Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Imaginary Boyfriend, Episode Ten: Heartbreaker

Previous episode:

 Four days pass before I hear back from Rykel.

The first day, I pretend not to think about it. After all, Rykel's not exactly the most dependable or predictable sort of person.

The second day, I send him a friendly little text, asking if he wants to make plans for some time this week. There's no reply.

I'm a bit quiet and snippy the next day, and I know it. Stacia gives me my space. I spend most of my classes doodling in the margins of my notebook.

It's five o'clock in the evening the next day when my phone vibrates in my pocket. I slip out the door of the school library and slide the phone open.

Thirty minutes.

It takes me exactly twenty-one minutes to brush and braid my hair, put on some nice earrings, and touch up my makeup. It takes me four more minutes to walk to the coffee shop. Rykel takes eleven minutes to arrive. He doesn't get up from the motorcycle when he parks, so I stand and walk towards him, feeling ten feet tall in my brown fall high-heeled boots and trendy green button-up. I grin.

"What's the plan?"

No grin. No teasing. Just Rykel's scratchy voice, lower than usual. "Hop on."

My smile falls, but I slide onto the leather seat beside him. Arms around his waist, we drive through town without speaking. He pulls into a parking space by the town park and climbs off the seat, then offers his hand to me. "Up for a walk?"

I shrug and take his hand. What's wrong?

We walk silently, hand in hand, along the path between the bare trees. The dead leaves of fall crunch under our feet, and the chill of approaching winter sends shivers through my body. I can feel the tension radiating off of Rykel, rolling through his arm down to our clasped hands. When we reach a black metal bench, I stop. Rykel stops but doesn't turn to me.

"Rykel, what's going on?"

He doesn't respond, instead releasing my hand and taking a seat on the bench. After a moment, I sit down next to him. I wait for him to speak - to just look at me, even.

He doesn't.

"Rykel, come on, talk to me!"

Finally, he turns his head and looks me in the eye. My breath catches in my throat. His voice is thick when he speaks. "We can't keep doing this, Emily."

My pulse skyrockets. This can't - he can't mean - "What do you mean?"

"This. Us." He looks down to the ground, the dark brown leaves contrasting with the rough white cement under our bench. "You and me, it just... doesn't work."

"We've made it work so far." My voice is heavy; my throat is tight. I refuse to cry. "What about that kiss? We have something - something special."

"But we haven't managed - it doesn't work!" He clenches his fists and shoots up from our seat. He turns to look at me with a frightening crackle in his eyes, a spark of something dangerous. "People at Polytech are starting to question where I keep disappearing to. Word is getting out. I'm supposed to be keeping away from public, Emily. Keeping my real name secret." He swallows hard and looks up at the sky. "At the roller rink..." His eyes return to mine, the spark fading away to reveal raw emotion. "You could have gotten hurt. Seriously hurt, Emily. And it would have been my fault."

There's a pause. I open my mouth to protest, but he puts his hand up. "It can't happen again. Even if we made this work, even if I managed at Polytech, we couldn't ever be close. This, whatever you say we have, it could never go anywhere."

I'm torn between numb shock and a cocktail of emotions I can't put names to. I don't even know what to think, much less say. Is he right?

"So this is it?" I can't bring myself to say the word goodbye.

He swallows several times. "It has to be." The words are a hoarse, scratchy whisper.

I nod and look down at my hands clasped in my lap. I close my eyes. I. Will. Not. Cry.

Rykel's hand on my own startles me. I look up and open my eyes. He's sitting beside me again.

"I'm just not safe, okay?" He pauses, removes his hand. I feel cold without his touch warming me. "The rules at Polytech, my Conductivity... we just can't make it work."

He stands and offers his hand. I take it, but force myself to let go as soon as I'm standing. What should I say? What is there to say? My stomach is twisted over.

"Do you want me to take you back to the coffee shop?"

I want to rewind. I want to go back to before this walk, before that kiss.

Before I fell in love.

"No. I..." I clear my throat. Tears can wait for the privacy of my dorm room. "I'll walk back."

"Okay." His voice is soft, his expression controlled. I can't meet his eyes, can't face the idea that this boy in front of me is so simply and quickly removing me from his life. There's a long pause before he speaks again; his voice is broken. "Look, I hate having to do this. But I... I need to get back to Polytech now."

I nod. My head drops and I wipe away a stray tear. I will not cry. I won't.

Rykel's hand brushes my chin. I pull away.

"Goodbye," I whisper.

"I don't do goodbyes, ginger," he whispers back.

Leaves crunch under each step as he walks away from me. A winter wind tugs at my hair. I wrap my arms around my waist and shiver.

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