My head spins in the cold, as I sit on the steps in front of the restaurant. I refused to wear a coat, even if I died in the chilly December air.
I'd come out as soon as possible, in case she came early. Maybe she'd need my jacket.
I put my arm around it reassuringly.
My heart pounds against my chest, as I close my eyes, shaking away the image of the last time I'd seen her. She'd be mad if I thought about it now.
Rubbing my fingers against each other, I watch my breaths come out in puffs of white. She'd come today. She'd come to me.
I imagine her hands, soft against the glass she'd put it upon.
We'd be together today.
Please come quick. I need you here.
I wish I was there when you needed me the most. I wish I would have been able to see you then.
It’s fine. I’ll be there today.
“One, two, three, four,” I mumble to myself. She’ll come. Of course, she’ll come. “One, two, three.”
I remember the first time I’d glimpsed her face, as she danced across the room. I’d seen her feet first.
And then I’d laughed, thinking it was the stupidest thing in the world.
My mind flashes back to something more recent. It feels like pieces of white light, carrying me away, into the deep depths of the dark.
“Look into the mirror, Jack!” Arthur had pleaded, as I stared at my hollowed-out eyes. “She’s not coming back here! Try to understand!”
She’s coming today, though. I’m going to prove him wrong.
But even as I think that, her face blurs in my vision, just like it had when I’d read her letter to me.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.
It was a mistake.
A tear had stained the bottom corner. My tear.
She’d sent it exactly one year ago. December ninth, 1997. My birthday.
And the moment I’d read it, my arms went limp, letting the piece of paper float to the floor, a gust of wind pushing it toward the fire, where it lay to rest, burning away slowly, until there was nothing left.
“I don’t forgive you!” I shouted, my nails digging into my skin. “I’ll never forgive you!”
My arms slashed across the table, accidentally knocking off her picture, as it crashed down onto the rough carpet, the glass cracking into a thousand shards.
I don’t remember if they were the shards that broke this heart, or if they were pieces that grew apart, fighting and failing, to find the hope that they’d lost.
“I hate you!” I screamed. “I hate you! You-”
Stop. Don’t go there. Don’t go there now, Jack.
But I can’t stop myself, as I replay the scene, and again and again, and again.
I see myself as a scared boy, crying for the first time in fifteen years. I see my broken eyes, searching for another answer. And then I see my expression.
Hate. I looked like a monster.
I sit on my bed, head in hands. “One, two, three, four. One, two, three,” I had whispered to myself. The words always soothed the buzz that the quiet tended to have. But today, they only angered me more.
“One, two, three, four. One, two, three,” to them she danced. Leaping and dipping, running and skipping, with a grace that only very few could summon.
She swept through it all, a smile plastered across her face all the way. But there was also something pained behind it.
Something only a fool would ignore.
Something I didn’t see.
All of a sudden, I realize that I’m standing, squeezing the denim of my jacket against my chest, threateningly. I don’t know when it had happened.
Stop, Jack. Don’t.
Breathing heavily, I sit back down.
Turning around, I notice the restaurant lights closed. But it's only eight-thirty.
How could Larry have locked up already? I lift my wrist to my face, squinting to make sure I’m seeing clearly.
It’s half-past eleven.
I groan, the empty feeling in my chest arisen once again.
Grabbing my key, I shove it into the lock, waiting to hear the satisfying click of the door.
As I enter the room, I feel the wind rush in, prompting the song of the tiny bells that hung above the entrance. The microwave growls, the red light still blinking.
I walk over to it, about to shut it off when I hear the stairs creak.
The owner walks down the steps.
“Reese,” he calls to me. I look at my shoes. My boss had been having a bad day, and I didn’t want his frustration directed at me. I didn’t have the time for it. “What’re ye still doin’ here?”
“Erm… well I noticed the microwave on, so I thought-”
“That you’d switch it off,” he finishes. I sigh in relief. “Ye couldn’ be a worse liar, son.”
Glancing up at him, I notice the slight smile on his face. “I d-don’t know what you’re talking about, s-sir.”
He plonks down onto a bench set on the edge of the room, his fingers tapping against the light wood. “Come sit here.”
“I think your mistaken, s-sir-”
He cuts me off. “But I know I’m not.”
My mouth opens, ready to argue, until I think the better of it. I rub my eyes, resisting the urge to yawn.
It’s late. But it doesn't matter. She would be here any minute now. Any second now.
“She’s not gonna come, kid,” he says, his eyes softening. His smile was gone.
I shake my head, rapidly, looking anywhere but him. No one believes me. No one at all.
I’ve heard this same conversation too many times to count, and I’m tired. So very tired.
Something sad floods his eyes. Worry. Hopelessness. Fear.
It isn’t a look that one usually sees. And it’s the look that makes my head spin, as I question everything I’ve done so far. I slam my hand against the wall.
I don’t see Howard trying to stop me, as he pulls at my shoulders.
“She will come,” I mutter. She will.
He stops, pulling me back, gently. Letting me lean against the wall, he looks me in the eye and says the words I dread the most. “She’s dead, Jack. Sadie is dead.”
I cried that night. I cried for someone who could never come. I cried for someone who’d gone too far for me to catch up.
And the tears I cried never dried out.