The sunlight was shining through the white clouds that created a shield between the mortal world and the stratosphere, generating a warm feeling that would soon be overwhelmed by the chilly air of the beginning of April. A girl was walking around the campus, a backpack was hanging from one shoulder and a black-covered book between her hands; the wind, that was slowly picking up, moved her hair in her face but she didn’t seem to care, she was probably too concentrated on the words under her eyes. Her steps were small as if she was matching her own rhythm with the story.
Sometimes she stopped slightly, just enough to take a long breath and carefully turn the next page as if she feared the following words. If you looked closely enough, you could recognise a sad smile painted on her lips, but whether it was there for the feelings the book awakened or her own emotions, it was a mystery.
The lectures had long started, so no other people were wandering around, no one to see her eyes get glossier and glossier, every time she turned the page. What was troubling the young girl? From the outside, you could have never guessed what exactly was going on, what was holding the girl back from entering the imposing structure and heading to her class. Maybe she was hiding from the harsh reality surrounding her, afraid that it would hit her with full force without having a way to save herself. Perhaps the book she held close was her only saviour from the real world, barely keeping her sane. Maybe it had to do with staying in control a little longer, staying afloat in the storm.
Time was passing by, but the girl didn’t seem to notice; she silently sat down at the feet of a healthy cherry blossom tree, letting the wind play with the flowers in the high branches, sometimes making them fall down and cover her head or the inked pages. Not even the light pink petals fluttering on the text in front of her or a few other students that were now walking around stopped her intense reading or removed her attention from the words printed on the pale yellow pages.
Suddenly, the situation changed: the tears in her eyes didn’t start streaking down her cheeks, they slowly disappeared with each blink, leaving just a marked redness behind. She shook her head as if a shock had percussed her whole body, and the fallen flowers once again started their journey to the ground. With each passing moment, her lineaments went from soft to stronger. Her slightly parted lips were now shut tight, forming a straight line. It was as if her walls were suddenly going up, her defence mechanism activated. Her face showed an air of determination as if all the sorrow and confusion painted before had never been there.
Tightly gripping both halves of the book until her knuckles turned white, she glanced up, scanning the campus around her, like someone would do if they were looking for someone. As if on cue, a tall dark-haired boy entered her peripheral vision. He was wearing a navy blue cardigan with a white shirt underneath and a pair of branded jeans, while his brown leather briefcase was loosely hanging off one of his shoulders, making his movement slightly slouch. He didn’t seem to notice the heated gaze focused on his figure while he walked at a steady pace towards the main entrance of the brick structure.
Only when the girl had all her attention fixed on him, the black book forgotten at the feet of the tree’s trunk, and she was finally standing straight, did the male turn half of his body around to look in her direction. A surprised gasp left his lips, his pupils dilating, taking in the person in front of his eyes. His steps slowly faltered, until he was standing still, his body half-turned facing her, as if they were opposite poled magnets, calling to each other, unable to resist the physical pull. He was struggling to hold his face neutral, a turmoil inside of him, battling with himself on what to do, how to stay calm. Was she really there? Maybe it was his mind playing tricks, after all, she couldn’t be standing there, right under that tree.
A whisper left his lips.
She didn’t have to hear it, to know it was her name that had escaped him, mouthed from afar; a ghost of a smile finally appearing on his face. Her expression didn’t change though, her lineaments still held that determination that had taken over her a little while before. They hadn’t seen each other in months, not even a message exchanged between them. The tension was burning, a level of chemical attraction was still present even after all that time passed away from one another. The tall figure started moving again, the old destination long forgotten, his sole focus on the girl underneath the cherry tree, the girl that had entered his dreams almost every night, tormenting his sleep and leaving him with an ache in his chest every time he woke up. She was even more mesmerising than the last time he had seen her all those months ago. Her hair was definitely shorter than it had been in his memories and dreams, and her eyes held emotions he had never seen before in all the time they had spent together. Had she always hidden those from him?
He focused on her full figure again. She was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of baggy jeans as if she was still trying to hide her curves from the world; those stretch-marked love handles she was so insecure and ashamed about, as she had shown him one of the first times he had asked her why she would hide something so beautiful, something so natural. That day had been printed in his mind, never fading away, like a reminder. How her eyes had shifted downwards, and the way she had scratched over those scar-like lines running over her thighs as if they would disappear. Then scrubbing her palms over them, the skin underneath burning up and reddening with the constant friction, how he had gently gripped her wrists and kissed the palms of her hands before touching her soft tighs with an awed look, letting her understand how much he loved them.
A little smile crept on his lips as he refocused on the present and noticed she didn’t seem to have a jacket with her. He still could remember the time he had teased her for finally wearing a coat after the temperature had dropped to a lower, one digit level and everyone else, he included, had already been using the warm garment for over a month.
With his long strides, it didn’t take him long to be at arm’s reach from her, the bubbling tension palpable between the couple. His eyes were scanning her, making her in as if she was a trick of his mind, a wish that could never come true, while hers were struggling to stay still, looking straight at him without moving, struggling not to study those lineaments and edges she had memorised in her head to see if anything had changed.
Once he was convinced that she was really there, flesh and bones, he opened his mouth, ready to speak when she slowly shook her head. Being this close to him was starting to affect her, her determined demeanour slowly slipping off her fingers. He slowly lifted his dominant arm, bringing it closer to her right, probably longing to touch her, to feel her rashing pulse underneath his digits, but once he was mere millimetres away, his gaze dropped to the grass at their feet, while he started retracting his hand as if he were afraid of her reaction. The girl was thankful that the male in front of her had lowered his eyes, not meeting hers because he would have probably seen the disappointment that had flashed in her dilated pupils when she understood that she wouldn’t feel that familiar warmth that came with one simple touch from him spread all over her. For one second she thought about grasping his hand in hers, to let him know it was okay, that she wanted to feel his skin against hers, but as soon as that desire came, it was replaced with the memory of the pain felt in these past months.
Taking a small step back, she distanced herself from his intoxicating smell, the same he was covered with all that time ago when he used to lay in her arms at night, and that lingered on his skin even after a shower or after being at the pool. How could she think straight when just his mere presence was awakening buried emotions, feelings that she had carefully locked away for all this time, even forgetting their existence? Her façade was on the brink of falling, leaving her without any protection in front of him, bare as never before. The seconds ticked by, and she felt more and more naked with no way to recover, to go back to her plan.
He had registered that slight movement that had brought more space between them, resembling the emotional gap present in their current dynamic. He even noticed how she had started to tremble, almost impossible to perceive if you weren’t paying enough attention. She was battling with herself like he had done many months ago before making his decision, no matter how right or wrong it had turned out to be. This time he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t ponder on his choices, he didn’t think about the outcome or the reaction that his decision would result in. He stepped even closer to her than before, engulfing her in his arms, her face pressed in his shoulder and his chin resting on her head. Once she started to noticeably tremble stronger than before, he tightened his grip on her, holding her close to him, as if he were afraid she would vanish or crumble down in his arms.
As soon as he touched her, the girl abandoned all her strength to hold everything in. Hot tears started streaming down her face, the ones she had promised herself so many times she would never shed, wetting the soft material of the male’s cardigan and leaving a darker patch behind. The girl had been so strong, maybe for too long, hiding her true feelings, always telling herself that she was okay when in reality she had been crumbling inside, feeling as if she was hollow again. Trying hard not to lose herself in her grief and aching self, she focused on the strong arms engulfing her, that familiar scent intoxicating her nostrils, calming her with every new breath. Soon the shaking was substituted by the holding of her breath as if she had forgotten her usual way to cool down, the one she had started to use again after he was gone. She felt shifting and then his lips were near her ear whispering those words she had repeated to herself over and over.
Breathe… in… out… in… out…
Slight dizziness started to cloud her mind, and before she realised it, she took a breath in, followed by a breath out; breathe in, air filling her lungs, breathe out, air leaving them again, repeating the process until she was breathing normally and at a steady pace still. She slowly lifted her head to meet his gaze, finding it already focused on her, visible relief swirling in his bright green eyes, high contrast to her puffy watery, dull ones. A small uncertain smile started to appear on his lips, as if he wasn’t sure how to proceed after this point, even being still tangled up, engulfed by each other’s warmth. The corners of her mouth wouldn’t be able to be controlled this time, they lifted up on their accord until her white teeth were visible. She opened her mouth as if she was finally ready to speak, but the male centimetres away from her, shook his head, his smile widening, almost reaching his ears. She knew that smile very well, it was the one he would reserve for her every time they were alone, the real mirror of his feelings. He cautiously leaned in, looking at her one last time before their eyes fluttered closed and his lips met hers. For a long time, no one shifted position, probably still afraid it was only just a dream, but once they realised it was real, their mouths moved in sync, the familiarity of all of it pervading them. All those kisses, all those caresses, all those subtle touches, all those smiles and knowing side glances, all those sides jokes that only they would understand. All those nights spent wandering around the city without a real destination in mind, all those nights cuddled together enjoying the warmth of the other, all those times the other surfaced in their head at random times and gifting them a smile, all those dates they had went on always arguing who would pay in the end… All those memories created together resurfaced in just a mere second. It was incredible how a simple moment between two people that had been so long apart could bring them closer than before, erasing the aching in their chests that had started to feel so familiar yet so uncomfortable. It almost seemed as if they had grown used to it.
Once they were ready to let go from one another, they slowly stepped back, leaving the wind come between them and replace the warmth they had exchanged. The girl turned around absently picking up her backpack while her attention was still set to the tall male standing close by. His gaze was trained on her figure, unable to let go of that magnetic pull he was feeling towards her. He extended his arm in her direction, offering to hold her hand, and she gladly accepted it, bouncing on her feet as she used to do when she was much younger and carefree. His palm against hers was already creating those familiar tingles that would spread all over her body like bliss, and she couldn’t stop the light blush from forming on her rosy cheeks. She tried to cover it with her hair, dipping her head, but as soon as she did, she realised that it wouldn’t be possible anymore. A slight chuckle on her side revealed her that he had seen what was happening. Turning her face around, she had a clear view of the smile painted on his lips, and she couldn’t help herself but reciprocate it after going on her tippy toes to leave a kiss on his cheek. They took off, forgetting for one moment that they still had lectures to attend to and that reality was right around the corner, but just enjoying each other again after all that time, trying to make up for it in their own weird way.
The wind picked up, while the sun was still dominating the scene in the sky, its bright rays warming every surface they laid on, creating a game of shadows and light. In the penumbra of the last standing cherry tree, at the feet where the protruding roots were coming out of the ground, lay a black book that had been previously abandoned, maybe with intent or just forgotten. A stronger breeze arose, moving the crowns at the top of the trees, some flowers coming off and fluttering in the air before hitting the ground. One even fell on the book that was now opened at a random page, with just a short black paragraph filling the yellowish colour of the paper.
“She had felt the pain in her veins for so long that she had gotten used to it, its essence gnawing at her bone marrow, nothing but coldness left behind. The memories of happier times had been washed away, just like him, as if they had never been there in the first place. No trace of other emotions was left in her, just an empty feeling and the knowledge that it wouldn’t go away this time. He wasn’t there anymore to save her in his own way, and she had resigned herself to this fate, but that didn’t mean that she had forgotten his last words, the whisper only meant for her to hear. “Fear no more, as I am soon to be gone and hopefully the misery I brought to you will follow me, wherever I shall go. You will be finally free to fly, no more sleepless nights spent wondering how you would have ended up if I hadn’t walked into your life.” She had reminisced about that last thought more than she cared to admit in the following months, but nothing brought her the peace promised to her. Even in his absence, he tormented her, during daylight as well as in her dreams. Maybe she wasn’t destined to the happy ending, after all, perhaps all she had left was the darkness that had engulfed her in her life and that she had shared with him. Maybe her fly was meant to be like this, just a jump into the familiar unknown.”