V: “A Year Goes By…And I Can’t Talk About It.”

Seven years ago.

The air is cold. It whips around our bodies and wraps us in its coy embrace. We huddle against it, curling around each other, hugging each other closer. I reach up and push the damp curls from my eyes, watching my breath leave my mouth in a puff as I sigh heavily. My right arm tightens around her, my left hand stroking her hair as I rest my cheek on the top of her head again. We sit, tucked away in an underpass, waiting for the morning sun to warm us. Cheryl’s even breathing lessens and I know she is awake. Drip, drip, drip. Water trickles down from the edges of the overpass; the occasional rush of pass cars thunders through the air.
“I know you didn’t want me to see how you get back home,” She murmurs softly, nuzzling gently into my chest.
I don’t respond. I lean my head back against the pillar, worry seeping its way into a throbbing migraine.
“We could have taken a taxi. We made a good take tonight,” I say, my voice even.
“You never take a taxi, even when you make more than I do,” She responds bluntly.
We’re dancers. We live forty miles outside of the main city. We weren’t always dancers. At home, bleak circumstances would send me to my bedroom every month or so to retrieve the backpack that I’d learned to keep packed and tucked under my bed. I’d sit in the back seat, quietly watching the highway lights pass as we would make our way downtown. The car would stop and the doors would unlock. I’d open the door, slip out of the car, shut it and stand on the sidewalk as it pulled away. I’d wave. No one would wave back.
I didn’t know how else to survive for the days and weeks that it would take me to get back home. I began dancing. I met Cheryl. Suddenly, I didn’t mind so much when they decided that they needed me to leave for a while.

“You know that you don’t have to do this with me. You don’t even have to dance,” I whisper to her, my voice slipping quietly through the underpass.
“I know. But you do. I won’t let you do it without me,” Her grip on my coat sleeve tightens.
I shiver. Drip, drip, drip. She kisses my cheek and we sleep.

Two years later.

I slip the ring from my pocket and grip it in my fist. My nerves shoot through me, causing me to shiver more than the chilly air. The lights shining on the columns of the underpasses are blue. We are walking on the trails of a park near the Aquarium, hand in hand. Cheryl’s smooth voice softly rises and falls with the notes of her song. The sun is nearly gone and we have to leave soon. People come out at night — the kind of people that Cheryl and I have learned to avoid a chance meeting with.
I stop walking and turn to her. Her hair is black today and her contacts are green. A grey beret is perched on her head and her coat is a chocolate brown. Her lips turn up in a slow smile. She leans down and I tilt my face, softly sweeping my lips against her smooth forehead. She’s taller than me by at least four inches. But when I protectively kiss her forehead, she’s the one who leans down.
My hands shake as I lift her hand, sliding the diamond and sapphire ring onto her finger. Her gasps fills me with delight just as a wind bursts across the sidewalk, tendrils of her dark hair sliding across her pretty face. Drip, drip, drip. I rub my thumb across her cheek and swipe away the droplets of salt and water, loving the way they sparkle on her eyelashes. She glows.
“Okay,” She says.
“Yeah,” I breathe the word as warmth spreads through my chest.

I smile.

Two and a half years later.

“They’ll find you. You know that you can’t leave and be safe. We can’t go,” She hisses as she follows me, though she’s helping me gather my things.
“I want you to go with me. You know this is wrong,” My voice is even and torn. My chest feels tight. I can’t breathe. It’s like I’m on fire.
“I can’t. I have to stay,” She whirls around, gripping me in her arms.
“Maybe I should stay with you then! Would you prefer that, Cheryl? You know what they did to Ash. You, of all people, with your own house, your cars, your family…you of all people don’t have to stay,” My brow furrows as I plead with her, saltwater steaming from my eyes.
Drip, drip, drip.
I tilt my face up as she leans forward. My lips gently pass over her forehead. She straightens, zips my backpack and presses it into me.
“Go to New York. I’ll be here. If I’m still here when you come back, I’ll come with you,” Her hand cups my cheek as her breath caresses my face.
I tremble, “I won’t be there long. Five days.”
“I know,” Her hands push me toward the door, “I know how to find you when I can come with you. I’ll come with you when it’s safe.”
If I don’t leave now, I won’t make it out. Ashley’s gone and nobody knows but us. I know that it’s Cheryl’s choice to stay. I can’t save you, Cheryl.

I sit in the passenger seat and watch the lights on the highway pass by. We are silent. Her fingers grip mine. Finally, the car rolls to a stop a few miles from home. We slip out of the car and she walks to the side walk, stands in front of me. I numbly look up at her. She puts her hand to my face, the metal of her ring cool against my cheek. Glassy tears slip from her eyes. Drip. Drip…drip.

This time, she leans forward, her lips pausing to slip across my forehead.

She walks back to the car and gracefully steps in. The window rolls down. I wave. She waves back. I stand there as the car pulls away. I struggle to breathe. She’d taken off her ring.

Drip…drip…drip…

Six months later.

The club managers who know us haven’t seen her. The hotels haven’t seen her. Our hangouts haven’t seen her. Our friends haven’t seen her. Her house is empty. Her car is gone.

“Have you seen Cheryl?”
“No…I thought she was gone.”

A year later.

“I’m still looking for Cheryl,” I tell him. He nods. He understands. He listens to the stories. He helps me look for her.

But I still can’t find Cheryl.

Drip…drip…drip…

Comments
  1. GEO says:

    well find her then

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