He’d told me that lying in the shade of an old oak, our hands entwined in a tight embrace. I’d been curled up between his legs, my head resting on his chest as I watched the sunlight slowly filter to a purple darkness. The field that had lain before us stretched on for miles until it faded into the burning orange of the horizon. These were the long summer nights that I had cherished.
I remember looking up at him, his face but a shadow in the dying light. As I’d watched him, his eyes had glazed over and become wet with fresh tears. I’d wished to myself that the man who held me in his arms was the same that I had met long ago. The truth, however, was a far more bitter answer. The once youthful shine in his eyes had been abandoned, and where I’d once noticed irises of deep-blue I saw now only a gaze that was tired and bloodshot. The curve of stubble along his jawline didn’t belong, not to the man who’d always greeted me every morning with a kiss from a clean-shaven face. My lover had become a stranger to me, and the blame was all my own.
Overhead a flock of birds had passed, their cries but a distant sound, and I’d felt the heavy rise and fall of his chest as they’d disappeared behind the tree.
“A chance to escape,” I’d heard him mumble as he brought our entwined hands close to my chest. It had made my heartbeat frantic. “That’ll be me one day.”
His eyes had stayed transfixed on the sky long after the flock had gone. For a second there’d been a renewed shine in those brilliant blue eyes. He’d found hope, and in turn I was grateful, for maybe the light at the end of our tunnel was not so bleak. The gleam, however, had not lasted, and as I’d watched the shadow fall back over his eyes, I’d found it hard to keep it together.
“Plan on sprouting wings and living in a tree, eh?”
The joke seemed to fall on deaf ears.
My heart stopped. I’d nuzzled my face deep into his chest and pretended that the tears weren’t there. I’d been so strong for months, but in that one moment I’d realised how much more of a fight he’d been tackling than I.
Hours passed by and I’d held him tightly, reminding him how much I still loved him, and how much I always would. When there were no more words left to say he’d kissed me softly on the cheek and hushed me till I fell asleep. That night was the last time we ever slept in each other’s arms.
Now he sits there still, beneath the shade of the old oak, as the days grow shorter and the sunlight we once watched together no longer burns as bright. From afar I can see him sat there, holding himself tightly as he looks up towards the sky. His skin burns a hot shade of pink but his heart is an icy blue, melting with every sunset. To see him like this…
The dream should never be broken by reality. His own words. I don’t want to forget the man I once knew, by seeing the man he has become, but I can’t stop myself.
I stand watching him for hours, my courage wavering with every tentative step closer. I can’t stop fidgeting, my fingernails bitten down to the bone. I kneel by his side and look close. He seems so lifeless, his sunken eyes casting an empty gaze towards the dying sunlight. Staring, but no longer understanding why. If I could reach out one last time-
That’s when he turns, and the breath in his throat hitches, as he looks at me…no, as he looks through me. I hear the heart that once beat in my chest pound frantically the way it always used to around him. I know this isn’t real, but-
He turns away again, casting his gaze back up to the sky. The slight hint of recognition I thought I’d seen in his eyes now gone, replaced again by that cold stare. Every essence of my old self weeps for him; for the loss he can’t handle, and the future that’s been torn away from him. For the love that still burns inside and gives him warmth on a cold winters night.
I look up. Just like on our final night together, a flock of birds fly overhead, and in his eyes, just for a second, I see the tiniest glimmer of hope.
Freedom…it’s freedom, when the only thing worth living for is gone and I have to live these days alone, without you.