Hector couldn’t believe his eyes. He rubbed them with the ball of his hands and then shielded them from the sun. She was sitting on a bench reading a book and picking pieces of food out of a bag next to her. Occasionally she’d take a sip of her drink. She didn’t look up from her book. He watched her for another moment to make certain he was correct. It had to be her. He started to cross the street, but then hesitated. The wind blew a loose strand of hair across her face and she pushed it back in place. She had done it so delicately that it made him pause. She used to just thrust her hand across her face and push the hair somewhere behind her, not really paying attention to it’s placement.
Melina felt so comfortable that she released a sigh. After five years of soul searching and college, she was finally going back home. She was taking her time though. The journey back home was going to be one of peace mixed with adventure. She had a few sights on the list that she was determined to see and planned to do so on her way back. After Hector had left she had been depressed for a few weeks, but then his first letter had arrived. When the letters stopped she had moped around the house and, after a few weeks of binge eating, she had decided to spend her senior year happy. She started going to parties and having friends over. It had been a great year. When she moved East to go to college, she found it easy to make new friends.
A man sat on her right. She didn’t look up. Instead she slid over a touch to make room for him and crossed her legs, leaning to her left.
“Is it a good book?” Inwardly she grunted. Of course he would try to make conversation, because that’s exactly what you do when you see someone engrossed in a book.
“Yes.” She replied.
“What’s it about?” Melina set the open book on her knee and looked over at the man.
Sadness chewed at Hector’s heart when there was no recognition in her gray eyes.
“Look, I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I like to read my books in peace.” Hector stood and looked down at the confident woman he barely recognized.
“I guess I’ll leave you to it.” He turned his back toward her. “I hope you enjoy it Lina.” He took a step down the sidewalk.
“What did you say?” He turned around to find the book was closed and her legs were uncrossed.
“I said that I hope you enjoy it.” Her eyes glistened and a smile started to spread across her face before she bit her lip. She jumped to her feet and, without any words, hugged him. He hugged her too. Savoring the way her head cradled against his chest. She moved back but kept her arms around him.
“I can’t believe it’s really you!” Melina felt beside herself. He was here in the flesh. She touched his cheek to make sure his skin felt real and that she wasn’t dreaming. After a moment she pulled her hand back, embarrassed. In the moment he had turned to face her, she had become a 16 year old again. A whiny little girl who was at his beckon call. But that’s not who she was anymore. She was strong now, confident and sure. He wouldn’t take over her thoughts like he had when she was young. She stepped back to put some physical distance between them that might help with mental distance.
“What are you doing out here?” She asked.
Hector felt his heart drop in his chest. She pulled away so abruptly that he had to remind himself to drop his arms. Something had changed in her eyes as well. At first they had been full of love and he could see how much she had missed him. Now they were cool and casual, as if she were speaking to someone she had hung out with for a summer but never really known.
“I was was stationed out here, but am heading back home to see my parents.” Hector shoved his hands in his pockets as Melina crossed her arms over her chest. At least that was still the same. “What about you? Why are you so far from home?”
Melina sat down and he followed. She offered him a piece of fruit from her bag, but he declined.
“Came out here for school. I’m heading home too.”
“What did you study in school?” Melina picked at the fruit in her bag.
“Marketing and Communications.” Hector looked at her, puzzled.
“You hate being in front of people.” Melina shook her head.
“Not really. After taking my first communications class, I got over that. I realized it’s fun to share my ideas and I have some good ones.” She added chuckling.
“Why are you going home? Why not find a job out here?”
“Why all the questions?” Melina shot back.
“Just trying to catch up.” Hector said and grabbed the bag of fruit out of her hand. He fished around for an apple slice and pulled it out just before she snatched the bag back.
“If you really wanted to catch up, you would just ride with me.”
Melina was just as surprised by her statement as Hector was. As soon as the words were out of her mouth she looked over at him as her mind raced. Why would she say something like that? He might actually take her up on the offer. She had worked so hard at letting him go and it seemed a shame to jeopardize that growth by spending a thirty-six hour car ride with him. Then factor in food stops, bathroom breaks, and overnight stays at hotels. Would he even want to see the sights she had planned out? Would she even want to see them with him? She could spend well over a week alone with him. He seemed to be studying her.
“You know what. I think I will.”
“No.” Melina said too quickly. She immediately regretted it when he looked away and scratched the back of his neck.
“I was only joking Lina. I didn’t know I repulsed you so much.” Melina shook her head to break out of the shock.
“It’s not that. I mean, you don’t repulse me. I just.” She couldn’t seem to formulate the words to express how she felt. “It’s just been so long. Don’t you think it’ll be awkward.”
“Yeah. It will be.” Hector said before standing. “I’ll probably see you around home then.” He started to walk away and Melina realized how much she had hurt him. Even if they hadn’t seen each other in years, even if she had changed so much, he was still the same sixteen year old boy letting her win races to the lake.
The two sweetest words Hector had heard in years. It had hurt to hear her reject him so quickly. He hadn’t realized how little room she had in her heart for him.
“Let’s do it.” Lina was saying as he turned around. “I’m being ridiculous. It hasn’t been too long. And even if it has been, we will have all that much more to talk about.” Hector’s mischievous smile fell into place.
“I’ll make you regret saying that.” Her shoulders dropped and, for the first time in seven years he saw the smile he had been missing.
“I already am.”