She rolled her eyes and turned to go, to leave him there standing alone in the woods like the brooding bad boy character from a chick flick. Except he wasn’t misunderstood and she wasn’t going to fall in love with him.
As they say, been there, done that. It wasn’t gonna happen again. Her heart had put on its armor.
“Clara, stop,” he said. He reached out and grabbed her elbow, pulled her back toward him, made her face him. But she wouldn’t look at him. She stared at the ground.
“Clara, please. Let me explain.”
“Explain what exactly? What about all of this do you think I don’t understand?”
“I didn’t mean —”
“Yes, you did, Jeremy.” Clara’s eyes snapped up to his and her gaze broke straight through the piercing blue ice to his soul.
Her voice was stern, compelling. “You mean that there’s more to the story. You mean there’s a way to redeem yourself. Well, there’s not more and there’s no hope. I don’t want to hear your delusions.”
They were standing in the woods behind her house, far enough to be out of earshot but close enough for Clara to know the lights were still on inside. She wondered how far the evening’s potential for clichés was going to go. Was her father sitting inside, waiting with a shotgun in his lap? She was pretty sure there was one packed away in the basement somewhere. Not that she believed for a second he knew how to shoot it.
Jeremy pursed his lips. “I’m not delusional.” He halved the distance between them and added, “And from what I remember, you like trying to redeem me.”
Clara faked a smile. “Do you know the difference between medicine and poison, Jeremy?”
His brow furrowed. “What are you talking about?”
She leaned in closer and whispered, “Dosage.”
Jeremy was unimpressed. “So, what, now I’m poisonous?”
Clara shrugged. She turned to go again and this time he moved to block her rather than pulling her back. To Clara’s surprise, there was actually a trace of pain on his face.
He sighed. “Clara, look. I know I screwed up. I screwed up bad, but please, give me a second chance.”
“Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, oh wait! You won’t get the chance.”
“Clara, I was drunk! I wasn’t behaving like myself!”
“Alcohol doesn’t give you a free pass, Jeremy.” Clara swallowed, no longer able to joke. “You got drunk, the training wheels came off and you decided to cheat on me. The bridge has been crossed. There’s no going back. I’m burning it.”
“You know I never meant to do this, that I wouldn’t have done it sober.”
“No!” Her eyes went ablaze and Jeremy took a step backward in shock. “No, I don’t know that.”
Rubbing the back of his neck, Jeremy tried to blink away the tears gathering in his eyes. He wasn’t sure what hurt the worst: the fact she was in pain, the fact he had caused it or the fact that she was going to leave him.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Out of all of those movies she’d made him watch over the last couple years, none of them had ended like this.
“It was my best friend, Jeremy,” Clara whispered.
His voice broke as he said, “I know.”
“I was only down the hall.”
“I know.” Gravity was steadily increasing its weight on his shoulders. It was taking everything in him not to drop to his knees.
Tears streamed down Clara’s face and Jeremy didn’t know what to do. He wanted to hold her, to cry with her, to apologize over and over again until his voice gave out. But he also wanted to run away, wanted to forget her pain, forget he’d caused it. He didn’t want to acknowledge this truth.
It was never supposed to end like this.
Timidly, half expecting her to brush his hand away, Jeremy reached out and caressed the side of Clara’s face. Instinctively, her eyes closed, her body leaning into his touch. But his hand was cold and her skin didn’t come to life with the flames it once had. The intimacy couldn’t survive without the foundation of trust it had been built on.
“I love you so much,” Jeremy whispered.
“I loved you, I trusted you, with my whole heart,” Clara responded, voice shaky and high pitched. She allowed herself one last moment of his presence, one last time to feel his hand against her skin, one last moment knowing he loved her. And he did love her. She knew that. She knew he’d walk through fire to take back what he’d done.
The sad reality that the chick flicks never mention is that walking through fire doesn’t fix everything. And it wouldn’t fix this, even if he could do it.
So Clara straightened her spine, stepped out of his reach and cleared her throat. With a more confident voice, she told him, “Goodbye, Jeremy.”
Then she walked away and left him brooding and heartbroken in the woods. The perfectly understood, unwitting bad boy no doubt would one day be someone else’s Prince Charming. But not Clara’s.
It was sunny and the birds were singing and the woods didn’t appear in any way magical, because it was not a chick flick. If it had been, maybe it wouldn’t have ended this way.