I really don’t know how it happened, how things changed between us so suddenly and completely. She was home on vacation, having returned to the city of her birth, where many of her friends still lived. Among them was me. She and I had always been friends, from the day we met in high school, the best of friends and nothing more.
On the first day of her vacation, we got together with some other friends at my place for dinner and conversation. Throughout the evening, I found my eyes going to her often, my ears listening to the soft cadence of her voice. I’d missed her terribly since she left to begin her new life, far more than I had believed I would. Now that she was back with us, my heart felt lighter, though I knew this was temporary, that, in only a week, she’d be gone again.
Finally, the others went home, leaving the two of us alone. We talked some more, the conversation becoming more personal. I admitted to her that I’d missed her a lot, and she confessed that she felt the same. We came together in a hug. I could feel her breath on my face and neck, her body warm and soft in my arms, and it felt so good, though I didn’t understand why.
And then it happened. The kiss took us both by surprise, and we sat staring at each other in stunned amazement for several seconds afterwards, shocked by how that kiss had made us feel. Unable to stop ourselves, we kissed again . . . and then again. Soon, the kissing became touching, hands caressing, seeking bare skin. Before I knew it, our clothes were scattered on the floor, and she was beneath me on the sofa, her beautiful body pressed so tightly against mine. I kissed and touched her everywhere, the taste of her skin already an addiction.
When I slid into the heated depths of her body for the first time, it nearly overwhelmed me. The look in her eyes told me that it was the same for her. Our lovemaking was like nothing I’d experienced before, as if our souls were coming together along with our bodies. After it was over, we clung to each other, weak and trembling yet feeling so gloriously alive.
When we finally separated, we did not speak. We didn’t question why or how it had happened. There was no place for logic in what we’d just found together. I took her hand and led her to my bedroom, where we slipped into sleep, only to awaken a few hours later and make love again.
The next day, I requested some time off from work. We spent that day together, mostly in bed, learning about each other in the most intimate of ways, two lonely people finding joy and shelter in each other’s arms.
And so the days passed. We went for long walks, shared meals out or at my apartment, talking about things that we had never before shared with each other. More than once, we ascended to the top of Pike’s Peak, admiring the beauty laid out before us. I took her dancing one night, and the sensation of her moving with me in time to the music felt so perfect, like this was the way that it was always meant to be with us.
We did not speak about the day she would have to leave, the fact that we could not stay like this forever. Each day I arose with the thought, ‘I have today with her. She is here right now with me.’
As the day she would have to go drew closer, we found ourselves keeping each other awake at night, not wanting to waste even one moment in sleep. I wanted her to keep me awake to memorize her, to give me more time to feel this way.
And when she at last could no longer deny Morpheus’ call, I would remain awake, just watching her sleep, wanting more than anything in my life to have more time to be this way with her. Each time I looked at her, when she was all I could see, all my fears would just fall away, no longer a part of my existence.
A need had been born inside me, the need for her to stay here and shelter me from all the pain that life visits upon me. Yet I knew that such a thing was impossible, that I would have to learn how to live with this need remaining an ache in my heart that could not be banished.
Only time would tell us how we would carry on without each other. Time heals all wounds, they say, but could it fill the emptiness that would take over my life after she was gone? I would have no choice but to find out. If it was possible, I would leave this place and go to be with her in that city so far away, but I had important responsibilities here that I could not walk away from, at least not yet. Maybe, someday, that would change.
Long before I was ready for it, our last day together arrived. The beautiful morning dawned brightly, blinding sun coming in through the windows, chasing away the shadows of night as the world outside began to breathe, awakening to another day. I laid there for an hour as she continued to sleep, watching clouds arrive suddenly, without warning, to darken the sky.
We did not go anywhere that day, not wanting anything to take away even one minute of our last hours together. That night, we did not sleep at all. I kept thinking that, if we kept our eyes wide open, if I could make these moments endless, stop the winds of change and halt time in its tracks, then everything would stay the same, and there would be no goodbyes. And so I begged her to keep me awake for every moment, to hold off tomorrow, make it wait. But tomorrow would not wait forever. We did not have the power to stop it from coming.
As I stood there in the airport with her and some other friends, there were so many things I wanted to tell her. I wanted to say, “I love you,” words I had not spoken to her because I knew it would hurt to say them, to hear her say them back to me and know that all the “I love you’s” in the world could not prevent what was now happening.
My heart shattered as we shared our last embrace. Though we had not talked to our friends about our relationship, I knew that they were aware of what was going on. And so I kissed her, right there in the airport with everyone watching, not caring about what anyone would say or think. She clung to me and kissed me back, a hint of desperation in the kiss, the taste of tears on her lips.
And then she was gone, and I felt sorrow come crashing down upon me. I escaped to my apartment and remained there, not setting foot outside even to get the mail. Friends visited me one by one during the day, trying to bring me comfort, but no words could ease the crushing loneliness that was already taking hold.
I now stand at the summit of Pike’s Peak again. It has taken me two months to find the courage to return to this place that became special to us. I look at the vista before me, but its beauty is now muted in my eyes. The brightness is gone from my world because she’s not here with me, and each day feels like the one before. Home is a place I don’t want to be because the memories of being there with her are so strong that it almost feels like she’s really there, and the knowledge that she’s not makes me want to just sit down and cry.
I’m still waiting for time to tell me how I’m going to carry on without her, but time seems to move so slowly these days, each moment crawling into the next, as if I have become trapped in some cruel time warp bent upon lengthening my agony. I still lie awake at night, but now it is because of the emptiness of my arms and the knowledge that it will be many months before they are filled again, if they are ever filled at all. I cannot expect her to remain alone and wait for us to be together again for another few short days. She deserves to have someone in her life every day.
But, for me, there will be no one else. I will cling to the memories we made, remember every precious moment of all the love we shared, knowing that she will be the last woman I ever love.
The sun is setting now, and I know that I need to get home, home to that empty apartment I am beginning to hate. Perhaps it’s time to move, go someplace that holds no memories of her.
I am just about to turn when I hear a sound, a voice that has become more precious to me than any other calling my name. I turn, and there she is, standing before me. Am I dreaming? Have I gone over the edge of sanity? I whisper her name, so afraid that she is not really there.
She walks toward me, a gentle smile on her face, tears bright in her eyes. “I’m home,” she tells me in a trembling voice. “I’m home to stay.”
And then she is in my arms, warm and real, and no joy I have ever felt before in my life can compare to this. I speak those three words I could not say before and laugh with pure happiness when she repeats them back to me.
As our lips meet, I know that, now, I will have the rest of my life to memorize her. There is no longer any reason to remain awake. I can sleep and dream with her in my arms. I will have her here next to me today and every day for the rest of my life.
Story © 2012 Maureen Thayer, except as follows. Lyrics from the song Awake were written by Josh Groban and are under copyright to their respective owners. All rights reserved.