The Unrequited(4)By: Saffron A. Kent
Caleb as the ring bearer and me as the flower girl. Caleb stopping in his confident but boyish stride to take my small hand in his, me looking up at him with a frown. Oh, how I hated him in that moment. Caleb flashing his adorable smile and me returning it, despite the frown, despite the strange surroundings, despite the fact that my mom was marrying his dad. I hated getting a new brother. I hated moving across town to a new house with no rooftop garden.
At the fork, the couple takes a right turn and I’m supposed to go left, but I don’t want to go left. I want to go where they’re going. I want to bask in their happiness for a while. I want to see reciprocation.
What does requited love look like? I want to see it.
I take the right turn and follow the couple.
It’s cold, so fucking cold. Also, dark—super dark, and the Victorian lamps flanking the street don’t do shit to light up my path.
But none of that deters me from taking a harried pace. I’m walking down Albert Street, heading toward Brighton Avenue where the university park entrance is. Sleep is hard to come by, especially after Kara mentioned writing about my unrequited love.
Once upon a time, six-year-old Caleb Whitmore smiled at five-year-old Layla Robinson. She didn’t know it then, but that was the day she fell in love with him. Over the years, she tried to get his attention without success. Then one night, in her desperate, desperate attempt to stop Caleb from going off to Harvard, she kind of, sort of…raped him a little bit. She’s not entirely sure. Caleb went off to college one month earlier than he was supposed to and Layla was stuck acting up. The end.
Two years later I’m here, walking the streets, feeling ashamed of my love, ashamed of having ever fallen for my stepbrother and then driving him away.
For the record, Caleb Whitmore isn’t even my stepsibling anymore. My mom divorced his dad a few years ago, but I think some stigmas never go away—like, you don’t sleep with your best friend’s ex-boyfriend, and you don’t date your friend’s brother. Caleb will always be my stepbrother because we kind of grew up together.
I don’t even have memories of the time before him. I can’t remember the house I lived in before I lived with him, except that it had a rooftop garden. I can’t remember the friends I had before he came along. I can’t even remember my own dad before his dad came into the picture.
All I remember is one day when I was five, Mom said we were leaving, and that I was going to get a brother. Then the dark days followed where I cried because I hated the idea of a sibling.
And then a burst of sunlight: a tiny six-year-old boy holding the rings on a velvet cushion, standing next to me. I remember thinking I was taller than him in my frilly, itchy dress, flowers in my hand. I remember thinking that I liked his blond hair and green eyes as opposed to my black hair and weird violet eyes. Together, we watched our parents get married, and together, we grimaced when they kissed each other on the lips.
It was beautiful, with white lilies and the smell of cake everywhere.
Now, I make my way toward the solitude. Slipping and stumbling on the transparent patches of ice, I enter the park. The cold wind curls around my body, making me shiver, but I keep going, my booted feet trudging through the snow. I’m looking for a particular spot that I like to frequent during the nights when I can’t sleep, which happens often.
Unrequited love and insomnia are longtime friends of mine. They might even be siblings—evil and uncaring with sticky fingers.
Frustrated, I stomp and slip, falling against the scratchy bark of a tree. Even through the thick layer of my fur coat, I feel the sting.
“Motherfucking…” I mutter, rubbing the burn on my arm. My eyes water with the pain, both physical and emotional. I hate this. I hate crying. I wipe my tears with frozen fingers and try to control my choppy breaths.
“It’s fine. It’s totally fine,” I whisper to myself. “I’m gonna be fine.” My words stumble over each other, but at least I’m not crying now.
Then I hear a sound. Footsteps on the iced ground. A wooden creak. Fear has me hiding against the tree, but curiosity has me peeking out.
A tall man dressed in all black—black hoodie and black sweatpants—is sitting on the bench, my bench, under my tree with the network of empty branches.
That’s my spot, asshole, I want to say, but I’m mute. Terrified. Who is he? What’s he doing here at this time of night? People sleep at night! I’m an exception though; I’m heartbroken.
He sits on the edge, head bent and covered by the hood, staring at the ground. Slowly, he slides back, sprawls, and tilts his face up. His hood falls away, revealing a mass of black hair illuminated by the yellow light of the lamp. It’s long and wavy, almost sailing past the nape of his neck and touching his shoulders. He watches the sky and I do the same. We watch the moon, the fat clouds. I smell snow in the air.