Until Next Time
Disclaimer: They're not mine...blah blah blah...wish they were...blah blah blah.
Category/Summary: Two friends must finally say goodbye.
I don’t even have to turn around to know it’s him. His presence simply fills the void, however briefly. The first time it happened, I tried to close my eyes and wish it away. I was afraid it was a sign that I was losing my mind. But now? Now I embrace every opportunity I have to hear him…see him…remember him.
“How is she?”
There’s silence. I can sense a change in the air around me.
“I said goodbye…for good.”
I don’t say anything. My heart goes out to her…and to him. I can only imagine how hard it was for both of them. But it was probably time.
“Is that why you’re here? To say goodbye?”
I can’t turn to face him. I fear his answer.
I feel my body start to shake and my hands rush to cover my mouth. I think I’m going to be sick.
“Why?” It comes out as barely a whisper.
“You know why, Liz.”
“Please.” I try to keep my voice steady. “Don’t.”
I hear him sigh behind me. “I have to.”
I finally muster the strength to face him and it breaks my heart to see the look upon his face. It’s a face I’ve seen a thousand times, full of sympathy and love and a desire to make all of my pain go away.
It’s a face I never truly appreciated until now.
“You don’t have to be.”
“But I am. There are so many things I did wrong, Alex. So many things I can’t take back now. I’d give anything to have you back for just one more day. One more day that I could truly appreciate everything you’ve done for me…everything you’ve meant to me. One more day to make sure you knew everything I never got around to saying before.”
“You don’t need another day, Liz. I know already.”
“But how could you?” I become desperate. “I mean, I never even said it before now. I never took the time, especially lately, to just stop and tell you…or show you. I was never as good of a friend as you were to me. Never.”
Somewhere, in all of this, I began to cry and now I can’t stop. I have so much more to say but the tears leave no room for words.
He reaches out to me but, as always, doesn’t touch me. He can’t. And I can’t touch him. It’s one of the crueler points of these meetings.
“Liz. Look at me.”
I try to wipe away the tears so I can see him clearly, especially since I know this might be the last time.
“You did tell me…you did show me. With every smile and with every laugh, I knew. Friendship isn’t always about telling people you love them or even showing it, for that matter. It’s about knowing it. And I did, Liz. I swear to you. I did.”
His hand hovers just beside my face. I can’t feel his touch but I can feel the warmth as he runs his hand along the outline of my cheek as though wiping away the tears.
“Alex, I miss you so much.”
“I know, Liz. I miss you, too.”
“And now I have to say goodbye again. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I’m strong enough, Alex. I don’t know if I’m strong enough without you.”
“You are, Liz. You are. And you’ll never be without me. I’ll always be here, right by your side. Death does a lot of things…but it doesn’t end true friendship, Liz. It can’t end ours.”
His hand drops down to the quilt on my bed. I don’t want to look back up at him. I know what he’s going to say and I know the look that will be on his face. Maybe, just maybe, if I don’t make eye contact with him it won’t happen. Maybe if I sit here, very still and very quiet, he won’t be able to leave. I can keep us in this moment forever.
“Liz, it won’t work. I have to go.”
The strange thing about this is I don’t know if he’s able to read my mind now or if he’s always been able to. He always knew what to say or do and so I’m not sure if this insight is really anything new.
“I know.” I hesitate. “Will I ever see you again?”
“Yes, Liz. But not for a very long time. You have a long life ahead of you…and I want you to live it. Live every minute of it, Liz. Live for both of us.”
Something in his words gives me strength and I’m finally able to face him.
I’m finally able to say goodbye.
“OK, Alex. Just know that I love you. And that I look forward to seeing you again.”
I reach out to stroke his face but stop just short of making contact. I learned the first time he ever came to see me like this how painful it can be to try to touch someone that’s not really there. When your hand passes through what you see before you into nothingness it’s like another hand is reaching in and trying to tear out your heart.
I don’t want to make that mistake again.
So I run my hand along the outline of his face and watch as tears form in his eyes. He doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to say goodbye either.
“I’m strong enough now, Alex. I am. I’m strong enough to live…for the both of us.”
His mouth curves into the smallest of smiles and I know.
I know I’ve managed to give him some comfort…much like he’d done for me a thousand times before.
“Goodbye then, Liz.”
“Not goodbye, Alex. Just ‘until next time’. OK?”
He nods and looks down. Even though we’ve agreed to it, it doesn’t mean either of us really want to face it.
“Close your eyes, Liz.”
I take one long, last look at him before closing my eyes slowly.
I take a deep breath and accept the silence around me.
Until next time, Alex.
Until next time.