I sighed as I stepped out of the car, stretching my neck and back with a groan. Three thousand miles was a long road trip, especially on your own, but I was finally back in California. Maybe I should have waited until one of my friends was free to come with me, but I couldn’t afford to. Work was calling and the more time I had to get settled in, the more time I had to train for the upcoming match.
The delicious smell of food caught my attention and I followed the scent. Nothing had changed since I’d been gone. There was the same diner across the street, the same run-down Laundromat filled with people, even the same family-owned mechanic shop. I guess it’s not so bad. It was strangely comforting, seeing that this place was still the same as it always had been. After ten years away, I welcomed it. Back then, all I’d wanted was to leave, get out of such a small town and make a name for myself. Now, I’d started making a name for myself and I’d come right back to where it all began.
I pushed the swinging glass door leading into the diner, approached the counter, and ordered a burger and fries to go. The woman behind the counter, May, still worked here after so many years. She handed me my food, making small talk as she smiled. I could see lines around her eyes where there weren’t any before. Everything might feel the same, but it was proof of the passage of time.
The diner felt too restrictive and hot after being in my car for the past few days. I decided to walk to the park and find a quiet place to eat and relax. Finding a perfect spot with tables and benches under a group of trees, I sighed, digging into my food as my body finally relaxed. I snapped back to reality when a familiar voice cut through my thoughts.
“How was work today?”
“Boring. I get the same crap from my boss every day and he just sits in his office and watches TV. It drives me crazy.”
I looked up and saw him. Matthew. He laughed as he shook his head. Dark brown hair falling into his face that he swiped away with the back of his hand. I hadn’t seen him since the day I’d left. He looked the same, just a little older, his face not as chubby as it had once been. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
“Well, you’ll get through it. Just keep working hard and you’ll get promoted.”
Who was he with? Another man sat across from him, eating and griping about work. Matthew had that same amused look on his face that had been directed at me countless times in the past when I was pissed and venting. He’d always seemed slightly amused whenever I got upset. He just let me get it all out, before distracting me with one of his suggestions to do something else.
Instinctively I slid back in my seat a bit. He hadn’t noticed me, but what if he did? Would he pretend he hadn’t seen me and walk away? Would he still be pissed off? It’d been so long ago, but I’d never seen him angrier than the day I left. I could tell he’d been crying, his eyes had been red and puffy as he stood in front of me and demanded that I stay. He’d given me an ultimatum; go or stay, and if I left, he never wanted anything to do with me again. I’d left.
That day suddenly played out in my mind, the way it had repeatedly over the years. Whenever I was sure I’d completely forgotten about him, the memory would come back with a vengeance and I was always left wondering if I’d made a mistake. Life with Matthew had been amazing; life without him had given me success as a boxer. Were the two things equal? I had no idea.
It appeared Matthew had moved on though. He was laughing hard, shaking his head and talking to the other guy with ease. It looked like they’d been together a long time. How long had he waited after I’d stepped onto that bus, to put me out of his mind completely? It was pointless asking myself these questions, but I couldn’t seem to stop. Stop listening to their conversation, it’s weird. But the voice in my head didn’t stop me from eavesdropping.
“I’d better get back to work.”
“Already? I still have thirty minutes.”
“Yeah, that’s because your boss actually likes you. I’ll see you later?”
I watched the other man walk off as Matthew gave him a little salute and pulled his phone out of his pocket. He sat it on the table and began to scroll through. I should go and say hi. It didn’t have to mean anything, just saying hey and letting him know I was back in town. For some reason, it felt like it would though. I hesitated, standing up slowly and tossing my empty containers in the trash.
I could handle a punch in the face but couldn’t stand the idea of Matthew still being mad at me. Understand it? Sure. Handle it? That was a different story. I could just walk the other way, leave the park by the other exit and go the long way back to my car. The thought weighed heavily on my mind for a minute before I shook my head. Stop being such a wimp! Of course, I was going to say something to him. I couldn’t help myself even if I wanted to. No matter how much I hated to admit it, I’d missed him all these years.
My heart thumped in my chest as I made my way over, my feet automatically carrying me toward him as my brain tried to think of something to say when I got there. After a moment, I looked up and I was standing right beside his table. He didn’t pay any attention to me at first, then he finally glanced up and jumped. His face looked like he’d seen a ghost. I grinned.
“Matthew, how are you?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” I chuckled. “Don’t look at me like that. It looks like you’re going to faint.”
He shook his head. “Sorry, I just really wasn’t expecting something like this. What are you doing here?”
“I’m moving back,” I looked around. “Mind if I sit down for a minute?”
I sat across from him, smiling. Just sitting near him brought back good memories and made me want to sit and talk to him for hours. He slipped his phone back into his pocket before looking at me, his eyes searching my face. What’s going through his head? At least he wasn’t telling me to leave him alone, that was good, right?