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fate, irreplaceable

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When he thinks about it, them meeting was an incredible feat of happenstance.

Timing, coincidence, luck, the buildup of events that had started years before that led him to that very moment, sitting at that very coffee bar on that exact ship. He thinks that kind of thing happens maybe once every fifty lifetimes.

Fate, she’d called it. The universe planned for this.

He’s not sure whether or not he believes that.

Was it really a matter of sooner or later ?

Of course! is what she said. We were meant to be!

Calling it fate seems to be taking it easy. That no matter what, they’d always find their way to each other. It’s not that he dislikes that idea. In fact, he likes it very much.

But he also likes to think that this was special. That it doesn’t happen in every life, maybe it’ll only happen once, ever.

And their story, all that they experienced together, is more than just a matter of It would have happened eventually.

He doesn’t want this to have been a product of time, but rather something much, much more special than that.

He wants to think that they happened not because something like fate or destiny deigned it to be so, but rather because he made her happy, and that’s why she chose him.

He thinks that she doesn’t deserve anything less than that.

She’s really something too … significant for this world. He almost feels selfish for being able to be the one by her side.

Most of the time, though, rather than selfish, he just felt grateful.

But—

No one makes me as happy as you do, you know? she’d say, all smiles.

—and just like that, everything goes out the window. Because when she did that, he can’t help but want to think that he’s the one who gets to be with her no matter what world, what timeline, which lifetime it is.

He remembers her on the ship, bright and loud, talking and talking despite not getting an answer. He remembers her smile, half-hidden behind the cup of black coffee made just for her, and no one else. He remembers the wind in her hair and an army of paper airplanes in the sky.

He remembers green balloons, sparklers by the river, and the weight of her on his shoulder, his back, his chest.

He also remembers her dead weight in his arms, the sterile smell of the hospital room, the cold feeling in his stomach.

He remembers all of it, of course, and it was the moment when he recalled the feeling of hopelessness when he heard the word cancer, that dreadful pang when he saw the medication in her drawer, and those excruciating hours outside the operating room, when he felt like, for the first time, one lifetime might not be long enough.

Forever, he thinks, might not even be long enough. He doesn’t think any amount of time is long enough to spend with her.

To him, happiness matters the most today, in the now. As long as she was happy in that moment, he is as well. It’s that simple, but he can’t help but think that he’ll go to his grave wanting, even more time than he did, no matter how happy of a life he’d had with her.

You’re my sunshine! she’d say, and in that moment he’d forget that they have a time limit at all.

Lots of times, he finds himself wishing that he’d met her sooner. He recalls that there had been a chance they could’ve been childhood friends and wonders what that would’ve been like.

He doesn’t ask her about it because he knows it’s a touchy subject. But she brought it up on her own, once. Hey, if my parents had gotten married, then we would’ve grown up together!

And—he’s not going to kid himself, he does see the appeal in that. He would’ve known her longer, spent more time with her. But he might not have remembered their first meeting because he would’ve been so small, and he’s not sure he sees the appeal in that .

But it’s great because that means we can’t remember a time where we were ever without each other, she said.

That’s true, he supposes. But the real truth in all this is that it didn’t happen, so therefore they should stop wondering about the what-if s and just focus on the reality. It’s always been a principle of his.

He once told her that he’d try his best to do with her all the things that she wanted to do. He doesn’t think that that’s something that’s changed at all, even after all that’s happened.

What if I told you I wanted to go to the beach and play guitar? she’d said, once.

Then I’d take you to the beach to play guitar, he’d replied.

Even though the beach is so far? And even though I can’t play the guitar?

Especially because the beach is so far, and she can’t play the guitar. He’d bring his and play it for her, or he could teach her how to play it, it didn’t matter. He’d just do his best to make it the best trip for her because it’s something that would make her happy.

Thanks, but I’m just kidding. You don’t need to do that. Maybe in another life , she’d said.

And that had just made him think all the more.

Sunshine, she called him. Because you make me feel warm and happy. And he can’t help but think of that classic English song. She knew it too, and smiled and said, It’s perfect, it  could be our song! But she only talks about the first verse, the chorus. He didn’t think she knew about the rest of the song, and he tried to avoid thinking about it.

Very rarely, he has these dreams. They’re more like nightmares, judging by the way he wakes up scared and devastated, but the dreams themselves aren’t traditionally frightening. It’s always what the dreams mean that scares him the most.

There’s one he remembers very vividly. In that one, he yells at her, and she doesn’t come back. It’s his least favourite out of all the terrible ones. He thinks he hates that one even more than the one about the flatlining heart monitor in the hospital room.

When he woke from those, shaking and sweating with unshed tears in his eyes, he usually went down the hall to find her. He never wakes her, of course, because he doesn’t want to bother her. But most of the time he’d give her a kiss on the cheek. Just to be sure.

Sometimes, she smiled in her sleep when he did it. He recalled the dream she once told him she had, about him kissing her after he puts a blanket on her.

He wonders about that. He thinks he should’ve done it when he had the chance. It would’ve made her smile.

He loves the way she smiles, he thinks. It was always the best part of his day whenever she does. He wants to keep that smile alive forever.

Smile for me! she used to say, back when they hadn’t known each other for very long. He thinks about that a lot, mostly when he doesn’t think there’s anything else in the world worth smiling for.

"So smile for me,” he says. “Smile for me, won’t you?"

She doesn’t reply, because she can’t. It’s funny that he’s asking that at all because she’s clearly smiling right now. Her laughing eyes look back at him, lips frozen in a sunny smile. He’s memorized every line of it. She looks happy, he thinks. He hopes she’s happy right now. It’s all he wants, really.

He lifts a hand to trace the line of her face, and can’t help but think that the photograph feels so cold on the stone. She was always warm.

He remembers the day he found out his parents were dead. How she’d held him, the best she could, because she had just gotten back from the hospital and still couldn’t stand for very long.

How he’d told her that his parents were all he had, but he’d never lost hope that they’d return until that day. How he’d said that now, he was all alone in this world.

He remembers the way her voice had sounded so—broken, when she’d said, You’re not alone. You have me.

Broken, not for herself, but for him. How he’d been so glad in that moment that she was there.

“You broke your promise, you know.” He smiles, despite himself. “Don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you. I know it wasn’t your fault.”

He drops his hand from the headstone. He’s glad they chose this picture, she looks good in it. It captures her well, and looking at it almost makes him forget that she’s no longer here.

“I hope you like the flowers I got you. I think you’ll like them, I spent a lot of time picking it out. They’re all warm colours, because you like those.” He places the flowers in front of the headstone. He changes position so that he’s sitting beside the grave rather than in front of it.

“I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m doing good,” he says. There’d been a time where he wouldn’t have been able to say that, not too long ago.

“Uncle is doing well, too. He misses you, though. They all do.” Here, he pauses. He hadn’t said this out loud to anyone yet, but he suspects that they all know. “I miss you, too.”

For a moment, he just sits there in silence. He thinks that he sees a couple of other people in the distance, presumably also here to visit someone. It’s peaceful, he thinks. Too quiet, though. The two of them never spent too much time in silence, she was never the type of person for that.

He misses her. It’s the pure, unadulterated truth, and he hasn’t admitted it out loud until today.

“The shop seems empty without you. But you’re with your mom, so it must not be so bad over there,” he says. “I bet she missed you as much as you missed her.”

He doesn’t have a time that he needs to be back by, so he can stay for as long as he wants today. And he does just that. He doesn’t talk a lot, not because he doesn’t have things to tell her, but because it feels unnatural not getting a response. He doesn’t know if he would be able to keep it up, because it’s just a reminder harsher than he’s willing to take. He’s a little selfish like that.

When he eventually gets up to his feet, he does it unhurried. Turning to face the grave, he smiles down at it.

“I’m glad I got to spend time with you today.”

He can almost hear her voice replying, Even if it’s not the same as before?

Of course. No matter what, no matter how I’m doing it, I will always love spending time with you.

“I’ll keep coming to visit,” he says.

Wait for me, okay?

He touches the tips of his fingers to his lips and bends down to brush it against her photo. Straightening back up, he turns to head out of the cemetery.