The Saddest Words
I sat out on the balcony of the Marangues' summer home, the one that faced the water. I gazed upon the lagoon that trailed out into the sea, staring intently at the black waters as they shivered in the night below the moon and stars. It was such a pensive sight to see; one that I never appreciated as a child or even a young woman in my twenties, perhaps, and one that I was now appreciating in my older age.
I wasn't very old, although to a majority of the youth in this world, I must have been thought of as pretty nearly ancient. I was forty years old today. Twenty years since my twentieth birthday, and twenty more years until my sixtieth birthday. No matter how you looked at it, I was getting no younger, and I never would. The only thing that is sure in this world is time. It's always passing you by, but you sometimes don't notice it until after. Most of the time, actually.
"Hey, Rachel, what are you doing out here?" a soft voice asked me. Kevin Permise came out onto the balcony, too, causing for me to start. How long had I been alone for?
"Just looking at the water and getting a little air," I responded, my eyes running over his face. Same blue eyes, same brown hair, only now those eyes were full of a wisdom they had not had had at the age of sixteen, and the hair was now streaked with silver. Different, yet the same. Complicated and simple at the same time.
He, too, gazed over the railing at the black waters just a few feet away from me, and I wondered then if he was seeing the same things I saw in this water: Reflections. Was he, too, recalling the past and wondering about the future as I was? I wanted to ask him, but I did not. I held back just as anyone would hold something back, trivial or not so.
I watched his face, searching for any sign of recollections. I knew him to always have a very expressive face, but tonight he remained entirely expressionless. Disappointed, I stared back at the waters before flicking another glance at his face.
"Makes you wish you were young, doesn't it?" I asked him quietly, somehow sensing that he was in the same boat as I, though I didn't see it.
"Yeah," he answered, not looking at me. "Makes me wish that I'd done more of the things I wanted to do when I was younger, too. Know what I mean?"
I knew. Oh Lord, did I know. "Yes, that, too."
"Said more of the things I wanted to say, too."
"Of course." Unable to think of anything else to say, I turned back to the water, feeling something melancholy and sweet tugging at my heart. As a teenager, I would have loved nothing more than these precious few minutes alone with him. Not money, not cars or clothes. Nothing more.
Now…well now I suddenly felt just as confused as I had when I was sixteen. Was it even normal for a woman my age to feel lost?
"What are you thinking of right now?" Kevin asked.
"Mm…" I closed my eyes as the breeze caressed my face. "High school. And you?"
"Same thing." Kevin closed the space between us and we stood side by side as old friends, staring out into the lagoon.
I smiled, remembering a promise I had made to myself many years ago. A promise that I now would carry through. "So many memories," I remarked, not quite certain of how to begin.
"Countless and priceless," he agreed, nodding.
At that moment, I realized that there was no other way to go than to just say it. "You know…"
"Mm hmm?" Kevin glanced at me inquiringly, most likely anticipating another reflective thought or idea from me.
"When I was sixteen, I was absolutely head over heels in love with you," I admitted, running my fingers through my hair. "I was always too scared to tell you because I thought that you would reject me and that I would ruin our friendship. It meant so much to me that I just couldn't bring myself to say a word to you." It felt so good to tell him; I was finally letting go of something that I had been hanging on fast to for so long. Too long. I vaguely remembered myself sobbing alone in my bedroom, vowing that one day, when I was over him, years and years into the future, I would tell him. We would laugh about it and it would feel good to look back.
Kevin looked stunned. "You're kidding me."
I shook my head and gave a small laugh. "No. For a year I had eyes for you and only you. Isn't that funny? At such a young age, tying myself so permanently to someone."
Kevin looked into my eyes so earnestly that the smile my laughter had left faded. "What's the matter?" I asked, my eyes wide.
"Rachel…when we were sixteen, I was crazy about you. I never told you because I thought you would think I was completely insane."
The gentle breeze stopped, and a cloud passed over the moon. "But…Kevin…you had more girlfriends than I cared to count that year. You were so happy…"
"I threw myself at every other available girl to get away from what I felt," Kevin responded earnestly. "And none of them ever measured up to you."
It felt as though time had lost all sanity. It was going back to when we were sixteen, and yet, it was standing still. How ironic that I had just been brewing over how time was the only thing that you could rely on. Nothing moved around us as everything twisted and turned within us. "You can't be serious."
Those words hit me like the past punching me in the stomach. I was knocked breathless and senseless with emotion. Tears formed in my eyes. No…surely this couldn't be. I had loved him, and he had loved me. He had loved me. That oceans of tears I had cried had been for nothing.
I didn't know what to feel. Something I had been so sure would be denied to me had been offered to me all this time, and I never knew. Why didn't we say what we felt?
Words unspoken were words never heard. Words never heard were a knowledge never known. And the love we'd once had for each other went unreciprocated, unrequited, unreturned, because we were scared. Too scared to go out on a limb. And look where we were now.
I wondered then where we would be if we had just had the courage to say something.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly, unable to think of anything else to say.
"So am I." I glanced up into Kevin's face, and I was surprised to see tears glistening in his own eyes. I allowed one of my own to spill down my cheek, and he lifted his hand to brush it away.
My mind was reeling. This shouldn't be happening. Not now. This should have happened when we were sixteen. Twenty-four years earlier. But we were twenty-four years too late.
Almost as though it was predestined, he pulled me into a tight embrace, and I clung to him as I would have at sixteen. How did we let this happen? Did we really have to be so foolish that we would let mere fear get in the way of our hearts?
If time had stopped before, it had resumed now. We heard footsteps clicking on the tile floor in the house and we pulled away from one another. This secret was for our ears alone. No one else's.
"Kevin," Lana Marangue's voice called. "Your wife is ready to leave now."
"Be right there," Kevin called back. We were silent until we heard the click of her heels fade away, and it was then that I noticed that the wind came more gustily before.
Kevin took my hands in his and we gazed into each other's eyes for a few moments, speaking not a word to console the other. Words failed us; there were no words to magically heal the scars we had. There was nothing to say. It was past, it was over, but it would not be wholly forgotten.
We let go at the same time, as though, perhaps, each of us had sensed that we had to move on. He murmured a quiet goodbye and walked away. I watched him go, my tears falling freely now that he was going. There was a pain somewhere within me, like a knife that had somehow gotten inside of me and was cutting my insides.
And it is now, as I hear his footsteps fade, I know that I know that the saddest words ever spoken, ever written, ever known, truly are what might have been.
A/N: I know that this story lacks the details you might think necessary, such as how they are still in contact or what exactly happened when they were teenagers. But I think that it's just better left to the imagination. After all, what truly happened is their secret alone.
If you're interested in really capturing the mood I intended to create when writing this, listen to "Tuesday Morning" by Michelle Branch as you read. While the lyrics may have little to do with what I wrote, the mood is the same.