Wrong Side of the Tracks by Ashley Zakrzewski
I’m not sure what part of my day has been the worst. Maybe it’s the fact that I forgot my umbrella at home that morning, and not two seconds later I was caught in the rain. Or maybe it was the fact that my boss put me on the schedule every single day next week, even though I was only supposed to work thirty hours a week. No, I know what part of my day has been the worst. It was the moment when my jeans ripped as I bent down to help a customer, forcing me to waddle around in order to hide the gaping hole between my thighs. That really was the cherry on top of an absolutely fantastically shitty day.
At least it’s Friday. I’ll have two precious days off before it is time to work for seven days straight. Two whole days where I don’t have to leave bed, where I can just watch some crappy show and eat ice cream all day long if I want to. But before any of that can happen, I need groceries. I take one look at myself in the window of a car, and almost start crying. Have I been walking around like that all day? My hair is a mess, and then there’s the issue of the torn jeans. There is something on my cheek, but I can’t quite make out what it is by only looking at myself in a car window. I pull out my phone and turn on the camera to use as a proper mirror. I gasp. I actually audibly gasp. My cheeks are streaked with mascara, probably from walking in the rain. It looks like I’ve spent the better part of the day crying my eyes out. I hope I haven’t looked like that at work. With my luck, I probably have. None of my asshole coworkers are decent enough to pull me aside and point it out either. Great. Just great.
I rub at the makeup and get most of it off. Good enough. I just want to go home.
Besides, it doesn’t matter what I look like just getting groceries. It’s a five minute task, tops.
There is no one to impress in there. Just get in, and get out.
I quickly fill up my cart. I can’t wait until my car gets back from the mechanic, it is going to suck walking home carrying all the food. At least I will get some exercise. As if that makes anything better.
I put my cart to the side and round a corner to get my long awaited ice cream. But instead of falling face first into the freezer with the fancy type of ice cream I crave, I fall face first into a man. A hotone. Tall, broad, dressed in battered jeans, motorcycle boots, a dark Henley, and a leather cut
“I’m so sorry,” I sputter out my apology and jump back. The guy is tall, with a bit of a belly. He carries it well though, I have to admit.
“It’s okay, I was walking too fast, and…”
Blond hair, neatly trimmed beard, piercing blue eyes staring right into my gaze.
Did he just say my name? I frown at the man, try to figure out if I know him. There is something familiar about him, but I can’t figure out why. Did we go to high school together or something? No, I don’t think that’s it. The man straightens up to his full height, those blue eyes still looking into mine.
And that’s when I realize.
Oh my God. It can’t be. He looks so different, a boy grown into a man. But there’s no denying those eyes.
A smile makes his face brighten, and I am transported fifteen years back. Twenty year old me, heartbroken after the person she loved decided to move away. And now here he is again.
Standing right in front of me in the ice cream aisle.
“I can’t believe it,” he says and pulls me in for a hug. His body engulfs mine, he’s soft and firm all at the same time. I breathe him in, my heart going crazy in my chest. He still smells the same. As if he’s still using the same laundry detergent as he did at twenty years old in his tiny studio apartment on top of the bakery.
I return to the present and step back. “What are you doing here?”
“I was going to get some ice cream, but…”
“No,” I interrupt with a small laugh. “In town. What are you doing in town? I haven’t seen you here since…”
“Yeah, it’s been a while.” He gives me a crooked smile and scratches his neck. He’s nervous, I realize. Liam always scratches his neck when he’s nervous. “I thought it was high time to come and stay with mom for a little while, it’s not as easy for her to travel to the city to see me anymore.”
Oh, that makes sense.He’s visiting his mom. “Well, this is great,” I say, and I hope I sound sincere. It’s been fifteen years. It shouldn’t be this weird seeing him again. “How long are you in town for?”
“A couple of weeks. School’s out for the summer, so I thought I would take the opportunity to come here.”
“School? You’re a teacher?” I ask. “I thought you worked in finance.”
“Yeah, I sort of switched gears about six years ago,” Liam says. “The corporate world wasn’t for me.”
I could see that. The Liam I knew wasn’t the kind of person who would be happy in that sort of environment. Him as a teacher makes perfect sense. Of course, I don’t know him anymore. So what do I know about what sort of person he is?
“That’s great, Liam,” I say. “Really.”
“And what about you? What are you up to these days?”
I cringe. I hate getting that question. “Um…” I stall, but there’s no dressing up what I do for work. That I’m in the exact same place as I was the day he left town. “I’m still at the store. You know, the pet shop.”
I see a surprised expression flash across Liam’s face, but he is quick to school his features back into that warm smile that was there a moment ago. “Oh, really? You’re probably running that place by now, huh?”
I laugh, because I’m definitely not running that place. Case in point, my seven day work week that’s right around the corner. “Something like that. It’s pretty great.”
Liam’s giving me a look. He knows I’m lying. He was always able to do that, and I hate that I’m still that transparent. He takes a step closer, then places a hand on my arm. “It’s really good seeing you again, Eva. You look good.”
I swallow. “It’s good to see you too, Liam. Say hi to your mom for me.”
“I will,” he says. “Hey, do you want to grab coffee sometime? I’d love to catch up some more.”
“Sure,” I say. “That’d be great.”
He gives me another hug before we say goodbye, and I look after him as he walks away. I’ll never see that man again, that’s for damn sure. Saying you want to get coffee is just something you say to be polite, right?
I walk home as quickly as I can, and by the time I’ve hauled all my groceries up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, I’m sweaty as hell. After a quick shower and some dinner, I go sit down on my couch, my laptop on my knee and a tub of ice cream on the coffee table. I search through all my folders, scroll back year after year of old photographs. There it is. The year me and Liam got together. I don’t have a lot of pictures from that time, but there are some. I click on the first picture and twenty year old Liam is filling my screen. There’s no beard on his jaw, not so much as a stubble. He’s all gangly limbs and sharp edges, so different from the full bodied man I met earlier today. In the picture, Liam is making a face at me, the face he always did when I told a particularly bad joke. A mix of exasperation and affection. I smile, and click on the next photograph. This one is of both of us, all entangled limbs and tired faces. We had just come back from a weekend away with my parents, and we were exhausted after driving for hours. My mom snapped the picture when we were curled up on my couch, back when I lived in my very first apartment.
It feels strange to go through all of these old memories. It’s like a different life. And at the same time, not much has changed. At least, not for me. I wonder what Liam thought of me, living in the same small town as I grew up in. Stuck at the same job I had fifteen years ago. The job that was only supposed to be temporary, until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Except I never figured that out. And so the years passed me by. I don’t really date. I don’t really travel. I usually don’t give it much thought, it is what it is. But now, it kind of feels like I’m stuck. Like I should have done something more in the past fifteen years.
I go to bed with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why did I have to run into Liam today? It only brought up old memories. Besides, he’s leaving again, and why shouldn’t he? His life is not here anymore. And mine very much is.