Josh didn't turn, and when he spoke, there was no inflection. "What are you doing here, Alan?"
How could he be so calm, when all around me the world was crashing? Choking sobs heaved out of me; I couldn't take my eyes off of Alan. One thought kept running through my mind: he was here. He had followed me and he was here. He left that ditzy, cheerful Barbie doll and he was here.
"Maria," he whispered, overcome with emotion. "Maria."
Josh whirled around suddenly, face livid, eyes fuming. "What are you doing here, Alan?! Why can't you just leave her alone?!"
Alan stared at him as if he'd never seen him before, then spoke with almost childlike surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Helping her find you!" he shouted, still livid. "What did you--?"
And both men turned to me, at once as hurt and betrayed as I still was.
I leapt up, trying to see past the constant tears. "Josh, please, I have a name. I'm not 'her'."
Neither men said anything.
Oh, God, what was this? How could this have happened? Alan was here, but what for? To apologize? He was engaged to that Barbie. And Josh......if Josh really loved me, why would he help me find Alan?
Josh loved me.
I stumbled back, falling back onto the couch in surprise. Josh loved me. It couldn't be. I'd only ever loved and been loved by one man...but Josh loved me. When did that happen? When between the newspaper articles and computer searches did that happen?
"Maria," but I couldn't tell who spoke. Everything swam together--Josh loved me. But I loved Alan. And Alan was here.
"No," I whimpered, and then the world went black.
* * *
He should've known that she would never stop loving him. He should've known....after all, if she didn't give up on him after seven years, why would she give up on him just because he had a girlfriend? But he didn't just have a girlfriend, the voice inside his head screamed. He was engaged.
Any normal person would give up by this point.
But then, maybe she'd already given up. Maybe it just didn't matter. Maybe she would always love him no matter what he was, engaged or otherwise. The thought made a sick feeling arise in Josh's stomach.
Alan paced the room, occasionally stopping and staring at Maria, who was spread out on the couch like a sleeping angel. And it occured to Josh that she had loved him before that day, too; before the day when he disappeared. She loved him for over a decade, and Alan had loved her for seven years, and he'd loved her for a month.
By normal standars, Alan had a claim to her that Josh would never have.
Why couldn't she have fallen in love with him all those years ago?
But it wasn't like he didn't love her in school. He'd always wanted to ask her out, even just talk to her, but social boundaries and Alan, who either loved her or hated her, kept them apart. And when they both went off to college, he made himself forget about her because it wouldn't do any good to think every day about someone he'd never seen again. Why couldn't she do the same?
"Spill it, Markeson," Alan hissed suddenly. "What are you doing with her?"
"Helping her find you," Josh said cruelly. "You still don't listen very well, do you?"
"I see how you look at her," Alan said with deadly calmness. "I'm telling you--"
"You're engaged, you son of a bitch."
Alan was quiet for a long moment, then said, hesitatingly: "Not anymore."
"You're more of an asshole than I thought."
"I can't be with her anymore."
Josh paused, then did something he'd hate himself for forever.
"She doesn't love you anymore."
Alan raised an eyebrow. "I'm supposed to believe you?"
"Listen, Mason. You don't know her like I do. I--"
"At the risk of sounded conceited, Markeson," Alan sneered cruelly. "I am 100% sure she still loves me."
Josh just shook his head.
Alan faltered suddenly.
"You didn't see her face," he whispered. "It was obvious..."
"Do you know what she was yelling when I brought her inside?"
Alan said nothing.
"'I hate him, I hate him...'"
"Would you forgive yourself, if you were in her place?"
Alan as quiet, staring at Maria, then abruptly turned.
"I can't leave her. I finally found her again."
Josh forced himself to dismiss the pain on his old friend's face and barrelled on. "She doesn't want you to stay, Alan."
He gaped at him for at least a minute, then turned and walked out the door.
* * *
When I woke up, Josh was standing over me, and I could tell instantly that Alan was no longer in the room.
"Where is he?" I demanded hysterically. "Where is he?!"
Josh bit his lip. "I'm...I'm sorry Maria. He left."
"Why?" Did my voice sound as pathetically childlike as it sounded?
"He said he had to get back to Stephenie. He only came to apologize for upsetting you."
This time I didn't cry. I was too numb. I couldn't feel anything, because my heart had been ripped out and trampled on. But I had been so sure--and his eyes--I thought he still loved me.
Stupid! my inner voice screamed. Stupid stupid stupid! Why would he still love you?! Why would he--?!
"I'm so sorry, Maria," Josh whispered.