Mimi sat sipping her warm apple cider, her hands wrapped around the warmth of the mug. The cinnamon stick lightly clinking against the rim. She stared out the window at the kaleidoscope of multi-colored leaves spiraling around caught in gusts of wind. Mimi loved this time of year – the November colors so vibrant, so bright, so dramatic…their last great hurrah before the drabness of winter. And yet this time of year also made her feel slightly sad – a persistent sense of dread that simmered right beneath the surface of all that cheerfulness. She couldn’t quite explain her melancholy – it just seemed like slow death shouldn’t be so exquisitely beautiful.
She shuddered suddenly feeling chilled and instinctively crossed herself before she wrapped Zach’s tattered childhood blanket tighter around her shoulders. Tucking her right leg under her left, she sighed as she checked her Minnie Mouse wrist watch. Minnie pointed to the 4 and 10 like a deranged airline ramp agent. 4:50. Late again. Lately he was always late. If only Minnie’s white gloved hands could direct him home – back to Mimi – with a simple point of her fingers.
The door burst open, dry brittle leaves blowing in with Zach as he fought against the backdraft to close the door. Mimi watched as he shrugged out of his jacket and pulled off his beanie hat exposing thick unruly curls. She longed to run over to him, to kiss his chilled cheeks and tangle her fingers in his boyishly rumpled locks. However, she restrained herself, unsure of how he would react. He’d been so distant recently. Some nights (many nights if she were being honest) he didn’t come home. And when he was home, he mostly ignored her - moving around their home as if she weren’t even there, snapping at her if she suggested any of the things they used to love doing together and seeming slightly irritated when he finally indulged her.
Mimi still saw glimpses of the boy Zach used to be, the shy, quiet, uncertain boy she fell in love with. Late at night he would talk to her, spilling his deepest secrets and thoughts; his fears and insecurities free to roam in the cover of darkness. These things he would never tell anyone else, he shared with her. During their late night talks he would lay pressed close to her, his hands holding hers tightly as if he would never let her go. Mimi lived for those moments cocooned in the warm dark covers, just the two of them safe and protected from the outside world.
Zach blew into his hands, rubbing them together briskly as he walked towards the refrigerator. Pulling the door open, he reached inside for a beer.
“Zach? Did your shift run over again?” Mimi asked softly, timidly.
Zach sighed loudly. “You’re here,” he said, his back a solid wall between them.
“Of course I’m here. Where else would I be?”
“Right,” he said in a way that sounded like it was the wrongest thing in the world. Slowly he turned to face her.
“So I was thinking that maybe we could watch a movie later tonight…” Mimi suggested hesitantly. Seeing the instant slump in Zach’s shoulders, she quickly added, “Or not! We could just have dinner, or play a game of scrabble, or relax…or…whatever you want.”
Zach slid into the chair across from her. “Mimi, we need to talk.”
Mimi’s pulse quickened. She took in Zach’s tired voice and eyes noting how distant he looked from the carefree boy she loved. She wondered if everything was going well at work. She knew he worried what the other older guys thought of him. She knew that he harbored feelings of self-doubt and worried if he was competent enough. “Is everything ok?” she asked.
“Me, this isn’t working anymore. I can’t go on pretending – it isn’t healthy.”
Mimi was already thinking of ways she could boost his morale when his words penetrated, “Wait…what? I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“This…you…me…Us,” he gestured awkwardly, his hands fluttering between them like a flailing bird.
Mimi’s eyes widened. She tried to speak but her mouth didn’t seem to work right. It just opened and closed repeatedly. Absurdly she thought of Zach’s childhood pet fish and how she must look like him at this moment. They used to watch him for hours laughing at the way his eyes bulged and his mouth puckered soundlessly. Absently she wondered what Finn had been trying to tell them back then.
“Look,” Zach was saying, his eyes and voice becoming gentler. “I love you, I do…I just feel like I’ve outgrown us.”
Mimi finally found her voice. “How could you outgrow ‘us’?” she asked. “I’ve always been there for you. When no one wanted to play with you because you were this weird little kid who wore glasses and stuttered, I was there. I was your best friend. When your dad died and you hid out under the slides in the park, I held your hand the whole time even though it was cold and dark!”
Zach hung his head. Mimi continued gaining momentum as her anger grew. “When no one asked you to dance at the 8th grade formal because you were skinny and had braces and pimples, I sat with you on the bleachers and made fun of all the cool kids and told you that they were all just too dumb to recognize greatness. And then later that night, we danced together in the back of the gym to that Boys To Men song and you smiled and said that I was the only one who really saw you. When you went away to college, who did you talk to every night, who stayed up with you till dawn while you studied and wrote papers, huh? Me! It was me. It has ALWAYS been me!” she yelled.
“I know, I know. I needed you then. I leaned on you. Maybe too much. But Mimi, I’m 25 years old for god’s sake.”
Mimi reached out for Zach, “You don’t mean this. You’ll change your mind.”
Zach withdrew, crossing his arms firmly in front of him. He looked sad but resolute. “No I won’t. It’s over.”
Mimi closed her eyes. “What am I supposed to do now?” she whispered her words brittle, “It’s always been you and me. Zach and Mimi.” When she opened her eyes, she saw Zach looking at her strangely – a mix of pity and guilt whirling around in his gaze. It was too much for her to bear. Tears filling her eyes, she shrugged off the blanket and stood quickly, suddenly eager to be anywhere but sitting here across from this traitor. Suddenly bright spots of light exploded and swirled in front of her eyes. Lightheaded Mimi swayed grabbing the edge of the cheap IKEA table to catch her balance.
“Mimi, I’m sorry,” Zach murmured. “I really am.”
“I…,” Mimi started and then stopped; her breath seeming both too fast and yet somehow insufficient. Her legs felt strange. She had the sensation that if she tried to walk they wouldn’t hold her and she wouldn’t get very far. “What’s happening to me?” she managed to choke out as she sat back down, her eyes wide with fear.
“Oh Mimi! I’m so sorry!” Zach repeated numbly. “I thought you would notice that things were changing; I thought you would move on on your own. But you didn’t. And every time I needed you, you were there and I just couldn’t seem to let you go. But I was wrong. I was selfish. I let this go on too long. I was wrong.”
Mimi shook her head. What was Zach saying? This wasn’t Zach, she thought. But even as she thought that, a nagging voice in the back of her head whispered back, “Isn’t it though?” She shook her head to try to clear it. Nothing was making sense. She felt strange. Little tingles of electricity shot through her body. It felt like that time Zach had scratched his fingernails down the length of the chalkboard just to make her shiver. He had laughed so hard that day when she yelped, that he snorted, which made her laugh even though her skin still prickled down to her bones. Neither of them were laughing now.
Mimi felt numb like her heart stopped circulating blood through her veins. She looked down and gasped. Her left hand seemed to be disappearing. She watched in horror, mesmerized as each finger seemed to slowly twist and stretch becoming colorless wisps of smoke. She shook her hand trying to clear the image from her obviously troubled mind. Instead of returning to normalcy, the wispy smoke shattered and swirled even faster into the air like candles blown out with a birthday wish.
“What’s happening to me?” she repeated slowly fighting against the growing thickness of her tongue. It was almost as if she were choking on the smoke that was her.
“There was never a you,” Zach said.
“What? That doesn’t make any sense!”
“There was never a you. There was only ever a me. I made you up.”
“That…that’s impossible!” cried Mimi. “I’m…”
“You’re imaginary,” Zach finished, “And I have to stop pretending now.”
Mimi started to protest but she stopped. She tried to remember who she was before him and couldn’t. All her memories…were of him. Everything was him. She watched all his favorite shows; first all those silly super hero cartoons and now the grown up versions like Game of Thrones that were just more violent and vulgar tales of villains and heroes. She read any book he did, just so she could talk to him about it. She played scrabble even though it made her head hurt and he always won. Everything was him. She looked down at her half empty mug of cider and wondered if she even really liked cider or if she only liked it because he did; because it reminded them of his mom making steaming mugs of it on chilly autumn days so they could pretend to be sophisticates sipping cider and smoking cinnamon stick cigarettes.
Mimi was suddenly sure of it. It was his life she had been living. But now, wasn’t it her life too? She loved this life. It was a good life. She wanted it. She wanted him. She watched in horror as her arms disappeared. She was no one without him.
“I never meant to hurt you,” Zach said looking uncomfortable.
“No…please…let me stay. Please!” Her desperate words escaped just before her lips began to blur. Her eyes cried out No! No! No! as her essence disintegrated into coiling tendrils of smoke. Zach held her gaze mouthing, “I’m sorry,” one last time. He wiped away a tear as he breathed in Mimi one last time. Then he picked up his beer, stared out the window and listened to the rasp of dry leaves against the cold concrete.