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She loves you. Without a doubt and beyond all logical reason it seems. You always scowl, you smell like wet dog and you have locked your heart up so tight she barely recognizes you as human. Sometimes her love is so great it hurts. She doesn’t cry, that would be an admission that you’re gone. But she will stay up all night in the tired, faded moonlight, holding her broken heart and staring at the picture of you from 4th of July. The photo isn’t even that good, a snapshot that blurs your face into a muddy soup of skin and sparklers. The only clear thing about the picture is that she is noticeably not present.
She was always with you, like a faithful dog, dutifully tracing your every step with shining eyes. She steadfastly ignored the fact that this couldn’t last forever. When the factory explosion killed her parents, you were her escape from the pain. It was the worst possible thing they could have done to take her away from you. When she needed you more than ever, you couldn’t be there. But you sent her that one picture, just the one. It is the only photograph since the Accident that doesn’t show your pain, your longing for what once was and your fear. You didn’t want her to ever see that side of you. Is it selfishness or undying love?
When the envelope bearing a coffee stain and your name arrived, it sat on the blue checked tablecloth in the sunny kitchen next to a plate of eggs and a glass filled with purple asters and sunflowers: A still life of expectations and promises both kept and broken. She saw it as another one of her aunt’s soliloquies addressed to her only for peace of mind. She tore it open and read with listless eyes as she sipped black coffee. Alice, it read I have excellent news! Your grandparents are finally letting you come back! We’ll see each other very soon. Remember the old barn where we would curl up on winter nights? The one with the hole in the roof? I’m having it repainted pale green for your return. Is that okay? It’s still your favorite color, isn’t it? And guess what, Brutus turned out to be a girl! She had 8 puppies, and all of them look like her except for one chocolate one with eyes like yours. I named her Alice. You’ll be able to see her when you come. The note turned to plans and times and she is crying as she reads it, a pure and beautiful smile on her pale lips. So many rhetorical questions: Do you remember? How are you? Do you still love me? You knew all the answers before they had been asked. She sits, still in her pajamas, too overwhelmed to act accordingly. “Yes, I’m coming back. I’m coming back.” She says. She closes her deep hazel eyes, holds your letter up to her lips and whispers your name like a prayer.
She will be with you by 6:00 P.M. if what the letter says is true. It is noon now. In half an hour she has put on a pair of ripped jeans and a faded concert tee (which she attended with you) with firm resolve and steps out the door. There is still the possibility of false hope, but she is almost as good at hardening her heart as you by now.
She knows your favorite color is sky blue. So that is the color of the dress she will buy just for your reunion. It has a deep V-neck and flares out to wash and swirl around her knees. She twirls around in the changing room, trying to picture your face in the mirror and the rich sunset that would be draped across the sky at the time of her arrival. But all she sees are fake wood walls and linoleum tiles and she must trust that you will like it and that it will fit the moment perfectly.
She buys herself a raspberry sorbet and lets the cold wash around her mouth, savoring every bite. She is restless, she will leave at 2:00 P.M. and it is one o’ clock now. She gets on the bus wearing the blue dress, a distant look on her face. Two years of not seeing you, of being the sole full-time occupant of her uncle’s huge estate has dragged dark lines across her face and she looks worn, but a new light has slipped into her eyes, has begun to wash out the loneliness and sorrow, creating a clean slate. Her heart is fluttering. Will you still be the same? Your laugh, so scarce but rich, will it still be there? She wonders if her laugh is still there. She opens her mouth and tentatively coaxes out a giggle. It sounds hollow. She tries again, louder. Someone scoots away from her and she laughs in full, grinning at their ignorance to her purpose. She glides off the bus with newfound courage; everything will still be the same.
She smiles as she looks up the long drive to a spacious 4 story palace that has been her cage for the past 2 years. To confine her no more, now she runs up the gravel, slipping off her flats and flying barefoot across the grounds. Her old wild self is creeping back into her life. She slows down as she passes the gamekeeper. He gives her the ragged but warm smile of someone who could be far better off but still wishes you well. She smiles back and calls his name. He pauses and asks if he can help her in any way. She pulls him over to a bench and sits him down, asks him about his circumstances with new boldness.
She is nearing giddiness, but she sits patiently as he opens up to her. His wife has cancer and he can’t pay for her treatments. His 20 year old son blames him for it and they haven’t spoken for months. His 5 year old daughter has been missing since last August and his dreams of returning to Germany to see his aging parents before they die are quickly becoming a fantasy. He doesn’t cry, but everything about him is sobbing. She knows she can’t do anything for him, but sometimes a shoulder to cry on can be just as helpful as a leg up. A voice snaps from a 2nd story window: “Hey gardener! Where are those petunias you were supposed to pick up? Stop lounging!” He stands up with weary legs and walks off, as steadfast as possible. She feels like crying. How can he be so strong?
She sits in contemplation on the bench for a good half hour. She tries to reflect on the gamekeeper’s circumstance, on the meaning of home and happiness, on why people can’t just be kind and understanding. She really tries, but her thoughts keep being tugged back towards you. “Alice.” Her uncle’s harsh bark startles her. She automatically steps back into her guarded, humble shell. “Get going, its time.” He stands there in a meticulous suit amongst proof of his riches, but it is all just a mask to hide a twisted, lonely, ugly heart. She walks past him, cautious, but still brimming with joy. For the first time ever though, she feels pity for this man, growing old and mean all alone, surrounded by the ruins of dreams and memories of rejection. While it was largely his fault, no one ever loved him enough to drag him away from his bitter addiction to the material.
“Goodbye Uncle.” She gives him a tentative smile.
He hesitates and gives his awkward reply “Goodbye, Alice. I… I will miss your company. Good luck.” She drives away slowly in a daze. Her uncle stands alone on his perfect green lawn and raises his hand in an attempt at a friendly wave. A lump forms in Alice’s throat and she puts on an old Beatles CD to distract her from thoughts of loneliness and being trapped. Once the music stops, she begins rehearsing her reunion routine. She could stand there shyly and wait for you to come to her. She could run into your arms or burst into tears. What could she say to make the most of the moment? Subconsciously, she turns into the small country lane where your farm is.
She loses sight of any plans amidst the pounding of her heart. Your figure comes into focus, standing at the end of the road. Your dark hair is hiding your moist eyes as her car pulls into view. You glance at the cherry tree, the green barn, your duct taped black hi-tops: anything to avoid seeming to eager for her arrival. You aren’t ready to bare your heart yet; it’s been stabbed in the back too many times. She pulls up, gets out of the car and stands still a minute. She can’t think of anything to do. “Hi.” She says, a silly smile spreading across her face. You can’t help it, so you adopt her dopey grin and mimic her voice exactly: “Hi.” She walks forward and leans into your arms, sobbing because of pain from the past, fear for the future and the overwhelming change in her circumstance. You wrap your arms around her and can’t help but rocking back and forth whispering over and over: “I missed you so much, so, so much. Don’t ever leave me again. I love you. I love everything about you. I’m so sorry.” She stops you there. “For what?” she asks, her hazel eyes locking on your blue ones. The sunset turns blood red and suddenly nothing matters, not the blue dress, not the right words or protecting your heart, not even your pasts. All the pain has led you here and that makes coming through it all the sweeter.