a new life [two] // layla el-faouly
summary: you need to start making changes in your new life, but you're not sure you can get used to being 'just friends' with Layla, no matter how hard you try.
author's note: here’s part 2 to the few people reading this haha, hope you like it!
one / three / masterlist / wattpad
It wasn't easy to accept that my life wasn't how I remembered it to be. In fact, it was a lot harder than I ever could have imagined.
After my breakdown following Layla's visit, I kept to myself. It wasn't intentional, but leaving my room would only remind me of what I'd lost out on, what had changed, so it was just easier to isolate myself and wallow in self-pity. It didn't help that my boxes from almost moving out were still stacked in the corner of my bedroom, constantly reminding me of what could have been.
At one point, I figured I should probably pack everything away since moving out was no longer my reality anymore, but it was probably a silly move since everything in there brought back bittersweet memories from my life with Layla. Photos, mementos, things she'd given me... I even found my phone, which I must have packed by accident or someone had thrown in here after I vanished. After charging it up, all I found were more painful memories of my old life. Photos of Layla and I, videos of us together at university, plans of our new place together.
I hadn't spoken to Layla since she'd visited and I was glad she was giving me the space because I had no idea what I would have said to her. It wasn't her fault, none of it was, but I couldn't bring myself to face her when I felt how I did. Even being with my mum hurt, watching her worry about me when I should have been a grown woman with a life of my own. There was something wrong with me and I didn't know how to fix it.
All the self-pity and isolation must have worried my mum more than she'd let on because after two weeks of it, she encouraged me to join a support group. Apparently she'd seen something about it around town when getting some groceries. It was a dedicated support group for people like me who had come back from the snap and couldn't deal with it. I didn't want to go, not at first, but after giving it a bit more thought, I knew it would be for the best. I wanted to get better and not feel so shitty, so I agreed to attend.
So, that's how I found myself sat in a circle of strangers at my local community centre. The attendees were a mixture of people whom I hadn't met before, all different ages. The person leading it, some qualified therapist, was patient with all of us and never pressured anyone to speak if they didn't want to which was lucky for me because I wasn't inclined to air my dirty laundry to a bunch of strangers.
Others seemed to like to speak though, and shared stories of how they were struggling to reintegrate back into society. It was comforting to know there were others like me who had missed out on so much, but it also hurt to know we were all going through it.
Everybody was experiencing different things – missing major milestones in their families lives, grieving over lost loved ones, being confused at what they would do next. I wasn't sure I was even supposed to be here because my problems seemed so small compared to, say, the guy who had returned to find his wife had remarried in his absence. But I stayed because of my mum and because I hoped it could help me, even a little.
"We've had a few newcomers in the past week which is great to see," Jayne, the lead therapist, was saying one session, "and I would never force anybody to speak if they don't want to, but I thought that it might be nice to have someone new share with the group."
Everybody stayed quiet as Jayne looked around at us all, eyes flickering between everyone. It felt like I was back in a lecture hall, waiting for the lecturer to pick on someone to answer a question. Talk about déjà vu.
And here it goes...
"Why don't you give it a go today?" Jayne asked gently, offering an encouraging smile.
I uncrossed my arms awkwardly as I straightened up in my seat, suddenly feeling everyone's eyes fall to me.
Clearing my throat, I shrugged. "Erm, I'm not– I– what do you want to know?"
Jayne spread her hands out. "Anything you want! What have you got on your mind?"
Chewing on the inside of my cheek nervously, I glanced around, seeing everybody staring at me. "Erm..."
"Maybe you can start with why you decided to attend," Jayne offered, and I was glad because I genuinely had no idea where to begin.
Nodding awkwardly, I tried to form a coherent thought. "Right... well, I came here because my mum wanted me to. She, er, she thought that it would help me to feel less shitty." Realising I swore, I looked up at Jayne apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't mean to– sorry."
"No need to apologise, Y/N," Jayne assured me. "Why do you feel that way?"
I gave her a questioning look. "Seriously?" She played dumb, and I'm not sure why, so I continued, "I lost five years of my life in seconds. I was supposed to move into a new apartment, start a life with my girlfriend, find a new job after graduation, but instead I'm back at home with no job, no girlfriend and no friends."
Jayne frowned. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, me and you both," I mumbled, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. "I just– it's not fair. Everything moved on and I'm still stuck."
"You're not stuck," somebody in the group said, and I looked up to see a young man watching me with sympathy. I think his name was Zain, but I couldn't be sure. "It feels like that, but you're not. It's just an adjustment period."
I shook my head at him. "It's not though, is it? I came back and my life is completely different. So are the people in it. My girlfriend isn't my girlfriend anymore. She's got a life of her own, one that doesn't include me. And my mum is basically the same. It's almost like I shouldn't have come back. It would have been easier on both of them."
"That's not true," Jayne said with certainty.
"Isn't it?" I asked, crossing my arms again. "All I'm doing is disrupting everything. My mum is always worried about me. My ex had to drop everything to come and see me, only for me to break down at the fact that she moved on without me. It's stupid."
Jayne gave me a knowing look. "Do you really think that they would be better off without you? Your mother is worried because she cares about you, Y/N. Do you think that the past five years have been better for her? Better without her daughter?"
I pressed my lips together, unsure what to say.
"And by the sounds of it, your ex girlfriend sounds like she cares, too if she was willing to drop everything to see you," Jayne continued. "I know that it must feel like you're disrupting everything, but as Zain said, it's an adjustment period. For you and for them."
"And how long is that gonna take?" I asked with a frown. "How long until it makes sense again? Until my life is my own again?"
Jayne sighed, leaning back in her seat. "Well, that's down to you. Of course things aren't going to be the same as they were before the snap, but it doesn't mean everything has to stay different. You said you were looking for a job? You can still do that. You said you have no friends? Put yourself out there. Contact old school friends. Sad that your girlfriend has moved on? I'm not going to sugarcoat it, it's gonna hurt. But she still cares about you and you don't have to lose her in your life altogether."
"You make it sound so easy," I said, swallowing hard. "It's not."
Jayne began to smile with amusement. "Of course it's not. But all you have to do is start somewhere small. Nobody said to take it all on at once."
I looked down at my hands, trying to understand how I could do that, where I could begin.
"You don't have to listen to me," Jayne said, and I glanced up to see her looking my way, before she looked around at everybody. "None of you do. But starting small will do wonders."
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to start small. Maybe Jayne wasn't wrong.
I tried to take Jayne's advice on board. Even if it felt stupid, I started to make a list of all the things I wanted to work on for myself so I had a starting point.
The first thing was to make things right with Layla. Even though I knew what the outcome would be – us no longer being together anymore – it was something I needed to fix because it wasn't fair on either of us. So, after finally buying a new phone and adding Layla's number, I arranged for us to meet up at a coffee shop. Thankfully, she agreed.
I found her sat in the corner table when I entered. She hadn't noticed me yet since she was slightly angled away from the front door, but she stood out to me instantly. A small smile appeared on my lips when I saw her, feeling that comforting warmth spread through me that I always felt whenever I was with her. She was stunning, even when she looked nervous, and I had to remind myself what I'd come here to do before my feelings got the better of me.
Clearing my throat, I approached her from behind and earned her attention. Offering her a small smile, I paused as she stood up, looking over me with a guilty expression. When she didn't say anything, I leaned forward and hugged her, glad when she hugged me back just as tightly.
"I'm sorry," she muttered when we pulled away, but I shook my head at her frown.
"You don't need to be," I assured her, squeezing her arm before taking a seat at the table. She did the same and I added, "Thanks for meeting with me. I'm sorry it took so long for me to ask."
"No, it's okay, I get it," she said quickly. "I mean, I understand why. It was a lot. I shouldn't have– you needed time. I shouldn't have come so quickly and interrupted your– it was a lot."
She was trying so hard to say the right thing, second guessing herself with every word, and I could see the concern on her face as she constantly looked between my eyes for any sign of discomfort. If I wasn't already deeply in love with her, I would have fallen there and then.
"I know that everything is different now," I said, trying to disguise my sadness so she wouldn't feel bad. "It's hard to believe still because it seems like I only graduated not long ago."
She frowned but, thankfully, didn't interrupt.
"I know that you're living your life, Layla," I said as calmly as I could, remembering all that I had practiced beforehand, "and I don't want to get in the way of that."
"You need to know that I never stopped loving you, Y/N," she said suddenly, interrupting my train of thought. "I always will. But I... I had to move on. I couldn't wait forever."
Though her words stung, I smiled sadly, knowing she was right. "I wouldn't have wanted you to. And it's– it's okay. I'm sorry that I ran out last time. It was too soon, but it's not now. I get it. I'm coming to terms with what this new reality looks like for me, and I know that it isn't the same anymore. And I just– you don't need to stay in it–"
She opened her mouth to interrupt, but I shook my head before she could convince me otherwise.
"No, Layla, it's fine," I said with understanding. "I get it. We're not together anymore and there's no need for you to–"
"Stop it," she said authoritatively, shaking her head with a clenched jaw. "No. I'm in your life no matter what. We were friends before we dated, remember? I still care about you, Y/N. I'm here for you."
I pressed my lips together, sighing inwardly. As much as I appreciated that sentiment, I wasn't sure I could be her friend when I was still in love with her. But I also missed her too much to push her away completely, and if she was fine being my friend, then who was I to argue it?
"Thanks," was all I could say without giving away my true feelings.
She exhaled with relief, a beautiful smile appearing on her lips. "Now. How are you doing? I tried to keep my distance, but I've been so worried. I just want you to be okay."
I returned her smile, a little less enthusiastically but still there. "I appreciated the space. I've been going to a support group. Trying to sort my life out and figure out what it means for me. I guess, starting with you has helped."
Her smile widened. "Y/N, that's great! I'm so proud of you for getting help."
Whether it was friendly or not, her words meant the world to me, and I felt my face heat up at the compliment. Only Layla El-Faouly could have such an effect on me.
Another month passed since I officially got demoted from girlfriend to friend with Layla, and apart from the fact that I couldn't be with the woman I loved, life was slowly starting to feel like normal. I guess that was thanks to Jayne and the support group.
I was still attending, listening to others and even sharing my own progress in life, which included finding a temporary retail job to start making some money whilst I got my shit together. It wasn't anything special – just at a clothes store in town – but it gave me something to focus on whilst I reviewed my resumé and qualifications to apply for real jobs following graduation.
Having a job gave me a purpose again and it was one step closer to feeling normal. Plus, I had Layla. Even though she wasn't my girlfriend anymore and I had to push my love for her aside, I still had her as a friend. She would text me like she used to, visit the house to see my mum and I, hang out with me. It was just like it was before we started dating, but of course, that was when I fell for her, so I couldn't see this going any better the second time. Still, I valued having her in my life.
I enjoyed getting to know the older version of Layla, the one who wasn't a fresh graduate with a hope to be just like her father. I appreciated discovering her new interests whilst she still revelled in her old ones. And I especially enjoyed being with her, even if it was in a friendly setting. Though, sometimes, I'd be reminded that we were much more.
We were going shopping together one day when I was meeting her at her apartment so we could go together. It was the first time I was seeing her place, so when she let me in and pardoned herself to finish getting ready, I took that as my chance to explore her place and get a further insight to the new Layla.
Her place was clean and organised, just like she'd always been, save for a few corners and bookshelves which were total messes. It brought a smile to my lips, knowing she was still passionate enough to forget to put her shit away when she was working on something good. There were a few knickknacks dotted about – mementos from trips she'd been on, artefacts that she no doubt had kept from her many experiences exploring, photographs from memories I hadn't been present for. It was hard not to think about what our place used to look like, and what our new place could have looked like together.
We were so damn close. And being here in her apartment right now was bringing everything back up. No matter how much progress I'd made in accepting my new life, my old one still haunted me.
Trying to not let it get to me, I continued perusing her many bookshelves until I spotted a framed photograph on the end. I instantly recognised it and began to smile with disbelief, picking it up and studying it carefully.
in the photo, the two of us were stood side by side, my arms hooked around her shoulders as hers laced around my waist. Massive grins were on our faces as the landscape of a carnival was framed behind us. It was our first date – she'd asked me to go to the carnival that was happening in the park near our university, thinking I'd love it, and she wasn't wrong because I did.
I swallowed hard, smile fading as I remembered how perfect that day was. We stayed there for hours, playing all of the games, riding the bumper cars, eating all the food we could find. We watched the sunset together on the ferris wheel and she kissed me for the first time, right at the top, smiling with embarrassment when I accused her of planning the whole thing. It was one of the best moments of my relationship with her, of my life. I didn't think she'd keep the photo, especially not after all this time.
"Okay, so I finally found my purse, so I'm ready to go if you're– oh."
I looked up when Layla entered the room, her eyes drifting to the photograph in my hand. Clearing my throat, I awkwardly returned it to its spot on her bookshelf.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to snoop," I said, hoping all the effort I'd made to be her friend hadn't immediately been thrown down the drain. "I just– I saw it and– sorry."
"No, no, it's fine. It's–" She paused, stepping forward cautiously, eyes glancing at the photo before looking back to me. She offered me a small smile. "It was a good day. Wasn't it?"
I hoped my surprise wasn't obvious when she said that, as I definitely didn't expect her to acknowledge it at all.
"Yeah," I agreed slowly. "It was."
She pursed her lips, beginning to chew on her lower one as she stood beside me to get a better view of the photo. I glanced at her profile, wishing I knew what she was thinking.
"I hope you don't mind that I kept the photo," she said quietly, and I realised she was embarrassed, a faint pink blush dusting her cheeks. "It was just a way to keep you around when you weren't."
Her words warmed my heart, and then it set on fire when her brown eyes met mine in a softened glance.
"I don't mind," I said, not meaning for it to come out in a whisper.
She swallowed thickly, lips tugging into a half smile before she looked down at her shoes. I couldn't look away from her as she ran a hand through her curls before walking away.
"C'mon, we should go," she said, grabbing her keys from the kitchen counter. "You ready?"
I nodded. "Yeah..."
The weird energy between us remained when she drove us to the shopping centre, though maybe it was just me who felt it because she looked unfazed. I tried to push it to the back of my mind, not wanting my feelings for her to ruin the day and our relationship in general.
We looked around at a few stores, buying some clothes and catching up at the same time, and it was just a great feeling to be able to spend time with her. She always made everything easier.
"I like this for you," she was saying as we were shopping, and only when she looked my way did I realise she was talking to me. "What do you think?"
I cursed inwardly, telling myself to stop getting distracted by her, and looked to the jacket she was holding. It was a hooded red, blue and black jacket and she seemed really excited about the idea of me getting it.
Trying not to laugh, I quirked a brow at her. "Are you trying to make me look like a crayon or...?"
She shoved me in the shoulder before waving her hand at me impatiently. "C'mon, don't knock it until you try it. It'll look good!"
"Layla," I whined, but she ignored me as she was already unzipping my current jacket.
"Try it on," she said with a stern voice and knowing look.
I sighed dramatically and removed my jacket before putting on the one she chose. Once it was zipped up, I looked to her with narrowed eyes, feeling like a child trying on a school uniform for their mother. She let out an excited squeal as her hands clasped together and her eyes looked me up and down.
"Yeah, this looks awesome, I was right," she said before putting her hands on my shoulders and walking me to a nearby mirror.
"Just look," she insisted, and I looked up to see the jacket still looking very much like a crayon set.
"I'm not so sure," I said with a raised eyebrow, turning around to get a look from behind, too. "I'm not sold."
She unzipped it for me and then stood behind me, forcing me to stand in different angles so I could see it from all sides. Now I definitely felt like a child with their mother.
"Okay, you're totally buying it," she said, having made up her mind. Her eyes met mine in the mirror, an amused smile on her lips as she added, "And if you don't, I'm buying it for you."
I didn't hate the jacket, but it definitely wasn't my favourite thing. But Layla looked so excited and my insides were turning into jelly as she watched me with glowing eyes, so I caved.
"Fine, I'll buy it," I gave in reluctantly, making her smile widen.
She began talking about how I needed to buy more things for myself, a familiar topic between us when we'd been a couple, but I don't think she realised. I was only half-listening because I grew distracted once more, eyes studying her face as she helped me take off the jacket and put my other one on.
Would I buy an ugly jacket just because she asked me to? It seemed so. Though I guess I knew that already. I'd do anything she asked me to.
After buying the jacket and browsing a few more stores, we got some food from the food court and enjoyed being off our feet. Layla was talking about a trip to Egypt she had coming up for work, something about unfinished business.
"So you lay low every time you go there because...?" I asked curiously, recalling her telling me how she had to be careful whenever she went.
An embarrassed smile appeared on her lips. "Well... let's just say that I haven't exactly been making friends whilst being over there."
I quirked an eyebrow. "Seriously? Is it safe?"
I knew she dealt with illegalities in her line of work, which I didn't care about since she was doing the right thing, but it still worried me that it concerned dangerous individuals. Layla could take care of herself and she was far from careless, but it still worried me.
"Look, it's nothing to worry about," she assured me nonchalantly, before silencing herself by taking a bite of her burger.
"Oh, yeah, that doesn't sound suspicious," I said with a knowing look before having some fries. "Maybe I'll let my mum know what you're up to if it's nothing to worry about, huh?"
She gave me a warning look, but a smile was threatening to break out on her face. "Don't you dare. I am an angel in Y/M/N's eyes. You're not ruining this for me."
I tried to hold in my laughter. "Better be careful then."
"I'm always careful."
I maintained her gaze, smile fading slightly. "I know you are are. But still."
Sensing that I wasn't joking anymore, her smile faded, too. "I'll be careful," she promised. "I'll even bring you something back. A souvenir."
I pursed my lips, tilting my head towards her. "I'm not five, Layla."
Her smile widened once more before she began to laugh, stirring a flutter of butterflies in my stomach as she always did.
God, this was going to be hard.