The difference

She saw him again for the first time at the beginning of break. She'd imagined they would cross paths at some point over the summer; they were neighbors, after all—but somehow she wasn't ready for it. She'd gone out to check the mail, and there he was, sitting on the front porch, reading a book.

She stopped and stared, forgetting the mail completely. It was him, there'd never been any doubt—but even from this distance, across the street, she could see that he was different.

What should she do? Go over and say hello? It was ridiculous—in all their time apart, he'd never once called, never sent a letter or even a post card. They'd broken up near the end of Senior year, and the next thing she'd heard (not even from him, from a friend of a friend), he was going off to school in England.

Remembering herself, she started for the mailbox, planning on just going back inside. It was the the right thing to do. She reminded herself of how things had ended between them, of the things they'd both said that could never be taken back. Her face flushed as she realized that no matter how she'd tried to cut him out of her life, he was the reason she was on the path she traveled today.

No.

Don't be stupid, Sam,” she told herself. “You made your own decisions. Take ownership. Take pride. You don't owe him anything.”

It was then that she noticed he'd seen her. She felt utterly pathetic, shifting through her parents' junk mail and bills. There was only one course of action now—to take control of the situation. She shoved the letters back in the box, turned and waved.

He waved back, no discernible emotion expressed. Unreadable, as always.

She crossed the street, cursing the proverbial butterflies in her stomach.

“Aiden—I was wondering if I'd run into you over break.”

“Yeah, my parents insisted I get some fresh air.” He put his book down and stared up at her, squinting into the sun. “It's really good to see you.”

That caught her off guard. “Yeah, you too—” she stammered. She was happy when he quickly changed the subject.

“How's college?”

“Good. Really good.”

“Psychology major?” he asked, the faintest hint of a knowing smile appearing for an instant.

“Yeah,” she didn't want to dwell on it. “What are you studying?”

He ran a hand through his hair. It was cropped much shorter than he'd kept it in high school. “Ah, well. Nothing now. I...dropped out. Sort of. It's a long story.”

“Oh, jeez.” There was a shameful “I told you so” in the back of her brain. She'd discouraged him from going so far away from home—in part, she could admit to herself now, because she had been afraid of losing him. She had lost him anyway.  “Are you going to be living at home for a while then?”

“Looks like it. I don't really have any other options. And my parents seem to think they need to keep an eye on me or something after what happened—I told them I'm fine, but—” He stopped, taking a deep breath, releasing the frustration that had been building in his voice. “History repeats itself, right?”

She smiled, a little sadly. He was different, but he was the same. She wanted to know more, she couldn't help it. He was drawing her back in like he always had. It didn't seem like the time or place to ask the things she wanted to ask. She glanced over her shoulder as a transition. “I should get back, we were about to have dinner. Would you—” she paused, for a moment irrationally afraid to continue. “Would you want to get coffee or something later? I've been dying to get out of the house.”

She was struck by how his face changed, how immeasurably thankful he looked. She told herself that she should feel good, she was obviously helping him, but something about it filled her with dread.

“Yeah, I'd really like that.”

“Cool. I'll pick you up at nine.” She headed home, looking back only once to find he was back to reading his book.

He was the same. He was different.

The End

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