chapter sixteen

65K 3.5K 385


I heard someone call my name from Ben's room, once and then twice. At the third summon, I peeled myself off my crumpled bedsheets where I had been aimlessly staring at old photos of Jeffrey and me.

"What?" I asked, leaning against the doorway between our rooms. He looked up from where he had been slouching at the desk, staring at the screen of his space gray Mac. His hair was still wet from the shower, and his white T-shirt clung to his arm muscles, a bit sexily, I had to admit.

"I was stalking my own Facebook, which I haven't opened since, like, freshman year of college, and I stumbled on photos of us I didn't even remember existed," he began, clicking around on his keyboard, leaning back in the swivel chair. What a coincidence that he was reminiscing at the same time I was. "They're that old."

"How 'old' old?" I asked.

"2010 old?" He winced, as we were in eighth grade in 2010, and no one's fondest memories were formed in middle school.

"Just let me see," I huffed and tiptoed across his room, in case there were any more rogue chargers waiting for me to trip on. I sucked in a breath as he turned the earliest picture on his timeline to face me: a forced photo of us taken outside our tiny middle school, almost ironically on February 14, 2010.

I was just as fat as I had remembered, and my baby face, emphasized by a greasy ponytail, flared jeans, and a pink crew sweater and Converse didn't help my case in the slightest.

"Why do I look like an Oompa Loompa?!" I cried, the sight only growing worse the longer I stared at the screen.

"Forget the Oompa Loompa, I have Justin Bieber hair!" He jutted his hand to his side swept hairdo, almost completely covering his left eye. I hid my face and cringed so hard my shoulders ached.

"Ben, please, get it away from me."

"—but seriously, Sammy, I look like I could be his cousin."

I heaved out a sigh, dropping my hands by the sides of my boyfriend jeans. "Benjamin, for the love of Jesus, scroll upwards before I cut your hair like that in your sleep."

"Geez, woman, no need to be so harsh," he muttered and tugged a hand through his disheveled coffee brown hair protectively. He moved the mouse upwards, stopping when he reached the middle of 2011.

The sight of us was entirely different here; it was my fifteenth birthday on a hot late July day, and I had invited a small group of friends to celebrate in my backyard. Of course, Ben had made the two minute walk from his house for the free food, courtesy of my mother. He sat a few feet away from me with one of his uninvited hockey friends that had magically appeared by the bushes. In the photo, a wide but faltering grin graced my slimmer face and a dainty flowered dress hung against my body. It was the first time I had fit into a size small since before I even cared about clothing sizes.

"Are you okay...?" he asked, darting his eyes between the smiling face in the photo and the distraught one next to him. I snapped out of my trance and nodded, urging him to continue.

The next photo he stopped on was from late 2012, taken by one of our friends at lunch. In it, Ben had his arm wrapped around me with the goofiest grin on his face while I faked it for the camera, like I always did. I noticed Ben's jaw harden ever so slightly at the sight, as our whole dating facade was soon to be terminated by me.

We scrolled through a few more: some of his hockey tournaments, a photo of shirtless, lanky Ben at the beach that had us both cringing, and a post with him holding a newborn Ella and extending his congratulations to his older brother.

The last post he stopped on was from the summer of 2013. This time it wasn't one of me and him in a variety of stages of our life. It was him on a boat in Long Island, standing in the middle of his parents. He was the spitting image of his father, with the same tall stature, broad shoulders, defined jaw, and golden hazel eyes. His mother wore a carefree smile, her blonde hair blown back by the wind and her arm wrapped lovingly around her younger son.

Ben must've skipped past this picture when he was scrolling before, because he froze, his eyes attached to the screen as his fingers tapped lightly against the inside of his arm in a rhythm, where his tattoo was. I placed my fingers against my mouth and let out a small sigh through them, recalling numerous memories with his parents. They had treated me like the daughter they had never gotten just as much as my mother regarded Ben like the son she had always wished for. Mrs. Butler was there when I was too scared to tell my parents about the dumb things I did in high school or when I wanted to learn to cook something that didn't come out of my mother's Arabic cookbooks. And no matter how rambly my sentences were or how inedible my frittatas came out, she had always smiled and told me that it was okay.

I felt like if we looked at that photo any longer, we'd both begin to cry, so that was why Ben slammed the lid of his laptop shut, moved it to the corner of his desk, and sprung up from his seat. His eyes were the faintest bit red, but he licked his lips and released a wistful sigh.

"There's a reason why I don't use Facebook," he grumbled, leaning against the wooden desk and placing a fist under his jaw. "I think I was feeling too nostalgic today."

"You and me both," I mumbled, thinking about the fact that I had looked through all fifteen-hundred of my photos today. "Maybe it's because New Year's is so soon."

"Already?" he asked, cocking his head to the side in disbelief. "Didn't the year just start?"

"I feel like I say that every year. I mean, look at us. We've entered our twenties, and we're walking at graduation next year. Ella turns four in the summer, and Eric and Leila will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. Time is flying before our eyes."

He nodded pensively. "Those photos made me realize exactly that. And to think we've spent so many of them hating each other. I should know of all people how short life can be..." He swallowed and glanced to the side, shoving his hands into his pockets.

While before this moment, the last thing I would have wanted to do was look at photos of us from that long ago, I realized I needed this message maybe as much as he did. So, I took a couple of steps forward and took him by surprise in my arms, wrapping them around his waist. I leaned my head against the top of his chest, and he stiffened at first before bringing his hand to the back of my neck and slipping his fingers through my hair. I had always been tall, yet Ben somehow made me feel like I was pocket-sized in his sturdy hold.

"Do you think we should try to put all that hating stuff behind us?" I asked, tilting my head up after a few moments of hugging in silence. He chuckled and brushed a few drooping strands of hair away from my forehead.

"Do you believe I'm that much of a fool to think that'll really last with you?" he joked, and his lips tugged into a grin, exposing the tiny dimple in his cheek.

Gesturing to him, I replied, "See, the fact you know me so well makes it all the more better, Benjamin."

He grimaced. "Don't call me that."

"Right when you stop calling me Sammy."

"But it's cute," he whined. "Benjamin sounds old and ugly. It's the name of my great-grandfather."

"Yeah, but at least you have a nickname that makes sense for your name. Mine is pronounced Sum-uhrr. Where did you get Sammy from that?"

He huffed, rolling his eyes and staring up at the beige ceiling. Brushing past me, he mumbled, "Well, I'm glad the civility lasted a solid five seconds at least."

Always ThereWhere stories live. Discover now