Three hooded figures walk into The Back Page, I was sipping a Bulmers, waiting for one of them.
The first has black hair and hazel eyes. He’s about my height, and he’s from California. He was my teenage dream, my first real crush. We went on dates, refusing to call them so. He was my first dance, my first car ride with the windows down, my first dictionary filled with inside jokes. He sits down across from me and looks me squarely in the eye.
“It’s been a long time” I say, “How have you been? It’s really good to see you again.”
“Oh you know, nothing crazy. I’ll be graduating this year, not sure about the future, but it’ll be okay” he says. He pauses, then whispers “I’m sorry I let you down”. For a second, our eyes flash through the same memories. The shell of him whenever I came home to visit, how university days changed me. I had grown up and never looked back. “But I’d like to try again”.
He tells me about all the opportunities in California and mirrors my body language. I had forgotten we come from the same place. I crack a smile, remembering who we used to be, and enjoying who he was right now. He had grown up too, and maybe, we’d fit together better now.
“It could be nice” I say back wistfully. I can be anything I want if I go back. I could take all the time in the world. We could do it right. Box up my dreams, send them into the beginning, and hope to make a future of it.
Then the other hooded figure reveals his short blonde hair and Cheshire grin. I smile instinctively, even though his presence makes me uneasy. His Irish charm masks the tension we both feel.
“Hey Loser” he jokes. “I thought I was supposed to meet a certain Carl here, but I suppose you’ll do” I look back at him, hesitantly defensive.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. He’s never in this part of town. Things were rough between us. In the beginning I really believed we could have been something, and towards the end I felt disappointed at best, disillusioned at worst. On paper we lined up, but once the dust had settled, I realized he wasn’t what I wanted. I waited, wished he would change his mind, wished I could change my heart. I still do.
“I’ve already made up my mind. I’m leaving Ireland” I say with hurt eyes. I had been so excited to move to Ireland, and all it had shown me was how stupid it was to leave everything I knew for a guy. A shimmering dream with a 50% chance of success. But at least I tried. And there was a part of me that wanted to stay. A small part of me that wanted to wait out the thunderstorm, see if I could make something of Ireland. I feel my heartstrings tug and catch myself leaning in, when the third figure sits down next to me
“Hey” he says. His brown hair was a bit ruffled from the rain, and his distinctively Southern-English accent comes out. I wanted to laugh at the sight of him. It was cold and raining, and here he was, shorts, skinny legs, and moccasins. His signature attire.
“Hey! Whatcha been up to these days?” I ask. I haven’t seen him since graduation, and we really hadn’t spoken since I told him I couldn’t be friends with him. Funny that he showed up here.
“Just studying rocks in Utrecht.” I laugh, remembering his obscure obsessions and idiosyncrasies. How he was half-German and no one believed him because of how inherently tea-drinking biscuit-eatingly English he was. I remembered our long walks, how we managed to date each other without the rest of the world knowing. We ran away to the petting zoo one rainy afternoon and practiced our Dutch, pointing out all the animals and reading the weetjes. We spent the day at the beach, casually singing Better Together while he got his entire body sunburned like a ripe strawberry. We were good, The Netherlands was good. Except for Caroline.
“Krista, come back to Utrecht with me. Caroline and I broke up months ago. I was stupid and shouldn’t of let you go…I still have the letter you wrote me on your birthday, and I really hope the door hasn’t been closed. Dave and the rest of the gang are also in Utrecht. We could try again.”