My feelings for him have yet to diminish….

Eden loves John.
She realizes with a sudden sinking feeling, that her feelings for him have yet to diminish.
Even after all that passed.
She still thinks “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is bullshit.
Sure, Eden can admit that John was the best thing that happened to her. She overthought things, always agonized by anxiety; but every touch, every word, every moment they shared was an affirmation of the intensity of their connection. In his arms, she felt tenderness and devotion that could only be described as love.
For her.
Her memory is tempered by a bittersweet sense of resignation and regret.
Because she knows that she can never have him.
Not then.
Not now.
Not when he was so deeply in love with another.
The weight of his engagement is a heavy presence in the air. Pictures on social media reveal his fiancée as petite and willowy with high cheekbones, eyes that twinkle with laughter, and silky hair that falls past her shoulders. Like John, she holds an intangible quality that sets her apart from everyone else. It’s no wonder they’re together. All that charm and grace forms a seamless, harmonious whole. He’s tall and handsome, with a lure that is allayed by warmth and kindness. She’s subtle and ethereal, and her poise offsets her favour. Together, they embody something divine.
Nothing like when John was with Eden. Eden always figured they were an unlikely and thereby complementary pair, two halves of a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Crazy kids who could’ve made it so long as they stuck together.
But John didn’t want to stay.
And no matter how badly Eden wanted, she couldn’t make him.
Even now, Eden can’t help but wonder what might have been, if only things had been different between them. It takes nothing to remember him because he’s someone she can’t forget. Her life has always been — and remains — a bleak, lonely trek onward. So even if she wanted to, she couldn’t forget John: the sole silver lining. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t go back in time, change his mind, make him stay…
It doesn’t make a difference what Eden wants.
But she does want to get through this. Although her heart is heavy with bittersweet memories, she agreed to meet him.
As a friend.
After all, they agreed to be friends. John promised her.
Sadness wells inside Eden as she faces how they’d lost touch despite that promise, how much she’d missed him in their time apart.
How easily he moved on.
How easily she was forgotten.
If he didn’t care to be with me, why would he care to keep in touch?
Eden can’t blame him. She still felt a profound sense of abjection as she recalled when he broke up with her, even now as he approached her. Unworthy of love no matter how much love there once was.
Or seemed.
As high as Eden climbs, she remains unknown and unwanted. She has always been a burden that people prefer to be rid of. The reality of this bears down on her even as she makes peace with it. She comes to accept herself as ugly and expendable. This never changed — and would never change — no matter how devoutly she wretched, splurged, or starved herself; whether she dressed up or down; if she masked or modelled respectively. Every flaw and imperfection that she possesses is magnified a thousandfold which casts a shadow over her, duly casting her as small and insignificant in the eyes of those around her.
John saw that Eden could never say or do the right things. All she did was cling and ramble, laugh whenever she failed to shrug, and still try to hold her head high, look him in the eye as she mused aloud about his depth.
He seldom said her name. When he did, she fell to pieces.
It was probably for the best that he never said other things. Like the things she said.
I love you.
No one else makes me feel like this.
I want to be with you.
Only you…
If John said these things, she would’ve been too far gone.
Besides, what good was him saying them anyway?
They’d be lies.
One thing he said still haunts her: “I’m sorry I couldn’t love you the way you loved me.”
The salve and salt in the wound. The words had hung in the air and choked all else in their wake. They evinced how he patronized her, this fiction of his inadequacy meant to pacify her when she was the one who loved, so it was enough even if he loved her less, if at all.
More than enough.
For her.
Eden sits alone at a table in the motel diner. She stares at the chipped Formica surface. The noise of other patrons and clank of dishes is far away, just like the smell of fried grease and stale coffee, although they accent the transience of her surroundings. Her only company is the hum of the neon sign.
Until John appears.
He looks different, but so much of the same.
The same piercing gaze that unnerves hers.
The same beauty marks that freckle kissable exemplars.
The same hands whose veins stand out against tawny skin like delicate, winding rivers.
Eden resolves to dispense with the necessary pleasantries: congratulate John, flatter the fiancée, tell them they’re both lucky to have each other, extend a hand to shake despite how clumsy and awkward she feels in comparison. Make light of her feats until their appraisal became an invitation to be immodest.
Except John is alone.
For a second, Eden feels a twinge of hope stir within her.
Only a second.
Eden casts her gaze to another, then another, looking to the tough customers, wondering if they’re here for the same reason she was; if all motels are in essence like this one, a maudlin kernel of arrivals and departures. Every time a door opens or Eden finds herself in the company of others, she hopes to find someone special; but no one she sets her sights on fits the bill. Which leaves her to retreat to her books and movies.
And memories.
She recalls clicking and cruising to no avail, drawing blanks when pressed to describe what she seeks: a vague craving for intimacy that emanates from deep within; not just for someone, but a sanctum who held.
But this is too much to ask.
Even for the guy who set the bar.
Eden wonders what these patrons ask for.
John pulls up a chair. “It’s been a long time.”
She smiles, clears her throat, and hopes her voice doesn’t carry the weight of the years gone by. “Yeah, it’s been forever.”
“How’ve you been?”
“Well, you know…”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, I’ve got a job,” she gulps. “Not the dream job, but it’s a decent contract; and I’ve got my own office.”
“And, you wrote a book?”
“I’ve published four books,” she corrects. “I’m in the process of revising my seventh manuscript.”
John whistles.
“One was for my last contract and a part of my financial aid.”
“And, the other six were for fun?”
She bites her lip. “What’s your idea of fun these days?“
“Still climbing,” he says. “Anything you like here?”
It takes Eden a moment to register John means the diner. He glances at the menu, scans the specials, weighs his options.
“Should we wait?” She looks to the door. “I mean…you’re not here alone, are you?”
“Why, do you think I need adult supervision?”
Eden narrows her eyes. “What are you doing here alone?”
“The same thing as you, I imagine.”
“No, we’re not the same — ”
“I never said we were the same. I said — ”
“I wanted to see you,” she admits. “It’s nice to see you.”
“It’s nice to see you too.”
“You look nice. I mean, you look healthy and happy.”
“You look like you haven’t been sleeping,” he offers. “Your eyes are still sunken.”
Eden rolls her eyes.
John smirks. “Come on, you walked right into that.”
“Well, it’s nice to hear you’re still sharp for your age,” she smirks back. “Nice to see you’ve found someone else too…and she’s got nice eyes.”
“Yeah, she does.”
Eden swallows hard. “So, tell me the story. How’d you meet? How’d you pop the question?”
“Not much to tell,” he replies. “We met through a friend. I proposed on New Year’s.”
Eden sips at her cola. It’s a clever cover since her eyes begin to sting. So does her heart as it swells with a feeling she can’t name. It’s neither anger nor jealousy. It’s just as if a door has unlocked within to release a part of herself she fought to stash.
The more John talks, the more she realizes how much that part takes hold.
He describes how he met his fiancée: stumbling on a pile of shoes and jackets near the entrance; striking a conversation as these items spilled from a closet. They felt obliged to tidy them. John was hooked once he caught a note of her laughter. It hung in the air after dinner. She had the gait of a swan and a black rim around her lips that she took great pains to edit out of photos.
Everyone liked her, he said. She seemed to have a way of getting along with everyone.
In spite of herself, Eden asks: “So, what does she do?”
“She’s a pharmacist.” John replies, then mercifully adds: “But she’s no interdisciplinary doctorate with professorships and what — a hundred books and admirers?”
Eden nearly spat out her drink. “Admirers?”
“I’m sure you’ve had a bunch.”
“What makes you so sure?”
John musters a small smile.
Eden shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Her focus drifts away from this indiscretion as the inelegance of this slight settles over her. To stave away the pain of words unspoken, she leans into a song playing in the background. The melody echoes in her heart until she finds herself in another time and place, a world where love is the only thing that matters. The sweet strains of the music wrap around her like a warm blanket.
Like his arms.
John grins. “I see what your fans write on your site. I see the way people look at you during interviews.”
“You must’ve noticed,” he muses. “You always had a way with people. So many wanted you. It’s like you bring light whenever you’re around.”
Eden snorts. “You remember dumping me, right?”
“That doesn’t make things any less true.”
“They’re all playing second to work anyway,” he says. “Are you any closer to tenure?”
“I think so,” she reflects. “I applied to some postings. I still teach. I do some senior courses now and lead discussion groups.”
“And you enjoy it?”
“I can’t complain. Seeing my name in programs, publishing, winning awards, getting raises… It’s gratifying.”
“It’s what you wanted.”
I wanted you. I still want you.
“It takes a lot of time,” she sighs. “I don’t get much time for myself. When I do, I watch a movie. Like always.”
“Don’t you go out with friends?”
“I don’t have friends.”
Ava and Mia were long gone. It took no time at all for their calls and visits to become scarce. They got so lost in love and life. They never found their way.
Just like everyone else.
John motions for a waiter to take his order. His eyes never leave Eden’s face as he waits for them to arrive. He orders a coffee. She accepts a refill.
He turns. “No boyfriend here?”
“No girlfriend?”
She shakes her head. “I have a hard time making connections.”
“That’s understandable,” he observes. “Relationships aren’t easy.”
She almost mutters, “Do you love your girl? Are things easy?”
John likes her a lot. She’s funny. They get along. She teaches him things. He teaches her.
Eden forces herself to nod. A wistful smile tugs at the corners of her mouth as he speaks of his happiness. Each word pangs that the love she felt for him was never returned. She murmurs, low and hesitant, to ask what burns in her heart, between her legs. “Does she make you happy in every way?”
His eyes meet hers. “I’m happy with her, Eden. In every way.”
The words cloud the space between them like a heavy veil. Eden wonders if he’s telling the truth or merely trying to spare her feelings. His words are firm, but there is a hint of something else there too, a flicker of desire that lingers, like a spark that waits to ignite.
“But it’s not like us,” she presses. “Nothing will ever be like us.”
“Of course not.”
Eden struggles to keep her composure. Her lips quiver. Sadness threatens to spill over. The pain and longing inside her is too much to bear. Her heart is too full to contain its aches.
Her heart has no place to go.
John reaches out. “Why are you crying, Eden? What is it that you want to say?”
She can no longer hold back the tears that well inside: “I missed you, John. I missed not seeing you, not touching you, not breathing you in. I wanted you all the time even when we were together…”
“I know, Eden.” Although he softens with concern, there is a hint of uncertainty as if he knows that her admissions may shatter the delicate balance between them.
She takes his hands in hers. Her fingers thread through a small lifeline in the midst of the storm of her emotions. “I missed this too.”
“Are you really happy, Eden?”
Shaking her head, she shrugs off the query. “What difference does it make? Even if I wasn’t happy, it doesn’t mean you can’t be.”
“It makes a difference.”
The server returns with his steamy mug, then replaces her empty glass with a full and fresh one. She parts her lips to take a drink, savours the chill on her tongue as the ice melts against the insides of her cheeks. The frigid sweetness is a welcome respite.
Her tight smile unravels.
Steady hands reach for her purse. Her heart flutters to release what she conceals. She retrieves her phone without hesitation, scrolls after a few glances.
She holds it out to John. “You were right.”
“I was right?”
“It takes time.”
It was always time. That was one thing he had on her. Still does. John is older, so he knows better. He feels less. Time taught Eden to tailor her composure. She came to learn that emotions are muted by time and circumstance. Finally, she understands what people meant when they called her mature for her age. All her love for movies, the aversion to the real in favour of the imagined, disconnected her from the scenes that played before her.
Even the photos on her phone. Her eyes fix on the pictures as if they’re memories from a past life.
The old Eden would tremble to pinch things into focus. The woman she has become lets her fingers dance. A small smile twitches her lips. It doesn’t reach her eyes.
“His name is Cain,” she says. “Funny enough, he’s got a cousin named Abel.”
The passion and dedication she poured into the event was evident in every detail, from the artful decor of the venue to the placid albeit proud wardrobe. Cain stood by her side, admiring her profile, with an arm slung around her waist. Her figure was accentuated despite the loose, relaxed fabric that rippled over her torso; and studs in her ears that complemented the knobs on her jeans which clung to her like a second skin. She liked that shirt. Cain eyed what appeared to be a scar that peeked above the rim. Even though she dressed casual, he wore a formal suit.
An homage to their first date.
“I wanted to see my last boyfriend in a suit, but I didn’t,” she admitted. “We were supposed to go together to a formal thing, but he never took me.”
He leaned in. “I’ll wear a suit for you. I’ll take you places you’ve never been.”
“Cain is a doctor,” she says. “I mean, you didn’t ask, but…you know, I figure it’s rude if I’m the only one who asks questions.”
John’s mouth opens slightly as if he’s about to speak, but no words come out.
“We matched online,” she goes on. “After you left, every therapist and self-help book told me I’d feel better if I just put myself out there. So I did.”
For a few seconds, John simply stares at the photo, studying the details of the image as if trying to make sense of what he sees. “You guys look great together.”
“Yeah, I know.”
The night they met, Cain transformed his place into a drive-in. His condo was an open concept, walled by bamboo partitions as it sprawled to a windowed terrace. He docked his phone on a projector that cast the picture on an empty wall. A clapperboard anchored a spread of refreshments. She added a pack of soda to the concessions.
They watched an Indian movie from the ’50s that felt new even though she’d seen it dozens of times. He flattered her. She regaled him with facts about classical Bollywood.
“Cain says what you said,” Eden muses. “He thinks I bring light to people, like I’m like the sun. I still don’t know why people think that.”
John nods to himself. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
When Eden reaches for her phone, it lingers in his grasp. She remembers her birthday when they went to the beach, how she lay exposed to the sun and warmly aware of her whole body. Another time, John had held her hand as they walked along a wharf. She recalls him by her side long before that, the beauty of the moment as he was engrossed in a sunset.
“I’m really happy for you, John,” she sniffs. “And I’m happy you came to visit.”
“Are you?”
“Are you?”
With a smirk, he reaches for his mug. “I can’t complain.”
Eden knows she will always carry a piece of him with her, a love that would never fade away, no matter where life takes her; no matter the heartache or pain.
Tears pool, but she refuses to let them fall. Instead, her tone becomes hollow and forced to allay the hurt that lay just beneath the surface.
But despite her best efforts, she knows that she’s losing the battle. “I know you said I didn’t do anything wrong, but…I must’ve…because if I didn’t, you would’ve stayed.”
“This whole time, I just kept running it in my mind like a movie,” she says. “It always runs the same and there’s nothing I can change even though I know how it’ll end. Which is fucked up because you know how much I love movies.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Well, I must have because you didn’t.”
Eden wonders if she built their relationship into something more than it was. The pain still feels like an open wound, raw and exposed to the entire world in which John never thought twice to tell, to keep living.
Maybe that’s was why John agreed to remain her friend, why he held her even then and murmured against her temples.
Why he called.
Eden had been his first girlfriend. She trusted him with the deepest parts of her, believing that he would never judge or think less of her for her flaws. With him, she felt safe and understood, able to be herself in a way that she couldn’t with anyone else.
And he dumped her in the most callous way possible: without warning.
Without even trying.
Then, he upgraded.
Major upgrade.
Eden thinks back to John’s latest updates, how his fiancée beams next to him; how she appears to have a tight albeit snug hold on him. Which makes Eden wonder what hold that she had on John when they were together. Not one that burned hot and bright although she had been an earnest flame; but one that flickered and died, leaving nothing but ash in its wake. Her memory is neither hazy nor indistinct, just faraway like the remnants of a dream upon waking. It leaves her to question whether the hold she had on John was ever truly real.
Whatever it was, it was nothing compared to what takes hold of him now.
Does John truly think so little, if nothing at all of her? Even long before they met, he had a reputation for being withdrawn and disengaged; and despite her love for him, she proved no exception. Her pride and heart are one in the same as she refuses to accept their connection was merely an illusion born, then projected from her own desires rather than a meeting of souls.
Every day, people walk away from each other without a second thought. Eden has yet to reconcile the sheer indifference of these departures.
For John, she wasn’t even a drop in the ocean.
But Eden couldn’t help thinking about John. She did anything and everything to thwart the unwelcome fixation, but urgency overcame her.
Eden is with Cain. She loves Cain. He’s smart, handsome, mindful: perfect for her. He’s the now. John is a memory. Her first love who decided they couldn’t last. Their worlds grew apart. Different paths. Different paces. John never wanted or needed her. He needed perfection. That’s what this new woman was: dusky and flawless, and perfect.
Eden was nothing.
Is nothing.
Eden is nothing — how often he must say so to himself.
But she is.
Somehow, she is.
As she sits across from him. “Cain isn’t you.”
“He never will be.”
Although Eden feels a chill, he’s warmer than he lets on. His eyes are still oceanic. She feels submerged but out of depth, unsure of how this will roll and yet she doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
John is marrying another woman. He loves her. She’s perfection. Flared and luminous, and perfect. Eden is closing in on another lucrative albeit precarious contract. He never loved her. She’s an intangible mass of curls, pride, and insecurities.
“We’re friends, right?”
Old friends. No benefits.
“It’s cold,” he stands. “I’ll be right back. I’m gonna go get my jacket.”
John has a room key. Its number dangles from a key ring. Eden blows out a breath, walks to the cash, retrieves her purse to clear their tab. She follows him into the night where he saunters down a mortar aisle.
Old habits for old friends.
Being around him still evokes a sense of privilege within her, amplifying the value and vigor of everything around her. It’s in the way tufts of hair brush his forehead, his heady linen scent, his fulsome form and gait, how the light hits the tender hollow of his throat and collarbones. Even in the shadows, his beauty marks adorn his face like constellations in the night sky. His movements are elegant as if he dances with the air around him. There is something hauntingly beautiful about him that makes her heart ache and soul stir.
John is a man of composure. His silence is a natural force. His presence is felt without effort. Repose conceals a profound strength that lays beneath.
All that peace and quiet reduces her heart to a war zone. She is torn between love and logic. She knows he doesn’t — never — loved her, but she is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
Which is what hurts the most.
Eden had always been a bundle of nerves and doubts. She remains so. She is not defined by her distinctions, but by the insecurities and anxieties that she aspires to avert. But throughout it all, there was one thing she knew for certain.
Her love for John.
It was a beacon of light in the midst of her chaos, the one thing that kept her going even when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
To this day, she gets teary to think none of that was returned. Not even a fraction. Nothing to incline him to care, to stay, to try…
Sparse confidantes insisted that she was better off without him. After all, John was weaker than she was. She needed someone who was as proud as her, proud of her; someone who thought she was worthy, not worthless. Apparently, John was a lost cause.
In many ways, John was lost. Maybe he still is even after his fiancée found him. His eyes and thoughts are always wandering, like a nomad through the desert, searching for something that he can’t place. And yet, there is a flicker in his eyes that betrays his doubts and makes him all the more irresistible.
John never thinks twice to accept pain or loss. He’s been numb to it which is why he’s content to settle. Life is shitty. So is the world. Be thankful for the rays of light.
Except, in the quiet and lonely spaces between them, Eden found a world that was only theirs. She thought they were bound together to protect it, cherish it, build more of it; to recede within its margins away from the worlds outside. Each time she feared and faltered, this world had been her refuge.
John had been placid and temperamental. The days bled into each other until Eden found herself lost.
And burdensome.
She was always tasked to carry others, herself, and whatever had been wrought from the heavy. Even John. But things felt right because he was carrying her too.
Until the revelation of his panic attack. Something she had caused with the mere brush of her existence, affirming that her very presence was indeed a source of suffering and anguish. He must’ve been consumed by her moods and whims until he could no longer discern where she ended and he began.
Even when he was happy.
If he was happy.
Their world had become a space of blurred edges and distortions, yet amidst the chaos, Eden always found some peace in the simple act of caring for someone else.
But Eden was too heavy. Deep down, she had always known it. The knowledge is power.
She tries to make herself smaller.
Denying herself sustenance will make her less of a burden to those around her. So, she never thought twice to shrink accordingly.
But from John, seeing it confirmed, made it all the more unbearable. The weight of her own inadequacy bore down on her, crushing her spirit until there was nothing left but a hollow ache.
To date, she tries to pretend it doesn’t matter; but the truth is, she’s always known that she’s just a burden to those around her. All she can do is keep going, keep lifting, to pull some morsel of her own weight. She longs for the lightness of being that she sees in others.
This longing overrides the frailty of connections and the impermanence of all things.
Eden loved John more than she feared the unknown.
“Is this alright with your partner?”
John steps aside to let her in. “Is this alright with yours?”
She is invariably, powerlessly turned onto him. He’s too close, but not close enough.
Nothing is enough.
He crosses his arms. “I’m sure you’ve never wondered what it would’ve been like if we stayed together.”
“You mean, if you didn’t throw in the towel?” She crossed her arms too. “Those were the exact words, right? ‘I want to throw in the towel.’ That was all you.”
He narrows his eyes, “If that’s what you think.”
“It’s not what I think, it’s what happened.” Eden stands tall despite his frowning appraisal. “Then, you fucked off into space.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Then, what was it like?”
“I didn’t want to hurt you, Eden.”
Her name lingers between his lips. She feels it curl in her gut. He reaches for her hand.
She lets him hold it. “I did a lot of thinking. I remember what happened. I know the difference.”
“What are you thinking now?”
“I’m not,” she swallows. “Obviously.”
But Cain comes to mind.
Cain talked fast. She made him talk faster. Everywhere she came and went, his tongue ran in hot pursuit. His eyes swam like wine and were just as murky. The way he looked at her was undisguised, bold and shameless. Every time she called him on it, he told her he liked what he saw. That would incline more, vulgar admissions.
How fucking beautiful and brilliant she was.
How sexy she looked in her birthday suit.
How good it was when she was bad.
The primacy would engulf her. She felt his teeth when they kissed, how decisively he traced her intimates and the valleys between them.
Cain would always make light of her, plying and palming every bit as if it were separate from the rest of her. Then, he would speak and linger to punctuate each syllable of every erotic epithet. Until she thrust against him, urging him to take her fully, wholly. But even as they undressed, he’d insist to swathe her piece by piece.
In so many ways, they were evenly matched: capacity, intrigue, ambition, ethos, even trauma. Only his libido rivaled hers.
Last summer, relatives cracked jokes about the colour in their cheeks. She and Cain had been together for a while. He regaled them with her achievements. How she wrote, fast-tracked her degrees, landed an array of publications, was the first and only doctorate candidate of her kind. She set the bar high, they said. Something even those most conservative and begrudged had to admit even after he introduced her to his parents.
The world was a stage. She and Cain played their parts.
To perfection.
Now, John watches her. He waits for something, anything, to permit him to go further.
Eden meets his eyes. Her body goes slack as his mouth inches to hers. It would take nothing to kiss.
So, she gives him nothing.
“I’m sorry, Eden,” he says, like it helps. “You were my first…”
“You weren’t mine at all,” she mutters. “But I was yours. God knows I was yours. You never cared…”
“Eden, I’ll always care,” he murmurs. “I care a lot about you. I always will. All my life.”
Not enough.
Eden shrugs. “Are you having second thoughts?“
“What, like a runaway groom?” John chuckles. “Because that’s the only reason I’d call, is that what you thought?”
“It’s all I can think of.” It feels nice to set the words free. She lets them hang in the space between them. “Why else would you call?”
“I thought we were friends.”
“You keep using the word friend, but I don’t think you know what it means.“
“What does it mean to you?”
Her line of sight clouds over with desperate fury. “Like you don’t know.”
“I don’t,” he stares. “Not with you.”
Her cheeks burn.
“Were we friends when I held you and apologized for not loving you enough?”
“John, you know what you do to me — ”
“Present tense?”
Eden squeezes his hand, doesn’t break eye contact, as his other hand urges likewise to his jeans. The denim stiffens. Her fingers walk along the rivets and rest when she thumbs the fly.
“I’m fine with Cain, John,” she admits. “And I’m sure the soon-to-be missus has you over the moon. I don’t — ”
“Just fine?”


Don’t worry your escapades are safe with us.









My feelings for him have yet to diminish

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