He frowned at me one more time, before turning back around, and I averted my gaze and turned back to Anna.
“So I guess he’s really back, huh?” She smiled at me while studying my face. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Of course. I’m fine,” I lied to Anna. I was disappointed. I had hoped, no matter what I had said to Anna, that Bryce would have somehow known that the letters were from me. That he would have figured it out. That when he saw me, something would have clicked in him and he would have known. That I was the girl he had exchanged letters with for two years. The girl he had said helped him get through the war; who he owed his life to.
I wished he had known it was me; I wished that he had come running up to me and gathered me into his arms and plastered me with kisses. That had been my dream ever since we had stopped writing. Well, ever since I had stopped writing. And this was why. Because I knew that, to me, his letters had meant the world. But to him—to him, I was nothing but a random girl with a PO Box who had decided to start writing a soldier.
“Lexi, are you okay?” Anna reached over the table and grasped my hand.
“Yes, of course.” I smiled at her, tightly, blinking away the tears in my eyes that wanted to fall.
“You didn’t expect him to come over and say hi did you, Lex?” Anna looked at me with wide, worried eyes.
“No.” I lied as I studied her face hard.
“Lexi!” Anna bit her lip and I smiled at her, softly. She knew me too well. I studied her face to stop thinking about Bryce and my disappointment. She was really quite pretty, in a demure way. She had shoulder length brown hair and light brown eyes, with a spattering of freckles across her cheeks. She was average height and build and, while some people may say she had an average look, I only saw her as beautiful. She was one of those girls who would be beautiful if she wore some makeup and better fitting clothes. But she just didn’t care about that stuff.
“It’s okay.” I couldn’t stop myself from looking at Bryce again and saw him walking towards Anna and I. My breath caught in my mouth as I wondered if he was coming to talk to us. Were my dreams about to come true?
“Lexi, stop staring,” Anna hissed. But I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t drag my eyes away from him. My eyes were hungry to take in his appearance. This was the face I had dreamt about for years.
“Hi.” He smiled and nodded at me as he walked past our table and I thought I was going to die, or faint. Neither of those things ended up happening but I felt a surge of electricity run through me. Every nerve in my body was excited and on edge.
“Hi.” My voice squeaked as I answered him, but he had already passed our table. I turned to look at Anna and she stared back at me with a gob smacked look on her face.
“He said hi,” she squealed. “He said hi.”
“Anna, I think I am going to throw up.” I pressed the bottle of ketchup that was on the table to my forehead and closed my eyes to replay the scene in my head. Bryce Evans had smiled and said hi to me. I wasn’t sure if he recognized me from high school or if he had some karmic intuition that told him who I was. All I knew was that I wasn’t invisible anymore.
“We have to go.” Anna jumped up and dropped $10 on the table. “Pay me back later, Lexi.” She pulled my arm up and we ran out of the restaurant and into the parking lot. I ran to my car with my arms in the air and screamed with excitement. I screamed so loudly that I could see an elderly couple across the street looking at me with concern, but I didn’t care. I suddenly felt alive and hopeful. Maybe I did have a chance with Bryce. Maybe, just maybe, I could become the girl everyone wanted to be. The girl I wanted to be.
I couldn’t look up from the steering wheel. Not even when I heard the screams of some silly schoolgirl. I knew I should look up to see if everything was okay, but I couldn’t. The sweat from my forehead dripped onto the leather wheel. My hands felt clammy. I knew I was having a panic attack.
I breathed in and out, like the doctor had told me to do. Everything would be okay. I just needed to focus. It was strange being back in Jonesville. It was like going back to watch an old movie from childhood. On first appearance, everything was similar and the same and then, the more you observed and listened, the more you wondered if you had ever really seen the movie before.
My dad had been happy to see me home. It was an election year and I was going to be a great boost to his campaign. He had already asked me to attend some town hall meetings with him. He wanted everyone to see that his son had returned from war, from serving his country. And, of course, they would all come, because they loved me. I was Bryce Evans, football star, and son of the mayor. I could do no wrong in anyone’s eyes. I truly was the golden boy—or so they thought. They had no idea that, behind my blue eyes and blond hair, I was someone no one really knew. That behind my handsome face, there was a man who was ashamed of so many things.
After a few minutes, I lifted my head and sat upright in my car. I looked around it with a quick smile. It was as I remembered it—musty, cool, secretive. Dad had given me this Mustang when I got my driver’s license. I had lost my virginity in this car. I had smoked my first joint in this car. And I had turned down a full ride to Notre Dame in this car. Sometimes I felt like this car was my home.
I was glad to see that Dad hadn’t sold it when I went away. He had been so mad at me, so distraught that I had turned down a full ride and a spot on the football team at Notre Dame to join the Marines. He couldn’t believe that I was one of the few, the proud, the brave, and the courageous. No one had understood why I had made the decision. But maybe that was because I had never told anyone why.
I suppose it was because it was a decision I had never thought I was going to make. I had pretty much had my bags packed for Notre Dame until that night. I had had my life outlined, mapped in my head. I knew who I was, where I was going and I didn’t care who got caught up in my web. I was the golden boy to everyone in Jonesville, but I had had a dark side.
I suppose it was inevitable that someone like me, who had been given so much, would turn out the way that I did. At least, that was what the doctor had said. But at least I had realized the path I was on before it was too late. That night I made a decision that changed my life. I had to.
But it didn’t make me proud or happy. It didn’t make me think I was a good man. It only emphasized to me just how f**ked up I was. And I was reliving those emotions all over again.
Why had I gone to Steak N Shake? I had known, as soon as I entered the restaurant, that something was different. And when I had turned around and seen her face, I had felt panicked. She had been staring at me like she knew everything. I couldn’t face her, so I had turned around quickly, heart straining from the pressure. I knew that I was going into panic mode as soon as I felt my body go cold. I had had to walk out of the restaurant quickly. I suppose I’m a sucker for drama, because I had walked past her table and smiled. She had looked at me like a lost lamb.
I was mad at myself for saying hi. I should have ignored her. But I couldn’t. Her brown eyes had stared at me with the same look they had had that night, all those years ago.
I felt like she knew. Which I knew wasn’t possible. There was no way that she could have known. For all I knew, she thought of me as her savior. That was how the evening had gone down after all. I had looked like the golden boy once again. But it had been my entire fault in the first place. But she had looked at me that night with such innocence and trust. That look had struck at my heart. It had pierced my hurt, evil veil and awakened me. And I thought that perhaps I had been given a second chance to make everything all right. And then the accident had happened. At least, they said it was an accident. I didn’t think it was. And that was my fault as well. And it was then that I knew I had to give my life. It was the least I could do. I had to go away and fight for my country and if I died, that would have been the least I could have done to atone for what I had done.
It had been a mistake for me to come back to Jonesville. It had brought back too many memories, memories I had spent the last four years trying to rid myself of. Only, the dull pain that lit up my heart was accompanied by something else, a strange emotion that I didn’t recognize. I closed my eyes and breathed in and out again. Darkness and then her face greeted me. The face that had haunted me every night of my stay away from this place. I couldn’t believe that I had seen her. Lexi Lord. The girl who had turned my world upside down.
My ringing phone interrupted me from my dark thoughts and I sighed when I saw Suzannah’s name. “Hello?” I tried to keep my tone upbeat.
“Bryce?” she giggled. I had no idea what was so funny.
“Yes?” I wasn’t going to give her the benefit of the doubt and let her know I knew it was her.
I didn’t answer and there was a moment of silence. “Your girlfriend.” She giggled again. “Well, your ex-girlfriend.”
“Oh, hi Suzannah.” I kept my tone polite.
“I heard you’re back in town?” Giggle.
“You didn’t call?”
“Why would I call you?” My tone was not so pleasant. I couldn’t believe that she had the gall to act upset. She is the one who never once wrote me a letter or called me once I shipped off to boot camp. As soon as I announced I wasn’t going to Notre Dame, she had pretty much dumped me. I guess a boyfriend in the military hadn’t been a part of her plan.
“Oh Bryce, don’t be silly,” she giggled. “We loved each other once.”
I sighed and kept my mouth shut. Who was I to ruin her dream of the past? I wanted to tell her that sex wasn’t love, but I knew that was unkind and I was trying very hard to not be that person.
“Can I help you, Suzannah?”
“Well, Mary told me that your dad is going to have a party and I was wondering if you would be comfortable with me coming?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” My question was legitimate. It had been four years. I was over her betrayal by now. In fact, I was glad that she hadn’t waited for me.
“I’m sorry about Eddie.”
“It doesn’t matter.” My jaw clenched as she mentioned his name.
“Bryce, I hope you don’t blame me.” Her voice was serious now.
“Look, Suzannah. I don’t mind if you come to the party, okay? But I have to go.”
“Can I call you later?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” I sighed and hung up. I rubbed my throbbing temples and sighed. It had been a mistake coming back to Jonesville. A huge mistake. I had never planned on it. When I left, I had sworn that I would never go back again. But I couldn’t stop myself. Not when the letters had stopped coming. I knew I had to come back to town and find out whom the sender of the letters had been. Who the girl of my dreams was. The one who seemed to understand what it was like to be lost and lonely on the inside when everyone thought you had it together on the outside. I had no name to go by as she had signed her letters simply as Miss and I had no street address as she had used a PO Box.
My first mission was going to be trying to get the name of the person the PO Box belonged to and to take it from there. I had to know who the girl was who had made things bearable for me at war. Who the girl was who had crushed me when she had stopped writing. I’d sent exactly ten letters, that had gone unanswered, before I had given up. Part of me was scared that she had died, or that something bad had happened to her. I just wanted to make sure that she was okay.
At least, that was what I had told myself. Part of me thought I was in love with her. Though I’d never seen her. She had seemed to understand me, the real me. It was if she wouldn’t judge me for anything. I had wanted to tell her what had happened all those years ago. With Eddie. And with Lexi Lord. I had thought she could do what the marines and war hadn’t been able to do; allow me the opportunity to move on with my life. Allow me to see that I could forgive myself.
I had decided to come back to Jonesville because I needed to know who she was. I needed to know she was okay. I needed to look into her eyes and to thank her. And so, here I was, back in a town that was ready to welcome me back with open arms. I was treated like more of a hero than I was before I left.
I was the Golden Boy incarnate. I could do no wrong. It was a weird feeling having everyone love me. Everyone wanting to be me. Everyone watching me with awe and admiration. I had the perfect life. That’s what they all thought. Bryce Evans, the golden child. But they didn’t know what really went on; what happened behind closed doors; what existed behind my big, blue eyes. They didn’t know that there existed in me a hate so strong that I was capable of doing very bad things.
I looked at the clock on my dashboard and sighed. I had to go home now. I knew that my parents would be waiting for me. My loving mother was beyond ecstatic that I was home and in one piece. She lived for me and I had broken her heart when I had gone away. She had written me faithfully, every day. I knew that she lived for my responses just like she had lived for my games, and my report cards and my college acceptances. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her, to see if I could get through to her. I wanted to scream and shout and tell her to get a life. To tell her that I wasn’t worth it. That the pills weren’t worth it. That we all knew that the water she sipped all day was vodka. But she was my mother and so I didn’t.
All my life people had envied me being the Mayor’s son. Not just because my dad was the mayor, but because he was charismatic, rich and funny and he captured people in his spell. My doctor said that he was the root of all of my problems. The catalyst to that night. That, if I hadn’t found out what he was doing, I wouldn’t have done what I did. Lexi Lord wouldn’t have been a target.