There are no goodbyes the day that Cass Maverick goes away. No last words, no apologies or promises to write and keep in touch, promises that would have been broken anyway. There are no goodbyes, or at least none that are technically existent. Impassively, I watch the blurry vision of the highway speedily moving in reverse through the backseat window. Car, car, car, car, orange construction cone, car, car, car…
They say that it's a nice idea to get away for this beautiful summer-like weekend, but I know better. After all, we rarely drive out to the lake house in Michigan, and this weekend was chosen with purpose. This weekend, he leaves too, but he won't be back any time soon. Rehab will be "home" now.
With nothing but the music of the smooth engine, my eyes begin to close, open, close again, stay closed. My mind starts to drift. I let it. I permit myself to ease out of awareness. In sleep, this road is nonexistent. In sleep, I am back in Chicago sitting beneath the shade of the sycamore tree with Cass. The dream is more real than actual reality. Beneath the shade of the grand sycamore, the approaching summer's scent is fair and heavy.
"I'm leaving today." You look at me with sorrow, but only sorrow. In this daylight there is no trace of emptiness on your face, no bags below your eyes. Sadness, yes, but at least the life has returned.
"I don't want you to go." I take your hand and fold it into my own. "I want you to stay here, with me." Suddenly, your eyes obtain that familiar glint. You grin slowly.
"Right here?" you laugh. "You mean right here under this tree, forever?"
"Sure." I smile. "Why not? It's too beautiful a day to leave."
"So true, dear." Your voice is no longer shaky as it was the last night we were together, but dynamic, just like old times. When you look over at me, your smile starts to dissolve, and I know that you're about to say you're sorry. In dreams, it is not necessary to say something aloud if we want the other person to hear it.
"I know." I say, and give your hand a gentle squeeze, as you have done to comfort me so many times in the past.
"You always know," Did I mention that time doesn't exist in dreams either? No boundaries of time, no boundaries of logic—no boundaries of love.
"Stay," I insist, and because reason doesn't exist, this is totally possible. "Let's stay here instead, rehab is prison. Let's stay here instead where everything is perfect."
I'm sure I've got you convinced by now. This time, I'll play the master of persuasion.
"Well, almost everything." You don't have to say it if you don't want to; this is a dream, remember? Unfolding your hand with patience, I gently roll up your black polyester sleeve, careful not to rub it too close to the skin.
"What are you doing?" Your voice is less than a whisper, and soon you give in when I outstretch your arm and lift it upwards. The red marks are still in their positions, perhaps more scarred than before. Intuitively, I run my fingers across the markings, as soft as possible. I make my own trail of touch and you don't wince. My Cass, who has done this to you? Don't answer that, answers aren't important anyway. I lift your arm even closer, brush my lips gently across a blot just above the wrist. I close my eyes, let my lips linger there for a few seconds, and I love you, God, I love you. I don't think I've ever said it before, and it kills me that you don't know. When I open my eyes, like magic, the first marking has completely vanished, as though it was never there to begin with. Working my way up the arm, I brush my lips across the tracks, and they disappear one by one. Lightly, gently, I kiss away each piercing. I kiss away the past, kiss away the future, until all that is left is the present. This dream is more realistic than reality. When I look into your eyes I know that it has to be more then a dream, it has to be.
"Wow, would you look at that?" You say, staring down at your arm in disbelief.
"Maybe you're an angel." We sit and we smile, in the present. The present, which will soon become the past, once I wake. Once I wake.
"Cass," I say suddenly. "We have to say goodbye, we didn't get to in real life." But you only laugh. How is it that you find this funny? "I know. That's because 'goodbye' means the end of things, my dear. And this is certainly not the end of things now, is it?" Then I hear the wind. Not wind blowing through the sycamore though, wind from an open window. I hear the horn of a semi truck, the distant static of a car radio. Everything around me begins to dissolve, the present begins to dissolve.
"Wait, not yet," I say, but you only give me a weak smile as the sun and the green starts to disappear. "Not yet, you don't know—."
"Don't know what, Harper?" My eyes shoot open. I sit up straight and fix my seatbelt.
"What?" I ask, blinking a few times.
"You said 'you don't know.'" My father chuckles from the driver's seat. "Just a few seconds ago, didn't you?"
A childish part of me still clings to the ridiculous hope that it wasn't just some dream, that somehow Cass and I really did spend the afternoon beneath the sycamore. Maybe I'm losing my mind, or my common sense. Maybe I've lost everything.
Oh, don't be so pessimistic, dear. Things could have turned out so much worse. You're going to the lake house. You always have fun at the lake house.
Instinctively, I look over my shoulder, as if expectant to see him there, hiding out in the back trunk of the car or something as equally ridiculous. He's not, of course. But what I do see is beauty, which is the most surprising. I see beauty in the skyline, still visible beyond the forever stretched highway, past rows and rows of tiny cars. The skyline of the city, still discernible in all its splendor. It's funny how at this distance, all of its flaws can so easily be overlooked.
Flaws? C'mon, Harp. What's life without the flaws?
What's life without the flaws? Is there such a thing? Of course not. Otherwise, the world would be bereft of so much beauty.
The skyline remains in the far distance, and when I turn back around in my seat, I can still feel it's presence not too far off.