A story about choices.
It was the kind of day where the air pressed your skin with its heat. The fiery sun stung my cheeks as I hurried the last couple steps into the old barn. The only place in town I felt steady. The intense heat did not drop away in the shelter of the shadows. It clung to my body just like the heavy burden of my emotions. I could not seem to catch my breath lately-on the inside was a whirlwind of chaos-on the outside, my perfectly calm demeanor.
Nausea played with my stomach as I scrutinized my old sanctuary. A frown forced its way onto my face. The barn was old but still tolerably preserved, the red paint chipping away to reveal the weathered wood beneath. The floor revealed bits of granulated hay and other debris carried in from the new residents. It smelled decaying and wet, something that never used to bother me.
Without a sound, I turn to the steps leading up to the old hayloft. It is unimpressive on the inside, but when you push open the big door up there-you get the best view in town. Clear blue skies that look like the ocean, especially on a stifling day such as this one. Rolling hills of wheat that burned orange when the setting sun cut across the fields. I shake clean the blanket I store up here before throwing it out-covering the floor. I plop down, pulling my knees to my chest-resting my chin there, thinking I could physically stop myself from falling apart long enough to get through the next couple of hours before everything would change.
“Hey.” His voice severing my thoughts grants a painful fluttering in my chest. I want to reach into my ribs and rip the traitorous heart away-but I do not. Instead, I throw a, “hey” back over my shoulder casually. That word brings him closer-that word makes him take his usual seat next to me on the floor of that old loft-in the old decaying barn. He is too close with his arm pressing against mine. The feel of it sends my left side on fire. I feel like I am falling out of a plane with no parachute. I quickly talk myself out of throwing up directing my attention to a spider building its web to the right. Focused in the opposite direction of Gavin-my exterior was painted with indifference at his arrival.
“I was a little surprised that you asked to see me, tomorrow being the big day and all.” Gavin cracked the stretch of silence between us carefully. This is how it was between us now- a floor of eggshells.
“I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to my best friend, could I?” I lightly drive my shoulder into his in an attempt to throw the tension out of us, “The only person who kept me sane all these years in this terrible town.” I make my voice light to disguise the screaming in my head. My fingers lace tighter around my legs to stop their itching towards his-casually picking at the blanket. When Gavin does not immediately respond, I cautiously turn my head to look in his direction-regret finds me. His brown eyes meet mine with the sun hitting them perfectly-melting together like fresh honey. Trapped there, I can see everything he feels-I can see the battle he is fighting, and it almost breaks me-but I refuse to give, as I straighten my back to look out across the distance, running from the betrayal in his eyes.
“Do you love him?” Gavin pushes me closer to destruction. I have to take three long breathes before I allow myself to speak.
“Of course, I love him. I'm marrying him.” I offer quietly, allowing some anger to lace my words in an attempt to hide the pain that is there underneath everything else. Of Course, I repeat to myself over and over again to try and force myself to believe it was true.
“Look at me.” Gavin lifts my chin, and I do look at him-forgetting why I had looked away at all. When my eyes meet him, this time, I do break.
“I do love him,” I say again through a damaged voice, “but you know I won’t ever love anyone the way I love you.” I am shattering like bullets through windows. Pieces of me subjected to murder-words stabbing through my chest like machetes. If he can see my internal ruin, Gavin doesn’t let on. He stares at my lips like he wishes those words hadn’t just fallen from them.
“You know I want to go and do bigger things with my life. Things I can’t do here. I have wanted to get out of this town since the very moment I was forced into existence here,” I am vomiting my words, “you know how unhappy I am-this is my way out.” Of course, he knew how unhappy this town made me-it was all I could ever talk about, that and Gavin was the one who pulled me from my car when I thought it would be a good idea to take a nap with the ignition on. Things got heavy after that, and we fell a part-maybe he blamed himself. Maybe I should tell him it was never his fault, but I don’t. Instead, I watch him watching me as he takes it all in.
“You know I can’t leave-I have too much responsibility here.” Finally, he fills the silence that seemed to stretch for miles. I do know this, or we would not be sitting here together drowning with the knowledge that we were never going to see each other again after we left this place. My hands start to shake because I want to be honest with him-to spill my guts to the one person to who I felt the most surreal connection. Instead, my eyes go blurry with the brimming tears forcing me to look away again. Sadness overtakes me while I contemplate my plan to get as far as I can from this town. Was it worth it-seeing as my heart and soul will always be with Gavin. I am having trouble breathing again.
“Gavin-look, I am in love with you, the kind of love that you can’t ever shake. The kind you only find one time. The kind you hear about when you’re a little girl in all those books about Prince Charming.” I have finally lost control, “When I am away from you, I still feel you there-I still see your smile and hear your voice. You are a part of me-our souls have intertwined. The fact that I am ripping us apart is the hardest thing I will probably ever have to do in my life, but I know you won’t leave, and I know I can’t stay-so what am I supposed to do?” My throat is burning with emotion at the end of my speech. A single part of me wishes I hadn’t said any of it, while another part feels relieved to get everything out in the open. Gavin runs a hand over his face. I know it is because he does not want me to see that he is also hurting, but it doesn’t matter-I can feel it.
“I understand why you’re leaving,” He says softly, “but why ask me here-what was the point of that? To rub it in my face that I can’t give you what he can? So that you could watch me fall apart one more time before you walk out of my life forever?” There, the final push I needed over the edge of emotional destruction. Tears break from my chest in silent violence as reality slams into me with intense weight. Gavin looks away as I crumble-the silent tears freely flow over my cheeks.
“No, Gavin.” I finally choke out, “Because, I am selfish, and the thought of not having you in my life brings me the most profound feelings of pain-but I cannot allow my love for you to stop me from doing the things I need to in my life. I wish things were different, and I wish I didn’t love you like this, but I do, and I needed to tell you goodbye.” Gavin gets to his feet and walks a ways off-kicking up dust as he goes. I watch the particles settle in the air as the sticky tears dry, making my face feel stretched out against the heat. He says nothing, and I start to think he will not say anything at all. That I should probably get up and leave, so I do get up-and I do start to leave before Gavin grabs my wrist and pulls me to him. I forget how to breathe as he hugs me close to his chest. I get lost in the sound of his heart beating against my cheek. Suddenly, all the tormenting pain I was feeling melts away like it was never even there in the first place. Within his embrace, liberated of the heavyweight emotion that was moments ago crushing me under its absoluteness. Too soon, he holds me at arm's length to dive into my eyes.
“I will never stop loving you,” Gavin says to me with all the seriousness in the World-before he drops his arms to walk away. I watch him disappear down the steps in silence with arms wrapped around me. The recognition of the end sinks into my bones as I choke down the urge to call him back. I allow my heart to detach from my chest and walk away through the barn that I once thought was beautiful. The echo of doors banging shut fills the silence as my past runs away with the sound. Tomorrow I will start a new life as a new person, with a gaping empty hole between ribbed cages.