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Sun-drenched windows illuminated the room in which the girl hid herself. The light from the outside world filtered in slowly, reflecting upon its cool, creamy white walls, exposing simple furnishings, a closet, and a door. Pressed into the deepest corners of the room, the girl lay curled upon a cot-style bed, her legs drawn in to her stomach, her eyes scrunched shut. From within the folds of light daytime shadows, she received snatches of an early autumn breeze, blown in through the open screen. She sighed. When she inhaled, she did so from deep within her chest, as though to fill her child-sized lungs with memories of warmth and sunshine. Her heartbeat slowed, until it kept rhythm with each click of the fan overhead. As she lay there, humidity pressed down upon her, smothering her into a troubled sleep.

In her dreams, Chloë went back to the day her mother died, remembering the details through someone else’s eyes. It had been early morning. Raindrops tore down from a darkened November sky, ripping away the last of the trees’ leaves and blurring the landscape grey. She sat on her mother’s mattress, with her legs folded under her, casually tucking chestnut hair behind her ears. The lavender sweater she wore drooped upon her body, saturated with the moisture in the air, blending itself into the floral bedspread beneath her. Chloë looked down upon her mother, whose eyes were closed with a sickening exhaustion that the doctors declared unshakable. The lace edges of her nightgown peeked over the top of the linen sheets, brushing against the delicate skin of her throat, drawing attention to her most delicate features. Age had embedded itself in the woman’s skin, but could not hide her striking bone structure or the sensual pout of her chapped lips. Chloë stared absently at the bruised hollows under her mother’s eyes, her mind having long since been numbed by the pitter-patter of the rain. She remembered thinking how beautiful her mother was, even as she wasted away.

The funeral came on a bitterly cold day, when the frost upon the ground seeped into the air, burning Chloë’s lungs. She felt as though she had been transported back into an old black and white film, with all the color drained from her life. Poised at her father’s side, she stood motionless, not daring to breathe. Tears cascaded down her cheeks. As they lowered her mother’s casket into the ground, Chloë felt a searing pain flow through her, and the torn, ragged edges of her heart throbbed.

Weeks later, Chloë returned to bury tulip bulbs in ground. She brushed several inches of snow away with a gloved hand, digging deep into the earth. But no matter how far her shovel dug, which was not far in the frozen dirt, her mother was gone.

Time ticked onward, and spring thawed out the land, melting the sunshine like butter. Chloë’s memory began to fade, and she became able to pull herself out of bed in the morning. At school, she had met a boy who put her mind at ease and who brought a smile to her face.

One day, the two of them lay side by side in the grass, whispering sweet words. A cool breeze slid across Chloë’s skin, diving into her dress and up her sleeves. Clouds shifted in the sky, throwing shadows across the yard, and sending goose bumps across her skin. She shivered and Sean interlaced his hand with hers, drawing her to him. Their warm bodies sank into the earth, wet blades clinging to their bare legs and bare feet. The air surrounding them smelled sweet, like kettle corn, tinged with dampness. Eventually, he pulled Chloë to her feet, and they walked inside, their brief snippets of summer fading away.

Over the course of the next few days, green infused itself back into the land, staining the soles of Chloë’s feet and reviving fragments of sun light. The light no longer pooled across the icy surfaces of snow or the frost-coated ground, but became absorbed by the extending branches of trees, fragrant flower petals, and reincarnated leaves. The world awoke from its hibernation, and Chloë’s torn heart finally began to mend.

At last, summer came in a dramatic wave of heat. The scorching pavement met the pale blue sky with a burning intensity, made tangible by the elongated days. In the span of these days, Chloë fell in love. She and Sean were freed from the pressures of everyday living. They waded through the ocean and plunged feet into the sand with the carefree, swishing movements of adolescence. Together, they were unbound by society and people, needing only each other, and a couple dollars for an ice cream cone. Light-headed with giddiness and sugar, Chloë closed her eyes to feel the sun lapping at her face and the wind twirl around her, carrying scents of butterscotch and lemongrass. Her spirit had been uplifted, and happiness rolled off the tip of her tongue with ease. She looked deep into Sean’s eyes and said that summer would never end. Until it did.

The end of August came and went, and Sean left for college in another state. Chloë felt something shift inside her ribcage, and a dull throbbing returned to where her heart lay. A new crack emerged in the heart’s sanguine flesh, mirroring a thicker scar beside it.

A stronger breath of air rattled the door of the room where Chloë slept, wrenching her awake. The temperature had plummeted outside, with the Sun’s descent across the sky. Chloë blindly groped for a light switch, before drowning the room in stiff artificial light. Crickets chirped under the window sill, distracting her from the images replaying in her mind. She breathed in the spicy aroma of cinnamon and decaying leaves, pressing cool hands to her flushed cheeks. For a moment, the room swayed. Clambering to her feet, Chloë cast a sidelong glance at herself in the mirror. A gaunt figure looked back at her, with round green eyes and a lingering scowl. Her eyes murmured the words that her mouth refused to shape, until she appeared resigned. Her skin was pale to the point of being translucent, as if it had been years, not weeks, since she had seen the sun. Chloë cast a look behind herself, toward the dusky window pane. She decided that she was one with the leaves, destined to fall forever, until the sunshine lifted her up again.



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