I watched her face glow behind the red embers of her cigarette as she pulled the smoke deep into her lungs. Exhaling a smooth stream into the darkness, her skin returned to a shade of porcelain reflecting the moonlight.
She licked her lips as she stared at the smoke floating away from us. Her mouth twisted as she caught me staring.
“No lectures today about my health?”
Kelly’s eyes were soft, a shade of maple syrup with flecks that sparkled like the stars. But the night made them gray.
I let my gaze fall to the beer in my hands, picking and peeling the golden paper, revealing a slippery, green glass bottle beneath. I held it up between us.
“Who am I to lecture anyone about their vice?”
I tipped it back to my lips and let the bitter, crisp tang wash over my tongue before swallowing several times until my head swam and the bottle was empty.
I cracked another open before looking at her again. Her hair was parted with a zigzag and twisted into two haphazard knots. She’d tucked the wispy strands of pale blue that had escaped behind her ears. It made her look younger. Vulnerable. Sexy.
She lit another cigarette.
“We don’t have to do this right now.”
Her voice was tight and crinkly, like a Mylar balloon being filled too full. I winced and tried to turn away, but her fingers slipped around my jaw as she scooted closer to me.
The concrete felt like an ice cold promise beneath me.
“You don’t have to decide anything, Will.” She swallowed, tracing her thumb over my lip, then lowered herself to her knees on the sidewalk beneath my feet. Shifting between my legs and tossing her cigarette in the grass, she took my face in her hands. Her voice went up like it always did before she cried. “I don’t need anything from you. Just let me love you.”
A tear slipped down her cheek.
I closed my eyes from the weight of everything. I could pull her against me and lose myself in the dog-eared comfort of us, our story written on pages too fragile to be erased and rewritten. I could…
I opened my eyes as she dropped her fingers to my chest. “I can’t, baby. It would be like-”
She pushed me, rising to her feet. Glaring down at me, her nostrils flared. “It would be like it should be. It would give us more time. It would-” her voice broke and with it, something in my chest burst.
I sagged forward, staring down at hands that had crushed her heart without even holding it. Fingers that had skimmed over another woman’s body, held another woman’s face, made another woman shudder with ecstasy.
“I’ll forgive you!” The volume of her voice made my head snap up and my eyes dart around the empty street. “I will change. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”
Her sobs cut her pleas into confetti. She fell again to her knees, wincing this time, but grabbing my shirt and pulling herself against me. “Please, William, please. You can’t do this! You just can’t do this to me!”
I’m not a cruel man. I never was. I could have stayed that night, chosen to do the “right” thing. And maybe we could’ve made it work.
But as I pulled her up and held her tightly, I saw my life, my future pass before me. Months or maybe years of mistrust. And the quicksand my infidelity had trapped me in would eventually suffocate me.
She sobbed into my chest as i tried to find purchase on solid ground. It was the first night of many that I would hold her and will her to be ok. Without me.
But the one thing I didn’t think about that night was loving her.
And that was all I should’ve thought about.
Her hair is dark violet now. Straight and sleek, framing her beautiful face like a piece of art. She stopped smoking and started running.
I watch her now, every evening, pass by the park where I proposed.
Sometimes, I can’t breath, her happiness hurts so bad. But that’s my fault.
It’s still my fault today.
It will be. Forever.