Orange Sunflowers

by Von Williams

I knew something wasnt right. I knew it from the moment I woke up, with a strange feeling in my stomach. I knew it when I saw he hadnt been online for almost four hours. I knew it when it took him six more hours just to respond.

Nick and I had broken up on Sunday, but it was the following Thursday when I had the strange feeling. While out breakup wasnt horrendous, it sure wasnt a mutual decision.

Jackie, please dont do this, he said to me, staring in my face on Skype with tears in his eyes.

I have to, Nick. This is what is best.

No. He shook his head, while looking down.

It is! And one day, youre going to find the true love of your life, and just make sure you buy her flowers and hold her hand I knew I was being unfair. I knew quoting that song would hit a nerve with him, but I didnt care. I just wanted to make it clear that we were over and never getting back together.

Before I could continue quoting any more, Nick dropped his head in his hands, and began to sob mercilessly. I could hear the pain in his pleas, but I knew he deserved more than this just like I did. There was a banging on his side of the conversation that momentarily halted his cries. Because of the time difference, it was about 4:00 in the morning for him someone had hit the wall to let him know he was being too loud.

We eventually had to end our Skype session, because he had class the next morning. I spent almost the entire night with my roommate, Faith. She laid next to me in my bed, just talking about all that just happened.

I have always been a deep sleeper. One of mine and Faiths favorite stories is when we had a fire alarm go off in our apartment complex, and I slept through it. If it wasnt for Faith, I would not have woken up at all. But the day after Nick and I broke up, I woke up at 6:30 am; for no reason other than my emotional distress. I spent almost two hours just walking around the apartment, because I had no idea of what to fill my time with. Previous to the break up, most of my time was spent speaking to Nick, due to the long distance and time difference. Now, all I could do was pace. To the kitchen, to the living room, to the kitchen, to the living room, to the kitchen to the living room, to the kitchen, to the living room.

The next few days crawled/creeped by in a blur, but when I awoke Thursday, I had a bad feeling. I knew something was wrong. Because of Nicks depressive tendencies, I would check to see if he was online, just to make sure he was okay. But for most of Thursday, he was not online, but I had received no bad news. Faith assured me he was not coming, and my mom and sister thought he wouldnt be that reckless. When I didnt hear anything from him Friday, I began to feel better.

I went to college in Lexington, but worked on weekends in my hometown. I drove home Friday night, so I could spend time with my mama and talk about all that had happened this week. The next day, I woke up early and went into work.

At 4:15, I walked outside of the store and breathed a sigh of relief. I had offered to stay an hour longer so another employee could go home early because she was sick. I made a few purchases for Christmas shopping because of the sale that day. I had planned to go to my sisters, Lacey, house to have dinner with her husband and his family. I walked to my car, and put the bags in my passenger seat. As I pulled my strap from my purse over my shoulder, I heard a faint Jackie to my right, and my head whipped around in surprise.

I saw the familiar charcoal-colored trench coat and beige khakis. I saw the navy argyle sweater and tan plaid scarf. I saw his copper skin and deep brown eyes. I saw the small bouquet of orange sunflowers in his hand. I saw my ex-fianc smile at me, when he was supposed to be 4,000 miles away from me. Of all the times in my life I had been surprised, nothing comes close to what I felt when I saw him walking towards me. I could feel my heart pound in my chest, my stomach sink into the ground, my mouth gape open in shock. It was as if I was looking at a ghost of someone who died long ago.

I felt like I had almost an out-of-body experience. I remember running towards him, taking him in a close embrace. I remember crying into his shoulder and repeating the words Youre here, youre here. I remember touching his face and looking at him in disbelief. However, I do not remember consciously making these decisions. All my actions were not from pre-planned, rational choices, but from a knee-jerk reaction from not being mentally or emotionally prepared to handle seeing him in person again. The shock of his presence was enough to make me revert back to before we had broken up back to when we were happy.

Eventually, I quieted and he was able to speak. Nick explained that he had flown here the first chance he had, and hired a car to drive to my hometown. He flew in Thursday evening, and was staying in a hotel in Lexington.

Ive been here for hours. I had to come, I had to see you.

But why? Were broken up, were done I said, catching my breath between phrases.

I came to win you back. He handed me the sunflowers. I know they arent much, but theyre all I could find. They were rather small flowers and orange instead of my preferred yellow ones, but still my favorite nonetheless.

Theyre still sunflowers, though I smiled and put them on top of my car, trying to process all that was happening. IIm meeting my sister for dinner with her in-lawsI have to go What he said next, Ill never be sure of, but I knew I had to call my sister and let her know what was happening.

As I reached for my phone in my pocket, Nick asked me not to tell her that he was here. I told him that I had to. I called my sister, and in a few sentences I explained what had happened. There was a brief pause and then a clear, but fuming, sentence came next: Tell him to get out of the country; now. I didnt know how to respond, but then I heard her say: put him on the phone.

I gestured the phone to Nick, to let him know she wanted to speak to him, but he backed away from the phone. He doesnt want to talk, I told Lacey.

She replied: Im giving the phone to Brent, and tell him to talk to him, right now.

For the second time, I gestured the phone and said aloud Its my brother-in-law. At that note, Nick fled from the phone, as if Brent could come out of it and hurt him. I wasnt sure what Brent had said to the air between us, but I spoke to my sister and told her I would be at her house soon.

After the phone call, there was a moment of tension, both Nick and I unsure of what to do next. Through speaking to my sister and hearing the muffled threats of my brother-in-law, it soon hit me that Nick coming here without telling me, and waiting outside my work to surprise me was not okay. It was a violation of my privacy.

He walked toward me and started to hug me again and I said, assertively You cant just come into my world you cant do that.

He sighed and hugged tighter. We can work this out, Jackie.

Dont touch me! I pulled away from him. And my names not Jackie. I stood firm, and didnt turn away from him. At this moment I was angry, how he didnt take what I wanted into consideration he only cared about himself. He wanted to come here, be the hero, and get the girl to run away into the sunset. But thats in the movies and this was real life. Real life is a hell of a different story.

He kept pleading with me, until I eventually cried out I dont love you! I could see the pain in his eyes, buried in disbelief. It was a lie, of course I still loved him; more than I had ever loved anyone. But I was willing to say anything to make this go away to make this all just be a dream.

Yes, you do, he said to me, with just a hint of doubt.

I grabbed the flowers and shoved them in his arms. I dont want these.

I got these for you, he protested.

I opened the door, and got in the car. I dont want them!

Then just throw them away, theyre yours.

Its too late! You should have gotten them for me a long time ago.

I shut the door, slammed my key in the ignition and drove off, tears streaming down my face.

On the way to my sisters house, I recounted the story to my mama and my roommate. They were both equally shocked and angry. I spent the entire drive replaying all that had happened, as if I was in denial of whether or not it was real. I had hoped I had hallucinated the entire thing, but I knew that was too good an idea to be true.

That night, I was still in shock and none of the facts had quite hit me yet. He was here, in my country, in my state, in my hometown, at my work. He came into my world uninvited, and I had no idea when he was even leaving. My sister was a southern Baptist, and didnt have any alcohol in her house so I relied on my cigarettes. Regularly, I may smoke once or twice a day, but that night I smoked almost an entire pack within 4 hours.

That night, through discussing my dilemma with Lacey and her mother-in-law, I decided that I would regret not seeing him at least once, to get closure for both of us. I messaged him that night:

VON: I have two questions.

VON: 1) Have you changed your flight yet?

VON: 2) If not, would you be willing to meet, in public, at a restaurant tomorrow?

VON: Nobody will know, I promise.

NICK: Are you going to bring anyone?

VON: No. Just me. Nobody will know.

NICK: What time? Also, Im scared if I do come, your bother-in-law and sister will be there and I will get harmed.

VON: 7:00. And I swear they wont know, and will not come. We will be in public.

NICK: I will only come if I get to speak to the Jackie I was speaking to before you called your sister.

NICK: Not the one I spoke to afterwards.

VON: Okay, I understand. Where are you staying? We can eat somewhere close.

NICK: Message me tomorrow as to where you want to meet and I will meet you there, I guess.

VON: If you dont want to meet, we dont have to.

NICK: I want to meet but like I said, Im only going to come if 1. No one else but you is there and 2. I speak to the Jackie whom I surprised this afternoon.

VON: I promise you both of those things. But you need to realize two things:

VON: 1) We arent getting back together.

VON: 2) We are just getting closure. If you still want to meet, great. If not, I understand.

NICK: We can meet tomorrow sure, but like I said, Im not giving up.

VON: Okay. See you tomorrow.

The next day I had to work my usual shift at the clothing store, but the entire day dragged on. Thankfully the Christmas season was coming up, so we were busier than usual. I went home to get my stuff and drove to Lexington to speak to my roommate about everything.

When I walked through the door, she said nothing she just got up and hugged me tightly. As soon as we unembraced, I said Im going to see him. Tonight.

She sighed and stared at me questioningly.

Look, I have to do this. If he leaves, and I never speak to him I could regret that for the rest of my life. Were meeting in public, and it wont even be that far from our apartment. I have to do this.

She nodded her head in understanding and gave me another hug. I couldnt stay there long, because I needed to leave at 6:30 to make sure I got there on time.

I smoked two cigarettes on my way to the restaurant. Nick actually chose where we ate a British-style pub we frequently visited when he came in August.

We met at the front door and made small talk on the way to our table.

I gotta be honest, I said when I sit down, Im a little nerv

Youve had 7 days to talk, now its my turn, Nick interrupted, with an angry tone in his voice. He pulled out a letter he had written me, and decided to read it aloud in the restaurant.

Hi Jackie. Before you say anything, I am going to talk. You may not like what you are going to hear and youre going to want to interrupt me but dont. Listen to everything I have to say. Youve had the whole week to speak but now its my turn

Hi guys, our waitress came up right at that moment, My name is Christy, and Ill be your server tonight. Do you know what you all want to drink?

Look, can we have a few minutes, please? Just to talk.

Yeah, of course, she said. She walked away, and Nick looked back at me, and continued his letter. It was then that I noticed his hands were shaking. I didnt let that affect my emotions I was not here to let him influence me, even if his trembling was genuine.

Who I am speaking to right now and who I have been speaking to since last Sunday is not Jackie. It is your sister, brother in law and whoever elses mouthpiece. You are letting them influence your decisions and thoughts. Not one thing you have done since the breakup has been yours. Look at the facts. Go look at everything you have said and done over the past 7 days. Not one of those things is coming from this Jackie. He pulled out his phone, and showed a picture of me from a few weeks ago, where I was blowing him a kiss.

You may not trust me anymore, but that is no reason to break up. Youre afraid that God gave you the one so early on in your life. Youre afraid of what might happen in the future and youre just going through the motions in the present. I know you love me and I know I am the one for you but because there have been people brainwashing you, you are thinking otherwise. Saying I am not, saying all this sort of other stuff. Youve always been looking for a reason to end it, look at all the times and things you would worry about. Whether I would find someone else in France, the distance, whether or not I will be able to come to America and work among other things. Just look.

Jackie, Ive been waiting for you for my whole entire life and now youre here and youre taking yourself away from me. Running away because youre afraid because of insecurities and past experiences. I made mistakes, heck Im not perfect but I am fighting for our future Jackie. I am fighting so damn hard. I could see when I surprised you that you still love me and that you were so happy to see me.

We are not each others lessons but blessing. It is fate that brought us together Jackie. We are meant to be together. Im not settling for you, never have and never will. I proposed to you because youre the girl I want to marry, be with and spend the rest of my life with.

I flew all the way here for you even though you didnt want me to, he made sure to use air quotes for those four words, which is responded with a glare. I did that because I love you so much, it is a decision I made alone, I did not have anyone telling me what to do, I was already 100% sure I was going to coming to see you.

Fate does exist Jackie, but it only takes you part of the way because once youre there its up to you to make it happen. I have just as many insecurities as you Jackie, just as many. Im also afraid of what the future holds but I know it has you in it as my wife, the mother of my kids.

Im here till Saturday, if by then you stop listening to everyone else and want to be the person I fell in love with, you know how to contact me but if not, once I get on that plane Ill know that you were too afraid to accept and acknowledge our love and that you let everyone else run your life. I will never stop loving you and I will never love again because you have my heart, you are my life, my soul and my everything.

He put the letter down and stared at me. I guess Ill go now. He started to stand up, but I chimed in quickly:

Wait. I have a few things to say, too.

I look down at my notebook that I brought the notebook that used to be for all our wedding details. Thanks to the internets advice of how to deal with a breakup, now it was a list of all the qualities of Nick I wouldnt miss. But a few pages past that list were some questions I had for him, myself.

I would like to point out, that even when you are here to win me back, I matched his use of air quotes, I still am not a priority.

He looked at me dumbfounded, of course you are a priority why do you say that?

Because earlier today, I found out I got off of work earlier than I anticipated, and I asked if you wanted to meet at 5:00, but you said you were busy. Busy doing what?!

School work! I had a project due at midnight Sunday night, so I had to turn it in by 6:00 here.

And you couldnt have worked ahead?

I worked all day on it! It was a major project.

I just looked down.

And another to bring up, in your letter, you spoke about how my family influenced my decisions of the past week. How is that so, because my sister didnt know about our breakup until Tuesday? My mama didnt know about it until Monday? They didnt influence me!

And another thing, too! You said you believe God brought us together, but how can you say that? You dont even believe in God!

I am trying! I have prayed every day this week, trying to figure it all out. I was even planning on going to church tonight, but then you planned to meet up here. See, you are a priority.

I scoffed. Where did you even find the church?

A woman I met on the plane, asked if I wasnt doing anything Sunday at 7:00, to come to her church. I was going to, until we decided to meet. It is sad that even this woman, who may or may not even be real, who had so little influence in Nicks life, made me feel a singe of jealousy. I ignored that feeling and continued.

Look, I love that you are

The waitress came back. Are yall ready yet?

Look, Nick said to her. Can we please have just, 30 more minutes? Thank you.

She smiled uncomfortably, and said sure, no problem.

I continued. I really love that you are trying to find a religious guidance. But I have been praying to God, too. Every day since we broke up and asked Him if I was doing the right thing, and I really feel like I trailed off because Nick stood up.

Look. He spoke as he backed away from the table. I cant listen to this, okay. Youve clearly made up your mind.

He walked away and didnt look back. I felt embarrassment and rage rise from my stomach to my chest to my face. I grabbed my notebook and purse and walked out the door. He was unlocking his rental car when I yelled at him across the parking lot: Next time you contact me, police! I am absolutely certain that the people in the parking lot, as well as the customers in the restaurant, heard what I said. I didnt care, I was just hurt.

I was hurt that he couldnt last ten minutes of arguments with me, that he said he would fight for me, but proved he didnt have the nerve to. He made me feel like I wasnt even worth an hour of his time even though he had flew all this way to win me back. He understood the importance of our meeting that night, how he should have been careful and how it could have been the last time we ever saw each other in person.

Jackie, wait! I heard him yell from his car. And I did. Because the gloves were coming off and I was ready to fight.

What?! I yelled. I stopped next to a tree, planted in the fake grass in the parking lot.

He approached me, and started immediately apologizing.

Im sorry! I just got angry and left. I let my anger get the better of me.

I dont care! I was shouting, but I couldnt care less. People were staring at us as they walked by, but secretly I enjoyed it. I enjoyed Nick seeing what he did to me how upset he made me.

You blew it, dont you get it?! You left. I am not even worth ten fucking minutes of your time?!

Thats not true!

You see what you do to me? I pulled out my notebook again, turned it to the last page of the list and read aloud: How he never made me a better person. Get it?! You bring out my stubbornness, my bitchiness, my anger. You dont make me better!

I dont see how, he replied in desperation.

Dont you see me? Im making a scene in the parking lot!

He came toward me, but I pushed him away, do not touch me! Dont touch me! I was furious and was no longer afraid of hurting his feelings.

Lets go back inside, then. Please.

No! There was no way I was going to go back inside to face the humiliation that I would feel, seeing the faces of the waitresses and customers. I knew they could hear us, and didnt even want to face them. We had a chance to eat, and you blew it! Dont you get it?!

Im sorry, please can we just talk?

Fine. Then can we please go to my car? Im really cold. And I actually worked for eight hours today, I thought to myself.

Can we go to my car? he asked.

No. No way. My car.

He agreed that was a better idea and we went to sit in my car. Once inside, he began to look around and chuckled.

Your car is still so messy,

I laughed quietly, yeah, but its still better than when you came. You can at least still the floor.

He glanced around the interior of the car. Wowthe last time I was in this car

I was dropping you off at the airport, I finished for him. I looked at my lap, and then at him. Do you want a cigarette?

Oh, yes please. I rolled down my windows and handed him one. I offered him the lighter, but he protested: ladies first. I lit mine, and he lit his. We both took a long drag, and then resumed our conversation.

We can work this out, Jackie. I know we can.

How? I asked. You keep suggesting that, but you arent offering any real, concrete answers.

We can go to counseling. I can pay for it.

You cant afford that. Wait, no, your parents cant afford that. I had heard my sister mention something similar, and thought it was an accurate fact to point out.

Well, I can pay them pack. Im not going to give up on us.

But isnt the fact that I want to give up prove that I am not the right girl for you? Dont you think you deserve someone who will fight tooth and nail to keep you?

I can fight enough for the both of us.

But you wont. You proved that in there, when you walked out.

Im sorry! I let the anger get the best of me.

I dont care! You talk a big talk, but when the shit hits the fan, you dont live up to your word. For example: in Dijon, when we thought we were breaking up after the semester, we talked about how it would be kind of interesting if I were to get accidentally pregnant, because then we would always be connected. But when I actually had that pregnancy scare when I got back to the States, what did you say? You wanted me to have an abortion.

He glared at me in exasperation. This incident had happened nearly six months ago, and we had been over it umpteen times. He was tired of hearing his mistakes. But thats just because having a kid at that time in our life wasnt right, he replied.

Im not trying to rehash the past, thats not the point. Thats just another example of how you like to talk big, but you can never live up to your word. Like tonight.

Im not going to give up. Until my last breath, Im not going to give up.

But you did. Dont you get it? You fucked up, sweetie.

I know, and Im sorry. But Im still not giving up Im going to fight for you, for us, for the rest of my life.

But you didnt. You left me! Am I not worth even ten minutes of your time?! I began to cry, but didnt hold back any words.

You are! I let my anger get the best of me.

Dont you get it?! You make me feel worthless! Even in Dijon, I cut myself when you said I was bad at sex!

I never said that! he shouted back.

I asked you to rank me, and you said thats not fair, practice makes perfect. What the fuck was that supposed to mean?!

But I didnt mean it like that!

If you were to throw a ball, and it accidentally hits a window, its still your fault though, right?

He paused briefly and said, I dont like that analogy.

Then what would you say? I asked, as I tried to control my breaths.

Im not sure, hmm he said in his condescending tone. Nick would always say things as if he was thinking deeply, when he was just trying to make the conversation light and buy more time to defend himself.

You cant handle me which I get it, honestly I do. Im stubborn and loud and bitchy. A cunt, sometimes, I gestured towards him.

I never said that!

Sorry, I didnt mean that. I just meant that you liked the word.

I do say it often he trailed off.

You just need to find yourself a soft-spoken girl, who wants to be a housewife. He was shaking his head in disagreement, but I continued. Because honestly, that is what is going to make you happy. You dont want a loud, dramatic, assertive, bitch.

But I want you, Jackie. All of you.

But you dont. Whatever 1% chance you had tonight, you blew it the second you stepped outside that door. My cigarette was finished, and I put it out on my side mirror. Nick did the same.

What if I told you I moved on? I lied.

He stared at me. You havent. I know you havent.

What if I told you I was in love with someone else? I lied.

You arent I can see it in your eyes. Even with all the shit we had been through, he knew me. He knew all my poker tells, my little idiosyncrasies that I didnt even notice. We were in love for so long, and spent so much time just talking, he truly knew me probably better than anyone else.

I exhaled deeply. Youre right. There isnt anyone else. I almost wish there was, it would be so much easier that way. I looked down.

But you still love me? he asked.

Of course I do! But, that doesnt mean Im the one for you, and you are going to find her, and be so happy we didnt work out. Not that Im making light of this, but its like in How I Met Your Mother. Youre Ted, and you think Im the one, but really Im just Stella a road block.

No, youre not. Youre the mother! There is no other girl for me, because the one is the girl Im looking at.

I checked the time, it was 7:50.

Look, Ill give you ten more minutes. And then well say our goodbyes.

Please dont. Just a few more. I want to know whats going on in your life, how school is and Faith. Can we at least go out to eat somewhere? Maybe Qdoba?

I was tempted, but my willfulness kept my actions in check, no. You had a chance to eat with me, and you blew it. Sorry, eat when we leave.

Then give me just a little more time.

Why? I asked. What more do you have to say?

What do you want to hear?

I sighed in frustration, whatever else you have to say.

I know I can earn your trust back, Jackie.

You tried, but you blew it. You left. I checked the time again. 7:53. Seven minutes.

You are the love of my life, my soulmate. Anyone else I am with, I will just be settling.

Youve always said that Im your soulmate, but I dont even understand what that word means. I may have said it back, but just because I didnt want to hurt your feelings Im sorry I lied, really I am. But you arent my soulmate, Nick.

You still love me, though.

Of course I do, I sighed. Im sorry I lied yesterday, when I said I didnt, I was just flustered and angry and I didnt mean it. But we cant be together.

Another brief pause of silence.

Give me your hand, I told him. He complied. This was just for closure, so we can accept that were over. On my last syllable, he pulled his hand away from mine, with a deep pain spread across his face.

No! Im going to fight for us.

I sighed quietly, but you didnt. And you wont. What happens if were married, are you going to leave for every argument we have?

No! I wouldnt divorce you over something like an argument.

But you left tonight! You knew how important this night was. This could have been the last time we saw each other and you fucking left me! I was crying again.

Yet another brief pause. The time was 7:58. Two minutes.

Just dont give up on. Please, I cant lose you.

You can, and you will.

I came here for you. My friends in France all understand why Im here. Ive asked them all week, and they just kept saying you know what you want to do, why are you asking me? I came here for no other reason. Because I love you, and I had to win you back.

But you didnt. You left.

I checked the time again. 8:00.

Okay, times up, lets get out.

Please, Jackie, he pleaded, but he still fulfilled my wishes. We walked to the front of the car and I leaned in to hug him, but he backed away from me.

Listen, Im going to try to hug you again, and if you dont, Im going to get in my car and leave.

I leaned in, and took his embrace. I tried to focus on every detail: from the stitching on his scarf next to my face, to the smell of his favorite cologne, to the sound of his words in his South African accent right by my ear. I let go, but he continued to hug tighter. I didnt push him away, because I knew how hard this was. I didnt want to say goodbye all I truly wanted to do is cry and kiss him and tell him how much I missed him and go back to his hotel and make love to him all night. But I knew that was not was best, for either of us. This was our closure, and we had to end in cleanly and clearly.

I pulled away and looked in his eyes one last time. We said our goodbyes, I got in my car, and he stood and watched me drive away. I was livid, hurt, miserable and relieved all at the same time. I will never forget the hopeless look in his face as I pulled out from my parking spot and looked back in my rearview mirror: seeing a broken man, who forgot how to cherish a woman he loved.

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