thirty six - finito

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Nigel said yes and I'm waiting for him on a bench outside the same diner I met with Ivan and Colby.

I'm just finishing my cigarette when I see him, a smile appearing on my lips. He doesn't look like he wants to be here.

"Our table is in there, I just needed a smoke."

Nigel nods and doesn't say a word. I remember how much he hated the fact I smoked. He follows me into the diner and we sit down at a table across from each other.

The waitress comes by and fills our mugs with hot coffee, asking if we need anything else. I shake my head.

"I don't have much time," Nigel says while grabbing his coffee mug, "this is going to be all for me." He takes a sip.

I roll my eyes. "You said that yesterday."

He shrugs and toys with a sugar packet between his fingers.

"I miss you. I was devastated when I saw that our old apartment was up for rent. I'm so alone out here," I tell him.

He shrugs again. "You have Ivan."

I look over at the booth where I sat with him and Colby. It's empty but dirty dishes and napkins remain from the last party there.

"That's a long story I don't want to talk about," I say while taking a sip of coffee.

"Okay. Quite frankly I don't want to talk about anything with you either."

"Than why are you here? I cock my head and wait for his answer.

He taps the coffee mug with his fingers, a tinny sound. "I don't know."

I'm kind of getting annoyed. I keep my mouth shut and sip my coffee some more instead.

Out the window, I see Ivan. He looks like he hasn't slept in four days and his white tank top is torn and dirty on the collar.

Nigel doesn't notice, but I see him come in the diner. I hold my breath.

"There you fucking are!" Ivan rushes up to our table and causes the entire diner to look. "I need to talk to you, badly."

"Look, I'm just going to go," Nigel says, already standing up.

"This your date?" Ivan puts his hands on his hips and steps back to get a good look at Nigel.

Nigel shakes his hands, saying "no" about four times. "An old friend from foster care."

I drop my shoulders when Nigel leaves, Ivan immediately taking his spot at the table.

"I can't believe this," I mutter.

"Listen, sorry, but Colby's pregnant and her dad found us a new place in Virginia."

I almost spit out my coffee. "That's kind of far away, don't you think? Are you going?"

I see Ivan's mood shift. "We're on our way now. I made them stop cause I said I was having diarrhea but I was really just looking for you."

As if today couldn't get any worse, I grab his wrist. "You can't leave..."

He pulls his hand away and closes his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Eliott. Undoubtedly you were the best thing that happened to me but I need to work with my family here. You don't understand."

I hold my head up by my hands, my surroundings feelings fuzzy and small.

"I love you," Ivan says quietly, peeking between my arms to see me.

Then fucking stay here with me, I say inside my head.

I fight back some tears and stare into my mug of coffee.

"Alright, go and do this for your family then. I'll always be here." I'm not sure what else he wants me to say.

And so he went. They all went — except me.

•••

THREE YEARS LATER, and I'm living on my own in a new city thousands of miles away. Shortly after Ivan left, after Nigel left, after Kylie left, I picked up the remaining items I had left and moved to California.

I knew the cost of living was expensive. A few months after everyone's departure, I scored a job in a small, up and coming office as a cafe associate. Since it was in the "bad" part of the city, I didn't expect it to thrive for that long — but it did. I got out of the cafe section very quickly and I worked my way up to a first level manager, overseeing about 12 employees.

The business moved to California, right outside San Francisco, so I followed. The funniest part of all of this is that the regional manager of this company was Michael - the man who practically saved my life the one morning in the alley.

"You two just look so similar to me," my co-worker Abigail told me one morning with a stack of papers in her hand. Michael and I were standing shoulder to shoulder, about to head into his office to have a meeting.

Michael just smiled and laughed, playfully pushing my shoulder. But that's when I really got a good look at him and it hit me. His smile, the way his eyes curve, the shape of his face.

I almost doubled over on the floor. He's the one who kept promoting me year after year, giving me a position I was severely unqualified for on paper. I felt dizzy and nauseous but pushed through the meeting with him, examining his mannerisms and facial structures far too intently.

As it turns out, during that year's Christmas party, he opened up to me about his long time girlfriend many, many years ago and the baby he never got to meet. I watched tears well up in his eyes.

"All I ever wanted was to be a father, but after Megan and I broke it off, I never found anyone else worth spending my life with," he said before wiping his face with his hand.

I felt heartbroken. The next few minutes was a huge rollercoaster of emotions. I looked him in the eyes — which were way too similar to mine — and told him that he was my father. I could see the ground breaking in front of him and he pulled me into a hug.

We took the DNA tests together the following February and it was confirmed. Michael is my father.

Now, we live together in California with Ivan and his daughter. Sometimes it's a little awkward having my father live with my boyfriend and I, but it's the least I can do after all of these years, and Michael is a genuinely kind and sincere man. I'm so honored to finally call him my father.

Ivan was able to get full custody of his daughter and somehow managed to escape Virginia with her soon after. At the time I was just getting ready to move, and he got in touch with me through the phone number I was about to disconnect.

As for Nigel and Kylie, they're just a big piece of my past for now. I wish them the best and think about them often, but none of us contact each other.

I've grown a lot. I'm happy with where my life is right now. I'm with my father and with the love of my life, and soon-to-be our daughter.

I wouldn't want it any other way.

The End

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