to pick, until you were left there babbling like an incoherent moron.
It was her most annoying - and endearing - characteristic.
I watched her for a couple of seconds before making a big show of getting up.
"I'm going to go take a shower," I told her unnecessarily.
"All right," she replied absently.
I suppressed a heavy sigh and took the stairs two at a time.
In our bedroom, I flopped on the bed and as I buried my face in the pillow I caught her scent. It was light and clean, a smell that made me think of wild flowers and fresh snow.
I groaned softly to myself and forced myself up.
Heading to the bathroom, I stopped as I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
Beth used to love my blue eyes, a gift from my Irish father. Laughing eyes, she called them.
Well, they weren't laughing now.
They looked downright panicked.
"You're not going to lose her," I told my reflection grimly, clinging desperately to that assurance. "You're not".
But the eyes in the mirror still looked haunted and I knew with a bone chilling certainty, that it was just a matter of time.
Continued In Part 2
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