The only reason this story was ever entered into The Sunlounger Competition was because of my loveliest friend ever, Holly Martin. I had let loose that I had been playing around and she switched from my friend to a drill sergeant in a flash. Demanding I finish it and send it in. So I did.
I am over the moon to have been short-listed and to have made it into the top 12. I never in a million years expected it. It’s the first time I’ve written anything and entered a competition.
So thank you Holly for making me get off my arse and do something that I am incredibly proud of myself for.
I feel utterly sick sharing this with you all, but here it is anyway.
The Heart Of The Starfish
Seeing him across the bar left me breathless. I hadn’t seen that face in ten years. I’d run away to Australia just to avoid seeing that face again, yet the love I had for him was still there, in an instant I felt like I’d finally come home.
He turned his face in my direction and my head was telling me to get out of there before he saw me, but my feet were rooted to the ground, desperation in my heart that he would feel it too when he saw me. Would he love me like he did then, all those years ago before he crushed my heart leaving it irrevocably broken?
His eyes locked with mine, the shock of seeing me was all over his face. A huge smile lit up his face as he started walking towards me. I wanted to meet him halfway but I knew my legs wouldn’t carry me, I was shaking so much I had to grip the chair. I couldn’t help but smile back at him, it was the most genuine smile I’d given anyone since he left. I felt sick with nerves.
He pulled me up into a hug and squeezed me so hard I thought he would crush me. I was stiff and unresponsive I couldn’t let myself go back.
‘God,’ he breathed in my ear. That’s all it took, that and the familiar smell of him and I melted into him. I breathed him in and put everything I had into that hug. He pulled away first and instantly I missed his touch.
‘You look incredible, what are you doing here?’ he said.
He didn’t look any different to how I remembered him, he was a man now though, taller and his muscles were well defined. Same green eyes that drank me in and same full lips that caused my stomach to flip when he smiled at me.
‘I live here now, I was dragged out by a friend and fell in love. It’s pretty hard not to, the laid back lifestyle, the beaches and the sun, so I stayed.’ I looked around, just to stop staring at him.
‘Wow! Good on you… This is insane, it’s been what ten years? You look exactly the same, apart from the tan.’ His hands were holding mine, as though proof that I was real.
‘I can’t quite believe you are here, I wrote to you a year after, did you get it?’ I hoped to god he didn’t, it would mean he really did mean the things he said.
I watched his face and he looked sad and I knew I hadn’t found him, I was about to lose him all over again.
‘I don’t know what to say, I’m sorry. You will never understand how sorry I am… Truly.’ His eyes held mine and I bit my lip to stop myself from saying something stupid or worse crying. How can someone who broke me so bad still have such a hold over me? All this time and he still owns my heart.
‘Let me get your number, please? I will take you to dinner tomorrow and we can catch up. I want to know everything. I’m only here for three more days, I can’t leave and never see you again.’
I can’t help myself I smile like a fool at him and the butterflies in my stomach go insane at the thought of seeing him again. ‘I can’t…’
He interrupts me, speaking in a rush as if he needs to gets his words out desperately. ‘I’m sorry I should have told you that it wasn’t a request, I will be seeing you. I have to.’
I laugh, I can’t help it. ‘If you had let me finish Ben, I was going to say I could do breakfast. Dinner is too far away.’ I smile at his beautiful face as it breaks into a huge grin.
‘Breakfast is too far away, I have a minibar that needs raiding right now.’ With that he slides his arm around my hip leading me towards the clubs exit. The feel of his hand on my hip burns my skin and I have to fight back the urge to throw myself into his arms.
We walked the whole way back to the hotel in silence our eyes never leaving each other’s faces, our smiles never fading. I never thought I would see that smile again, yet here he was in Australia holding my hand. He led me into his hotel apartment and the scene from the window instantly caught my eye, Bondi Beach at midnight was breath-taking, the moon was bright and it bounced off the ocean in the most mesmerising way. Ben opened the balcony doors and you could hear each wave as it crashed against the golden sand, even this late at night it was inviting.
I turned to Ben and he was staring at me with those eyes of his that seemed as though he could see my soul.
‘It just… takes my breath away.’
I turned to look at the beach and I couldn’t help but agree. ‘It really does.’
He came and stood next to me, his arm flush against mine.
‘I wasn’t talking about the view silly, I meant you. You’re beautiful, no, that’s not enough. You’re standing here in what I can only describe as pyjama bottoms and a plain black top, yet you’re flawless.’
We were now facing each other and I felt myself struggle for breath. His words always left me breathless and I never doubted what he told me.
‘Hang on a second pyjama bottoms? You cheeky sod! I will have you know these are very fashionable.’ I give his chest a poke and instantly regret it, the feel of his muscles causes my stomach to clench at the thought of seeing them without a shirt on. This damn boy.
‘Sit.’ He pushes me onto the huge couch and walks towards the bar, the actual bar, there is nothing mini about it.
‘What would like to drink?’ He rolled the sleeves of his white shirt up and I can see his right forearm is a sleeve of tattoos, I practically run towards him.
‘Ben! Wow, when did you get these? They’re incredible.’ I pull his arm towards me and trace my fingers over his skin, I feel him tense under my touch. I look up and he’s just watching my fingers as they explore the ink upon his arms.
‘Take your shirt off I want to see them all, the whole arm right? Like you always said.’ That’s when I notice the tiny little tattoo on his wrist. My heart stops. He always said he would, I never believed for a second he actually would go through with it. I force myself to drop his arm before he notices where my gaze has stopped.
‘Same old Amy, not even had a drink and you’re already getting me out of my clothes.’ He’s smirking at me. It takes me back to when we couldn’t make it past the front door without at least one of us losing some clothes.
‘Shut up, I think you will find it was you always getting me undressed. God do remember your seventeenth birthday party? We snuck upstairs to your bedroom whilst everyone was in the garden celebrating?’
‘HA! Yes and your dad rang you and you thought he would suspect it was too quiet inside so you hung out the window with only a sheet wrapped around you, so he would hear some background noise. Then you dropped your phone!’
I laugh at the memory of his cousin bringing my smashed phone up to me, embarrassed that everyone now knew what we were up to and nervous that my dad would go mad when he saw my phone.
He grins at me, his eyes crinkling at the sides, I want to reach out and touch him but I have to bite down the urge.
‘I never wanted you to leave that night, all I ever wanted was one night where I could have you fall asleep in my arms and wake up with you. But your dad wouldn’t have none of it.’
‘Me too. But I was his little girl, and we were teenagers who couldn’t keep our hands off each other, you can’t blame him’
He hands me a drink and then pulls me back towards the sofa, sitting next to me, our legs touching. He lifts his arm and rests it on the sofa behind my head, I want to lean into his chest and breath him in. I don’t.
‘What are you doing over here?’ I twist my body so I’m facing him and I can look into the face I’ve seen every time I’ve closed my eyes since he left.
‘Holiday, it’s been rough at home and I needed a break to get my head around everything that’s happened.’ He pauses and rubs his hands over his face, without thinking I grab his hand letting him know I’m here.
‘My granddad had cancer.’
My heart stops .I loved his granddad to pieces, he lived with Ben’s mum and helped raise him. He was beautiful inside and out, I would often be found in his room with him just chatting away like two friends.
Ben saw my face and smiled. ‘He’s fine, I promise. Fought it like the warrior he is. Been clear for three years, I was terrified. This holiday was his gift to me for everything I did for him.’ He rubs the tears falling from my face with his thumbs then pulls me into him, I feel his lips on my forehead as he gently kisses me.
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry for your granddad and I’m sorry you had to go through the pain of seeing him unwell.’ I fist his shirt in my hand, the thought of him feeling helpless, lost or sad hurts me.
I feel his arms tighten around me.
‘You have nothing to be sorry for. Wait until I tell him and mum I’ve seen you, they still talk about you. Always say you was the best thing to happen to me.’ He lifts my chin with his finger so I’m looking into his eyes. ‘I need to apologise about how I ended things, I was young and stupid and I thought you deserved someone better than me. You, you were too good for me. I was this tough kid from the wrong side of the tracks and you were this good girl who I led astray. I never went to school until I met you, and then you were skipping school too. You deserved so much better than me. I’m sorry, I know I hurt you, I read your letter and it broke me to know I hurt you so bad. I never meant to cause you pain. I knew in my heart I could never give you the life you deserved. I had nothing to offer. I knew I would eventually let you down. I had no choice I had to let you go… Just so you know, you are my only regret in life. I should never have let you go. I’m sorry. But I still believe I did the right thing, I’m still not enough for you, I never will be. You deserve the moon and the stars and I can’t give you that.’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, years of hurting and wondering if I would ever truly recover from him and realising that I would always love him no matter what. I was such an idiot. I stupidly got my hopes up that he was about to tell me we could try again, that us meeting like this was a sign. But I was wrong, he will never choose me and no matter how hard I try to hate him for hurting me I simply couldn’t. I was going to lose him all over again and he wasn’t even mine to lose.
‘God Ben. You’re an idiot, I hope you realise that. If you thought any of that you didn’t know me at all, I idolised you. I put you on a pedestal and I would have followed you to the ends of the earth. When you asked me out I couldn’t believe my luck, you were the ‘cool kid’ and I was just some geek with her nose in a book, but what we had was real. You hurt me, I know people say you can’t find real love as a teenager, but we did. God Ben we had it and you just threw that away.’ I couldn’t stop now I’d started, he is the only person I’ve ever been able to be honest with. ‘Everyone I’ve met since you has never stood a chance because you ruined me, I loved you with everything I had and I can’t be with anyone else because I can’t give them my heart, want to know why?’ I’m angry now and he can see it, before I even tell him I can see in his eyes he knows what I’m about to say.
‘Because my heart belongs to you and it always will!’
I stand up and start to walk away, I have to get out of here I have to leave this time, I can’t let him pull me back in. I reach the door and open it but his hands slam it shut, he’s behind me with each hand either side of my head his breath stroking the back of my neck.
‘Don’t. Don’t walk away, I’m begging you. Please don’t leave me like this. I know I hurt you, I hurt myself too. I’m so sorry. Please look at me. Please.’
I have to force myself to breathe, I’m shaking and my tears are giving away my secrets. I turn to face him and see fear on his face.
‘I can’t do this, not again. Being near you makes me feel like a teenager all over again. You consume me. You’re the last thing I think of before I sleep and the first thing I think of when I wake, even to this day. Now you’re here and I want to run to you and beg you to never let me go again, but you aren’t going to let that happen! I can’t do this, I can’t do us. Because if I lost you again, I don’t think I would ever recover. I have to let you go and if you really loved me, you would let me. Let me get over you once and for all. Please?’
He stares at me for what seems like an eternity then turns and walks away. Yet again I’m left to go and mend a heart that never really healed the first time.
I’m sitting on the beach watching the waves crash against my feet, I don’t care I’m getting wet, it’s nothing to the tears that are falling from my face. The sand beneath my feet is cold and wet and as I look out to sea, I notice the different shades of pink and red filling up the sky. Bondi Beach is the perfect spot to watch the sun rising. Its been the closest place to home since Ben left. With the surfing, the friendly people, the beach barbeques I’ve finally started to unwind here. The hole in my heart would never mend but slowly, being here, the pain had become easier to deal with. The beautiful Sculptures by the Sea exhibition lined the cliffs behind me casting eerie shadows in the sand. I looked down and noticed a starfish shaped shadow next to me in the sand. I choke on my own sob. It’s time to go home, I know I did the right thing, Ben is going home in three days and he left me once before there is nothing to stop him doing it again. It’s time to finally move on and stop letting my impossible love rule my life, I have to take charge once and for all.
I stand up and follow my sandy footprints back to the road, I only make it five steps when I notice a pair of feet. I know who it is before I even look up, my eyes slowly travel up and land on those freckles scattered across his nose, I once kissed every single one, thirty eight kisses. His big green eyes are boring into mine before I can even register what I’m doing I’m running to him but he makes it to me in three easy strides his hands hold the back of my neck and holds my head so our noses are touching.
‘I can’t lose you again, I thought I was doing the right thing by letting you go, I wasn’t good enough for you. Damn it I’m still not good enough for you. But there is something between us that will never die and I will fight with everything I have to make you mine again. Do you understand?’
I look at him and I know he means every word. My voice is barely a whisper. ‘When will you understand I’ve always been yours?’
His lips are instantly on mine, slow and soft at first and then he uses his tongue to part my lips, his kiss is deep and passionate, it’s the kiss that both of us need like we need air. My arms are wrapped around his neck, our bodies tightly wrapped against each other. He pulls away and stares at me,
‘Its always been you Amy.’
‘Ben that tattoo?’ The smile on his face makes me dizzy.
‘I told you I would, I will never forget you telling me that starfish made you sad because they didn’t have hearts and you worried they would never find love without a heart. So this starfish…’ he points to the tattoo. ‘Was my reminder of you…’
I go onto my tiptoes and kiss him ever so gently. I’m home, I’m finally home.