Coming to a Close

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young man looking for hope in a hopeless world.

Submitted: August 04, 2010

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Submitted: August 04, 2010

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Blue numbers loomed in the darkness of the curtained bedroom, denoting the time and shaming the young man sleeping at that particular hour. Wayne was wont to sleep when the rest of the world had asked him not to.

Wayne woke when he felt someone slip onto the bed and then throw an arm around him.

“Wake up, Dubya! Who sleeps at this hour?” Wayne gave a token groan and rolled over to look into Amanda's green eyes. He put on his best look of disdain, shook his head, and then slipped off of the bed.

“Me. I do,” was his response to her prior question. “What are you doing?”

“I came to see if you wanted to take me for a walk,” Amanda replied.

Wayne blinked and then smiled. “Of course I do.”

Upon exiting Wayne's bedroom, Wayne told Amanda that he need to make a bathroom stop. Amanda playfully pretended to be impatient. Wayne stepped into the bathroom and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror out of the corner of his eye. Wayne studied his face, and was unsure how to feel about what he saw. Barely nineteen, it was uncomfortable for him to see dark circles shining under his eyes, and wrinkles forming in the corners of his mouth and in the middle of his forehead. He grabbed a washcloth from the drawer, got it wet, and then washed his face. Feeling slightly refreshed, he rejoined Amanda in the kitchen, who asked, “Can we go now?”

“Hold on,” said Wayne. “I've gotta tell Seth where I'm going.”

He passed through the kitchen and the living room and knocked on Seth's bedroom door.

“Yes?”

Wayne opened the door and stuck his head around the corner to look at Seth who was reading in his armchair. Seth opened his eyes wide, interrogatively.

“Amanda and I are gonna go for a walk. We'll probably be back in a half an hour.”

“Very well. Walk safely.” Seth smiled and returned to his book.

The city was very large for the small population. It was uncommon for people to go for long walks for anything other than necessity, and it was even more uncommon for people to see one another wandering around outside. Wayne and Amanda had taken to walking quite often in their youth to explore old structures and see how things used to look.

“How have you been, buddy?” Amanda asked as soon as they were afoot. “I haven't seen you since we graduated.”

“I've been alright.”

“Just alright? What have you been doing with yourself?”

“Relaxing.”

“Relaxing? Sounds like you've been doing nothing.”

“You could say that. So what? I earned it. School was hard time for me.”

“I just don't want you to get stuck in a rut. You know, become a bum.”

Wayne chuckled. “What do you want me to do? There's hardly anything to do now, other than try to start a family.”

“There are other things to do than start a family. You're just lazy. You can't blame your laziness on the bird flu.”

“What's the point? Anything that I do would be for my own gain, anyway. There's a good chance if I ever have any kids they'll die upon birth. What'd they tell us? Something like one in every fifty children survive birth?”

The flu had taken a massive toll on humanity. People who had lived through the epidemic spoke of watching scientists on TV talking about how deadly the flu was. The statistic that was thrown around most often was that 1 in 250 people were supposed to survive. However, no record of this estimation had survived. In fact, there were virtually no records at all after the bird flu hit.

Amanda was visibly perturbed by Wayne's pessimism. “What happened to you? You used to be fun. We used to spend lots of time together, and now I never see you.”

Wayne could remember. There was a time when he felt so strongly for Amanda, had hopes for a future with her, but he was too afraid to go for it. There was a time when he felt he could change the world, could make a difference for the people who were lucky enough to have survived the bird flu. Wayne thought back to his hours spent in the local library, poring over books, looking for solutions to their small town's woes. He could see in history that plague had befallen the world before, but never to this magnitude.

“I guess I changed,” was Wayne's reply. “Everyone else has changed, why can't I?”

“I liked you better before.”

“Yeah, I'm sure you did. I think I liked myself better then too, but I was just a little boy, with immature hopes and dreams. I guess I woke up one day and realized that I had to let those things go.”

They returned to Wayne's house not long after. There had been a bit of tension for the rest of the walk. At the front door, Wayne attempted to give their meeting a little closure.

“I'm sorry I feel the way I do. I didn't ask to feel this way. I can't have hope for a world that has no hope for me.”

“I have hope for you. That used to be enough.”

Wayne felt a tugging at his heart strings and said, “You have no idea how I --”

He stopped when he saw a black sedan pull into the driveway. He was puzzled as to it's intention; they didn't often get visitors.

“Who is that?” asked Amanda.

“I'm not sure.” Wayne approached the car as two men were emerging from each door “Can I help you, gentlemen?”

The man who had emerged from the driver's seat spoke first. “Erm, yes. Actually, do you mind if we step inside? We need to speak to your uncle.”

Wayne nodded and directed them towards the door and he and Amanda followed.

“Please, have a seat,” he told them in the sitting room. “I'll grab my uncle.”

Seth needn't be summoned however. He emerged from the kitchen and approached one of the men. “Naan, it's been years. How are you, my friend?”

“I'm well fortunately,” he replied. “I'm afraid it's not the same for some of our other colleagues, but we'll get to that in a moment. Seth, I'd like you to meet Robby, he's one of our newest associates.”

Seth, a bit concerned by Naan's previous statements took Robby's hand and said, “It's a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Everyone sat back down again, and Seth said, “So, to what I do I owe the pleasure?”

Naan started in, twirling his mustache while explaining. “I'm afraid we come under dire circumstances, Seth. It's fortunate that we have come in time. You see, many of our colleagues have been turning up dead, including a few of our more crucial numbers. Martin, Davis, both dead. I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to come with us to the compound.”

Seth appeared to have been given pause by these most recent developments. He gathered himself and asked, “What is happening? Why all this death?”

Robby spoke this time. “We're not at liberty to discuss the specifics at this place and time. For now, we need you and your family here to come with us to the compound. Time is of the essence.”

Seth receded inside for a moment, and then said, “Very well. Wayne, Amanda, come, we need to go with these people. I trust them.”

Wayne was not sure how to feel about the situation. He trusted his uncle to make the right decisions, but he had no idea what was going on. Wayne looked at Amanda, who looked equally confused, and then back at Seth who looked as serious as Wayne had ever seen him.

“Alright, let's go.”

The compound turned out to be located in the basement of a large Victorian home at the base of the mountains. Generally, after the epidemic, people had their pick of what they wanted to own. Since so much had been produced and there were so little people remaining, there was not much that was hard to come by. Thus, most of the homes and vehicles that were used tended to be the nicer ones.

The basement was not an ordinary design; it was much larger than most basements, and “the compound” turned out to be a good term to describe it. They were directed through an antechamber into a reception hall which had doors to two different offices. One was marked “Administration” and the other “Executive Suite.” The five of them took seats in some cookie-cutter chairs which lined the wall. Naan assured them that they wouldn't be waiting for more than five minutes.

Wayne glanced at Amanda who looked like she felt out of place.

“Are you okay?” he asked her. She nodded, and gave Wayne a faint smile.

Wayne was unaware as to the nature of this particular facility. He knew that Seth was at one point involved in some sort of human rights organization, but he was under the impression that it was less formal and less secretive.

The door marked “Administration” opened and a stocky, balding man stepped out and greeted them.

“Seth,” he said. “It's been too long.”

“Indeed it has, Carl,” Seth replied. “I can't remember, have you met my nephew, Wayne?”

Carl looked to Wayne and smiled and said, “Once, many years ago when he was still a baby.” He stuck out his hand and Wayne took it and said, “Nice to meet you again.”

“And you, son. Your parents were good friends of mine back in the day. I've not met people quite like them since.”

“You knew my parents?”

“Oh, yes. Good people. But, please, let us step inside. I'll tell you more there.”

He receded into his office and Naan and Robby bid them goodbye. Then, the three of them followed Carl into his office.

Cabinets lined the walls, covering up paintings and standing in front of plants in the corners. Three chairs were crammed in front of Carl's large oak desk.

“Please, take a seat,” he implored them.

Seth began. “Naan and Robby have told me some, ahem, disturbing news, old friend. What do you know?”

Carl sighed and put his elbows up on his desk. “Well, there's really only one enemy that it could be: The Coeptis Party.”

“The Coeptis Party? Who are they?” Wayne asked.

Carl glanced at Seth and then turned to speak to Wayne. “Tell me, son. What do you know about the nature of your parent's death?”

Wayne spent a moment looking bewildered, then said, “I was told that my parent's died in a car accident. Why do you ask?”

“Unfortunately, son, the circumstances surrounding your parent's deaths are a little more complicated than that.”

“What do you mean more complicated? I was told that my mother lost control of the car and careened into a tree off the side of the road. Isn't that what happened, Seth?”

Seth cleared his throat and said, “We have it on good authority that your parent's vehicle was sabotaged. That means that they did not just die; they were murdered.”

Wayne reeled. “What, what do you mean they were murdered? Who did it?”

“Coeptis,” said Carl, softly. “They're responsible.”

This further confused Wayne, and Carl recognized this.

“You see, son, your parents were once very influential figures in the Annuit Coeptis Party. We were the first party formed after society was reestablished after the bird flu. We were attempting to unite the survivors and bring some order to all the chaos. Our goal was to bring everybody together with humanitarianism and security. Unfortunately, some in the party felt that it was better to rule with fear and chaos. Daniel Pepper, a former Army Colonel was at the front of this group. Eventually, the quarreling got to be so much that Pepper split off and formed his own group, the Coeptis Party.

“Your parents were, perhaps, the most vocal of all about their disdain for the forming of this party. They were exposing to people the true villainy that lay behind Coeptis' promises of power and strength. Not long after, though, your parents ended up dead. War between the two establishments almost broke out. Pepper insisted that his party had nothing to do with their deaths, but everyone that wasn't Coeptis knew better. Small skirmishes broke out quite often, and a lot of our already meager numbers were killed or wounded. Eventually an uneasy truce was negotiated for the sake of preservation; both groups knew that nothing would matter if everyone was dead.

“Coeptis found another city to inhabit and have been faring quite well in the West. Our party, newly rechristened the Annuit Party, managed to succeed in uniting many survivors in our neck of the woods.”

Wayne wasn't sure where to start. So many questions were now plaguing him. His life had been so simple up until moments ago, and now his resolve, his security were gone. While Wayne ruminated over what he had just found out, Seth asked Carl, “Why have the Coeptis Party resurfaced here, now? I thought they were resolved to operating out West.”

“I guess they think that they're secure enough to start expanding.”

“Expanding,” Seth muttered to himself, thinking about the implications of the word to such a militant group.

“They've established a satellite office downtown. We've managed to keep our location secret from them. I don't think it will be long before they find us, though. We have reports from feeler expeditions stating that Coeptis has a relatively large armed forces group. We have nothing of the sort here, other than police. They will hardly be able to do anything in defense. No, we're going to need aid of another sort.”

“Is that why you've brought me here?” asked Seth. “You want me to negotiate aid from one of our foreign allies? It's been years since I've done anything of the sort.”

“We brought you here, first and foremost, to protect you. But you have to realize, Seth, that we can hardly protect you in the state we're in. The best we can do is offer you a mostly secret location to lie low in. I, and the rest of this city, need your skills to save us. Think about what we stand for, Seth. Think about all of the work we did.” Seth glanced over at Wayne and Amanda, sitting innocently, intuitively frightened by the whole situation.

Seth thought for a few moments, caressing his chin and cocking his head. He finally said, “I will try. I can't promise you that I will succeed, but I will try.”

“That's all I ask, old friend! That's all I ask, “said Carl, looking relieved. “We must get you prepared, immediately. The Mon Droit Party have agreed to see us. There is no time to --”

“However,” said Seth, “I will only go if my nephew and his friend can come with me. I can't leave them here waiting for the enemy to find this place.”

Carl considered this for a moment, and then said, “Yes, of course. It only makes sense. Preparations will be made for the lot of you. You're to leave immediately.”

Wayne had wondered a lot about his parents since he was very young. His curiosity about the time before the bird flu stemmed from their desire to bring the old ways back. Seth had been burdened often by Wayne's extensive questions pertaining to their backgrounds and their work. When he found out that they had dedicated themselves to helping people, Wayne felt compelled to do the same.

Wayne was quite angry at first at Seth for not revealing this information to him sooner. But the more he thought about it, as they were shuttled out of town, through the countryside to the East Coast, the more he realized that Seth had been pivotal in his protection and happiness for most of his life, and he realized that it was perhaps, out of love that his uncle had not told him.

Seth spent the majority of the trip looking out the window at the forgotten road signs and the skeletons of once scenic buildings that lined the roads that lead through the hills. Wayne studied his uncle's stillness, for he now saw a new side to his guardian, and with that new side came new respect. Visions of romance appeared in Wayne's mind of his uncle's operations and lifestyle following the epidemic. Not many still remained from before; most who survived were older men and women because of their stronger immune systems. The difficulties of Seth's life showed on his wrinkled face, and he seemed to be toting a great weight.

As this was the most time he had spent thinking about his relationship with his uncle, this was the most time Wayne had spent with Amanda since they had graduated from school. There was a time when they were nearly inseparable. Wayne had consistently made time for Amanda after they had met. The first time he saw her, desire and the thoughts of potential had come racing to him. After that moment he was quite taken. He then made it his mission to grow closer and closer until he got what he wanted. Though, he soon realized the obvious fact that his take on the relationship differed from hers almost entirely. Indeed, in the most intimate moments when Wayne's longing had nearly become action, she pushed him away. There were times when their relationship almost didn't recover because she had stayed away for so long, and Wayne had let her because of his fear. But they always managed to be pulled back together.

With time came change, and soon Wayne found himself looking at Amanda in a much different way. She had changed from an idea to a person. Where she used to stand out, she now became a part of the crowd, and Wayne spent much of the remainder of his school career alone, and thus was his life until she came to see him earlier that day.

The sun had fallen behind the mountains, though a faint glow remained around the edges. The moon stood out high in the sky, though it had been visible since before they arrived at the compound. Night had fallen and the stars began to dot the sky. Wayne, who had only had three hours of sleep that day because of his unusual sleep habits felt himself growing weary and soon found himself drifting off. He was unable to sleep entirely though. He would put his head back into a comfortable position, but as soon as he would fall asleep, his head would drop and that would wake him up. He carried on like that until Amanda informed him that they were nearing the ocean.

Amanda's cracked window revealed a salty smell and heavy air. Within ten minutes they were approaching a mostly intact dock with a larger boat anchored nearby. They were hurried outside and onto the boat by their driver and once aboard they met the captain.

The captain began with the introductions, speaking with a strong accent. “Hello there. My name is Nicholas and I'll be your captain on this here cruise. We'll be traveling for about seven days. Below there are two cabins. The starboard cabin will be for you three, and I will take up the port cabin. I imagine you folks are tired. Why don't you go on down and get some rest, and we'll take care of the first leg of this here cruise.”

They took up in their modest cabin, and Wayne was glad to be able to lie down and get to sleep.

Wayne was woken not too long after he went to sleep by Amanda. Her eyes were damp and it was clear that she had been crying.

“What? What's the matter?” Wayne asked, worried for her.

She sobbed and then said, “I want to go home.” Wayne had the sudden realization that Amanda had left her family behind to come with them. He had never left their hometown himself, and it was likely that she had never left either.

He put his hand on her shoulder and said, “It's alright. It's gonna be alright.” She put her arms around his neck, which was slightly awkward because he was lying down and she was standing up.

Amanda sobbed again, and then said, “Can I sleep with you?”

This shocked Wayne a bit and he wasn't so sure about the idea, but his heart reached out to her, and he told her she could. He backed up against the cold, curved wall of the boat and knew instantly that there was no way he was going to get comfortable. She jumped onto the bed and then curled up next to him. He could feel her breathing against his arm and shoulder.

He could hardly hope to sleep now, and he instead thought about Amanda. Questions began spilling into his mind like rain drops into a pond. He wondered about her intentions, but knew that she was legitimately distraught, and just needed somebody to be close to. He thought more deeply about their relationship, and attempted to put himself in her shoes. He could understand her anxiety about leaving her family, he could understand her desire to see him, and this helped him understandd her side of the relationship. To her, he was a friend in some of the most important years of her life. The ache that came with being a teenager was shared between them. He could see the whole scale of their friendship, and saw that he had, in the end, abandoned her. It was a selfish move, with selfish motives. When they had first met, she had never signed on to be anything more than friends. It was his own inward feelings that poisoned the well of their time together.

But once again, they had been pulled back together. Just as they had returned to one another after small separations, they had returned to each other after a large separation. The love that he felt for her made their relationship impossible. But the feeling of alone was too much weight to bare. Impossible together, not ever happy apart.

Their time on the boat was spent either fishing or listening to stories. Trolling behind the boat for saltwater fish had an extensive learning curve, but there was much time, and little to do. Wayne and Amanda were soon pulling in a fair amount of fish, and Seth showed them how to clean and cook the fish on a stove top.

Since they had little competition, the sea life had begun to flourish considerably in the time since the bird flu. Schools of dolphins could be seen swimming beside their boat, and on more than one occasion they saw whales surfacing to take a breath and rid themselves of excess water.

One day, they were surprised. While sitting and fishing, Wayne and Amanda saw a seagull diving down and snatching various life from the water. It was a sight to behold for them, for they had never seen such a thing. “I see them from time to time,” said the captain. “I think they may be one of the few species that survived.” Wayne thought about this, and pictured a family of seagulls, carrying on like they always had, like they had no other choice.

Another day, it rained for hours. The captain stood like a statue in front of the helm in his raincoat. When the rain finally stopped, Wayne and Amanda helped pitch water over the sides. The captain spoke up and said, “Look, over there. God's promise.” Wayne looked where he was pointing and saw a rainbow in the distance. Wayne thought of the story he had read in a child's book at the library, where God promised to never again flood the Earth. Wayne looked at the captain and saw him admiring the rainbow. He practically glowed.

The captain was not shy and was a great storyteller. Often he would speak about his time following the epidemic, during which he was a fisherman for a coastal town. He told them how he would go out for days at a time, and every time he came back, there would be fewer and fewer people in the town. One day, he came back and there was no one. On his next trip he sailed all the way across the ocean until he reached land. He found a family there who invited him to travel inland to a city where people were attempting to reestablish society. These people turned out to be the Annuit Coeptis Party, and through the internal strife, he stuck with Annuit. He offered his skills to them, and from then on he and his boat made up the Annuit Navy.

Less often, the captain would speak of his family from before. He had been a married man with three children, all boys. By the time the epidemic rolled around, they had grown into fine young men. He had gone around on his final trip to his hometown to try and find his family, but they had all been dead when he reached them. When he spoke about his children and his wife, Wayne could see the love and longing in his eyes, and the pain. They did not often ask about his family, for they knew it was a hard subject to speak about, but he never turned down one of their questions.

Wayne was troubled about this time spent with Amanda. He could feel his feelings returning to him, and with those feelings, the familiar ache. He had not slept well for the entirety of their trip because she still insisted on sleeping in his bed with him. He often found himself drifting off while fishing and being awoken only when he felt a nibble and he felt weak when he tried to pull in the fish. He could not focus; his mind would jump from topic to topic, resolving nothing and creating new issues that needed further rumination. He would lose track of the captain's stories during their telling. He felt as though his life force was seeping from his body.

The night that Wayne finally got to sleep was the night that they arrived. The captain's shout of “Land, ho!” from above woke Wayne. He was unable to get out of bed without waking Amanda, so he laid attentively, listening and feeling. After a few minutes of full throttle, the boat's engine slowed and they made a slow approach to the land. The captain soon killed the engine, and Wayne could tell from the bumping on the sides of the boat that the captain was paddling in with an oar. After a telling bump, which woke Amanda, they stopped moving.

“Ahoy!” they heard the captain yell, apparently hailing someone on the land.

Seth startled Wayne when he hopped out of bed and asked them if they were awake. They both told him yes, and he told them to get up. Wayne and Seth got dressed quickly, so they could leave the bunk to Amanda to get dressed. They ascended the stairs which led to the deck of the boat, and the sky revealed light pink clouds forming in the sky with the help of the rising sun.

“This'll be your welcoming party, Seffus,” the captain told Seth, using Seth's affectionate nickname. “Best of luck to you on the mainland.”

“Thank you, captain,” replied Seth. “It was a pleasure.”

“Aye, the pleasure's all mine, sir. I just hope you can find us some help.”

Seth nodded and shook the captain's hand, a gesture which Wayne replicated.

“And you, young Dubya, best of luck to you and your lady friend.” The captain gestured towards the top of the stairs which Amanda had just finished climbing.

“Thanks, captain. Hopefully, we'll be seeing you again sometime soon.”

“Aye, I'll be back in a couple days. I've got to come round up you and your uncle. Can't leave you here with these people, can I?” He nodded over his shoulder at the welcoming party who Seth was now talking to.

“I suppose not,” Wayne replied. He gave the captain a last smile and then stepped off of the boat to join up with his uncle. Seth was making sure that the arrangements for food and board had been complied with and that there would be a chance to meet with the leaders of the Mon Droit Party.

“Of course, of course,” said the assumed leader of the welcoming party. “For now, you should go and rest until the sun finishes coming up. I can't imagine you got a lot of sleep on that vessel.”

Seth nodded. “Please take us to where we'll be staying then.”

The small group took point and began to lead them up to a lighthouse which stood above the shore. After making sure that Amanda was by his side, Wayne followed his uncle.

They were taken to the vacated lighthouse keeper's living quarters and were told that someone would be in touch with them withing a few hours. Wayne found the nearest bed and climbed in to fall asleep. He saw Amanda pull a rocking chair in front of a window. She sat down and began rocking. The sound helped Wayne fall asleep.

He woke not long after, and she was still there, looking content to waste the hours away.

“Still rocking?” Wayne asked her.

She looked back at him, and then looked back out the window and nodded. “Still rocking,” she said.

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

“Fine.”

He got out of bed and pulled up a chair beside her. He looked out the window and saw the shore with the water advancing and then receding and the sky with it's wide spectrum of colors.

“It's beautiful here, isn't it?” she said to him.

“Yeah, it sure is.” He looked at her again, and saw her eyes fixed on the shore, the water coming and going. “You're sure you're alright?”

“Fine,” she said again.

He nodded and then asked, “Where's Seth?”

“They came for him not long ago. I suppose he went to speak with the leaders of the Mon Droit Party.”

Wayne thought about a time when he was younger and had been looking through a dictionary. He had stumbled across the word “Party” and read the definitions. He was surprised when he came across the definition that described a party as a festive event, a celebration. He had never known that sort of party in his time. He had never thought about it much, but he realized now that there was a time when people had been more focused on the festivities than anything else. So much so, that when it came time to survive, the human race was not prepared. They had been born so strong, and grew so soft.

“What happened,” said Wayne to no one in particular.

Amanda looked at him. “What happened to what?”

Wayne was surprised at first that she had heard him, but then realized that he had spoken out loud. “To everything. To life. To you. To me. Everything has changed. Everything that we used to hold dear is gone now.”

“Are you talking about people, or are you talking about you and me?” This gave Wayne pause. He was not sure which.

“It doesn't matter,” she said. “You're wrong anyway.”

Wayne was further puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Everything is like it's always been. I mean, there's been a lot of change, but people remain the same. We still see the sunset and the waves, and talk about their beauty. We still see people and places and try to understand their worth. I think that at one point, things were blown out of proportion, but now we see things for what they really are. People have always looked for happiness. They've just looked in the wrong places. I think that at one point they determined that the people with the least were often the most happy. We're no different now. We should be able to be truly happy now.”

Wayne thought about this for a minute. “Then why am I not happy?” he asked her.

“Because you're looking in the wrong places.”

Seth returned within two hours. “They've agreed to help us.”

“They have?” Wayne asked. “What are they going to do for us?”

“They are going to send fifteen of their best trained armed officials with us.”

“Fifteen? Seriously? How will that help?”

“We cannot be concerned with that. We will have to make do with what help we've been given.” Seth paused for a moment, and then said, “This is the most concerned I've seen you in quite a bit of time. Why the change?” Wayne could feel Seth's eyes running over him, examining his face and body, examining every twitch and gesture.

“I've always cared as much as I do now. I just didn't always show it. I'm concerned about our home.”

Seth raised an eyebrow. “I haven't seen you concerned about someone other than yourself in some time.”

This comment did not anger Wayne, for he recognized its truth. “I can't fool myself anymore. This isn't about me.”

On the final night of their stay, he entered the light house and walked into the bedroom. The rocking chair was still in front of the window looking out at the shore. He sat in the chair for a moment until he saw her sitting on a rock on the shore. He looked at her still back for a moment and then stood up and left the room. The rocking chair carried on rocking, as if his departure had sent it into some sort of frenzy.

As he approached her rock, she looked back at him and then back at the waves. He clambered over the rock and then sat down next to her.

“What are you doing?” he asked her.

She looked into the air and sniffed. “Thinking,” she said.

“What about?”

“About you and me.”

“Aha. Have you concluded anything?”

“Yes,” she said. “I believe I am in love with you.” She looked at her knees and then at him. “Could you ever love me back?”

His heart fluttered. His stomach ached. She had finally turned the corner! Finally, he had found all that he had wanted!

And then he thought of the pain. Those sleepless nights spent wondering what the significance of her every move was. His dwindling life force, his atrophied body. The sinking feeling that came every time anyone mentioned her name. Impossible together, not ever happy apart. He thought of his parents in their last moments, thinking they were in control, and being helpless once they found out that they were, in fact, not. And he asked himself, was he looking in the right place? Was it worth it?

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

She looked at her knees again, and then she began crying. He put his arm around her and smiled, for he knew that her pain would soon be coming to a close.


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