"He's here," I told Skull in near tears when we got to the balcony. "I don't know why but he's here."
Skull grabbed my shoulders. "Calm down, Hannah. Calm down."
A tear escaped my eye and I brushed it away. "Terry said he wouldn't be here. She said that his parents told her when they RSVP'd that he was busy with university to come."
"How many glasses of wine did you have, Hannah?"
A laugh bubbled out of my throat. "I don't know? A bottle maybe? I sneaked one from the table because I... I needed liquid courage, Skull. He caught me so off-guard that I didn't know what to do."
Another tear fell down my cheek and Skull's arms went around me, pulling me close to him. I sniffled and buried my face into his chest.
"I'm going to ruin your suit," I mumbled wetly.
"It's alright," he mumbled back. "I'll hold you until you get yourself together, Hannah. And I'll stay by your side. All night. I won't let you out of my sight and I won't let him near you again."
"You know something about him, don't you?"
He didn't answer. I had a feeling that he knew more than he let on. But I didn't ask further. Because I was in so much pain that it was all I could think of. It made the tears keep falling down my face and my body went slack on Skull.
I lost time, not knowing how much time had slid by, not caring as I cried. Until I started to care. Because this was Terry's birthday party. I couldn't ruin my bestfriend's special day by freaking out like this.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to compose myself.
"You never really forgot him, did you?" I heard Skull say.
Fresh pain sliced through me. My body jerked with it and Skull's arms gave me a squeeze.
I lifted my head to look at him.
"How can I?" I cried out. "When he's everywhere I go?"
- - - - - - - - - -
I didn't pine over Asshole Will.
I refused to pine over people who hurt me.
In front of everyone, I was still the same cheerful Hannah that they all knew. Even alone, I f****d myself to cheer up, that a lot of people had it worse than me. I only had a broken heart. Leon, Terry and Skull had it worse. Hell, even eternally pissed Rohan had it worse than me.
So I wasn't going to dwell on my pain. I was going to move on. I was definitely going to forget about him. Especially since I was getting busy with college applications and actually studying so I could graduate senior year. I even already made plans with Sophia since our first university choices were the same. So yes, I was going to forget about him just like he asked me too.
But as much as I wanted to, I couldn't.
How could I when I kept meeting and seeing him?
My mother had partnered with one of the Carters' restaurant chains during the summer to cater for her company and promote our jewelry brand. It was a year long special event where people would share photos of the company's event space inside the restaurants on social media to enjoy complimentary drinks and food. And my mother had f****d me to oversee the creative installations, saying it was practice for when I would be working for our company and because I was good at art.
I had wanted to do it at first. But when she told me whose restaurant chain it was going to be, I balked at the idea. Still, she pretty much nagged at me to do it until I relented.
- - - - - - - - - -
"You told me you didn't see him whenever you had to go and work," Skull said in a disapproving voice.
"I didn't want to worry you," I muttered. Ever since the last time I cried on his shoulder, he had made it his mission to take care of me. He had my back the rest of junior year and throughout senior year. And I was afraid I'd disappoint him if I tell him that I wasn't completely over Will.
"I'll worry, yeah," Skull told me, patting my back. "But I'll trust you."
I smiled at him. Then went on with my story.
- - - - - - - - - -
The next time I saw Will again, it took everything in me not to run out of the restaurant.
I didn't know whether he knew I was here, he was talking to the manager near the counter, but if he approached me I wouldn't know what to do.
Somehow, I had managed to put on a serene expression on my face and tried to put my complete focus on making sure that the sterling silver designs were where they were supposed to be. Only when my job was done did I allow myself to search for him. And luckily, he was gone.
The second time was a week later at another branch of their restaurant chain. He kept watching me while drinking coffee across the room. I felt his stare bore into my back as I worked around and I desperately prayed he would leave.
Wasn't he supposed to be at Harvard? Sure, it was just like a couple of hours away by car maybe but wasn't he supposed to be busy? A lot of people did say college was no walk in the park.
But it seemed that that wasn't true. Because we kept meeting. I kept seeing him. Everytime I went to the restaurants during the weekends to work, he was there, watching me.
I didn't understand why the universe was doing this to me. When I wanted to be near him, the universe conspired to keep him away. Now that I wanted to forget him, the universe was mocking me by letting me see him all the damn time.
And where was Elaine? His girlfriend? More than once, I had overheard the restaurant staff gossip about him and his family but Elaine's name never came up. Had they already broken up?
Not that it was my business. He wasn't my business anymore.
- - - - - - - - - -
"What did Terry and Sophia say about this?" Skull asked as he juggled to keep the compact mirror steady in his hand while the other held my small make-up bag. "You did tell them about him right?"
"Hold it still, will you?" I asked as I put on a fresh coat of lipstick. I couldn't go back to the party looking like a wreck. "And yeah. I did. Because they both started to notice how much I dreaded doing my job at the restaurants and since Terry knows who owns said restaurants, she put two and two together and figured I wasn't really over Will."
"She must be unhappy."
"Very unhappy. I made her promise not to keep secrets from me ever again and yet I wasn't doing the same." I reached out to make Skull lift the mirror higher and checked my appearance. "She called Sophia over for an emergency sleep over and I told them everything over buckets of ice cream and junk food. Then she nagged me about how I should be professional and forget Will while Sophia hand-fed me spoonful after spoonful of ice cream and told me that maybe Will still liked me. That maybe, like Leon, he had some circumstances that was preventing him from being real with me."
Skull laughed. "Terry nagged her too, didn't she?"
I straightened. "She did," I said dryly. "Terry said that Will didn't have a past trauma like Leon. That he needs to man up. Because if he doesn't and if he keeps hurting me, she'd do something about it."
"Terry's only concerned of you."
"She is," I nodded. "But I don't want her doing something about it. She might make things worse."
Skull sighed when I finally permitted him to lower the mirror. Leaning against the balustrade, he asked, "What happened next with Asshole Will?"
- - - - - - - - - -
"You're very beautiful, did you know that?" a man told me with a slight leer. "Do you want to have a drive with me later?"
I resisted the urge to knee him where the sun didn't shine. Because was he seriously hitting on me right now? I knew who he was. And I knew he was very married considering that I had seen him put his wedding ring inside his pocket when he was approaching me. And I knew he was a total sleazebag.
My mother was holding another one of her company dinner parties. A lot of her clients had been invited and this sleazy bastard's wife was one of my mother's biggest client. My mother would probably break out into hives if I disregarded protocol and take this sleaze down. So I went on trying to be civil and cordial to him even though it was killing me.
"No, thank you," I replied. "Now if you will excuse me, I have to go. My mother's looking for me."
I tried to walk past him but he had a hand on my arm. "What do you want? Money? Jewelry? Because I can give you everything you want and more if you keep me company tonight."
He must be joking. I was probably richer than this sleazy bastard.
He must have taken my silence as agreement because he tried to pull me close to him, even tried to take a peek through the top of my dress. I thought about screaming, to hell with protocol but then Will appeared like a knight-in-shining armor that I didn't need.
"Please keep your hands off our guest, Mr. Jacobs," he said in a tone with underlying anger and threat. "Or else, I might be moved to remove them myself."
Laughing nervously, sleazy bastard let me go and lifted his hands up. "We were just talking about jewelry, William."
"And may I remind you that it's my cousin's best friend who you are married to," Will told him sharply. That piqued my interest. I thrived on gossip and drama. "So if I catch you removing your ring again–"
"Alright, alright," sleazy bastard pulled on his ring in panic. "I'll... I'll see you around, William."
Then he was gone. Leaving me and Will alone for the first time together.
"Is this your restaurant too?" I asked after a long moment of silence.
"It is," I heard him say.
Damn it to hell. How many restaurant chains did this guy's family exactly own?
"You probably think I deserve that," I said bitterly. "For wearing a low cut dress—."
"Are you alright?"
My eyes flew to him. There was concern on his face, concern and anger. I wanted to laugh. Because why now? Why was he concerned for me now?
But instead, I stared at him.
And stupidly said, "I missed you."
I watched him close his eyes. So slow that it seemed like years had passed before they closed.
"Did you miss me, Will?"
He didn't answer.
"It's an easy question, you know," I said through the pain in my chest. "A simple yes or no would suffice."
His eyes opened. He looked at me. But he still didn't give me the answer I wanted.
Because despite myself, I had secretly hoped that one day, he might approach me while I was working in his restaurant and ask me out for coffee. Or just ask how I was doing. Or tell me that he was sorry. That it wasn't just me. That he liked me too.
The entire past months, I had been under the assumption that maybe he was always watching me because he liked me as much as I liked him. That he still needed time to break through whatever it was that was holding him back.
But it was clear now. He really didn't think much of me.
I f****d myself to smile at Will.
Because I didn't deserve this.
"I hope I'll never see you again," I told him with all the sincerity I could muster.
Then I turned around and left him.
- - - - - - - - - -
"So you never saw him again?" Skull clarified.
I shrugged. "For weeks, I didn't. But tonight..."
"Did you talk?" he asked when I trailed off. "Before you downed the wine bottle?"
Tears pricked my eyes once more when I nodded.
- - - - - - - - - -
"I don't understand why you have to bring the brats," I told my mother. She was trying to keep my excited younger siblings still and was holding on to them to make sure they wouldn't run off. "Where's Dad?"
My mother sighed. "He's coming. He got caught by traffic."
"I look pretty in this dress, right Hannah?" Lyza, my younger sister by four years, worriedly asked, holding up her skirt.
I smiled at her. "Of course, you are. I chose that dress for you, remember?"
Someone tugged on my hand and I looked down to see the youngest, Ivy. "I look like a princess, right?" she asked after she took her thumb out of her mouth.
Before I could answer, Alfie, the third Austin child, spoke with a sneer on his face, "She doesn't look like a princess. She looks like a toad."
That was the wrong thing to say. "Take that back, Alfie!"
"Alright, alright. Let's not cause a scene," our mother admonished them.
But the brats had already began their quarrel. Lyza and I exchanged glances and quickly sneaked away, knowing that it would escalate soon. Lyza found her friends and went giggling off somewhere with them. Terry and John were still in the receiving line of the party and the others had yet to arrive so I mingled with some friends from school as I waited for them.
I was admiring the tall champagne tower at the corner of the ballroom when someone spoke behind me.
That voice made me freeze on the spot. I could feel the thumping of a heart somewhere in my chest again for the first time in weeks.
"Can we talk?"
Slowly, I turned my head. It was Will. Handsomer than before. Wearing a black suit that made his blue almost purple eyes stand out.
"I thought I made it clear that I never wanted to see you again," I said in a shaky voice.
"You did. But I need to tell you—."
"I don't care," I cut-in sharply. I whirled around to face him fully. "I don't care anymore. You had so many chances to tell me whatever you needed to tell me. And I'm done. You'll just keep apologizing anyway and then brush me off again. Go back to your Elaine. Don't talk to me anymore."
"We weren't dating."
I drew in breath.
"Elaine and I, we weren't dating each other, Hannah," he repeated, his eyes glittering and searing into me. "She lied."
Too late. It was a little too late for him to tell me this.
"I have a lot explaining to do. And I'm hoping you'd give me a chance to—."
"Break my heart again?" I snapped.
He immediately shook his head. "No. If you'll let me—"
"No," I cut him off again. "No more. No more of your apologies. No more of you."
"Please, Hannah." He tried to reach for me but I stepped away from him. "Please let me explain."
"I wish I'd never met you," I told him vehemently through the lump in my throat. "I wish you'd never helped me at the park. I wish that I never fell in love with you. I wish... God, I wish you just didn't exist. So please. Do me a favor and don't appear in front of me again."
He grabbed my arm when I tried to leave. "Hannah, I lo—."
I pushed his hand off and ran away before I could hear the rest of what he was going to say. Before I could do something stupid. Before I cave.
Before I forgive him again.
- - - - - - - - - -
"You keep a mean grudge," Skull pointed out.
"I guess I do," I admitted.
"Sophia had a point though. Maybe Will had some circumstances that's stopping himself—."
"Don't," I cut him off painfully. "I don't want to think about maybes and ifs anymore. That would only make me hope. And I'm tired of hoping."
Skull understood that. The feeling that he knew more than he let on crept on me again but I pushed that thought away.
"But why now?" I asked bitterly as I stared at the balcony doors. "Why is he pushing himself towards me? When I think I have almost forgotten about him, he appears. Why wouldn't he leave me alone? Why is my stupid heart still yearning for him?"
"The heart never forgets people like that."
My gaze jerked to Skull. He was looking at the ground with small, melancholic smile on his lips.
"You never forget people like that."
I let out a cynical laugh. "Even if those people don't deserve our love?"
Skull lifted his head.
"Unfortunately," he answered.
Then I remembered.
Skull too had an unrequited love with someone.
And looking at the expression on his face, he never really forgot about her. He never really moved on. Which was why he never gave me the same advise as Terry. That I need to move on. Because he understood all too well the feeling of liking someone who would never like you back.
"Whoever she is, she sucks," I told him loyally. "Because if I wasn't in love with Will, I might have fallen for you."
He laughed low and shook his head. "I know. I'm just too irresistible."
I slapped his shoulder. "I'm serious," I hissed, leaning towards him. "Because you're a great guy. Even though you can be such a d**k, you are."
This time, his laughter was much more genuine and I smiled.
After awhile, we returned to the ballroom, the both of us forcing smiles through the pain in our hearts.