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A dark figure slipped out of the third-floor window of a large, looming building. It descended quickly down an ivy-covered trellis, its frequently practiced movements lithe and smooth in the light of the crescent moon.

Once on the ground it darted into a mass of shrubbery, suddenly concealed from my vision. I breathed a sigh of relief; not a single light in the house had blinked on, so we were safe for the time being.

I crept backwards, letting the dark velvet of the forest envelop me. My heart fluttered as I pranced soundlessly across the weed entangled terrain. Soon a little clearing manifested out of the darkness and I sat down to wait on the soft moss blanketing the ground.

*
*
*

Her name was Eve, and she wasn’t the first girl I had fallen in love with, but she was by far the one I had fallen for the hardest. I met her in my town one day at a market where I was selling eggs from the chickens I owned. My father had died two years before and my mother during childbirth, so I was 19 and living on my own, barely scraping together a living.

I heard her voice first, soft and musical in the midst of the noisy, raucous crowd milling around the vendors. She was doing nothing but talking about the weather to the farmer beside me, hardly anything extraordinary. It didn’t matter; I was totally entranced with her. When she came to my table it was all I could do to greet her, much less hold a charming conversation.

She seemed to notice my nervousness right away and smiled that smile that melted me to my core. She eased me into some small talk and I soon learned that she was a student at Brightcroft Academy, a prestigious school for the daughters of wealthy families.

Our conversation should have stopped right then and there. She and I were from different spheres of society, spheres that aren’t supposed to mix. As long as she kept talking to me, though, I would continue to talk to her. It was much too difficult to resist.

We met several times over the next few weeks, building up a foundation of love that consumed nearly all of our thoughts. We had to keep seeing each other, but it became too risky to meet in broad daylight. From that moment on we only met in the dead of night in the woods just outside of the Academy. When we were together we talked about anything and everything, often dreaming about having different lives. Eve told me once that the school was rather pretentious and that she would love to go on wondrous adventures where she didn’t have to worry about being perfect. It became my biggest goal to be able to do that for her.

As I sat there on the moss I ran the words of my announcement through my head again and again. Earlier that week, after racking my brain for an idea, the most obvious one had kicked me in the face. I was more excited than I had ever been because I knew it could change our lives forever.

*
*
*

The figure stepped silently into the clearing, its characteristics now clearly definable in the soft moonlight. Shimmering black hair cascaded down to the waist, stirred by the same soft breeze that always seemed to accompany her. Two wide blue eyes focused on me, accompanied by a lovely curved nose and delicate pink lips. My breath caught in my throat and the world stopped moving just as it did every time I saw her.

She smiled that smile that I lived for and whispered a quick hello. For a moment I could hardly move, paralyzed by everything she was to me. In the next I held her tight as if my life depended on it. I rested my chin on her head, breathing in the sweet scent of lavender that dusted her. We stood there for a while, cocooned in the light and focused on nothing but us.

A cool rush of air beat against my neck when she moved her head back to look up at me. Her eyes searched mine, reading every thought there. I noticed the bright blue irises seemed to have become a stormy gray, but I dismissed it as a trick of the light.

Her lips parted in a perfect crescent. “You’re crushing my lungs,” she whispered, a sad smile twitching across her face.

Reluctantly I loosened my hold on her but couldn’t bring myself to let go. In our limited time together anything more than several inches apart was too far.

Silence pervaded and I decided it was time to begin my proposition. My voice sounded strange and hollow in the thick night. “I can’t keep letting you sneak out. It’s too dangerous and risky.”

She cast her eyes to the ground, drawing a circle in the soft dirt with the toe of her ripped satin slipper. She didn’t speak for several moments, drawing that never ending circle again and again.

“It’s okay, really. Everything has worked out just fine up until now,” she said, a note of reluctance barely traceable in her voice.

I looked up at the bright moon watching over us and imagined it was a different moon, one of a place far away. A place without worries, a place where we could be together and not have to plan our next time seeing each other with military precision. As much as I tried to imagine, though, the cold truth squeezed into my mind and forced me back into the present. I chastised myself for pretending our situation was anything other than what it was. Letting down my guard for even a few seconds was stupid. I wished with all of my heart that I could trust her words, but there were too many forces against us.

“This can’t last. One night someone will check in on you, or you’ll accidentally make a noise, and we’re going to be found out,” I said, trying my best to seem logical. “Eve, all I’m saying is that we can’t do this forever. It’s not safe for you, first of all. And I only get to see you two nights a week, sometimes less. Even if we were lucky enough to never get caught, we could never have a family or a real life together.”

I closed my eyes tight, finally prepared to tell her what I had been planning for days. “Eve, we could escape. I gathered some supplies and they’re waiting at home, so all we have to do is grab them and go. We can have it, Eve, that life we’ve always wanted. We can be together.”

My blood rushed through my veins and I was giddy with excitement, so close to what I had dreamed of for months. I opened my eyes - and my heart plummeted to my stomach. Eve stood away from me, far enough to be out of my grasp. Her arms were wrapped tight around her body and she looked small and broken, like a baby bird fallen from its nest.

More than that, though, was her face. The wide smile and unconstrained happiness that I had believed would be a result of my proposition were nowhere to be seen. In the first instant after I opened my eyes she looked taken aback, but her features quickly slipped into sadness. I didn’t understand; I was giving her a way to be free.

Her mouth opened and closed before she finally found the words she wanted to say. “I had no idea you would ever think of doing something like that. I’m so sorry. I can’t go.”

I stared at her dumbly, her words tumbling around in my head. I had not considered that she would say no, and the fact that she did was nearly unfathomable to me. I was ready to take the next step forward but she was taking a step back.

“Why, Eve? I thought that you wanted to be with me and go on the adventures you always dreamed of. We’re in love,” I whispered, feeling the beginnings of heartbreak and despair starting to rise in my stomach like bile.

She shivered even though it was a warm night. Quietly she said, “You’re making this so much harder than it has to be.”

Alarm bells began ringing in my head. I knew those words were never the prelude to something good. The sick feeling kept rising up higher.

“It seems that we both came here tonight with plans of our own,” she began, twisting her fingers in her shirt. I could do nothing but stand there, paralyzed. “It’s not fair for either of us to continue seeing each other this way. You have to understand that if my headmistress were cruel, or if all of the girls hated me, I could leave with you. They aren’t, though. It may be annoying sometimes, but it’s a solid life. What we had was good, but I owe my teachers and my family the honor they deserve for being so helpful to me.”

The implications of her words crashed down on me like an avalanche, but it wasn’t enough. I had to hear her say it clearly. “What are you telling me?”

She hung her head, and I could obviously see she had been trying to avoid this final step, this directness that would ruin everything we had worked so hard for.

“I can’t see you anymore.”

In the silence that followed I half expected a bomb to explode or some natural disaster to occur that would signify what I felt. Instead, all I heard was the cacophony of crickets around us and the slow, agonizing breaking of my own heart.

A moment later I forced myself to look up and face this trauma. I didn’t think it was possible, but my heart dropped even lower. Eve was gone and in her place was some girl that couldn’t possibly be the one I loved so much. Her face was hard and unmoving and she looked at me with steely resolve, hands clenched and back rigid. Later I wondered if that was what you had to do in order not to cave in when you knew you were ripping a person apart. When you knew you were taking everything he thought he knew and turning it inside out and upside down with a few words.

I became aware that she was stepping over to me and my heart flared for one hopeful second until I felt her cold, corpse-like hand on my cheek. Her lips moved towards mine and they gently brushed, just a ghost of a kiss mingled with salty tears. Then she slipped away without a backwards glance, swallowed into the inky darkness.

I sank to my knees, feeling as devoid of emotion as a rock. Words were just silhouettes in my mind and tears were stuck behind invisible gates. The only feeling that surfaced was a dull throbbing, like I had been cut up and hurriedly sewn together again. I knew the real pain would come later, the thrashing from nightmares and the desperation for her to be mine again. Sitting there though, alone, I realized that I should have known all along. I was never destined to be Prince Charming, just the common boy who didn’t get a happy ending.

A tear broke through the barriers and slid out, tracing all of the contours of my face on its way down. I caught it in my hand and it broke into several tiny droplets, each reflecting the harsh light of the moon. They looked like little shards of glass, shattered, broken, destroyed.




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