What am I doing?
This isn’t right.
I can’t do this.
A car stopped abruptly outside of Seattle.
This isn’t right.
I can’t do this.
I can’t go through with this.
Behind the steering wheel, a man grabbed a handful of hair in his fist and leaned his head against the driver’s seat, sighing in surrender.
I can’t do this to her. Or to myself.
I can’t do this.
I must be out of my mind.
He opened the door and got out of the car, taking in a deep breath and trying to get a hold of himself.
What am I doing?
I can’t do this.
And he just knew. There had never been a choice, and yet, he’d been on the verge of making the wrong one.
A man stood at the city line, his gaze embracing the horizon, the buildings, as he breathed it all in. Yes. Seattle had the woman he loved buried deep in its atmosphere, her name written in bold letters across every pattern drawn over the landscape.
And as he stood outside the city, he felt as if he were just one step too far, too little, too late, too close to losing what had been his for the taking. Or maybe was never his to begin with.
But at least he knew now.
I can’t do this.
It may have never been his at all.
But he had to at least make a claim.
Because meant to be doesn’t just happen. There wasn’t such thing as meant to be. There was just the twitching of fingertips longing to hold her, to trace the lines of her collar bones and her full lips and her waist line, lips twitching to kiss her forehead, cheek begging to be caressed by her long lashes as they kissed, the skipped beat of a heart, two deep blue eyes tattooed in the back of his mind, and the knowledge that, if he left now, he’d spend the rest of his days regretting not having stayed and fought for her. Despite everything. Despite herself.
The one that got away.
He could let her become that.
He’d take the one that could have gotten away and turn her into the one he’d gotten back.
I won’t do this.
Not if it costs me her.
Two heartbeats and a half.
He was doomed to keep chasing her. Or perhaps blessed to do just that.
His heart knew the choreography and his muscles worked by memory, and before the third heartbeat, Ray climbed inside the car and drove back into Seattle to get his girl back.
He had no idea what he was gonna do. There was just an urge, an aching need boiling in his veins, barely grazing beneath the surface of his skin, a scorching fire. And Sky was the water that could put it out, a well hidden in the woods he’d gotten lost in. He had no idea what he was gonna do.
He drove aimlessly around the city for some solid minutes, unable to make up his mind. How could he get to her? He had no phone number, no address, no means of getting a hold of her. He squeezed his brain hard before finally admitting that this whole adrenaline rush was doing him no good and that needed a clear head. He’d found Sky when the odds had been nothing but against him once, he could do it again.
He drove back to his apartment, counting breaths and heartbeats to pull himself together.
He stopped the car in front of his building and he lost count. His heart went erratic as he caught glimpse of Sky coming out of his block, pale-faced and puffy-eyed.
She’d shown up.
She’d shown up.
Later, but she’d shown up.
He wanted nothing more than to walk out of the car and run to her and wrap his arms around her and sweep her off her feet and kiss her senseless and confess he could never bring himself to leave her. Not after he’d spent his whole life looking for her, and he’d never even known she needed her until he had her standing right in front of him, gorgeous from head to toe, special from inside out, completely insane and self-assured and for some absurd reason, interested in him.
But he held back. For some reason, he hesitated. He watched her walk down the sidewalk and while he had to fight every single instinct in his body against rushing to her side, he stayed put in his car and watched her, a little red light flickering in the back of his head.
This was Sky without him. This was the only time he’d seen Sky outside the context of their relationship. And curiosity got the best of him, because this was a perfect opportunity to learn some things about Sky. At least where she lived. At least a path, paved with little pieces of the puzzle she was.
He knew he was going to regret it and that it wasn’t the wisest idea and that it would get him in a lot of trouble and that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. But Ray didn’t get out of the car. Instead, he waited for Sky to walk around the corner and he started the engine, following her.
It was wrong, and every bone in his body told him so, but he needed to know. It drove him out of his mind to not be able to tell whether this thing they were living was truly his for the taking, within reach, palpable, a constant rather that a constant doubt and constantly wondering whether she was there to stay. If Sky didn’t want to give anything for this relationship, then he’d take some.
His heart pounded forcefully at the anticipation of holding her again after having lived for half the day with the certainty that he’d lost her, but he kept driving at a safe distance behind her, until he saw Sky walk inside a building no more than 15 minutes of walking from his place.
He waited for a few solid minutes, pondering his options. His brain was a mess and his heart was having a hard time keeping up. He could leave. He could leave and hope and pray to all that he held dear that the universe could work the same magic that had brought them together once more. He could wait for her to come back out and surprise her by walking into her path. But he couldn’t afford to second guess himself. He couldn’t wait for chances that might not come and he couldn’t place his choices in the hands of hazards all over again.
Ray ran his hands over his face and got out of the car before he could change his mind. Each step that led to her door felt like walking through water, heavy and exhausting and he second doubted himself every time he set one foot before the other.
He walked inside the building and realized he didn’t even have a name to go after. Just a face and two blue eyes imprinted on the surface of his skin like a thin layer of Sky glued to him.
He stopped in the hallway, looking around and telling himself that he had not thought this through entirely. He ran a hand through his hair, considering going back to his car and screwing this all and giving the universe another chance at fixing this, when an old lady walked right past him.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Ray took advantage of the occasion. “My girlfriend lives in this block, but I’m not sure which apartment. Could you maybe point me in the right direction?”
The old lady smiled warmly at him. “Of course, dear. Who’s your girlfriend?”
Ray bit his lip. How could he admit he didn’t even know her name? How could he admit he was chasing pavements? Sky had tied a blindfold over his eyes and started a game of hide-and-seek Ray had never wanted to be a part of. Except she’d snuck out, leaving him stranded in the dark. How could he even begin to explain that?
“Umm,” he scratched the back of his neck. “She’s blonde. Really gorgeous. Has the bluest eyes you’d ever seen, a sassy smirk and one hell of an attitude. Couldn’t have missed her.”
The old lady chuckled and patted his arm sympathetically.
“Couldn’t have, indeed,” she replied. “Tough cookie to love, isn’t she?”
Ray smiled sadly and dropped his gaze, desperation flowing through his pores. He wanted to shove his hands in his pocket and hide his head between his shoulders, but in the back of his head rang the voice of his mother telling him that wouldn’t have been too polite.
“You have no idea,” he told the woman sadly, and she pursed her lips.
“She lives in 218. Best of luck, Mr. Cartwright.”
Ray was about to turn on his heels and stop, but stopped abruptly when he heard his name and turned to the old lady wide-eyed.
“Did you just—“ he stammered. “H-How do you know my name.”
The woman chuckled. “Don’t be silly, dear. You’re all she talks about.”
Ray swallowed hard and waited for her to burst out laughing or for some sort of twisted punch line. And then he waited for the information to sink in. The woman waited patiently for a few seconds before moving a few steps backwards, looking like she wanted to leave, but then she spoke again.
“Besides, Mr. Cartwright, I believe this is not our first encounter, is it?”
Without waiting for a reply, the woman turned around and walked away, leaving Ray gaping. He remained utterly confused for half a second, when it dawned on him. He gasped out loud. This was the old lady he’d run over with his bike, that day he’d seen Sky on the subway.
He barked out half a laugh, thinking about how the world was a truly small place. He didn’t lose more than a heartbeat over it, though. He had a girl to see.
His doubts were gone, having been replaced by an adrenaline rush that sent his head spinning and fingertips itching at the prospect of being mere footsteps away from the sight of Sky standing before him. So he rushed up the stairs taking two at a time until he found himself in front of Sky’s door.
It suddenly felt so real. So concrete. So tangible. After you’ve been chasing fireflies for so long, once you catch one, you have no idea what to do with it.
Ray raised his hand and waited.
Two heartbeats and a half.
Round and round, until you’re so dizzy, you forget why you came. Why you’re standing there like a fool, wondering why you keep finding yourself crawling inside a heart that should be willingly open its door and welcome you in by now. And then you remember, and you follow the same pattern, because as bad as it was, life after her was worse without her in it. Not much of a life at all really.
Before the third heartbeat, Ray let his knuckles fall and knocked against the doorframe on which the number 218 stared at him, teasing him.
And then he waited.
And those seconds of motionlessness were the worst. There was a stillness around him and within him and the silence rang loud in his ears and his eyes were bloodshot and his heart was pounding hard against his rib cage and his lungs constricted under the heavy pressure.
And then the door opened and Sky was standing in the doorway.
Ray gasped and smiled so wide his cheeks hurt. She was there. It was her. He fought the urge to crush her thin silhouette against his body and crash their lips together and kiss her until they both forgot their own names.
“Ray,” Sky breathed, and her lips twitched into a smile that grew wider and wider by the second.
Ray started taking a step forward to do just that he’d been thinking about, because he couldn’t go one more second without holding her, but then Sky’s face grew still. Her smile faltered, her eyes grew wider and her lower lips started trembling slightly, breath growing frantic.
“Ray,” she whispered again, but this time, more alarmed.
Ray started to chuckle slightly and get rid of the awkward tension between them, right before Sky simply slammed the door in his face.
Out of all the possible outcomes he’d imagined, this was one that had never crossed his mind.
He stood there helplessly, short of breath, shaking his head in disbelief. How exactly was he supposed to react? What was he supposed to do? What did this even mean? He hated these question marks. He hated them so much. It was all he did lately, question himself and doubt and wonder and hope and fail.
He put both hands on the sides of the door and rested his forehead against it. He heard a soft thump on the other side of it and he could’ve sworn Sky had just slid down against the door. There was and had always been a barrier of some sorts between them, one that this door stood as a broken metaphor for, one that held them apart, a few inches that felt canyon-wide.
“Sky,” he spoke softly, knowing she could hear him.
Ray shut his eyes and hit his head against the wooden door, frustrated as never before.
“I couldn’t do it, Sky,” he confessed, voice breaking a little. “I couldn’t leave. I came back for you. I couldn’t leave you.”
He removed his hands from the sides of the door and paced a little, running his hands through his hair and breathing frantically. Eventually, he moved to the door again and laid his palm against the patterns in the wood.
“Please,” he whispered again, more to himself than to Sky, by now aware that nothing he said could change her mind. And yet he tried. He needed so badly for this door to disappear. This door and everything it represented. “Please. Sky, open the door.”
Sky was leaning against it, her head between her knees. She didn’t know it, but her rapid breathing mirrored Ray’s, those blue eyes he’d fallen in love with held the same hopelessness as his sunlit green ones. She had fought so hard against that first instinct to run into his arms and drown in the realization that he’d come back for her. That he was still here and that she didn’t have to lose him.
But either way, she did.
Either way, she lost him.
Either way, though he’d come back, she wasn’t here to stay. Wasn’t here to begin with.
She could give him nothing.
“Go away,” she raised her broken voice. “Please, Ray, leave.”
She buried her fingers in her hair and pulled, and a few tears made their way down her cheeks. Helplessness and hopelessness were some bitter motherfuckers.
She heard him slam his forehead against the door and she could swear a soft groan of frustration escaped his lips.
How could she even begin to explain to him? How, when she wanted this as much as he did? How do you explain why you cannot give your heart away and instead have to keep it broken inside your chest, pumping the acid of an inevitable and unfair goodbye.
She groaned and stood up, anger boiling beneath the surface of his skin, anger at herself for being so stupid and broken, at Ray for so stubbornly wanting to fix the unfixable, at the poorest timing ever encountered. So she opened the door wide open and the tears flowed down her face freely while she did nothing to stop them.
Ray simply stared at her at loss of air, of words, of thought at the ravishing sight of her so disheveled, wild as a storm she no longer owned. And yet, more beautiful than ever.
“You should have left,” she yelled at him, and Ray’s heart shrunk in his chest. “You should have gone to New York.”
“Sky—“ he tried, nourishing a fool’s hope.
“You said you came back for me,” she kept yelling, but while her words stung, her teary eyed pleaded. “But you shouldn’t have, Ray. Because I can’t have you back.”
They stood there for a second, both broken, both disoriented, one resisting the pull of gravity into an embrace, and the other wishing nothing more than to give in to the pull of the same gravity. Eventually, Ray shook his head and clung the same fool’s hope. The fact that she’d used can’t and not won’t.
He closed the distance between them and sneaked an arm against her waist, cupping her cheek with the other one, and he heard her gasp a little in surprise at the sudden closeness.
“Why?” he demanded fiercely, and it took every ounce of self-control in his body not to walk her backwards into her apartment and kiss her until she forgot what she was so worried about.
He saw it in her sapphire eyes. He saw that she was thinking about the same thing. He saw the way her eyes kept flying to his lips, he saw the way her chest rose with heavy breaths and he felt her heartbeats against his own chest. He watched her intensely, daring her, teasing her, tempting her to take what she wanted. All of him was a figure of clay in her hands.
But she didn’t give in. Instead, she closed her eyes and steadied herself, and then she unwrapped herself from his arms. She walked backwards, never bothering to wipe away her tears, and before she shut the door behind her, she looked at Ray one last time. He looked confused and pleading like a puppy. But what he wanted, she couldn’t give to him.
“I can’t have you in my life, Ray of Sunshine,” she tried to explain herself, not expecting him to understand.
“W-What do you mean?” he whispered in a broken voice, looking on the verge of tears himself. “Sky, you’re not making any sense. Let’s just talk ab—“
“Goodbye, Ray,” she spoke, and the door closed.