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She Was Gone
She was gone.
The front gate was left hanging open and Tom knew she was never coming back.
Just as easy as the friendship began, a shared box of crayons in kindergarten so many years ago, it was gone. One careless, heated remark had torn something great into millions of tiny little pieces and all the tape in the world would not help.
No one was there to hear him. The shadows of the darkened street threatened to overtake him as the moon shown down in silent mourning. Its silvery glow fell in cold sheets, wrapping her cold arms around him. But he knew that the chill he felt was not the moon's fault.
It was his and his insides ached because of it.
Last night, they had gotten into a fight, the biggest they had ever been in. Tom was mad that she wasn’t giving their relationship much of her time as of late. She was always at school or work, and when she wasn’t there, she was with her little brother.
She was crying, trying to prove to him that she did love him. It would get better, she promised. She just had to get her brother settled. He wasn’t in a good place right now. He needed her.
That’s when he said it. 'Go home to your dumb little brother, then!'
Melissa gasped as her hand flew up and slapped him across the face. Her eyes were bloodshot and watery as she stared in horror.
His anger evaporated and his shoulders slumped. Touching his cheek gingerly, he looks at her. “Oh god, Mel. I’m sorry.”
Tom stepped forward, wanting to touch her shoulder but she flinched away from his touch.
“No!” She sobbed. “How could you say that?”
“I…I don’t know,” he whispered. “It just slipped. Melissa, I didn’t mean t—“
“I don’t want to hear it, Tom.” She crossed her arms as her eyes darkened. He had never seen her like this. Her brown hair was everywhere, forming a wild halo around her face. Her smooth skin was red and blotchy from their yelling, tears streaming down her cheeks. “You have no right.”
“I’m leaving.” She spun on her heal, almost knocking over a lamp as she went. “Goodbye, Tom. Don’t call me.”
Tom broke from his reverie as the rain began to fall, first coming down in a mist and then becoming a forceful downpour. Reluctantly, he pried himself from his front step and made his way into the house.
For the first time Melissa realized that her relationship with Tom had been easy when they were young. When she was five and thrust into the unfamiliar territory of kindergarten, scared and teary, he was there with a box of crayons and a smile. When she was eleven and her beloved cat BoBo was flattened in the street by her neighbor, he brought a tub of chocolate ice cream and a shoebox, ready to mourn the fallen feline.
As best friends, they were perfect. They should never have tried to be anything more.
Melissa sat curled in her bed, dressed in one of Tom’s old sweatshirts. He brought the sleeve up to her nose and inhaled his scent. It was masculine and all his own and it made her heart ache. How could he say that? He loved Gabe like a little brother, even if he did have some disabilities. And yet, he had said it. Go home to your dumb little brother.
Melissa wiped more tears away from her face. She was sure he hadn’t really meant to say it. They were fighting and when two people fight, things are said. Bad things, and once they were out they couldn’t be taken back.
“Mel?” Her bedroom door opened a hair and she saw Gabe’s small silhouette through the crack.
“Yes, baby?” She sat up, and pulled the hood down. Thunder lashed and Gabe flinched. “Gabe, come here.”
He quickly obeyed, rushing and throwing himself onto the bed, reaching for her. Melissa took him into her arms and pulled the covers over the both of them. Gabe gasped as more thunder bellowed, shaking the house. He buried his face into her breast, into the warmth of Tom’s sweatshirt.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Melissa cued, running her fingers through his hair. “its alright.”
Gabe hated thunderstorms. The lightening frightened him and he often forgot to take out his hearing aid before bed, so the thunder really bothered him.
“Where’th….T-t-t-tom?” He stuttered from beneath the blankets. The boy was trembling as he clung to her. “I w-want T-t-tom.”
Melissa sighed and brushed his cheek with her finger. “I don’t think Tom is going to be around much from now on.”
“W-why?” Gabe looked at her, his blue eyes wide. “He d-d-d-doethn’t like me?”
“Oh no, baby. He loves you.”
“Tom’s going through some things.” Melissa sighed and hugged her brother. “He is just stressed right now. School is getting harder for him.”
“W-w-w-ill he…..” Her brother’s stuttering was always worse when he was scared. “Will he c-c-come to my b-b-birthday?"
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I hop-p-p-pe so.”
“Me too,” Melissa bent down and kissed her brother’s cheek. “Now try to sleep.”
He nodded and pulled her tighter. Gabe’s disabilities were never an issue with Tom. Sure, the few other guys she had dated ended leaving because they couldn’t handle Gabe’s needs, but Tom just took them in stride and set to help the little boy. While in the presence of anyone other than his sister and Tom, Gabe would not speak. He would rather sign his feelings. Tom knew that for Gabe, talking was uncomfortable and he learned to sign as well to alleviate the boy’s stress. Gabe loved Tom unconditionally and Melissa loved him even more for it.
But after what Tom said…..she didn’t know whether she could forgive him.
Melissa sighed and held her brother, trying to ignore the raging storm outside her window and the creeping cold she felt inside.
A week later, Melissa still didn’t know what to do when she saw Tom standing on the other side of her front door. He rang the door bell again and looked through the glass. He looked like he hadn’t slept well at all.
“Who is it?” Gabe asked, walking out of the kitchen. He looked at Melissa questioningly and hugged his stuffed hippo to his chest. She tried to move in front of him to block Tom, but Gabe ducked under her arm and went to the door. “Tom!”
He threw open the door and launched himself outside, clutching to Tom’s knees.
“Gabe!” Tom knelt and hugged the boy tightly. “Guess what I heard today was?”
“My birthday?” Gabe asked, relinquishing his hold. His small face split into a wide grin.
Tom nodded and produced a large wrapped box from behind his back. “Happy birthday, kiddo.”
Gabe took the gift and looked at Melissa expectantly. She could only shrug and nod her head.
The boy cried with excitement and dashed back into the house. Melissa closed the door behind him, leaving her alone on the porch with Tom.
“Thank you for bringing that for him.”
“It’s his birthday, Mel,” Tom answered, sitting on the porch swing. He gestured to the spot next to him and she took it. They sat in silence for what seemed like days, Tom pushing the wooden swing back and forth.
“I’m sorry for what I said last week.” Tom said finally, watching a caterpillar inch its way along the railing. “It was horrible and greatly uncalled for.”
“It was, you’re right.” Melissa crossed her arms and looked at him. “But I also know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with college exams so close. You wouldn’t have said it normally.”
He nodded and continued to move the wooden bench.
“I’m sorry I slapped you.” Melissa admitted.
They sat in silence again, swinging. In the distance a dog barked, another answering.
“Do you want to come inside?” Melissa asked finally, standing up. “Gabe has ice cream for you, and we don’t want it to melt, would we?”
“Sure.” Tom answered, standing up. He followed her to the door before grabbing her elbow. She turned to him and gasped when he closed the gap between them and captured her lips with his.
Breaking for air, he whispers, “I am sorry.”
Melissa smiled and pushed the door open. “Just get inside and eat your ice cream.”