“Homecoming”

sad girl and red heart

I guess today is a big day for me. Sort of. It’s been like, what, five years? It’d be great to see you again. I try not to think about what I’d say to you when you’re finally in front of me. Should I hug you? Is that okay? I think that’s okay, right? I mean, you’re like family. I guess a hug is okay. Maybe even a peck on the cheek if you’re feeling generous. Did you know that I almost changed my mind about going but decided against it? Nah, I ran away once, and I’m not doing that again to you.

Today I decided to just wear a pair of denim shorts and a simple floral top. Nothing too pretty or dressy. I don’t want you to fall even harder for me. Haha, kidding. It’s a clear and sunny day out, and it’s quite a long drive from my apartment to the airport. Might as well wear something nice and comfy, right?

At a red light, I stop and tap my fingers on the steering wheel to Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars. Distractedly, I look down at the big, shiny scar on my right knee. I think of you, for the millionth time today. Coldplay, my scar, and you.

I have come to love my big, shiny, sometimes ugly, but most of the time beautiful, scar. Just like I have come to love you.

The story of this scar, ‘our scar’ as you used to call it, is something I like to tell people. Depending of course on the manner they ask. “What happened to that?” would usually get a snarky reply, like ‘biking accident’, or ‘never play with blunt knives’, or worse, nothing at all. But almost always my first response would be a smile, followed by a fond recollection of that day when you held up that dead, filthy rat to me while I stumbled majestically and ran for dear life. That wound bled like a bitch, and I really thought I’d be dead at six years old. I laugh at it now, but I cried like a banshee then, and you laughed and pretended not to be scared, but I swear I saw beads of perspiration on your forehead, and your lower lip quivered like it usually did when you’re feeling intense emotions.

Thankfully, my big sister Jill had been home at that time, and she managed to clean the bloody mess up without having the need to go to A & E, all the while reprimanding you for roughhousing me, all the while throwing disapproving looks at me. But what could we do? We were kids. We were supposed to cry and break stuff and get wounded. But from that day on, we shared this scar, and we were bonded for life.

It annoyed me how you’d made yourself out like a hero the following day. You told our classmates how I nearly bled out had it not been for your awesome first aid techniques. How I had been barely coherent with pain and panic. How you had tried to stop the bleeding by tearing off your favorite Harry Potter t-shirt. How I’d been so in love with you and wanted to marry you after high school.

But at least you’d gotten that part right.

After that bloody knee episode, we’d been inseparable. I’d been the only girl you allowed to play with you and your friends. I’d enjoyed building Lego castles and playing mud soccer with you as much as you’d enjoyed coming to my Barbie tea parties and going comic book hunting with me. I’d encouraged you to read books, and the following year, you were tagging along with me to bookstores and book fairs. When I was thirteen and I’d lost my mom to cancer, you called every morning before going to school to say hello and ask how that morning was. I’d answered you with ‘it hurts so much’ every single day for more than a year, but you called every day without fail, until my answer became ‘I think I’ll be ok now’.

When my dad gave me a puppy for my fourteenth birthday, you’d been the more excited one. You’d insisted on naming him Jackson, after Michael Jackson, of whom you were the biggest fan. You’d been so devastated by his death, and that puppy made all the difference. I’ve always been a softie and I really felt bad for you that time. Anyway, Jackson sounded like a really cool name for a Labrador Retriever. So we named him Jackson, and you’d been over the moon with happiness.

We’d been the coolest parents to Jackson, and he loved us both so much. He’d truly enjoyed shared custody. Everybody at school wanted to know if you were my boyfriend and I was your girlfriend. Surely something romantic was going on? I knew I had feelings for you, very strong feelings. But we were fourteen, and you were the closest person in the world to me. I had no idea whether what I felt for you was just a phase, a teenage crush, or something else. All I knew back then was that I didn’t want things to change between the two of us, and I was so not ready to be kissing you like that.

I had no idea you felt so differently.

We’d been dancing around the fact that there was unmistakable chemistry between us. The first sign you showed of trying to get closer, I had run in the opposite direction. Hundreds of times you tried to tell me, and I’d always managed to change the topic. I’d been hoping you’d get the message without the need for an awkward conversation.

Oh, you’d gotten the message, alright. On our senior year in high school, you’d casually dropped the bomb that you’d be going to California to attend film school. You’d told me that if I asked you to stay, you wouldn’t go. That it was completely up to me. You had no idea how much I wanted you to stay, Paul, but no, I couldn’t do that to you. I couldn’t be the reason you stayed, who kept you from pursuing your dreams. It was time for you to go and do bigger, greater things.

We’d promised to talk every day, promised that things wouldn’t change. So what if we were in different continents, different time zones? We’d gone through so much worse. We’d find a way to make it work. However, we both knew that it was only a matter of time. Life happened to the both of us and the daily conversations became weekly ones, until they became once a month… You get the picture.

I missed you every day you were gone. Jackson missed you so much, too. There had been so many times I cried myself to sleep, wishing for things to go back to the way they were. Before you left, I wasn’t sure if I loved you. After you left, I realized just how much I did. And I still do, Paul. So much.

My hands start to get clammy as I make my way to the arrivals hall. The electronic board tells me your flight has landed. I don’t know how to describe the thing that’s happening in my stomach. What if I throw up just as you’re about to hug me? Maybe this was a terrible idea, after all. I shouldn’t have offered to pick you up. I should’ve just shut my mouth and waited for you at home or something.

But then the phone in my pocket starts to vibrate, and I check it to see my sister Jill’s message:

It’s gonna be okay, Joey. It’s just Paul.

I quickly type a reply, ‘Thanks, just got here. TTYL’ and take a seat on an empty bench. I start to stroke the scar on my knee, our scar, a habit I have acquired over the years. When I miss you and it’s getting too tough to handle, I stroke this scar and somehow everything feels better. Any moment now, Paul, you will come walking through those doors and officially re-enter my life. Any moment now.

You know those ridiculously cheesy scenes in romantic movies where the guy catches the girl’s eyes, and everything around them starts to move in slow motion? I never thought I’d experience that same feeling, but clearly I am. I see you before you see me, and I thank God for small favors. I can look at you, I mean really look at you, without feeling self-conscious, and just take in all of you.

Oh, how I missed you, Paul. Your hair is longer now, curling around the collar of your shirt. Your hair still looks so soft despite your attempt to make it look unkempt and edgy. I see that you’re also sporting a neatly trimmed goatie. Nice, gives you that striking, rugged, sexy look. Those hipster eyeglasses look so hot on you, too. You look really great, Paul. You remind me of that cute busker in New York City I saw in one YouTube video. On your right arm there’s a long and cursive tattoo you never told me about. I feel a sudden sting in my heart as I realize again just how much we have drifted apart. A tattoo is a huge deal in my books. I would’ve told you if I ever got one.

It feels like an eternity has passed but it’s only just a few seconds. You turn towards my direction. Your face breaks into a huge grin as your eyes land on me. I manage a small wave and mouth ‘hi’. You wink playfully and you raise your arms to welcome me in a big hug. I need no further encouragement, and I walk-run towards you.

God, it feels so good to be in your arms again. We hug for a long time and you give the top of my head a kiss. I fight back tears as you whisper “I’ve missed you, Jo” and I just nod my reply. Too soon we break apart, and then you stare at me, and my heart goes whoosh, my knees turn to jelly, and my tummy goes crazy.

“There’s somebody I’d like you to meet,” you say.

I look at you expectantly. Oh, you decided to travel with your sister, too? You didn’t mention anything in your last Whatsapp message. God, I wish I dressed up and washed my hair. Phoebe will know I didn’t wash my hair! This is so embarrassing.

You motion to a guy standing a few feet away, watching us with a smile, to come over. Oh, not Phoebe, then. This must be your roommate Martin? Martin from So-Cal? The guy who hooked you up with that internship at Fox? I had no idea he’s such a good-looking guy. You guys can even pass as brothers!

Mystery Guy steps forward with a big, warm smile, the kind of smile that makes you feel like you’ve known each other for a long time. I smile back, ready to give him the warmest welcome, but then my heart gives a lurch when I see him take your hand, and then wrap one arm around your waist.

My mouth suddenly feels dry. I look at you, confused, thoughts running wild in my head, hoping he’s not who I think he is, hoping it’s not what I think it is. But you’re too busy looking at Mystery Guy, looking at him with that same look you gave me when you saw me in that beautiful green dress on our prom night, when you handed me that bouquet of roses after I got sick for an entire week, when you told me for the first time how you wanted to be more than friends.

“Jo, I’d like you to meet Martin, my boyfriend.”

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