An Overdue Apology

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
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Leah pulled up at the restaurant and turned the car off. She stared up at the once white sign on the door, now so dirty she could barely make out the hours. She didn’t need to see them to know they were the same. It had been six years since she’d left her hometown, but nothing ever seemed to change here, except the people who’ve come and gone. When she left, she vowed to never come back. But she knew she had to. A visit was long overdue, four years at least, but she was a nervous wreck about it.

She walked through the doors and the hostess greeted her with a smile. “Will anyone be joining you today?” the hostess asked. Leah hesitated for a second, realizing she had never actually been there by herself before, then responded “No, it’s just me. Can I have the table in the back, the one near the ice cream machine?” The hostess nodded and led her to a table dropping a menu in front of her.

Leah sat down at the familiar table and looked around. She and her best friend Kayla had come here for years on their weekly friend date. They always ordered drinks and shared an order of chicken nachos while they talked about the drama that was going on in their lives. Leah felt a wave of sadness flow through her body at the memory. She desperately missed those days. She and Kayla became best friends the moment they met in their fifth grade dance class. They stayed extremely close throughout high school, and then Leah moved 2,000 miles away for college. She didn’t want to leave, but she was offered a scholarship to a great school. She begged Kayla to come with her, to get an apartment with her off campus so they could stay together like they had planned. But Kayla refused to leave her boyfriend behind, and Leah didn’t think she could live with him if he came with Kayla.

She wished she could go back and change the past. She hadn’t seen Kayla in the six years she had been gone, and hadn’t talked to her in almost four. The last time Kayla had called, she was crying over her boyfriend leaving her. Leah never liked him and tried to give her advice, telling her it was for the best. Leah had an apartment, and Kayla could move in like they had always wanted. She would even buy her a bus ticket to come. Kayla was so distraught over being single, she didn’t want to hear it. She thought her life was over, and Leah didn’t always know how to react to her strong emotions. She told her to stop being so dramatic, and Kayla didn’t take it very well.

Leah regretted the harsh words she said before hanging up the phone that last time. She knew it had torn their friendship apart, but she was too stubborn to call right back and apologize. She had planned to give Kayla time to cool off and then try again to get her to move. She just didn’t know how little time she had to do that. Today was Kayla’s birthday and Leah had finally worked up the courage to come home and tell her in person everything she should have said years ago.

She was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t even noticed when the waiter set the food in front of her. By now the cheese was a cold and lumpy, the chips soggy under the weight of the toppings. She sipped her watered down tea and then ate the nearly melted ice, the crunching echoing in her ear as she thought about what she was about to do. Another hour passed before she realized the lunch crowd in the restaurant had cleared out. She tossed some money on the table and hurried out to her car.

Kayla didn’t live at her old house anymore, but Leah emailed her mom before she came and got the new address. It was on the other side of town from where they grew up. Leah had never been to the area before, but she set her GPS and headed off.

She pulled up to the black wrought iron gates of Kayla’s new home twenty minutes later. She sat in the car for a long time, thinking about what she was going to say to her. A few other cars pulled in, and she watched people walking down the sidewalk, carrying flowers and stuffed animals to offer their loved ones.

She rifled through the glove compartment, pulling out an old mixed CD she made as a teenager. She popped it in and turned it to number 9. It was her and Kayla’s favorite song, the one they used to play in the car on repeat while driving through town, singing along as loud as they could with the windows down. They didn’t care who heard them or how they sounded, they just felt the music in their souls and sang their hearts out. It had been several years since Leah had listened to it, but she would never forget the words or the emotions it evoked back then.

The meaning of the lyrics had changed for her over the years, and it was much harder to listen to without Kayla. She looked out the window and realized the day was fading away fast. She clicked the off button, sighing loudly. It was now or never. She gripped the door handle with a sweaty hand and pushed it open.

No one was in the parking lot now, and her boots stomped loudly on the asphalt as she made her way through the open gate. She walked slowly down the sidewalk, dead leaves crunching under her boots. She veered off on a path to the left, around a tall statue, and kept walking until she came to the last row of cement and brick name plates. Her heart was pounding in her head and she still didn’t know what she would say. She made her way to the end, the last one before the fence and stood there staring silently.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she read Kayla’s name for the first time in stone. She reached out and touched the cold granite, running her hand across the engraved name and then the dates, the last one being three days after the last time she would ever hear Kayla’s voice. Three days after she had said the words she was never able to apologize for. She wished so badly she could have seen the future that day, to know that Kayla would get in that car with him after he had been drinking so much. The tears of guilt and sadness were flowing freely down her cheeks and onto the ground as she knelt down next to her. “Hey Kayla,” she started, her words catching in her throat. She took a deep breath before she continued. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

She stayed until the moon shone brightly above her, telling Kayla all of the things she wished she could have said before. As she walked back to her car, she gazed up at the night sky right as a shooting star flew past the moon. Kayla was the superstitious one, always looking out for shooting stars to make a wish on. Leah smiled to herself as she thought about what she wished for. For the first time in a long time, she knew that everything was going to be okay.