From across the farmer’s market, he recognized her immediately. She looked the same as the last time he saw her at the house he was leaving while she comforted her heartbroken friend. Her auburn locks were pulled into a high messy bun. She held the hand of a little boy with sandy brown curly hair, hazel eyes and golden skin. In her arms was a toddler no more than a year old who most likely had no relation to the little boy. She looked a lot like the woman holding her.
“Dara,” he called sprinting across the busy walkway, dodging shoppers as he moved.
The woman stopped in her tracks and waited for him to reach her. As she watched him weave a path through the annoyed market attendees, the little boy became restless. He tugged at her hand ready to move on to the next, more exciting stall.
“Come on!” He whined.
“You have to wait. Be patient.” She said.
A few seconds later, the man and woman were standing face-to-face.
“Dara,” he said again. “It’s good to see you.”
Dara smiled, “likewise. It’s been a while.”
The man nodded his head and studied her face. He could tell there was so much more behind that statement. He could see the justified accusations in her piercing glare. “It has—six, seven years?” He said. The uncertainty in his words was insincere. He knew exactly how long it had been—six years, eight months and two days.
“Sounds about right. Last I heard you were seeing someone.”
He laughed, “I probably was.”
“Dara…” the boy’s small voice interrupted them. “Can we go now?” He asked.
The man looked at the boy, and then at the woman standing in front of him.
“Her son? Yeah. Colin,” Dara turned her attention to the boy standing at her side. “say ‘hi’.”
At being addressed the little boy instantly clammed up. He let go of Dara’s hand and moved to hide behind her leg instead. With her other arm free, Dara readjusted the toddler she was holding and pushed a strand of loose hair behind her ear.
“He can be shy at times.” Dara explained reaching behind her to pat the little boy’s back affectionately.
“He looks like his mother.” He said as he stared wistfully at what he could see of Colin. He wondered what the boy’s father was like, whether the man who had ended up with Colin’s mother was worthy of the intelligent and beautiful woman that she had been when he knew her, before he had caused her so much pain.
When he left all those years ago, he had not meant to hurt her. He definitely did not mean to destroy her the way that he did. At the time, he felt he needed to move on. It had felt like their relationship was suffocating him. She had begged him not to go, but he knew he could not stay. Now he wondered ‘what if?’.
“So, how is she? Is she doing okay?” He asked. He wasn’t sure what he wanted the answer to be. There was a part of him that wanted her to have the world. That wanted her to be happy even if it was not with him. How could her happiness be with him, especially after what he did and how he left? Then there was the jealous, selfish egomaniacal side that wanted her to be miserable. He had no right to feel that way. He knew that. But it is hard to control how you feel.
Dara grinned widely, her smile radiated in her eyes. “She’s wonderful, absolutely great. She’s happy. She’s married, and they just closed on a new house. To top it all off, she’s popping out babies like you wouldn’t believe.” She laughed.
He nodded and suppressed a grimace. She had wanted kids. They had talked about it. He always told her she would be a wonderful mother.
“Yeah. Colin here is 3, David is eight months and she just announced she’s expecting their third child. She’s a bit overwhelmed, but she’s doing great and her husband is a saint.”
“Oh.” He felt a little dejected. “That’s good to hear.” He attempted to hide the melancholy from his tone.
Despite his efforts, Dara picked up on the underlying sadness in his voice and raised an eyebrow. “You really have no right to,” Dara started, but he cut her off before she could finish.
“I know that, Dara. I know that. I just wonder if she ever,”
“You broke her.” Dara stated in a matter-of-fact way. “So, no, you do not get to ask that question.”
He lowered his head, dejected from.
“I take it there’s no one for you then?” Dara asked.
“There was. For a while, there was. But she wasn’t...”
“Dara look, it’s Jess.” Colin interrupted the adults’ conversation.
Dara glanced to where the little boy was pointing and saw her husband approaching. She looked down at her godson and easily recognized the plea in his eyes.
He watched as a silent conversation took place between Dara and Colin.
“Okay, you can go.”
Both adults watched as the sandy-haired boy sprinted into the arms of a man with spikey jet black hair and dark brown eyes. The man lifted Colin into the air before settling him on his hip. His eyes found Dara’s and he waved. Dara nodded before turning her attention to the man in front of her.
“She’s happy.” Dara said for the second time. “You need to let it go. Let her go; let her be,” Dara paused. “Of course, I thought you already did that five and half years ago.”
“I did, or at east I thought I did. I still think about her. I think about what it would be like if I hadn’t left, if I hadn’t ended things.”
The two stood silently. Dara adjusted her daughter once more. “Those aren’t questions you get to ask.”
He heard a sense of finality in her voice and nodded in agreement.
“I know I am. I should be going.”
“Will you tell her you ran into me?” He asked. He knew he sounded like a narcissistic asshole, but he wanted to know. He wanted to know that she thought about him again if only for a moment in passing.
“Maybe,” Dara said. “I really don’t know.”
“That’s fair. Well, take care Dara.” He turned around and left the woman he once considered a friend. He walked back over to where he had been before he spotted Dara. He then began to maneuver his way through the crowd and toward the parking lot.
As he walked, he contemplated the conversation he had. Dara was correct about so many things. He did not have a right to ask about her, to want to know how her life had turned out, especially after the way he treated her. She had been everything any man would want. And some other man was making her happy now, treating her the way she deserved, the way he should have. He still could not help but to ask what if. Seeing her son, threw him for a loop. He knew the second he saw him, he was hers. It was the smile that gave him away. When they were together they had talked about their future, they talked about their family. But he was the one who walked away. He was the one who thought he wanted something, someone different. And now, more than six years later, he is the one standing around wondering, “what if?”.