Brett’s face was turned toward me with a plaintive look, but I was lost in thought and hadn’t heard the question. Or maybe it was something else. I looked down at my feet, marveling at their smallness, and wondering how they could possibly hold up the rest of my body. I felt awed by all of the little muscles and impulses and bones that made them work. What would the bones look like without everything else?
“What was that? What are you thinking about?”
“It wasn’t nothing. C’mon.”
“Ok. Do you think when I die, and my body decomposes, I’ll be able to feel it somehow?”
“I don’t think you’ll be with your body, Dyl. I think you’ll be someplace else.”
“But what if like, my brain takes longer to die, and I end up trapped inside my decomposing body?”
“I don’t think so,” Brett said quietly, “but you could always be cremated.”
“Yeah. That’s a good idea.”
“It’s what you want, then?”
“I think so… Yeah. Yeah. Do it. Cremate me.”
“Ok. Where should I scatter your ashes?”
“I don’t know. I only want to be with you, you know?”
“I know, Love. I went to be with you too, but it seems we don’t get to choose this time.”
“Could you take some of my ashes and put them in a locket near your heart? That’s where I want to live.”
“I will, but you already live there.” He took my hand in his and brushed my fingers with his lips. “You have to know you always will.” Tears formed in his bright blue eyes, amplifying them in a way that melted my feeble heart. I squeezed his hand in return.
“You’ll go on. You’re still young. I want you to live and love and do all three things you haven’t been able to since I’ve been sick.” The tears flowed freely now, but I knew he wouldn’t lose control, not while I was still here. “Brett… I need you to promise.” He shook his head. “You have to. It’s the only way I’ll be at peace.”
He took a great gulp of air and swiped at the tears with his free hand. “I don’t know if I can. I think… I think I might fall apart without you.”
“Then fall apart, but only for a minute, ok. After that, promise me you’ll live your life and be happy.”
He nodded. “I’ll try.”
“No ‘try.’ You need to promise.”
“Ok. I promise.”
I knew he was lying, but I also knew he’d remember making the promise and try to keep his word. It was the best I could do. I felt so helpless to ease his pain. I pulled his hand up to my mouth, kissed it, and placed it under my cheek. “My final resting place, Brett’s heart. It’s better than heaven.”
He smiled slightly through his tears, and I closed my eyes to burn the memory into my heart.
“Olivia, are you listening? I’m trying to cash out my last table. I need to get home before my husband falls asleep again. I need some sex tonight. I’m in my fucking prime, and these late shifts are killing me.”
“Huh? Oh, sorry, Yuli, I’m listening.”
“No, you’re not. You’re staring at Luke. Are you into him? He has such a sad story.”
“I know. Imagine losing your wife to cancer in the first year of marriage. He’s really sweet too. We’ve been meeting for coffee. He’s just so easy to talk to.”
“Oh, shit! You are into him. Be careful, Olivia. I don’t think Luke’s dated since his wife died. He might not be ready for anything serious right now.”
“Maybe I’m ok with that,” Olivia lied. “I’m in my prime too, you know, and I don’t have a husband waiting at home. Is it so wrong if two friends get a little action?”
“No. Of course, it isn’t wrong. Just be careful, ok? I don’t want you to get your heart broken again. Now ring me out so I can go home. I should have a good tip coming. These guys are good tippers every time, that’s why I’m not complaining about how long they sat there after dinner. C’mon, though. Get that register open!”
Olivia punched the numbers into the register and made change for Yuli. “Here.” She held out the cash. “Go get your tip and then go get some. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You’re sure you’ve got this?” Yuli eyed Luke, who was turning down the lights at the bar while sneaking glances at Olivia.
“I’m ok. Worry about your own sex life. Jeez.”
“Ok, Gooooodnight, yooooouuuung looooovvvver!” Yuli sang as she walked away.
“Yeah. Yeah.” Olivia mumbled, taking her drawer from the register. Yuli’s table was the last of the evening’s customers, and Olivia breathed a sigh of relief. Yuli wasn’t wrong. She had spent the evening pining for Luke and was glad the restaurant was closing so they could finally have a few minutes together.
She counted her drawer, delivered it to the safe, and headed back to the kitchen to collect her coat. It was already dark and quiet by the time she emerged. “Yuli wasn’t kidding about getting out of here,” she mused out loud, but where was Luke? She had expected him to wait for her. She looked around in the semi-darkness, and not finding him, checked her phone to see if he had messaged. He hadn’t. Heart sinking in disappointment, Olivia trudged through the dining room toward the door.
“Hey! Olivia! I thought you were going to wait for me!” She turned to find him standing behind the bar.
“Luke! I’m sorry. I thought you left.”
“Nope. I had to change out the CO2 tank in the basement. I wouldn’t leave without telling you.” More quietly, he added, “I thought you would know that.” His shoulders sagged, giving him the look of a disappointed child, and her heart broke a little.
She walked back to the edge of the bar, set her coat on it, and sat on a stool. “Luke, I’m so sorry. I know you better than that. I’m just not used to honesty in a relationship.”
His eyes softened. “I know.” He reached across the bar and took her hand, tracing the creases with his finger. She drank in his soft gaze, acutely aware of her galloping heart. “But I want you to know that isn’t me. I know we’re just getting to know each other, but…” His voice dropped to almost a whisper, “I think I’m falling in love with you, and I never thought I could love again, so it’s a pretty big deal for me.”
Olivia’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Luke.” She kissed his hand and looked up into his eyes. “I think I love you too.” The words were hard to say, but she meant them. He was sweet and gentle and sexy. She had longed for him ever since they met. “Come around here. I want to hold you.”
Luke moved around the bar, pulling himself into her arms. All at once, their lips met, and their hearts melded. “Oh, Olivia,” Luke murmured in her ear between kisses, “You are so lovely. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, but I needed to be sure.” He pulled her tighter to him and kissed her more deeply.
She responded to his kisses, which grew deeper and more urgent by the second. She wanted him badly, her physical need growing with the depth of her emotions until the physical and emotional was tangled in a great longing in her loins. She tightened her grip around his waist, pulling his hips into her. He was already hard enough for her to feel through the fabric of his pants. “Oh, Luke,” she murmured, wanting to take the next step, but she pulled herself together and pushed back. “Is this ok?” Her eyes bored into his, willing him to say yes, but ready to accept his truth. “I don’t want to push you further than you are ready to go.”
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’ve been ready. What about you? Do you really want this?”
“No regrets in the morning?”
“Will you stay with me tonight?”
“Will you make me breakfast?”
“I promise.” He brushed her hair back from her face and leaned back in to kiss her. Their little conversation had done nothing to dissuade their passion. All doubts removed, Olivia reached for his zipper. Pressed against her, he felt big, but when she opened his fly and reached for his penis, it was huge and throbbing.
“Oh, God,” she moaned. “You’re fucking huge. I want you so bad right now.”
“Are you ready for me?”
“Ready? My panties have been wet all evening. I knew tonight was going to be the night.”
“I knew too. Look.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the condom he had placed there before work, just in case. “I usually engage in some foreplay, though.”
“Not tonight,” she panted. “I don’t think I can hold out. I’ve wanted you for too long.” She took the condom from him, opened it with her teeth, and slid it expertly over his penis. Looking into his eyes, she said the only two words she had left. “Fuck me.”
Luke didn’t need more explicit instructions. He pushed the head of his penis against her opening, moving slowly at first, working himself into her with care. As he pushed the whole length into her, she gasped with his fullness. “Oh, Luke. You feel so good. Oh, God!”
“Olivia.” He looked into her eyes as he thrust himself in and out. “I love you. Oh, God. Oh, God, Olivia! I’ve wanted this for so long!”
“Oh! Oh! Me too! Oh! Keep going, Luke! Keep going!” He felt so good inside of her, filling her, then pulling out again and again. It was friction, then longing, then friction. She could barely keep from screaming in ecstasy. “Oh! Oh, my God! Luke!” She was on the edge, and it was going to be powerful. “I can’t hold out much longer. Come with me, Luke. Please. Oh! Come with me now! Now! Now!” He brought her over the edge, and she let go full force as he pulsated inside of her, pushing as deep as he could.
“Oh, My God. Oh! Oh, Olivia.” He held on to her, gasping for breath. She pulled him tighter to her, breathing and sweating with him.
“You are so beautiful, Luke. Just so, so beautiful. Never in my life has the reality been better than the fantasy, until now.” She was shaking and crying, tears falling down her face and landing on her lips. He kissed them gently, pulled his softening penis out of her, and grabbed her coat from the bar between them.
“Here, Baby.” He wrapped it around her and pulled her into his arms. “It’s ok. I’ve got you.”
She wiped her tears and smiled up at him. “It’s me that should have you. Are you ok?”
“I really am. I never thought I would be, but then I met you, and we did this, and I’m ok. I’m better than ok. I’m happy.”
She brushed his hair from his eyes. “I’m glad. I’m happy too.” She looked down at their partially unclothed state and laughed. “Should we get dressed then?”
“For sure. I want to take you home and do that again, but more slowly. Properly. I mean, if you want to.”
“I really do,” she answered, “and many more times after that too… but maybe not all tonight.”
He laughed, and it sounded like a symphony to her ears. “I would like that.” He kissed her forehead and looked at her more seriously. “I never take time for granted. I’ll never take you for granted either. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I should cherish the moment that’s in front of me, but I hope we have a lot of moments.”
“Me too, Luke. Me too.”
They dressed, gathered their things, and left the restaurant hand in hand, ready to experience more moments with one another.
Because I wanted to touch your face, if only to feel the connection of your soul to mine… But I couldn’t. I could only stare at you from the other side of this frosted windowpane, and touch my hand to yours through the glass. My heart overflows with love, and yet I curse the fate which keeps us apart and the senses lost through human attrition. My heart overflows with love and maybe one day I’ll understand… The connection of our souls is not dependent on proximity. My heart overflows with love and I meet you somewhere in the beyond.
My heart slams against your walls time and time again, trailing to the floor in a battered heap of blood and tears. I hadn’t meant to get so close to your boundaries but how could I see them, when you’ve made them invisible? They stand like silent fortresses, shrouded in a mist of confusing words and signals.
So now, I lie, sobbing, in a heap of confused hopelessness and wondering if your inner battle will rage on forever. I thought I knew the answer, but I was wrong. I thought I knew you, but you were wrong.
I see the world through a kaleidoscope of fears, worry, confusion and doubt. It feeds a steady drip of poison in my veins, wrought from the existential dread of a life misunderstood. My desire to live soulfully, numbed by the conditions of this world and my instinct for survival. I trudge onward through the boot-sucking mud in a state of semi-consciousness. Who will save me from the delusions of my birthright?
Have you ever tried (I mean really really tried) to choose your words so carefully, you could never harm another? I have, and its much more difficult than it sounds. I learned quickly how many of us walk around with fragile, eggshell-thin egos, ready to break with the slightest provocation.
In this world, it’s important to say things that are true and real and brave. It’s important to speak against cruelty, violence and lies. It’s important to use our words to mitigate harm wherever possible, and yet, to speak such things is threatening to the ones who are supposed to be the boldest and bravest among us. How easily their lives flail at the smallest inkling of truth.
How do you keep your mind clean in such a contaminated world, where it’s so easy to get caught up in fear and frustration? How do you keep your heart pure, when speaking words from love can put you at the greatest risk? How do you keep the hatred from creeping into your soul?
I wish I knew completely, but I don’t. All I know is faith. If I have faith, (even if it’s the tiniest kernel of it) that all of this has meaning and kindness counts for something, somewhere… Then maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference.
She wouldn’t have noticed him on any other day, but today they were the only two in the park. She had been about to leave, wary of the cold metal bench pressing into her legs, but his flax-colored hair caught her eye… And her heart. Her breath caught in her throat. It was as if she already knew and loved him.
He was looking too, meeting her eyes with a steady gaze. He smiled and somehow, the world between them warmed. She smiled back and his hand lifted into a wave. She returned it but he was already standing. Her heart flopped with disappointment. Hadn’t he felt the electricity between them?
But he didn’t walk away. He walked toward her. She simultaneously hoped and feared the potential of his closeness. If he invaded her space, it would ruin her. She would have to make excuses for him. She didn’t want to justify him already… She wanted his perfection, at least for this moment.
He stopped, maintaining the requisite six foot distance and opened his coat. For a second she thought he would flash her but he didn’t. He merely motioned to the pajamas he wore underneath. “I had no reason to get dressed today but if you are here tomorrow, perhaps it will give me a reason to look good.”
She smiled and answered, “Perhaps.”
“I will be here around 2pm.” He smiled sheepishly, winked and turned away, walking past his bench and out of the park, while she sat grinning and thinking of the dresses she thought she’d never have an occasion to wear.
I lie awake in bed and reach gently for your chest. I didn’t want to wake you. I only wanted to feel the rise and fall of your ribcage. I needed to feel it before I could succumb to sleep. How many nights will I be able to reach for you like this? How many hours will I spend by your side? How many more minutes to look into your eyes?
I know there is a danger in letting myself love you this hard. I’ve become savage in my attempts to keep you safe because I no longer know if my heart beats without yours to accompany its melody. We’re a perfect harmony, aren’t we?
I ask because sometimes I think my need hits a sour note, barely audible in our beautiful symphony but there to spoil my innocence, nonetheless. I just can’t let you go.
I’m sinking, as I knew I would. I saw the signs days ago. My cracking veneer didn’t stand a chance against the force of your emotions. I knew eventually the darkness would come rushing in to pull me under with its unbreakable grip.
Even as I’m pulled deeper and deeper into the abyss, I know I’m the one to blame. I should have built a stronger hull, an impenetrable shell. I should have known your mood couldn’t withstand my worry. I should have learned when to stop trying to make you console me… But, even now, I can’t. Instead, I cling stupidly to my anchor of righteousness, as it drags me to my death.
Every day a freshly cut batch of irises appeared on the sidewalk, just at the start of a picture-perfect, white picket fence. Every day she averted her eyes as she passed. She felt guilty for doing it but it gave her the creeps. Why couldn’t Mrs. Tenlove give it a rest already? It wasn’t like this town would ever forget what happened to Iris. Flowers on the sidewalk would never bring her daughter back.
Gretchen shuddered. She was tired of the memories, tired of having to walk past the house on her way to school every day, tired of nosy people, who always wanted to know what happened. Iris had been her friend and now she was gone. The night she died was horrible. Wasn’t that enough for people? Why did they need to know the details?
She pulled her hoodie tighter around her face and trudged onward. All she had to do was not make eye contact and keep her mouth shut all day, or maybe she would glare at anyone who approached her. Either way, she wasn’t going to talk about Iris.
“Gretchen!” Gretchen cringed and tried to pretend she didn’t hear, but Mrs. Tenlove was running to catch up with her. There was no way to avoid her. She turned towards Iris’mother, stopped and waited for her to catch up.
“Gretchen, I’m so glad I caught you. I left you a few messages.” Mrs. Tenlove looked thin and worn but she smiled at Gretchen with warmth and her eyes held great concern.
Still, Gretchen reddened a little under her hoodie. She had been sending Mrs. Tenlove straight to voicemail ever since the funeral. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. She had intended to say something about being busy but it died on her lips as Mrs. Tenlove scooped her into an unexpected embrace.
“Of course it’s ok, Darling. You were Iris’ best friend. You were there with her when… ” A small whispered sob escaped her but she powered through. She pulled back from Gretchen with her hands on her shoulders, looking her squarely in the eyes. “You stayed with her. You didn’t leave her alone. I can’t tell you how much comfort that gives me.”
Gretchen nodded but she couldn’t bring herself to speak. Iris’ death had left a big hole in her life. She had no other friends, no social life, no one to tell her secrets to or laugh with. She didn’t know who she was without Iris. She missed her so much.
Mrs. Tenlove seemed to understand all of her unspoken feelings. “Oh, Honey. I miss her so much too.” It was this moment of compassion that broke Gretchen’s stoicism. All of the tears she hadn’t been able to cry rose to the surface at once. The dam broke and Gretchen collapsed in the resulting flood. Mrs Tenlove caught her and held her as she cried. “Oh, you poor girl. You poor, poor girl, ” she cooed steadily as Gretchen sobbed and sobbed.
“It was all my fault. I was the one… I wanted… I wanted to run… I… I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Gretchen pulled away from Mrs. Tenlove’s embrace. “Didn’t you hear me? It was all my fault. Iris died because of me. I talked her into running with me.”
“No.” To Gretchen’s surprise, Mrs. Tenlove didn’t look at all shocked or angry. She just looked sad. “It wasn’t your fault. She had a defect in her heart. You couldn’t have known. No one knew.”
“She… She… What?”
“She had a heart problem. It wasn’t your fault. That’s why I’ve been trying to call you… Well, that and I wanted you to have some of her things. Gretchen… Hey. Look at me. It wasn’t your fault. Sometimes things just happen.” Tears were falling down her cheeks now but she didn’t bother to wipe them. Gretchen was glad because she was still crying too and couldn’t stop. But there was something else… something had changed. She wasn’t angry anymore. She was just sad.
“Come with me to the house. I have some things for you.”
“I’m supposed to go to school.”
“We’ll call your mother and I’ll give you a ride if she wants you to go but I have a feeling you could use a break from everyone.”
Gretchen nodded. She really could. She allowed Mrs. Tenlove to steer her toward the house where Iris had lived. Perhaps they could find some comfort in each other’s company today.