“You’re still finding your way, aren’t you?”
I laughed. That question was all Shelly.
“Tom, I’m serious.”
I made a point of looking into her soft, green eyes, so she’d understand I was paying attention to her. Of course, I liked looking into her eyes. I sometimes wished I could just stare into them. I knew I’d get lost in them, forgetting everything, including time. And just stare. But I didn’t want to disturb her, so I quickly looked away. “Yes.”
Shelly shook her head, and ran a hand through her long, brunette hair. I found myself wishing it was my hand, so I could feel the texture of her hair, so I put my hands down on the table. As I did, I realized my eyes were studying her. The way her hair fell across one shoulder. The line of her neck, and the way it curved so gently into her shoulder. Her lips. For the thousandth time I wondered how they tasted. How it would feel to press my lips to hers. I forced myself to look at my hands.
“Tom, another person would have gone back to work by now.”
I shook my head. It was my turn to smile, so I put the best smile I knew how to make on my face, “I’m not normal. You know that.”
I dared to glance at her eyes again, and wished I hadn’t. I could see the confusion, and the sorrow there. “But you had a good job. You were successful. You had a career.” Shelly put her hands on top of mine.
Gods, what a feeling. I wanted to close my eyes, and listen to everything my hands were telling me. I wanted to memorize the feel of her hands, on top of mine. Her graceful fingers on top my hands, her palms resting on my fingers. I knew I’d remember the feel of her touch, of her hands on mine, for weeks, every time I closed my eyes and thought of her.
“Tom,” her eyes locked on to mine, “It’s been three years since this all started.”
Gods, how I knew that! Three years since I came apart. Three years since my life burned to the ground. My career ended then. I’d worked a part-time job since then. I’d stopped looking for another job.
I tried to look away from her eyes. I couldn’t. I wanted to talk, I did. But all I could see was the concern, and the sadness leaking from those pools of green. I fought desperately to say anything, and I managed to whisper, “I can’t go back.” I tried so hard to smile then. And I failed. “I can’t go back.”
I wanted to tell her I knew she felt I’d come apart. Collapsed. Fallen to pieces. I knew what had happened to me made her sad. And I knew she didn’t understand anything that I’d been through. I knew she didn’t understand the life journey I was on. I knew she never would.
All I could do was smile.
She pulled her hair back over her shoulders. She did that when she tried to think through something.
“I can’t return to the world that nearly killed me.”
“Then find a different job. Don’t let your skills go to waste. Don’t let life pass you by.” Her eyes had that look people give each other when they know what they’re talking about. I know those looks exist. But I don’t know what they mean. I didn’t understand what she was saying at all. It was like she asking me to go back in time, three years. And become the person I’d been.
I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t become that empty shell again. I couldn’t become what she wanted me to. I couldn’t be bound, or defined, by a career, by a job. I couldn’t be how people wanted. I couldn’t be what they wanted.
“It’s like you’ve given up.”
I wished then, she could see my soul. See the tears my soul shed then. I wanted to explain everything to her. Tell her I hadn’t given up. I’d awakened. Come alive. Stepped beyond the walls of the life she lived in. Walls she couldn’t even see. And that wasn’t really the worst of it. The worst was she believed I no longer cared. All I could do was stare into her green eyes and try not to drown in them. All I could do was feel her hands on mine, and try not to cry tears of joy at the exquisite feelings coming from my hands.
All I could do was whisper, “I haven’t. I’ll find something.”
“When I find what I’m looking for.”
I knew I’d never get to taste her lips. I knew I’d never get to run my fingers through her hair. I knew I’d never get to lose myself in her eyes. I knew she’d do what everyone else had done.
She’d walk away. And never look back, believing I would never recover from what had happened.
She’d never understand.
I was outside the world she lived within.
Author’s Note : Sometimes, the constraints of a flash fiction challenge just get in the way. Sometimes, I have to cut away too much of a story to fit into the straitjacket of a word limit. This is one of those times. I wrote the original version of this story, and then cut it to ribbons, to fit it into the 250 word limit for #ThursThreads. (That version is here.)
This time, I had to go back, and rework the story, adding in things I’d had to cut away, filling in the missing parts of the tale. Hope you like the extended version.