Authors: Lauren Pacaccio
"Braden asked me to marry him," I said, looking at Hunter. I wanted him to know that I was talking directly to him. And I said “yes.”
Hunter, already knowing the news, had no change in his expression. It was like he was waiting for me to say something like, "Just kidding. Hunter, take me now! And by the way, Braden, you have a gay name!"
But, I wasn't going to do that. I knew I had a choice to make, but I was not going to give Hunter the satisfaction of knowing that his kiss from the day before had phased me.
My parents seemed ecstatic. "Congratulations, you two!" They were saying. They came up and hugged Braden and me.
"I'd have to say," my mom was saying, "I knew this had to be coming eventually." She seemed happy, but not excited. She looked over at Hunter. "I imagine this must be quite awkward for you."
I could have died right there. "Mother," I said in a warning tone. "Why would you even say something like that?"
"Well," she said, shrugging her shoulders, "I know I couldn't have been the only one thinking it."
"It's called tact, mom. Learn to use it," I rolled my eyes and turned to Braden. "Wanna get out of here? Let the news sink in for them while we have some alone time?"
I heard Hunter snort. Braden turned to him, "May I help you?"
I was shocked. He never did anything like that.
Hunter seemed shocked, too. But, he chuckled to himself, "I was just going to say that you should ask Pay to bring you to the old park just around the block."
And he walked out.
My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe he would say something like that. And with the stupid “Pay” thing to add. I closed my mouth right when Braden turned to face me.
"An old park, Pay?" He put air quotes around "Pay." "He has a nickname for you?"
I nodded and rubbed my eyes. "Yes. He's called me that ever since we were 13. I told him to stop, but he won't listen."
"And what's the business with the old park?" Braden was curious. Not jealous. Just curious.
I looked at my parents and back at Braden, "Could we talk about this once we get out of the house?"
My parents got the message. "Um, I'm sure we can find something to do, right Sarah?" My dad said, looking at me. He was giving me the you-owe-me-one look. I winked at him.
Braden and I got bundled up enough so that we wouldn't freeze when we walked to the park. He had said that he wanted to go to the park Hunter was teasing me about, and I didn't have a good enough reason to say no.
Once we got there, Braden went straight for the swings. "Take a seat, my lady," he said, smiling. I stood by the swing, and kissed him before I sat down.
He started pushing me and I got higher and higher. "Alright, so, Paise," he said, "what's so important about this park?"
"Do you really want to know?" I asked, not wanting to tell him. It's not like I wanted to hide anything from him. I just didn't want to start a conflict. I hated conflict. And I loved Braden. I didn't want anything to ruin that.
"Of course. I want to know everything about you. I honestly already thought I knew everything there was to know about you, but I'm starting to think I don't, 'Pay.'"
I flinched. "I'm sorry, but please don't call me that. I only let Hunter do it when we were dating and that was only because, at the time, I thought he was so adorable that he could call me anything. But, since then, I've asked him many times to not call me that, but he won't stop because he apparently likes to torture me."
He grabbed the swing to stop it. I stood up and faced him.
"What's up with this park, Paise?" He put his hands on my hips and looked down at me.
I put my forehead to his chest and took a deep breath. I looked up at him again.
"This is the park where we met. I was on that swing, right there," and I pointed to the swing I had just been in. "We were both 13. I didn't have many friends. Neither did Hunter. He talked to me and we became friends, and when we were 14, we started dating. He asked me to be his girlfriend by that slide, right there," and I pointed to the slide that was a few feet away.
Braden was nodding, taking everything in. "More?" I asked, not really wanting to continue.
"If there is anymore?" he asked, and I nodded. "Then, go on, please."
"I was sitting on that bench over there," I pointed to a nearby bench, "is where he kissed me for the first time."
Braden went to speak, but word vomit spilled out. "And, over there, in the third parking space,"
I pointed and started to tear up, "is where he kissed me yesterday."
Chapter 14: 50 Ways to Say Goodbye
"So, he kissed you?" He said, looking at me coldly. I could see him getting a very hurt expression on his face. He swallowed and rubbed his eyes while saying, "He kissed you, right? You didn't kiss him back."
I looked at him guiltily. "Paise, no," he said, backing up from me. He was shaking his head. "You kissed him?!" He yelled. I jumped back. He started pacing.
"Paisley," he said, yelling, "how could you do this?! I loved you. I was going to spend the rest of my life with you, and before we even get married, you kissed another guy?!"
"Bray," I started, tears forming. "Baby, I love you so much. I'm so sorry. That's why I told you. I'm so sorry. Please, just look at me."
"How do you expect me to look at you when I can't even stand your voice right now, Paisley?" I was stunned.
"Fine," I said, walking up to him and grabbing his hands, "then let's not talk."
And I pulled him towards me as hard as I could and pressed my lips against his. His lips were flat and hard against mine, but once I started kissing him and doing the little things I knew he liked, he started to relax and let the kiss happen. In between kissing, I backed up so I could lean against a pole. I roamed his body with my hands and just kept kissing him. We were having a full blown make out session, in the middle of the day, at my favorite childhood park.
His hands were all over me and then I suddenly felt him stop. "What? Wait," I said, breathlessly. I held his face in my hands. "I love you so much. So so much. Just kiss me. Please."
He looked over at parking spot I had pointed out only minutes before and then he looked back at me. He took my hands off of his face and held them in his. "Look, Paisley," he said, dropping my hands and putting one of his on my cheek. He looked very sad. "How can I stand here, kissing you, knowing that yesterday, you were doing the same thing just a few feet away with another man?"
"It was just a kiss, Braden. I promise you! That's all that happened. And," I said, leaning my face into his hand, "Once I realized what I was doing, I stopped and slapped him."
"But you still kissed him back," he said, just looking sad. His thumb brushed away a tear that had fallen. "I'm sorry, but I can't…" He dropped his hand and turned around. I watched him walk away. I felt like I would never see Braden Abernathy ever again.
I ran into the house. Braden wasn't there, neither was his car. I couldn't have stayed at the park for that long.
Once he walked away, I felt my heart breaking. I felt like I was about to pass out. I looked down at my ring. My beautiful ring.
And that's when I completely fell apart. I dropped down to my knees and sobbed. Why did this always happen to me? Why was I always the one being walked away from and left to cry?
I decided that if someone saw me crouched down on the ground, they might think I hurt myself, so I decided to go sit on the bench and calm myself down. I ended up crying a little more. I took my phone out of my pocket and called Braden.
It went straight to voicemail.
After I cried my heart out and then cried some more, I decided that I was not going to allow someone else who was so important to me to walk out of my life.
That's when I started running.
And I didn't stop until I made it to my old home.
Like I said, his car was gone. I ran into my room. His bags were gone, too.
He had really left.
I collapsed onto the bed and just cried.
I'm not really sure how long I was laying there when I felt the bed shift under someone else's weight.
"Braden?" I said, sitting up quickly, wiping the snot off of my face.
"Not exactly," Hunter said, looking very guilty and very upset. I rolled my eyes.
"Listen," I said, lying back down. I huffed pathetically. "I am really not in the mood to deal with you right now. Congratulations, Hunter!" I said; my speech was a bit muffled by my pillow.
"Congratulations for what?" he said, sympathy in his voice.
"You got your wish. Braden and I are no longer getting married. I told him about yesterday and he…he…he walked away," and I started hysterically crying again.
I felt strong, warm arms wrap around me. He made me roll over so that my head was resting on his chest. "I'm so sorry, Pay. I'm so fucking sorry. I didn't realize that you actually loved him. I'm sorry," he was rubbing his hand up and down my back and squeezing. "I didn't think you would be hurting this much if he left. I would have never, ever kissed you had I known you were engaged and that you actually liked Braden. I half-thought you made him up, until you showed me the ring."
"Why are you holding me, Hunter? Why won't you let me go?" I wasn't pushing him off, but that was only because I was too exhausted to try. And his arms were so comforting; I partially didn't want him to let me go.
"Pay," he said, kissing the top of my head and speaking softly, "don't you get it? I love you so much. And, the last time you were like this, I actually left you alone. I'm not doing that again. I'm going to stay here and hold you until you stop crying. And then," he added, squeezing me even tighter, "I'm going to keep holding you until the world feels safe enough again for you."
I didn't know what to say. He wasn’t flirting with me at all. He was trying to be as comforting as he could be.
And I did exactly what he said I could. I cried. I bawled. I cried until there were no more tears. And the whole time, Hunter held me, rubbed my back, and gently whispered, "That's right, Paisley. Let it out. It's all going to be okay. I'm never leaving you again. Let it out, let it all out."
Finally, I was all cried out. I shifted and looked up at Hunter. He looked very tired and I realized that it was actually starting to get dark outside.
Hunter looked down at me. "Oh, Pay," he took his hand and ran in down the side of my face, "I'm so sorry I did this to you."
I thought about it. "Hunter," I said my voice hoarse from crying for what felt like days, "it's not your fault. I knew it was going to happen. I knew, when I stepped into this house, when you saw me half naked, when we rode around town on your motorcycle, when we slow danced in the book store, and when you hugged me that we were going to kiss. I just," I hiccupped, "I just never thought that when we finally kissed again, I would be engaged to someone else," I sighed, "and plus, I could have stopped you when you touched my face like you're doing now, but I didn't."
He pulled his hand away, looking guilty. I grabbed the hand that had just been lightly touching my cheek. I lightly kissed each finger. I sat up a little more so I could be level with his face. I took the hand that I had been holding and placed it on my lower back. His arms were wrapped around me again.
I put one hand on his face. I whispered, "I love you, Hunter." His eyes lit up. They were as bright as they were when we were together. And I did what I didn't realize I had been waiting four years to do. I kissed Hunter with everything that I had in me. We fell into the same, easy and amazing groove that we had when we were 18. Our heads tilted and tongues parted lips. I could taste him. His taste was something I recognized. There was something sweet and spicy about it. His hands started moving, but once again, I couldn't even focus on exactly where they were going. I pulled off his t-shirt and kissed his neck, chest, and every piece of skin I could see above his jeans. Next, I ran my fingers down his muscled chest and stomach to the waist band of his jeans. I remembered this. I remembered the first time this had happened. We were both so nervous, but excited. And ready. My shaking fingers had unbuttoned his pants as he took of my shirt with trembling hands. This time, however, I boldly went to unbutton his jeans and waited for him to take off my shirt like he did so many years ago.