After five years, he just happened to be walking down her street. He had been on the move for hours, just trying to catch some air. He hasn’t felt this way since they were in grad school together, young and in love. His goal wasn’t to see her, but here he was, across the street from the black door that he used to walk through.
“What are you doing here?” Henry asked himself aloud. He closed his eyes and shook his head, not sure why he was speaking to himself, out in the open air. Sophie was going to be wondering where he was. He hated that he was outside Brenna’s home once again. He hadn’t walked over here since she broke up with him.
At least, that’s what he kept telling himself. He knew that he had walked by a couple times after the break up. For about a month.
Yet here he was, in the cold October air, standing outside the apartment complex five blocks east from where he used to live. Brenna still lived in the same place, he was sure of it. She always said how she would never leave this place. New York would always be her home.
Henry leaned against the building across the street from Brenna’s; it was the same place he used to stand when he would think about everything else. He thought about Sophie. He thought about how much he wished he could talk to his mom. Then he thought about his younger sister, Leila. He even grabbed his phone from his pocket to call her up.
Henry dialed half of her cell phone number, before looking up, to the sound of his name.
“Henry? Is that you?” Brenna stood right across the street, beautiful as ever. She could clearly see that it was him, and began to walk over. The closer she got, he noticed that her dark hair was shorter than the last time he’d seen her, and her nose was pink from the wind.
He gulped, and put his phone away. He wasn’t sure what to say.
“How long has it been,” she asked with the sweet smile he remembered, disregarding the fact that he was outside her home. “Five years?”
He looked to the ground, embarrassed, given this situation. “Give or take a couple months,” he managed out. He looked at her face, one that he learned over ten years ago. “How have you been?”
Her smile continued as she replied, “I’m good.” She crossed her arms, and then asked the dreaded question, “What are you doing over here? I thought you moved.”
“I did,” he replied, probably too quickly. “I’ve just been walking around, and I ended up over here.”
“Oh.” Silence. “Are you okay?”
Henry watched her eyebrows inch closer to each other, and the rest of her face transition from friendly to concern. “Yeah,” he grinned, tight-mouthed. “I’m just thinking about a lot of things.”
“I forgot you liked this spot,” she said, tired. “I was walking home from class, and I thought I saw you. I was right, but you don’t look so good.” Her face changed. “I mean, you look good, but the look on your face when you were looking into your phone…”
He knew what she meant. He was trying to hold back tears—erm, allergies—when he was dialing his sister’s number. Henry and Brenna fell into a silence, and he didn’t know how to feel. He felt fragile and uncomfortable, things that his mother used to tell him were okay for men to feel. He felt like asking Brenna to walk away, and calling up Leila, or even Sophie at this point. He felt like running away.
“Do you want to come inside?”
Henry looked at his ex, and found himself saying sure. He didn’t know what came over him, but he was following this small human into her building, up three flights of stairs, and into an apartment that he used to know well.
“Bren, is that you?” a voice carried from another room. She didn’t have a roommate last time Henry was here.
“Yeah,” she yelled back, taking off her shoes, “and I brought a friend over.”
There was no reply, but Henry guessed that meant that it was okay he was there. A girl walks into the room, looking a whole lot like what Brenna used to: long brown hair, big hazel eyes, short stature. It was her sister, Camilla.
“I am so happy you’re here,” she sighs. “Ian has been asking for you for the last hour. He won’t go to bed.”
Brenna turns to Henry, “I’ll be right back,” and disappears. Camilla and Henry exchange glances, and the former tried to place the other’s face.
“I know you,” she muses. “Are you with Sophie?”
Uh oh. “Yeah,” he replied. Henry scratched his head; he had no idea how Camilla knew his girlfriend.
“So does that mean…” she trails off, looking around the room; her mind was flying at the speed of sound. Henry watched her face, trying to not think about Brenna, who was in the other room, with Ian. Or his mom. Or Leila. Or Sophie, for that matter.
Camilla’s eyes grew. “Wait a minute…you’re Henry.” Her face turned red—she looked like a child, about to tattle-tale on their sibling. But she stayed quiet.
Brenna was always an open book, and clearly, her sister was the same. Camilla looked like she was either trying to physically hold in information or vomit. In a normal setting, Henry would have considered her attractive. In this situation, he just thought she looked like a child scared shitless.
She finally opened her mouth. “You don’t know, don’t you?”
And just like that, Brenna was back in the room.
“Does anyone want some tea?” she asked two very confused human beings. Well, at least one of them was confused. The other apparently knew too much.
Brenna looked between the two, and stopped in her tracks. “Cam? Is everything okay in here?”
Camilla walked far too quickly across the room, to the foyer, and her sister followed after. Henry suddenly felt like an intruder, and wanted to go home.
What are you doing here? He asked himself—thankfully, internally. He heard whispers from Brenna and Camilla, and followed their voices, without making himself seen.
“Why are you being crazy?” He knew Brenna’s voice, even in whispers.
“What is he doing here?” Clearly Camilla: she speaks a little quicker than her sister.
“He was outside.”
“Okay, so what?”
A short silence followed Cam’s question. “He looked upset, so I asked him to come in.”
“Yeah, but he’s with Sophie!” Henry nodded his head; Brenna apparently didn’t know.
“Okay, why does that matter?” Well, that’s a loaded question, Henry thought, rolling his eyes. So she did know?
“She’s pregnant, dumbass!”
Silence. No whispers, no movement.
Henry didn’t know what to do with himself, so he did what anyone in an awkward situation would do; he moved to the bathroom. Good thing he remembered where it was.
While he stuck himself in there, washing his hands, Brenna quietly put the tea kettle on. Camilla had to leave; their father was waiting for her in the car, downstairs. Henry wasn’t sure if he should hide or leave or face Brenna. Instead of thinking at it anymore, he opened the bathroom door.
“Hey,” Brenna said, somewhere in between her usual voice and a whisper. It sounded almost like a question.
Henry sat at the breakfast bar, his old usual seat. He noticed that Brenna tried to tie her hair up, but the bottom half fell out, due to its length. She leaned against the counter separating them, and sighed heavily. Her sleeves were pushed up to her elbows, and she had tiny marks by her eyes. Crow’s feet, he remembered what his mom used to call them. For the first time that night, he noticed that she looked older. “Everything okay with your sister?”
She smiled, toothlessly. “Yeah. My dad picked her up.”
“Oh, that’s good,” he replied. The room fell quiet.
At least, until Brenna finally asked the million dollar question.
“What are you doing here, Henry?”
“What do you mean?” He asked. “You invited me up here.” Which was true, but he knew what she meant. Henry wasn’t here to play games—hell, he never meant to actually see Brenna in the first place. He still wasn’t sure why he was here. Well, he knew why he was outside her door. He wasn’t really sure why he wanted this question answered so badly.
“Henry, please don’t,” she put her hand up. “I’m tired.” And he could tell. She looked and sounded like she was ready for bed, even if it was only 10:00. “Why were you outside my apartment?”
Henry took a deep breath. How does one ask a person such a loaded question? He didn’t even know if he really wanted an answer, until he was years too late.
“I just want to know,” he starts, swallowing what was left of his pride, eyes closed, “why you never wanted me to be a part of Ian’s life?”
Brenna stayed completely quiet while he asked his question, and Henry counted the seconds before she answered.
Henry used this moment of silence to think about his mom, and how she raised him and Leila on her own. He loved his mom more than life itself, but always wondered why. He wondered why she would do that, when his own father wasn’t a deadbeat or a druggie.
He pictured Leila, and how the closest thing she knew to a father was her big brother.
He pictured Sophie. Sweet, selfless Sophie, who wanted nothing more than a family for this child.
And finally, a twenty-four year old Brenna, who wanted nothing more than a life for her baby, without Henry in it.
He finally decided to open his eyes, and looked over the counter to find Brenna on the floor. She may have been silent, but her face was in her hands, and her shoulders trembled. Henry knew exactly what to do—he always did, and that was something Brenna used to love about him. He moved over to her side, and sat next to her. He didn’t touch her, because that would have been inappropriate, but didn’t move.
When she eventually stopped, she put her head on his shoulder.
“He wasn’t yours to take care of,” Brenna broke the silence. Henry hated these breaks of silence with Brenna—there used to never be silence with her. Sophie, on the other hand, never made their quiet moments awkward; in fact, Henry enjoyed their quiet moments together as much as he did their noisy ones.
Henry also didn’t like Brenna’s answer. “I know that, but I was willing to help.”
“…But I cheated on you, Henry,” she said, firmly. She wasn’t angry, but she wanted him to hear her. “It wasn’t like I was already pregnant when I met you. I wouldn’t expect you to help me with a child that was made out of infidelity.”
“I love my son. So fucking much. But I never wanted you to stay with me, resenting a child that wasn’t yours,” Brenna put her hand in Henry’s, pulled her head away, and looked up at him. “I loved you, and it was ridiculously hard to let you go, but I did what I felt was the right thing.
“And I’m happy with my life, Henry,” a tear fell down from her face. “And it seems that you are, too. Don’t question your fatherhood because of me, or even your mother. You treated me the way a man should, and I’m sure you are just as good to Sophie. You’ll be an amazing father. You don’t need the verification from anybody but yourself.”
Brenna stood up, and the helped pull Henry to his feet. She made him his cup of tea, put it in a travel mug, and told him to go home.
“Brenna,” he said, before she closed the door. She stood there, eyes wide open, and fresh from crying. “Thank you.”
She smiled, and leaned against the door. “Good luck, Henry. You got this.”
Prompt: Start a story with the following: “After five years, he just happened to be walking down her street.” What happens next?