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She and I sat on that back porch, both of us staring off into the watercolor sunset that hung just above the horizon. The still lake barely rippled under the fading light of the Sun, which bestowed an overwhelming sad glow on her face. For a transitory enchanted moment I was compelled to listen to the trees breathe, overcome with a sudden appreciation for our final hours together.
“It’s odd, thinking I’ll be far away from here tomorrow,” she said, eyes facing downward into her drink, lemon perched on the side of the glass. A glimmering curtain of auburn hair fell across the left side of her face and cast a shadow on her cheek. I did not reply for a moment, instead glancing upward at the red-and-white mansion towering above us. Its small windows surveyed the landscape like searching eyes, revealing a silent consciousness that was both ancient and empty.
“I’m sure you’ll be back to visit. But I’m glad you’re finally doing something for you.” My tense voice masked the regret for the words I never said to her, but I didn’t bother to say them, for what good would it do? We were only two friends now, stealing moments behind a forgotten palace, the wooden boards of the porch emitting ghastly creaks each time we shifted our chairs. She studied the chipping polish on her fingernails while I studied the profile of her full lips, and as the sun slowly set I watched the glow fade from her face, deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving the playground at dusk. I picked up the box of matches from the small round table before me and struck one to light the candle, the fire dancing in contrast to the culminating twilight.
“I’m sorry I’m not very talkative tonight,” she said. At last she lifted her head and looked at me with an odd expression, at once unfamiliar and somewhat recognizable. A part of me wished she would glance downward again.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I’m not exactly chatty, either.” I raised a hand and tousled my already unkempt hair, a nervous habit when I felt unsure of what to say.
Her eyes, gray and sun-strained, once again drifted down to her drink. “I guess I’m not really sure what to say to you anymore,” she said.
“What does that mean?” I asked, careful to keep my tone from sounding accusatory.
She sighed, and I imagined I could almost feel the heavy sadness from her heart drift into the still night air. And suddenly, I knew she would miss me when she left, just as I would miss her.
“I don’t know how to say goodbye,” she said.
At a loss for words I stared at the white eyelet lace of her dress, flowing about her legs in the soft breeze. “I don’t want to say goodbye,” I said. “But you’re leaving, and you know that it’s what’s best for you. Don’t let anything stop you.” The words felt like stones in my heart.
For a moment she did not reply, but in a flutter of slender muscles lifted her arm and twirled her finger around the flame of the yellow candle. “I’ve always been fascinated by fire,” she mused, and I recognized her habit of changing the subject when the topic became too difficult to talk about.
“I’ll still call you, if you’d like,” I offered. “But only if you want me to.”
She looked up from the fire and smiled, perfect white pearls lined by painted red lips. “I’d like that,” she said.
I almost wanted to excuse myself to refill my drink, but some invisible force kept my feet glued to the rickety floor, and so I continued to gaze at her. Knowing that I might never see her again compelled me to notice the minute details, like the dim glow of the yellow rose in her hair and her thin, delicate shoulders. When she looked up from the fire once more I noticed sparkling tears at the brims of her eyes. It shook me to my core to see her in pain, but I wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Please don’t cry,” I begged, battling the urge to rush over and hold her. “I invited you here to see you, for us to talk before you leave. I’m sorry if I upset you.”
“I’m not crying!”
“Yes, you are. I can see your tears,” I said.
She wiped a tear from her cheek, not bothering to continue fighting me. “Well, whatever. I’m not upset at you at all, please don’t think that. You know how I get sometimes, it’s no big deal.”
I chuckled nervously. “Uh, okay. Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. The sky was now utterly dark to display the contours of the crescent Moon, so close I felt I could nearly grasp and it offer it to her as a gift.
After a short silent moment she stood abruptly, eliciting complaints from the porch floor. “I should go,” she said, placing her glass on the round table. I was shocked to see tears running rampantly down her face. “I’m sorry for doing this, you know me and how emotional I get. I’ll call you soon, okay?” My stomach dropped as I watched her hurriedly shuffle down the porch steps, not bothering to bid me a proper goodbye. Something inside her had broken, and she didn’t want to stay around with me as the pieces crumbled. The porch was suddenly darker and far lonelier without her. The glow that came from inside her and lit my world like the fascinating flame of a candle was gone, and I was unsure that I would ever see it again.
Without considering what I was doing, I raced down the steps and around to the front of the forgotten mansion, dreading the rumbling sound of her car’s engine. “Wait!” I exclaimed frantically, running towards her. She stopped fumbling with her car keys and the whole world fell silent as she turned to face me. I was a deer in the headlights of her clear gaze, paralyzed with some indescribable kind of fear.
“I-I-“ I stuttered, but no words came. I wanted to say something heartbreakingly romantic, something poetic and beautiful that would make her see the light and come rushing into my arms. Instead I stood dumbly, gazing at her from across the street and watching the future recede before me.
“Yes?” she asked. I imagined she expected some sort of declaration, but I had no capacity for such eloquence.
“Oh…, I don’t know. I’m sorry, I don’t know.” I peered at my feet in embarrassment, resigned, waiting for her to slide into her car and drive away into the night.
I didn’t want her to become a ghost with a fading and forgotten voice.
To my surprise, she didn’t leave, but instead placed her keys on the hood of the car and pursed her lips in deep contemplation. The first couple of steps she took towards me were painfully tentative, but I watched with increasing hope as something seemed to connect in her clear eyes and she ran towards me. I took her in an embrace and felt all of her at once, her thin waist and her soft hair, at last satisfied with our goodbye. The taut strings of tense conversation broke and at that moment, without any spoken words, we let each other in.
“Don’t forget about me,” I whispered into her ear. I felt a tear slide from her skin onto mine, and it stung like deep pangs of loneliness.
“I won’t,” she said. “I won’t.”