One Mistake

Sometimes we make the wrong choice, and it can change our lives. All it takes is one mistake.

A short story on letting "the one" get away

Cover credit to Victoria Raven who rocks!

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1. One Mistake

Falling in love sucks. 

Not because it can lead to unrequited feelings, but more so because it can lead to requited ones.

You see, this is when it gets complicated. Because when you love someone and they love you back, not only is it terrifying, it can ruin your life.  

One mistake can screw it all up. One mistake can make you lose your grip on what your life was. One mistake can make you feel regret for the rest of your life.

I made that one mistake. And I can tell you, I certainly have a whole lot of regret.

I let the only one I've ever loved go. I told him to go. I couldn't see what I really had, that a relationship was about compromise. This was how I failed. 

I'm an idiot. I'm so stupid, I can't even process what went wrong with my brain. There's no reason I should have given him up.

He worked too much. That was his only flaw. 

In all honesty, he was like a walking Hallmark movie. Someone you wouldn’t even believe really existed unless you met him.

Sure, there were little imperfections in him like everyone. But they were part of what made him human. Part of what made him . . .  him. He was too competitive, didn't always understand sarcasm, and he snored. It was not these things that caused any problem, however. In fact, I loved them even when I was hating them.

So it was that he worked too much. Not the kind of way in which he spent hours at the office avoiding coming home. Nor was it that he brought his work home and let it interfere with his personal life. 

No, it was the travel. He recruits talent in the sports industry. He travels all around the country to seek out promising young athletes for a number of teams. 

At first, this didn't bother me. The way his eyes lit up when he would talk of the lives he helped, the expressions on his face he got when he secured an athlete, it was like magic. His passion and enthusiasm was infectious. 

Irritation started to creep in when, after two weeks of being away, he had to cancel our weekly video call before it even began. It only grew from there.

He tried to fix it. He called the next day and stayed on the phone with me for at least an hour. When he came home he took me out on a date, complete with rose petals and a moonlit picnic. 

Actually, when he was home, the days were idyllic. Some of the happiest moments of my life involve the sunshine and his smiling face.  Wonderful memories of the taste of chocolate and strawberries invading my senses as soft grass brushed against my skin. The feeling of our fingers interlocking perfectly, a comfortable silence muting the troubles of the world around us. This kept my bitter attitude at bay for a time, but it came back.

How could I not have seen what was there? 

On lonely nights, it would seem the right choice to leave him and find someone else. The empty space beside me would whisper dark thoughts into my ear, feeding the loneliness that kept me awake.

I didn't even know what alone truly meant until after I pushed him away. I would take those limited days with him in a heartbeat if offered them again.

Now instead of warmth and joy, the only expression that fills my brain is the one he had when I broke up with him. 

That awful one where his face crumpled, the coquettish smile no longer present. The one where his eyes shattered into a thousand shards of cerulean. The one accompanying the way he dropped the roses in his hand, a sharp breath coming from his mouth like I'd just punched him.

It consumed me. His broken voice pleading desperately, the crushing hug he gave me, the saline cascading down his face. All of it. 

Today, if I focus, I can still smell the cologne that lingered in the hollow of his neck.

The second I'd left him, it felt wrong. Similar to the way one feels when they lose something important to them, except it was more like losing something that was part of my soul. Someone.

I convinced myself it was just temporary. The feeling would go away, I reassured myself, and that it was normal to miss someone I loved once. That I still loved.

It's amazing how a human being can crave another one. How thoughts of one person can permeate waking thoughts and dreams alike.

It took two weeks for me to realize the feeling wasn't going away. Everything was a constant reminder of what I'd done.

The fireplace reminded me of the days we would snuggle up against it with hot chocolate. The kitchen brought back memories of Christmas baking and messy clothes. I couldn't even look at the corner of the office where he used to sit, curled into a ball with a good book. I still can't.

I really felt it when his best friend came to my door in the early morning to retrieve what was left behind, a vicious glare and a glower set on his face. 

It was made clear to me I was never to speak to him again.

Left in an apartment that wasn't much different but felt infinitely emptier, the tears finally made their way to the surface.

Nothing can compare to the despair I felt that night, curled against the wall with photographs spread around me and a tear soaked stuffed frog he got me pressed into my side. I have since hidden these objects in dark places, somewhere I won't see them unless I actively try to.

They say that time heals all wounds. In a way, I suppose this is true. After the first few weeks, it stopped feeling like I was breathing in water. When two months came around, I didn't have to remind myself to get out of bed anymore. At four, I started to put effort into my appearance again. 

I wasn't in constant agony anymore.

But that empty ache still remained, and I'd accepted it as a part of me.

It seemed melodramatic to hurt this way, but no matter how I tried to shake it off the sensation of loss never grew any weaker. 

It was a summer day in June a year after we broke up that I was shattered again, just when I thought I was going to be okay.

Because that was the day I saw him again.

I was strolling along the farmers market, looking for some zucchini. As I turned to ask the owner of the stand something, I saw him.

He looked exactly the same. His sandy hair was shorter, but the fluffy locks hadn't lost their charm. The sunlight seemed to absorb into his skin, the very same skin that I had longed to touch for so long. He was laughing at something, revealing the row of perfect teeth underneath. The sight caused that empty place inside of me to burn suddenly, an excruciating throb spreading throughout my chest.

I realized I was staring, but I couldn't tear my eyes away. It had been first time I was able to keep him out of my thoughts and then he showed up.

I trailed my eyes downwards to his hands, noticing that he was not alone.

Stuck to his side with her fingers in his was a pretty little blonde, hair artfully curled and styled around her face. A dazzling smile appeared on her face, nose scrunching as she laughed at something he said.

They both looked . . . happy.

I was happy for them. He had finally found someone that was right for him.

Someone right because they didn't make sarcastic remarks. Someone right because they probably allow him to win in soccer. Someone right because they didn't let him go.

I told myself this, but I still had to make a conscious effort to breathe normally and not in pained, ragged breaths.

Because he was looking at her the way he used to do to me. He was giving her the smile he used to give to me. I had never felt anything like the way I did when he smiled at me that way. It was another reminder of the regret I had been carrying for the past year.

I turned the other way, an attempt to escape without being seen. 

But then he was calling me, curiosity in his voice. Even just my name coming from his lips caused a shudder to run through my body. 

I turned, doing my best to fix a look of normalcy onto my face. For a moment I was grateful I had gotten ready that morning, but it was forgotten when I almost wished I looked as much of a mess as I was on the inside so I didn't have to pretend.

I nearly cried as I looked at his face up close.

I expected something to have changed. I thought he would look at me with disdain, an angry expression that showed his contempt for the girl who left him. If not that, I expected some sort of sadness. Something similar to the emotions that crossed his face back then and that crossed my nightmares.

But he had neither of these in his eyes. No hatred was there, nor any dejection.

Instead, he peered at me almost as if I was a stranger. Curiosity was the only glimmer in his eyes, as if I was an acquaintance he had forgotten about.

"Hi," he said, "long time no see."

His voice was steady and not forced at all, as mine ended up being.

I wondered if he noticed.

"Hi," I answered breathlessly, swallowing the lump rising in my throat, "it has been a long time."

He towered over me, my face to his collarbone, and I was reminded of how small I used to feel. The kind of small where you get a sense of security, of being safe and protected.

I tried hard not to think about the last time I lay against him there, my skin pressed desperately into his. It didn't work.

"Who's this, babe?" the blonde chimed, "aren't you going to introduce me to her?"

I had forgotten she was there. It seemed like the world only included me and him for a moment. She was bouncing on her feet, looking out from where she had stopped behind him. She was even more beautiful once I looked at her closer, and I saw a light dusting of freckles gracing her nose. 

He looked down at her fondly, the soft smile I've imagined a million times warming his face.

He told me her name is Jessica. They were going to be married in two months.

He was getting married. She was his fiancée. Even though I didn't expect him to stay alone as I have, it didn't stop the hurt from running through my veins like bits of glass.

"So, how do you know each other?" Jessica asked politely, her mannerisms poised and diplomatic.

I didn't know what to say.

You knew each other as lovers. You were everything to each other once. You were soulmates. You were the best thing that had ever happened to me. You were known as the thing that I'd destroyed out of ignorance and impatience.

The last one sent a fresh surge of agony coursing my heart.

I couldn't say any of those things. 

Jessica was looking at me cheerfully, thinking I must have been a classmate from school a long time ago, which wasn't incorrect.

He was looking at me too, curious as to what my response would be.

For a moment, I was overwhelmed with the urge to just jump forward and kiss him with all the desperation I had felt since we broke up. I wanted with every fiber of my being to try and take him back, to pour out every thought and dream I'd had in the past 12 months. He had been mine first.

But when I looked back at Jessica, I couldn't do it. I had given him up, let him go, and she had found him.

She was wearing a dress, bangles jingling on her wrist, and she had a bow in her hair. She was what he needed. The opposite of me.

He needed a girl who loved him, who would never hurt him. She would never bicker with him about where to go on a day out, because she wasn’t interested in experiencing everything so long as what they did do was with each other. She would never complain about his traveling because I could tell she understood that she was lucky. She had grasped what I had failed to until it was too late. 

"We're..." I started, "we're just old friends."

I had already hurt his psyche enough. I should’ve just been glad he wasn't damaged by my actions.

There was an unidentifiable flash of emotion in his eyes, but it was gone as soon as it came. His gentle gaze returned to Jessica as she began to chat about something. I had been wrong. The only two people here might as well have been them. It was time for me to leave.

"Well," I said in a forced, resigned tone, "I really should get going.”

After a second I added, “Congratulations on your engagement."

The word engagement felt like acid when it came searing out of my mouth, although the sound of it remained pleasant. Nobody noticed.

I bade them farewell, looking anywhere that wasn't their hands glued together.

"Hey," he called.

I turned on my heel, daring to peek back at his face. It hurt to even glance at those eyes.

"It was good to see you again," he said, that smile I loved so much forming on his mouth.

It was for me. It wasn't for Jessica. And it was genuine.

The pain I had been enduring ached just a bit less.

This was his goodbye.

How could he have known the turmoil in my heart? Because he always knew. Another reason I shouldn’t have let him go.

I returned the smile, praying that I wouldn't break down in the middle of the market and start bawling my eyes out. I managed to get it under control.

"It was good to see you too," I replied, giving him a wave as I turned the other direction.

I knew that if I didn't stop staring at him now, I never would.

I made it back home without crying, but that was as far as I got. I had to extract the frog again to stop me from feeling so alone.

When I received a wedding invitation from him and Jessica a week later, I checked the box to decline. With the excuse of a trip to my parent's house in California, I promised to be there in spirit.

It was a courtesy anyway. Who really wants their ex at their wedding? I wouldn’t want to ruin his happy day.

Besides, I didn't think I could stand to be in the same room as him again without coming undone at the seams. 

Now time has passed, and the apartment doesn't seem so lonely anymore. The dreams come less frequently than they used to. I can go outside and eat strawberries without bursting into tears. I have even gone on a few dates set up by my friends. But the empty space he once occupied hasn't been filled, and I don't think it ever will be. All because of one mistake.

Falling in love sucks.

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