Of Apples and Oranges
Is it really you?
I missed you. More than I ever imagined.
I never stopped.
I knew it… I knew I'd see you again.
He remembers a girl. A specific girl. Not one of his many faceless one-night stands that mean everything at the time and nothing in the whole scheme of things.
No, this girl is different. This girl is a memory that echoes every time he hears a sweet melody or whenever he smells fresh apples. This girl is a shrouded shape dancing in his dreams and haunting the very corner of his eye.
The memory of this girl fades in and out, like music with a volume dial - sometimes gently, a whisper of a sound, sometimes loud, blaring in his face – and each time he has no control over it.
It is only the moments when he is alone, with a bottle in one hand and a smoke in the other that this girl comes to mind accompanied by a rush of unfiltered regrets and broken promises, twisting into a dance with the smoky trail from his cigarette. She waits for his eyes to flutter shut after a bottle too many, swimming up through the darkness to drown him in a nostalgia he never knew he had.
She is Riley - poor, sweet, little Riley with the sad smile and the hope in her eyes, with the cold fingertips and the even colder family. She is the first person to have ever loved him, he knows this as well as he knows his own name and it is with a smile he remembers her, a longing wistful smile that makes him shake his head and sigh. He had never met anyone like her, before or since. She was someone who had crawled into his heart without him knowing particularly how or when she got there, much like a cavity overloaded by sweetness.
She was just a small girl with big dreams and a big heart. Her laugh was infectious and her face was transparent. She was so wholly innocent, devoid of guile that he hated being around her for fear of tainting all that goodness.
And he was a taint. Make no mistake about that.
His was a touch that tarnished everything it landed upon, from good hearts to good intentions. He killed his mother the moment he was born, which essentially turned his father into an alcoholic, who drove his car into a family van killing two kids and three parents that night.
When he was a child, he would break toys just because he could. He would steal jewellery from his foster parents just to swap them for more toys he could break. He would tell his foster siblings stories about bad people just so fear would force them to stay awake all night and he could sleep in their warm beds instead.
He was bad, bad for anybody he came into contact with and it never even occurred to him to try and change that.
And then he met Riley.
And then he met her sister.
If Riley was a refreshing glass of cool water, Gabrielle was the whole damn ocean.
He never even saw her coming.
One minute he is being amused by a young girl with an infectious giggle, making him feel as if he has the ability to be a good person with the potential to be loved and the next he is looking into the sapphire-coloured eyes of her sister and his whole world is knocked onto its side, as if somebody had lined it up with a softball bat and taken a great big swing. These are the eyes of a girl who knows exactly who she is, who knows exactly who he is and exactly what they could be together.
Perhaps if he'd blinked and glanced back down at the girl wearing the pink dress and the mask of concern he may have taken the moment to put himself aright, to lift his chin off the ground, put his tongue back in his mouth and walk away with his heart intact.
But he never stood a chance. When Gabrielle wanted something, she got it. She wanted him. She got him - end of story.
And so a year passed, maybe two, maybe three where he was so lost in this girl with the wicked eyes and the knowing grin, with the long blond hair and the devious intentions that he didn't see the destruction they left in their wake. Every time they were together, he could swear steam would rise. Every time they parted there would be the distinct smell of smoke in the air.
Theirs was a union of lust and manipulation, of fucking and fallacy, where the only pleasure they hoped to gain was in the amount of pain caused. Their love was deceptive, masochistic at best – a brutal game of domination and everyone a loser.
If it hadn't been for Riley they might have killed each other.
It was the sad eyes that finally make him see. She looked at him and told him how cold he had become, how mean, how angry and why did his kisses with her sister always leave him frowning, licking his lips to see if he could taste another? Why, if they loved each other, did her sister always go to sleep crying and why did he always look like he wanted to as well? And most importantly, was he really happy?
It didn't take him long to find the answer.
Their last fight was the biggest, the most vicious, with lies for bullets and accusation-filled grenades, but it set him free and for that he would wear his battle scars as souvenirs.
But just when he thought he could leave without a backwards glance; the silent tears of a girl that smelled of apples gave him his first real taste of regret. With her in his arms, both soaked by the rain, he knew he had chosen too early; he knew he had chosen the wrong sister and he knew for sure how cruel Fate is.
But it is too late and all he has is a full tank of petrol and the sweet impression of a kiss on his lips.
Now it is ten years later, ten years too late and she is a warm memory to keep him company on a lonely night. She is the first person he thinks of when he is standing in a queue at his local supermarket behind a girl with the same coloured hair, who drops an orange that rolls to his feet, who bends to pick it up, straightens and meets his eyes… familiar eyes filled with sudden recognition and mirrored disbelief.
And he laughs, incredulous at this incredible coincidence and at how wily and fickle a fiend Fate can be, to remind him of the only good in his life and then give it to him when he least expects it.
And he wonders if he is still dreaming.
It is raining the day he leaves her.
If she were ever one to believe the weather could be dictated by one's moods, this moment would be proof enough – the desolate clouds, a slate-coloured grey; the raindrops, a stabbing cold, piercing and piecing away her brittle inner resolve until she is left as the shivering, shuddering mess she is, soaking wet, standing beside his motorbike, wishing for a miracle.
But he is leaving and there is nothing she can do.
She can't ask him to stay because she knows he won't. He won't ask her to follow because he knows she will, so that just leaves the impasse as it is - her standing in the rain, watching him close the door to his house for the last time, watching him walk down his driveway for the last time, towards her, towards his bike, each step spelling out goodbye.
Her mind goes back three years. It is when she first sees him and realises he, to her, will be so much more than just another boy. It is the first time she hears him laugh and it is like light, it is like breath and she remembers a movie that begins in black and white until the heroine meets the hero and she sees in colour again.
That is he, to her – colour, breath, light; in a world so bleak that something so simple as a dimple when he smiles makes her smile.
If only he hadn't met her sister.
She had loved him first, but he had loved her sister only, in a love that sizzled and scorched, too hot to handle, eventually burning them, singeing them, leaving a smoking trail of ashes in its wake for those on the sidelines to clean up afterwards. Theirs was a selfish love, a greedy love, a love that couldn't possibly be love if it could end so easily and so mercilessly – battle scars as burns and no lesson to be learned.
And so his charred heart could not find the desire to mend, and her hopeful heart could not find its love returned and there were no more excuses as to why he couldn't be hers – no blockades in the shape of her voluptuous sister, no red lights as bright as their age difference – nothing but the bleak and positive truth that he just… doesn't want her.
So why is she standing in the rain, believing otherwise? Is she so pathetic that she can love so entirely and not see reason? Is her love so retarded that it can't understand rejection when it is staring her so plainly in the face… preparing to straddle its bike and leave her with the smell of exhaust fumes and all her prayers and wishes shattering at her feet?
Not even she can prepare for how high her hope can climb. Didn't it know that the steeper the rise, the more painful the landing?
But she supposes where he is concerned, hope is all she has. She'd long ago become acquainted to the bitter taste of unrequited love; only it had never before been marinated with the assurance of his absence. As painful as it was to see him with her sister, at least he was still here. At least she could still see him. At least she could still see that dimple and hear that laugh in loud boisterous colour. At least there was an at least…
"Please don't leave," she whispers, the quiet words barely heard over the millions of raindrops pounding its conviction into the cold cement.
He gazes down at her, his emerald eyes indulgent, his smile forced, his words resolute. "There's no reason for me to stay."
She could emphatically protest otherwise. There are hundreds of reasons for him to stay, thousands even, all selfishly motivated but a reason nonetheless. She could have given him whatever he wanted, if only he'd ask… if only he wanted it from her.
"Will you write to me?"
She watches his shoulders shrug and his lips curl into the smirk she knows so well. "Sure."
She sputters into helpless laughter and wipes at her wet eyes with wet fingers. "Liar."
He smiles again; a genuine one this time and he gently pushes a rain-sodden strand of hair behind her ear and she knows this is it… this is goodbye… this is their last touch, their last words, their last look, the last smile she will see, the last… everything.
"Will you at least tell me where you're going?" she gasps, already knowing the answer but doing anything to prolong his departure.
He sighs heavily, turning away from her, throwing a leg over his bike, reaching for his helmet. "You know I can't."
"Ethan…" she sobs, her resolve finally collapsing, along with her voice. "Please…"
She can't help it. She can't hold it back. She wishes she could be strong. She wishes she could retain a little dignity. She wishes she weren't a distraught fifteen-year-old girl making a mess of herself in front of a nineteen-year-old boy who was never, ever a boy, who was never destined to be hers.
She wishes she could be fiery and beautiful like her sister, cunning and elegant like her mother, or cold and distant like her father. Instead she is just a girl – hopeful with a heart full of love and nobody wanting to accept it.
"Riley," he murmurs, his brow creased with concern. "Come here."
He barely finishes the words before her face is buried in the cool leather of his jacket. She feels his arms wrap around her, she feels his lips on the top of her head and she suddenly knows what it is she wants, what it is she can steal. If she can't give her heart, and he won't stay, then she just might be happy with one small token. She can bury it amongst the warm confines of her soul; alongside the gathered pieces of her heart, in the dark place where dreams play and hope seeks comfort.
So she lifts her head and presses her soft lips against his.
It is a kiss tasting of innocence and forever love – too chaste to be passionate, too sweet to be unconvincing, but it is no less intimate than the kiss of lovers. It could have held definite meaning and positive intentions if she were not too young and he had the strength to stay, but as they are never meant to be anyway, she will just have this and hope it will be enough to let the colour linger a little longer.
She pulls away; she licks her lips and stares into his troubled gaze. "If I can't keep you, then I can at least have that."
It is almost enough to see understanding break dawn in his eyes, as if he just might know how much he means to her and what little she is content with but she knows there is nothing left to do but bid farewell and as strong as she thought she could be, she just can't do it.
She steps back onto the sidewalk, out of his embrace, folding her arms around her body lest she fall apart at his feet and whispers, "No goodbyes."
He nods slowly and gives one last smile full of agreement tinged with the subtle hint of regret. "Then I'll see you."
And she stands there thinking to herself, 'no, you won't see me, you can't see me because you never really did, and now you never will because you're leaving' and even as these true, meaningless thoughts are gathering in the back of her throat, preparing to be left unspoken, he has started his engine and it is drowning the sound of her silence anyway.
There are no big revelations as he leaves. No lessons to be learned. No moral to the story. All she knows is that she hurts, hurts, the pain is excruciating. She cannot even imagine love being worth this and she knows how much of a cliché she is right now – a fifteen-year-old girl, standing in the rain, watching the departure of the boy she loves, hope sinking to her knees, making them heavy, refusing to fall because she may not get back up again.
And as he turns the corner, out of sight, she closes her eyes.
And she wonders about a world without colour.
Are you new here?
I'm Riley. What's your name?
Ethan… want an apple, Ethan? I have two.
A/N: This is just something I wanted to try... does it work? And by that I mean, are you confused as hell or what??? Lol, I'd really appreciate the feedback. Thanks for reading!