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The man took one last drag before he flicked the cigarette into the slush, where it smoldered before extinguishing in a puff of smoke. He coughed twice, a hacking, wheezing cough, then spat on the ground. Reaching into his pocket, he drew another cigarette out and lit it. His hands trembled, but he managed to light before hurling the empty lighter into the snow. He was still young, in his early twenties. His clothing spoke of wealth, from the business suit to the Rolex that gleamed on his wrist to the fedora that kept the wind and snow off of his face.
The man tensed up as two pinpricks of light emerged over the hill, growing brighter and brighter until they flashed into the dim red glow of taillights. Only then did the man relax, but only just. Time seemed to slow each time a car approached—and whipped by again in the wake of each vehicle.
Finally a Mercedes pulled up and cut its engines. A woman got out, young, still pretty. Her light brown hair framed her face, cascading down her shoulders. She emanated elegance and grace, carrying herself in a manner that declared her independence from others.
“I’ll be right back, honey. I’ve got to go talk to an old friend of mine, okay? Mother will only be gone for a moment.” The voice was British, full of pomp and melody, but laced with weariness.
He looked at her, faded memories suddenly coming becoming distinct.
“We used to take the bus together. Remember that? Back in high school.” The man was trembling intensely, from the cold and from the presence of this woman.
She looked at him, recognition flaring into her eyes.
“I would carry your books for you, and we would talk. About politics. Religion. Music. Anything and everything.”
She opened her mouth, but he plowed on.
“Remember the garden where we listened to the wind? ¬We would go there just for the pleasure of nature and the company of one another. When it rained, we would sit underneath an umbrella and watch the rills swirl and eddy. When it snowed, we would skate on the pond and catch snowflakes on our tongue. In the spring, the flower petals would get caught in your hair. When the leaves fell, we would stand in the isles and let the golden glow of the last rays of sun kiss our faces.”
“It’s no use dwelling on the past now. That’s long gone, and things have changed.” She brushed a wisp of hair that had gotten into her face.
“So what? You’re going to pretend like the past never happened? That none of it ever mattered to you? That I never mattered to you?”
“That’s not what I said. You did matter to me. Everything you did, it mattered. But I knew it couldn’t last. I didn’t want to lead you on.”
“Cambridge was always more important, wasn’t it? Getting into Cambridge was everything. Cambridge took up all your time.”
“Cambridge wasn’t the point. It was my future that I was focusing on.”
“I was willing, you know. To try and make things work. I was willing to take what I could get. To take what time you had left on your hands. But I guess I wasn’t worth your time, was I?”
“And what kind of relationship would that have been? Five minutes a day, over the phone? To never be able to talk face to face? I didn’t want to drag you through that, so I thought it would’ve been just kinder to end it right then and there. I wrote you that letter because I cared, because I didn’t want to waste your time. But you took it the wrong way, the same way you take everything.”
“I didn’t take it the wrong way. You said you wanted space, so I gave that to you. I didn’t want to weigh you down, but I couldn’t let you go. So I made myself as light as possible.”
“You ignored me! You ignored me when I approached you, you ignored me when I called you, and you never replied to my texts. You were being a drama queen, so I ignored you back. I wanted to go back to being friends, but I didn’t want to show that your little act got to me.”
“Saying ‘we can still be friends’ is like your mother telling you that your dog died and saying ‘you can still keep it.’ It was a stupid thing to say.”
“So what did you want me to do?”
“I wanted you to tell me the truth!”
“You were ignoring me! How could I have talked to you?”
The conversation lulled as several cars rumbled by, disappearing around the corner. The snow began to fall again, a gentle dust covering the dirty black tracks on the road.
The man nodded at the small face peering from the car. “You get married?”
“That... That’s a mistake I made in a drunken bedroom.”
Another pause, another car. The snow continued to fall.
“You seem to have been doing well yourself. Have you gotten married?”
“No. After I met you, none of the girls ever felt like the one. How was Cambridge?”
“I graduated top of my class.” She recollected the memory of the speech she gave during the graduation ceremony.
“What have you been doing? You always said you liked writing. I still have that poem you wrote for my18th birthday. ”
The snow was falling thicker now, giving everything a fresh layer of purity.
He took a moment to take a puff. “I’ve gotten published here and there. Several of my books had been made into film.”
She looked at him in the eyes and said in a tiny voice, “You know, I’ve always loved you.”
“That’s too bad, because I loved you too.”
The man extinguished his cigarette on the lamppost, gave her one last despairing glance, then turned heel and left, periodically illuminated by streetlights.
The woman looked at his departing figure. The snow had stopped. She got in her car, turned on her engine, and drove away, leaving a black scar in the snow.