Tell Me If You Still Care (by Cortney Joseph)

Strolling confidently into the party being thrown in his honor, Lucas smiled and waved to all who called out to him. Pulled to the side immediately, he slapped hands with his former best friend, surprised that he still looked the same after so many years.

“Damien! What’s up?”

“Nothing much, nothing much. I was starting to think you were going to pull your infamous graduation day stunt and not show up at all.”

“Ha, and have my mama choke me out again, nah.”

“Smart man. How have you been? It’s been so long since you left, since you basically vanished.”

Lucas cleared his throat, knowing that would be the main question he’d get all night long. It was one he hoped to avoid, but the way he’d just packed up and left, no warning and no explanation, he’d just have to grit his teeth and answer.

“I was just going through so much, a lot of it couldn’t be fixed. You know my mama tried so much, paid so much to get me help and nothing worked. I figured why not just get out in the world and figure things out for myself.”

Damien nodded, clearing his throat. “And how did that work out for you?”

“Not the way I expected. I mean, I’ve got wealth, I am well mentally and physically. But you know, there’s always something missing.”

Damien smirked, looking over Lucas’ shoulder, knowing exactly what he meant. “And I guess the thing, or the person rather, missing is your relationship with Monique.”

Lucas nodded.

 

Clearing his throat, he grabbed a drink as someone his mother hired passed by with a tray in hand. “Yes, but I’m more than sure she’s moved on with her life. I know she has to have a husband, kids, and all of that. That good life.”

“I don’t know Man. But you know, she’s over there by the table with your cake. You could always ask her yourself.”

Damien smirked as Lucas turned around, and quickly made his way across the room to find his own girlfriend. Turning back around to finish his conversation, Lucas shook his head. He wanted to make the assumption that this was somehow a set up, but he brushed the thought aside. Lucas downed his drink and slowly made his way across the room.

 

He hugged the few family friends that grabbed him and stopped him before continuing on to his destination. So many different apologies ran through his mind, lines he could say that wouldn’t lead to a slap. Things to say if she did slap him. Excuses, lies, the truth, and more.

What could he possibly say? What should he say, if Monique even gave him the opportunity to talk.

Laughing at a small joke made by a former classmate, Monique shook her head and looked away. Laying eyes on her ex, she sighed and began to turn away.

“Monique, wait.”

Staring at Lucas, Monique wanted more than the ability to hit him. Curse him out, yell, or tell him off. She wanted him to get out of her face. But she couldn’t. The fact that she’d actually missed him so much over the years, the fact that she wanted nothing more than for him to take her into his arms; it kept her still and quiet.

“Are you still in love with me?”

“No Lucas, I’m not.” That much of it was the truth. Those special feelings had crept away a year after Monique realized that he was never coming back to their small town. A year after she realized he was never coming back for her, never calling or writing to her. How could you be in love with someone and you don’t even know where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with? That was always what she asked herself.

“Ask me anything Monique, I promise I will answer truthfully. I owe you nearly ten years of answers, and so much more.”

“Where did you go? No, better yet, why did you leave? Why couldn’t you tell anyone you were leaving, why couldn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Nah, that’s not a good enough answer. See, what pissed me off so much about you just disappearing was the fact that you lied to me. You told me that you would always tell me what was going on with you. You told me that you’d never keep anything you were feeling or going through from me. You’d never leave me with NO answers. So, if you’re going to sit here and expect me to talk to you, I need real answers. Why couldn’t you tell me you were leaving? Why have I had to spend nearly ten years wondering if you were alive or dead?”

 

Lucas sighed, pulling her outside onto the patio where they could be alone. “I was sick, and I felt alone. It was something I felt that I couldn’t control and I was so scared that eventually I would hurt you, physically, if I stuck around. If I had told you I was leaving before graduation, you would have fought tooth and nail just to stick by me, to come with me.”

“You’re damn right I would have. Because I loved you Lucas, I would have done anything to help you.”

“I know that Monique. But, I wasn’t well. And there would have been no reason for you, as an eighteen year old, fresh out of high school, to be responsible for taking care of someone with a mental illness.”

“Shouldn’t that have been up to me? After all, I did know about that. I dealt with you, the mood swings, the tantrums, the fits of rage in public and everything else for years.”

“Yes, and you were always there for me. But I was at a low period. I refused to take my medication or seek medical help; I was living on the streets, in shelters, and other places I should not have been. I was violent, hurting and taking from the few who tried to help.” Lucas looked away and sighed. “At my lowest, I felt the need to try and take my life. I feel like, if you had been there with me through all of that, I would have hurt you as well. And I couldn’t have that, I couldn’t allow you or anyone else around me.”

“Why not Lucas? Didn’t you trust that we would love you regardless of you being ill?”

“I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust that I was hearing voices. If they told me to kill myself, what would they have told me to do to you? What wouldn’t they have told me to do? I never knew if I was going to get better, or if I even wanted to get better. I just wanted to end it and get rid of every little aggravation that came along with this problem.”

Monique nodded, understanding perfectly. Still, that didn’t stop the tinge of anger she felt. “I still wish you had told me. Maybe explained all of that to me, and let me decide if I wanted to deal with all of those risks or not.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t want help, so it would have been pointless. Listen Monique, I can’t take back all of these years I’ve been gone. I am so sorry for all of the hurt I’ve caused, I’m so sorry for worrying you, scaring you. But I’m back.”

Monique looked at him, trying her hardest to keep a look of disgust from etching itself on her face, but it was there.

 

“But you’re back? And I suppose that I’m supposed to just say ‘GREAT, let’s get back together. Let’s pick up where we left off’. As if I didn’t spend nights crying and stressed, I was supposed to still be madly in love?”

“That was the hope, yes. But honestly, I don’t know what is supposed to happen between us. I just want you back in my life. I want to repair our friendship, rebuild what we had. I want to know that you still care, that I still have someone I can trust with my secrets. Someone I can count on when I need help. If there is anyone that I know can keep me on the right path, who won’t make me feel bad or as if I’m dangerous I know it’s you. There is no one else I can go to that will look at me day in and day out without making me feel like what I have is contagious.”

“No one would make you feel that way.”

“Really?” Lucas cleared his throat. “My own mama hugged me, escorted me into her house, and proceeded to wash her hands and spray herself down as if what I have is as common as a cold. Then she sprayed her car down with some type of disinfectant spray, washed the outside of it after I touched and closed the door. She insists on washing the sheets every day when I get up. I have my own separate set of dining utensils, bowls, plates, and cups. If I sit on her couches, I have to sit on the parts with the brand new plastic covers. Me getting in her face, something that damn simple required her to use a face mask. You know, because evidently I missed the memo that said Schizophrenia is the new Flu.”

Monique frowned, not understanding how anyone could be that ignorant, or petty. Seeing that he was wiping away tears, she pulled Lucas into her arms.

 

“I just need to know that you still care Monique, nothing else. Tell me you still care about me, just enough to support me emotionally.”

“Yes Lucas, I still care. I told you years ago, I will always be here. But you, you can’t run away when it gets too hard for you. LET ME BE HERE.”

 

The patio door opened behind them and Damien smirked, knowing in his heart that the two of them would most likely work something out. “Happy couple again?”

“No Damien. We’re just talking, and I’m apologizing for being a damn fool.”

“Damn fool is right.” He smirked. “Hey Monique.”

“Hi Damien. Go away Damien.”

He gasped, feigning as if he were actually hurt. “Just like high school, I see exactly how this is. See if I make up excuses and lies the next time y’all nearly get caught having sex in someone else’s bed.”

Lucas laughed and Damien walked away, going to catch up with a few of their other old friends. Lucas turned back to Monique and thanked her, apologizing once more.

“I love you Monique. Always have, always will.”

“Yeah, I know you do. I still love you, as a friend, but I most definitely still care about you. Don’t worry, I’m here for you, whatever you need.”

“Thank you.”

 

Hearing his mother’s voice booming, calling for everyone’s attention, Lucas took Monique’s hand in his and they headed inside. He was glad he’d finally made the right choice in coming home.

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