The sky was the odd colour of bleach that evening. I walked the roads with my head held high, but my mind and heart down in the dumps. No matter how many times I rubbed my hands, they were getting no warmer.
The town clock, somewhere off in the edge of my hearing, chimed five o’ clock when I had two minutes more of walking to do. I didn’t care. I would be late.
At the end of the following road (I had quickly lost track, having walked this way so many times before), I found my feet curving left, attaching themselves to the mud that crawled up to meet me. My feet kissed the road goodbye and moved on, all whilst I was still thinking. Funny how that happens.
Queen’s Park looked like a dull green blot in the late afternoon light. Never had a lake surrounded by sets of trees looked less appealing. Still, I crept up on the scenery, willing it to light up in a new flash of sunlight, even when I knew it was too late to now.
I scoured the banks of the lake. Nobody remained there in this weather, not even the shadows. I squinted through the masses of trees and had even begun to push forwards again before I realised how silly I was being.
Maybe it was a trap and I was going to be eaten by a giant fish from the deep. I hoped so. Anything would be better than indecision. Or not-decision, rather: that point of having my feet make all the choices before my mind had settled on one itself. I was being foolish.
So, I turned around and walked to the Raven Café with my head held as high as before.
When I neared Drew – Cayden – was sat at the same table I had lunched on before. I wondered if he was expecting me.
Our eyes caught at the sound of my heels – there was no one else in town at this time of the day. He stared at me. He blinked. One blink that resounded in the air. It took so long for that expression to reach me that I almost heard the opening and closing of his eyelids in the air.
I couldn’t blink. If I did, he might take the opportunity to turn away. Drew certainly looked like he wanted to. The rising and falling of his chest was as unsteady as my own.
The chair opposite Drew’s was already pulled back. Perhaps he had been waiting for me. I clenched my fingers in my pocket and slid down. If this were any ordinary meeting, there wouldn’t be such tension, of that I was sure. I could sense tension all around our circular table, and it freaked me out.
“Hi,” I muttered, though the words caught and tumbled out no more than a whisper.
Drew didn’t say a word. He simply looked at me. He tapped his short fingers against the tabletop. To be honest, I had no idea what to say. I wanted to clear the lump in my throat soon, though.
He lifted his eyes from following his fingers for a few uncertain seconds, before he spoke in a dead, emotionless tone. “You went to the lake.”
I gasped. “You followed me!”
“Are you surprised?”
I looked at my hands. I didn’t know what to think.
“At least I know what you think now,” said Drew, his voice deepening as it darkened. “Which –”
“I was just going to take a detour. When I realised it was too muddy, I turned around.” Once again, the lie came of its own accord.
Drew lifted his eyebrows in deep sarcasm. "Right…Poppy."
My cheeks burnt. I avoided his eyes without tact or style. "So...you know, too."
"It was pretty hard not to realise, Annabelle!"
"Don't call me that!" I snapped.
"So, you came here, but you're still not gonna be yourself."
"Look, I don't know," I said, throwing my hands out in front of myself. I didn't know what to say.
“I’m Drew. I’m not gonna talk some silly philosophy with you. You’re Annabelle – be Annabelle, or go away.”
I felt my eyes burn with tears, but I wasn’t going to let him affect me. I just swallowed past the ache of my throat and looked up.
“At least I know who you’d pick if you had to choose a side of me!” he exclaimed. “This Drew, the person I am here, he was never enough for you, was he?”
“Drew, don’t be stupid!” I cried.
“We got caught up in our internet fantasies, or something. I never wanted to choose between Drew or Cayden. Poppy was going to have Cayden and it would’ve been fine.”
“Oh, yeah? I see a massive flaw in that plan: you’re not really Poppy.”
I didn’t need him to remind me that I was a failure. I spread my hands out in front of me.
“She was a good part of me for a while. I was always a part of her, or something. Don’t say I might not be her!” I replied.
I glared at him, not knowing what to say. Every word had been taken from me by my misdeeds. Instead, I folded my hands across my chest, warming them in the fabric folds of my coat, and prayed that Drew wouldn’t do anything too drastic.