A midnight conversation
It was almost midnight when the call came. Like many others on this particular evening, Frank was still awake. Unlike most people however, it was not a view of Times Square that captivated his attention. Instead, he sat gazing intently at his cellphone, as though he could will it into making a sound. When it finally did, he pressed the accept button before it had finished it’s first ring.
“It’s done?” he inquired by way of greeting.
“What do you think? You know I don’t make mistakes.” The words might have sounded arrogant, but when spoken by the woman on the other end of the line, they rang only of being a statement of fact. “Now what?”
“Now,” he replied grimly, “we wait. We wait to see if everything we’ve done will be worth the cost.”
“What if…”. Her voice trailed off and he got the feeling she was searching for the right words. The ones she chose caught him off guard. “What if we left it all behind, just walked away?”
Unable to keep the surprise from his tone he said, “You know that’s not an option.”
“Why not?” There was an edge to the question, one he couldn’t immediately identify. “You said it yourself, all that’s left to do now is wait. Why can’t we do that from a distance? A safe and peaceful, uninterrupted distance.”. Wistfulness he realized, that was the emotion in her tone. A wistfulness for something, he felt sure, she knew she could never have.
“It’s not possible. He’d meant to sound reasonable, but the words came out sharper than he’d intended. “God Kayla. …I had no idea you were even thinking about this. If I had…”
“Then,” she finished, “you would have done exactly what you’re doing now, given me all the reasons why it’s just not possible. If knowing you has taught me anything, it’s that impossible and impossible to imagine are two very different things.”
She fell silent then, and he sensed that she was stealing herself for whatever it was she was about to say. He was suddenly filled with the irrational urge to say something, anything to forestall her next words. But she spoke before he could. “You told me once that I could ask anything of you. Is that still true?”
“Of course,” he replied taken aback.
“I’m leaving.” her tone was calm, even, a sharp contrast to the tumult of emotions her words had unleashed inside him. Shock, denial, desperation. “I’ve given this a lot of thought,” she continued, “and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind. These last few years, getting to know you, working with you, becoming your friend, it’s meant more to me then I can say.”
She paused. For the second time in as many minutes, he was left scrambling desperately for something to say. And for the second time, she spoke before he’d thought of so much as a single word.
“I’m tired,” she made the statement as though it were a confession. I’m tired of running, hiding, fighting. I need to go somewhere new. Somewhere I can start over.”
He wished desperately that he could see her face. He wanted to read her expression, to look into her eyes and see if what he saw their match the resolve he heard in her voice. But he suspected he knew what he would see.
“Leaving won’t change the past,” he said, “it won’t make you forget.”
“I know. But I also know that I can’t stay. You might be able to watch and wait, to sit back and let it all play out. But…. I can’t.”
He had never expected this. He’d spent the evening anxiously awaiting her call, fearing that something had gone wrong with the job. Not once had it crossed his mind to be concerned about what would happen afterwards.
“This is what you’re asking?” his tone was incredulous. “You can’t honestly be expecting my blessing.”
“Of course not. Isn’t it obvious? I’m leaving, and I want to know if you’ll come with me.”
“Kayla...” He searched desperately for the right words. They alluded him completely and he settled for, “I can’t leave. I have to stay. I have to be here to see what will happen.”
“I know.” Her tone was resigned. She’d known what his response would be, and he’d had absolutely no idea what she would ask. Clearly, she knew him better then he knew her. The thought was a saddening one.
“I’m sorry.” The words were utterly inadequate. But amidst his shock at the unexpected turn their conversation had taken, they were all he had.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,”her tone was sincere. “But there is something I need that only you can provide.”
“Name it, and if it is in my power, I will do it.” He probably should have found out what she wanted before agreeing to grant her request. But if she really was leaving … then it was the least he could do.
“You’ve been my colleague and my companion,” she told him, “my confessor and my confidant. But most of all, you’ve been my friend.” When she next spoke, her voice wavered. “You’ve been a better friend then I could have ever hoped to find. But now I’m leaving. I’m going away and I need you to let me.”
He understood. God knew he didn’t want to, but he did understand. For her to have any hope of if not escaping, then at least distancing herself from her past, a past they shared, then if he wasn’t accompanying her, he needed to let her go completely.
“You’re leaving,” he spoke the words slowly, reluctantly. “I’m not coming with you. I’m not going to be there. So, I need to not be there.”
“Right.” The single word was spoken softly, gently. She knew what it would cost him to say yes. And she knew what it would cost him to say no, to deny her request.
A thousand memories flickered through his mind, as fleeting and vivid as a camera flash. Kayla running ahead of him down a dark alley, panting with equal parts exertion and excitement. Kayla holding the first item she’d ever retrieved entirely on her own. A gold neckless who’s shine was far surpassed by her radiant smile. Kayla with her head thrown back, laughing at something he’d said. Kayla with blood on her skin, torn clothes and a shattered expression.
After everything, all they’d been through together, this was the one thing she was asking of him. She wanted. no, she needed him to say yes. She needed him to agree to let her go.
She would understand. If he couldn’t bring himself to do what she was asking, if he couldn’t let her go completely. She would understand, because that was the kind of person she was.
“Frank.” Why had he never before noticed the way his name sounded on her tongue? Why did he only now register the fact that when she spoke it, he felt something that wasn’t there when anyone else did. But that was the way with people wasn’t it? Humans, by their very nature, tended to not realize the true essence of what they had, until it was no longer there’s.
“Frank,” she repeated and then continued. “This is what I’m asking. I’m asking you to let me go. Can you do that?”
The silence that followed seamed to the woman to last an eternity. When the man finally broke it, he spoke only one word. It was the only word that mattered.
Neither of them noticed that midnight had come and gone. It was the beginning of a new year, and they were both oblivious. They’d been utterly wrapped in their exchange, each of them wholly focused on the other’s words. And so, time had passed, unnoticed.
But that’s the thing about time. Though it might sometimes feel like it, its passage is not affected by one’s attention, or lack thereof. It is as predictable as the countdown that occurs to mark the start of each new year. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Happy New Year.