Mason watched her light her third cigarette, digesting her every movement. From his spot inside the café, he could see the exact way her long, black-painted fingernails gripped the lighter tightly so that her hands wouldn’t shake. The way she slowly brought the little stick to her red lips, inhaling quickly and exhaling slowly. The way she tucked her hair behind her ear when the wind started to pick up. He had been watching her for so long that he felt as if he could clone her exact mannerisms, down to the way her fingers of her free hand twitched slightly against her black jeans, drumming the beat to whatever song was stuck inside her head. He had been watching her, but he couldn’t find the energy to move towards her. It all felt surreal, like she was put there by an outside force. She looked as if she was a character painted into a movie scene to enhance the dark and dingy alleyway. It was like she was only there as an extra on set, but had somehow captivated the entire audience and caused them to believe she was the star of the show. That happened a lot, her grabbing the attention of anyone she passed. She had an aura about her that screamed, “Look at me! I’m exactly what you fear your kids will turn into one day. I’m your worst nightmare, but I really don’t care.”

Finally gathering the courage to advance towards her, Mason crossed the street and headed straight for the alley. “You really shouldn’t smoke,” he muttered when he had positioned himself up against the wall opposite her. “It’s a nasty habit.”

The girl turned her head to face him. Her dark sunglasses were shading her eyes, but he was sure they were burning holes in his head. Slowly, she dropped her arm to her side, letting ashes from the half-burnt cigarette fall to the ground. She exhaled and a cloud of smoke disoriented him for a second, and when the smoke cleared, she had the same stone-cold expression on her face that she had two minutes ago. Mason swallowed the lump in his throat, wiping his sweaty palms on his khakis.  She continued staring at him. “You’ve been telling me that for years, but look where we are now,” she said lowly, taking another long drag of the cigarette. Slowly, she cracked a half-smile. “Hi, Mason.”

When she said his name, Mason felt as if a herd of elephants had been lifted off of his shoulders. He had missed the sound of his name dripping off her tongue. The way she spoke had a certain slur to it that awed him, and his name hadn’t sounded the same coming from anyone else ever since. “Hi, Hope,” he whispered.

“It’s been a while, huh?” She asked, raising her eyebrow as if to inquire how he had found her.

Mason nodded. “Seven months. I’ve been looking for you.”

“You have, have you?”

“Yes, we need to talk. You need to tell me what happened all those months ago and why you left without so much as a goodbye.” He looked at her, and really looked at her this time, taking in every little detail about her. Somehow, maybe it was the way her hair was styled, or how her studded leather jacket hung loosely on her shoulders, or the way her black, heeled boots were scuffed in all the same places they had been months ago, but she seemed as if she hadn’t changed at all. She was still the same girl he fell in love with.

Hope shook her head and threw the butt of her cigarette on the ground, crushing it underneath the toe of her boot. “Mason,” she sighed, “you’re really doing this? You want to have this conversation here…now?” She gestured to their surroundings.

Mason looked around, noticing just how unsettling this location was. From the graffiti that was strewn across the brick wall to the rusting dumpsters, this place was less than ideal for the sort of civil conversation he had planned on having. Suddenly, he heard a groan to the right of him and as his eyes landed on the drunken man that was passed out halfway underneath the dumpster. His mind was made up. “Okay fine, let’s go somewhere. But you owe me this. It’s the least you could do.” He sneered. Hope was a bit taken aback by his hostility towards her, but she couldn’t really blame him. He had every right to be mad. In fact, she wanted him to be mad; she just couldn’t believe she was actually seeing his anger. She used to imagine his reaction when he realized she wasn’t coming back, but those images were nothing compared to the sight in front of her now. Not only did Mason look angry, he looked betrayed and hurt. He looked heartbroken.

“Okay then, I know a place,” she said, grabbing his wrist and pulling him out of the dark alley and into the sunlight.


After a short ten-minute walk, the two had reached a small diner situated on the corner of Fifth and Third street. Somehow, Mason had never noticed its existence before, despite the fact that he had lived in this city his entire life.

Hope led him inside the diner, sitting him down at a booth near the back and sliding into the bench across from him. She looked at him, motioning for him to start the speech that he had clearly been preparing for the last seven months.

“I just need to know why you did it,” Mason whispered, all confidence seeming to have left his system.

Hope sighed. “I did a lot of things, Mason. I’m going to need you to be a little more specific.”

Mason looked up from his lap and glared at her, “Well you can start with why exactly you left in the first place,” he snapped. Hope shrugged.

“It was going to happen eventually. I thought I’d save us both the trouble and just rip the band-aid off,” she said, grabbing a menu and looking over the drink section. Mason’s eyes widened and he slammed his hands down on the table.

“Are you kidding me right now?” he yelled. Hope snapped her head up and stared in disbelief at the, usually quiet, boy in front of her. “You’re seriously looking at food at a time like this? I’m trying to have a mature conversation about why you took what we had and threw it all away and you couldn’t care less!”

Hope looked around her and noticed a few people staring. It wasn’t unusual for people to stare at the two of them when they were out in public, except this time they weren’t staring because of her, they were staring because of him. “Well, I’m actually looking at the drinks not the food,” she started, “and we have to order something, we can’t just sit in here and not pay for anything.” Mason slowly sat down, realizing she had a point. “Now, back to our conversation,” she added. “You can’t look at me and honestly tell me that you thought we were gonna be together forever, can you?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Mason asked, shaking his head in confusion.

Hope’s eyes widened when she realized Mason actually had planned on the two of them being together forever. “Look at us, Mase! You’re Vineyard Vines and I’m Hot Topic. We never would have worked out!”

Mason rolled his eyes. “You’re not seriously giving me that shit. You’re not seriously saying that after five years together you just decided, ‘oh, maybe this won’t work out because we dress differently,’ are you?”

Hope stayed silent.

“Oh my god.” Mason let out a small laugh in disbelief. “How could you just decide to throw all of this away because of some stereotypes?” He gestured between the two of them, referencing their past.

“It’s the principle of the thing.” Hope sighed, running her fingers through her hair. “Relationships never work out, okay? I mean, look at my parents. I don’t even know my dad! He walked out when I was two and yours aren’t any better. They fought all the time sometimes I think they had forgotten whatever it was they were fighting about in the first place. People aren’t meant to be codependent on other people. That’s not how we were made and I don’t know why everyone keeps trying to change that.” She sighed again and shut her menu, waving to the waitress behind the counter. The young girl nodded at Hope and prepared the blender, already having Hope’s order memorized from the excessive amount of times she had been in this diner.

Mason stared at Hope. “How is it that your name is Hope, yet I’m the only one who is still holding out for the two of us to be together?” he asked incredulously. “You can feed me your lines on how the world sucks and how nothing ever works out, but you can’t deny how epic we were when we were together. We made each other better, we balanced each other out. We’re polar opposites but that’s what made us work. How do you not see that?”

“Because, Mason,” Hope said, a bit more aggressively this time, “I’m a realist, not an optimist. I see things for how they are and things suck. None of this would have ever worked out. I would have eventually gotten sick of your incessant need to control everything, or you would have gotten tired of my smoking or drinking or one of my many other flaws. It wouldn’t have lasted. I don’t know why you’re still lying to yourself.”

“Because, unlike you, I was actually willing to try to make us work. I loved you. Hell, I still do love you but it’s clear you don’t feel the same about me,” he muttered.

She looked at him with hurt in her eyes. Did he really believe that she didn’t care?

“Mason, I did this because I loved you, not because I didn’t,” Hope tried to explain. “Life’s too short to be living a lie. I couldn’t lie to you any longer and pretend that I was in it for the long haul when I knew I wasn’t.”

Mason was getting angry now. Lying? Had this whole thing been some kind of sick joke to her? “Okay, so let me ask you something.” He said. “What about all those nights you called me, crying over something that had happened with your step-father or with one of your friends, saying you needed me right that minute because you felt like you couldn’t take it anymore? Was that a lie too?”

“You know it wasn’t–” Hope was cut off by Mason’s ranting.

“And all of those late nights spent staring up at the stars or watching movies. The times where you would come to my family parties, pretending not to hate everyone there just so that I wouldn’t be by myself. When your friends made fun of me in high school because I wasn’t like you guys and you stuck up for me. Was that all just some sick act that you put on to get me to trust you?” Mason had tears streaming down his face now, as did Hope. “Was this all a joke to you?”

Hope’s mascara was running down her cheeks and she covered her mouth with her hand, trying to suppress her sobs. Mason was shaking, his face red and his eyes bloodshot from crying. His hands were picking at the sleeves of his North Face jacket, and he bit his bottom lip out of nervous habit.

“Mason,” Hope started, but never finished. Mason never got to hear her answer because slowly, the girl in front of him started to disappear. It was as if he was living in some sort of dream as he realized Hope was no longer sitting in front of him.

“Mason! Dude!” Someone was shaking him, calling out his name. Mason shook his head and snapped out of his trance. Suddenly, he was no longer in the small diner on the corner of Fifth and Third. He was propped up against a tree in the park across the street from his apartment. Hope was nowhere in sight and her perfume didn’t linger the way it used to whenever she would leave a room. In her place was Mason’s best friend, Justin. Mason was no longer in his usual button up and khakis; those had been traded in for black jeans and an old, black hoodie the day that she left him. “Dude, where’d you go?” Justin asked.

Mason shrugged. “I guess I just zoned out,” he lied as he brought a cigarette to his lips and inhaled sharply.

“Was it her again?” Justin said with distaste. Mason nodded. “Man, you seriously have to get over her! She left you, okay? It happens. Shit happens, but guess what? Life goes on! Life will go on with or without her in it. Ever since I’ve met you all you think about is her. I only knew her for a month, but somehow I know every little detail about her because of you. You need to let it go.”

Mason snapped his head up to look at his friend. “I can’t just ‘let it go.’ Five years is a long time to be with somebody, and to have them just up and leave without an explanation? It’s hard shit man.”

“Yeah, I know,” Justin sighed. “But you’re changing, man. We don’t hang out like we used to, you only ever call me when you wanna smoke anymore. When I first met you, you practically gagged whenever Hope or I would pull one of these out.” He waved his cigarette in front of Mason’s face. “And now you’re smoking a pack a day. Something needs to change.”

“Well, if you don’t like the way I’m living my life then you can get out. I don’t need a babysitter, I can take care of myself,” Mason snapped. He was tired of everyone around him saying he’s changed. So what if he smokes now? Justin smokes, yet he has the audacity to tell him to quit? The world is full of hypocrites and Mason didn’t need to be friends with any of them.

Justin sighed, throwing his cigarette to the ground and stomping on it with his foot. “Look, I’m sorry for going crazy on you, but I’m worried. It’s not healthy how often you think of her. It’s been seven months and you still talk about her as if she’s coming home for dinner tonight. You can’t live your life pretending everything is going to work out for the two of you, because she’s not coming back.”

“It’s hard,” Mason choked out. Justin nodded and wrapped his arm around his best friend’s shoulder.

“I know, but it’s not going to get easier until you take the steps to get over her. You need to get back out in the world and come out with me and the boys when we go out. You need to have fun and you need to stop connecting every little thing back to her. To be honest, she’s not worth it.” Justin hugged him.

Mason rolled what was left of his cigarette between his pointer finger and thumb. He couldn’t help but think back to the days when he would have snatched the little white stick out of Hope’s hand and lecture her on the dangers of smoking. He thought about how long it would take him to style his hair in the mornings and how he would buy a new pair of Sperry’s every year. Now, he just lets his hair lay flat on his forehead and has been wearing the same converse everyday for the past seven months.

“Do you think it’s insane to think that one person can completely change you without even knowing it?” Mason asked Justin, looking up at the taller boy.

“No, I think that’s the whole point of life — to be changed by someone.”

“So then why are you so mad about the fact that she changed me?” Mason pulled away from Justin’s embrace and dropped the cigarette to the ground.

Justin sighed. “Because I don’t think she was the person who was supposed to change you. I think this is all just a side effect of a really epic love that didn’t work out. Life doesn’t always work out how we want it to, but it all does work out eventually,” he said. Mason smiled and thought about how different Justin was from Hope. Hope had given up on finding any good in the world and Justin was prone to finding the good in everything.

“Maybe you’re the one who needs to change me,” Mason said to Justin. “Maybe I really don’t want to be like this anymore. I don’t want to think about her anymore and I don’t want to continue to give her this power over me. I don’t like who I’ve become.” Justin smiled and hugged Mason.

“Okay, well the first thing we need to do to get you back to the Mason I know and love is to get rid of these.” Justin held up a half-empty pack of Marlboro Lights.


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