ROYAL(10)By: Winter Renshaw
I guess we all deal with things differently.
Twelve hours I spent with that woman today, and I still didn’t have the courage to tell her that Brooks and I broke up the night of his accident. I imagine the way her face might fall when I tell her. I imagine that half of Rixton Falls will hear within hours. And I imagine the snickers and stares I’ll face from locals who balk at my timing.
“Yeah, sure,” they’ll say. “How convenient.”
No one will believe me. I’ll be branded a shitty human being, my reputation forever tarnished.
The pads of my shoes make soft, sticky noises as I leave the hospital. Outside, an early November snow begins to fall. The flakes are huge, but they don’t stick.
Nothing ever really sticks around Rixton Falls.
Except for idiots like me.
I climb into my old Subaru and crank the ignition. Cold air blows through the vents, and I shove my fingers up against them as if that might possibly make the air warm any faster.
Brooks tried to get me to trade it in last year for something flashier, even offering to make the down payment for me. I told him I didn’t need a BMW when the school I teach for is five blocks away from our house, and my Subaru shows absolutely no signs of biting the dust in the very near future.
Five minutes later, I’m coasting down the quiet streets of my hometown, past the green-roofed library with the iron frog-and-toad sculpture. Past the Ice Cream Queen. Past the rich people nursing home and the two-screen movie house. Past the hill we used to sled down as kids every winter. Down the avenues we used to cruise when there was nothing better to do on a small town Friday night.
They all blur together like a messy streak of memories, and they all silently whisper his name.
In the still, small hours, every single day, my mind always finds a way to wander to him. He’s long gone, and I’m stuck treading these same dark waters. Day in. Day out. Going nowhere. Feeling it all.
Everything reminds me of him.
Everywhere I go.
Everything I see.
Everything looks exactly the way it did when he was around.
He left me to live this life without him, in a town that makes me feel like he’s still here.
If I ever run into Royal again, I’m going to shove a fistful of my hurt down his throat so hard. I want him to feel the way I do, because maybe then he’ll understand what he’s done to me.
How he’s broken me.
How he’s made it impossible for me to feel for anyone else the things I once felt for him.
My fingers squeeze the life from my steering wheel as I jerk the car into an empty parking spot in front of an empty convention center hotel. The stoplights in the distance change from green to yellow to red, performing for a dead intersection.
I blink over and over until the sting in my eyes dissipates, and my mind wanders to Brooks and the graveness of his situation. Can’t help but feel responsible in a fucked-up way. I should’ve stopped him from leaving. Had I made him sit down and explain exactly why he wanted out, maybe he wouldn’t be sitting in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.
Instead, I basked in my sudden liberation and told him not to let the door hit him on the way out.
The image of his packed bags, jangling keys, and solemn expression comes to mind.
The only thing I know for certain, in this moment, is that Brooks Abbott did not want to be with me anymore. He left me.
He did not want to marry me.
He didn’t even suggest trying to make it work.
He just wanted . . . out.
And now, it appears as though I might be spending the rest of my life taking care of a man who, at zero hour, changed his mind about loving me.
And couldn’t get away fast enough.
I pull back onto the road and stop at a fluorescent liquor store on my way home. Maybe I can drown out some of these thoughts tonight, because they’re not doing me a damn bit of good. If anyone so much as stares at me sideways when I buy my fifth of vodka, I swear to God, I’ll bite their fucking head off. Tonight, I’m not a sweet kindergarten teacher. I’m not a picture-perfect Rosewood daughter. I’m not planning my wedding to one of the most eligible bachelors in the tri-county area.
I’m just trying to get through this.
My thoughts go to Royal for the twentieth time today, and guilt seeps into my bones, weighing me down into my worn leather seat. I shouldn’t be thinking of him right now, but I lack the energy it takes to stop myself.
As per usual.
I imagine him sitting in a bar somewhere, wearing that disarming, dimpled smile that makes all the girls weak in the knees. I imagine him buying some pretty blonde with fake tits up to her chin a fruity little cocktail that matches her lipstick. I imagine he’s going to take her home tonight, fuck her so hard that she thinks it actually means something, and then tell her how sexy she is in the morning when she makes him breakfast in nothing but his t-shirt.