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His slender fingers trembled with longing.
Promptly, he stuffed his hands into the shallow pockets of his sweatshirt, a rather unnecessary one. He could be sitting in subzero temperatures and still feel nothing. The sweatshirt, however, gave the illusion that he could. Out of habit, he wore the coat every day for the false warmth it provided.
The man blinked twice as his iron-gray eyes flitted about the park. Where once lay his favorite weeping willow tree was now a copper sculpture of one, towering higher and mightier than the tree from his memories. Synthetic green grass lined the sculpture and many others like it, and he found himself fondly remembering when the football field at his old high school had been grass and dirt and nothing more, the only rubber being the bottom of his cleats, ripping the blades from their roots as he ran. The grass would grow back. The Astroturf would not, and therefore, could not be ripped away. Though the memories were foggy at best, he still couldn’t help the soft sigh that escaped his lips.
He could sense the small vial of liquid in his back pocket, the bit of fullness there never quite leaving his awareness. His hands itched to reach and take it out, to refill himself of the liquid he knew he needed to survive, the liquid that kept his human heart beating and his one human lung filling with the polluted oxygen of the suburbs, oxygen that had been clean and pure in his earliest, blurriest memories.
His head shot upward, and Samuel found himself face-to-face with a woman. The chestnut hair that rolled down in loose ringlets and skin dusted lightly with freckles brought to him a faint sense of nostalgia moments before realization dawned upon him, and he could just hardly associate those high cheekbones and sweet eyes with a name.
“Lydia Vita?” he asked, disbelief filling his voice.
The woman gave a toothy grin, her eyes crinkling in elation. “Sam,” she breathed, sitting down next to him on the steel bench. “You haven’t changed a bit. Aside from the metal, of course.” She playfully tapped the left side of his face, a tinny clang promptly vibrating through the air. She was exactly how he remembered her, down to the ring in her voice and her almost-too-wide smile. Lydia’s grin was an infectious one; it was a smile that could make the most bitter person alive smile back, if only for a second.
“Well, you haven’t changed at all,” Sam informed Lydia, who stared bashfully down at the skirt of her short, lime-green dress. “How is that? I haven’t seen you since… since…”
“Two-thousand twenty,” Lydia told him as Sam found himself struggling for a date. That’s right, he thought lightly to himself as Lydia smoothed down her skirt. College graduation. “And I have changed, Sam.”
Lydia then crossed her left leg over her right and Sam noticed, for the first time, the silvery gleam off of the metal she carried herself. Sam became aware, once more, of his back pocket and what lay inside it. He could feel his muscles ache for the formula, his lungs drying and bones becoming harder to move. Without the formula, everything felt as if he was decaying at half-life. Still, he held off just a little longer to speak to Lydia.
“I couldn’t be here if I didn’t,” she reminded him lightly. When Sam didn’t say anything, silently comparing the human flesh on his body to hers, and learning she had much more, she continued. “What have you been up to all this time?”
Sam managed a laugh. “Being twenty-seven for two-hundred and seventy years leaves you with very little to do. Walking, for the most part. It’s been a boring life, really. But tell me about you; I learned you got married.”
Lydia nodded once. “Frederick Tanner. Been married seventy years.”
“So, when do I get to meet him?” asked Sam, placing a hand on her touch shoulder, a shoulder with no give to it and a metallic smoothness, and shaking it in congratulations.
“He died forty years ago,” she informed him, her eyes blank, running up and down the metal tree structure rhythmically. “Stopped taking the formula.”
Sam, once again, became all-too aware of the cool vial in his back pocket. “I’m sorry,” he muttered lamely, taking his hand back and placing it in his pocket.
“Don’t be,” she said quickly, standing up. “I have to go; my lunch break will be over any minute now. We should do lunch; can I call you?”
The two exchanged numbers, permanently locking them into their hard drives and Sam bade Lydia goodbye, the woman surely a sight walking away in her lush green dress, the metal limb and shoulder seeming insignificant under all that color, and Sam let out a breath, his shaking fingers finally leaving his sweatshirt pocket to pull out the small vial of brackish-yet-bright liquid.
Sam eyed the formula for a moment, comparing the color to the dozens of skyscrapers that lay where his hometown and neighborhood once was. He felt nothing from either the formula or the buildings or the pathetic excuse for nature that sat in front of him that had once been a park. Still, he knew that, as little beauty there was left in the world, it was this bitter liquid that kept him living in it.
He put the glass vial to his lips, tipped his head back and drank until he devoured the last emerald drop.