I pulled my scarf tighter around my neck as the coldwinter air danced around us, upon leaving Ben’s parents’ car. They’d arrived soon after I had, ready to take Ben home. They seemed happy enough to see me there, and delighted to see their first grandson; whom they’d had the utmost joy of getting to know whenever the McFarlows had visited over the past year.
They’d asked if I’d like a lift home or whether I’d made arrangements, however Ben had insisted that he wanted to go somewhere to speak with me alone and suggested the park. Reluctantly, his parents agreed and drove us to there, where our last meeting had been sterile and uncomfortable.
The clouds were grey, threatening to cover all below in crisp winter snow and, unlike our last visit together there, the park was virtually empty and the playground free of children, allowing James to wander freely and play on whatever he wished to. John and Emma – Ben’s parents, who had insisted I call them by their forenames – had offered to supervise James whilst Ben and I sat together on a nearby bench to talk.
“It’s amazing how they’ve managed to get as close to him as they have,” Ben said, smiling at the fondness his parents had towards their grandchild, “I can remember the first time I told them about him. They were shocked at first, but soon cooled down. It’s a good job that they actually like you, unlike if it had been Aman–” he broke off and bit his tongue. The sheer mention of her venomous name stung but I evaded it quickly.
“Amanda?” I finished, looking over to him sternly. He gulped and nodded, “At least I feel better knowing that they never really liked her.” I added, smirking a little. He chuckled too, placing his ungloved hands into his jeans pockets. I looked over to the swing set where John was pushing James in one of the toddler swings whilst Emma crouched down on one knee taking photographs of the two on her mobile phone.
“Are things over with Amanda? I mean… definitely over between the two of you.” I asked, turning back to face him. He nodded.
“As far as I know.”
“As far as you know?”
“Well, I’ve been in hospital for the past couple months, haven’t I.”
“And she didn’t visit you once?”
“Well… yes, technically she did. But I told her to leave straight away.”
“What did she want?”
“She told me she still loved me and wanted to get back together with me.”
“And what did you say?”
“Casey!” I jumped. He hadn’t shouted, but he had come out with it so sternly and dominant that it had made me silence myself and listen to what he had to say, “I told her that I wanted nothing more to do with her – friends or more – and that I loved you and would never stop loving you. She, of course, told me I was stupid and that you’d only go and break my heart again but I was having none of it.
“I told her that I had never really, truly loved her and that what I’d described as love for her before was merely what I’d prematurely experienced. I told her that what I’d felt for her could not compare to how I feel about you, Casey; nowhere near.”
“Oh.” I murmured, swallowing my words and taking in an icy breath.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a husky voice, as he began to choke on tears. That was a feature of his that I liked most about him; he wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions come through, something rare in most men, “I’m sorry for all the pain that I caused you this summer. I never meant to hurt you. It hadn’t occurred to me that what I’d been writing in all those texts could have been translated in the way it appeared. It was mostly her that put those words into my mouth.
“All of those ‘kisses’ at the end of each of her text messages, I just thought that, that was what she did with all of her friends, so I did the same. The way she would say ‘I love you’ in such a nonchalant manner, it just seemed like she was joking around rather than flirty. I’m blind when it comes to those sorts of things, but I know it’s no excuse.
“The minute I started to feel uncomfortable with some of the things she was saying to me, I should have nipped it in the bud and stopped it all. Maybe if I’d have been more resistant to it all of this might never have happened. I regret all of it and would take it all back if I could. All I ever wanted was to make you happy and be with you for as long as you would allow me to. I’m just… sorry.” I knew he was sorry; it was written all over his face and wrapped around every word that came from his lips. I wanted to completely forgive him, but there was still that tiny little inkling in the back of my mind that was telling me that he could do this again to me and that he would break my heart again. I was scared.
“You hurt me, Ben,” I told him, looking him straight in the eyes; “you hurt me a lot. You can’t comprehend the pain and suffering you put me through when you betrayed me like that; betrayed all that we had. I thought that I would never be able to trust again and I was scared. I didn’t know what would become of me, what would become of my family, or what would happen to James. I knew that he needed his father – his real father, not a substitute along the way – and I didn’t want to deny him, or you, knowing each other even though I knew that it would slowly kill me inside every time I so much as looked at you.
“I guess the only reason I got so close to Marc was because I felt… alone. I was fragile and he was there. He made each day seem bearable. I didn’t feel lonely when he was there, even if he would just sit beside me and say nothing at all. Just being there made me feel better. I didn’t want to be alone for the rest of my life and I thought I would. I thought that you were ‘the one’ and that no one else could possibly compare to you.
“Marc was just a distraction, really; a cause for us ending the way we did actually. He’d made me feel so paranoid that the only way I could settle my fears was to throw myself into the deep end and swim with the fish. If I could describe it I would have to say that it was like a game of Chess: you’ve got a King, Queen and Pawn of one set and then the Knight, in white, of the other, swooping in on his high horse and taking the Queen and it’s Pawn out of the game leaving their King defenseless with nowhere to hide and being deadlocked in Check Mate by its component, the White Knight. Game over. White wins.” As I said those words, all that had taken place over the past few months suddenly made so much more sense than they had done before. It had always been Marc’s intention to tend to his own greediness and have me all for his self, not caring or considering anyone that may be hurt along the road.
I even began to question whether or not Marc had actually cared for me, like I’d thought he had, and whether or not he had just been playing with my emotions and relationships for his own amusement. I didn’t know what to believe. All I knew was that Marc was now dead and that he would no longer be able to toy with any of my future relationships.
My hand tingled as Ben’s ice cold hand clasped onto mine. I looked down at it for a moment before directing them back to his moss green eyes. They shone through the residue of tears that had previously been there and smiled warmly into mine.
“I want things to go back to how they were before,” he began, tightening his grip on my hand slightly, “I know that it’ll never be exactly how it was before, but I want to try and get it as close as possible. Do you?”
“Of course I do, Ben,” I began, placing my free hand over our two clasped hands, “but it’s not that simple.”
“I know it’s not, but I at least want to try.”
“And I would love to say that I would too but… I just can’t see it.”
“You’ve not even given it a chance, Casey. You’re just dismissing it without even thinking about the possibility that we can both be happy again… happy together.”
“Do you not think I want to be happy, Ben?” I exclaimed, loud and stern enough for just our ears, but quiet enough not to disturb or worry John, Emma or James on the play equipment, “Of course I want to be happy. But my rights to being happy are limited these days because I can’t trust anyone I talk to anymore. I’m constantly scared that something bad is going to happen and that I’m going to lose more people that I care about and that, one day, I could even lose James because of it all. I can’t even consider how I might react if something bad was to happen to him and how it would destroy me, Ben. I just… I just can’t.”
“Casey, you know me. I would never do anything to hurt you, not in a million years–”
“But you did, Ben! You did and it still hurts me every single day. Don’t you get it? I can’t love you like I want to anymore. Everything we had is ruined. If we tried to carry on like the way we were before it just wouldn’t be the same. All of the memories and emotions that I felt would always be just underneath the surface, ready to pounce out at me at any given moment. I’m just not strong enough to handle any of it anymore. I’d be so afraid that you’d cheat on me again with some other–”
“But I didn’t cheat on you! Amanda and I were never intimate in any shape or form whilst we were together or after we’d broken up. I never thought or looked at her the way I look at you. And even when we weren’t together, there were plenty of times she tried to make a move and kiss me but I just pushed her away before our lips could even get so much as a foot away from each other. I did not, and still don’t, want anything to do with her.” He quickly began to lean in close to me, his lips ready to kiss mine, I jumped in quick:
“Marc kissed me when we were together,” I gushed. Ben froze and leant back slightly with a flash of worry across his face, I closed my eyes, not wanting him to see the pain behind them “and I kissed him back.”
It was then that the first snow flake of the bitter cold winter fell, landing neatly and sweetly on my cheek, only to be washed away by a warm, fresh tear drop.