Mark stared at the newspaper before him and reread the news clipping again. He was stone-still and felt numb to the bone. There was no denying the words written in front of him, no matter how many times they flew through his mind. His dark brown eyes began to rain upon his cheeks falling like whispers. His heart ripping into shreds quickly bleeding out. The blood bloomed on his shirt starting to stream down like rapid waters from his pants, spilling onto the cracks of the checkered tile floor of the cafe. The brazen words mocked him jumping out repeatedly as his eyes were refused to leave the scene of the crime.
“Hey Mark, are you ok? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Joe asked casting him a worried look. It was only then he could break the trance glancing down to check his appearance. True enough the blood didn’t appear to the normal eye, but he felt coated in it. The heartbreaking pain surrounded him, altering his aura to a deep red. Looking up with tears swimming in his eyes, he looked up at Joe.
He and Joe had bonded like brothers during senior year of college, but Joe had never met or heard about Tilly since Mark made it a point to never speak of their past together. When she had simply disappeared after their breakup, everyone had forgotten her except him. The truth tormented him incessantly of how he had treated her in the end.
After it had all fallen to ash, it was too painful to think or even speak of. He had cherished every moment they had shared and each time he thought of her, agony would drown him as if being pulled under the tide. Therefore, he always swallowed his pain to protect his heart. He still didn’t know how to talk about her.
“Oh sure,” he responded faking a smile, “just felt light-headed for a second. Probably because I skipped breakfast again.” Looking down, he furiously blinked away the tears swimming in his eyes.
“When are you going to learn man? You need to take care of yourself, or you’ll just break down,” Joe said scolded Mark. Mark didn’t tell Joe that he had been broken for quite some time. After they finished lunch making plans for the following week, Mark walked briskly to his apartment as if the devil himself were following him. Who knows? Maybe he deserved it. The newspaper burned in his hand spreading the acidic news. Once inside, he tossed the wretched news onto the wooden coffee table and rushed closing every blind and curtain to block out the sunny Saturday afternoon, leaving him almost in complete darkness.
The shock of losing her all over again, hit him like a brick. Slowly he sank into the soft dark armchair leaning forward, his knees supporting the brunt of his elbows. Both hands caught his head as it fell forward, gripping it tightly. Nothing in the silence could be heard but his slow labored breathing and pounding heart against his chest. A soft moan escaped from his lips interrupting the silence. Then suddenly an emotional dam cracked open as Mark’s broken sobs carried to each room of the apartment. It was as if a wounded animal was dying a thousand unending deaths.
Time started to slow as the past came to life in the deep recesses of his mind where hidden memories no longer lay dormant. It had been the fall of his sophomore year at the state university. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on that bright Saturday afternoon as beams of sunlight lit up the quad on the college campus. Everyone always gathered here throwing frisbees and footballs overhead the many groups of friends blending onto the assorted colors of blankets littering the bright green lawn. Although he wasn’t on any teams, he had always enjoyed throwing a football around with friends. Here was no different where he found it so easy to lose himself watching the ball fly easily through the air.
Out of the corner of his eye, the sun shone like a spotlight upon long curly red locks. Curious he took his eye off the ball to get a better look. A young pretty woman sat nearby with a friend talking animatedly using her hands. Then her upper body shook wildly as she threw her head back as laughter spilled from her soft pink lips. It was almost as he could feel the laughter reverberating in him. Would her lips be as soft as they looked if they met? Stunned by her beauty, his eyes remained locked on her. Suddenly she turned his way feeling his eyes upon her. Deep green eyes that sparkled like emeralds met his and something roared to life between them.
Out of nowhere something hard crashed into his skull knocking him to the ground, dazing him. He lay there for a moment before he got up. As he did so, his friends laughed although he only had eyes for the dream girl running over to him. He waved goodbye to his friends and walked towards her.
She grabbed his hands urgently asking, “Are you ok? Is there anything I can do?”
He laughed it off, “I’ll be fine, just a leftover headache. What’s your name?”
“Tilly. What’s yours?” she said, dropping her hands from his. His hands felt bereft without hers.
After she said goodbye to her friend, they walked together towards the student lounge. Opening the door for her, he admired her backside. Settling on a sofa by the windows with their bodies barely touching, they began to talk. The funny thing was once they started; they couldn’t stop. They talked about school, their families, how they grew up… absolutely everything! When Mark’s stomach growled, he looked at the time and noticed the sun had set which had turned on the outside lights on the paths. It was almost 10 pm! Tilly seemed just as surprised but neither of them minded.
Reluctantly she said, “I didn’t realize how late it was. The cafeteria has been closed for hours now but I bet we can get something from the vending machines. Perhaps I should be getting home then.”
Not wanting to press her, he agreed. As they both stood up, their brushed each other’s and they froze in place. She raised her eyes to his and the flame between them sparked again. Reaching for his hand, she clasped it in hers and smiled. The trance was broken as they looked down at their hands entwined together as if they were glued together. Refusing to be apart, they walked to the vending machine deciding amongst the day-old lunchmeat sandwiches that looked somewhat edible. Of course, this was their only option at this time of night. They nibbled their late-night meals as Mark walked Tilly to home. They brushed off any crumbs on the hands as they reached her dorm.
“So will I see you tomorrow?” Mark asked taking a step closer.
“Do you want to?” Tilly responded with mischievous smile as she took another step closer.
“Definitely. How about lunch?” He said with a smile, capturing her right cheek in his hand.
She leaned into his hand like a caress and whispered, “Noon?”
He leaned in with his lips but a hairs breath away and whispered back, “I’ll be here.” Then their lips met leaving a silent explosion in its wake. Softly their lips met over and over taking in each other’s breath, much like a respirator giving a dying person oxygen. The world was their own and nothing existed outside of them.
It was only when someone nearby coughed that they broke apart barely breathing. There was no denying that the chemistry between them burned like a wildfire unable to control its path. The flames seized their souls combining them into one. He knew then that she would be his only love for the rest of his like. They stepped away in different directions, saying goodnight as their eyes promised to dream of each other.
Their romance bloomed faster than anyone imagined as they seemed to spend every moment outside their studies together wrapped up in their own world. Fall leaves gave way to snowy winds followed by spring flowers. It was the end in May their sophomore year when they lay on a blanket in the quad wrapped in each other’s arms. They started talking about summer plans when Tizzy sat up avoiding his eyes.
“What is it,” he asked concerned.
“You’re not going to like what I say but I need you to hear me out. I’ve been offered a chance to finish my last two years as a foreign exchange student in England. It’s an amazing opportunity but I don’t want to leave you. You could come with me! There are amazing schools there I know you could also get into. Please think about it. You know how much I love you!” Tilly finished looking at him hopefully, holding his hand.
“England?” he said, pulling his hand away. His father left for a job once and never returned. What if she did the same thing? “Tilly, I love you too, but you know how important it is to my parents that I graduate here at their alma mater. Why can’t you finish here?”
“Please don’t make this hard,” she begged. “Please come with me.”
“You need to choose Tilly. England or me? We’ll never make it oceans apart so why try? You said you love me. How can you walk away from us?” he said. He didn’t understand. She knew he had to stay here so why couldn’t she?
“Are you serious?” she said offended. “That’s not fair! If our situations were reversed, you would ask the same thing of me!” She chest started to ache her voice catching.
Mark knew she was right, but his pride refused to admit it. He loved her and always would, but he couldn’t follow her across the world. “Then I guess you’ve made your choice, but I think we both know it’s the wrong one,” he said speaking coldly. “Have a great time in England, Tilly. Thanks for everything.” Standing up he swiftly walked away from her.
“Please come back, Mark! Mark!” she sat there calling after him. Arrows pierced his heart as he ignored the pain in her voice. Did she think that she was the only one in pain? For a moment, he stopped in his tracks. He loved her more than anyone he ever knew, could he really walk away from her? He almost turned around running back to her telling her yes right there, begging her to forgive him and that he would follow her anywhere.
Tilly kept calling for him, hope blooming in her wounded heart when she saw him stop. “He’s coming with! Please don’t leave me Mark! I love you beyond myself. Please understand and come with me!” she thought. Then just as quickly he was gone. She couldn’t see him anywhere as she searched the crowds from where he stood. Her heart splintered into pieces, realizing that he was never coming back.
Hidden beyond the crowd, he watched her curl into a ball sobbing heartbroken on the blanket oblivious to others while he wanted nothing but to comfort her. Regretting that he was leaving her behind, a tiny voice in him breathed “You’re doing the wrong thing. She’ll be lost to you forever.”
Five years later…
He couldn’t remember when he returned from lunch with Mark. All he knew that the hours had tormented him. It was long past midnight now. When he got home, the past had flashed before him like lightning, leaving echoes of light she had once brought to his life. The stone walls he had built around his heart, hiding the pain and regret, fell like sand leaving every nerve exposed. The shock of losing her all over again, hit him like a brick. If only he could turn back the clock and rush back to Tilly like he had longed to. There hadn’t been anyone but Tilly since then and there never would. His love for her had always been timeless yet he had been such a prideful fool. Now the fates had spoken, and it was too late teasing him about time would never get back. Truth be told, they had warned him when he had left her years ago; he just hadn’t listened.
That evening before bed, he picked up the newspaper again. Somehow knowing that she had been out there somewhere, had kept him going all these years. Now her beautiful face stared back at him above her obituary. She had fallen to her death while hiking. Had it been as sudden as their love for each other or the way he walked away? Anyway, she had continued with her life as well, leaving a husband behind. Why would anyone wait for someone like him who walked away like that? Leaving it on the nightstand beside the king-size bed, he crawled into bed hoping to dream of her.
His opened his eyes feeling full of hope. There she appeared above him gazing at him again with love. His calloused hand lifted to capture her soft cheek in his. It seemed for a moment that the whole world fell away leaving only them together. As their lips met once again in long-lost passion, the empty pill bottle rested on the newspaper with her beaming smile beneath it.