The ghosts of her friends’ drunken laughter floated through the lamp-lit streets and around her head. It had been awhile since she’d gone out...no, actually it had been awhile since she’d had a social life at all.
After that incident, how could she?
The humid air seemed to enshroud her and slow her footsteps on her path home. But she didn’t mind. Her apartment had become all too familiar and all too...lack luster.
No, she didn’t really feel like heading back to her apartment anytime soon.
Perhaps that’s why her feet started to go a different route towards the intoxicating scent of warm croissants and coffee.
Café Xi Wang was a local favorite for everything fresh, baked, and warm. It was the warm jacket on a cold day, the mother’s hug from a long day, and the relaxing bath after a stressful day. And it was perfect for her today.
The golden overhead lights illuminated a nearly empty display case so she just smiled at the cashier and requested for a hibiscus tea only. Within moments, a steaming cup was in her hands and the hibiscus’ signature red color stained her lips. Yes, maybe it was odd to be having hot tea on a summer day, but there was something just so electric that it made her feel at peace.
She couldn’t help it.
Or perhaps she enjoyed hot tea on summer nights because that’s what they used to do.
The thought made her pause in drinking her tea.
She screwed her eyes shut to try to banish the thoughts. One year, really, you’d think she’d be over it by now. No, no she was pitiful. Absolutely pitiful.
Gulping down the tea as if drowning out her previous thoughts, she abruptly moved to return the now empty cup to the front counter and left.
The jingling of the merry bells that signaled entrances and exits to the cafe rung through her head as she continued to walk away. It seemed as if every chime was a taunt. And she wished she could make it stop, make the sound stop, just make everything stop-
Your breath caught in your throat.
It strangled you.
It tangled up the words you wanted to say but couldn’t and everything bottled up from the last year and the phrases were mangled and you just couldn’t make sense of what was going on.
Oh you must be hallucinating.
Pounding headaches weren’t enough, eh?
You just had to become a crazy psycho and start hallucinating.
Because how else do you explain?
How else does it possibly make sense that you thought he was dead, but there he is, right in front of you on the street, smiling at you?
You could only keep staring.
Mouth agape, you finally pushed through to let out his name.
Upon hearing his name fall from your lips, the man in front of you softly smiled. He stared at you with a fondness in his gaze, as if you were his last breath and he would savor it for all was worth.
If this was a hallucination, it was far too cruel.
He just looked so...real.
But there was no way he’d be.
He said your name with such finality and definiteness. And a shock coursed through your body. You hadn’t heard his voice in a year. That beautiful mellow and low blend that always made you swear he should be a singer or an audiobook narrator. That rich voice that would assuage you whenever you had self doubts or tease you when you needed to lighten up.
You hadn’t heard it in so long that you weren’t prepared for how responsive your body would be to it.
Without thinking, you began to step towards him hesitantly. As if he was a rainbow and every step closer would result in a never-ending step back. You approached like this until you could finally make out the distinctive golden flecks in his eyes. Oh those brown chocolate eyes that you loved so much.
You kept staring at him and didn’t dare to move.
You both stood as if frozen like statues.
Forever immortalized to gaze at one another endlessly.
Until his hand moved and he whispered “May I?” before cupping your face.
and then you realized that he was real.
Your James was back and you could feel it in his warm palm, could feel it in the way his breath glided over your nose, could feel it in the loving gaze he directed down at you.
He was intoxicating.
Drawing you in and making you feel as if all that lost time was irrelevant. Because what is time? Time didn’t matter when you both were together. Time didn’t define the quality you two spent together. Time was no longer a factor. Time just ceased to even exist.
And so you took a good long time to just bask in his presence before you asked your questions.
But you were jolted from your head as Jake’s thumbs smoothed over the crease between your eyebrows. His expression had shifted into a more amused stance (though still quite fond and loving) as he said, “After all this time, you haven’t gotten rid of that habit of overthinking, darling.”
You were about to retort until you stole a glance at him and noticed his smirk. It was such a little thing, but it was an expression you had missed so much.
All those times overworking in the last year had been devoid of his smirk and signature line of “relax, let’s go to bed, your work will still be there tomorrow.” And all of a sudden it was that same smirk that actually broke you.
A sob racked through your body and James immediately slid into concerned mode as he delicately held your arms and drew soft patterns with his thumbs.
“Alina what is it?”
But hearing him say your name again and using his soft comforting voice only made you sob harder.
“You- you- I thought you were gone forever, I-” your hiccups and crying made it even harder for you to speak but luckily James caught the gist. He always did.
His hand slid to rubbing your back gently and he murmured, “I know Alina, I know, and I’m so sorry. I was stupid. I thought it would be easier for you to move on if you thought I was-”
“Gone?” You finished for him. Lifting your head from his chest, you stared at him with watery eyes. “You thought the best way for me to move on was to make me believe you were dead?”
James could only sigh as he pat your hair in slow movements. He tried to murmur words of comfort but they just fell like swollen buds of empty promises.
He took in your silence and let you think for a moment more before he cut through the dense immense quiet.
“Alina, I should tell you why I’m really here though. I...I can’t stay forever. I snuck away to give you a proper goodbye.”
And these words hurt so much more than anything you could imagine. They held the broken keys that unlocked promises of forever and love and always. There were no words you could utter that could make sense of what you wanted to say and do and cling to. So you just tippy-toed and pressed your lips to his.
Everything you couldn’t say you sealed with a kiss.
The playful moments he’d tickle you, the adored silence in reading Agatha Christie together, and the fond mornings when you’d wake up to him already smiling down at you.
You had forgotten how perfectly he molded against you and soon your tears began to run down and string along your eyelashes like pearls on an heirloom bracelet. And you broke the kiss seconds later as he looked at you sadly.
You stared at him desperately. Maybe you could burn his image into your eternity. Or trace his face enough to see it dancing along your eyelids every time you closed your eyes.
But the outline of his very being began to turn into a translucent blur. Time slipped through your grasp and behaved like a mischievous gaseous entity that would never be caged.
You clung on his arms as he began to disappear.
Every part of him that faded away to join the other stars in Heaven felt like another part of your heart that was shattering.
And then your hands were grasping nothing.
As if he never existed...as if he never came back...
And the last thing you remember seeing were those beautiful nearly gold-flecked eyes.
The clock struck twelve and you were reminded that you had to move.
Time encased you once more as you walked away.