Pax walked into his apartment to see decorations spread across the common area. He looked up at the banner that read, “Happy 21st Birthday Pax!” A custom banner for a surprise birthday party that he didn’t even attend.
“Chai!” he yelled into the apartment. “Are you home?”
Chai walked out of his room, disappointment flushing his face when he saw Pax. It went from his fair, pale skin, to a touch of red in his cheeks. His eyes, that usually glistened a light brown, became dark. “Yeah, I’m right here,” he replied, between clenched teeth.
Pax looked around the room. There were empty cups left on the shelves and tables. The balloons that were once tied down had floated to the top and some of them popped, the latex laying on the ground. Pax looked over at Chai, oblivious to the expression on his face. “What’s going on…?” Pax asked.
Chai crossed his arms, in anger. “What do you think is going on?” Chai retaliated. He flared out his arms, pointing in no particular direction, but motions at the obvious decroations. “There was a surprise party for you!” He let his arms fall back to his sides, his chin pointed up as he gave him a smuge look. “But you didn’t even bother show up to the ‘dinner reservations,’ so everyone decided to go home.”
Pax shook his head back and forth in disbelief. “No, I thought it was just dinner. I thought everyone would understand.” He stopped shaking as he stared at Chai. Pax pointed at himself, defensively, stating, “How was I supposed to know that it was a surprise party?”
Chai threw his arms in the air, his hands opened, and pointed toward Pax with his knees slightly bent. He yelled out in frustration, “That’s not the point, man!” He rested his hands on his thighs, looking down at the ground.
“Who did this?”
Chai looked up at him, letting out a sigh. “You already know who did this.” He stood up right again, crossing his arms. “There’s only one person in this world who would spend three weeks to plan a surprise birthday party for you!” Chai ran his hands through his hair. “You know what, this isn’t even about how angry I am.” He looked up at Pax and pointed his finger at him, his eyebrows furrowing. “You know how much she loves you man, and you go off and pull a stunt like this?”
Pax became defensive, crossing his arms and his chest puffing out. “She knows how I feel about her, dude.” He clenched his jaw as he said, “She knows I don’t feel the same yet she still stayed friends with me. This isn’t my fault.”
Chai shook his head, his fists in a ball. “How could you be so stupid? Do you know what she told me a few years ago? She told me that the reason why she stuck around was because she didn’t think she was good enough for you; that one day she hoped she would be enough for you and you would see that!” Chai huffed out in anger, as he tried his best not to throw a fist toward Pax’s mouth.
There was a silence between the two, a silence that neither of them has ever felt before in their 10 years of friendship.
Pax racked his brain, trying to figure out what to say. He knew she loved him more than just a friend, but he never knew that she felt that way about herself. Pax opened his mouth, begging for something to come out but all he managed to choke out was, “She knows how I feel…”
Chai’s fingers released from the tight fist he held. He shrugged his shoulders as he shook his head. “Whatever man. If that’s honestly how you feel, then I don’t know what else to say.”
“I can’t force myself to love her like that-”
“But you can’t let her keep believing that she’s not good enough for you,” Chai interrupted. He paused for a second, thinking back to the person Pax used to be. Thinking back to when the only person Pax would do anything for was her, even though he didn’t love in the way she wanted him to. They had this inseperable connection with each other, almost like soulmates. In fact, Chai always thought that they were each other’s soulmates. Now, he stood in front of a person who he no longer recognised and couldn’t figure out when he stopped seeing the old Pax.
Chai backed toward the front door as he said, “If you ask me, you aren’t good enough for her.” He turned around, facing the front door. He rested his hand on the doorknob, opening it.
“Where are you going?” Pax asked.
Chai shrugged his shoulders. “I’m going to go stay at my parents for a while.”
“Who’s going to clean the apartment?” Pax asked, instantly regretting it.
Chai’s hand left laying on the doorknob. He turned his head, for a second there was a burning flame that erupted in his eyes. “You, you asshole.” Chai scoffed, “Man, I have stood by you through a lot of shit but I care about her too. Seeing you push her to the side, on a night that you should have wanted to spend with her despite how you don’t feel about her, that’s going to be hard to forgive.”
“Wait!” he called, before he could walk out. “Chai, where’s Lucia?”
“I don’t know, she said she was going home,” he said quietly.
Pax ran past Chai, down the stairs and out of the apartment. He got into his car and drove to Lucia’s house but she wasn’t there. Her parents told him that she hadn’t been home that night. Pax drove around, hitting every spot that he could think of, even the ones from when they were kids.
He was about to give up – his tank was emptied by half, he had left 15 voicemails and countless number of text messages he sent asking her to call him back – until he was hit was a realization. There was a spot they found when they were eight. They spent every day of that summer there. Pax hadn’t back there since that summer and he didn’t think Lucia even remembered it.
At the park there was a faint trail that lead to a bench that overlooked the creek. Pax parked the car and walked down there, to his luck, he saw Lucia on the bench, holding a rock in her hand. She juggled the rock in her freckled hand, the moonlight beaming down on her silky light brown hair.
Pax stood there, watching her. Her back was slightly slouched, her head looking down at her hands at the rock. She looked like she was at peace, even though she was mixed with emotions. Pax swallowed the lump in his throat, but it didn’t budge. He walked toward her, calling her name, “Lucia.”
She looked up to see him, her honey coloured skin reflected the moonlight. Her hazel brown eyes glistened, but not with happiness or hope at the sight of Pax… They were misty-eyed, like she wanted to cry but she didn’t want to admit to herself she was hurt, once again.
She pressed her lips together and turned back to look down at her hands. He stood at the end of the bench, waiting for her to say something, but she didn’t. He took the liberty to take a seat next to her, closer than she liked, so she inched away. Pax took notice to the slight nudge away from him but let it go.
He sat there in the silence until the silence was screaming in his ears.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” he stated. “I was worried sick.”
Without looking up at him, Lucia rolled her eyes. “I know,” she stated, bluntly. “Chai called me to let me know that you were looking for me and I saw all your voicemails and messages.” She bit down, clenching her jaw tightly.
“Would it have killed you to give me a call?” he asked in a hostile tone.
Lucia felt her heart start to beat faster, and her muscles stiffen. She sat up straight, looking Pax directly in the eyes so intensely that Pax couldn’t turn away. “Would it have killed you?” she snapped back. Her jaw clenched back up, visible to Pax.
He swallowed the guilt that bubbled in his throat. He stuttered as he said quietly, “I-I didn’t know… I’m, I’m sorry.” Pax rested his hands on his thighs, finally able to pull his eyes away from the intense contact with Lucia. He looked out into the creek, fixing his eyes on the reflection of the moon.
Lucia turned away again, looking down at her hand. She couldn’t help but laugh. “You didn’t know…” she whispered under her breath. The sarcasm disappeared in her voice and was replaced with frustration. “We made plans, Pax. We agreed to go out to dinner with our friends and you stood us all, not just me, all of us up for some girl that you met two days ago!” She waited for Pax to say something, but he just stared blankly into the distance. “This isn’t the first time you’ve done that, Pax. Say something.”
Pax broke his stare and turned to look at her. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Lucia. I’m sorry, okay?”
Lucia placed the rock that she held the entire time, onto the bench next to her. She lifted her hands to her face, rubbing gently, then running her hands through her hair. She let out a deep sigh, picking the rock back up and staring down at it as she said, “I accepted that you didn’t feel the same way about me when I told you four years ago.” She bit her lip, thinking back to how it all felt. “It hurt, I won’t lie to you,” she said softly, “And I went through a lot to keep you as a friend. There were times where I honestly believed that I couldn’t do it, but I did. I knew how you felt about me, but I stayed your friend… Your best friend.” She tilted her head to look at Pax.
Pax made eye contact with her, trying to find this feeling that Lucia has felt for the past four years, but he couldn’t. He tried, but he couldn’t. “Lucia, I can’t force myself to love you the way you love me. I can’t…”
“And I never asked you to,” she interrupted, sitting up and turned her body to face him. “And I’m never going to ask you to. I can do with being the girl who loves a boy that doesn’t love her back, but I can’t do with being the girl that is less important to the boy who is the most important to her.”
Pax searched her eyes, confused. “What…” he said under his breath.
Lucia’s face fell, her body feeling as though someone was pulling it down. “I can’t be the girl that you run to when the girl you’re with isn’t around anymore.”
Pax placed his hand on Lucia’s arm. “You were never that girl to me, Lucia.”
The touch of Pax sent a feeling through Lucia’s body, a feeling that instantly saddened her. She put her hand on his, sliding his hand off of her. Pax froze, unsure of what to do. Lucia had never pulled away from him before.
She let his hand fall back to his side. She closed her eyes, facing up at the clear, starry sky, trying to control her tears from streaming done her face. “You may not have felt that way, but I did. Every time. Tonight just showed me how important I really am to you.” Her mouth twitched slightly, a barely visible, nervous smile on her face. “It was your 21st birthday, and you couldn’t even give me a call to let me know you wouldn’t be showing up to celebrate with me.” Lucia rubbed her hands against her thigh, the tears fighting back. Her voice quivered, “I love you, Pax, but I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep letting myself get hurt.”
Lucia revealed the rock that was cupped in her hand. She tittered as she recollected the memory of this rock. “You spent all summer trying to make this rock into a heart for me and you were so angry when you couldn’t. It stayed this weird, misshapen rock but I still kept it all these years.” Lucia smiled to herself, remembering what this rock really meant to her. “I never told you this, but I kept this rock because it gave me hope. I was only eight, but I knew that I was in love with you… Except, I knew how you felt about girls at that time. Then you grew up and got a girlfriend and all I had was this rock. This weird, misshapen rock. This rock was like your heart to me. You didn’t quite figure out how to make a heart that summer, but I thought, ‘it’s okay, one day his weird, misshapen view of who I am to him, will become a heart and he, too, will love me.'” The happiness in that memory slowly faded. “But you never did…” she whispered. She paused for a second. Pax thought that he was supposed to say something, but he couldn’t. Lucia started up again, “And that’s okay, because I knew I would always be in your heart; that I would always be important.” Lucia took Pax’s hand and placed the rock in his palm. Pax stared down at the rock as she stood up, standing in front of him, looking down. “But I guess, unlike this rock, you changed,” she stated.
Pax’s head shot up, shaking his head. “Lucia, that’s not true.”
Lucia placed her hand on his shoulder, pressing her lips together, slightly smiling. “Bye, Pax,” she breathed.
She started to walk away when Pax stood up and grabbed her by the wrist. She turned to look at him. The moonlight, that was reflected on her skin was now beaming onto his chestnut shaded cheeks. She thought back knowing, that if this happened a couple of years ago, she would have believed that this moment was when Pax confessed his true feelings for her, that he loved her and just couldn’t see it until it was all about to fall apart – just like in the movies.
She knew better. She knew that the look in Pax’s eyes wasn’t love but a plea… A look that he mastered with every girl he’s ever been with… Not her. Not this time.
“Forget it, Pax, I know that look and it’s not real. Whatever you feel, you won’t feel tomorrow.”
She waited for Pax to release his grip around her wrist but he didn’t. She looked at him, her brows furrowing in confusion. “I just have one question,” he stated. Lucia nodded her head and waited for his question. “Why did you stay friends with me if it hurt so much?”
Lucia looked him straight in the eyes. She asked herself this every night for months before she finally believed it herself. “Because the thought of losing you was far worse than loving you even though I knew you didn’t love me back.”
Pax finally let go of her wrist. Lucia turned around and walked away, disappearing into the faint trail that led them there when they were eight years old. They left that summer, never coming back until that night… And just like then, Lucia walked out, never to come back… Ever.