Alight [Completed]

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Chapter 24 - Knox

Everything was gray. The streets. The pavements. The sky. The river. The buildings, even. It had just started to rain, and I swear, even the rain looked gray.

I was cold to the bone. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could’ve prepared me for this type of cold. The wind cut right through me every time I turned a corner. The rain swept in sideways underneath my umbrella, and I was soaked. The winter felt harsh and unforgiving, it felt as though I’d exiled myself to this unfamiliar place. Why the hell did I ever think this was a good idea? I felt out of sorts. I’d gotten lost so many times over the past week, I’d lost count. Took the tube in the wrong direction. Changed over again. Changed lines, got it wrong again.

I looked out of place with my golden complexion and sun-kissed hair. I felt out of place with my accent and my unfamiliar terminology for things. But most of all, it didn’t feel like home, and I had this feeling deep inside me of feeling so goddamn forsaken and lost.

Making plans to come here was easy. It sounded like a grand adventure, at the time. Start over, in a place where no-one knew me. Where no-one knew about Harlow. Escape my past - finally. Try to lead a normal life. Get a quality education, then gain experience at some of the world’s top firms for a few years before returning home - groomed to walk into a top job somewhere in a glitzy office building with an impressive salary to match.

But I had no idea I’d feel like this. I had no idea it would be this hard. This lonely. That I’d miss a certain girl called Snow...

I called her as soon as I arrived, and every day since, twice a day. I knew it was selfish, perhaps, but I needed her right now. When I talked to her, I felt like myself again for a little while. Some of her calm seeped into me. But I knew I couldn’t keep doing this to us both. Because every time we said goodbye, I could hear the cracks in her voice, the threat of tears.

And then I’d hang up, and I knew that Snow was probably crying somewhere, on her bed perhaps, feeling somewhat like I was. If only I’d met her when the time was right. When we both had chased our dreams and were in a position to offer each other more than longing hearts and cold, lonely nights.

I swiped the key-card to open my hotel room door. I’d just found an apartment - or flat as they called it here. There was a guy whose roommate suddenly bailed, chasing after a girl who lived in Manchester. I saw the ad for a flatmate on the online bulletin board at the university. As luck would have it, Ron was also a post-graduate student like me, and he looked like a decent guy, so I had a quick look at the place and negotiated the terms. It didn’t look like much, but it was tidy and close to the university with plenty of places around. One more night of staying in a hotel room, then I’d move in. But I already knew, it wouldn’t ever feel like home.

I checked the time and did a quick calculation. Perhaps it was slightly early for Snow, but I’d take the chance, regardless. I wanted to tell someone that I’d taken a small step forward - no, not someone. I wanted to tell her and hear what she had to say about it.

The phone rang on the other end and almost immediately she picked up.

“Knox?” Her voice sounded sleepy, and I smiled.

“Yeah. Sorry if I woke you.”

“I don’t mind,” she said softly, and I imagined her, lying in her bed, her dark hair tousled from sleep, but looking so damn beautiful.

“I have good news. I found a place today. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s not too far from the university.”

“I’m so happy for you. Tell me all about it...”

I told her all about the place, about my first impressions of Ron, about what was around in the neighborhood.

“It sounds great, Knox. Really great. I’m happy you found something so quickly,” but there was an emptiness in her voice that belied her words.

And all of a sudden that luster of having found a place, was gone, too. There was this empty echo inside my heart all of a sudden.

“I... I miss you, Snow,” I conceded, feeling like shit for saying it, because it didn’t help things, at all.

“And I miss you too, Knox. You have no idea how much...” Her voice was filled with melancholy, and I realized that I had to stop doing this. I had to stop punishing us both like this. I had to be less selfish and stop taking from her, without being able to give anything back.

“Thanks for the call. It’s great waking up to the sound of your voice.” I swear I heard her sob.

“Snow... are you crying?”

And just then, I almost felt like crying too. Because this thing hurt. It just plain hurt a million times more than I’d ever thought it would. I just felt so damn empty inside...

“No...” she tried to be strong, because that’s what Snow did.

“How’s your sister?” I asked, trying to move the conversation onto a safer topic.

“Hailey is being Hailey,” she sniffed but there was a hint of smile in her voice this time.

“Same as usual, then?” I joked, and she laughed.

“Exactly.”

“And... Connor? How is he doing?” And the truth was, that conversation I had with him in his hospital room, still grated at me too.

“He’s recovering at home. He’s impatient as hell, as you know, and just about the last person on earth who can sit still for an extended period of time. I’ve been going over there to keep him company most days.”

And a massive bolt of jealousy slammed right into me. What the hell was wrong with me? I had no claim to her anymore. I should be happy that she had good friends who she could lean on, who could look out for her because I was no longer there.

‘Are you going to leave her, just like that?’ Connor’s words taunted me again.

But despite every single reason why I had no right to be upset about the idea of Snow and Connor becoming closer after I’d left, I couldn’t help but hate that idea. They were just friends, and I fucking knew it. But still... what if he decided to go after Snow, now that her sister was out of the picture?

“Yes, I can imagine. Has he and Hailey worked out their differences yet?” I asked, but I already knew it was wishful thinking.

“No,” she sighed. “And I’m starting to think that perhaps they are not going to, either. Hailey has broken up with Davis, though. And she’s been looking heartbroken, but I don’t think it is because of Davis, either,” Snow said perceptively.

My eyebrows rose. “She finally broke up with Davis? That was a long time coming.” I felt sorry for the poor bastard, because it had been clear as daylight since I met him that she was just stringing him along for as long as she cared to entertain his presence. He had it pretty bad for her, too.

“Sometimes...” Snow paused and it sounded as though she was considering her words... “Sometimes it’s just too late, you know? Sometimes you only get so many chances, and then those chances are gone. And from what I can gather, Hailey had used up all of her chances, and Connor decided to draw a line. Call him stubborn, call him proud, but everyone has their limit, Knox.”

And even though I knew that those words weren’t directed at me, the shoe fit, just then. Because it felt as though there was a hidden message in there for me, too. But I couldn’t. We couldn’t. I didn’t want to do this to us both. The timing sucked. The best I could hope for, was that Snow and I would get back together after I finished my studies and moved back home. But I couldn’t ask her to hold on for that long - it wasn’t fair to either of us, and I damn well knew it. We’d only been together three months. Surely that wasn’t long enough to really know someone, to really fall in love? We were thoroughly infatuated with each other, but that was it, even though sometimes certain words were on the verge of slipping out of my mouth. And with time and distance, that infatuation would pass. It was delaying the inevitable if we tried to hold on right now. It simply couldn’t end well.

“But sometimes it’s not about having a limit. Sometimes it’s a matter of people not being in the right time and place, and realizing it, Snow,” I countered, feeling the need to rebut her earlier statement.

“Yeah.” She responded, but I could hear she didn’t really agree with that.

I sighed, realizing again that I had to let go, that I couldn’t lean so heavily on Snow. I had to give her space to move on with her life, like I’d moved on with mine. If only I didn’t miss her so damn much... I craved seeing her smile. I craved feeling her body against mine. I craved kissing those soft, full lips of hers. Fuck - I was going there again, wasn’t I?

“I... I’ve got to go,” I sighed, although the last thing I wanted to do was hang up. But I knew I had to let go. I had to.

“Thanks for the call,” she sounded devastated again, and it just hurt inside.

“I should thank you, Snow. Thank you for everything.” And I knew I was saying thank you for more than just taking my call, just then.

That evening I went out to a pub to have dinner. There was a soccer match showing on the screens inside - or football, as someone quickly corrected me. I learned that a team called Arsenal had quite a few fans, and by the looks of it, they were winning, too. Fuck knows if I had any idea about the rules, because the players seemed to be going in circles for hours, trying to kick the ball it into a net, but not having much luck.

It was much later that night that I left that bar. I had too much to drink, I was unsteady on my feet as I walked back to the hotel. I wanted to give in and call Snow, but I knew I shouldn’t. Because not only might I say things I’d regret the next day, but I also knew that I had to rip that Band-Aid off, even though it hurt.

So, I switched off my phone and I didn’t call her that evening. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I dreamed of her that night.

I woke up in a cold sweat a few hours later, my heart racing inside my ribcage. Because that vivid dream that had been haunting me for years, was back. But this time, it wasn’t Harlow who called for help, who was drowning, this time it was Snow. And I didn’t get there in time...

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