The last stars blink down at the rocky plateau, the skies still dark, but with just that hint of grey, that false dawn, nipping at the horizon. I've been watching it, fearing it, for an hour, maybe two. At some point, I woke and haven't been able to slip back to sleep. I don't know why. My too dry eyes, aching with the need to shed long-held tears, know all too well why.
I can't do this anymore; I can't lie here and wait for this day to break. Last night was joyous, as we celebrated the end of the long trek to the plateau. I sat at the fire, staring out over the valleys and ranges stretching below us, content with my place in the world.
But that was last night. When I forgot what today would bring. And, when realisation hit, in the early hours, when I was at peace and my defences were weakest, it broke the bedrock I built my world upon.
Silently, I leave my bedroll, stealing away to hover on the cliff's edge, a step away from a long drop to the jagged rocks below. All I take to my vigil is a blanket to ward off the chill: meagre protection from the dark, from the memories, from the ghosts.
* * *
"James, you awake?"
I want to shout at Kevin. I want to let the anger and fear and despair building in my gut loose on someone, anyone. But I can't. Someone else is doing that already. I hear them in the living room. Shouting, no, screaming at each other; accusations, tears, apologies, pleas. They've been going at it for at least an hour. This isn't the first time. But it is, undoubtedly, the worst.
"Yeah, Kev, I'm awake."
"Can I sleep with you tonight?"
He doesn't try to justify why, at twelve, he needs to sleep in my bed. He doesn't need to. The cracks have been showing for weeks now. Too many tears, too many abrupt ends to conversations. Just; too many.
"Of course you can. Climb in." I roll back the blanket, and he folds himself into the spot I leave. We lie there, staring into each other's eyes, trying to block out the unwanted words. Bathing in the moonlight, wishing for miracles.
Then we hear what has gone unsaid for too long. Words we never thought would echo from a parent's lips, a wail slicing through our hopes and dreams. Dashing them on the unforgiving shores of pain.
"But you slept with her! You cheated! On us! On me!"
* * *
Rose and violet hues blossom from the sandstone edge on which I sit, painting the slowly brightening sky into a bouquet fit to tempt any woman forth from her slumber. But Dawn rolls over and asks for five more minutes, delaying my chance to marvel at her beauty.
Or I won't. Maybe I will add my own splash of colour, down there, far down there. Unlikely as it is, I still consider the act. When I think back to those long weeks, months, years, I struggle to believe so much time has passed. Or should it be so little? Has it only been two years? Or closer to three? It feels longer. It feels like a boulder rolling down the slope, gradually picking up speed until all one can do is scramble out the way.
* * *
My bag drops by the door, heavy with another day's homework and the weight of the world every teenager bears. So glad that was over. The last half hour of Bio was enough to turn my mind to mush, and the heat was the final nail in the sleep coffin. If I'd stayed another five minutes, I'd definitely have ended up in detention.
Shrugging off the blazer and loosening my tie, I'm turning for my room when I notice Kevin. He's huddled in the armchair by the window, face buried in a Math textbook, headphones glued to his head. A paper pad sits on the windowsill; pen splayed across a sea of empty white.
That's when I understand what my senses are trying to tell me. The house is too quiet, the living room an island behind closed doors. Kevin should be in the pool on a day like this, or out playing one of a dozen sports with his friends. And he shouldn't be doing Math; he hates Math.
I crouch before him, right in his eye-line. He doesn't look up, but I see the twitch.
"What's the weather like?"
He doesn't need to hear me to know what I'm asking.
"Pouring. It's been pouring since I got back."
I glance at my watch. Doesn't look like I'll get that swim in after all. "Hey, it'll be fine. You and I, we'll weather this together, like we always do. Where is she?"
He glances to the hallway doors. Their bedroom. Well, her bedroom now -- the source of the indoor downpours.
"I'll nip through your room and keep the doors closed, okay? Just stay here and I'll call you when dinner's ready. Or you can go swim? You don't need to be here if you don't want to."
It's not your responsibility anymore.
He nods again, but I observe the tension lift. And settle. On stronger shoulders. I hope.
I can do chicken. Chicken is easy. Potatoes are easy. Life ... isn't easy.
* * *
Those first streaks start to cut across the cotton wool clouds, deep hues bleeding into them with each passing minute, bringing that big ball of destruction ever closer to its birth. Heh. Big ball of destruction; the perfect way to describe her. She will rise high above, scorching every inch of this barren and beautiful land, burning the clouds away and making our final ascent to the peak of the laughingly titled Snow Mountain all the more hellish. Right now, I can't think of anything worse, not with forty pounds of crap on my back and the sting of salt in my eyes. By then, though, I will cherish the distraction. I expect I'll be looking for any excuse not to think about the world crashing down around my ears.
* * *
"You got everything?"
"Think so. Sleeping bag, socks, snacks, sunscreen. Got the list?"
Mom rummages around on her desk and finds the equipment list for the two-week trek through the Berg. It is comprehensive, but I don't think I have even half the stuff on there. I have enough though, and the rest of the troop can help out with what I don't. Anyway, I am unwilling to be more trouble than I need to be.
"Here you go," she passes the list over, watery smile beaming down on me as I start unpacking and repacking my bag. I feel the relief searing my back. I'm just glad Kevin is off on his sports tour; I wouldn't want him here for what's to come.
"Are you sure you don't want to make one last trip to the store, James? It's no trouble." I don't glance round; I'm not sure what will be reflected in her eyes if I do.
"No, I'm good. Anyway, Rob will be here to pick me up in around an hour. We need to finish packing everything up at the hall. And if Julian does his usual, we'll definitely head to the store. I can check with them what else I need." I want to get out now, have some time away, to simply be a normal kid. Not the adult I have to be.
"Okay, I understand. Let ... let me just give you a little extra in case." She's too tired, too wrung out, to hide the pain and I turn, wanting to say something to ease it, but she's back at the desk, on the side by the door. No longer blocking the side closest to the window. And I see them again; the Papers. With those words. And that date.
Three days. It'll all be over in three days.
* * *
Three days. A couple hundred miles away. Now, the sun rises on day three. I huddle deeper into the blanket, the rough cloth a welcome distraction. The edge of the disc slips above the horizon and, as the minutes pass, it rises, revealing more of the fire within. And, with every passing moment, the walls collapse as rock cracks; the tears slip as dew glistens. I've been staring at that great golden eye too long. That's my story; I'm sticking to it.
* * *
"On this day, in this court, you come before us to petition for the dissolution of your marriage on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Is that correct?"
"Yes, your honour."
"Yes, your honour."
* * *
And so the sun rises, born to observe my world crumble. And tonight it shall set, dying with all I know. The only constant in my life now: birth to death, East to West, sunrise to sunset.