I walked into the café and searched the room for Ty. The room stank with the smell of cigarette smoke and I had to fight the urge to cough, not wanting to make the other customers who were smoking uncomfortable.
He had texted me a picture of my bookmark. I don't remember how he could've gotten a hold of it but that's probably because I was too drunk to remember.
He had told me to come get it here since he was with his friends.
I finally found him at a booth with his mates, laughing at something his friend said while drawing in another drag of smoke from his cigarette.
4 years ago, the sight would've probably gained a disapproving look from me but after what had happened with Alex, I realized that everyone was allowed to live their lives however they want and it wasn't my place to judge their decisions.
I walked towards the group of boys and tapped Ty on the shoulder.
I could feel the other boys' eyes on me but I chose to ignore them, focusing solely on the reason why I'm here. I upturned my hand, palm side up, and looked at Ty, silently asking him to give back what was mine.
"Oh, you're here." Ty smiled lazily, scooting further inside the booth and patting the newly made space beside him. "Come sit, shorty."
I rolled my eyes at his nickname for me and stressed my hand by shaking it slightly.
"Oh, what's the rush, just have a sit first and say hi to the boys." He waved me off.
"Give me my bookmark, then I'll sit." I negotiated.
He weighed his options before shrugging and digging his pockets to fish out my bookmark.
The bookmark was a metal miniature shaped like an opened book that was connected to a chain with a glass ball filled with small red petals hanging on the other end of the chain. It was a birthday gift from my sister and I didn't want to lose it.
I slipped it into my pocket so that I won't lose it and was about to sit when, out of nowhere, I felt a hand grab my arm and started tugging me away from the table. I yelped in surprise and whirled around, getting a good look at the person who was manhandling me.
"Alex? What the-" I was cut off when he yanked me harshly and pulled me out of the café. Ty and his friends were booing from the table but, for some reason, they made no move to stop Alex from taking me away.
When we were finally outside, he let go of my arm. I shook it and rubbed at the spot where he grabbed me. It had turned an angry red.
"It's the fucking 21st Century, can't you be more civilized?" I scowled at him as I nursed my arm.
It didn't hurt that much. I was just annoyed at how he treated me. I knew we weren't in speaking terms but we weren't exactly in bad terms either. We just lost touch and didn't have any reason to revisit our friendship.
There was no reason for him to be so rough with me.
"Stay away from those guys." Alex said, deflecting my annoyance at him.
"What?" I frowned, taken aback by his sudden outburst.
"They aren't good people. If you know what's good for you, keep your distance." He said.
When what he finally said dawned on me, I looked around the area and behind me at the café we were in. What I quickly realized was that this setting did look sketchy.
The café wasn't the kind where you would invite someone to have coffee in. It was more like a hang-out joint for guys like Alex. The place had large windows that were open to allow the ventilation of air, which, I personally think is necessary unless the people inside wanted to choke on the smoke they had exhaled themselves.
I did see arcades and a foosball table. I guess the place was more like a pub more than a café. The people that were sitting in there, from what I could tell when I was briefly inside before I got unceremoniously dragged away by this caveman, were all the kids who would skip school and get into trouble. Kids like Alex.
I guess this is where he hangs out too since he's here now.
It took me a while to find my voice because I was too busy trying to figure out who I was talking to. I mean he looked like Alex but he didn't sound anything like him.
If I didn't know him, I would've thought that he sounded like he cared about what happens to me.
But that can't be the case, right? Not with the Alex that I know.
"Why are you doing this?" I asked him curiously. He wasn't the type of guy to stick his nose into other people's business. That was one thing that I was sure didn't change in him.
"I owe you. I'm just returning the favor." He said coldly as he regarded me with those steely grey eyes.
I looked at him and tilted my head to observe him closer. Maybe it was because I had nothing more to lose, but I found myself unfazed by his cold glare.
"He obviously doesn't have amnesia. He definitely remembers what happened between us, the kind of friendship we had, but how could this guy be so indifferent towards someone that went through all that with him?" I found myself thinking silently. He had avoided talking about the past with anyone that I had begun to suspect that he had memory loss but his earlier remark obviously proved my suspicions wrong. He definitely remembered how I helped him chase after my best friend 4 years ago. He promised me that he'll help me do a background check on any guy I'm interested in to repay me.
"Tell me whenever you have a crush on someone, I'll do a background check on him to make sure he's not a fuckboy," he had said. I had felt touched and cared for just by those few words.
Instead of speaking my mind, I just searched his eyes wordlessly until he finally looked away.
"If we're done here, I'll take my leave." He said in parting.
I acted before I could think about what I was doing and I knew I was going to regret this when I think back to this moment but I'd rather regret doing something than regret not doing something.
I caught the sleeve of his jacket and stopped him from turning away from me.
"Uh, I can't remember what you did for me at the party but I heard from Kimmy that you supposedly saved my ass, so thanks for whatever that was." I awkwardly said.
We stood there in silence as I fixed my stare at my fingers that was clinging onto his jacket. When I failed to get a response, I raised my head to look at him.
"Is that all?" He asked.
He gestured to my fingers that was still pinching the cloth of his jacket with his eyes.
"Oh." I said upon realization, letting go of him.
But before he could walk away, my hand shot out once again to stop him.
"What now?" He grumbled under his breath, turning towards me.
I flinched at the hostility and raised a finger. "Just one last question?"
"What?" His sharp and impatient tone made me gulp. I've never been so intimidated in my life.
What was happening to me. I've never been one to get intimidated. I'm Emily Waterhouse. I can't believe I'm letting a boy intimidate me. Dad would be disappointed in me.
I tried to keep that thought in my mind as I gathered up the courage to stand up straight and meet his eyes.
"Why do you think we stopped being friends?" I threw my question at him.
Judging by the single blink Alex gave me, I guess the question threw him off guard. It was a bit out of the blue.
Alex ran a hand through his hair and blew out air through his mouth as if he was trying to blow out all the toxicity in his being.
"You really need to learn to stop living in the past, Em." He sighed, finally looking at me.
"The world doesn't wait for you to keep moving. If you let yourself get stuck in the past and don't move on, you'll get left behind."
His sharp grey eyes plus the way that he said my name caused a bunch of memories to rush through my head.
I think it was the first time I've ever heard him say my name in 4 years. It sounded foreign and yet so familiar to my ears.
He was the first to call me Em. Everyone else used to call me Millie. I decided I liked how 'Em' sounded more and told everyone in high school to start calling me Em instead of Millie.
Of course, my family and a few of my childhood friends can't get rid of the habit of calling me Millie but everyone else had started to call me Em ever since then.
I was so caught up in all these thoughts that it took me a few seconds to register what he actually said. When it finally sunk in, though, I could feel the growing crease on my forehead and between my brows.
"Excuse me?" I asked. I didn't know why it kind of hurt me when he said that but it did.
I felt like he was saying that our memories weren't worth remembering.
That the memories that have haunted me for the past 4 years, the memories I have desperately clung onto to remember what happiness was, wasn't worth a second of his day.
He threw his head back in exasperation. I let go of his jacket in disbelief at how he was reacting. Was it really that much of a drag for him to talk about our old friendship? Was this what it has been reduced to in his mind?
"I don't know, Em. We just didn't click anymore? I don't know what you want to hear from me."
I stepped back at the stranger that was standing in front of me.
I didn't want to hang around any longer.
I didn't want the memory of the best friend I loved so much to get spoiled by this person I didn't recognize.
I side stepped him and walked past him without another word, feeling like I've been punched in the gut.