Dreams Unwind

[f o u r t e e n]

We dress in silence. My fingers tremble as I button and zip my shorts. I avoid looking at Harry - if I do, I will undoubtedly cry. Or, even worse, I’m liable to beg him to forget what I said. Once he finishes pulling his shirt on, he rounds my bed to stand at my side. His breath ghosts across my face, and I close my eyes at the tender kiss he presses to my temple, the final goodbye. I don’t turn around at the sound of my door opening or closing with a soft snick.

Tubs glares at me from inside his cat tower, yellow eyes narrowed with his annoyance at being kicked off the bed, but I can’t find it in me to care much. Not with the remnants of Harry’s touch and taste still flooding my senses, not with the tears that slip from the corner of my eyes. I fall face-first onto the mattress and stop trying to fight the maelstrom inside; I let it take over me, rip through me like a hurricane and destroy the foundation of who I am.

I know logically, I’m right. There is just so much about a long-distance relationship that I am certain I can’t handle, and as much as I trust him, I can’t put myself at risk to be hurt like that. But ending our relationship is the hardest thing I’ve done since the day I put Wil to rest. The expression on Harry’s face as I confirmed we were through is seared into the back of my eyes, and a tightness takes hold of my lungs, squeezing out the air until I’m gasping and choking on nothing.

Thankfully, my dad and uncle leave me alone after Harry’s left. I can hear them talking in the living room, but they don’t come to my room, and I’m grateful for that. Someone’s footsteps stop outside my door once the sun has gone down, and I absentmindedly wonder, under all the numbness and confusion, which of them it is. I almost expect them to try to open the door. They don’t.

The moon rises into the sky outside my window, its silvery glow bathing my bedroom. My cat curls up against my chest, purrs and nudges my chin with his nose; I bury my fingers into his fur without thinking and let him comfort me. Shadows stretch and morph with the time that passes, and I find myself still awake long after the clock reads midnight. I know I’m not going to sleep tonight, so I grab my phone, send a text into the group chat with my dad and Henry letting them know I’m going for a drive, and push myself to my feet.

The beach where Harry and I have spent many a night spreads out before me, miles of sand painted milky white to either side of me meeting the undulating ocean ahead. I make my way to just out of reach of the water, sitting down with my legs crossed, and stare out over the waves. Now that I’m under the great expanse of the dark sky, everything that I’ve struggled with seems so small, so unimportant; the stars overhead remind me that I am but a speck in the universe, one that I will never be able to wrap my mind around. My thoughts turn from existentialism and questioning my existence to questioning whether I made the right choice.

Harry has made me so incredibly happy over the last six and a half months, and that joy, the thrill of being in love again, is something I never thought I’d have after I lost Wil. He and I hadn’t ever had that conversation, the one in which we discussed our hopes for the other in case something happened to us, but I’m sure he would have wanted me to move on and find someone who loved me. I hate that I can’t talk to him, ask him what I should do.

I sigh, dig my fingers into the sand. A cool breeze rushes past, and my skin prickles with goosebumps. The moon and stars offer no comfort, cold in their positions in space, just shining down on the world without judgement or advice. Waves crash against the shore, the sound rhythmic and calming, and eventually, the thrumming of the water lulls me into a state of mind where I feel nothing can touch me. Thoughts float one after another through my brain, until one slams to the forefront, lights up like a neon sign.

I hurry to my feet, falling on my face when I forget to uncross my legs first. I don’t bother brushing the sand off of me as I run to the car park. There is a surprisingly little amount of traffic on the road, even with the late hour, but I barely acknowledge it. Panic and desperation course through me, and the music that plays does little to make me feel any better. I can only hope I’m not too late. I need him to know.

“What do you want?”

I stare wide-eyed at the woman who answers the door. I’ve not met her in person, but I have seen enough photos of her to recognise her as Harry’s sister. “Uh, I… I need to talk to Harry.”

“Why?”

“I -”

“Gem, I’ve got this.” My heart aches at the sound of Harry’s voice and his footsteps nearing the door. Gemma’s face screws up in disgust, and she turns pointedly away from me. Harry watches her go then sighs, focusing on me. He sounds utterly exhausted when he speaks. “Joey, what are you doing here?”

“I’m scared,” I finally choke out after a long, uncomfortable silence, and his brows furrow. “I’m scared because I haven’t felt like this in so long. Literally years. I’ve run from every chance at a relationship because I’m terrified of feeling something like this for someone else. I loved Wil with everything I had, and he left, and I was alone and broken and so goddamn scared. And, and I never got past that fear. Because - I don’t want to love someone else the way I did Wil only to have to lose you like I lost him.”

My breath comes out in a shuddering gasp, and my chest and throat ache so fiercely. My voice cracks with emotion, but I push on, unable to stop even in the face of Harry’s unresponsiveness. “I don’t want to have to deal with that pain. That god-awful hollowness that leaves you so cold and empty, and it doesn’t go away no matter what you do. Harry, I don’t want to love you as much as I do. Don’t you get it? It hurts. It fucking hurts that I need you in my life this bad. It tears me up to know that I love you so fucking much that I’d follow you to- to Pluto for god’s sake if you asked me to. It’s the worst feeling in the world to love someone with all of your heart and soul, when you know it’s going to end in pain. It always does.” I swallow thickly, brush a hand over my cheek. “And I... I can’t survive being shattered like that again. Not even for you. I’m scared.”

Harry stares at me, his gaze heavy and intense, and I fidget under the weight. Before I can turn away, he reaches for me; I let him pull me into his arms, and he holds me tightly against his chest as I shake apart in the safety he provides. His lips are soft against my hair, and my fingers clench into the back of his T-shirt as I cling to him. He doesn’t let go of me even after I’ve calmed down. Instead, he steps backwards, holding me steady while we cross the threshold into the house. He leads me with gentle hands up the stairs and down a dark hall, into a bedroom.

My body goes limp as soon as I lie down, the storm of emotions leaving me exhausted and worn down. His fingers card through my hair, and I stare up at him through half-closed eyes. There’s something on his face that I can’t read. Guilt snakes through me, just another thing to twist me inside out. I should never have come here. Not after what I did. It isn’t enough to stop the words from spilling out of my mouth, slurred and rough around the edges.

“Will you stay?”

He hesitates but then crawls onto the bed, stretching out behind me. His hand stops me when I try to roll over to face him; I exhale shakily but don’t try to push. A small flicker of warmth sparks to life as I scoot closer to him and he doesn’t try to prevent it. Instead, his arm slowly drapes over my waist. I can feel his heartbeat against my shoulders, steady and achingly familiar. I close my eyes at the fear that shoots through me as I lace my fingers with his. Harry doesn’t squeeze back like he normally does. He also doesn’t pull away, so I take the victory while I can.

The morning comes too soon, and I groan, burying my face into the pillow that smells like sunshine and mountain air. It hits a second later - I’m alone in the bed. My hand stretches out only to be met with the stretch of cold sheets. Harry’s gone, has been for a while. I scrub a hand over my face and sit up, staring around the room. There is nothing to indicate how long I’ve been left on my own. I ignore the way my chest tightens at the fact that he left me.

Realising I can’t just hide away in the guest room for the rest of my life, I reluctantly push myself out of the bed and pad across the room. The house is quiet as I make my way down the hallway, the stairs; all I can hear is my own breathing and my footsteps on the hardwood floors. Bile rises in my throat when an errant thought crosses my mind - what if Harry decided he couldn’t stand to see me again and now only Gemma is here? But I can’t let my discomfort get the best of me. I swallow down the nausea and continue on my trek to the dining room.

To my utter relief, Harry is sat at the table drinking from a mug, his sister at his side. She looks up first, her expression going flat, and I barely get the chance to step aside before she’s pushing roughly past me. Harry watches me closely as I chew on my lower lip then cross the room to sit on the other side of the table. His green eyes are filled with something I have no hope of interpreting.

“I’m… I’m sorry for just showing up in the middle of the night like that. And for basically word-vomiting all over you.”

He sighs, takes another sip from his mug then slides it over to me. My brows furrow, but I don’t question it, merely lifting it to my mouth. The coffee is hot, rich, slightly sweet, and I savour the taste on my tongue for a moment. He shakes his head when I go to pass it back, and I stare at the tabletop while he stands and busies himself with pouring another cup.

“It’s fine,” he says quietly, voice rough and accent thick. “I, well, I appreciated the honesty. I really did.” Harry sits again with a heavy exhale, and his long fingers curl around his mug. “But what do you expect of me? Really, Joey? Am I supposed to be okay with you saying all of that only a handful of hours after you broke up with me? Am I supposed to pretend that you didn’t end our relationship, act like we’re still happy and deliriously in love?”

I don’t have an answer for him. He stares unblinkingly at me, and I duck my head so he can’t see the tears that fill my eyes. It isn’t his fault that I’ve made such a mess of things. He doesn’t need to be made to feel guilty because of my issues. When the silence stretches on, I sniffle, draw in an unsteady breath, then rise to my feet. His gaze is a tangible weight on my back as I make my way to the bathroom.

I’ve just splashed cold water on my face when I hear Gemma’s disgruntled voice saying that Harry is lucky she loves him and that he owes her. She barges in through the door, a small canvas bag in hand. She doesn’t meet my eye while she gestures for me to sit on the closed toilet lid, while she pulls out a tube of concealer.

“This isn’t going to match your complexion, but it’s the best we’ve got.”

“Why are you being so nice?” I whisper as she dabs the makeup under my eyes.

“Because as frustrating as he can be, I love my brother. And for some inexplicable reason, he cares about you even though you broke his heart.”

“I didn’t…”

“Doesn’t mean you didn’t do it, does it, no matter your intentions.”

Gemma nods succinctly once she has blended the concealer as much as she can with her fingertips then exits just as suddenly as she arrived. Harry stands just outside the bathroom. I know that this is goodbye. He walks with me to the door, and if I take slower steps than usual, he doesn’t call me on it. At the door, I turn to face him, force myself to meet his gaze.

“Harry, I’m… I’m really sorry. I -”

He cuts me off, words snipped and tone emotionless, “Let me know when you make it home.”

My breath hitches in my throat, and I brush away a tear that slips free. I take it as the dismissal it is. Though I want to kiss him just once more, I don’t let myself be that selfish; I slip out of the house and walk to my car without a backward glance. He stands in the doorway until I start up the vehicle, and I watch him walk back inside and close the door. Something inside of me breaks a little further.

The drive home is a blur. I don’t remember a second of it by the time I pull up in front of my house. Henry waits on the front porch for me, holds his arms open the instant I’m close enough. I collapse onto the step next to him and let him hold me as I shatter apart. This is all my fault, I know it is, but I can’t stop myself from hating how it’s turned out. My uncle doesn’t ask questions or force me to speak, just keeps me wrapped in the security of his hold until I’m ready.

“What happened, starlight?”

I pull away shakily at the sound of my dad’s voice, and his face falls with sympathy. He reaches for my hand and tugs me to my feet, yanks me in against his chest. The words spill from me, awkward and stilted; the relationship I’ve had with these two men have never been the kind with constant contact or lack of boundaries. They don’t say anything as I explain what happened, but when I finish, Henry wraps his hand around mine, smiling up at me sadly.

“Jo Beth… I know you’re hurting, honey, and I’m sorry, but I think you need to take the time to figure yourself out. Then, if you still have feelings for Harry, you can reach out to him.”

“And if he never forgives me?”

“Then you can’t take it personally that he’s decided he can’t handle being hurt again.”

“I didn’t want to lose him,” I admit on a broken whisper, and my dad holds me tighter, as if he can push the pieces of my heart back together by sheer force of will. How I wish he could…