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Fixing Hearts (short story)

I walked up the stairs and strolled into the room set on the third floor of the college dorm at UCLA. The room was furnished with tables, chairs, and a whiteboard hanging on the wall at the very center forward-facing of the room. I placed my books and binder at the back corner desk, avoiding any possible shallow conversation with the students that will eventually walk in the classroom as the course session begins. I pulled the phone out from my pocket and unlocked it; the time showed, 12:24pm. I went to the last conversation I had with Gwen; reading the texts from someone who had recently played me somehow became a habit of mine. I immediately hated myself for doing this, so I put away the device and concentrated on distracting myself to overlook the painful memories for a little while. It had been two years, my first love, now there was nothing. Gwen had told me her love for me had vanished and she walked away. I could never fully admit it, but I grew so vulnerably in love with her. How could she so easily throw away something as good as that? I dwelled on the moments I spent with her. The most vivid reminder of us crawled into my memory. We had been invited to a party in which Jean insisted we attend. As we were sitting at one of the tables, Gwen suddenly clapped cheerfully when her favorite song, Synthesizers by Butch Walker came on, pushing her towards the dance floor. No one could move so gracefully to the music as Gwen. It was as if all the beauty she possessed became collected and accentuated the moment she danced. She’d smile and look towards me and I think she knew that, right then and there, she had me wrapped around her little finger. The memory quickly vanished and the smile it provided quickly disappeared. Then, I began taking notes on everything the professor said, I had no choice but to forget her if I had any intentions of succeeding. Sure, I could make it, with, or without her.

As weeks progressed, I resolved to gain control of my life. So far, I had become quite successful in college, and my boss’s business had grown extensively due to the help I had been providing. As I continued this studious lifestyle, I strolled into my very first ethnic studies class of the spring semester. I took my phone out, checked my messages and scrolled to the one I last had with Gwen. This time, I deleted every discussion that ever occurred between us, at least every virtual dialogue anyway. It was about time I moved on. After class, I took the long drive home as usual and walked towards my room, closed the door and blasted my music. I flung my backpack onto the bed, then, I went head first toward the mattress, ready to rest from the draining the college experience provided. The music must have been tuned so loudly since I had not noticed I now had three missed calls from Gwen’s best friend. I had not spoken to Jean since a few weeks after the breakup. Jean didn’t bother to keep in contact with either of us as intimately as she had done before. She only contacted me when significant matters were to be discussed. Usually, then, she’d only call once and if there was no answer, she’d just text. Now, I was curious as to see what issue was it that made her so desperate to talk over. So I turned down the music, and dialed Jean back. As I waited for what seemed eternity to hear her voice, I finally heard a deep breath and what sounded like a gasp. “Jean?” I asked. “She’s dead!” she finally yelled. “Who? What the…Jean…this a prank?” “Gwen, Matt…she’s…the kid’s gone,” I could hear her sobbing uncontrollably, this was no lie. Dead. Gwen. Dead. That’s all that I was able to process. I felt my knees go numb. It seemed unusual for me to feel so suddenly empty, seeing how cruelly she fled from me. It was as if a part of my soul had died, although sometimes I think it vanished completely at that moment. I pressed my face in between my knees to hide from the reality occurring around me and I recall weeping helplessly.

“Matt? You still there? Matt! Answer me please?”

“Tell me it isn’t true…please,” my voice now cracking.

“I’m sorry Matt,” she whispered. “The whole running away was a lie, you know?”

I wiped my eyes, and took a deep breath “What are you talking about? She met someone else, that’s what she said… wanted a better life and I’m not good enough for her or whatever. But still, she can’t be gone Jean! She just…she… Oh God…”

“Remember her brothers Matt?”

“Those good for nothing gang bastards?”

“Yeah, well you remember how often Gwen broke her neck trying to fix those jerks? Well they bumped into some rival gang and I…I think something went wrong ‘cause they came to Gwen’s brother ranting on how they’d make all their loved ones pay. I guess you and Gwen were involved Matt. So she decided to run and keep you out of it all, just like she had done all along.”

“You’re messing now. How do you even know this?”

“She had asked me to take care of Hilda and pay her a visit once in a while, so I went last night for the second time, she had just found out of the tragedy and she could barely compose herself well, she just said ‘Gwen’s gone’ over and over. Only after I made her some tea, was she able to calm a bit and tell me the whole story.”

“Damn it!” I could feel my face burning up and my body shivering.

“She ran away to protect us Matt. She never meant to hurt us.”

“No! I should have followed her; do you even know the last words I said to her?”

Jean started to break down. “She called the week before this whole mess happened. She was begging me to help her…and I wouldn’t hear it. It’s my fault she’s isn’t here Matt. It’s my fault!”

“Wait, you didn’t help her? When was this Jean? When did this happen?”

“She called about two weeks ago from a payphone-”

“How could you not tell me? You called me to bring me her stuff, but this didn’t seem important to you? You are right…it’s your own damn fault!”

“Matt! Let me explain, I was close to Gwen“

“-I’m done with you Jean.”

“But…”

“Done! I’m done,” I felt my voice crack on those last words as I hung up.

I yelled out in agony and flung the phone across the room. I wanted so badly to blame Jean. She should have known, should have helped her if the friendship ever meant anything. I knew my cruelty to her was only a reflection of the anger growing against myself. She was no more an enemy to me or Gwen than I was to myself. I realized, that if I were to cast guilt, the finger would only point back towards me. Then I could only resort to blaming myself. If only I had seen behind the false excuses Gwen made for her sudden departure, I’d still be embracing her, stroking her gentle bronzed face. I’d twirl her auburn ringlets as I dazed into her honey brown eyes, they always sparkled when I did that. Back then I had only heard of Gwen’s brothers, therefore, I was unable to foresee the real motives that led to her leaving, even Jean herself was blind to Gwen’s family issues. Gwen promised her mother she would care for her brother once she passed on. I only knew that much. She took on the role of their mother, but to them she was only the hand that led them out of trouble, other than that they never cared for her. She was sent to live with her aunt once the problems with her brothers initiated. She grew so much unlike her brothers; according to what I had just heard of them, I guess they always had some bit of envy for her gracefulness. She got the good life while they were constantly consumed by the little conscience they still had. Gwen always did remain secretive when it came to her brothers’ malicious actions. I always admired her caring heart for all those around her. Sometimes I even questioned her unconditional love to even the worst of people, though I never really knew how cruel Gwen’s brothers actually were. I wiped off the tears from my eyes only to feel more streaming down my face. Then the words I last said to her came back to haunt me. “Pathetic slut!” Those words kept playing on repeat in my head, providing more remorse than anything else. The sting I felt when she said goodbye was nowhere near to that which I felt at this instant. I clearly was unfamiliar with how love, in reality, worked. If I was, I’d have been able to perhaps save her; I should have invested more toward helping her with her brothers. Then, I would have recognized what monsters they were and I could have gotten her out of that hellhole. How could you know so much and so little of someone all at once? I remember sobbing and sobbing until I grew too weary that night. The cold dark room seemed to close my tired eyes and soon I was out in deep sleep. Four hours later, I awoke hoping this tragedy was only a horrifying dream that never occurred in the real world. I called Gwen’s aunt, hoping to hear I’ve gone crazy, anything that didn’t involve the catastrophes that I believed to be a dreaded nightmare. I had grown close to Hilda while Gwen and I were dating. Gwen valued Hilda immensely, and both affections were mutual. I waited in anguish to hear Hilda answer with “how’s my favorite boy doing? Come visit soon,” just like she’d always say. However, I was confirmed of the tragedy when Hilda replied with a broken “Matty?” I could hear her crying through the cellphone and right then I knew I had to pay dear Hilda a visit.

I had kept calling Hilda once in a while after Gwen left since I considered her my very own aunt. She always had a way of making people feel at home, and I was no exception for the matter. See, my parents had been divorced for fifteen years now and I have learned to keep myself distant from the two. As soon as I turned eighteen I took out my savings and moved out, to be completely honest, anything felt welcoming in comparison to that place I had been forced to call home. My mother (though she hardly deserves the title) had left both my father and I as soon as a wealthier man came into her life, and my father was left to care for me unwillingly. The man only viewed me as a representation of his wife’s betrayal, so we both soon learned to maintain a distance and avoid each other. I at no time had the opportunity to communicate my goals and ambitions, my mother always indulged into her own pleasures and dreams-which unfortunately took place over any needs her own son had. The nanny would care for me, but all she could ever be was a caretaker who viewed me as a means of better financial standing. I had learned at a young age to care for myself. I never felt the need for motherly affection because I never had it. Only until I met Hilda and Gwen was I able to obtain the love I had never known my entire life up to this point. Hilda became the close mother I always wished my own mother had tried to be.

I dragged myself out of bed the next morning and drove to Hilda’s house. I rang the doorbell twice and at the third time the cleaning lady opened the door. “She’s in the guestroom, go on,” she said with a grim look on her face. I opened the guestroom door to find Hilda flinched into a ball on the corner of the room. She swayed back and forth like a child with tears swelling her eyes; she held the picture of Gwen in hand as her eye focused solely on the portrait. I could not help but whelp as my eyes soon flushed with tears. Hilda looked up and extended her hand calling me to come to her side and I obediently rushed beside her and put my arm over her shoulder.

“She was as good as they came…” Hilda finally broke out.

“You’ll bet she was. What I wouldn’t give to go back and rewrite history”

Hilda looked deep into my eyes and replied, “you and me both Matty.”

“She was just…sh-she didn’t do anything wrong! I should have known her heart was always in the right place! I called her a pathetic slut when she dumped me! I’d rather be in the damn morgue!”

“Don’t say such things! You couldn’t know, Matty. The fact of the matter is we both could not know…”

She grabbed a Kleenex tissue and handed the box as I took out a tissue as well. Hilda rubbed my back as she did with Gwen whenever she was going through a tough situation. I remember when she’d tell us stories from her childhood, somehow they made me so happy. Her tales made me forget how cruel the world had become. She’d talk about her dreams and asked me about mine, without knowing the desire I had for someone to ask that with sincere curiosity. Hilda and Gwen were the only people who still gave me hope to keep fighting. They had both managed to bring out the strength I needed just when I thought any will to fight in me was scarce. I think she knew she had to be the strong one. She drew her hand toward my face and wiped my tears and pressed her forehead against mine. “I’ve got you,” she said in a whisper, repeatedly. My soul was too weary for having been tough for too long, I knew she wasn’t going to let me face this alone. I had survived the abandonment of my parents, but nothing could ever puncture more deeply than this terrible loss. We would try to fix each other, or die trying.

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