|"Trees on Lawn" by Stone Barn Farms|
The day is warm, the skies clear and blue. He leans against the thick old oak tree as the gentle breeze passes through its leaves, like a lover running hands through hair. Some of the leaves are loosed, sent drifting aimlessly in the breeze. The lawn upon which he stands is perfectly maintained, lush and freshly cut, and he enjoys the natural aroma. He pays attention to little else, waiting patiently.
He closes his eyes but only for a moment, relishing the sound of her voice on the wind. He smiles, opening his eyes and looking to the right, where she had appeared. She looks exactly has he remembered, with long strawberry blonde hair blowing across her face. She smiles at him, her eyes shining as they always had, but more brightly now. Everything about her is amplified. She's dressed in a simple, sleeveless white dress and caresses the tree trunk as she moves around it. He looks at her, barely restraining his enthusiasm. "Hi." He replied breathlessly.
He takes a step towards her. She becomes apprehensive, and steps back. "No..." She says sadly, holding up her hands. He stops cold. "I mean..." She continues, "You know I want to, but...we can't. You know that."
He nods, taking a deep breath to keep the emotions at bay. He does know that.
"Okay." He agrees, as he forces a smile.
She points at the bouquet of yellow flowers clasped in his left hand. "Are those for me?"
He had forgotten about them for a moment. He looks down at them and smiles. "Oh. Um, yeah."
Her eyes shine as she looks up at him. "My favorite color. You remembered."
"Like I'd ever forget..."
Unable to take his eyes from her, he resumes leaning against the tree, placing his hands in his pockets. "How have you been?"
She sighs happily, her face beaming. Her shoulders rise and fall as she cherishes the fresh air. "I can't even begin to describe it to you..." She muses. "I guess...peace. That's the only word that comes to mind. Peace. It doesn't hurt anymore."
He nods, happy that she has finally escaped the madness that had plagued her entire life.
Then she looks at him, a great sadness in her eyes. "But I see you, too. They let me check in on you sometimes. You're not doing well, are you?"
He knew he wasn't. His clothes are worn and disheveled. He rarely does laundry anymore. He's lost contact with friends and family. He only does the bare minimum to maintain employment.
There is just no reason to keep going. Not anymore.
"I miss you." He confesses, his voice cracking.
She cocks her head as she used to when he stepped out of line. That had always been part of their magic.
There had been disagreements, sure, but no yelling, no hurting one another. "You can't fall apart now." She whispers, "You still have a lot to do." She smiles and continues, "More than you know. And when you're done, I'll be waiting for you."
The wind blows sharply. Their time is almost up.
Hell with it.
He steps off of the tree, and moves towards her. Again, she backs away.
"Please." He persists.
She looks up at him with great longing and says, "You know what this means, right? We give up a year..." She hesitates before continuing, "...and you give up one year of your life." She lowers her head and maintains eye contact. "Are you sure you want to do that?"
He nods quickly without hesitation. "Absolutely."
She smiled again, closed her eyes, and raised her head. The wind blew gradually this time, catching her hair and dress and billowing them.
She opened her eyes and held out her hands. "Okay."
He steps forward, placing his hands on her hips as she hooks her hands under his arms. He closes his eyes as she lay her head upon his chest, running her hands up and down her back.
After a moment, she pulls away and looks up at him with narrowed, inviting eyes. He lowers his head to hers, first gently pressing his lips to hers and then pushing fully as she returns the gesture. He inhales deeply, taking her in.
The moment ends as quickly as it began. She pulls away and whispered. "I'll see you in two years. Hold together for me."
And just like that, she is gone. His arms collapse against his own body as she vanishes, once again, from the world.
There are no words to convey how hollow he always feels when their time together comes to an end. After nearly a decade of this arrangement, the sting has yet to subside. He would never get used to this.
He turns and picks up the yellow flowers he had set at the base of the tree. He walks a few feet and places them atop the bronze grave plate that bore the name of the only woman he'd ever truly loved
He sniffs, unable to keep the tears at bay. "I'll keep going...and I'll see you soon." He promised.
With that, he turns, and exits the cemetery.