Staying friends with an ex-lover is something Julia always avoided as a matter of principle. In fact, any breakup resulted in her completely exorcising them from her life. Julia preferred closure. A clean cut. A way to move on with her life. But, there’s a first time for everything, right?
Why was he different than the rest? Was it the way he looked at her right before their lips touched? Was it the way he ran his hands gently through her hair? Was it the face he made when he was anticipating her laugh at one of his stupid jokes? Was it the way her stomach fluttered when he was around?
She couldn’t remember another time when she felt like she was spiraling so out of control in a relationship. With him, she would find herself impatiently waiting to hear back from a text or call. She could spend every possible moment with him, and not get sick of him as per her normal routine in relationships. From the beginning, it was painfully clear that it would end. They were too different, and neither one was ready to fully commit. His first priority was not her, she always felt second to his work. And he was second to her dreams of traveling the world and becoming a photographer.
Julia’s mind spun. She had never been one to suppress her emotions, instead always jumping into them fully. It wasn’t her idea to break up, but she did it anyway. The distance between them was simply something that couldn’t be ignored.
“Let’s still be friends, Julia.” He had said, one hand on her cheek, his earnest green eyes looking deep into hers. Against all of her will, not to mention better knowledge, she nodded, holding back tears. “Friends,” she agreed. And with that, he withdrew his hand, the cold seeping in between them.
It was doomed from the start, but she had let herself fall deeper and deeper, and now had to suffer the consequences. How could he still talk to her as if nothing had changed? The space between them was no longer electrified when they were together. Instead, it felt frozen. It didn’t make sense, how he could flip a switch that quickly and forget all the time they shared together. She couldn’t sleep without dreaming of his arms around her, their bodies pressed together, him kissing her softly. But he acted as if nothing had occurred between them.
A few days later, she felt suffocated. He was acting like nothing had changed between them, but she could feel the cold, the change. Her heart ached with want every time she saw him, every time they talked. “I need space. Just a few days,” Julia found herself typing to him, tears rolling down her face. She expected him to come back with witty banter, like he always would, but he seemed to sense something was different this time. “Are you alright?” Julia put the phone down for a second, wiping furiously at the tears that wouldn’t stop falling down. She was anything but alright. She typed back with a light joke, and then sent one word: “Goodbye.”
If only that goodbye was the last goodbye. That “space” only lasted a day, to Julia’s dismay. She couldn’t get him out of her mind. She checked her phone obsessively, waiting for his name to pop up on her phone, waiting for something. The day couldn’t go any slower without his stupid jokes that never ceased to make her laugh, without his smile, without him. Everything went on like normal. The minutes still ticked by, the sun rose and set, and life moved on, but Julia felt stagnant. Her heart felt heavy. Normally, she could dismiss her exes without second thought. Why was he different?
The next day, she found an excuse to talk to him. The conversation flowed like normal, and it felt right. If she couldn’t be with him, she had to at least talk to him. He still was the only one who knew how to make her laugh when her blood was boiling. The only one who listened and supported her dreams. The only one who’s hugs made everything right in the world. Her heart ached to be in his arms, and to feel his embrace. That may never happen again, but at least they could still be there for each other. There was a first time for everything. They could still be friends. Wanting him would dull eventually; she could handle that pain. But, she couldn’t handle the pure torment that came with the single, final word: Goodbye.