My hands froze on the cantaloupe. I dropped it on the counter. His voice sent a chill through my heart. I knew his voice so well, had heard it a million times, in a million ways. I’d heard it hostile from across the room, silly-sweet in the morning, moaning hotly in my ear.
But I hadn’t heard it in two months. Not since…well I didn’t want to think about that.
I hit replay and waited for the machine to start.
It was the hollow tone that scared me most.
I grabbed my coat and left the groceries on the counter. Charlie, my faithful Calico, swirled around my legs in protest. I hadn’t fed her yet and wouldn’t until I returned. All I could think of—all I could see was his hazel eyes staring vacantly from some unfathomable abyss.
I’d heard he’d come back to town, but I didn’t know where exactly. I drove the car like a maniac. It hugged the corner so tightly that it nearly ran over the curb. Tires screeched as I raced—well above the speed limit—toward his old apartment. Memories flooded my mind. They filled my head with a collection of images—images that depicted a life created, then destroyed.
They were meaningless to me now. I pushed them away.
His car wasn’t there. The windows were dark.
I threw the car in reverse, then overdrive, and jammed down the gas pedal.
There was a park nearby. We’d walk there on Sundays and watch the children play. He’d brush my hair from my cheek and say, “We’ll have a daughter just like her one day.” Tears streamed down my cheek and my tight grip on the steering wheel threatened to crack my knuckles wide open.
The swings swung eerily in the empty park. A bum pushed a dirty cart full of cans on the opposite side. No sign of Luke anywhere. A strangled cry escaped me and my hands shook as they raked through my auburn hair. “Come on…think, Lexie, think!” I muttered under my breath, anxiety becoming a tangible beast sitting in the passenger seat. Where would he go? What would he do?
The possibilities terrified me.
His mother said they’d released him days ago. She said the meds helped. She said she had hope that this time would be different—that this time they’d licked the demon that stalked him.
My heart knew different.
I’d seen the haunted look in his eyes. I’d seen him weak and clawing, begging for release. I’d thrown pills in the toilet and flushed them. I’d thrown knives out the window and wrapped his wrists in bandages. I’d sobbed and bled with the man. I’d begged him to love me more than death—to just once choose life.
And just then I knew. I knew exactly where he was.
I drove much slower now. The sense of dread was tearing at my clothes, my breasts, my face, clawing, biting at my psyche. I drove cautiously along the train tracks. There was a cargo train that ran late. I looked at the glowing numbers on my dashboard. 8:53pm. I had moments before it would arrive—IF that.
I pulled along the gravel road. Old row houses flanked the makeshift street. You could almost see the ghosts of children from the 1930s playing stickball. I could feel their laughter and a shiver rolled over my skin. My heels crunched loudly on the rocks. I pulled my coat closer to my form, unable to find warmth.
He stood on the tracks. I walked up to him and he smiled at me. The mouth I loved so well, had kissed for hours, dreamt of day and night—smiled at me. His eyes shone brightly and seemed more alive than I’d ever seen him. His voice was surprised as he addressed me. “You found me!”
I could see that he was amped up. I kicked at the stones and watched them roll away. “You knew I would.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I did. You always knew me better than anyone.” I snorted in disgust…or maybe despair. “Fat lotta good that’s done me.”
Luke frowned then. “I’m sorry Lexie. Sorry I couldn’t be the man you needed me to be. It’ll be better this way. You’ll see. You’ll find someone who loves you.”
I screamed at him and lunged. I grabbed his beautiful face and forced him to look at me. “No, it won’t be better!” I shouted at him, choking on my tears, “That’s what you don’t get, Luke! I love you, only you, always you. How can you not see that? How can you do this?!” I felt weak and trapped in a wordless hell. He caught me, held me up.
He pulled me to him and brushed his lips over my hair. “Ssh. I know it’s been hard, Baby. I know it. Don’t you see? I’m doing this for us, for you. I’m releasing you.” I opened my mouth to protest. He silenced me with a kiss. Even as his lips parted mine, even as his tongue traced mine—I knew this was our last kiss. Fresh tears burned my eyes and fell, mingled with our tongues.
The train’s whistle blew.
I jumped in his arms—breaking the kiss. “Please, Luke, please come back with me. Let’s get off this track.” I pulled at him. I yanked on his arms, but he shook me off easily. “Please, Baby, come with me!” I screamed and pushed at his waist. I tried to knock him over. The train blew again. I could feel the bright light closing in on us.
“Fine Luke. I might as well die with you. Once you’re gone—I’ll be dead inside anyway.” I parked myself in front of him. I crossed my arms over my chest in defiance. He chuckled and pulled me into his arms. It felt like heaven, but I still braced for the impact.
We watched the train come closer…closer…closer.
My breathing quickened; my pulse pounded.
He whispered in my ear seconds before the train struck. “I love you, Baby.” And he threw me off the track.
“LUKE!” I screamed until my voice stopped—died of its own accord.
All I could see among the wreck and ruin was his radiant smile as Death welcomed him home. I collapsed in the gravel, pain shooting up my arms from the fall. A new fear gripped me. My hands flew to my stomach. It felt okay. I should’ve told him about the baby. Why didn’t I tell him about the baby?