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My Lifelong Masquerade
I was dying. The doctors said I was broken; I only had hours left. I thanked them politely and pretended to sleep. I had no family to call. When they left, I made my escape. I had an appointment to keep.
Every step was agony; lava flowed through my veins. The morphine had worn off when I reached her house. Yellow ribbons adorned her door and a flag flew at half-mast. Chris loved this place. City-born, farm life had fascinated him. Rose had fascinated him.
~ "I'm in love."
I eyed him skeptically. He was toying with a rose. I rolled my eyes.
"You've been in love before."
"Not like this."
There was an earnestness in his voice that I'd never heard before. His gaze was steady, shining with sincerity.
"You have to help me! I don't know what to say!" He begged and I sighed, knowing he was right. Nobody was as awkward with girls as Chris Nueva.
"Who is she?"
"Rose Edmunds." ~
I stood on her porch, remembering the moment my heart shattered. I had known that I would never win her. I was short and plain. Chris was tall, muscular. My hair was a thin and brown. His was wavy and black. My nose was too big and my eyes too close together. His features were aquiline and aristocratic. Rose would never look at me next to him.
"Cy?" Her voice burned me. I turned, making sure my hat was in place.
"Rose." She had been with the horses; her clothes were sweat-streaked and her hair was wild. Her cheeks glowed and her lips were curved in a wide smile. They turned to a frown as she looked at me. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," I cleared my throat to push back a lump. "I'm getting over a cold."
"Oh, dear," her brows furrowed. "Please, sit down. You shouldn't have come if you're unwell."
I smiled as I sat. The pain was growing by the moment. "I wanted to see you and I wasn't going to let a bug stop me."
She laughed, "Well, I'll get cleaned up and make some lemonade. Be right back."
I watched as she left, and waited until the door had closed behind her before I removed my hat. Touching the bandage, blood came away on my fingers. Even the pain was fading, and the world grew gray around the edges.
~ "What about Rose?"
"How can I marry her knowing that others are dying? Knowing that there is evil like that and I've done nothing?" We had all watched in horror as the Towers fell, but it had hit Chris the hardest. "I'm joining the marines. Rose understands."
Of course Rose understood; she loved him. Watching them together was a joy and a curse. Seeing my two closest friends so happy. Knowing that I had destroyed any chance of my own happiness when I gave Chris my voice.
"I'm going with you." ~
I meant to protect him, even if it killed me. Rose's happiness was worth more than me. But when the moment came, I couldn't do anything. He lay in my arms, his blood mingling with mine, her name on his lips. I had survived with a hole through my leg, but no Chris. It had been ten years ago today.
I barely managed to replace my hat before Rose returned.
"Here," she said, passing me a glass. She frowned again, "Are you sure you're alright?"
I smiled faintly, "It's just a cold and my old wound acting up. I'm fine."
She bit her lip, looking down at her tangled hands. "I've been thinking about Chris today."
"So have I," I replied. "I never forget."
"Would you mind...his last letter?"
"Of course not." I'd written that letter for her as I lay recovering in Afghanistan. I'd signed it with Chris's name, the last gift I could give my friend.
She took it from her pocket, a yellowed envelope. I hadn't seen it for ten years, but every word was seared into my memory. As the sun slid beneath the trees, I opened it and read.
"Rose, farewell. It seems that I must die -" Words of love and sorrow bled from my tongue as I said goodbye to her, using the words I had given away but meant with all my heart. I heard Rose's voice catch, but I didn't pause. I continued even after the light had gone.
I kept going, "Oh, my dear, my sweet, my treasure -" I felt her put her hand on my shoulder.
"It's too dark, how can you see?"
I froze, the words caught in my throat. How could I have been so foolish? How could I make such a mistake?
"You wrote this, didn't you?"
"No! No, it was..."
"I should've realized!"
"It wasn't me!"
"It was! I know it was!"
"I swear, I..."
"No! Don't lie to me!"
I closed my mouth and waited in darkness.
"You loved me when you wrote this." It wasn't a question. "You couldn't have written this unless you loved me."
"No." But my protest had weakened, and she knew it.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
I was saved by a car screeching up the drive. It had barely come to a stop before two men leapt out. Brett and Reagan came running up the steps.
"You idiot! I knew you would be here, you fool!" Brett was panting for breath.
"What is it?" Rose was standing now, "What did he do?"
"He's killed himself! A nurse at the hospital knows he's my friend, so when he made a break for it she called me."
She turned to me, and I could see the horror in her eyes by the glow from the neglected headlights. "Cy?"
I couldn't meet her eyes.
"Hit and run. Even if I'd stayed it wouldn't have changed the outcome. Don't worry; it won't be long now."
"Cy..." Her voice broke and there were tears streaming down her face. Brett and Reagan weren't much better. "What...why didn't...Cy!" She sobbed.
"Do you remember that night with Chris, when he called to you in the dark? You stood in the window, watching him. But it was my voice you heard. That's the only time I ever got to say it. I love you, Rose, I always have. I might as well admit it now."
"Cy, you can't tell me this and die! I love you!"
"It's alright," I smiled at her, my heart growing lighter, preparing to give up the burden of beating. I came to my feet, ignoring the protests of Rose and my friends. "I need to stand," I murmured, swaying. Brett and Reagan took my arms, steadying me. Above, I could see the moon looking down on us. It's come to take me home. My vision blurred and for a dizzying moment I felt my heart stop, then beat again.
Opening my eyes, I saw that I was lying half on the ground, half in the arms of my friends. Rose bent over me, her tears dampening my cheeks. I smiled one last time, content.
"My lovely Rose. My heart, my soul, my lifelong masquerade."
The world fell away, leaving me with peace.