I fell asleep to Ed Sheeran's, Kiss Me, last night. I had the most beautiful dream and I think it deserves to be told as a story rather a description.
It had only been a few hours since diagnosis, since it seemed the world had admitted that she was a dead girl walking. She had insisted her family and friends leave her, as she just needed a few minutes. The hospital was quiet tonight, save for the beeping of a machine near her bed. They had taken all the IVs and tubes from her arms and body for her comfort. The young, frail woman lay with simply some soft pajamas and a heart monitor on. In the dim light of the fluorescence, Maria let her mind wander back to happier times. She thought of the days she was only a child, watching Scooby Doo with her brothers and playing with Play Doh. She let her mind drift to more recent years, of the past two years spent in the presence of someone she wished were here now. He came into her life like a bright light and she could often feel the warm heat that shone onto her skin when they were together. As she lay there in that grey, sterile room, she closed her eyes and let herself float away from the cold and quiet and land on a beach where she and some 50 other youth were standing on the shoreline. She stood and watched and cheered and wept as dear friends were baptized in the rushing, salty water. When it was her turn, she couldn't tell what were tears and what were ocean upon her face. She walked boldly into the crashing waves, being led on by her high school pastor. The faithful man held her hand and back and she was under, into the dark depths. Instead of popping back up like in the true memory, Maria stayed there, feeling the swell of sea foam and murky water tangle her hair and attempt to rip the breathe from her lungs.
Maria opened her eyes. The waves were gone, the people had ghosted away, the cheers and shouts trailed off into the air. The memory was tucked into the deep recesses of her heart, where she stored things like Disney movies, favorite books, nostalgia, and loved ones who had become unreachable. Natalie. A small smile appeared at the corner of Maria's mouth at the remembrance of such a dear, sweet friend. She felt there was already too much pain to think of that November day, to remember the sound of her mom's voice as she told her Natalie wouldn't be there for Maria to come visit in December. Yet still, the memories pressed in and they refused to be passed by. A tear rolled down her cheek as she felt her heart twist and strain. The memory of Natalie's suicide was a sore, fragile wound that never truly closed no matter how much time had separated the present day from the incident. Maria only hoped that Natalie could be there waiting for her, to show her where to go from here once she departed from all that she knew here. It would be an awfully frightening thing to have to go alone.
Maria's eyes focused as she heard a door close down the hall. The slap of sneakers echoed off the solemn walls as she looked at the wooden door across the room. The sound faded away along with Maria's interest. She closed her eyes again and focused on the rise and fall of her chest. In and out, she knew that the air would soon cease to enter and exit her lungs. Refusing to think in such a depressive manner, Maria opened her eyes in an effort to clear away the morbidity of the situation. Her heart jolted as she saw the tan, dark haired man close the door behind himself. His dark eyes, so familiar to her usually so full of a fiery spark and passion for life, so warm and soft now. A softer echo of sneaker on linoleum carried him across the room until he was looking down at her. "Hey...I heard" He said weakly, with a tender, apologetic smile gracing his lips.
"Yeah, sucks" Maria breathed out, attempting to give a short "ha" but only managing a weak cough. Their relationship had been a tricky one. She had been in love with him since that first day senior year but it had never been reciprocal. He cut any and all attempts she had ever made to try and be anything more. She was his best friend and if that's all that he needed her to be, than she accepted that she would be just that.
"Can I take you somewhere, Maria?" Damon suddenly said, catching and holding her gaze.
"Anywhere" Maria sighed. "Just let me..." Damon leaned down, gently sliding his arms under her and lifting her to his chest. "What are you..." But Maria didn't let herself finish. She was going to let herself enjoy this moment of closeness, even if it were only a platonic, friendly gesture to say goodbye in Damon's mind. "Where are we going?" Damon hooked a foot around the edge of the partly open door, pulling it wide enough for them to pass through.
"Just go with it" He whispered. She smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. Whatever happens now, happens, she thought. He can at least give me this much. In fact, he didn't seem to mind at all. He just carried her to the sliding doors and the cool night air seemed to greet her as it caressed her face. The smells of car smog and greasy food, the gleaming lights of uptown Charlotte, the honking horns and rush of traffic, and Damon carried her into the darkness. Setting her into the passenger side of a red convertible, some car she didn't even care to identify, he placed a hand on the side of her face. "I know you'll like this" With a smile, he spoke as if they were going to Cook Out or the movies. Maria smiled back, feeling a sensational energy course through her that she thought had been permanently quieted. Still holding her face in one hand, Damon leaned forward and lightly kissed her forehead. Maria's eyes widened a bit and her heart predictably began to race, but she knew this was only a farewell. This whole night was going to be simply a gesture of the most generous kindness. He must know how she felt still and was just giving a dying girl what she wanted, what Maria knew she had always needed.
They drove through the city, for nearly twenty minutes. Damon had reached over and held her hand upon driving out of the hospital parking lot and Maria had been content to let him. The many lights of the cars, buildings, and people washed over Maria as she tried to take in all of them. She wasn't sure when would be the next time she'd see all of this. The car turned into a small lot between two buildings, void of any other cars. Damon let go of her hand and walked around to the passenger side. Opening the door, he leaned down and slid his arms under Maria's small frame once more. She ducked her head and let her arms fall around his neck as he pulled her out and up. Damon pushed the door closed with his foot and adjusted his arms so as to better cradle Maria. His worn and weathered jean jacket was warm against her soft flannel pants and cotton tank top. Across the unused and unkempt asphalt, a door was lit by a single flood light. Already slightly open, Damon used the toe of his shoe to nudge it open farther. Soft light flooded the short, wood floored hallway, as motion sensors caught their movement. Kicking the door closed behind them, Damon carried her to the end, past several other entries, to a door on the left. Maria could hear voices inside, and she wondered what Damon had in mind.
The lights were dim, a small stage set across what seemed to be an old dance studio. The long mirrors were cracked and worn, and some were missing, but the floors seemed to have been recently polished. Suddenly she heard a voice "1, 2, 3, 4..." and then a soft drum beat. She looked and took notice of the band on the dim stage, and her heart began to beat several strums faster as she instantly recognized the song with the introduction of the guitar. Irish musician, Ed Sheeran sat on a stool, she could barely make out the smile that shone on his face, both in the creases of his eyes and the turn of his lips. Looking up at Damon now, Maria bared her teeth in a smile that caused Damon's eyes to become a bit more wet.
"May I set you down? I'll still hold you steady" Damon whispered in her ear. She could feel his breathe on the side of her neck and then his nose and mouth as he leaned his head into hers.
"Yeah, I think I got it." She couldn't tell if he were sad. She had never seen Damon upset, not angry, not sad, nothing. It was as if an inner peace lived in him somewhere, and she had once told herself that she would eventually come to understand how that came to be. Time didn't seem to allow it, however. Damon slowly eased her out of his arms until she was standing. He held Maria around her ribs, careful to be firm but gentle. Maria's socks touched the surprisingly warm hard wood floor of the studio, still paying attention to the soft sound of drum and guitar of her favorite song by the male artist. No words had begun to be sung yet though. "What are they waiting for?" She leaned in and whispered with a coy smile. Damon leaned and caught her gaze for a moment before a large smile lit up his face
"Us" He whispered back.
Damon took her hand, placing it on his right shoulder, one arm securely fastened around her waist. "Stand on my shoes" Damon gestured for her to move closer and when Maria hesitated, Damon gently pulled her up close so that she was standing on the tops of his gold sneakers. "Settle down with me, and cover me up, cuddle me in..." echoed around the room in such a way, Maria felt she could hear it in her soul. "You cannot go a day without doing something musical, am I right?" A large grin spread out on Maria's face.
"You've always been right about that." He didn't smile this time. His eyes held hers, a slow turn motioning them into the music. He had never told her this, but whenever they were close enough and there was appropriate lighting like now, Maria's blue eyes became like a mirror and in them, he could see dark brown circles reflecting back at him. He would sometimes wonder if she was aware, for her eyes were always so tender when she was looking at him. She was so much more than he was, even if she didn't know it or ever care to admit it. There was no reason a creature like that should be in love with something as plain as him. It wasn't right. He had never allowed it. But tonight, he knew he had to give her this, and secretly, it was for himself too.
"Settle down with me, and I'll be your safety, and you'll be my lady…"
Maria breathed out, almost a sigh. She moved herself a little closer to Damon, so that they were now nearly embracing. She turned her head and let it lay on his shoulder, her forehead pressed into the side of his neck closing her eyes, a look of content smoothing itself across her face. "I'm tired" She admitted, traces of defeat layering her tone. The strain Damon felt upon hearing those two small words pierced him, slicing in-between two heart beats and cutting him to the core. He could feel the pain slither into his arteries and veins, the pain that he had to accept the regret to all those years spent denying her affection. Like the way a building expels plumes of dust upon demolition, Damon's words were breathed out as though his lungs themselves were collapsing.
"I just wanted to be here with you tonight, Maria."
"I know, Damon. I'm so happy. I love you so much" Those last five words were usually how she responded to a hilarious joke he had made or when he would do something that made her proud of him. He would always try and accept them as simply what a best friend would say. He of course, knew the intensity in which she meant it. The words that appeared in a Facebook chat window held nothing of the emotion in which he knew existed on the other end. That's why she said them there though. Easy disguise.
Damon pulled his head back so that she would be facing him. She righted herself a little, noticing how he had sensed the undisguised feeling that now announced itself openly without a computer keyboard to hide behind. The song changed now. "Give me love, like her. Cuz lately I've been waking up alone…" Damon's voice carried the song in an airy tone now, his hollow voice drifting into her ear. They turned in slow rotations, Maria taking in every word and sound that Damon sang to her. "All I want, is the taste that your lips allow. Mah mai, mah mai, give me love…" Maria closed her eyes. This was where she wanted to be, forever, not just tonight, not just right now. She couldn't imagine how the world could keep on spinning after such a defining, unrepeatable moment had occurred. Perfection should be achieved and either repeated eternally or everything else should stop completely. She could live in this moment. Live and die in this moment. The peace she had so longed for that existed in Damon had seeped into her and she knew that if this moment were to change, if the music were to stop and she were to be escorted back into that red car and driven home to her already-mourning family, that peace would exist still, but in fragility. Here, in Damon's presence, her inner peace felt strong. She felt like she found herself here in this room, but she knew that she had just found another reason to be sad. Damon had found her actually. Without their friendship, she wouldn't be who she is today. He changed her, but she changed him too. His inner peace calmed her inner storm, casting words of encouragement and hope like life preservers out into the dark internal ocean. She couldn't tell now what that ocean was made of, happy tears or sad ones. She just knew, in that moment, she appeared above the dark depths and she hadn't been rescued, she had been saved. Saved in all the ways a person can be saved. By a tan, dark haired boy with kind words and a heart with more love for people than there was sand in her ocean. "…the man may call a pretty girl, and perhaps be welcomed back again, but since it has so ought to be, by time to rise and a time to fall, come filter me the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all"
"I love you, Damon"
"I love you more, Maria"