Death. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time. Only twice I thought about embracing the unknown, wielding the knife that could possibly end my life, or the bullet that could lodge deep into my heart - fantasizing about how I would die a hero’s death. Unlike most people, I didn’t want to reach a ripe old age, slowly withering away into nothing. Then again, I wasn’t old yet still, here I was, sitting on a bench in the middle of one of the last parks in the city.
Surprisingly, not many people showed up around here. The streets on either side of me were empty as far as I could tell. The traffic in the distance was familiar, and the barking of dogs from afar was a soothing sound to my ears.
I drummed my fingertips against the wood in anticipation. As the figure approached me, I stood up from the bench and put my hands quickly into my pockets to cover up their furious shaking. Leaves crumbled under his feet as he edged closer with every step. To remain positive, I tried not to think about what I was going to tell him, instead focusing on the orange leaves falling all around us. I gave him a quick hug before settling down onto the bench.
‘What’s that smell?’ I asked him.
The pleasant aroma of pumpkins and coffee wafted into the air.
‘Ah!’ he exclaimed, lifting his hands to show that he had two pumpkin spiced lattes in his hands.
I hadn’t even noticed that he was holding them. He handed me a cup and I took a couple sips to relieve my stress, the warmth flowing through my body and calming my nerves. However, one look at his unsuspecting green eyes sent the butterflies in my stomach flying.
Coffee spilled from my earthquake hands and fell onto my lap. I howled in pain until the initial shock was over. I let my tears come out because the pain I was feeling was real, and feeling this reminded me that I was still here and that I wasn’t dead yet.
‘What are you doing?’ Matt shouted, dashing for some tissues in his pocket. ‘Are you insane?’
I placed the coffee to one side and let him wipe away the pain. After he had cleaned the stain, he threw the tissues away and sat beside me once again. His dark unruly hair stood out against the ocean sky like a diamond in the rough. Now that I was looking at him, I saw how tousled his hair really was, and the way he wrinkled his nose whenever he had an itch. Then his eyes caught mine and he stopped fussing over the coffee.
‘Why did you want to meet so early?’ he asked me. The sun was still rising from the horizon, and the faint outline of the full moon was still lingering above. I felt as if time were moving too slowly for me to comprehend; because now the sun beamed at me in its full form, the scar the moon left behind was no more than a fading memory.
‘Autumn? Hello? Earth to Autumn!’ he waved his hands in my face making his stupid goofy grin, trying to get my attention. It worked.
‘Sorry, what did you say?’ He let out a string of colourful laughs, and then stopped to notice how still and quiet I was. He studied my expression which I tried hard to mask. He pulled a poker face to mimic my expression, and I couldn’t help but grin at him. He poked me as a gesture of child’s play, but the poke hurt more than it should’ve, and my eyes began to water uncontrollably. The thought of what I was about to do to him was unbearable. He noticed my red eyes, pulled me into him for an embrace and we let the silence do the talking.
‘What is it?’ he whispered into my ear.
He had been the only one to understand my pain. His father had died in the same accident as my parents. He was the only friend I had left after I moved schools to live with my Aunt and Uncle.
‘What did they do to you Autumn? Tell me…’ We pulled back from each other, and he lifted his finger to wipe away stray tears.
‘Oh Matt…’ I looked into his eyes and melted into his embrace once more. ‘You have no idea.’
‘Try me.’ He taunted, pulling me back again, this time holding me at shoulder-length so I wouldn’t retreat into his warm brown sweater. He flashed me one of his goofy grins like he always did; holding my chin up so now we were eye to eye.
‘I can’t…’ I muttered.
This time, his face was serious; the tone of his voice deadly quiet.
‘Yes, you can.’
The expression on his face decayed as each word slipped my tongue.
The horror of his realization unfolded before me. I wasn’t sure whether to comfort him or leave him to contemplate this fact. He had dropped his cup onto the grass, a puddle of coffee at his feet. He didn’t move to pick it up but looked to me and whispered three words.
I couldn’t bear looking at him for another second. I made my sprint before he could say any more to hurt me. I didn’t look back; it was too much.
I bounded down the green rolling hill, the wind plastering my hair against my face. The bitter taste of heartbreak on my tongue was one that lingered. I could hear him shouting my name from behind me, but I kept my pace and let the rush of adrenalin drown out his voice. At last, when my legs could carry me no further, I collapsed next to a conker tree and held it.
When Matt finally caught up to me, he fell behind me in exhaustion and held my hand. There we were, the two of us sitting beneath our conker tree for perhaps the last time. I pressed my fingers into the grooves we had carved out as children, and recited our promise to each other once more under my breath. Forever.
‘Remember when we used to come here after school?’ he asked.
‘Used to Matt… used to. Things changed, remember?’ I couldn’t look at him.
He breathed heavily, still struggling to catch his breath. I couldn’t see him on the other side of the tree, but I could tell he wasn’t smiling anymore.
‘Forever,’ he promised, ‘That can’t change.’
We watched the morning sun rise into the sky, as we sat under our tree. He came around until he was squatting across from me and he pulled my hand to his heart.
‘I promised forever, and I meant it.’ I felt a chill sweep through my body, as his cold finger lifted my chin. ‘I really do. But you have to mean it to.’ He said.
Right there and then, I just wanted to stay with him, spend the rest of my days watching fall die away under our conker tree. But then I remembered what had happened to my parents. ‘I can’t.’
He held my hand to his cheek and looked into my soul.
‘Stay with me’ he begged. The hurt in his voice broke me.
‘Because the longer I stay here, with you, the more pain you’ll feel when I’m gone.’
He dropped my hand.
‘I believe that it’s easier this way… for you to let me go… like this-‘
‘STOP IT! Don’t talk like that!’ he hurried hastily to wipe away the tears from his face. ‘You’re not leaving me, you promised!’
‘Matt.’ I wiped back my feelings and looked back down to avoid seeing the red eyes he was wearing, ‘I-I’m dying. There’s nothing you can do about it.’
He sat beside me, and my head fell onto his shoulder. ‘Please Autumn, don’t do this to me.’ I pulled back his hair until the black locks no longer covered his face. His eyes widened.
‘I’m not like your father Autumn. I wouldn’t do that to you.’
‘I’m sorry, but I can’t take that risk. I don’t want you to hurt just because of me.’
The honk of a taxi sounded. We both watched as the car pulled onto the road. I got up before Matt could protest.
‘I don’t want you to see me like…like…’
‘Like what, Autumn?’
‘I want you to remember me like this Matt! Alive and healthy!’
‘I don’t care about that; I want to be with you! I won’t make the same mistake as your father.’ He grabbed my hand one last time in an attempt to make me stay. But every second that I wasted holding his hand, was hurting him even more.
‘Autumn… Please!’ I wrestled my hand from his grip and began my trek down to the car.
‘Autumn!’ Two steps, three steps. I kept trying to tell myself that this was for the best, but slowly, my heart was crumbling like leaves in the wake of wind. I pushed myself forward and tried so hard not to look back. My hands couldn’t stop shaking; I could hear my heartbeat pound through my ears. My face already a waterfall.
‘AUTUMN!’ He didn’t dare make a move from his spot, I was secretly wishing that he wouldn’t give up on me so easily that he would chase after me and hold me in his arms once more. But I knew he wasn’t selfish, he never was and never would be.
He would never do it.
But if I let him… I would destroy him.
The realization only tore me up inside more. I was going to lose the one person who had stayed with me.
‘Don’t you dare do this to me Autumn, don’t you dare.’ I walked back to him and hugged him one last time. He held me tight, and the familiar scent of chestnuts sent me home. I looked up into his emerald eyes and he and I locked our heads. ‘I can’t do this to you.’ I croaked. I pulled away from his outstretched arms and walked harder and faster away from him before I did the stupid thing and stayed with him.
’I need you.’ He begged me. The sound of his voice was serene and, as I turned back, the look on his face was that which I had never seen before: heartbroken. I never really considered that he needed me just as much as I needed him. He was always the one who was there for me, that I never thought about how he needed me there for him. I turned away and looked to the skies, where the colours of Autumn come were falling from. I was only a few feet away from the car now, and my hand could just reach out for the door handle. I turned to face him one last time, catching the teardrops in my hands.
‘Autumn… I love you…’ he choked.
‘Why did you have to be so wonderful?’ I confessed.
I pulled my hands away from his as I climbed into the car, closing the door behind me.
‘Take me away from here.’ I begged the driver, and the car’s engine began to fire up. As the car worked up its speed, he ran alongside it; trying to see my face one more time, still shouting my name. The car moved too fast for me to see the look on his face as I turned onto the heavily populated streets… It was as if time was moving too fast for me to change my mind. Why was I doing this to myself? I watched as his figure faded away from sight into the falling leaves, and my hopes and dreams for a future away from my miserable life decayed into ash.