I was working on some sketches for an upcoming game we were designing. Ever since our argument about moving in together, Michelle had given me a lot of new assignments that even more experienced game designers in the office were longing after, probably as a way of apologizing. Somehow, that made me even more reluctant to start working on them.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. I wasn’t exactly expecting company, with Allie ready to burst at any moment and mom and dad had been coming by every weekend.
When I went to the door, a young, red headed woman was standing on the porch. She seemed somehow familiar.
“Hi, can I help you?”
She smiled. “Hi, I live next door to you. Did the mailman happen to drop off anything for me here? I’m expecting a package, but I was at work.” “Sorry, I got nothing. I was at work as well.” She sighed. “Ah, well, that’s what we get for making money, right?” She gave me a half-smile and suddenly, it hit me. I’d seen that smile before.
She looked confused. “Yeah. How do you…” Suddenly her eyes widened. “Oh my God, Enzo!”
We quickly decided to catch up and sat on my couch.
“This is so crazy,” Hester said. “The world really is a small place, huh. You must’ve just moved in, right?” I nodded. “About a month ago. What about you?” “Two years ago. I got a job as a waitress. Not exactly a dream career, but you know, it works for now.”
“So uh…” I was a little hesitant to ask her this for some reason, but I still really wanted to know. “Are you still with Zack?”
She smiled a little. “Nope. Definitely got out of that as soon as I could.”
“Good,” I said. “He didn’t seem like a very nice guy.”
Hester sighed. “Well, not long after you left our group, he started… Using more. And more, and more.” She shook her head. “It was a bad time. He was mean, violent sometimes, even. And it made me so scared. I wanted to leave him, but I had nowhere to go and I didn’t want to make him angry by leaving. Luckily, my aunt got in touch with me and said I could come work at her restaurant in Willow Creek. So, I took my chance, and left. Best decision ever.” She looked a little embarrassed, suddenly, and her pale cheeks turned red. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to make this a therapy session.”
“Oh, no, it’s not a big deal,” I said quickly. “I’m glad you told me. And I’m glad you’re doing better now. You know, after the last time we talked, I was really worried about you. I kicked myself so many times for not offering you to stay with us, or help you out in any way…” “You were fourteen, Enzo. You couldn’t have done anything.”
“Maybe. But I wish I would’ve tried.”
We talked for thirty minutes, which turned into an hour, which turned into two hours. It was great to catch up with Hester and see how much better she was doing now. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I’d always hoped I’d run in to her again someday. And now she was my neighbor!
“I think I should be going,” Hester finally said.
“All right.” I was actually surprisingly sad to see her go. “But,” Hester continued, “maybe we could… get a cup of coffee sometime? Or lunch, or something?”
It took a few seconds for me to register that she was asking me out on a date. “Oh,” I stuttered, taken aback. “Uhm. I’ll have to check. With my boss. My girlfriend. I mean, my boss. I’m seeing my boss.”
Hester frowned disappointedly. “Oh. All right then. Well, I guess I’ll see you around, Enz.”
I walked with her to the porch and watched her walk over the lawn to her own tiny, old house. I felt bad for rejecting her. Also, I felt like Michelle definitely wouldn’t decline a cup of coffee offered by an old friend, on account of her dating her employee. Maybe I should’ve just… said yes?