It’s a bright, sunny California day. The beginning of autumn always comes with a softening of the bright white heat. Warmth seeps into my skin, the wind moves through the trees.
My friend is beside me. As I look into his face, I see all the imperfections that I had not seen since we last met. He’s older now than he used to be, of course. Years have passed. But he is still a young man. There are a few strands of silver in his dark hair, and one might think them blond if not looking closely. There is some pain in his eyes, though he smiles at me. These are his best feature, the thing that attracted me the most to begin with. Today they are a clear blue, but I have seen them a dark brown before. Fine lines hang between his brows, and lay like ghosts at the edges of his eyes.
He speaks to me, and I am drawn in by his words. More truly, by the sound of his voice. This familiar brand of gruff tenderness that is always in his tone. I recognize it. This is the way I’d always wanted a man to speak to me, and how I remembered it.
“Would you like this?” I ask.
He opens his hands. I avert my eyes from his.
I handle the rosary carefully, placing the string of beads in his palm. The blue green of the beads reflects against my skin. I have words brewing in the back of my head, but these I cannot share with him.
If I am earth, these stones are sky and water, infinite things that only God could create.
Even worse, he may already know. I was never able to hide anything from him in the past. There are secrets that only he knows, and in that knowledge, he has never found it neccessary to speak them between us.
He turns the rosary carefully. I tell him in a rush of nervous words that I had no time to bring anything else, but I hope that he takes care of this. I see him frown as he realizes that the crucifix is no longer attached to the beads.
But the cross itself is the most important piece, and the reason that I had not tossed it away. The symbol of Christ is separated from the whole. And yet I love this keepsake more for that.
Here lies my heart. And the symbol of my battered faith.
The sadness in his eyes deepens, though he tries to hide it. He says comforting things to me. He speaks of the past, and of our favorite summer. How we were careless, but that he could never regret it, anyway.
In his car, we speed down the interstate. We travel over hills, and down into valleys, only to feel the pressure as the car winds upwards again. Even with my eyes closed, I knew this route by heart. We were going home.
We do not bother listening to music. Sometimes he sings beneath his breath, and it does not even bother me that the key is not quite right. The affection is still there, that bit of tremor. It sounds better than any melody I know.
His hand moves away from the steering wheel to clutch mine. His fingers are warm and familiar.
When we reach the sea, we climb out of the car.
The majesty of the ocean and the blue sky makes me feel insignificant. He falls into stride beside me. He is staring at his feet, but I keep my eyes averted from him as well. I feel the heaviness of the sand. With each step I feel a little tired.
I can’t speak. There are tears in my eyes.
When he does look at me again, I feel his stare, and have no choice but to look at him. There are tears in his eyes as well.
“I love you,” he says. “I was wrong. But I thought I’d have a chance to tell you.”
I feel something inside me moving. Pulling me.
I turn away from him, and look out into the water. I am thin as air. I am part of this now, the sea and the sky, this spot where I drew my last breath. The place where I’d welcomed my death.
Time for me to return home.
My lover stands alone on the shore. He cannot follow me.
He stands with the remnants of my broken faith in his hands.
©2011 Lori Titus