Outside, the wind howls.
Lightning crackles, thunder crashes, so deep and close the bedroom windows rattle in their frames. Rain hammers at the house in endless wind-tossed sheets, shrouding the night in a churning veil.
It’s a lovely evening.
I wish I could spend it with you.
From my chair by the window, I watch the raindrops race in wild rivulets across the glass. I look over at her, asleep in the bed. She reminds me of you sometimes. You have the same glossy brown hair, though hers wants to curl while yours fell in delicate waves. The same gentle slope of the nose. Sometimes when she looks my way, I see an echo of how you used to look at me.
But it’s only an echo.
She’s younger and more cynical. She doesn’t feel things, not really, not the way you do. And she’s always absorbed in her phone. There are times when it feels like a struggle to remind her I exist.
I know I shouldn’t compare. She’s her, and you’re you. And it’s not like I didn’t drive you away, because I did. That’s what I do. But how does the old song go?
You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?
I value my solitude; I’m happiest alone. Other people are complicated. They stumble in with their baggage and their things, cluttering up the place until I finally get fed up enough to run them off. Then I’m alone again.
It’s those in-between times I like, when it’s just me. That’s what I thought I wanted.
Maybe I’m too set in my ways.
She squirms sleepily, burrowing deeper beneath the covers. A soft sigh escapes her lips. It’s cute, I suppose, but it only makes me think of you. How you would whimper and plead in your sleep, plagued by nightmares.
Remembering fills me with a hollow ache.
I didn’t think you were anything special at first, just another face moving in and out the revolving door of my existence. I had long since given up on trying to learn names. Why bother? There was never enough time.
For days, I watched you move in your furniture, hold up your paint swatches, hang your art on my walls. I learned your routine, your habits, your insecurities. Your fears.
I was just going through the motions.
Until the night it rained.
It was a summer storm, hot and wet and furious. I stood in the darkened corner of the bedroom as you slept, shivering beneath your blankets. The air was frigid, and your breath trailed out in anxious clouds. I waited for a gap between peals of thunder, and when it came, I shifted my weight, just slightly. The warped floorboard beneath me squealed and cracked, and you shot up in the bed, wide awake.
I think you almost screamed.
I watched as you clutched the blankets to your chest, jumping when lightning flashed outside the window and again when thunder roared in answer. I could see the whites of your eyes as they darted around a room made unfamiliar by the darkness. You peered into the shadows where I stood, and I imagined I could see through your eyes as you squinted into the gloom, wondering if that patch of darkness looked deeper than the rest.
Almost like the outline of some figure in the corner.
I let out a slow, rattling breath, and as your eyes went wide with terror I felt a long-forgotten feeling stir within me. You fumbled for your bedside lamp, and I realized.
It was excitement.
Thunder crashed once more as warm yellow light banished the dark, but of course you couldn’t see me. I watched while you cast about, called out a tentative hello. You convinced yourself it was just your imagination, and still you sat up with the lights on, unable to sleep until almost dawn.
I was transfixed.
I don’t know what it was exactly, but your fear was electric. It crashed through you like a tidal wave, unavoidable, overwhelming, threatening to swallow you whole. I had never known fear like yours, and it inspired me.
There was no simple rattling of cabinets with you. It had been so long since I felt anything at all, and you made me feel so much. It drove me to new heights.
When you went down into the basement to fix that leak, I slammed the door behind you and held it shut until your screams grew hoarse and your pounding fists slowed. Only then did I allow the door to swing gently open, observing with great satisfaction how you scrambled out, breath hitching in hysterical sobs.
I was flattered you never went down there again.
I liked to draw the curtain and run the shower just so I could watch you edge towards it, baseball bat gripped in your white-knuckled hands. I enjoyed the way you screamed as you yanked the curtain open, even before you saw it was empty.
I became the footsteps on the stairs, the movement in the corner of your eye, the cold, dark presence in the hall. My favorite thing was waiting until you were almost asleep before flicking on the hall light and walking slowly, heavily to the bedroom door. Knowing you could see my shadow beneath the doorway. Knowing you were staring out from under your blankets, trying not to breathe. I could almost feel your heart pounding.
Sometimes I stood there for hours before letting you fall asleep.
I should’ve known it couldn’t last. You were getting wound tighter and tighter, but I was an addict - I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to. I knew I had gone too far when I stepped out of your closet that night, grinning face running with blood. But the way you screamed - it was almost worth it. On and on and on as you ran, not even stopping as you tumbled down the stairs. Not even when you flung the door open and fled into the night. I thought you might never stop screaming.
It was perfect.
But you didn’t come back. A day passed, then a week, then two. Eventually, some people came to box up your things and take them away. I was alone again. Which was what I wanted, wasn’t it? Why else would I have been trying so hard?
But the silence that once calmed me felt empty. I missed you. I missed your panicked breathing, the furtive looks over your shoulder.
I missed your screams.
I’m standing over her now. She’s sleeping fitfully because of the storm. I could wake her. I could pull the covers back, chill her to her bones, whisper terrible secrets in her ear. She might wake up, might even be afraid for a moment, but it wouldn’t last. Even when she catches a glimpse of me, she just blames it on the pills she takes.
There’s no joy in this for me.
So I return to my chair, the one that I died in, and I sit and stare out the window at the storm. I’m sure I’ll drive her away eventually; I don’t know what else to do. If I ever had unfinished business, it’s lost to me now, forgotten long ago.
Maybe it’s you.
The one who got away.