I followed the same path home I always did. It should have felt different tonight, but it didn't. The street was the same, the houses the same. A mourning dove called out in the distance and I realized how I couldn't believe I was leaving for the other side of the country in just a few hours.
The sidewalk wound its way into the curve of three or four houses that was my "neighborhood", and I slowed my walk. I was in no hurry to be home yet. Nothing was waiting for me at home but an empty bedroom and a packed suitcase. I frowned.
I realized I wouldn't see December again until Christmas. I pushed the thought out of my head, banishing it absolutely. That was not a thought for tonight. That was for tomorrow. That was for the plane ride.
The house was silent when I arrived through the front door.
It was stuffy, all the windows were thrown open, and all the lights were off. I stared around the entry way for a moment before giving up and climbing the stairs to my bedroom.
I didn't bother glancing around the room. I didn't bother to turn on the lights. I walked in, shut the door behind me, climbed into bed and waited.
I'm not sure how much time passed then. Minutes, though it could have been hours. It could have been only seconds, I don't know. But pretty soon I heard it. The lullaby, the familiar tinkling voice humming just outside my window. I smiled.
"And it's been so long since I've seen the ocean…I guess I should."
She was singing the words now, just outside the window. I pushed the covers off of my legs and fumbled toward the wall, pushing the lock aside and lifting the pane. There she was. My December, standing there, looking up at me. She smiled.
Her porcelain skin glowed and her hair shimmered in the moonlight.
She'd always resembled somewhat of a mythical creature, and now with her willowy arms wrapped tight about her slender waist and her head tilted to the side showing just the edge of her delicate features…she looked more like a fairy tale than I'd ever imagined.
"Come on." I whispered, offering her my hand. She took it, and together we hoisted her up onto the window ledge. She landed noiselessly on the wooden floor, bare foot, and delicate as an angel.
"I thought you might forget this year." She whispered, moving to me and wrapping her arms around my neck, pressing her cheek to my chest. I rubbed her back, unspeaking. She knew I would never forget. She knew I couldn't forget. I stayed still, barely moving. She was listening to my heart beat.
When she finally sighed and lifted her head, she was looking up at me with an unclear expression. Her eyes were brighter than usual.
"When is your flight?" She asked, loosening her hold on my neck. I looked down at her, unsmiling.
"At ten." I said.
She nodded, sliding her hands down from my shoulders to my wrists.
She didn't speak.
I didn't speak. It wasn't necessary.
Still unsmiling, still not willing to make a sound, I slipped my hands into hers and pulled her toward my bed. She complied, allowing me to lead her, allowing me to pull the covers back and slide underneath them. She slid in after me, wrapping the blankets up to her chin and turning to face me.
We lay like that for an eternity. Staring at each other, too many words unspoken for it to be considered normal…but too many secret meetings shared for it be awkward. I spent the time memorizing her face, knowing a photograph could never do it justice when I was a million miles away. I memorized her face, that flawless face, and I refused to look away. She kept her hands held tight in mine, and that was all we needed.
"You're leaving." She said after a long while, gazing at me. Her eyes were veiled in shadow. I nodded.
"It's not fair."
She pushed herself up onto her elbow, her hair falling down across her shoulder. She looked angry now. I sighed and turned my eyes to the ceiling.
"No, it's not fair." I murmured, running a hand haphazardly through my hair. This was the conversation I had hoped to keep stalling. I knew it was coming, all night I'd been preparing myself for it. The thought still hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was leaving.
I was leaving and December was staying here. It wasn't fair at all. Not to her, not to me, not to the hundreds of promises we'd made to one another.
"I don't know what to do, Chris." She sighed, looking down at our hands intertwined together. I followed her gaze, marveling at how small and pale her hand was in mine. It looked unreal.
"I won't be gone forever." I tried to soothe her, keeping my eyes lowered.
Her voice was almost inaudible. It was weak, and shaking, like she was about to cry. And maybe she was. I hoped to God she wouldn't. I wasn't sure how to handle that.
"I'll come back." I tried again, noticing my voice was also weak. I cleared my throat, annoyed with myself.
December shook her head, letting her hair whip out at me from every direction.
"No," she said, "You won't."
She knew I wasn't really planning on coming back.
She knew because she understood my need to get out of this hell hole. My need to escape from the life I knew here. She also knew the only reason I'd stuck around for so long was because of her. She needed me, so I was there.
And now I wasn't going to be.
I suddenly understood the tears that were brimming her eyes. I understood why she'd gone crazy at the though of a hospital. I understood her petulance and her whining and her shaking. All summer the signs had been there and I'd just refused to notice. I felt sick to my stomach. For a moment I though I might actually be sick, but it passed.
Throwing off the covers I reached for her, catching her around the shoulders with my arm. I crushed her to me, trying to stop the tears from falling down. Trying to stop her body from coming apart.
Anything, everything, all I could do was sit there and hold her to me and hate myself for not seeing it before.
She was afraid of being alone.
Fearless as she was, as she always seemed to be, she was more vulnerable then she ever let on. And she was afraid of being left here, alone.
I bit my lip hard in an effort to push back the tears that threatened to spill over. It worked. The sharp pain brought me back to the now, the reality of the situation. I squeezed her tighter.
"I'm so sorry," I breathed, not trusting my voice.
December shuddered in my arms, then sighed.
"It's not up to you, Chris." She croaked, her voice muffled against my shoulder.
I shook my head. A mixture of anger and self hatred coursed through my veins like poison. I couldn't believe I was leaving her here. I was sick with myself for not thinking of it before. I was sick with myself for being so damn selfish.
"I…I won't go," I stammered, clearing my throat. "I'll stay here and go to the U of A downtown. It's not a big deal. I can just get all my classes transferred and –"
"Chris, shut up." She growled, laying a cool finger to my lips to stop them moving. She looked up at me now, silent. Her eyes were like the ocean. Startlingly blue, and wild. The depth went on forever. "You're dream is to make something of yourself, isn't it?" She kept her voice level despite the tears pooling and trickling down her alabaster cheeks.
I nodded, merely unable to speak. My throat was tight and dry and I would only embarrass myself if I tried to talk now. December smiled.
"Then you have to leave." She announced, wrapping her hand around the back of my neck and pulling my forehead down against hers. She kept her eyes on mine the entire time. I shuddered, unable to look away. She rubbed her nose against mine in an Eskimo kiss. I laughed.
"I can't…" I managed. My voice cracked.
"You can. You will." December sighed and drew my hand up from under the covers and pressed it to her chest, on the left side. I stopped breathing for a minute, unsure of what to do. My eyes were leveled at my hand.
"Feel that?" she asked, her voice dropping to a whisper.
I closed my eyes. I did feel it. Her heart beat, pulsing in strong, steady beats beneath my palm. I smiled and opened my eyes again.
"Yeah, Dez," I said, "I feel it."
She released my hand then so abruptly that I almost fell backwards. I would have if she hadn't leaned forward right then and secured my head in between her hands. She was gazing at me with such an intense fire in her eyes that for a minute I was almost frightened.
"Live for me." She said, her voice low and unsettling. "Live for me. I can't do it for myself."
I stared at her. Her words didn't make sense, and I found myself horribly confused. I was ready to open my mouth to ask what she meant when she cut me off.
"Don't forget, Chris." She murmured in my ear. Then quick as lightening she kissed my jaw, threw the covers off of us and hopped out of bed and on to the floor. She was at the window in another flash, swinging one leg over the pane.
"Wait!" I hissed, jumping up after her and crossing the room in two quick strides. I grabbed her by the arm, just above the elbow, and yanked her back to face me. There was anger on her lovely face. Well, there was anger on mine too. We stared at each other for a minute before she finally ripped her arms free and stood up in front of me.
"I'll miss you," I said, truthfully. I was still angry with her, but my voice was gentle enough.
December frowned and shook her head. There were still tears running down her face, but I couldn't tell if they were sad tears or angry tears. She cried both, and very often.
"Don't." She snapped, turning back to the window. I flipped my hand out again and caught her around the wrist this time.
"You can't go without a proper goodbye." I reminded her, using her own words to manipulate the situation. She scowled at me. She relaxed after a minute, her wrist going limp in my hand.
"Bye, Chris." She whispered, leaning in and wrapping her little arms around my waist. I sighed and wrapped my arms around her thin shoulders. She was so frail. She was so breakable. I bit my lip again.
"Bye, Dez." I mumbled into her hair, trying to inhale the last bit of her scent to take with me. It would have to last me awhile.
"Now," she said, tilting her head up so her lips were pressed to my ear. "Fly away."
I smiled in spite of myself, giving her shoulders one last comforting squeeze.
"I'll be back." I promised, releasing her and helping her down onto the window ledge. She looked up at me, smiling.
It's that image of her I'll keep with me for the rest of my life. Sitting there on my window ledge, looking up at me, smiling, black curls whipping in front of her face, twisting around her waist. Her eyes alight with that wild, fiery glaze. Her skin like white silk, gleaming in the moonlight. Always as beautiful as she was broken.
"So leave," she said, "Leave so you can come back to me." She laughed then, the sound like a wind chime, and snatched my hand down, pressing it to her lips. And then she was gone. Jumping down from the window and running fast across the grass and out into the street.