and love until we bleed.
One, two, three - on the third attempt, a quick shower of sparks bursts from the lighter and flickers onto the photograph. An instantaneous ember appears and before he can even release his heavy breath, the coveted paper is burning.
The fire encases every piece of the photo, flames devouring the corners first, then the worn, crinkled edges where he gripped it in tight fingers many nights before. Heat kills and tears and destroys the mysterious, half-amused smile, the locks of brunette hair, the curious eyes that teased and comforted him.
Smoke rises into his nostrils. It smells of broken promises and warm, rainy nights spent half-drunk in the streets of a nondescript town. He parts his lips and tastes the bitterness from the acrid fumes. His tongue is soaked in the anger and regret and unrequited love, such a disgusting and cleansing taste.
It is her smile that dies first, swallowed in the greedy flames. This is the smile that appeared in wide, blissful glory when she laughed, trilling the music like hummingbirds in his ears. Then, it is her eyes, the deep, ceaseless pools of emotion and amusement that followed his every movement. These are the eyes that watched him as he fell apart and tore down the life he'd built for himself. These are the eyes that fluttered closed when he kissed her, or when he held her, or when she laughed.
It all tastes different, like a forbidden, fragmented memory to call upon in the darkest depths of the night. He can hear her mocking voice now, laced with sarcasm: "You really going to let a girl stop you from living, Cook?"
It's only right. It's only right, for even though he had her first, made her scream his name first, made her want him first, it isn't he she loves. He may have fought for her and ran away with her and held her as she retched away the alcohol, but yet still, it isn't he she loves. It isn't he and so it's only right that he lets her go.
He curls his hands over the ashes of her photo - and still the taste of the thick smoke is on his tongue, bitter and angry and sweet - and they burn black onto his palms. A single teardrop soaks a single, tiny spot in the pile of a shattered heart, and before another one can fall, he inhales the ever-lingering smell of broken promises. And this time, he lets her go, and he lets her love without making her choose.
He can still taste her smile and still hear her contented purr in his ear, and the scent of ashes is drowned by the remembrance of her elusive perfume.