A girl who came from a humble background was dumped by her high school friend. But as years went on and as fate would have it, they would meet again and share a life-changing conversation.
“Erm … I am not sure where to start, Ann, but I guess that’s it for us,” Charles uttered, trying his very best to get rid of the awkwardness.
“You know, I think it’s just time for us to move on. See new people and all,” Charles responded after a brief pause. “It’s not you, it’s me.”
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Anna stood there, startled and stupefied. Sure, she’d heard about tales of high school romance, how it never lasts … but when the time actually came, when the news actually hit her, she found it difficult to believe. Is this really happening? Is it? Or maybe this is just a bad dream. Maybe she will open her eyes and everything will go back to normal.
“Sorry Ann,” Charles continued. And Anna knew that this wasn’t a dream, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“Does it have anything to do with Kate?” Somehow she found the courage to ask him that dreaded question.
“N-no … we’ve just been hanging out, that’s all,” Charles responded. But that’s all Anna needed to know—the stutter was the perfect giveaway.
Girl carrying books and a backpack | Photo: Unsplash
Of course, it has to be Kate. Cheerleader, the daughter of a lawyer, a girl born with a golden spoon. What can she do about it? There’s no competition.
She came from a poor family herself, raised by a single mother—she often had to take care of her two younger siblings. While her friends were out partying, she had to stay home and babysit her little brothers as her mother worked night shifts in the nearby mall.
Life isn’t fair. It never was and never will be, she thought to herself as she slowly walked back home. Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” played at every street corner. The year was 1987. She’s been put in the corner, and there was no one to fend for her.
Woman walking on the street | Source: Pexels
That night she stayed in her room all night, head buried between her knees with her back against the wall. Sobbing, whimpering … she had an urge to scream out the pain, but she didn’t want to wake up her little brothers, and deep inside she knew it wouldn’t fix anything either.
The dawn broke outside the window before she knew it. She could feel the warmth of the morning sun shining on her shoulder, birds chirping outside, cars beginning to shuffle to and fro. How many hours has it been? She wondered. But then she heard the rattling of the keys.
Must be her mother, she thought. She heard footsteps across the living room, light and soft, tiptoeing even, with her mother trying her best not to make a sound. The footsteps came a little closer, and she heard the door creak open, slowly and gently.
Sad woman sitting on the floor by a bed | Source: Pexels
Her mother was trying to check on her—but when she noticed her daughter’s teary eyes, she realized something was wrong. “Oh darling, something happened?”
She didn’t answer.
“Does it have anything to do with Charles?”
The question was met with silence. But then she nodded.
Her mother then proceeded to take a seat next to her, putting her handbag next to the bedside. She gently placed Anna’s head on her shoulder and kissed her on her forehead.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Everything’s okay …”
Holding hands | Source: Pexels
“Life isn’t fair, isn’t it?” Anna finally spoke up. “Charles has been hanging out with Kate a lot, and he finally broke up with me. Why mom? She already has everything. Sometimes I wish my life was different … I don’t know, I just want things to be different,” she began sobbing again.
“You can still change, sweetheart. You still have a chance at a different life. It might be too late for me, but it’s not too late for you,” her mother responded.
“But don’t you want a different life?” Anna asked.
Two women having coffee | Photo: Unsplash
“I am happy with what I have now,” she responded. “You know, I was in love with a boy from school—before I met your father, of course. But it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Oh … well, he was sent to Saigon. He never came back,” her mother responded, staring into an empty void for a brief moment. There was a deafening silence in the air.
“But then I met your father … God rest his soul. And then I have you guys,” she continued. “Life has certainly taken a strange turn for me, but I am happy with what I have.”
Assorted old photos | Source: Pexels
“But don’t you want something to be different now?” Anna asked.
“You. And your brothers. I want you to have a different life,” her mother responded after another pause. “That’s what I wish for, for your lives to be different. For your chance to live a different life.”
She then continued after another long pause. “There are things we can change and there are things we cannot. I cannot change my past, but you can change your future,” she added. “You’re going to college after the summer—embrace the opportunities, be better than us.”
A woman in a suit and glasses shaking hands with a woman across her | Source: Pexels
Fast forward 20 years. Anna worked hard in college, spent most of her days in the library, got her scholarship, and even went off to Oxford and got her Ph.D. there.
Eventually, she became an economic analyst at a leading think tank in the country. It wasn’t easy, but she understood it was all worth it. But she didn’t do it for herself, either—she did it for the future, or rather, for her family’s chance at a better future.
The year was 2009, and she decided to head back to her hometown for Thanksgiving. So much has changed, she thought to herself. The last time she came back was ten years ago.
Right as she stepped outside the airport, she could see the skyscrapers looming in the distance. Time has certainly moved on, even for her small hometown. She called for a taxi and stepped in.
A taxi driver putting on his seatbelt | Source: Pexels
“Howdy. Where can I take you?” the taxi driver asked … but that voice sounded familiar. A bit rough on the edges, but she could faintly recall the voice from the back of her memories.
She looked at the rearview mirror and noticed a familiar face. “Charles? Is that you …?”
“Well yeah, I … oh, Anna? What a surprise!”
“Yes, it’s been years, isn’t it.”
“Indeed. Your old house I presume?”
An awkward silence ensued. Charlies decided to break the silence and initiated the conversation.
Inside the Taxi | Source: Pexels
“Where have you been all these years? Haven’t seen you at any of our reunions,” he asked while looking at her through the rearview mirror—she certainly looked different.
“Different places. A few years in New York, then I got my Ph.D. in Oxford. Now mostly moving around between New York and Edinburgh,” she answered.
“Sounds like a good life. Edinburgh … where is that?”
“Oh, it’s in Scotland …”
“Scotland? Did I tell you my grandfather was from there? That makes me … a quarter Scottish I think? I should really go there sometime.”
“You should, it’s a beautiful place. My husband is from there.”
“Oh, so you’re married now?”
“Yes. With two kids as well. They’re in London now, they'll be here for Christmas.”
“Well, I hope they will like it here. A lot has changed here.”
An abandoned building | Source: Pexels
“What about you? How’s life?” Anna wasn’t sure whether it’d be appropriate at first, but she decided to ask him anyway.
“Oh well, good and bad. Been trading stocks for a few years, but then the whole Lehman Brothers thing came crashing down. Ended up driving a taxi—gotta make a living somehow,” he laughed. But Anna could see the uneasiness in his smile.
“What about Kate? I wonder what happened to her,” Anna found it rather awkward to ask the question, but curiosity got the better of her.
“Kate? The cheerleader? Went to study in Switzerland. Ended up marrying a Swiss banker I heard.” Charles looked into the rearview mirror as he tried to get a better look at Anna.
“Life is strange, isn’t it?” he said. The streetlights passed by one after another, casting various shades of shadows on both of them.
Street lamps in the sunset | Source: Pexels
“It sure is. But everything does work out eventually. One way or another,” Anna responded, looking out the window, staring at the scenery she was once familiar with.
Eventually, the car stopped in front of her old house. Still the same old house, but in a way better condition than it was before.
“That’d be $30.59,” Charles said. Anna went through her wallet, found a crisp $50 bill, and handed it to Charles.
“Keep the change. Things will get better. Trust me,” she said, giving off a timorous smile as she stepped out of the taxi. But as she was approaching the house she turned back towards Charles.
“Come visit Scotland sometime. It’s a wonderful place."
What can we learn from this story?
Remember, there are things we can and cannot change. We might not be able to change the circumstances, but we can still work hard for a better future. Nothing lasts forever, be it good or bad—if something bad happens, maybe the timing's just not right. We just have to keep trying.
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