Alice is in Niagara Falls on a hen/bachelorette weekend for her friend Hannah, who is getting married to Ed in a few weeks… The ladies have met up with some guys who are staying in the same hotel, one of whom is Toby…
“We’re a bit early, ladies, shall we grab a coffee? There’s a place just across the street?” Mike suggested. Everyone nodded.
“I’m gonna wait here,” I told them.
“You okay?” Hannah asked me.
“Fine, I could just do with some fresh air, and I’d like to take more photos.”
“Okay. See you in half an hour?”
“Sure, I’ll be around here.”
Hannah looked worried but turned and followed the others. Billy gave me a warm smile but also joined the group. I leant against the balustrade, and took another photo.
“So are you excited about the wedding?” Toby made me jump.
“You didn’t want coffee?”
“I had plenty with breakfast. And I prefer to enjoy the view.”
I held my camera up and took a photo of a tree, with the Falls in the background.
“Are you excited about Hannah’s wedding?”
I nodded. “Yeah, of course.”
“You just … I don’t know. I’ve got a vibe, that’s all.”
“You’re pretty intuitive.”
“I’m really happy for Hannah, I just … I don’t know…”
“Tell me about her fiancé.”
“Ed is … well, he’s a great guy. Really lovely, funny, and smart.”
“There must be something about him you don’t like, if you’re not quite behind the wedding.”
“No, he’s great. He’ll make an amazing husband.”
“So you’re in love with him?”
I turned from the water to look at him. His eye brows were raised, but he wasn’t smiling.
“No. I … he’s … I like him. A lot. Maybe I’ve got a tiny crush, but… Oh wow, why am I telling you this? I’ve never told anyone this.”
I gave a nervous laugh and turned away, I didn’t dare look at him, my eyes were filling with water. I kept looking at the falls, which kept running over and crashing down, just like they always had and always would.
“I’m a pretty good listener.”
“I’m sure you are, but I hardly know you.”
“Maybe it’d help?”
“What do you want me to say?” I asked, my voice sounding almost hysterical. I looked at him again, taking in his face. He had a kind expression and I relaxed a little.
“What good would it do, to talk about it?”
“Sorry, I just thought maybe it’d make you feel better.”
Would it make me feel better? I had no idea.
“Would talking about it ease the pain of knowing the man I love doesn’t love me back? That he is in love with my oldest friend instead? That I’ll never, ever get to be with him? I think talking about it would just make me cry. And I don’t like to cry.”
I was standing, facing him now, my voice louder than I’d intended, my camera in one hand. The look of sadness and sympathy on his face made me feel embarrassed and I felt my face heat up.
“I’m sorry, I just thought you might like to talk about him, get it off your chest.”
“Ed is amazing. Happy now? He’s amazing. But he’s in love with Hannah. And I don’t wish it were me instead of her, because she’s happy, and I want her to be happy!”
My eyes were full of tears now and as I blinked, a single drop fell and ran down my cheek. Toby put his thumb on it and rubbed it away gently. His touch made me catch my breath.
“But you’re unhappy…”
I shrugged. “Not unhappy. Just … sad.”
He nodded and just looked at me. I looked right back, trying to read his mind again.
“I’ve no idea why I told you all that,” I said. I rubbed my eyes carefully. “Have I smudged my mascara?”
“Unrequited love sucks,” he said.
“It sure does.”
“But you know what, you determine your own happiness.”
He squeezed my hand for just a second and I felt a little current pass between us. I looked at him for a moment longer, wondering how a practical stranger could have made me open up about this so easily. I forced my eyes away to the falls and we looked out in silence for a little while.
“The others are coming back,” he said, smiling warmly. “Take a deep breath, you’re going to be fine.”
I did as he said, breathing deeply. Somehow, I felt relieved.
“Alice!” Hannah called. “Come on!”
I followed Toby, and we re-joined the others at the top of the steps that led to the boats. We walked down, everyone chatting happily while I digested what had just happened. Part of me wanted to stay away from Toby, to not let myself open up like that ever again. The other part wanted to get him alone and pour my heart out.