I finished first and went to get a paper towel. My chair sliding against the tan linoleum didn’t interrupt Tarek’s breakfast, his head still bent and focused on his eggs. As I wiped my face and sat down, I studied his hands, huge and littered with tiny white scars. The tears hiding behind my eyelids surprised me. I mean, I had only known the guy for like less than three days.
But I had no idea how he got all those scars. I’d bet the old Lena knew. His Lena.
Jealousy ripped through my core, stabbing my heart as realization hit like a sledgehammer. He wasn’t here for me. As much as I wanted to tell him about his role in my dreams, I couldn’t. I didn’t want him to get excited or happy–because that would only make him want her more. It would make him think she still existed. The Lena he knew…the Lena I wasn’t.
“I’m not her, you know.” The words escaped before I could clamp my mouth shut.
He stopped eating. After a slow swallow, he put down his fork without looking up. “I know.”
I swiped at a renegade tear. Why the hell was I crying? “I don’t think you do.”
Another swallow bobbed his throat. His silence screamed at me, declaring what I knew to be true.
Anger from somewhere deep and hidden seethed at the surface. “Can I ask you something?”
He nodded, still looking down. “Anything.”
“If she was so great, why did I end up here?”
His head popped up at the question, those gray eyes drilling right into mine. “What do you mean?”
“It sounds like she was a criminal, or at the very least, an asshole.”
His eyes turned to stone. “She wasn’t.”
I held up my hands, shaking my head. “Hey, don’t get pissed at me. I’m just stating the obvious.”
He stared for what had to be five long, uncomfortable minutes before his face softened. After tapping his fingers on the table, looking a bit lost, he knelt in front of me. Another stray tear escaped, and his callused thumb brushed it away.
He sighed. “I know you’re not her, but…I also know who you are,” one of those scarred hands touched my chest, right over my heart, “in here.”