Twilight Post Secret Challenge
Number of Secret Chosen: #6
Title: Thank You, Stranger
Word Count: 8,944
Summary: A few words. A few looks. A few touches. They gave me more than I ever thought possible. Thank you, stranger. AH.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all of Twilight.
Warning: There are not explicit scenes, but this story deals with emotional events.
"American Airlines flight number 2339 is ready for departure, please ... "
I take notice of the announcement while I scan the list of flights in front of me. My parents' flight should be arriving pretty soon. I got here really early, I didn't want to make them wait, as it often happens.
I'm excited to see them after six months, it had been really too long.
This year, they decided to spend Thanksgiving here in Chicago. I told them it was no problem for me to fly all the way to Seattle, but they insisted, they wanted to see how I was settling here. I'm pretty sure it was more about Mom trying to see if I was eating correctly and if my place has in order. She'll probably be doing some rearrangement of the place and getting me to stock my kitchen.
I'm a 25 year-old man who has his Mom tidy up his apartment. Great.
Having them come here was also convenient for my sisters, Esme and Rose. Esme lives in New York and can barely take time off from the hospital where she and her husband Carlisle work, so coming here to Chicago was a better option for them. Rose lives just outside of Chicago, and today she's at her house making sure everything is ready for my parents' stay. My place is too small for the three of us.
Since I had the day off, it was my job to pick them up from the airport. Not that I minded though.
I scan the screen displaying the flights once and again and I see that their flight is right on time, so I move to grab some coffee and maybe a magazine or something to pass the time.
I buy my coffee and move to one of the many gift shops around me. Jesus, I had never noticed how much you can actually buy in here.
I walk leisurely around and stop at a news-stand. I scan the headlines and I see that as usual there is more trouble in the world. Watching the news always depresses me, so I decide that maybe I need to check the magazines. While I browse through them, I notice a girl talking on the phone near me.
"Yeah, Jake. The flight is right on time, so I'll be home by tonight. I already emailed you this, you know." Sounding exasperated and rolling her eyes, she picks up some chocolate bars and candies, her small carry-on at her feet.
I listen to her talk on the phone and I smile thinking that it sounds a lot like when Mom and I talk. Every time I fly to Seattle, she asks me if the flight is on time or not and to call her every two seconds with new info. It doesn't matter that I email her every single piece of information, she always asks.
"Ok, I'll call you when I get home. Alice is picking me up at the airport." She juggles with her bag, her phone on her shoulder while she takes her wallet out to pay. At the last second, she turns in my direction, without looking at me, and moving a little forward, she picks up a magazine near me.
I don't move while she approaches, I can't. I just stare at this woman in front of me with my coffee in one hand and a magazine of I-have-no-idea-what in the other.
Then, for a brief second she looks at me and and the tiniest of smiles crosses her lips. She looks really pretty like that. It makes her eyes shine and even her pale skin seems to glow under the airport lights. I also notice that she smells amazing.
I want to roll my eyes at my thoughts. Glowing skin? Amazing smell? I just saw the girl and I'm thinking about how she shines. This is great, especially since I'll probably never see her again.
Turning back to pay for her things, she now seems to remember that she had been talking on the phone.
"Um, yeah. Look, I have to go now. I'll see you tonight, Jake. Bye."
This wakes me up from my daydreaming and I feel a little embarrassed at being caught staring at her, even if it was for a brief second. So I turn my eyes and keep my interest in the magazines in front of me, I have no idea what they're about. I don't move; I don't take my eyes away from them. I just wait for the right time to turn again and pray that she doesn't think I'm some sort of airport stalker.
"I think you're Summer." Her soft voice startles me, she's so close to my ear, so I turn in her direction, only to find that she's leaving the stand. She then turns her head in my direction, a few feet away, and winks at me.
All I can do is watch her retreat. Her hips swaying slightly while she pulls her small red carry-on.
She winked at me? And what did I do? Nothing.
After I lose sight of her and the shock of that sexy wink wears off for the moment, I find myself confused by her statement. Summer? What does that mean? How am I summer? It all makes sense when I look back at the magazine I'm holding.
Before I drop it back, I notice something on the cover and laugh loudly, shaking my head at my not-subtle-at-all attempt at being cool.
Are you Summer? Fall? Winter? Spring? Find out which season are you and which colors work on you!
Summer, huh? I have no idea what that means or what to do with that information.
I go back to scan the screens for the flights and on my way there, I can't help but think about that beautiful stranger. Why didn't I ask her for her name? Anything? I could just smack myself sometimes.
While I approach the screens near the gate where I know my parents will arrive soon enough, I notice people running around. It's not unusual for an airport, but these seem more frantic than usual and it doesn't escape me that they are mostly airline people, the airline my parents use.
I see a group of travelers looking up at one of the TVs, watching for the news. When I reach them, I ask a chubby guy for information.
"I'm sorry, but what happened?" I move closer to the TV and the sight there leaves me cold. I don't have to listen for the guy's answer anymore.
There on the TV, the announcer is showing images of an airplane crash. I can only stare at the images and maps and graphics that show where they lost contact with the plane, where they think it went down and what are they doing to get to the site.
I just think about how the families of those passengers must be feeling at the moment, not knowing if there are any survivors, something that doesn't happen very often.
A cold shiver runs through me and thoughts of my parents come to mind. But I push them aside the very next second, it can't be possible, right?
But everything comes crashing down when they reveal the name of the airline and where the plane was coming from.
I have no idea what happens next, all I know is that my feet are moving. I feel my leg muscles straining, pushing forward harder than ever before. My mind doesn't register where exactly I'm going, but somehow my body knows and after a few moments, moments that seem endless, I find myself in front of the counter of the airline.
There are dozens of people already there, all asking for information, any information that gives them hope.
I push my way to the front and ask the two people there question after question, not much different from the ones the rest of the people are asking them, demanding.
What exactly happened? What is the flight number? Are you sure it's the right flight? Can you check if there are any survivors?
I cringe when I hear some of the questions. It only serves to remind me that this is real, that I'm actually here, asking these kinds of questions myself.
They can't tell much, they barely know what happened. Besides, they can't just give information like that to anyone it seems, the families come first.
This only makes people more desperate.
I move away from the crowd, I can't tolerate more of this confusion, and sit near it. I grip my hair with both my hands and rock back and forth.
This can't be happening, this can't be happening. Planes are safe, people all over the world use them daily. These sort of things just don't happen.
But they do.
I think about calling my sisters, maybe they have more info, but then I realize the stupidity of it. How could they have more info? Esme is on her flight from New York at the moment. She was supposed to get here an hour after Mom and Dad so we could all make the trip up to Rose's. And Rose, I'm not even sure if I should call her yet, with her being pregnant.
Also, there is no use in scaring them with something like this if I don't know if it really was their flight.
I pray they made a mistake.
I close my eyes tightly at thinking about that. Their flight. Their flight from Seattle to spend Thanksgiving day with their kids.
My breathing picks up and I feel something burning in my chest.
Christ, I need to calm the fuck down and think.
I come back to the moment and I realize that this part of the airport has considerably quieted down. A few moments ago, all you could hear was desperate shouting and crying and now it's almost like the airport is empty. I look up and I notice everybody in this section watching the TV once again with rapt attention, nobody breathes, nobody moves.
The words 'American Airlines flight 1811' is running at the bottom of the screen while the announcer talks about the accident.
American Airlines flight 1811.
And there I have it, the confirmation that is was their flight all along. They don't talk about survivors and they are already wondering what the hell happened and talking about theories.
It makes me sick to keep watching the screen, to see how they treat this as any other news that will disappear the moment something more 'exciting' comes along.
Honestly, at the moment I don't give a flying fuck what exactly happened, all I can focus on is that my parent's plane fell down from the sky. I don't care how it happened, just that it did.
I rush to my feet and run to the nearest trashcan. Bending over it, my body convulses, trying to empty my stomach's contents. It's not enough though, and after it, it still wants to keep churning, even when there is nothing there. I can only taste bile and the bitterness makes me gag even more.
My ribs hurt from the effort, but I welcome this pain. This, I can handle. This will stop.
After I'm done, I sit by the trashcan and, bending my legs, I rest my elbows on my knees. I try to breathe slowly, but I just vomited, so the taste of it it's still new in my mouth. It barely registers that maybe I should go to the restroom and wash my face and mouth.
I can't though, I can't move from this spot. I don't think I can even move my legs as it is. My muscles now burn from the exertion when I ran here.
I rest my head in between my hands and try to take slow breaths. I can still feel the bitter taste of the bile in my mouth. I want to do something, anything to take my mind off things, but realization descends on me once again that my parents are gone, and I have no one to talk to, no one to help me make sense of this. Not my sisters, not yet.
I've never felt more alone in my life as I do now.
I look down to the shapes and patterns on the carpeted floor. I remember how I used to trace them with the front of my shoes, or follow the lines around our seats when I was little, passing the time while we waited for the plane to take us to Disneyland or some other location.
The pain from that memory makes me halt my movements.
I look up and I see people moving all around. I hear crying and screaming, sounds that only a few minutes ago, held some glimmer of hope and now... now they are desperately looking for this reality not to be true.
This section has been closed, I guess to only let the families be here. I think I heard someone say that they were gonna move us to another more private location.
Does it even matter anyway? Maybe it does, maybe being surrounded by people going through the same thing as I am will help. Or maybe it will make me drown in my own grief and the others as well. I don't know.
Instinctively, my hand starts strumming an unfamiliar tune, something new. I always do that when I'm nervous and Mom starts to hum along with me whenever that happens. I have no idea if it was her following meor the other way around and I just picked up the melody. Either way, she gave me space while I sorted things out in my head. Then, she'd come close and we'd talk about what had been bothering me.
My fingers stop and clench, gripping firmly at my knee. Again, a pain I can stand, even when it will probably leave a mark in the skin there.
"Hey, kiddo. What's wrong?" I hear her say from behind me.
Her voice is so calm and soft, I instantly feel at ease. She's the only one who really listens to me when I need to be listened to.
"Nothing," I lie. I don't know why I do it, she doesn't believe me, she never does when she sees my hand moving on my knee.
"Really? What's that new tune then?"
I knew it.
I stop the movement. I want to smile at her question.
"I don't know. Something. Whatever."
"Mhmm." She sits down next to me on the porch and we stay in silence for a while. She doesn't say anything, just drinks her hot tea quietly. The air is a little cold so I cross my arms over my chest. I should've sulked inside.
"Heidi said no when I asked her out today," I whisper. I'm so hurt and embarrassed.
"Yeah, she said she didn't want to go out with me and that she liked Felix instead. I felt like such a fool, standing there asking her to go to the movies with me and she just dismissed me like I was nothing."
I'm angry at her, not because she doesn't return my feelings, I'm angry because she always seemed like she did like me back. Always laughed at my jokes, touched my arm. Was she playing with me all this time?
I'm such a moron.
"You know the first time your Dad asked me out I told him no?"
"What?" I'm surprised, I think what I said is more important than her first date with Dad.
"I told him no, that I needed time and I wasn't ready to date yet. I was sixteen at the time. I thought I was being so nice and mature about it, but in reality, I was scared out of my mind about him. So the only thing that made sense at the moment, was pushing him away."
"Great, Mom. And how does that help me exactly?" God, I'm being an asshole and she's just trying to help her emo kid.
"That's ok, but next time I won't let it slide." She sounds firm, yet she smiles.
"As I was saying, I did what I thought was best for me at the moment. That's what we do when we're scared. Some cry, others lash out and some people build a wall. Has Heidi ever given you any indication that she liked this Felix kid?"
I think for a moment.
"No, I guess. She seemed to really like me, I even heard that from her friends."
"Did you talk to her afterwards?"
"No." I scowl. I mean, really? "No way I was going back to her after she said that."
"If she gave you no reason to think she didn't like you, then why did she say those things? I think you should go and ask her personally. If there is anything I remember from high school is that gossip can be pretty awful. Don't ask around, ask her."
I nod, it makes some sense, but I'm so embarrassed, how can I call her now?
"Do it, sweetie. Worse comes to worse, she'll tell you the same she did before."
"Great, 'cause that's what I want, to hear her rejection again." I grumble.
"I have a feeling that won't happen, sweetie." She hugs me and even though I usually shy away from her when she does it, it's kinda embarrassing; I embrace her back. She smells of oranges and it's so warm.
Before long, my sisters come home from their dates and work and everything is chaos at the house again, with them talking about their day and me eating half the apple pie Mom made earlier.
Mom had been right. When I called Heidi that night, she didn't reject me. It turned out she heard a rumor about me liking another girl and that hurt her. Gossip waspretty awful in high school.
And after today, those talks with her will never happen again.
I sigh and close my eyes; I'm tired already.
However, that innocent sigh doesn't come out like that, and it's more like the beginning of a sob trying to escape my chest.
That sends me into panic. I can't lose it here, I can't lose it in a crowded airport. But remembering Mom and the times she made me feel better, I know I won't be able to keep it down any longer. At least not all of it.
I get up from the floor and look for a more secluded place. I can't start falling apart here, with so many people around me.
I scan the area and I notice an empty corner to my right. It's a counter to one of the small airlines that it's closed so the seats near it are all empty.
I walk hastily towards it. My legs feel cramped, but instead of stopping me, the pain only serves to push me further, to focus on a different kind of pain, one I can handle. I feel my chest tightening up and I can feel something is trying to make its way out of my chest. Inch by inch traveling up my chest and throat. Any second, it will reach my mouth and lips and I won't be able to stop it.
Once I make it to the area, I sit on the floor at the foot of the row of seats, my face facing the window to the outside. I breath in and out, in and out but after a few seconds the tightening gets unbearable, it needs to release.
I close my eyes tightly, but there is no use in it. I know it because I start feeling warm drops hitting my hands that are gripping my knees. When I open them, I can see the tears making their way down the sides of each hand, leaving a trace behind and falling to the carpeted floor.
One by one, staining the carpet, leaving a darker circle.
I try to wipe them, but more take their place, the action useless. Like a leaking faucet, they keep falling and falling.
At realizing the inevitability of this, I can't keep in the sob that chokes me and the loud sound fills the small area where I'm sitting.
Tears keep falling, now more freely, and sounds so foreign that had I not known they were coming out of my mouth, I'd think there was a wounded animal in the corner. The bawling does nothing to stop the ache in my chest, the sharp sting that I fear will never stop.
I just want to feel numb, but the numbness doesn't come. Instead, every second that passes the pain increases and pulsates in my chest and in my head. For a moment I feel like I'm drowning in my own tears, choking on my own sobs, desperately trying to get some air inside. The thought that perhaps once I stop breathing this will all stop makes its way into my mind, and it scares me, it scares me that I actually consider that an option to stop the pain.
I don't know how long I stay like that, how much time passes when all I do is feel this unbearable loss. My parents, Memories invade my mind and that only makes it worse.
Baseball games with Mom cheering me on and Dad recording every move.
Birthdays with my Dad barbecuing and Mom smiling right next to me and the cake she baked.
Me getting home at 1AM only to find Mom sitting at the kitchen table, sipping tea and waiting for me to be home safe and sound.
My Dad's advice on dates and how embarrassing that had been.
Their big smiles when I graduated and came to Chicago.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
No, no, no.
But then, in between these memories, I slowly start to calm down. My lungs don't struggle so hard to take deep breaths and the stinging in my eyes is not so strong anymore. Warmth spreads through my body, one that starts at my left shoulder and it's nothing like I've felt before. This warm sensation is actually soothing and calming.
Little by little I come back to the here and now.
When I'm able to take in my surroundings, I remember that I'm in a secluded space at the airport, but unlike when I got here, I now notice that I'm not alone.
That soothing warmth I had been feeling starting at my left shoulder, is actually the calming movements of a hand doing circles there and on my back. A hand that repeats its actions until I'm breathing evenly.
It's just for a few moments, but that movement makes me forget why I'm here. It feels like when Mom does it whenever I'm sick or sad. One of the many ways she has to reach me.
Only does it's not the right word. Everything will be didfrom now on. Every single verb I use from now on when I talk about her and Dad will be in past tense, never present or even the slight hope of a future.
From now on, they are in the past.
Another sob chokes me just thinking if it's me leaving thembehind from now, moving on into a future they'll never be a part of, or if it's the other way around and it's them leaving me behind here. I don't know which one is worse.
"Shhh." I hear a soft voice coming from my left. It startles me and every sound stops as I turn in that direction.
I found warm eyes looking back at me, much like the warmth I feel from her hand that keeps rubbing my shoulder and back. That's the feeling that had been pulling me away from the intense pain.
She looks so sad, and even through my tear filled eyes, I can tell that she's trying to hold back her own tears.
I pray it's not for the same reason I'm holed up here.
"What are you doing here?" my voice sounds hoarse and my throat hurts from the effort to just utter these simple words.
"I saw the commotion at the counter and then the TV. I saw you running this way too. I put two and two together and-" She stops, she doesn't have to say anything more.
I see that her carry-on is sitting right next to her and she looks exactly the way I saw her earlier, yet she doesn't, really. She had been playful and her voice had been like a sweet melody that I was sure would haunt me for years. Now, she's serious and concerned, her happy smile from before gone.
Had my life changed that much in just under an hour?
Just by looking at her face, I can tell that it has. I wonder what my eyes must tell her.
I nod at her words, but don't turn my head from her. Her hand doesn't stop moving and even though things in my life changed drastically, I want to hold onto this tiny ray of warming light.
We're almost at eye level, sitting side by side, and even in the state that I'm in, I can see that she's more beautiful than I originally thought.
Long chocolate tresses falling down her back and sides in long waves. Pale skin that shines with the light coming from outside the airport. She looks a little disheveled, airports can do that to you, but it somehow fits her, as if in the tiny chaos of her clothes and hair, hides even greater beauty. I want to be the one discovering it.
What draws me in the most though, are her eyes. Pools of dark green water with sapphire streaks swimming in them. It's like a staring at a calm ocean under the sun, the light making it shine. They look so open and honest; it's like I know she won't lie to me and it makes me not hide anything from her.
I could've fallen for this girl right here at the airport. Now? I have no idea what will happen.
I shake my head for a second. I can't believe I'm thinking about this girl when my life has changed so much in the past hour. What would my parents think at this awful behavior?
"Are you feeling better?" I feel like snorting at her question, but come to think of it, I do feel better since she sat next to me. So I nod.
We stare in silence for minutes, I think, just her presence seems to calm me and I embrace that feeling thoroughly. Everything outside this little bubble will bring only pain and confusion. With her, there's only calm and peace.
"Would you like something to eat? I bought way too many chocolates for my trip." She asks and moves to get her bag.
Before I can answer her, she pulls out a few candy bars. I recognize them to be the ones she bought earlier.
I take the Snickers bar but don't move to open it.
"Nice choice." She takes one for herself.
I never take my eyes away from her while she unwraps hers and starts eating. Her pink lips make a small pout around the chocolate bar when she bites a piece. Then, she closes her eyes for a brief second, taking so much joy in a simple sweet treat. The action makes me want to taste her.
Who is this girl?
What does she want with me? She saw me running here and now what? She wanted to comfort me? She already did, she still is even when she doesn't know it. Maybe she wants to ask questions. Maybe she's a reporter, trying to talk to the families of the victims.
I swallow hard and calm down when I realize the ridiculousness of that thought. I met her earlier and she doesn't look like she's trying to be here for any ulterior motive.
"Thanks." She turns to me and looks confused. "For the chocolate, thank you." I wave the bar in front of her, but I still don't open it.
She nods and sits back to keep eating.
We still don't say anything to each other, as we both turn to look out the window. I can see planes coming and going in different directions. I almost feel like choking again, what were the odds that one of those would crash today and my parents would be in there.
I probably must've read that number at one point in my life, not caring about it if it didn't touch me. Now, those odds havechanged my life.
"My flight is running late today." She says out of the blue.
I snort and continue to look into the outside. That's her biggest concern?
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"Don't, don't say anything, please." It's barely a whisper and when I see her nodding at my side, I know she understands that I can't talk about this. I don't want to hear her say she's sorry for my loss or anything to do with that, not yet.
Once again, we fall into silence, the only sounds are the ones from the busy airport, that for some reason, feels far away. I also hear the wrapper from her chocolate bar and at this moment, that's the only thing I can focus on, something simple and trivial.
"I can't believe the prices at airports, I should've bought these chocolates downtown, but I was already running late for my flight, so I had to buy them here. I could've bought so many more with the same amount of money." She whines, but keeps eating her chocolate.
"I know, but it wouldn't have killed you to wait until you got to your own city." I finally turn my face to her and arch an eyebrow. I'm teasing her, I know I would die without something to eat when I travel.
"What? Are you crazy? Who travels without something delicious in their bags?" She looks utterly shocked at that thought.
"Well, a lot of people, I might guess. I mean, it's only a few hours up in the air."
"Pff, no way. I bet everyone in here has something stashed."
"Mhhmm. Even that guy over there?" I point to this short bald guy with a briefcase and a small bag. He's wearing a suit and from the looks of it, he's on a business trip.
"Yes, even him. I bet he has something with peanut butter." She taps her chin and looks really serious assessing the guy.
"How would you know that?"
"He looks like the type. Besides, he seems to be traveling for business so I bet he's always on the move. Of course he needs something sweet to calm him and also something with calories to get him through it all. So peanut butter it is."
I stopped looking at the guy, now I'm just looking at her. That's what she gets from barely thirty seconds of looking at him?
When I turn again, we both see him taking something out of his pocket. This girl turns to me and smirks. An 'I told you so' probably close to her lips.
'Business guy' is unwrapping a '5th Avenue' peanut butter bar.
"Wow, you people watch like the best."
"Thank you, thank you very much." She tries to impersonate Elvis, with a little shake of her hips, even if we're sitting on the floor.
It's that silly movement that makes me laugh, hard. Here she is, this beautiful and funny girl, sitting on the floor at the airport, spending time with a guy who not ten minutes ago was a crying mess.
That laughter soon turns into crying. It hurts so much to laugh, to actually feel happy for a few seconds and then have it rip away at the memory of the reason I'm here in the first place.
I can't stop it anymore and much like before, I find myself choking with tears and sounds coming from deep down. I can't breathe, I can't swallow, I can't even feel my body anymore. That's the only welcoming thing, the numbness of my limbs.
The next second, in this painful fog, I hear a voice urging me on, not to stop, but to go on, to let everything out. How I wish that was possible, how I wish that after purging this pain in my body and what feels like my soul, it would disappear. The reality that it won't happen like that makes me sob even harder.
"Mom!" I scream into the house. I want my Mom.
I'm hugging my knee and I feel hot and sticky blood in between my fingers. I look down and everything is red. My eyes sting and I wipe them with my other hand. Only babies cry.
"Edward!" Mom comes and starts asking me what happened.
"I fell." Stupid bicycle, stupid Emmett for daring me to jump over the ramp like he does.
Mom takes off her apron and wraps it around my knee. She then helps me inside, to the back of the house and into the kitchen.
She picks me up and sits me at the counter. She always says that I can't sit here but I guess it's ok now.
"What were you thinking, Edward?" She looks mad when she comes back with the first aid kit from the bathroom.
"Emmett said that I was a baby for not jumping the ramp like him and his friends. I just wanted to do it so I can show him next time." Emmett is four years older and he always leaves me behind.
"But Emmett is older, sweetheart. There are things you're gonna have to wait until you're older to do." It stings when she cleans my knee.
"But he always plays without me, Mom. Now he's always with Rose."
"Sometimes kids want to play with kids their own age, Edward. Would you play with Eric down the street?"
"No way, Mom. He's a baby." He's always following me around.
"He's younger than you are but he always wants to play with you. He's also four years younger than you."
"But he's a baby," I whisper. Now, I feel bad for him.
"And now that Emmett is growing up, he'll be spending more time with your sister as well. You'll understand when the time comes."
"Eww, Mom. No way." Girls are gross, I don't know why Emmett always spends his time with Rose. She's no fun.
"Well, I'm a girl. I'm not so bad, right?"
"You're a Mom, not a girl." I roll my eyes.
"Geez, thanks, kiddo."
She cleans my knee and puts stuff on the wound. It's not bleeding anymore.
"It hurts, Mom."
"I know, sweety, I know. But after we clean it and I make sure it won't get infected, you'll be as good as new."
"What if I'm not? What if it hurts forever?"
"When did you become so dramatic, my dear? It's not gonna last forever, nothing does."
Nothing lasts forever?
"But you'll be here forever, right?" Of course, she and Dad will be here forever.
She sighs and sets the things next to me. She has the serious face, the one she has when she talks to me about something bad I did.
"Well, I'll be with you as long as you and your sisters need me. I don't know how long will that be, but it won't be forever."
"Are you gonna go like Nana did?" Mom was really sad about that. I don't wanna be sad.
"One day that will happen, yes. But not for a very long time. There is a lot I need to do yet and I could never leave you and your sisters alone."
My eyes sting again.
"Don't cry, my boy. It won't happen for a long time. You'll be sad, but then you'll be better, you'll have your sisters and you'll have friends to be there with you. And you know what?" I shake my head.
"I'll always be here," she taps my head. "And here as well." She puts her hand on my heart.
"Every time you want to see me, you just have to close your eyes and I'll be there. Your Dad too. So maybe we will be there forever, you just won't see us." She kisses my nose and I hug her.
I never like it when she does it in front of my friends, but we're alone here. So that's ok.
"I love you, Edward. Always and forever."
"I love you too Mom."
Later that day, I invite Eric to play with my cars and eat cookies. He's not so bad after all.
"Mom, Dad." The only words I can say through this, over and over again. Did they get to do everything they wanted in life? Is that why they were taken away from us?
I feel my head resting on something soft and when I open my eyes, I hadn't noticed they were closed, I feel myself resting on her lap, her hands running through my hair. It feels so good, every pass of her fingers bringing me back to reality.
The sounds around me get louder and the sight in front of me clearer. We're still on the floor, her legs extended in front of her with me curled at her side.
"I lost my husband last year." She says after I stop crying. She's seen me sob like a baby two times in the past hour and for some reason, the thought doesn't bother me. She listens and calms and her mere presence is enough to make me feel like there might be light at the end of this.
I just listen to her, much like she did for me.
"We got married so young, at eighteen, fresh out of high school. Everyone told us it wouldn't last, but we were in love and thought things would last forever." She never stops with her hand on my hair.
"Two years later, the doctors found a tumor in his brain. He had been having awful headaches and blurred vision. We never thought it would be that bad. Yet, that's what happened, life decided other things for us.
"It was fast, that thing in his brain, not even a year later and I was losing him to it. He fell asleep one night and never woke up again."
I shut my eyes tightly, she saw him dying slowly in front of her eyes. Is that better than what happened to me, to lose someone swiftly and without warning but having the memory of them young and happy?
"I got to say goodbye to him though; we knew that he was dying soon. That tumor left him blind and then other tumors appear, he just-" I hear her taking a few breaths.
"He was so mad at himself for not beating them, for not letting him stick to the plans we had made together."
I think about her words, what she went through. A whole future gone when her husband got sick, plans that now will never be, at least not with him and that's not the same. She got to say goodbye but she also saw him winding down through almost a year.
I can't compare her pain to mine, for I don't think is comparable.
I have thousands of memories with my parents, they got see almost every important passage of my life. But in the end, it still hurts that they'll miss even more now: my marriage, Rose's kid in a couple of months, Esme's opening of her own practice.
"It gets better, you know. The pain never goes away completely, but it gets bearable. Not a stab in your chest that doesn't let you breathe, but more a of dull ache that is always present. And sometimes, you even get to forget that it's there in the first place."
I keep my eyes to my front, right where I can see her sneakers. I follow the pattern drawn in them and see the way her shoelaces are tied. She does a double knot. I smile remembering that Mom used to do the same for me growing up.
"Does it really get better? It doesn't feel like it." I say.
"It does, believe me." And I do. "Moving forward is not easy, but it's what you have to do. For yourself, for them."
I think of my sisters and how much they'll need me for support now. I know I'm the youngest but they were really close to Mom, always sharing stories and all those things that mothers and daughters do. I think about Rose and how excited she was that Mom and Dad would get to see the nursery.
They need me now, more than ever, I need to step up and be the man my parents raised me to be.
Right now though, I feel like I want someone to take care of me instead. When this girl leaves, I'll have to face reality and make calls and arrangements that I never wanted to have to make in the first place. Right now, I'm alone in this, completely alone trying to push through it.
But with her by my side, it feels a little like there might be hope for me and my sisters after all.
"Tell me about them." She asks and I think she's smiling.
I smile too.
"Mom is always taking care of us, me and my sisters. I'm the youngest of three. Esme is the oldest, she's a doctor in New York married to another doctor. Rose comes next, she lives outside of Chicago, she's a lawyer. She's pregnant at the moment with her first kid and once the baby comes, she'll be a stay-at-home Mom. My parents are coming for Thanksgiving and to stay with her until the baby comes.
"Dad is a great guy, strict, more so when dealing with two girls like my sisters." I laugh; they gave him a hard time as teenagers. "They are always taking trips together, just having fun now that they're alone in the house. I'm always getting emails with photos attached of them goofing around."
I stop and I grip her knee near me.
Is, was, are, were. Again, painful to remember that they're all wrong, even the ones that I should use. There is nothing right about a 'was' when I think of Mom and Dad.
"It's ok, you're doing fine. Go on."
And I do, I tell this stranger stories about my parents and my sisters.
How we used to spend time at the beach each summer, Mom running around behind me and trying to get me to put on sun block. Dad helping me build sand castles while checking on my sisters and the guys that came close to them. All the ball games Dad took me to and all the food he used to buy for me, with Mom not so happy when I kept her up all night while I was sick from said food.
We laugh when I tell her of those times when Dad asked me, or more like bribed me, to keep an eye on my sisters when my parents weren't at home. Of course, my Dad didn't know that they also paid me to stay quiet.
All the while, her hand doesn't stop in my hair and I notice that I'm now stroking her knee. At one point, I sit up and then we're both settled face to face, with our legs crossed. I like this better, I can see her face clearly and her reactions when I tell her a particular story.
I like that, seeing her face and the expressions reflected there. Even her pouting over the fact that she ate all her chocolate bars is interesting to watch.
I found it adorable.
Her eyes always shine when she laughs, with a little golden circle around them. They narrow when I tell her the pranks I used to play on my sisters. Small lines form near her mouth when she smiles and fade a moment later. I can tell she'll have those in years to come, and I bet she won't try to hide them.
I can see what she means though, when she talked about the pain of her husband's death. Her eyes are simply bright when she looks at me, but at moments I feel like there is more to them, almost like she's forcing herself to be happy for a few seconds. She still struggles, and it's been only a year for her. I wonder how I'll look a year from now.
Will whatever light in my eyes I have fade away? Will I force myself to smile in front of my sisters so that they can also move on?
In the middle of a story, she takes one of my hands in hers. I stop for a second with what I've been saying at look at them, tangled in the space between us. It doesn't feel foreign, it actually feels like they belong together like that.
Her eyes shyly look for any kind of reaction on my part, and I give her one: I tighten my hold.
After that, we continue to talk about family and friends, never breaking the contact with our hands. Hers are so soft under my fingers, that when a particular line or memory brings me back to my current situation, I calm myself by simply stroking them. It's almost like a security blanket, the pain of this day lessens even for a short moment.
"So yeah, now I live with a friend back in San Francisco. I'll be graduating next year and hopefully land job in that city as well. My Dad would happy about that." She laughs.
I'm glad her family supports her with everything. She even had to drop out of college for a while to take care of her husband.
We stare at each other after she says that. Maybe there is nothing more to say, maybe there's simply too much to say still and we feel like there is no time for it. I can't believe how life works sometimes, how could I meet this woman on the most heart-wrenching and loneliest day of my life. How could her sole presence made me feel like things might be ok again?
I look at her lips and the way they curve and how red they look when she talks passionately about something. How she flushes when she can't catch her breath from all the things she's telling me. I know it's wrong and it's the worst moment to even think about this, but I want to kiss her. I want to know if her lips will have the same effect that her hands had during the past hours.
I think she might want the same when I see her eyeing my lips. There is something stopping her though. Of course, she doesn't want to push the guy who just lost his parents and also, we've just met.
But slowly, I lean forward. I want this, I need this.
When our lips meet, I know that her touch has nothing on this. This is softer, her lips are sweeter than any chocolate bar; she even tastes of it from the bar she ate earlier. With slow motions we mold to each other, never hurrying the kiss, unwilling to let go.
It's all so warm and we tilt our heads to deepen it, which sends a new jolt of sensations through my body.
This might be the best kiss I've ever had with anyone.
When we stop, our foreheads touch and I get to see her eyes up close when I open my eyes. That golden ring I saw earlier in them is now so bright and almost spreading and mixing with the green and sapphire I saw earlier in them. They look so happy and clear, I know there is no sadness behind them at this moment.
Small lines appear at the corners of her eyes and I notice that she's smiling, much like I am. It's those lines that I want to kiss now, those lines that show just how happy she can be.
It makes me feel warm to think that ourkiss did this for her. That it made her happy.
The moment breaks when I hear some commotion at her back, near the counter of my parents' flight. When I break my stare and look, there is a woman talking to the passengers and redirecting them somewhere else. I think that's my cue to leave.
I sigh defeated, our time is over. I feel disgusted by my actions. I shouldn't be kissing girls at airports like this, but at the same time, I can't find it in me to be really sorry about it. My Mom's smile comes to mind.
"I have to go, they probably have some news." Our foreheads rest with each other and again, I seem to be stuck in this place and time.
"I know and I need to catch my flight."
I nod, there is nothing to do to stop this.
Reluctantly, we stand up and after I help her with her bags, we walk back to where I see people from the airline talking.
"Wait here for a moment, please?" I tell her, almost begging. I can't let her go just yet, but I need information.
"Okay, I'll be here."
I ask the people from the airline what happens now. After I tell them that my parents were on the plane and show them my ID, they tell me I have to go to a private lounge where they'll be giving information only to relatives.
I go back to her and tell her that I need to go now.
"I understand. Hey, things will be okay. You have your sisters and people who love you, let them take care of you as well." She reads me very well from just a short time talking.
"Thank you for everything, I mean it." I truly do, more than she can imagine.
We hug and her body feels so small against my own, but with curves that mold to my own body and fit with my arms around her. She might look small, but she's been through a lot despite being so young.
I hope I can be that strong for my family.
"And be careful, okay?" I tell her with a hint of fear in my voice. The thought of anyone getting on a plane right now makes me panic, but her? ... it's too much.
"I will be, don't worry." She gives me a sad smile. "Take care, please. Goodbye."
I kiss her one more time and even though this time, the kiss is so much better than before, my lips already crave hers, I start to feel the finality of it all. We're simply going down two different roads and I don't know if they'll cross again.
I release her and her hands are the last contact I have with her as she backs away.
I see her go and follow her figure until I lose her in the crowd. Even then, I stand in the middle of the airport staring at the last place I saw her.
With a final sigh, I head for the counter and follow the instructions they give me. Once I'm alone, I get a text from Esme and I tell her where to go. I can't tell her this over a text, even over the phone. She's probably hearing it here at the airport already, but I still need to tell her what I know at least.
I sit on one of the couches in this private lounge and stare at the floor, I don't want to make contact with anyone else. I hear people crying or talking in whispers. The somber atmosphere is dense in here, oppressing me. I'd get out of here if it weren't for the fact that I'll get more information this way.
I feel something uncomfortable on my seat and then I notice something in my back pocket. When I get it out, I smile seeing the Snickers bar that I never ate. This chocolate will be forever bittersweet from now on.
It hits me at that moment that I never got her name, and I never gave her mine. The connection was so instant, we just started talking like we already knew each other. Names weren't even necessary, pointless even.
This was the way it needed to happen. Maybe my path crossed with hers at this exact moment so she could give me light and hope and now we move on in separate ways. But even if I don't know her name, I'll never forget her. Ever.
She let me cry in a crowded airport, at the worst moment of my life. She understood what I was going through and she cared enough to stay by my side and in the end, she gave me hope when I thought nothing would get it back.
Thank you for your words that gave me light.
Thank you for your touch that soothed my pain.
Thank you for simply being there.
Thank you, stranger. I'll never forget you.
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