“Let’s go for a walk.”
My head whipped around fast looking for the voice that I had not heard in what seemed like a lifetime. There he stood, all flesh and sturdy, and so, so… real. Yep, I’d be chalking this up to a psychotic break. But that would be a worry for another day and another therapy appointment… if I were granted one.
“Don’t you know scaring someone when they’re on the edge of a cliff is bad manners?” I questioned as I took in his smirk, knowing that he had ultimately been caught.
“Literally or figuratively?” He questioned as he stalked his way closer to me. I recoiled at his approach. How could there be gravel crunching under his feet as he traveled? He was… gone. Had been since he fell the 45 feet that was intended for someone else. Me.
“Does it matter?” I asked, shifting my weight on the edge of the giant boulder that I had taken up residence on for hours at a time after the accident. By the time I had turned, he was hovering. Shaking, I brought my eyes to his. Blue as ever. Not possible. How?
“Of course, it matters.” He drawled, voice gravelly. “You’ve been sitting here every day for nearly a year. Let’s go for a walk.” At this point, I noticed he was holding out a hand. A perfect, smooth, non-injured hand. Weird. I have to be losing what little mental sanity I have left.
I sighed. “Okay.” What point was there, really, to argue with a dead man? Dead. Hmm. Grabbing his hand, he helped me to my feet, which I’m surprised supported me at all. Together, we started down the same path that we had started down a year prior.
“Beautiful…” I heard him mumble next to me, barely a breath. I looked around, taking in the leaves that were beginning to gain their Fall hues. Fall in upstate New York held one of the two main keys to my heart. It was when I fell in love with the other, who I quickly realized was staring at me.
“Yes.” I let out in a breath. “It’s the end of October now, when everything around here truly earns its beauty.” Why did I assume he didn’t know what the date was? Did they have calendars… on the other side? Was that even the correct terming?
“I wasn’t talking about the nature.” He mused, letting out a small laugh. Oh, wow. How long had it been since I heard that laugh? 11 months, 28 days, 12 hours, 17 minutes… but who was counting? Was my face on fire? Dante’s Inferno going on inside here.
I giggled. Seth had been gone for almost a year, but he could still make me freaking giggle. The look on his face told me he couldn’t believe it either. “Oh.”
“That’s a great sound.” He let out, after my little fit had come to an end. I immediately sobered. “Why stop?”
I looked at him, feeling like I had been slapped. Like I had betrayed him somehow. “I’m sorry.” I couldn’t meet his eyes after that, and I immediately stopped in my tracks, dropping that perfect hand.
“Jessalyn…” He started. I cut him off quick.
“No.” Now, he looked like he had been slapped. My breath was beginning to quicken. I knew what was coming. The panic attacks were coming in waves in the days after this blue eyed, deserved the world, made a huge mistake to save me human selflessly pushed me out the way earning a one-way ticket of his own to the great beyond that we often conversed about.
“Yes.” He grabbed my hands and forced me down to the ground with him, collapsing with me in his lap. The tears were coming freely at this point, and I failed to care that there was no absolute way that any of this was happening. There was no way that I was freely having a panic attack in the arms of my dead boyfriend, who gave up everything so I could continue on. Life was cruel. There was no continuing without him.
“Listen to me,” he started. “You are allowed to cry, scream, throw things, curse my name… but you ARE NOT allowed to give up.” I quickly met his eyes. He knew. Oh my God, he knew. Knew the plans that I had coming out here this specific day for a specific purpose. He knew that I visited that spot every day for a year to try and find closure one way or another. Whatever that meant.
“How did you…?” My voice was strangled, I barely recognized it at all. He pulled me away from his chest some so he could easily look at me. Look through me really, it didn’t matter. The action filled me with shame. I just wanted to be with him again… so badly.
“You honestly thought, for even a second, that you could that easily get rid of me?” The question was a silly one, but I always believed that those who leave us always get to carry on beside us even when we cannot see them. I had lost sight of that the past year because I could not feel him… at all. No matter how hard I tried, I was beginning to lose the small things that had made him… Him.
“I never thought that…” I started. “But this last year has been the worst year I have ever encountered.” He stood up, pulling me along with him as we started walking again. He was quiet, he wanted me to keep talking. Maybe that was what I needed. Something a shrink couldn’t give me… yep, losing it. But I kept talking anyway.
“Losing you, I lost myself,” I confided in him. “Nothing has been the same since that day. You were wrong.” He stopped, looking at me as if waiting for some grand revelation. “It should have been me.”
There it was again. The forlorn look like I had just given him the ghastliest news that he could have ever imagined.
“How could you say that?
I replayed that day back in my head several dozen times over the course of the year.
“Let’s go for a walk.” He had nagged me for hours, wanting to go do anything other than letting me study for my microbiology final. One more test, and I would be well on my way to becoming an Embryologist. I wanted to help as many people as I could have families of their own, it was my dream. All I could think about. “Come on…” He tried again. “It’s a beautiful day, fall is here, let’s go for a hike. Give that big brain of yours a rest.”
I rolled my eyes at him and sighed. I had to give him that. We both had been studying and working towards graduation. A walk was well within his asking rights. “Alright.”
A walk, in Seth’s head, had turned into a half hours drive to the mountains, to his favorite hiking trail. We parked and got out of his car, it was so clean and crisp. I tipped my head back and took the deepest breath I could manage.
“See? It’s doing you good already.” That cocky smile. The one he wore anytime he was remotely right.
“Yeah… Okay.” I conceded. I quickly grabbed his hand, swinging it as we started down the trail that we had traveled so many times before, not even thinking catastrophe could catch up with us.
“It should have been me.” I repeated.
I remembered how we were laughing, joking, pushing at each other. I didn’t realize how close we kept coming the edge of the trail line. Nothing mattered but us in that moment. I didn’t notice how close my foot had come or the noise the breaking rock was making… until it was too late. Part of the trail started to give way and before I realized what was happening, Seth had already reversed our positions. I was on the solid ground and he had teetered into instability. Everything worked in slow motion, I grabbed for him and he for me. It didn’t matter though, he had slipped through my fingers and was starting a dissent down the embankment. I couldn’t do anything at point other than watch in horror as he descended to the bottom coming to rest near the water. My heart knew then that there was no way.
“I’d do it again.” His voice brought me out of my nightmare that had played on repeat since that day. “I’d do it again.” A repeated declaration. “There’s no way that I would ever trade places with you, and you’re crazy if you think that’s the case.”
Calling me crazy from beyond the grave. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. So I decided on both.
“Seriously, Seth?” I snorted.
He grabbed for me again. This whole situation transcended anything I thought I knew.
“I am crazy.” I decided once he had settled me against his chest. I could feel his chest ripple with laughter.
“Yes,” he started. “But, I can’t imagine you another way. It’s how I know you needed me. It’s what brought me here. I can’t be ungrateful for that.”
I felt him kiss the top of my head. Strange but not unwelcome.
“Just because you can’t feel me doesn’t mean I’m not there.” He started. “Please do not try and come here again.”
My heart broke and his face softened. “Okay, that is so not how I meant for that to come out. Hang on.” He took another deep breath. “You have so much left to do before you even begin to think about joining me here. I imagine you’ll land a great job, and you’ll help so many people. You’ll meet someone who loves you just like I do and have an amazing family. I can’t wait to hear about them. Please don’t keep yourself from having that.”
Tears were running down my face, down his too it seemed.
“How? How do I do that?” I couldn’t even fathom loving anyone the way I had loved him.
“Well, you don’t have to do it tomorrow.” He quipped. I missed that humor. Without sarcasm, all just seemed quiet. “You will though. I have no reservations about that.”
Before I noticed we were even there, we were back at that boulder. Seth was fading.
“You saved me… again.” I started at my revelation. That’s why he was here.
“I didn’t lie when I said I’d so it again.” A giant smile on his face. “Let’s go for a walk.
My head snapped up, I was sitting back against the boulder I had originally been sitting on… or was I? I looked around quick. No one in sight. I looked down at my watch. 4:35 PM. I had gotten to the spot at 4:30 PM. I quickly shook the fog out of my head.
“What the…?” I whispered. Then I giggled. Soft at first and then so hard I couldn’t seem to control it. A breeze picked up and slighted past, and I breathed it in quickly. I stood up and brushed my jeans off. Looking around again, I never realized that let’s go for a walk would both almost kill me and bring me back to life.
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This was such a touching story, April! I really liked your treatment of love and loss, and the hopeful message at the end was so well-done. Your dialogue is exceptionally good. Did you have a favorite line, as you were writing this? Good luck this week, and welcome to Reedsy!
Hi, Wendy! Thank you so much for the kind words. First time here, so that means so much and makes me feel so welcome. I don’t think I had a favorite line. Lol. I kind of just let everything pour and reread at the end and was like, “yep, this is what it’s going to be.” Ha! Thanks again, and I look forward to being able to read some of your work as well. Slowly, trying to read as I can!!