There’s a reason it’s there, but I just can’t nail it down. This graduation invitation is an opportunity for me to put my fears to rest. I can finally see that Eden is happy and healthy and in no danger. I’m sure she’s got a plan to go to college and live her life to the fullest. I’ll go, and then I’ll feel much better about everything.
I tell myself this, but the whole time I’ve got that feeling that something is coming.
I stand in the back of the auditorium as the students cross the stage one at a time. I’ve been searching her out in the crowd, but all the blue gowns just seem to blur together, and the hats don’t freaking help. It’s driving me fucking nuts that I haven’t seen her yet. Those feelings I’d felt that day she was missing start to crush in on me, even though I know they’re ridiculous and make absolutely no sense at all. But that doesn’t stop them. Those feelings are still there. Those hours of looking for her and not finding her. I take a deep breath to calm myself.
Something has been clawing at me. It has been two years, but now it’s digging in deep. I feel like it’s ripping at me. This need to just see her. To know I’m in the same room with her. To place my eyes on her. To see if those blue eyes of hers still shine like I remember them, or if I’d built them up in my mind to be more than they were.
The older man at the podium calls out the names in no particular order, so I can’t even try to gauge when she might be coming. What the hell happened to alphabetical? I grab the back of my neck, giving myself a squeeze and trying to pull some of the mounting tension out of my body. It’s been building since I got the invitation in the mail. You’d think I was on the job with how I’m feeling at this moment. A high risk job, where I’m just waiting for something big to happen at any moment.
“Eden Mathews,” the man finally says, making my head snap up just as she walks up the stairs to the stage. She looks like everything I remember. I curse myself for not getting a seat closer. I’d wanted to stand in the back. I’d only needed to get a glance, hoping it would be enough to kick whatever this pounding need I’ve been having to see her again, but now it’s going into overdrive. I kept telling myself it’s because a part of me feels protective of her. Proud, even, that she’s graduating. That what happened to her didn’t hold her back in life. That she’s moving forward.
But this need is turning into an obsession, taking on a life of its own. I want to get closer. The look clearly isn’t enough. As if she senses I’m here, her eyes come straight to me, even through the crowd of people. She focuses right in on me, her whole face lighting up in recognition, those dimples showing. I can see them from all the way back here. They make her look so fucking innocent it takes my breath away for a second.
I just stare at her, but she turns her head back to the person giving her her diploma. I feel the loss immediately. Worse than the time I had to finally let her go, placing her in the ambulance and watching it drive away.
Something is different. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I turn and make my way out the exit. I’m not sure what the fuck I’m doing or where I’m going. I just know I can’t breathe.
He came. Those words repeat over and over again in my head. I knew I could feel him when I walked on the stage as if my body was just attuned to him. I turned to look and he was just there staring back at me with the most intense eyes. Eyes I could never forget. Eyes I haven't forgotten over the years. This crush never lessened, even with time.
When I exited the stage I didn’t go back to my seat like I was supposed to. I rushed to where he was standing but he was gone. Nowhere to be found. I didn’t even get to talk to him. Not even a simple hello. There were so many things I wanted to say but he just left. Like the last time I’d seen him. Just gone without a trace. Taking a little part of me with him.
I look at myself in the mirror of my bedroom having removed my gown and dress and now only wearing a swimsuit for the party my parents had put together.
Maybe he’s come tonight. I invited him to both the graduation and the party. But what if he doesn’t, a little voice in the back of my head whispers making a knot form in my tummy.
He has to. He will.
I make myself believe those words. There’s no other option, he has to come. I’ve been waiting for this moment for the past two years. To talk to the man that saved my life. I’d researched the story a few times since that day.
There had been plenty of articles on the kidnapping. My stepfather is a rich man and the news ate up the story. Wanting to know anything and everything. I soaked up all their stories equally. Some might think I was annoyed with the press but I wasn't. It gave me away to find out more about Coen. Like that he killed the man that had taken me and lost everything because of it.