"Gone." This was the first word she uttered as I walked through her door. "Gone. No--no--it's--He can't be dead!"
She gaped at her mother in horror. I could feel the emotions developing within her; fear gave way to astonishment and incredulity, while her heart slowly crumbled beneath the weight of growing grief. And there was something else. Something that pained me to see her bear, as much as it pained her to bear it: guilt.
Her mother murmured, "He never opened his eyes after the ambulance took him. He was dead before they got to the hospital."
"That's impossible! He can't--no, he can't be!" She was fighting to keep her voice level, but it was fluctuating dangerously.
"I don't know what I can say, Gwen. But it's true. He's gone."
The tears began to flow freely now. For a moment she could only reiterate the word, "No. No, no, no . . ." Then her face fell into her hands and the first sob shook her.
Her mother sat by her side and put her arms around her small shoulders. I seated myself on her other side and did the same, but neither paid me any heed.
"It's wrong," she gasped. "It's impossible. He--if he hadn't--If he hadn't pushed me out of the way--the car would have hit me. I--I should have been the one--I should have been lying there--looking up at him--but because of m-me--"
She broke down completely. "I loved him!" she wailed. "He can't be gone!" Her voice shattered. Her body convulsed as weeping overtook her.
I leaned closer, wrapping my arms more tightly around her. "I loved you too," I whispered. "You know I did. And I still do."
Her head turned sharply, searching the room for the source of the voice. It brought a twisting strain to my chest. Could she really not see me beside her?
I felt my throat choking with sorrow, but I forced out the words: "I'm sorry I had to leave you, Gwen. But you can't blame yourself. I don't regret what I did. It was my choice, and I'd do it again, for you."
"It--it can't be," she said, half to herself. "He's dead!"
Her mother misinterpreted. "Yes, he is. But he's not exactly gone. You know that, don't you? He's somewhere still, and if I know him half as well as you, I'm sure he's waiting for you."
Gwen nodded. "I'm sure he is. And if he can do that--I--I can wait for him."
I rose sharply, unsteadily, to my feet. Somehow, that hurt more than anything. I couldn't allow her to throw away her life for me; even if I had, mine for hers. I was dead. I couldn't let her live as if she were, too.
I drifted through the wall into the next room and to the telephone. I didn't bother picking it up; I didn't think I could anyway. I just walked straight into it.
It was effortless. I felt my mind flying to where I willed it. The phone only rang twice before a young man answered it.
I pushed down the old acrimonies rising within me. This was the only option. No more were we rivals in love, but two men with one in common; and only one of us had the beating heart to give it.
I said, "Hi, Lance. Did you hear about Gwen?"
"N-no. What about her?"
"Well, not her exactly. Her friend, Arthur."
His voice became cold. "No, I haven't heard anything about him."
"He's dead." I paused, letting the astonishing words sink in with a cruel satisfaction. "He got hit by a car. He saved her life."
"My--God! Is--is she okay?"
I said, "She's not hurt. Well, not physically. But her heart's taken a bruising."
His tone wavered. "Yeah, I--yeah, I know how she felt about him."
"But what she needs right now is a friend, Lance. Maybe--something more than that?"
"I don't know if--"
"Go to her, Lance."
There was silence. Finally he said, "Okay. I will."
"She needs you."
"I'll go right now. Goodb--Hold on. Who is this, anyway?"
I merely answered, "That doesn't matter. Just go to her."
I withdrew. If words can describe what I did, I evanesced, remolding in her room. She was in her mother's arms, crying vehemently, exactly as I had left her.
I called to my mind the moment. Perhaps I really did go back to it, as physically, at least, as I stood beside her now. I saw the car coming, as clearly as I had that night. I saw her standing there, frozen like a deer. I heard the screeching of wheels, I felt my legs move as they had never moved before and never would again, I felt her in my arms as I lifted her and flung her to the side. And then I felt the pain all over again, exploding throughout my body.
The next thing I knew she was by my side. I heard her speak as if from far away, almost as I can only hear her now. "No--Arthur, no! Are you all right?"
It was an irrational question, and we both knew it. I gave an answer we both knew to be false. "Yeah--yeah, I'll be fine." The weak groan belied my words.
"You have to be," she pleaded. "You can't--Don't--Please, you have to be all right!"
"Don't worry," I said. I fixed my gaze on her face, absorbing for one more time every portion of her aspect. "I'll always be here for you. I promise." And then I had closed my eyes for the last time. The last feeling I remember was of her lips against mine, of her tears rolling down my face, and of her arms around me.
I had always known I couldn't live without her. I wouldn't have to, now; but no matter what I felt, I couldn't let her live without someone.
What really surprised me, though, was how easily tears could flow from eyes that would never open. A heart that no longer beats can still be broken.
For a moment longer my eyes lingered on her gracile form. Even wacked as it was with woe, even with her face hidden, her beauty was peerless. It shattered me.
My voice quaked as I said, "I'll always be here for you." I turned away. "For both of you."
And then I evanesced into the night, leaving nothing left of myself in the world but a tear dropped on a young woman's floor. Nothing but that . . . and a promise.
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith