My Skylar


by Penelope Ward

PROLOGUE

MITCH

Skylar had no idea that I watched her. Once a week, I would sit in my car diagonally across from her house on the quiet suburban street where she lived now—with him. It made me want to vomit just thinking about her with another man, let alone having to witness it.

This spot was one of three where I parked that provided the perfect angle to see into her living room. I would switch positions each week to be less conspicuous, and my car lights were always turned off. A small pair of binoculars came in handy and except for the lack of a partner in crime, it was much like a stakeout you’d see in the movies.

I packed dinner in a brown bag; usually a peanut butter sandwich and a protein shake and made a night of it until the lights shut off downstairs, signaling that she had gone to sleep. Then, I’d drive home to my empty bed and hope that I’d dream about her.

The name of her street was Bayberry Lane. It was the type of neighborhood she deserved: safe, aligned with plush trees and perfectly manicured lawns, about two and a half hours outside of New York City in Jersey. It was the next town over from where we grew up and the type of place I’d always imagined we would end up together, happily ever after.

It had been five, long years since Skylar uttered a single word to me. Most of that time, she had been living out of state. The word on the street was that she left to attend interior design school, but the truth was, she had been running away from me.

Because I broke her heart.

A few years after she left, she met a guy. Our mutual friend, Davey, would give me inside information on her, and as much as I hated the idea of Skylar settling down with another man, if she were truly happy, I knew I had to accept it. It was a whole lot easier when she was far away. I’d assumed she would never come back here. That is, until one night when my world as I knew it turned upside down during a simple run to Target for toothpaste.

I spotted her first. She was looking down at the back label of a bottle of mouthwash when I entered the aisle, and she hadn’t noticed me standing a few feet away.

My heart started to pound while my chest constricted. Skylar was always a beautiful girl, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of her as a full-grown woman. I had always imagined how it might be to see her again, but the intensity of my physical and emotional reaction caught me off guard.

Her long, auburn hair was a bit darker now and tied into a low ponytail cascading down her back. She was wearing a simple black and white plaid wool coat that had a thick belt wrapped around her tiny waist. She seemed a lot taller, but when I looked down, I realized it was because she was wearing high-heeled boots.

She still hadn’t turned to notice me, and with my chest tight and my throat closed, I just stared at her, silently urging myself to say something before she walked away. The word was hardly audible when it came out. “Skylar.”

When her eyes met mine, it felt as though my heart started beating again for the first time in five years. It made me realize how dead inside I had been.

She took a small step back, and her chest rose up and down in shock. Not only had this been the first time we’d laid eyes on each other since before she left town, but I looked a lot different.

A couple of years ago, at the height of a depression, I started taking my frustrations out on my body and began a rigorous workout regimen that had now become a daily routine. So, I was bigger and probably a little scarier than the college boy she left behind.

She didn’t know the half of how hardened I had become, more so on the inside. She, on the other hand, looked delicate and sophisticated compared to my rugged appearance in worn jeans and a soiled, beige construction jacket.

She stood there speechless, looking down at the tattooed letters on my knuckles. She never knew me with tattoos.

Say something, Skylar…anything.

Then, I heard a male voice at the end of the aisle. “Come on, Sky. I don’t have all friggin’ day.”

Sky. No one called her Sky. She hated that nickname. And he was being short with her. I didn’t like his choice of words or the look on his face that I spied before turning my head, pretending to look at the toothpaste selection.

I was seething. Him. I didn’t even know him, and I wanted to destroy him. All I knew was that he had the only thing I’d ever wanted.

She turned around toward this guy who I could only assume was the boyfriend. “I…I’m sorry. I’ll be right there.” She sounded nervous, discombobulated, nothing like the cool, self-assured Skylar I once knew…and loved. I still loved her. She had been my best friend, the most important person in the world to me for so many years…before I f**ked us up.

My face was still turned away when I heard her heels clicking away from me and more than that, I felt her body leave me as the sudden absence triggered the return of a familiar and unbearable longing that I had only recently learned to keep at bay.

I stayed in the same spot for an undetermined amount of time, staring blankly at the shelves as all of the emotions I tried to bury for years flooded me full force again.

When I finally moved, I saw her standing in line waiting to pay. Her boyfriend must have been waiting in the car because he was nowhere in sight.

Let her go, Mitch.

I almost did…until I saw it.

Skylar lifted her hand to her eyes and began wiping away tears. She looked behind her shoulder to make sure no one was watching and didn’t realize I was just on the other side of her a few registers down hiding behind a magazine. My heart felt like it was ready to explode. She was crying, and I knew it was because of me. It should have hurt, but instead, it invigorated me.

She still felt something.

Whether it was sadness or hatred or even a fraction of love, I didn’t know. But anything was better than complacency. I had convinced myself that Skylar was gone forever, not only away from town, but that her feelings for me had to have long dissipated. I had never been able to move on from her but assumed that by now, she might have moved past what happened between us.

As she wiped her eyes again, I knew I had to know more. I just needed to know whether she was happy. She sure as hell didn’t look it, and that made me angry. I had stayed away all these years, never fought for her, because I thought she was better off. Even if she could never forgive me, I needed to know for my own sanity that Skylar was okay.

So, that’s how the stalking came about, although I liked to call it watching; that was a little less creepy.

***

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