Til the world falls apart
The crisp ice snow packed beneath my feet. I walked on, letting my fingers trail on the wall beside me, despite the searing pain that rippled through my naked fingers. My lips and cheeks were raw and flaking, and it took great effort not to reach up and peel the top layers of my skin. I rounded a corner and couldn’t resist the smile stretching across my face.
“Hey! Merry Christmas!”
My girlfriend hung in the huge oak tree. She had strung it with Christmas lights, white and coloured. I could see the discarded boxes on the snow.
With one swift movement, she swung round and lightly jumped from the tree. My feet carried me forward and I knocked her over.
I should have been happy that she was back, and briefly, I was. But then all of the emotions I had been pushing down over the past few weeks rushed out: hurt, anger, betrayal. I was still hung on her absence. “You stupid--” I landed a blow to the stomach. “Good for nothing--" A slap to her face. “Little--” I slammed down both my fists on her chest. I had only been hitting her lightly, I didn't want to hurt her, because she was the one person I loved the most.
She let me, clearly understanding my pain. “You good for nothing little bitch!” I swung at her face again, but she caught my hands, getting bored. She pushed so she was sat up, me between her legs. She kissed me, a gesture of affection. But all it did was fuel my anger. I pulled away and slapped her, my ring catching her lip. Shocked and hurt, she turned away.
“I left because I had to. My dad...my dad... he called... and, well... I couldn’t say no.”
Her dad had, for a long time, been the only person in her life. But, a few days after her eleventh birthday, he had left. For a full year, he hadn't dared to show his face, but for the years that followed, he had been trying to get in contact with her. Every single time she fell for her dad's trap, and every single time he abandoned her. I was hurt for her, but still angry. Angry at him for messing with her head, angry at her for being foolish, angry at myself for not knowing.
“I took the bus, boarded the plane and left, waiting at the bar, just like my dad had told me...”
She trailed off, not meeting my eyes. I tilted her head up, and stared into her eyes. She was ashamed. She didn’t need to finish her story; I knew what had happened. He had not shown up, leaving her stranded at the bar. The anger I had held melted away and was replaced with pity. I understood now.
“You poor soul—” I stopped, noticing her discomfort. “Let’s not talk about it.”
“Let’s not talk at all...” I kissed her, sparks flooding into my body; warmth, happiness.
We were back to our special place, back to our days of youth. We kissed under the oak trees, immersed in the beautiful white wonderland. But soon our kisses became friskier and yet more serious. We took it back to my flat. I began to lift her top up, when she stopped. I felt her body tense. She wanted more, as did I, but something was stopping her.
“What is it? Too much?”
I knew it wasn't that, that just wasn’t her. Her exes knew that. All eight of them. I forced myself not to go down that rabbit hole. She’d changed.
I lifted her shirt up, she didn’t resist, but she didn’t make it easy. I realised why.
“What the hell is this? Are you kidding!? I'm sorry-- no. Are you actually fucking kidding me?!” Her body was a map of scars and bruises, it was then that I noticed how weary she was. I pushed back her mop of hair so I could look into her eyes. She winced. Under it was a bloody bandage. “You’ve got to be kidding me! You said you’d stopped all that!”
“I have, I swear, it happened while I was in New York!”
“New York?” I didn’t know this, I felt betrayed; she always told me everything. “Finish the goddamn story, and make it quick.”
We sat perched on the end of my bed and she began to tell me the story. “After being in the bar, a girl came up to me, drunk. She sat on my lap and tried to push up my shirt and kiss me. I told her she was drunk.” I gave her a disbelieving stare.
“You told her she was drunk?”
“Yeah, I told her she was drunk and pushed her away... I’ve changed, I swear!
I knew I should have trusted her, but after she omitted the detail about New York, I wasn’t ready to, it already felt like before.
“I decided to leave the bar, and slipped out through the back entrance, so I could avoid that girl. I left and ran straight into a gang. They saw what happened in the bar and called me twink and other nicknames. They beat me up and stole my stuff. I was on the floor for a while after they left. I tried calling dad but no one answered.” It was hard hearing her say this. I felt that I had been too tough on her. She wasn’t even speaking to me, just recounting the events. “Because they stole my money, I couldn’t go back home. So, I went back into the bar.”
“Stop” I kissed her cheek and then pulled a small package from my backpack “For you” I said. She opened it, slicing through the silver wrapping paper, and gently prising off the cardboard lid. A soft orange knit cardigan with leaves embroidered on it. She stared at it. “Throwback to our first date.” I muttered.
“Climbing trees, picking leaves,” She stared at the package like it was an alien, she was still living in the past. “Leaf peeping, berry - picking.” She smiled, a hint of recognition in his eyes. “This was the cardigan you lost in the lake. Or at least it's a better version of it." She jumped on me, and hugged me, planting a kiss on my cheek. She's back, I thought
We resumed kissing for a while, getting heavier and heavier until it was time to retire to bed. She stayed the night, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms. I woke up the next day, and in the dent where she had previously laid, a box, a present? I opened it carefully, slicing through the silver wrapping paper, and gently prising off the cardboard lid. A tote bag embroidered with leaves and berries. I slipped my hand into the bag, and in a smaller parcel, was a small sack filled with roasted chestnuts. I opened it, and popped a chestnut in my mouth, whispering, "I fucking love her."
We’d both agreed to get each other sentimental and thoughtful gifts this Christmas. And as I sat, remembering all the events that had happened that autumn, I was glad. Shifting my weight, I noticed a piece of cream-coloured card, with calligraphy scrawled over it, accompanied by a ring.
I will have and hold you from the beginning of our meeting, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until the world falls apart. And even then, will I have and hold you, in my heart, loving and honouring you all the days of the world’s life.”
I smiled, thinking,
Our world will never fall apart.
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