There was no one around in the parking lot. The chills in the air unraveled their pale skin, hidden under thin, black clothes. Fall was coming, and a sweet melancholy was floating around.
Celine, who was curled up in his armes, suddenly lifted her head and snatched his cigarette. She pulled the smoke in her lungs, held it for a moment, then let it out softly, and the crispy wind blew it away in a gentle embrace. It was cold. She thought she had to shed some tears, grumble, negociate, but she just couldn't. Still, it was as though he wanted to give her some explanation.
'I know we've been through a lot together...'
His voice crumbled. Those fake words would remain stuck in his throat, like a clod of mud, pressing heavily on his chest. The same chest she used to rest her face on, in the late winter evenings, when everyone else was asleep, when only the two of them were awake, enjoying a warm bath together in the small, cast-iron bathtub from their rented apartment. Snow would slowly fall, she would lay her pale cheek on his chest and ask him if he was tired. He was always tired lately, always in a rush, struggling to make a living, trying to make time for his songs, for his guitar, for his dreams. There was no time left for her, so she started to feel like she was stealing his dreams away.
'You don't have to do this. You owe me no explanation. We've discussed this, you have to go.'
She pulled again from the cigarette and gave it back to him. No tears in sight, no emotion, just a silent earthquake in her soul.
Nick took the last smoke, then threw the cigarrette on the ground, but when he wanted to smash it with his black leather boot, he saw it got stuck between the rock tiles. The pale blue smoke was still rising from it, and the wind drift it away, as it has drifted away before all his hopes, all the things he had longed for so long ago, but never had the chance to have.
'Please forgive me.'
His thick, heavy voice swept away the silence. They were all alone in that parking lot, leaning against the back of his car, but suddenly, they started to feel like there were a thousand people around them, watching them carefully, as though they were the protagonists of a tragic comedy. Many pairs of imaginary eyes would sting their skin. Celine felt it too, because she lifted her head and looked straight in his eyes, wanting to know if he had the same feeling. Maybe it was just the pain of the separation, or maybe they were indeed not alone, but accompanied by the ghosts of the moments they spent together. She remembered the night they met, and lowered her head because she felt the sorrow getting heavier, so she was afraid to let him see her cry.
The fall was coming, just like now. It was early september, and the sun could still warmth the small town during the day, but in the evening, a blessed, long-awaited chill would sneak in homes, carrying with it a forgotten perfume, sad and sweet. It was the night of his first big show. Ben, the drummer, had arranged for them to perform in a greasy spoon from the outskirts of the town, where all kinds of wierd guys were going and where they only served cheap bear. The show had been amazing, everyone had loved them. They'd only played three songs, but the last one, a heavy rock love ballad, had just blown the audience away. She went there just to see them, because they were all colleagues at the high school, and she thought some familiar faces would encourage them, so she brought over some of her classmates. After the show, they all started drinking and dancing, but the heat in the bar pushed her to go outside to smoke. He was there, hidden behind the dumpsters, in the back alleyway.
'Your show was great!', she told him with a happy voice. 'I really admire you, guys.'
He did not answer, so she knew something was off. She lit her cigarrette and blew away the smoke. Nick was just standing there, with his own cigarrette in the corner of his mouth, with his back leaned on the brick wall. Not only his silence was very glaring, but his eyes were faded and all the light in them was gone.
'What's wrong?' she asked boldly. Those glasses made her head spin and the bliss she felt was fake, unnatural.
'Nothing.' he replied, and kept smoking quietly.
Celine threw away her cigarrette and turned around, but his hand would wrap around her waist as he pulled her back and turned her around.
'Am I not the biggest fool in this town for dreaming of you every day and night?'
All of a sudden, his faded eyes started to glow in the thick darkness from the back alley, and they kept glowing even later on, in the morning, when he had her curled up in his armes, both naked in the sheets. His eyes kept glowing for so long, that perhaps they ran out of fuel and eventually faded again.
Nick and Celine would spend a couple of years together. They were both poor kids, so they never went to college. Nick was actually an orphan, and Celine only had her mother and her sister, but after graduating, she moved in his place, a rented, small apartment downtown, she hired as a bartender in that very sloppy greasy spoon, while Nick and the band kept getting more shows around the town and eventually, they mananged to go in a regional tour. They were making just enough money to survive, but not to live a decent life. The bills were getting bigger by the winter, and they had to always save money for the little joys, such as a new gothic dress or a new guitar. But they were happy. Every night when he came home late from the shows, Celine would wait for him with a hot chicken soup. When she was working double shifts during the week, Nick would take care of the laundry and groceries. They often bathed together, smoking and listening to the music he wrote. He would even teach her to play guitar, and, though she didn't have a beautiful voice, she would sing for him, trying to take away the burdens of life, trying to sweeten his nights just a bit. They often took long walks in the park, having small chats, or watched horror movies or ate ice cream on the couch. But they never made any promisses, nor did they talk about the future.
But eventually, things started to fall out. Nick and his colleagues argued and separated, and they continued on with another basist. He didn`t find other guys to play with, so for half a year, he had to hire at a gas station so they could pay their bills. Celine watched him die slowly, day by day. She knew he longed for his music. She heard him crying, locked up in the bathroom. She saw him refusing to eat her food, turning on the other side in bed, waking up early and leaving for work, a work that he despised, living a life that he loathed. But she couldn`t help him, because he wouln`t let her, so they started to suffer, each in his own dark corner.
Until one day, when Nick received great news from a bigger city. There was a big band who was looking for a new guitarist, a band who already had a reputation and who had sold tens of thousands of albums. So he had to make a choice, and though he loved her still, he loved his dream more.
Fall was coming, and a sweet melancholy was floating around. Nick lit another cigarette, but this time, Celine took a few steps around.
'I wish I could cry, you know... It's not fair. It's just not fair!'
'You can swear if you want. You can hit me, curse me, judge me, whatever will make you feel better.'
Again, his heavy voice pierced her chest, and pain started to flow, spreading in her blood, making her whole body numb, just like a drop of poison, small but lethal. Still, she could not cry. She had to make him believe she didn`t feel sorry for him leaving. She had to make him believe it was alright for her to be left behind, because she didn't care anymore, she just felt nothing. It would have been easier fot him this way. She had to pretend she didn`t love him anymore, so that he could leave this town, heartbroken but with a contract, soul shattered but with hopes for his carrier.
Nick sighetd soundly and reached for her hand. He pulled her to his chest and held her thighly. When she felt his scent, a mix of sweat, smoke and sadness, she finally coulnd`t hold her tears back and started to cry. A dry bitterness filled her mouth and the tips of her fingers became numb. The wind blew again and her short skirt waved.
'Do you remember that song you wrote for your first concert? The last one you played the night we met? I will always remember. You were another Nick back then. It's not that I don`t want you to leave, but I don't want you to change. I don't want you to give up your feelings, your poetry, your music. Whatever happens, I want to know you will still be you.'
'I can't. I'm not the same person and I will never be. I don't believe in love anymore, Celine.'
She faced him, with her tears frozen on her lips.
'Love does not fill your stomach. Love does not pay your bills, does not help you in any way, it just... crushed your soul. Back then, I was madly in love with you, but now I know that I can't make you happy, I cannot support you in any way and I just can't bear to keep you by my side, just to live this miserable life.'
Celine nodded and made a few steps back. It was getting dark, and the air was becoming sharper, as if it wanted to cut her skin and break her bones.
'You're right, she smiled through the tears. That's it, then. Good luck.'
Nick watched her depart, with her head between her shoulders, and waited until he could not see her anymore before he finally let himself burst into tears. He cried and cried, with her image leaving, persistently floating in his mind.
Both of them lied, but fall was coming, and things were not supposed to remain the same.