Hunter Rivera first saw Parker Williams at the school cafeteria, on the third day of his freshman year. He was intrigued by how gorgeous she was; beautiful brown skin, curly black hair, and dark brown eyes that light up whenever she smiles.
The first memory Hunter had of Parker was when she and her boyfriend—who were both sophomores at that time—were sitting at the end of a full table during lunch, but instead of communicating with each other, they were both wearing their earphones.
The next few days, Hunter kept on observing them, wondering why they would sit together if the only thing they were doing was listen to music on their own phones. Until on Monday, he stole a glance at their table and realized that they were using a headphone splitter that was plugged into one phone. In that moment, Hunter could finally grasp why they were always together but never really together; because all they wanted was to listen to the same songs at the same time in the same atmosphere. Since then, he stopped stealing glances at her, because she had caught him once, and he didn’t want to seem like a weirdo.
Two years later, Parker stopped sitting with her boyfriend. She still had her earphones plugged into her phone during lunch, only this time, she was alone. For the first time in two years, Hunter gazed at her, and for the first time since her boyfriend died, Parker cracked a smile.
Parker wasn’t popular. No one knew who she was—that was, until four months ago, when her boyfriend died in a car accident. When the news spread that Wesley Reynolds had passed away, all Hunter could think of was Parker. She didn’t come to school for a while after that, and when she finally did, people were constantly gawking at her. No one dared to ask how she was, for they all knew she wasn’t okay. The only thing people did was say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ and they fled the halls without making more conversation.
Hunter, however, wanted to be her friend. He wanted to make sure that she knew she wasn’t alone, but he wasn’t sure if she would let him in.
Then one day, he plucked up the courage to approach her at lunch. She was sitting by herself, scribbling something on her notebook with her earphones plugged into her phone.
“Hi,” Hunter said, taking a seat across from her without asking permission beforehand.
Parker, who was taken aback by his sudden presence, widened her eyes and removed one of the earphones from her ear. “Uh, hi.” She glanced down at her phone, tapping it once to pause whatever she was listening to.
Hunter caught a glimpse of her phone and only then did he realize that she wasn’t listening to music. Perhaps all this time, she was never listening to music—she was listening to an audiobook. Maybe that’s why she and Wesley never talked to each other during lunch; they were preoccupied on something else.
“What book were you reading?” Hunter asked casually, avoiding talking about Wesley.
Parker didn’t answer. Instead, she smiled, because she was glad that Hunter didn’t see her as a sob-story. She was happy that he didn’t see her as the girl whose boyfriend just died.
Since that day, Hunter and Parker started hanging out with each other. They would sit together at lunch and listen to an audiobook on Parker’s phone, they would hang out on weekends and she would come over to his house. Hunter would always try his best to be there for Parker.
And one day, when they were hanging out after school, Parker told Hunter a story from her childhood. In honesty, he couldn’t pay much attention to the story she was telling—he was too focused on a strange feeling inside of him. Whenever Parker smiled, his heart would start hammering against his chest and the feeling inside of him was a feeling so foreign, but he liked it so much.
Hunter thought that all was running smoothly. He was happy, and Parker didn’t seem as sad as she was before.
But she still was.
The smile across her face didn’t reflect how she was feeling on the inside. Only, Hunter didn’t realize that. He realized it when they were talking about Harry Potter during lunch, and he argued, “The third one is the best one, Parker. You got to agree with me on that one.”
“Okay, Wes,” Parker replied.
For a split second, Hunter felt his heart stop.
Parker stopped what she was doing, then she said, “I’m sorry. I got to go,” and she did. She left the cafeteria with tears in her eyes, leaving Hunter with daggers through his heart.
The next day, Parker didn’t go to school. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day. Hunter tried calling her phone, but it would always go to voicemail. So on January fifteenth, he decided to go to her house after school.
“I’m sorry, Hunter,” Parker’s mom said that day. “Parker doesn’t want to see anyone right now.”
All he wanted to know was whether she was okay, so he asked, “Is she okay?”
“Yes, but she’s—” Mrs. Williams stopped talking when she realized that Hunter was looking over her shoulder.
Parker was standing behind her mother, her eyes bloodshot and puffy. She had been crying. “It’s okay, Mom. I want to talk to him,” she whispered.
With that, Mrs. Williams gestured Hunter to come into the house, then she left him and her daughter to talk in the living room.
“I was worried,” Hunter began. “I tried calling you.”
Parker squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m sorry, Hunter,” she mumbled, and her eyes fluttered open. “I’m sorry about what happened that day at lunch.”
“That’s okay.” Hunter forced a smile.
“No, it’s not okay, Hunter.” She grabbed his hand and held it. “I know what you’re trying to do. Ever since you came to me, you were trying to fix me. You’re still trying to treat my scars, but it’s not your job to.” She took in a deep breath and continued saying, “You’re a good guy, Hunter. You deserve someone who gives and takes, and all I’ve done is take.”
Hunter swallowed the sudden lump in his throat.
“I’m sorry, Hunter, I really am,” Parker reiterated. “I never meant to hurt you.”
She never really did. She tried letting him in because all this time, she had been living with a void in her heart. She thought that all it took to fill it was to find someone new—was to find someone who could replace Wesley. But she was wrong. The cure to her broken heart wasn’t to find someone else; it was to let time heal her.
In the end, realization dawned on them: that to Hunter, people aren’t broken toys that can easily be fixed, and that to Parker, people aren’t missing pieces of a Lego set that can easily be replaced.