Strangers in the Present Tense

The storm has passed, but the sidewalk is still rain slick, a darker shade of gray not unlike the heavy clouds lingering overhead. It’s a dreary day, made for staying in bed, curling up with a book, and hiding away from the world.

But I’m out in the damp, chilled and wandering. Today also lends itself to reflection and that I would like to avoid. I suppose you could say I’m running away, which is hiding of another kind. Avoiding.

I spot a cafe up ahead. Coffee would be good. Something sweet, too. Caffeine and sugar are my drugs of choice. Sure, there’s the inevitable crash when you overindulge, but unlike alcohol it doesn’t lead to room spin or praying to the porcelain god.

At the threshold I pause, surveying the small crowd inside. It looks warm, bright, welcoming…everything I’m not feeling at the moment. But the promise of caffeine…sugar draws me in, so I open the door.

And there you are.

Cliche as it is, time freezes. You’re in mid-laugh as she whispers something in your ear. Happy. I’ve forgotten how good you look when you smile, how much younger.

And it hurts. Fuck, it hurts. It’s been years, but it still fucking hurts. Scar tissue stretches, burns, the wound as raw as when it was fresh.

Of course you’ve moved on. I moved on. Didn’t I?

So many years. Isn’t time supposed to soften the edges? Lessen the pain?

The second hand moves, and time inches forward, gradually gathering speed.

In the blink of an eye, you’re past me and well down the street, the two of you cuddled close against the chill, comfortable…content.

Nothing. Not a flicker of recognition or a moment of hesitation. I’m nobody to you. Just another stranger on the street.

It’s not until I’ve gone inside, ordered, and sat down in a far corner that I remember.

I ended it. I cut and run. I broke your heart because I didn’t want to risk my own.

Yet why is it I’m the one sitting here aching? Forgotten? Alone?