BY EMILY MARTIN

Heat radiates off the destructive flames, slowly licking up the darkness.  The bats circle the soft black sky above the fire.  The stars are faint hues in the sky.  The light from the moon brightens the black surroundings.  Softness is below me and the rough pavement below that, tiny rocks stick into my back.  Anger boils in my veins and sadness slowly cools them.

“Do you remember when we were riding our bikes down the street and you stopped too suddenly?”  He asked.  

“And I flipped over the handle bars on my bike because you were yelling wildly about the little baby snake.  And then you screamed like a banshee when I picked it up.”  I replied sweetly.  

“I did not scream like a banshee.”  He defended.

“It’s okay, everyone is afraid of something.  And you totally screamed like a banshee.”  

The forest is close; sounds of life can be heard from where I lay on the rough covered earth. The flames and stars lighten the hurt I feel.  I didn’t mean to start the fire tonight, but looking at the box started a hungry flame in my soul.  I had to burn it.  I had to feel the heat of life again.  

“Yo, I am not afraid of snakes.”

“Oh really?  It sure didn’t seem like it then.”  I said.

“But I am afraid of something.”  He said quickly.

The flames hold my eyes.  I pretend it is the smoke that makes them water.  There is a sharp howl in the distance.  The heartbreaking loss tears through my burning soul.  The heat of the flame burns my face.  It is fitting that I would lose all control of my life at once.

“What are you afraid of?  Leaving for basic training?” I asked.

“Do you remember that time when you had that nightmare and you called me in the middle of the night?”

“Okay that didn’t come from left field or anything.”  I quipped.

“Answer the question.”

“No I don’t think I recall that at all.  Nope no nightmares.”  

“So you don’t remember how I came running over.  And stayed with you all night reading to you while we sat on the roof, under the stars?  So much like we are now.”  

“Oh that night, a year ago.”  I said.

“That was the first time that I realized that I love you.” The words carry slowly across the space between us.

“What?  There is no way.  No.  Why?”  Could he really be telling me this while I am so pissed at him for leaving me in this place alone? I really could not believe him.  

“I’m terrified of leaving you alone here.”  He’s was terrified of leaving me?

“But, why the hell would you wait, until now to tell me this?”  I asked.

I carefully throw papers into the fire and watch them burn into ash.  The green congratulations burns away quickly. I lie back down and stare at the dying stars. The anger flows hot through my chilled veins.  I wished on airplanes mistaken for shooting stars.  I hope he comes back, I really, really hope that he is still alive.  He hasn’t written a letter in so long.  

“I don’t want you to go.”  I whined.  

“What?  But you’ve supported this. More than my parents have.”  He said.

“I don’t want you to leave.  I can’t, I love and need you too much.”

“And why did you wait to tell me?”   Why was he acting like he had a right to be mad.  He was the one leaving me.  

“Because I never make the first move.  Why did you wait?  You know you really are an idiot.  I sent enough hints in the past few years.”  Stupid boys they never pay attention. “I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not, liar.”  I said laughing as I threw leaves at him.

It burns thinking about how my life went to hell.  The sadness and anger remain, slowly eating away at everything else.  The colors of the sky are slowly starting to swirl together. If I look hard enough I think I can see the Milky Way.  The stars freckle the sky like tiny little entrances to a new life… Oh, how I wanted a new life, a different life.

“I’m sorry for everything, this is a big opportunity for both of us.  I don’t want to leave, but I have to go.”

Two bats merrily chase each other, capturing their prey.  I feel like one of the bugs.  Being drawn in by the false warmth and promises of light, only to be gobbled up by lurking predators in the darkness.  To be snatched away from the happy warmth is a terrible fate, going to war in an unknown place, and leaving me, what he has known for so long.

“Why does everything have to change?  We can pretend that nothing is changing.”

“That would defeat the purpose.”  He whispered.

“But we can still make it work right.”  I said.

“We can try.”  He said already sounding defeated.

“But we both know it’s not going to work.”  I answered.

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“What! You aren’t supposed to agree with me on that, you were supposed to say, ‘no everything’s going to be great.  All roses and sunshine and unicorns.”

“Unicorns?”  He asked with a smile.

“Yeah asshole, unicorns.”

“We could get married?”

“What?  Are you serious?”  The idea of getting married so young should have scared me.  But what scared me more was how right it really felt. “But I just turned eighteen.  What would people say?”

“Who gives a shit what people say?  If we did it we could stay together, you could come with me.  You could live on the base with me.”  I was at a loss for words, how could I get married at eighteen?  I searched his face, finding the truth in his words sacred me for reasons I didn’t understand.  “No maybe you’re right, it’s too soon.”

I wish he had never left. I wish I had gone with him. The light from the fire dimmed for a moment. The howls in the distance grew louder. I picked up a new log and tossed it in. The nights had grown cold and darker.  The little puffs of white breath could be seen even with the nearness of the burning heat.  The neighboring dog barked once, then yelped before going silent.  A nearby car alarm started wailing.  I remained in my heated place.

The tear makes a slimy track down my face, hanging on for a moment before falling.  Everything was great.  The last letter he wrote to me told me different.

“Love, as I had started to fight for our country, I realized the most startling thing. I no longer fight for our country, but for the men that I stand beside. I lost a friend this week and I realized that I might not come home from this fight.  In knowing this I realized that I don’t want to keep you from living a happy life.  I want you to know that the person you loved is no longer that same person, for better or for worse I have changed and I don’t think that you will like that change, so in saying so, my dearest love, I have to let you go.”  

There was more of course, but I could not bring myself to read it.  Carefully I threw those words into the fire and immediately cried about the loss all over again.  The many letters I wrote in return were often sent back appearing unopened.  

    “Why are you crying?”  He asked as if it weren’t obvious.

    “You’re leaving tomorrow.  I don’t want you to go.  I’m going to miss you too much and our talks about unicorns.”

    “But I have too.  For Christ sake, I’ve been planning this for years.”  

    “Yeah, you’ve been planning this, but how do you feel.  You’re an idiot.”  Slowly he rose from the ground and walked to his car.  

    The fire was slowly dying to nothing.  The stars were fading back into darkness. As the sun rose, I was startled by the sound of a car pulling up in my driveway.  As I sat up, I saw the last thing I thought I would ever have again.  

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