An Unexpected Chance

The music seems to stop as I see paintings scattered around a spacious room. The lights

are bright enough to showcase what seems like dozens of paintings—of me. I’m baffled

for a moment, trying to take it all in. Every painting is of me as a child or as a teenager,

smiling, laughing, enjoying life. They each bring such a vibrancy that makes the room

even brighter than it already is. I realize I’m not alone when I see a backside facing me.

He’s in nothing but blue jeans, covered in paint spots. His bareback is sweaty and

rippling. I can see the perspiration dripping from his unruly hair, and his tattoos are on

full display, making him look like one of those sexy gifs you see on Tumblr. I don’t know

how long I’ve been standing there, admiring the scene in front of me, before the music

ends. Ryland puts his paintbrush down to change the playlist when he sees me.

I look at him wide-eyed as he stares at me—his face clear of any emotion. I’m

shocked that he’s unfazed while being caught with all these paintings of me. We stand

there motionless, for what feels like hours, until he walks toward me. I begin to shake,

thinking he’s about to grab me and demand to know what I’m doing here, but instead he

grabs the plate of leftover food from my hand. He eats the leftover lasagna like a ravenous

madman who hasn’t eaten in days. He doesn’t glance at me as he devours every little

morsel on his plate. Feeling awkward, I decide it’s time for me to leave. I turn around and

take a step.

“How did you know I was here?” he asks me as he continues to eat.

I take a deep breath. I have no idea how to respond to him. Or why I came down

here in the first place.

Yes, you do Alina. It was the damn plate of food yelling at you because it needed

to be eaten!

I shake my head, trying to shake off the shrill voice in my head, which strangely

enough, sounds like the Pilates instructor. As I try to get her out of my head, I feel

Ryland's eyes glaring into my backside, willing me to turn around and give him an honest

answer. After a few long seconds, I turn around. His eyes hold curiosity and wonder as he

stares me down.

“I ran into your mom, and she invited me to lunch. After we finished eating, she

got a call from her real estate agent and had to leave. She left that plate of food for you.”

My voice sounds as nervous as I feel. “She left it on the counter, but I thought—since I’m

here—I would bring it to you instead. I didn’t know you were working on all this,” I say,

shell shocked.

He continues to eat, looking bored, and ignoring me. I shake my head, realizing

that nothing has changed, and it’s time to get out of here. I turn around and am about to

take another step when he continues. “Do you like them?”

My shoulders stiffen. I suddenly feel like I’m on full display in front of thousands

of people, and all of them are waiting for me to give some kind of response that will

make them cheer with joy—or boo with disappointment. I decide to take a closer look. I

walk down the stairs, coming fully into the room. I walk along the pathway created with

paintings and take in what I’m seeing. It’s like the time machine I often wished I had as a

child, transporting me back and changing history, so I am actually happy.

Every painting shows me smiling, having joy, enjoying life. Some of them show

me having fun. One painting in particular, the one he was working on as I came in, is of

me standing in a lovely dress—long and flowing with flowers strewn all over a black

silhouette with a V-neckline—allowing for some modest cleavage and graceful shoulders.

My hair is flowing like it’s being carried by the wind, and my face… my face is peaceful,

happy, and beautiful.

It’s me in what should’ve been my prom dress.

Tears well up in my eyes as I stare at what should’ve been a milestone in my

young life. I turn to look at Ryland, who watches me with wonderment. I wipe away the

few tears that escape while I decide on whether to hug him or punch him for everything

he’s done. “What is all this?” I ask him in disbelief.

He walks over to a side table to put his plate down before grabbing a towel and

wiping the sweat from his forehead. “It’s all the childhood and adolescent years I owe

you.” I look at him, confused. “When you reminded me about what an asshole I used to

be, I took a long look back at who I was. I’m not going to lie. I was a fucking asshole that

should’ve had his balls busted several times for all the shit I’ve done to you. I owe you a

lifetime of… hell, I don’t even know what the fuck to call it, I just know I owe it to you.

This right here is a start. The painting I left at your house was what should’ve happened

when we first met as kids. These paintings are what your memories should look like.”