Small towns never change. The heavy, suffocating air of feeling like you're trapped in a bubble, the smell of the same coffee shops and gas stations that have been there for longer than you've been alive, the judging eyes of the people who've seen you grow up...and make mistakes. It's like watching the same low quality movie over and over and over again.
That's why people in small towns don't change either. Even those who leave get pulled back in like the tides being pulled into the ocean, almost as if against their will. In the past few weeks, I was finally starting to realize why everyone managed to return. People like Jayden, who had it all and still came back. They all just want the familiar. The safe. The known.
Not me. It might all be familiar, but it wasn't safe, and the only thing I did know about this town is that not only was I the center of the only tragedy that had occurred here in the past twenty years, but thanks to Grey, I was also the town's only Hester Prynne, with a big fat scarlet A tattooed on my forehead.
I stormed into the Fischer's mechanic shop with steam coming out of my ears. Despite the fact that I looked like I was about to commit homicide, none of the workers paid any mind to me.
"Grey's not here." The same guy in the tatty hat and jeans that I pulled aside last time popped his head over the open hood of a car.
"Do you know where he is?" I felt like I had to shout over all the clanging and banging and ruckus.
The man just shrugged and ducked back behind the car.
I groaned and stormed back outside, feeling the afternoon sun beat down heavy on my head. I racked my brain for places Grey could be lurking. The list was short in our small speck of a town, but my head was clouded with anger and frustration. I went to the beach by the fishing shop first, where only a few days ago I thought Grey and I could have been civil after our late night soul-bearing. Just another thing I was so pathetically wrong about.
Waves softly lapped up against the dark sliver of beach, and for a split second everything seemed to slow to a gentle calm. Exhaustion hit me, and I let myself drop to the sand, wrapping my arms around my knees and burying my face in my thighs. When I exhaled, I let the tension that had built up in me go. I felt a funny taste in the back of my mouth, almost as if my body was willing me to cry, but no tears came out.
I wasn't sure how long I sat there, listening to the waves and the occasional sea bird cawing, but a voice behind me cut through my peace like a blade.
I jolted up to see Grey, his hair a wild mess and something resembling concern veiled over his cold eyes. His face looked pale and sallow, and scruff grew in patches along his jaw. For just a moment, my heart fluttered at the sight of him, but then Jayden's words echoed in my head, and my fluttering heart shattered.
"You!" I marched up to him and shoved him in the chest. My anger, as usual, unfazed him.
"Everything okay?" That same unusual concern intertwined his words, and it ignited fire in my chest.
"No, it's not!" I snapped. "How dare you? Seriously, how fucking dare you?"
"Kennedy, I don't know what you're talking about." He held his hands up in defense, but nothing could have protected him from the hurricane I was ready to unleash.
"Jayden came into the coffee shop today." I stiffened up. The look in Grey's eyes flashed from concerned to agitation, but I ignored his glare and kept going. "Not that I was enthralled to see him, but he gave me a very interesting tidbit of information."
Grey remained silent as he crossed his arms over his chest. His nonchalantness only made my blood boil more.
"You know," I clicked my tongue. "Delilah told me something had happened between you two right after I left, but she wouldn't tell me what. Now I understand why. I don't know what I ever saw in you, but you're no different from Jayden."
A stinging sensation burned the backs of my eyes, and I knew tears were threatening to burst.
"Not only did you use our relationship to fuel this stupid rivalry you had with him, but you let the entire town know that I was really just some harlot who slept around and cheated on people!"
"I'm sorry, Kennedy." Grey's sighed. "I was upset and angry. I wanted to hurt you like you hurt me. It was four years ago - I'm over it, I don't know why you're not."
"Because this wasn't four years ago for me! This is all happening to me right now!" I felt hysterical, my face hot and my head pounding, but the tears still didn't come. "I feel everyone's eyes on me, judging me and speculating, and I'm realizing you clearly were not the person I thought you were. You keep saying you've grown up and you're over it but clearly you're not!"
I had just pressed Grey's self-destruct button, and his eyes glowed with a fury I had never seen before.
"No, you're right, I'm not over it," his voice was as calm as ever, but his words were filled with hurt. "I'm not over the fact that my sister is dead. I'm not over the fact that my parents left because they couldn't stand the sight of our house or this fucking town without her here. I'm not over the fact that you completely broke my heart and then abandoned me and left me to clean up our mess myself!"
I gulped hard. If he only knew the real story, I wondered if he would be more angry, or not at all. "Grey-"
"No," he hissed. "I have a god damn right to not be over it. You don't."
He backed away from me, the pain in his eyes still lingering. "Find your own ride to work. I'll let you know when the car is finished."
After he sped away in his Jeep, the eerie calm returned to the beach. Waves gently lapped against the shore, and a group of seabirds cawed overhead. And finally, I cried.
Whew! Finally seeing a vulnerable/angry side of Grey, and slowly but surely learning that maybe Kennedy isn't telling us the whole truth of what happened when she left. Any ideas?
BTW, this is officially my 2019 Wattys entry! Good luck to everyone submitting their own work!
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Grey Matter | ✓Romance
Kennedy McAlister knew she had to go home eventually. After graduating from UCLA and unable to find a job in California, she's forced to return to her small Alaska hometown of Finnick Island to help her mother run the coffee shop they own. Kennedy's...