I still remember the last time I saw him. Like everything about Will, that day had left me with a million riddles I'm still figuring out to this day.
It was December. I remember because Will had always said it was his favourite month; but until that day I never really understood why. Looking back, it made me quite sad to think of all the things about Will I had gone so long without understanding, without even trying too. I often wonder what difference it would have done if I had made an effort to, but part of me knows that things were the way they were for a reason; and I'm just grateful I got to see him for that one last time.
Like always he had come round unexpectedly. Will had never been predictable; in-fact it often seemed his favourite pastime trying to catch me off-guard. I had just finished eating my breakfast and was about to stack the bowl in the dishwasher when his silhouette loomed through the blurred glass of the back door. I flicked on the kettle before even letting him in. He didn't have to knock.
"Good to see you," I beamed before getting out two coffee mugs from the bottom kitchen cupboard. He simply nodded in response and sat down in his usual seat by the window. I was used to Will and his mellow moods, but something about his subdued silence that day unnerved me.
"So," I began, slipping into the seat next to him and sliding him a mug. "Why the visit?" I narrowed my eyes watching Will carefully as I always did when trying to figure out yet another one of his mysteries. At first he didn't answer me. He shrugged and clasped the mug of coffee but didn't raise it to his lips. I sat back and waited patiently.
His mouth split half-open and for a second I thought he was about to explain something, but he just nodded his head as if replying to a conversation I couldn't quite hear. I sighed and continued to drink my coffee in silence wondering what could be on his mind.
Suddenly, his eyes met mine piercing me intently with his ebony gaze. He opened his mouth once again, but no sound came out. Instead he just looked at me meaningfully as if what he had to say was too hard to explain. I looked down to his hands and saw what he meant. Twisted between his cold red fingertips, were two tiny jewel-like snow drops.
Trust Will to notice them. I smiled and said fondly, "I still remember planting it," His eyes melted and his lips curled up in one of his familiar half-moon smiles. He tucked the two flowers inside the top pocket of his rain coat and turned his eyes to the garden outside, where the row of snow drops were planted. I turned round and looked out at it too.
Even though it was winter; the sky was a clear blue, with the pale winter-sun flooding through it, so bright it was almost blinding to look at. But I could still make out the gems of the snow drops studding the fragile blanket of off-white snow.
"Yeah it was in summer, wasn't it? And we didn't think it would ever grow! God it was ages ago, what was it? Three, four years?" I continued. Once again Will fixed me with his gaze- his deep eyes darker and more intense then I think I'd ever seen them. For a moment I was startled, and almost frightened at the pain gliding underneath the surface of his eyes, and I was about to press the matter further when he spoke.
"Three and a half years ago. You'd found the seed packet in my garage." His voice was so feather-thin it took me a long time to figure out what he'd said, but I relaxed as I saw the fleeting presence of a smile on his face. I was disappointed to see his coffee remained untouched; the last strands of steam still dancing faintly above it. I remember thinking it was odd; Will always drank all of his coffee almost instantly. But I didn't feel like deciphering his intentions at the time, so I decided to just leave it a while and offer him a biscuit instead, when he spoke abruptly: "Lily, there's something I need to show you,"
I smiled, sometimes Will could be so mysterious it was almost amusing.
"Ok, I'll get my coat," I bounced out into the hall to find my fleece, but it wasn't hanging up. I sighed; frustrated. Madison had most likely borrowed it, like usual, without even asking.
"You can borrow mine," Will said. I turned round to see him standing in the doorway- I wasn't aware he had even followed me. He slipped the navy coat off his shoulders and handed it to me. I hesitated at first; but then glanced out the window at the thin film of snow covering the lane outside. Gratefully, I snuggled into the warmth left by Will in the material and opened the front door.
"I don't suppose you're going to tell me where we're going," I asked hopefully. Will gave me a grim smile, but remained silent.
We stepped out into the white winter day, the wind instantly beginning to claw at us. I plunged my hands into the deep pockets and set off next to Will as he began to lead the way.
We walked along in silence until we reached a lane that was all too familiar to me. Our footsteps echoed off the grey cobblestones that looked almost silver when the light hit the snow layered upon them. A robin hopped away from us into the protective depth of the brambles either side. I sniffed; partly out of cold and partly because the air was just itching for me to ask its secrets, to find out what it had in store for me. I could smell the waxy and peppermint scent of Will's coat blending into the smoky shreds of a bonfire curling through the wind.
We had just reached the wood when Will asked over his shoulder. "Do you remember the first time we came here?" his question caught me off guard. I took a while to trace back through my memories before I answered.
"Of course, Will." With that he stopped, turned around and stared at me again with his dark brown eyes. There was something about the way he was looking at me from underneath his sheet of messy hair that was almost unrecognisable. He looked like he was about to say something, and my breath was held captive inside my ribs in anticipation, but the moment passed and he turned back around again. I let my breath go, disappointed, and began trying to keep up with him once more.
It wasn't long after that before we reached the glade.
Maybe it's just in retrospect, but it still remains one of the most memorable sights I've ever seen to this day.
It was the glade we used to go to as kids. Well, I say kids, but really we'd only stopped going there a couple of years ago. When Will had started disappearing almost daily and his visits had become even more unexpected. To me it was one of the most beautiful places in the world. Even before I knew him I'd gone there regularly if I'd fell out with Madison or if I'd had an argument with someone and just wanted some peace. In fact even now I return there every once in a while, if I'm ever in town visiting my parents, or just if I'm missing Will more then normal.
There was something just so magical about it. It was enclosed by the slender trunks of beech trees. At that moment the naked branches were twisting elegantly in and out of each other metres up above almost like wooden spider webs, allowing the winter sun to filter through creating a ghostly kaleidoscope of silver shapes. Amongst the roots of the beech trees were millions upon millions of white cyclamen, giving the impression of a snowy carpet stretching out endlessly into the forest. The air smelt of the crisp cold with a hint of wood smoke carrying over from the bonfire and circling round where Will and I stood, side by side, at the top of the glade.
A soft trickle of water played around the glade, the stream tracing its way down the hill. Its colour reminded me of liquid-crystal tiptoeing through the snowy cyclamen, eventually turning into a gentle waterfall as it hit the pebbles below.
I stood and stared, mesmerised by the ethereal beauty. It must have been ages before Will's hand found mine. I jumped in surprise- his fingertips were so cold it was like an electric shock. I opened my mouth to protest and offer his coat back, but he just raised a finger softly to my lips to silence me. I don't think he'd ever touched me like that before, and it confused me more then anything else ever had about him. Slowly he began to lead me down the hill, following the stream until we sat down on a rock so close to the thin ribbon of water the tips of my trainers were dipped in it.
"Lily, " His voice seemed to come from another world, soft and unexpected like butterflies in the icy air, "I wanted to tell you for so long; just remember that. "
"Tell me what, Will?" He remained silent and I once again waited patiently for his response. His hand was still in mine- his fingers like icicles wrapping around my palm. After a while I looked up at his face, and was surprised to see he was crying. His tears looked like dewdrops sliding down his cheeks flushed red-raw with the cold.
"I used to come here every day," He began, closing his eyes. I was clinging on to his every word, not daring to breath encase I spoiled the confession, the final and glorious insight Will was about to give me into the part of him he always kept so secret from me.
Accept he never did.
Not like I'd expected, anyway.
Another tear slipped from beneath his eyelid and I squeezed his hand. Before I knew it he had opened his eyes again, fixing them on me and plunging me straight into the icy depth of sadness that bruised his voice. "I meant to tell you sooner but…" His voice trailed off before finishing "There's nothing more they can do."
"I don't understand, Will." I furrowed my brow in confusion as if to prove my words.
"I know," he replied simply, giving me one last half-moon smile.
The next thing I knew his frozen hand slipped out from mine and I could hear him stumbling back up the hill, away from me. I didn't follow him. Instead I just sat there on the rock for what seemed like forever trying to absorb and unravel what he'd told me. I watched as the pale sun light flickered and reflected off the stream twisting into patterns that danced dimly on the silver bark of the beech trees around me. Until eventually, the sunlight blended into twilight and I numbly made my way back home, pulling his coat tight about me against the bitter evening air. For some reason I found myself delving into the top pocket to retrieve the two snow drops he'd left in there earlier. My fingers clasped around some soft fabric and intrigued I pulled it out to find a tissue.
I still remember the first time I saw her. I will always remember that day.
It was the day I'd been diagnosed. Tay-Sachs disease: "a fatal inherited disease of the central nervous system" or so it was put down on paper. Statistically speaking it occurred mostly in babies, but who was I to be just another statistic? Until that day my dad had just told me I was weak. He'd tried everything to make me stronger, from rugby clubs to kick boxing. After that day, though, he never did try again. Whether it was because mum left shortly after, or because he realised he couldn't improve me anymore, I don't know.
I couldn't bare all the shouting and panicked looks they kept giving me as if I would drop down dead at any moment, not in 7 years to come. So, without them even noticing, I slipped out the back and went for a walk in the woods. I was only nine at the time but I wasn't scared. It was strange, but now I knew how I was going to die, there wasn't much to be afraid of.
And that was when I'd seen her. Patches of twilight falling softly on her face, she was crying besides a little stream. I didn't dare reveal myself. I just stayed hidden behind a tree, watching. Waiting.
I waited for nearly three years before I had the courage to speak to her.
After that we were inseparable. She was easier to talk to than she had appeared. From behind my tree she had seemed angel-like, but close up she was just a normal girl. We didn't go to the same school, she went somewhere west, deeper into the country, and I went somewhere east, deeper into the city where it was cheaper. But we still met up at the weekends, and occasionally if I wasn't in the hospital I would turn up at her place after school. We'd often end up walking down to the glade and playing for hours, but sometimes we just stayed in her house talking until the sunset and I had to make the long walk home.
I'd never told her about my condition. Of course, she knew I was weaker and quieter then most guys should be, but I guess she never thought anything more of it. I'd wanted to tell her, I'd wanted to tell her for so long. But somehow telling her made everything real, it made everything bitter and imperfect. I preferred things the way they were.
It hadn't been until the day we'd planted the snow drops together that I'd realised fully what she meant to me. I knew then that one day I would have to tell her everything. But I kept putting it off, not wanting to spoil the moment. Until nearly three years passed by and things began to get worse.
My seizures would occur more frequently, until there were days on end when I couldn't feel anything. The hospital warned me that one of these days I was going to have a seizure so bad I would have to be hospitalised permanently until there was nothing more they could do. It was the waiting I couldn't bear.
The last time I ever saw Lily was the day I'd tried to tell her.
I'd put on my coat, not that I really felt the cold, and made my way through the route to Lily's house that I knew so well, maybe even too well. For four years, though it nearly always felt like longer, I'd walked along the dusty messed up backfields that led to her almost-hidden cottage. The sight of Christmas lights already being put up gave me a painful twist inside; but I was determined not to cry.
I hadn't done anything special. I knew Lily didn't like that kind of thing anyway. All that lynx, gel and designer labels never made much of an impression on Lily or so I'd learnt over the years. At first I'd tried them all in my attempts to grab her attention, but nothing ever worked. If anything they irritated her; she liked things natural and the way they should be.
But that day as I got closer, though, I felt like words wouldn't be enough. Words had never been my strong point, and in the last few months speaking had become even harder. It'd always annoyed my dad, who before the diagnosis had resorted to everything from singing lessons to speech therapy to be more talkative. It had never bothered Lily though. This day, however, as I rounded the corner of her house, I knew I needed something else to help get across my feelings.
My footsteps crunched across the gravel path, dirty and glinting with melted snow, that led round the back of her house. It wasn't until I saw the delicate shapes of the snow drops we'd planted so long ago that I knew what to do.
Gently I reached out and picked a sprig of the spindly flowers, some of the petals tumbling down to the hard ground beneath as I did so. Then, with one final swallow, I walked up to the back door I'd stood in front of so many times. I couldn't bring myself to knock, not that I even needed to, within seconds the door had burst open to reveal Lily's glowing face beaming up at me.
"Good to see you," She scurried around the kitchen busying herself with making coffee. I wasn't in the mood for anything, but I didn't have the heart to tell her. Instead I just sat down and tried to form the words to express what I'd wanted to tell her for so long. However now that she was here, it seemed so much harder- so impossible. I couldn't tell her. But I had to.
"So," She chirped, sitting down next to me and passing me a mug. "Why the visit?"
For what seemed like too long I remained silent. I wanted to freeze the moment for eternity; keeping every little detail intact. From Lily's overwhelmingly green eyes looking at me expectantly, not aware of anything; the way the sun cascaded in through the kitchen window highlighting the subtle shades of cream around the room; to the soft, fresh scent of the snow drops floating up from my finger's. I'd managed to keep it from her for so long, what harm could a few more moments do?
I nodded in agreement to my decision and searched for the pen inside my left pocket. Then I looked back at Lily, pleading with her silently to understand. Her eyes darted down towards my hands and the snow drops I was absently playing with.
"I still remember planting it," She said suddenly. Her words brought the memory flooding back, and I smiled at the memory looking out towards the plants. She followed my gaze and continued.
"Yeah it was in summer, wasn't it? And we didn't think it would ever grow! God it was ages ago, what was it? Three, four years?" Once again I was reminded how long it'd been. I looked at her, desperate to tell her. But it was like a sour lump was ridged stiffly in my throat- refusing me to reveal what I'd kept hidden from her for too long.
"Three and a half years. You'd found the seed packet in my garage." I paused for a minute then said, "Lily- I need to show you something."
"Ok I'll get my coat." She skipped out into the hall and in that small moment I pulled out a tissue and quickly wrote down what I never had the guts to tell her face to face, before tucking it into the front pocket of my coat along with the snow drops.
'I love you.'