You awake to the dawn of her smile, almost soothing enough to send you back to slumber. But instead, you close your eyes, nuzzle in further and breathe.
"You aren't missing me already, aren't you?"
It's the truth she implies with her question but you nod, humbled and unashamed. She laughs, a coy mirthful chime that echoes nicely against the walls of your bedroom. You almost laugh too, until you remember that today's Monday and you're supposed to be at work in an hour or so. You contemplate playing hooky, just like you two used to do in school, just like the old times before you shot up by five inches and learned how to shave.
"Don't even think about it. You're too old for teen angst conundrums." She scolds, pressing the flat pad of a sun-bronzed finger against your nose, reminding you of your older sister before you lost her to a void of cannabis smoke and replayed lies.
You could've been the one to save her, to rescue both of them. You could've been stronger, taller and prouder, like those soldiers your old grandpa would rant about when his prescription drugs wore off. But trouble loves you better than any mother you've known and left you in sweeter ruins than any of the notches scrawled into your bed sheets. Each mark is a reminder of a lovely face, a forgotten name and phone number, another gloss-flavored kiss that leaves you emptier than before you started.
She was laughing at one of those names the other day when you called her, asking for a band-aid for a bloodied lip. It was an accident, you said. You'd fallen. Flat on your face.
True. It was a fall. Another one.
You only lied about the wound itself. It was your heart doing the bleeding.
She could always see right through your words. You lips kissed gauze and antiseptic while she christened the former object of your desire 'Jezebel', warning you to stay away from women whose eyes slay hearts more fragile than their bodies. In return, you scowled and purposely declined to say 'goodbye' after you left.
Needles are nothing new to you. Neither are meds or the stuff that subs in for them when the odds are piled up on your foe's side. Grandpa had his 'cough drops', Sis had her 'cotton candy', and somewhere along the way, you inherited your very own pantry stacked to bursting with pink pills and ash-white powder. She always sighed at their traces on your skin and table-tops.
Tears are nothing new to you. The nights always herald a chorus of sobs, wails and broken-hearted cries as another dream bites the dust and another slice of hope is snatched away like toys from toddlers. But tears are one thing you never expected to find staining her cheeks when you hear her voice joining in the midnight carols on the streets. And down she goes, her turn to fall into you.
Your lips touch and you taste salt.
You're not, but you inhale her scent and absorb her words so that the past lingers. Around your room, her clothes are strewn over yours and her medicine tablets cover the space on the top of your dresser. She's done with weeping, you're done with lying.
Your lips touch again and you wonder how long you have until the final one which spells 'adieu'.
By and by, morning creeps in slowly on tiptoes. The light is meek as it peeks through the curtains, afraid to disturb your fleeting moments of wholeness. She lays back, her smile fading as if it were the sunset over your day, and pulls the covers tighter around her. Lifting one heavy eyelid, you count each colorless tablet on the dresser, their sterilized whiteness gleaming mercilessly against the dark wood.
Five each day to ease the pain, until it's time to bid her farewell forever.
"They gave me six weeks." She tugs at her hair and pulls out a clump of it. "One shot is all we've got at this. And precision isn't exactly your strong point."
Neither was comfort.
Neither was sympathy.
Neither was love.
Yet you choose to remain, thinking that yearning long enough will keep her alive and well, that your lips instead will wash her clean, that their trails on her skin will be enough to ward off the unknown and evitable. And you are one hell of a bastard, a goddamned selfish son of a bitch, if you think that you ever deserved this sole chance at attaining Paradise through the truth in her dying words.
But you cling on, the unexplainable wringing you dry of fear and caution, breathing in every breath she exhales and releasing it back in the hope of keeping her with you for one more day, just one more day. To your relief, she stays in place, wrapped in the protective circle of your arms. For now.
"Do you love me?"
You don't answer. Those three words aren't enough, they're not entirely enough to explain why it was always her face you compared the others to before you shut your eyes and claimed their empty hearts for your own or why it was her name you called out during your night with Jezebel. She was the reason you bled that day and the antiseptic that stings you alive today.
"Thank you anyway."
You close your eyes, not daring to open them as you feel her slide from your grasp, as you hear her picking up her things and shutting the bedroom door. Without her ever knowing, a single tear rolls down your cheek and you huddle closer to the cold empty space beside you.