There it was again- the forgetfulness, the confusion- followed by the few minutes of me frantically searching my surroundings and reading the notebook in my hands, my own terrible handwriting making me realize that I’d done it again. I added another tally mark to the paper.
Note to self: you walked the path around the field already. it is not the way out. find another way.
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This was a special form of hell. My heart ached for Maeve. At first, I just wanted her to know I was alive because if it were me in her position, I would be falling apart. Then, I realized that I had no idea how much time had passed since I’d woken up in that cave. There was time I couldn’t account for- moments that I completely lost. Confusion was my friend in here. I began to ask myself if it had been days, months or years and I couldn’t find an answer, which was terrifying. If it had been years, the thought of Maeve moving on lingered in my mind for longer than I was comfortable with, but after a while I realized how real that possibility could be. And for a moment, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t try to go back... to find her in a perfect life with someone else and mess up the happiness she’d worked so hard for. But then, what if she hadn’t moved on and she was waiting for me. That pushed me to try harder. I tried to break the cycle. I’d done literally anything I could think of in the clear moments I had before I began to get the urge to walk that path and leave my thoughts behind again. I’d tied myself to a tree, tried to hunt down Lilah, ran in a different direction than usual, and began a sprint into the sea a couple of times but never made it halfway there. I had called Maeve until my phone died and I swore I heard her voice for a second. I had done everything to get out of this god forsaken place, but nothing worked.
After realizing I’d walked the same damned path for the twenty-sixth time, I felt the last sliver of hope fall away and I began to accept that I wasn’t leaving. Maeve didn’t even know I was here. In fact, no one knew I was here. They thought I was dead and I might as well be because I was losing my mind. I wrote a note for Maeve in case she did ever found out what actually happened to me. It was more for me than her... I needed to let her go:
I hope you love yourself
Your body and heart
I hope you feel happy
That’s all I want
I began to feel my mind get jumbled again, the urge to stand and walk over my footprints again the only thing at the forefront of my mind. Then, the usual thoughts flooded my brain: I needed to get out. I needed to find Maeve. I had to walk. I felt myself slipping away, becoming a passenger in my own body again. My head got clouded and began to feel like television static when I thought I hallucinated a voice. It was small at first, like a persistent thought at the back of my mind, but it grew louder and louder until I recognized who it belonged to. I felt myself being pulled out of the haze, Maeve’s voice shouting over thoughts telling me to ignore her. Slowly, everything came back into focus, her shouts clearly breaking through the otherwise silent landscape.
When I turned around, I saw her running towards me and tried to tell myself it wasn’t real. There was no way Maeve Peterson was actually here, but in that moment I didn’t care if she was a figment of my own imagination or not. I bolted upright from the ground and suddenly she was so close, eventually crashing into me all together. Her arms were around my neck and sobs racked her body, the feeling of her heartbeat against my chest making my stomach drop. She was real. She was flesh and blood and she was right here. Words don’t exist to describe what it felt like to be able to hold her and I didn’t want to ever let go. My chest was heaving and my hands tangled themselves into her hair as I struggled to find something to say to her. She began to speak but choked on her words before pulling back to examine my face. She looked different- older maybe. Not enough for most people to notice, but I did. One thing hadn’t changed: the little gold rose I’d gifted her still hung around her neck. No matter how beautiful it was in this place called Eroda, it simply did not compare to Maeve. Even with tear stained rosy cheeks, she still looked better than all of the flowers in this garden combined. I softly cupped her face in my hand, wiping her pale skin with a calloused thumb.
“I love you,” was all I could say.
“I love you too,” she breathed.
“I can’t believe it’s you.”
“It’s me,” she smiled.
Her face was inches from my own. I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she stared up at me with as much disbelief as I felt. I wanted to kiss her right there, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement behind her and pulled back.
“Hi, sorry to ruin the moment. Uh, I’m Jovie.”
The man stood with his hands tucked uncomfortably behind him, looking at the ground. A million explanations of who this guy was ran through my mind before Maeve spoke up.
“Jovie is the one who brought me here. He’s the one who knew about this place. He’s a really good friend. Harvey, there’s a lot to explain, but we probably need to go,” Maeve clarified.
A really good friend. I felt guilty for feeling so relieved. I walked over to Jovie and stuck my hand out.
“Nice to meet you, man. I’m Harvey,” I said and he seemed a little shocked at the gesture.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” he smiled, taking my hand in his own.
“Have you now?” I glanced back at Maeve with a smirk as we hiked back to where their black SUV was parked on the side of the road.
Maeve slipped into the passenger seat and I sat behind her, resting my head on the cushion.
“I still can’t believe this,” she remarked, turning to face me as Jovie pulled the vehicle back onto the road.
“I can’t either.”
My heart was still pounding in my chest and I felt like I was living in a dream. I don’t know how long it had been since I’d had any form of human interaction. A part of me was almost sure something was going to go wrong and this was too good to be true. I’d begin to forget again or we wouldn’t be able to get out and Maeve would be stuck here forever too. I shook my head and focused on the girl in front of me. Her hair was longer and there were the smallest little lines by her eyes that weren’t there before, suddenly reminding me of the concept of time.
“How long... how long was I away? How are you? What did I miss?”
“How’d you come across this strange looking Yorkshire fellow?” Jovie added from behind the steering wheel. I decided I quite liked this guy.
“That too,” I chuckled.
“Um... you were gone for almost three years,” Maeve said, watching my expression carefully. That felt so weird to hear. It was unexpected because I had no concept of time in here. I didn’t even have a guess. “You didn’t miss much of anything. I was just... I was upset at first obviously, but I had a feeling you were still out there somewhere and that wasn’t very normal so I got a therapist and I was okay for a while. I moved to London. I got the job at the poetry magazine.”
“The one you wanted in college?”
“Yeah... I love it there. And I made a few friends too. Can you believe it? I got out and introduced myself to people. It’s kind of my thing now.”
“When are you going to tell him how you introduced yourself to me?” Jovie asked and they both burst into laughter.
I felt a knot in my stomach as I watched them giggle at a joke I was yet to understand. I shook it off, telling myself to stop being ridiculous. I wasn’t really jealous of Jovie as much as I was the fact that he’d gotten to see her experience life I had missed. He got to see her grow and change. She had changed. She was more confident than I remembered. She seemed more sure of herself and what she was doing- hell, she mentioned that she got the job at The Poetry Review like it was a simple fact. Did I still know her? Really know her like I did before? I don’t know but I was sure that I loved her still and that was all that mattered. Maeve was the only thing keeping me sane in this place. She turned back to me to see that I was silent and a little confused as she and Jovie finished their bonding moment.
“Sorry, Harvey. It’s just a weird story. When Jovie and I met, first of all, he saw this guy being weird at the club and threatened to punch him and then, I had gotten absolutely wasted for probably the first time in my life and he saw me puking on the side of the road and stopped to help.”
“She vomited on my shoes, mate,” Jovie quipped. I smiled at the thought and felt less awkward.
“Really? Tell me more about what I’ve missed. I want to know everything,” I said. If I couldn’t be there with Maeve, I at least wanted to be updated on everything.
They spoke for a while and I listened carefully, taking in everything. I enjoyed it, I did. It made me feel like I was there. After a while, a familiar feeling crept into my head and I began to silently panic. The familiar dizzy haze fell behind my eyes and I felt my conscience drifting away from our conversation back into the clouds... back into the cycle.