Jason made it so hard – nearly impossible – for me to let him go.
But I can’t place the blame solely on him. I wanted to love Jason. I loved, loving Jason. He was a fourth slice of birthday cake – a full bag of Halloween candy – just a little too much of a bad decision to be considered a guilty pleasure. But I’ve been known to be unable to resist a bad idea – and Jason was by far the worst one – but he was the temptation that I gave into, every single time. And whenever I thought I had learned my lesson – when I felt that the pain was too big a burden to carry any longer – Jason would remind me of why I put up with so much of his shit to begin with.
Jason needed me.
He had an uncanny way of worming his way back into my good graces. It was never his whispered words of vulnerability in front of covered ears and averted eyes that pulled me back in. No, what kept me anchored to his side were those unspoken moments when he reached out for me, acting on an instinct he was never aware of.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed our secret rendezvouses – when he would hold me close, kiss me softly and whisper in my ear how much he needed me. But it was the moments when he ignored all the other people in his life who were so eager to comfort him in his time of need, and he reached out for me that let me know that loving him was something I couldn’t stop doing.
In those moments, I felt I had something the rest of the world didn’t. And I did.
I had Jason.
Chapter 1 – So, I saw him again.
The voice was soft and closer to my ear than I ever thought it would be again. I felt his presence more than I heard his greeting, but still – I’d have known the sound of his voice anywhere. It was the voice of a man I had known in what now seemed like a different life. Back when my feelings for him were still new, and fresh, and just being with him was exciting.
Back then life hadn’t happened to us yet, and that was the beauty of everything.
It’s funny to me how all those memories from high school are already like faded photographs packed away in my mind, but every moment I spent with him was as crisp and clear as the day it happened. It wasn’t hard to recall his lopsided grin on the first day of school – my dad teaching him how to shave in the hall bathroom – his crappy parking on the street in front of my house. That voice behind me belonged to the only man I had ever called my best friend so, of course I remembered him.
Jason wasn’t the type of person to be forgotten.
I would never describe myself that way. In fact, I’d always felt if someone were to be forgotten, it would be me. Quiet and insecure have always been the adjectives that followed me – the kind of girl who disappeared if you weren’t paying close attention. I’d always preferred it that way, but Jason saw me. He drifted into my lane like there were no lines on the road to guide him and I forgot there was any other way to be than with him.
We became inseparable.
I treasured every day that we walked home together from the bus stop and the hours we spent on the front porch talking until his mom picked him up. Even on the rainiest days, Jason was more than happy to spend it inside with me – playing video games, watching cartoons, and whispering about the deepest secrets of our lives. We told each other everything and we lived every moment we could together.
Life with Jason was good, but it was also unforgiving.
As time went on, he grew into a handsome, popular athlete and I – well, I stayed in my lane. I was still the same quiet and insecure girl. That didn’t change just because we got a little taller and advanced a few grades. But the easy relationship we’d always had was gone – instead becoming a tangled mess of complicated emotions we didn’t know what to do with.
It was more than either of us could handle.
We were too young – too jealous and rash and hurt and angry. We loved each other too much in a place and a time that just wasn’t right for us.
And trying to make it work, broke us.
I glanced behind me to confirm what I already knew and smiled. He was taller now and I was unable to keep my eyes from drifting over the muscle in his arms and the width of his shoulders before settling on his face. He still had the same lopsided grin I’d known my entire life with the same clear brown eyes staring down at me and the same full lips I’d loved to kiss. There was no mistaking him for anyone else.
He wasn’t wearing anything fancy – just jeans with a gray shirt, but he didn’t need to dress up. He was the type of man who could make a flour sack look like an Armani suit. He’d already caught the attention of two of the baristas behind the counter and I felt their eyes on us as he wrapped his six-two frame around me in a hug that left me feeling more warm and secure than a blanket in winter.
He paid for my drink after ordering his and we stepped outside to sit at one of the wrough iron tables. We were at the coffee shop a few blocks down from my apartment. It was a small place called Coffee Cakes and I indulged in a cup from them more often than I probably should. In the nearly two years I’d come to this place though, this was the first time I was meeting up with Jason.
I couldn’t stop looking at him as we settled across from each other. I wanted to commit every new detail of his face to memory, but whenever I looked over at him, I saw him staring right back at me. We’d been together for less than a minute and already my heart was on a mission to beat every last breath out of my lungs. To say that keeping a calm face was a struggle would be an understatement.
I hated that Jason still made my heart race.
Getting flustered just from being near him made me want to shake some sense into myself. I didn’t want to feel anything for him. I shouldn’t feel anything for him. I’d spent years trying to force myself to let him go and make space in my head and in my heart for someone new. But, to feel my heart running marathons that left me short of breath and a bit light headed – I knew without a doubt that I’d failed. I felt like I was robbing a younger version of myself of genuine feelings that should have started fading the day we parted ways. Wrong or not though, all the feelings I had for Jason that had been shoved down and locked away inside my heart were running rampant inside my chest.
It was a challenge to keep up my ladylike façade as I sat across from him when I truly wanted nothing more than to launch myself into his arms again.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I can’t believe that I’m actually across from you right now.” He shook his head, the disbelief written across his face. He seemed happy though and I smiled back at him, but I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. It was taking everything in me to process the same thing that he was. Jason – my Jason – was sitting across the table from me.
Although, he wasn’t mine anymore and he hadn’t been for a long time. But that didn’t matter though. Because in this moment, it felt like he was. It felt like this was normal for us. Like this was how our lives were meant to turn out. Like I was meant to sit across from Jason on a sunny Saturday morning, with coffee in my hands and a smile on my face. This was the future I’d always wanted – this was the dream I wanted to be my reality.
“It’s been a while,” he said. He was repeating himself and I heard the little bits of laughter in his words. I knew he was just as nervous as I was. Somehow, knowing that made me relax. I wasn’t the only one meeting my first love again. So, I nodded and laughed with him.
“I didn’t think you would actually agree to meet up with me. How have you been?”
“Good,” I replied. “And you?”
“I’ve been good.”
That was all it took for the floodgates of conversation to open. The atmosphere that had been thick with tension and nerves dissolved into a bubble of reminiscence and laughter. Jason told me stories of his undergraduate years at school in California and how he and Lucas had followed through on starting a business together. It had been a long-held dream of theirs and now Jason was a software engineer and Lucas was a computer programmer – they worked together to create applications and sold them to the companies that hired them.
I sat for a while just studying his face, taking in the changes and enjoying the sound of his voice. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the sound of him talking until now. I’d done my best to convince myself that I stopped caring about Jason – that he was just a part of my past – but sitting in front of him reminded me just how much of a liar I was.
I had missed him every day he’d been gone.
Even now, I could tell that while he was still the same Jason I fell in love with, he was different. His face was a little wider – his teeth weren’t as white – he was cleanshaven now. The muscles in his arms weren’t as thick as when he was on the football team. But his smile was just as infectious as it had always been, and the way his eyes never left my face as he talked made me feel like there was nothing in the world he wanted more than to be here with me.
“So, Kay,” he said, leaning back in his chair, “what have you been up to in the last five years?”
That’s right – it has been five years since things ended between us.
“I’ve been living,” I joked. We shared a smile as I met his eyes again. It was my turn to talk, so I told him about how I chose to go to an HBCU and majored in business management and marketing – that I came here once with my friend to visit and fell in love with the place – that I started freelancing as a social media consultant just before graduation and moved to Atlanta after I’d built up a portfolio of a few steady clients. I told him all the little tidbits of my life that he missed out on, and his eyes never left mine. Not even for a second.
His gaze had always been intense, and I felt my face grow hot as he studied me. I looked away from him as I sipped from my nearly empty cup. After putting it back on the table, I met his eyes again.
“So, yeah,” I took a deep breath and shrugged, “that’s my life. And no one calls me ‘Kay’ anymore.”
“Really?” He raised an eyebrow. “That’s surprising. Everyone used to call you that.”
“It’s by design,” I replied.
The words were simple, but they carried the weight I had intended them to. Despite how light I felt at seeing Jason – how clear it became that I still loved him – we had a history that had weighted my heart down with bricks for years and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to chuck a few of them at him. I wanted him to know that behind the warmth of the smile in front of him, was an anger that – despite my best efforts – still sparked to life at the thought of him.
He sighed and rubbed at his chin. That was a new habit.
“You still mad at me?”
I looked away from him. “I wouldn’t say that. I was actually never mad at you. Hurt would be the better word.” I shrugged and sat back in the chair. “But we can’t undo what happened. I could only try to move on from it. So, I did.”
“I had to give up on one of us,” I said.
I looked away from him thinking about the night I’d walked away from him. I had cried all night – to the point where my chest was so tight, I couldn’t draw a full breath. My eyes were swollen – my pillows were soaked through – I’d exhausted myself beyond anything I could have imagined – and I had no one to turn to. I was truly alone for the first time in my life and all I could imagine in my future was an endless stretch of emptiness. That night, just existing in my own space had felt too painful a task to endure.
I never had the pleasure of forgetting what Jason put me through that night.
“I shouldn’t have taken Alice to prom.”
My heart skipped at the name. Alice Mayben. She was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Jason and I had too many problems to count – I’d never pretend we didn’t – but Alice Mayben had been the worst of them. I sighed and rolled my eyes. This was not a part of our past I wanted to dredge up.
“You made your choice.”
“It was the wrong one.”
“It’s the one you have to live with.”
“It’s one of my biggest regrets,” he said. He leaned forward, locking his eyes onto mine. “I’ve said it a million times but hear me this time. I’m sorry, Kay.” He sighed, “I was so caught up in being the guy everyone wanted me to be, I didn’t realize I’d lost the person who mattered to me the most until it was too late.”
I looked at him – really looked at him as I processed his words. Even with the years between us, I knew that his apology was sincere. After receiving it though, I also knew that the apology – while appreciated – wasn’t what I wanted. It was never that I hadn’t heard his pleas and apologies before, it was just that, alone, they were never enough to fix what he’d broken. I’d done my best to forgive Jason and move forward with my life, but the pain and anger he left me with was a tether to the past, and it didn’t let me board any train that could have broken me free of it – broken me free of him. I’d tried filling my days with the love of someone else, praying that would be enough to release me of everything that held me back. It wasn’t until I was alone again – too exhausted to even put a fight anymore – that I understood why I’d never been free.
I couldn’t run from it.
Not from what I felt.
And seeing Jason only served as a reminder of all the love I still had for him, and of all the anger I’d felt before – which was now nothing more than a cooled ember of a burnt-out flame.
“Thank you for the apology,” I said with a small smile, “but like I said, we can’t undo the past. I put that whole matter behind me a while ago.”
“But you never called me back.”
I shook my head. “No. And if we hadn’t met up here today, I still wouldn’t have.”
“I’m glad I showed up then.”
I nodded and giggled. “You know what? I’m glad you did too.”
Silence fell over our table and I stood from my seat. Seeing Jason had given me some closure – enough to finally, maybe, let him go – and it was clear that our visit had run its course. I picked up my empty cup and smiled at him.
“I’m glad you’re doing good, Jason. I’ll see you later.”
I paused and let my eyebrows pull together. “What?”
“I’ll have another free weekend in three weeks. Can I see you again and buy you another coffee? Breakfast maybe?”
“That’s not a good idea,” I said.
“And since when has that ever deterred Kamry Marshall?”
I bit back a laugh and thought it over. I didn’t see any real harm in getting a free breakfast – it was far less dangerous than dinner – so, ignoring my better judgement that was advising me against it, I nodded my head. “Fine. Three weeks it is.”
Buy the book!
Keeping Promises by C. M. Lockhart releases on November 30, 2021.