Katie went on her first date today.
I’m not upset. I mean, you have to expect someone to date again after a relationship ends. It’s been a whole year; I’m surprised she even waited that long.
That doesn’t mean I liked it, though.
I followed them to the restaurant. I wasn’t trying to be creepy or anything; I just wanted to see what he was like. Not that she’d even notice I was there.
Oh, what I’d give for her to notice me again.
His hair is the same color as mine, but he’s a little taller. Got a nice beard, too. I think I heard her call him Mark. He had a pretty classy suit on, and he made her laugh.
More than once.
But, it’s okay; she’s allowed to date other people. In fact, I want her to. I don’t want her to stay alone just because of what happened last year.
I remember that night as if it were yesterday.
The stars twinkled brightly as I hung up the phone, started my little black sedan, and pulled out of my driveway that cold December night. The scarf she’d given me was wrapped around my neck and the ring I was going to give her was tucked away safely in my pocket.
But, oh, how quickly life can change.
Anyways, she had on the green dress she wore to our first date around three years ago. Her red hair flowed down her back like a waterfall reflecting the waning sunlight, and her green eyes shone like emeralds every time she laughed at his corny jokes.
The same way she used to laugh at mine.
But, instead of a quip or a riddle, the last words I would ever say to her composed a lie.
I’d give anything to change that.
I sunk down into an empty chair across the room and watched her over Mark’s shoulder. Usually I would think that’d be a creepy thing to do, but I don’t really care anymore.
Katie seemed happy. She smiled a lot, almost too much. But I could just be jealous.
Just once she glanced in my direction, and my heart seemed to flutter into a rhythm again for the first time in a year. But, soon enough, that familiar glazed look settled over her eyes, and I was painfully reminded of the fact that I didn’t exist in her world anymore.
They sat and talked for maybe half an hour after they finished eating. She seemed tired, and it looked like he offered to walk her home.
I followed them at a pretty safe distance; it just didn’t feel right for me to get too close. I heard her say my name, although I didn’t hear why. She was bound to bring me up eventually, though; we were together for two whole years.
Snow began to fall as they disappeared around the corner of her street. I didn’t have a coat, but I wasn’t cold. The snowflakes seemed to drift right through me and nestle into where my footprints should have been. But it didn’t bother me.
Nothing does anymore.
I stopped living the night I lost her. My heart ceased to beat and time moved on without me. Katie was no longer mine, and nothing else mattered to me anymore.
The pair paused at the bottom of the stairs leading up to her door. I half expected him to lean in for a kiss, but instead he placed his hands on her shoulders and spoke to her softly.
I moved a couple steps closer, and I heard her speak for the first time since that night.
“I had a lovely evening, Mark,” she whispered as she swiped at the tears brimming in her eyes, “but I’m just not ready yet.”
Mark gave her a reassuring smile. His voice was oddly comforting, even to me. “I understand, and I’ll be here when you are.” He squeezed her shoulder and we watched him disappear into the night.
Katie mounted the steps to her doorway and paused as sobs suddenly caught in her throat. She leaned heavily against the metal railing and covered her mouth with her gloved hand as tears streamed down her cheeks.
I dashed forward from the shadows and leapt up the first two steps before I realized what I was doing.
Shivering and sobbing silently, Katie slumped back against her screen door and slid to the ground, clutching her necklace in her fingers. Her gaze passed right through me as I caught a glimpse of the pendant in her palm.
On a silver chain around her neck hung the diamond ring I’d intended for her finger.
I froze as a shiver rattled up my spine, and an icy feeling I wasn’t used to anymore stole into my chest and gripped my heart.
I was so caught up in my own misery that I had forgotten something very important:
I loved Katie, but Katie loved me, too.
Only one heart beat between the two of us. Only one pair of lungs heaved in and out with each sob, and only one set of fingers grasped the ring suspended round her neck.
But two people died that night, one year ago, in the wreckage of a small, black sedan.
I told her I’d see her in a bit. I never thought it’d be the last thing I’d say to her.
I don’t know what happened after the accident. I don’t know who called my parents, who told Katie, who gave her the ring. They did something I wasn’t able to.
But there I stood, on Katie’s front porch, surrounded by snow but not covered by it, as the woman I killed with my death wept on the ground before me.
Katie drew her knees up and huddled against her screen door, sobbing into her gloves as snowflakes salted her navy-blue coat. I crouched beside her as the flurries fell through me and raised a transparent hand to her cheek, knowing that, should I try to touch her, she’d only slip through my fingers one last time.
If I was capable of tears, we’d have filled an ocean as I settled down beside her in the doorway. Her breathing seemed to slow down now, and she wiped her eyes with the thumbs of her gloves. She peered down at the ring in her fingers, turning it over reverently in her hands.
“Oh, my darling,” I whispered soundlessly, “I know you can’t hear me.”
I turned and faced her, crossing my legs in front of me and gazed intently into the vibrant green eyes that couldn’t meet my own. “But, if you could, this is what I’d say to you.
“I told you that night that I’d see you in a bit. If I’d known those would be my last words, I’d have chosen them more carefully.
“I’d have told you that I love you with all of my heart and that every minute closer to slipping that ring on your finger was the best minute of my life. I’d have told you that you are the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever seen. I was only allowed two years with you, and it wasn’t enough for me. But every second with you was one more than I deserved, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Katie leaned her head against the door and gazed pensively past me. I tried to remind myself that she wasn’t really listening.
“But,” I continued anyway, “I didn’t. I didn’t get to say any of that.” I straightened my back and squared my shoulders. “So, I’ll say it now.
“Katie, I love you with all of my heart. Every minute closer to slipping that ring on your finger was the best minute of my life, and you are the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever seen.”
A sob caught in my throat, catching me by surprise. If I didn’t know better, I could’ve sworn that tears began to brim in my eyes.
“We only got two years.” My voice cracked. “And it wasn’t enough.”
Katie sucked in a deep breath, cutting off my contemplation. She swiped her hands over her eyes and, tucking the necklace back into her jacket, swayed to her feet. I stood up as the screen door swung open, passing through me and reminding me that I wasn’t really there.
Sniffling, she pulled out her keys and bent over the lock. I stepped aside and started down the staircase, waiting to hear the door open behind me.
I turned around, and Katie was staring at me.
Well, I thought she was. Her eyes quivered as they searched the empty space in front of them, convincing me that she still couldn’t see me.
But then she spoke.
“If you can hear me,” Katie begged of the night sky, “then know this, my darling.”
A solitary tear trickled down her cheek.
“I’ve always loved you, and I always will.”
With these words, Katie turned around and disappeared through the doorway.
I stood on the stair for what seemed like years. The snow ceased to fall, and the silence of a winter night settled in around me. She left me with just eight words.
But they were enough.
And for a moment, just one moment, I could’ve sworn I felt my heart beat again.