(n) the realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own
I'd left Calum and David's apartment after that. Parker still wasn't there when I'd gotten home. I also realized that I'd forgotten to return the sweater that I burrowed from Calum, so that was just fantastic.
About three days passed where I had absolutely no contact with any of them, and I was worried sick when it came to Parker. He still didn't pick up his phone, but I'd decided not go search for him. Not after what had happened the last time I tried. I'd considered calling the police a few times, but I wouldn't know what to tell them. That my best friend was being a jerk who refused to come home because I didn't want to be in a relationship with him? No. But the possibility that something might've happened to him still lured in the back of my mind, making it hard for me to relax.
When it came to Calum, I was just plain confused. His father had told me more within the hour that I'd known him than Calum had during the last, like, 12 years, and I didn't get it. I felt like he'd never trusted me, and that hurt, but I was also trying not to make it about myself, just like he'd told me that I kept doing.
It was Wednesday evening and I'd just gotten home from work. It had been my turn to close the coffeeshop that day, so it was probably about 9PM when I entered my apartment, kicked off my shoes and went directly to the living room where I crashed on the couch. I felt quite tired after a long day of working, but being at home still felt unsettling. There was something haunting about Parker's stuff laying around where he'd last placed it, without him being here. I tried to ignore it though as there weren't much to do about it for now other than hope that he would change his mind and come back home soon.
So I sat there on the couch, curled up against the armrest as I turned on the television and started watching whatever popped on first. It was some show about real estate agents in New York, and it turned out to be quite interesting, but suddenly I heard a knock on the door, the noise making me jump. Paranoid as I was, I for a moment contemplated just not opening the door. There was something weird about somebody knocking at my door at this time when I barely knew anyone around here, and if it was Parker, he could just use his key.
But then the person knocked once again, and I hesitantly got up and walked to the front door. I leaned in and took a look in the peepholer, but I couldn't see much, so I just took a step back, took a deep breath and opened it.
"Goodevening", Calum said and leaned against the doorframe, a bottle in his left hand.
"Calum, what the fuck" I swore and sighed, trying to make myself calm down. The whole situation was strange though, and I felt quite confused. "What are you doing here?" I asked as I stepped to the side to let him in.
"I wanted to see you", he answered as he stepped inside. When I got a closer look at the bottle in his hand, I realized that it was vodka, quite a lot of the vodka itself missing. He'd told me that he didn't drink, and I'd figured it might've been because of his dad, so this didn't make a lot of sense to me.
"Why?" I continued as I closed the door behind him.
"You make it sound like it's so weird that I want to hang out with you", he commented, before just walking straight to my bedroom, leaving me behind in the hallway. I couldn't help but sigh as I wasn't that prepared for another session of the strange behavior he'd been showing off lately, but I ended up just following him.
"It kinda is", I answered as I walked through the door to my room. Calum had thrown himself on my bed and was now laying on his back, the bottle still in his hand. "But yeah, erhm, what's with the vodka?"
He turned his head and looked at the bottle for a bit before answering. It wasn't that hard to figure out that he'd probably be pretty drunk by now if he'd been drinking as much as it looked like he had, and I didn't know how to feel about it. Something definitely didn't add up, but that was nothing new when it came to Calum. You just had to come to terms with the fact that you would never know everything.
"I needed to get my mind off of things", he answered. In the meantime I'd made my way to the bed as well where I sat down next to him.
"That doesn't sound irresponsible at all", I sighed sarcastically, before grabbing the bottle from his hand and placing it on my nightstand instead. Then I turned my head and looked at him once again. His eyes were bloodshot and his cheeks were slightly puffy, almost like he'd been crying. "Are you alright, though?" I silently added, a slight frown forming on my face.
"I don't know," he mumbled and shrugged, "It's pretty messed up. I'm pretty messed up."
I slowly laid down beside him, and rolled onto my side so I was facing him. He was just looking at the ceiling. As always, I wanted to ask questions, but he had a tendency to not really take those lightly at the moment, so I decided not to. He would probably not be able to give a sincere answer anyway, so instead we just laid there in silence, the only sounds being the sound of our breathing and the traffic outside.
"We need to talk", he finally whispered, still not looking at me. It had began to remind me of that night on the football field eight years ago. When I looked at him now, I also saw 12-year old Calum laying on his back in the grass, his eyes on the stars. Just the thought of it made my heart pound in fear of more bad news.
"About everything... You were right, I owe it to you", he explained.
That wasn't what I was expecting at all. I also would've preferred him being sober, but I guess I would have to take whatever I could get at this point, so I just nodded and waited for him to speak up.
"I know that... I know that I've done a lot of shit, Ella, but I just need you to listen for a second. I don't know what to do anymore", he quietly said, his words giving me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'd only gotten a glimpse of what was going on in his life, but I still felt sorry for him even though he'd made it clear that he didn't want that. "God, I'm pathetic right now", he added as he covered his face with his hands and stayed like that for a second, before removing them once again and folding them across his chest instead, finally turning his gaze towards me.
"You're not pathetic, Calum", I whispered. It seemed like he'd reached kind of a low point, but not once during all of this had I thought he was pathetic. I knew that he was on a destructive path, though. The entire 'acting tough to hide emotion'-thing he had got going on wasn't going to get him anywhere but down.
"The fact that I had to get drunk to even have this conversations tells me something else", he answered and rolled his eyes a bit.
"Would you stop being so hard on yourself for a moment?" I asked, raising my right eyebrow a bit. It was awful to watch him hate on himself like that. After everything he'd been through, he should at least try to be gentle with himself. He deserved a break.
Calum didn't answer, but at least he stopped.
"What happened, Cal? Why are you here?" It had been a while since I'd last called him Cal and it had quite a nostalgic feel to it, bringing back all of the bittersweet memories of the two of us, but now wasn't the time for that. Or maybe it was exactly the right time.
A slight smile grazed his lips as he looked at me, sparking a warm feeling in my chest, but quickly vanished again as he started talking.
"It's just my dad. We got into a fight and he started blaming me for what happened to my mom, it was ridiculous."
David had told me that Calum's mother had died, but I knew nothing else. Not how, not when. It felt rude to just ask about it since I figured it would be quite a touchy subject.
"That's really mean of him, but you shouldn't let what he says get to your head. He obviously has issues", I answered and frowned a bit. They say that you have to hear the truth from children and drunk people, but even though David had a drinking problem, I refused to believe that Calum could've been the reason for his mother's death.
"He told you what happened, didn't he?" Calum asked and looked back at the ceiling.
"Only that she'd passed away, nothing else."
"Yeah, well, she got killed by a drunk driver just before I started school, so that's that."
His mom has been gone the entire time that I'd known him, and not once had he mentioned it. That was kind of hard to process since I also had to not be selfish and feel upset that he didn't tell me, but I couldn't help it. There was so much he'd just kept to himself, it was no wonder that he was having a hard time.
"Wow, that's horrible", I mumbled and frowned once again. It did explain why I'd never met his mom. I didn't even know her name.
"It is. She was on her way to a soccer game that I was playing, I guess that's why my dad blames me every once in a while", he told. It was obvious that this still affected him a lot when he got teary eyed. Of course it affected him, it was a huge deal, but I'd never seen him so vulnerable before. Even that night on the football field he hadn't shown any sign of emotion.
"But that makes no sense", I commented as I propped myself up on my elbow to prevent my arm from falling asleep.
"Damn right it doesn't", he sighed and looked over at me. "But I blame me too sometimes."
I just laid there and looked at him, barely able to wrap my mind around what he'd just told me. It was so terribly tragic, but he'd straight up told me that he didn't want my pity. He didn't want people to feel sorry for him, and I didn't want him to regret telling me all of this.
"Look, Calum... Cal... I'm aware that I only know a tiny bit of what happened, but I still want to assure you that blaming yourself isn't going to do anything but make it harder to move on", I said as I shook my head ever so slightly.
"How do you know that, El, huh?" he asked, not sounding very convinced as he looked at me with this emptiness in his eyes that I hadn't seen before, and I sure didn't want to see again.
"I know that because... Because I blamed myself for you leaving for years. And I guess... I guess that's why I never let go", I mumbled and turned my gaze away from him. I'd never really thought about it like that. The pain of getting left behind by your best friend probably didn't come close to what Calum had experienced, but it was the same concept. Blaming yourself for something that you had absolutely no control over.
"You blamed yourself?" he asked as he frowned and sat up in the bed.
"Yeah, what was I supposed to do? I was twelve and I thought that maybe I had done something that made you want to leave", I answered and shook my head, also sitting up. As I said it, I really realized how stupid it really was.
"That makes no sense", he commented and I couldn't help but roll my eyes.
"Neither does blaming yourself for what happened to your mother."
He didn't answer, but I just hoped that my point got through to him. He needed to let himself breathe for once instead of constantly knocking himself down again and again. He needed to let himself move on.
"I guess I have to tell you why I had to leave now", he mumbled and looked at me with a slight smile on his lips. It didn't reach his eyes at all, though, so it felt fake.
"I'd like that", I answered and shrugged, moving a bit closer to him.
"So," he began, taking a deep breath before continuing, "my mom passed away and that was the beginning of it all. My dad started going out a lot. In the beginning it was just on the weekends, but eventually it turned into an everyday thing. When I was about 11 he lost his job, and you know, it really went downhill from there. Eventually he couldn't afford paying rent, so he decided that we had to move, and this damn city was our only opportunity. So here I am."
I was stunned by how simple he made it sound, but it couldn't have been simple going through it all. I also felt bad all of a sudden. I felt bad for blaming myself, but most of all, I felt bad for blaming him even just a little bit. I'd always known that there had to be more to the story than what I'd seen, but I had no idea that it was that much. I was lost for words.
"That's my story", he eventually added, the fake smile returning to his lips. I almost wanted to ask him not to do that, since it made him look even more sad than not smiling would.
"Not all of it", I whispered. I realized that we were now sitting right next to each other, my leg brushing against the side of his.
"What do you mean?"
"That you're a lot more than that."
I meant every word with all of my heart. We grew up side by side, and even though it was long ago that our paths parted, our roots would always be tangled. We might have grown apart, but in the last few weeks I'd learned that he was still just as caring, intelligent and kind as he'd always been. And I was in love with him. I was foolishly, recklessly in love with him.
Calum just looked at me for a while and I looked at him. My heart had began beating faster in my chest, and I felt overwhelmed by the sudden rush of emotions I'd finally let myself feel.
"Do you remember when I told you that I used to have a crush on you?" Calum asked me, his voice barely any more than a whisper.
"Also the part where I said that I used to think you were the best thing that had ever happened to me?"
I silently nodded, not knowing where he was going with this.
"Well, you still are", he whispered before slowly leaning in towards me and kissing me softly.