She flips another page of a worn paperback, so engrossed in the words written on yellowed pages that she’s lost to the world around her. The corner of her mouth curls up every so often, and laughter shines in her eyes. A stray hair falls gently in front of her face, but she doesn’t notice as her brows draw together in what can only be surprise.
I can’t help wanting to make her smile as much as her books do, to feel her hair as I run my fingers through her wavy brown locks, pushing that one strand behind her ear. But I don’t want to be the one to break her out of her fantasy.
We sit in silence as the day winds to a close, and the light outside the window starts to cast its familiar shadows as the sun dips below the tops of the buildings outside. Hours have passed and she has yet to move, save for turning a page or a change in her expression. I can read her like the book in front of her, everything as clear as day in her expressive eyes and small facial cues.
A lone tear escapes from her emerald eyes, and my heart clenches painfully at the sight. I don’t want her to be sad, to hurt in any way, even if it is for an imaginary situation or beloved character. It’s easy to see the worry lines in her face, but it’s the sliver of pale scars that peak out from her clothes that draw my attention. Those marks are easily missed if you don’t know to look for them, and the faint pink light of the sunset does little to help hid them, instead acts like a spotlight.
But I know she doesn’t try to hide them, not anymore. She’s not ashamed of them. To her, they’re like a badge of honor that show off her inner strength and perseverance. She overcame such a deep hurt and still has the ability to smile and let her emotions run rampant without a care in the world. I can’t help but love her more for it. If only I could have spared her even an ounce of that pain.
The lights dim in the small cafe, giving the room an ambient glow. Couples filter in from outside, rosy cheeks and wide smiles despite the damp coats and dripping umbrellas. It’s a shock to see these people wiping droplets from their shoulders, as if the sunset mere moments ago was a thing of the past to be replaced by the sorrow I feel as I look at her, focus solely on her.
A waiter places a steaming cup in front of her, careful to keep it away from her book. The man doesn’t wait for acknowledgement, as if he’s used to being ignored by his customers. I know it’s not intentional, but she’s so engrossed in a story so far from her personal reality that she doesn’t want to return to the real world unless the store closes or the power goes out. I catch the waiter’s attention and order a black coffee, feeling that I may be here for a while longer. When he returns, I have him place her tab on mine, knowing she could use some help.
Lightning flashes on the horizon, illuminating the ever-darkening sky and it’s enough to shock her from her book. She jumps slightly in her seat as the thunder sounds moments later. I see her hands shaking faintly as she holds her book, but another streak of light has her dropping it to the table, barely missing her cup. She stands up and wraps her red wool shawl around her head and shoulders, tucking her book under her arm, and makes her way to the cashier. I pray they don’t tell her who comped her tab, and they’re answered as she walks out of the little cafe with a smile on her red lips.
Not long after she leaves my sight, I know it’s time for me to take my leave.
“See you next week?” calls the waiter from earlier as I reach the door. I give a small, sad smile and nod my head before I pop my collar and head outside.
* * *
Once home, I draw a warm bath, hoping to breathe some warmth back into my bone-chilled body. The rain can only sink in so deep, but knowing that another day has gone by without letting her know I was there. It’s better this way. I don’t want to give her anymore reason to feel hurt.
I look at the tattoo I have across my wrist once I settle into the scalding bath. Rose, it reads. Her name, a word I haven’t spoken aloud once in the last eight months. It was my fault back then, it was my responsibility to look after her, to not hurt her, and I couldn’t even do that. So this tattoo serves as a reminder of what I had, what I lost, and what I won’t be getting back.
But she seems happy now. Happy without me in her life. And I’m trying to live with that.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Back to Life.”