The fog clings to your skin, just as dew clings to the grass, and just like your clothes cling to your body. Even in this wide open space everything feels so close to you, as you inhale, the thick mist invades your lungs, as you lie back on the grass in the meadow. You close your eyes to the overcast sky and remember a day completely unlike this one, so many years ago.
You walked through the trees to see the clearing that would become your second home. This place was perfect, enough distance from the town center that you no longer hear the bustling life that you once found charming, but that now sets you on edge. The coverage of trees promises safety from their stares, and sanctuary from your family.
She was there, you spotted her from across the field. She smiled in your direction and you couldn’t help the blush that crept up along your neck. You knew she would be there, and she knew that you would follow. Your palms were sweaty as you clung to the white carnation you got from the flower cart back in town. The single flower pales in comparison to all of the wildflowers in bloom between you and her, the vibrant colors soaking up the full sun, filling the air with the smell of summer. You loved the way the white petals contrasted against her dark hair when you slid the stem behind her ear. That was the first time you were alone with her and you relished the warmth that you found laying out in the sun. That night you returned home well past dark, but you still felt that sunshine on your skin.
You open your eyes, and that same meadow still surrounds you, but this time there are no bright flowers. No sunshine. No her. All that’s there is the long grass covered in a sheen of dew. You pull your knees up below your chin as the chill sets in to your fingers, that warmth that used to fill you up from the inside is gone, and all that remains is a hollow feeling in your chest.
Another memory floods your senses. It was a few summers later and you once again followed her to this meadow. You watched her leave church and walk in this direction. You were both still in your Sunday best but that didn’t stop you from picking out another flower before following her. The flower cart had the most beautiful gardenias, so you bought a few to give to her with some of the money you had saved up since you started working. No longer did you have to steal flowers to give to her, and you’re sure the merchant values you more as a customer than a thief. She clung to the flowers, held them against her chest and smiled before turning her big eyes to you, freezing you in place. The only movement in the clearing was the butterflies in your stomach, and her bringing her soft lips to yours. The sweet smell of peaches permeated the air, but that smell paled in comparison to the sweetness dripping from her lips. You spent the rest of that day tangled in the grass, soaking up the sun, and eating fruit stolen from the surrounding trees. That was the first day you let yourself dream of a future with her.
You let yourself imagine not just summers spent in her arms, but winters as well. You would imagine a life together, with a home built here in this clearing, here where everything started. When you told her of these dreams she would smile and nod, talking about the pets you would own together, the children you would raise together, the love you would share in old age. You and her filled the meadow with promises and kisses as you watched the sun sink low in the sky. And for every star in the inky black abyss hanging above was another moment you would get with her.
When you returned home that night with a smile on your lips, your mother mistook the blush on your cheeks, and your red lips for makeup and called you a whore, lamenting that you’ll never find a husband looking like that. When you tucked yourself into bed that night you thought of how foolish your mother was. Who needs a husband when you have someone like her.
You feel tears spring to your eyes, as the cold seeps into your bones. You miss the way things were, the way they used to be before last year. You stand and your joints groan beneath your weight. You’ve laid in the grass for far too long. The need to move overcomes you so you start to run. You make your way to the creek farther into the forest, away from the town full of curious glances, away from the people who pretended to care about you, and just watched as you cried until there were no tears left.
As you reach the water you remember how the church bells sounded, and how she looked in white. You remember the smile she gave him, the same smile she used to give you when she would fill your heart with promises she never intended to fulfill. You remember the way your heart broke on that day months ago when you realized that she wasn’t coming back to you, that she was going to marry him like her family wanted her to. That night with tears in your eyes you asked her why she chose him, instead of running away with you. All she could say was that she was sorry.
That’s how you ended up here, on this overcast day, on the bank of a creek watching the water flow by. You’re still in your Sunday best because what else would you wear to her wedding? Needing to feel something other than this aching emptiness in your heart you wade into the water. You float on your back and look up at the gray sky and wish for something to be different. The water is cold, and it holds you in its frigid embrace. You close your eyes and let the icy water ground you. You’re so focused on the way the water holds you up that you don’t notice the clouds parting in the sky above you.
Through the clouds and the trees the sun reaches your skin. The warmth surprises you and when you open your eyes to see a patch of blue above you, you remember the last time you swam in this creek. It was before she knew your name, before you knew hers, it was a good time untouched, untainted by her. This memory is still safe. That’s when you remember yourself. You remember that there were good times before her, and there will be good times after. You remember who you used to be, and you know that even though you’ve changed, you’ll be fine again in the future, even if it isn’t now. You see the patch of blue in the sky grow bigger and it gives you hope for good times yet to come. You won’t always feel this cold, you will feel warmth again.