It was the tenth day.
The birds were flying through the snowy wind, floating above the cluttered noon traffic down beneath them that cluttered up the icy, grey concrete streets. People were chatting their lunchbreaks away during short walks across the sidewalks between the corporate skyscrapers, impatient drivers were blowing their horns, yelling at each other from behind their front shields that blocked out the noise of possibly thoughtful and witty—but most likely aggravatedly dense—comebacks to the other’s profanities, and the wind kept blowing to dishevel neat haircuts while the birds kept following their invisible path on their ways over to Lake Michigan and further into silent freedom, away from this messy, lousy city she had once loved so dearly, that had once felt like home before its colours had faded away, before the tall office buildings and large harbour shippers and ferry boats had swirled into a big, undefined puddle of grey, like the melted snow mash on the rims of the busy sidewalks.
Diane clenched her entwined fingers together in her lap, pale pink flesh tightening around her knuckles that still ached from the cold outside. Slowly, her gaze wandered down until it stilled on the bright, yellow gold on her left ring finger. Her digits disentangled and the tips of her thumb and index finger closed around the cool band, starting to twirl it around as she tried to concentrate on the feeling of its material gliding against her fingertips and the way it reflected the rich, warm office light, like the motion of the sharp turns of the wind that had tousled her hair on her way here that she had not cared to fix in the elevator, until she was forced to look up.
“Diane? Do you have any questions?”
It was the tenth day, one and a half weeks later and the world had kept on spinning without him, as if his absence no longer made a difference to anyone but her, now that they had all recovered from the quick distraction of his passing thoroughly enough to live their busy daily lives again, like it had been a change in the universe too small and easy to forget, too irrelevant to disrupt their precious routines that blinded them too brightly to be able to see anything outside of their bubbles that none of them even seemed to notice how it was keeping her from going on with them.
She had always known that the dead were easy to forget, but she had never expected that the dark wings of loss were wide enough to hide the living beneath them, too. For protection or further misery, she did not even seem to know the difference between the two anymore.
Maybe they had not been all that different from the start and she had just grown comfortable with the simplicity of ignoring their striking similarities, until now, now that there was no one to distract her from noticing these things anymore, thoughts that almost felt like déjà-vus, like memories from a past life she had been born to leave behind and forget, like they had once crossed her mind before in a different century, another lifetime, before he had appeared and kept her from remembering them vividly enough to be able to find a trace of comfort in their familiarity.
“No.”, she answered, her voice raspy and low.
She watched calmly as his brows furrowed, his lips parting as he seemed on the verge of asking again, or worse, asking if she was okay, an almost hysterically rhetorical question since they had known each other long enough for him to know the accurate answer, but he closed his mouth before he could offend her by asking anyway and nodded quickly instead.
“Just give me a call if you do. Or feel free to drop by my office any time.”, he said, the uncharacteristically warm sympathy in his voice distorting it as if it did not even belong to him and he was just borrowing it for the occasion, like a pricy suit that only rose attention because it blatantly didn’t look his style.
She nodded once out of curtesy, not sure if she was even considering the offer or if her auto-pilot just ran on a lifelong habit of good manners that had been so deeply important to her parents and teachers and more adults she had lived to impress ever since she had opened her eyes or the first time. “Thank you, David. I really appreciate it.”
His eyes thinned, his lips curling into a smirk and he spoke before she even registered the hollow look in his light eyes disappearing. “No need to thank me, you know I charge every commenced hour.”
A small moment of uncomfortable silence passed between them until his lips tightened again, his eyes still on her as if he were expecting her to say something.
She cleared her throat uncomfortably, the tip of her index finger brushing over the smooth surface of her ring again. “Is that all?”, she asked, one of her brows furrowing as David swallowed hard.
“Well, there’s one more thing…”, he began, his fingers sneaking into one of the three open red folders on his desk between them, his eyes staying on her as he blindly fished something out between the pages, like his hand was working on its own accord.
He pulled it out and placed it on her end of the desk, forcing her gaze to involuntarily leave his while he kept looking at her; she had always hated not having the upper hand in a conversation.
It was an envelope, half letter sized, made of thick, crème white parchment that was disturbed by a familiar scribble on the front, placed around half an inch too far on the left to let the words it formed sit in the centre as the one they belonged to had probably intended when he had written them. She recognised the writing at once, the lines thin from the light pressure that had been applied to the expensive looking parchment, the narrow, lowercase ‘t’, the messy dot over the ‘i’ that rather looked like a lopsided apostrophe, and the slight tilt to the left at the top of the letters.
Her eyes stayed glued to it, the sudden ringing in her ears barely letting David’s low, cautious voice through to her.
“He asked me to give this to you. Last November, if that means anything to you.”
Her teeth sank into the inside of her cheek as she stared at the envelope, eyeing it almost dangerously, like she was fearing that it could hold half a ton of anthrax in it, because this was so startlingly unlike him.
It was not like him to do something like this, to leave a couple of last words for her when he, more times than not, had not even had the words to say when he’d still been able to say anything to her. It wasn’t like him to have been so sentimental, him, the guy who had scoffed at every last romantic storyline in the movies they had watched together over the years. It wasn’t like him to have thought ahead like this, to have been so thoughtful as to even worry about big ‘what ifs’ like this, to even have considered a world after him, to have thought about the aftermath of the consequences of his reckless actions.
It wasn’t like them that he would turn out to be the one who had seen this coming. She was the organised one, was neat and thorough and deliberate, the one that had both their social security numbers memorized by heart, the one who reminded him every year that they needed to file their tax returns, the one who scheduled doctor’s appointments and reminded him of birthdays on either of their sides and she was the one who should have expected something like this to happen, her, not him.
She was still staring at the slim letters when David’s voice fought its way through to her again, this time betraying his better knowledge of her and asking the question they both normally would have scoffed upon together. “Diane, are you okay?”
Slowly, she pulled her bottom lip behind her front teeth, the tip of her tongue gliding over her flesh as if she were trying to soothe it, while she parted her shaky hands and reached out, picking up the envelope and quickly sliding it in her purse and out of her sight.
Then she stood up straight and cast him a fake smile. “Thank you, David. I’ll see you next week.”
And before he could deign to cast her another look of further irritating compassion, she turned around and walked out of his office, her mind twisting and turning too harshly to allow her to register where her feet were taking her, until she found herself closing the door to her private office bathroom behind her, twisting the lock and meeting her own gaze in the mirror.
She watched her reflection as her hand slid into her purse, watched as her fingers curled around green glass and only closed her eyes when she tipped her head back to taste a handful of droplets of bittersweet grape juice on her tongue, the haunting image of his handwriting finally disappearing from behind her eyes, the lines blurring and the ink slowly fading as though the parchment was sucking it towards the back side when she heard his voice, the squiggly, thin letters that formed two words that suddenly felt a little less impactful to consume her mind in whole and weigh on her chest like they were trying to break her ribcage.
For a moment, they were trapped in her purse, none of her concern for just a little while. For a moment, they disappeared and she could breathe again.
“Why do you keep doing this to yourself?”
Slowly, she turned her head to her right, opening her eyes to meet his gaze.
“Because it’s the only thing left that feels easy.”, she answered in a bland tone, screwing the vial closed and dropping it back into her purse, trying not to register the feeling of the edges of the envelope brushing against her wrist, shutting out the feeling on her skin, shutting out the pain in her chest.
His brows were arched together in a frown, casting her this look that disturbed the calming green of his eyes and usually forced a knot into her throat. She knew that he hated seeing her like this, but she could not even bring herself to feel guilty about it because she hated seeing him like this, too, and yet it was all that either one of them had left.
“You don’t need this to read my letter.”, he said sternly and she scoffed, a bitter grin parting her red lips.
“I’m not going to read it here.”, she mumbled coolly. The mere thought of wasting his last words to her in aseptic, unflattering lighting of a room just wide enough to fit in a toilet and a small sink was just as appalling as the prospect of having to walk out of here for her partners and entire staff to witness her trying to hold on to her last bit of dignity to hide what whatever he might have written would do to her.
“At home then?”, he pushed and Diane rolled her eyes, zipping her purse shut quickly before she glared at him.
“Would you stop pressuring me?”
“I’m not. Di, I’m not even here.”
She chuckled bitterly, shaking her head, the icy look in her bright eyes sharp enough to cut through glass. “Oh, thank you so much for reminding me. It could’ve slipped my mind.”
Kurt’s eyes thinned, his lips parting as he studied her, holding her gaze like only he ever could, him, the only person she had let in and still never managed to intimidate into running from her.
He’d always been able to take it, all her ups and downs, had managed to love her at her best and at her worst, and he had always seen beyond it, taken her in and really seen her, the things she was behind each of her carefully crafted facades that were supposed to create illusions of happiness and carefreeness, of cruelty and anger to hide all the things she herself could hardly identify. The only person who had cared to truly know her.
“What are you really angry about?”, he asked gently, one of his hands curling around the sleeve of her wool coat as he began to trace patterns over her upper arm, the movement cautious as though he were expecting her to flinch away from him or shrug his hand off.
But she didn’t.
“Oh, for fucks sake, Kurt, what does it matter?”, she hissed, her watering eyes betraying her words. “The world keeps turning anyway, no matter what I feel. My partners go to work, they have lunch and meetings and their pointless little management complications that keep their lives interesting, and then they go back home to their families every day, like nothing happened. And you leave me a letter, expecting me to let it make everything go back to everyone else’s abstruse idea of normalcy again.” She snapped her fingers, swallowing against the pressure in her throat. “Just like that, like this was supposed to happen because there’s a deeper meaning behind it all and I’ll just have to deal with that, even though what happened was nothing more than a worthless tragedy. Because guess what? Nothing will ever be normal again, no matter how much they all like to pretend.”
His fingers were still roaming over her arm. One corner of his lips twitched aside in a sad smile. “Diane, this doesn’t have to change anything.”
“Of course it does! It changes everything. And it should.” She lifted her hand and gently brushed her fingers against the side of his neck, looking attentively as though she feared he might evaporate under her touch if she were too rough. “Why do you keep doing this to me?”, she whispered shakily, her gaze rising up to meet his again. “Why did you always have to make everything so much more complicated?”
His free hand cupped hers, his warm palm hugging the back of her cold hand and pressing her fingers more firmly against his skin. “I did this because I wanted to make sure you would get an apology in case I would break my promise.”
Diane’s teeth caught the tender flesh on the inside of her cheek and she looked at him, sorrow in her eyes, pain in each heavy breath she took and she shook her head, like a little tremble she couldn’t suppress.
“I’m not ready for last words, okay?”, she told him, her voice stronger than she had expected it to be.
He nodded. “Okay.”
“I didn’t think I would ever get another word from you again and I’ve been struggling to accept that this is it. That what I got was all I’m going to get and that everything you did is done and I won’t get anything else. I’m not ready to let there be nothing else left waiting for me, no other part of you I can hold—” She paused, shaking her head. “I mean, look forward to. So, please just give me time. Okay?”
She nodded, then leaned in to press her lips on the corner of his mouth, before she let go off him, looking at herself in the mirror again before a shy, almost embarrassed gaze slid up to the reflection of his eyes again. “I’m still angry.”, she said softly, raw exhaustion in her voice that showed how little sleep she had gotten in the past ten days. “I know it doesn’t change a thing and there is no one to blame. But I’m still so angry. What does that say about me?”
He squinted his eyes, watched her pleading look as he debated his answer. “Are you angry with me?”
“With you. With the world.” She shrugged, casting him a sad smile. “With myself.”
Kurt sighed, like the action helped him carry the weight of her world on his chest. His hands rose to her temples, calloused fingertips gently tucking her hair behind her ears, his skin brushing softly against the small, cut-shaped scar behind the arch of her eyebrow that she had worn since that day at the grocery store in November, mere days before he must have written the letter that was lying heavy in her purse today.
“I think it says you’re human.”, he said lowly, like he was thinking aloud. “And there’s nothing wrong with being human.”
Diane nodded slowly, escaping his eyes to look at the tips of her high heels. “Will you walk me home? I won’t take a cab, I’m in no rush anyway.”
He nodded. “Always.”
She swallowed and tried to flash him a small, grateful smile before they stepped out of the small bathroom and walked out her office, side by side. Diane barely had time to exhale the breath she had taken before she passed Marissa with a quick tug of the corner of her lips when she found herself face to face with a pair of hazel brown eyes.
“Oh hey!”, Will said, his face brightening sweetly. “I thought you weren’t coming back until Monday.”
Diane forced a startled smile. “I’m not, I had an appointment with David.”, she said, her own voice sounding like it rooms were parting it from her ears. She shook her head, trying not to look aside when she felt Kurt’s hand settling on the small of her back. “I was actually just heading out.”
Will’s eyes widened, his smile stumbling off his lips. “Oh, right. He read the will today.”
She gave him a tight nod, her eyes on him, resisting the urge to meet Kurt’s dark green gaze beside her.
Will remained silent until a split second before she would have felt the need to let out an awkward cough. “Hey, are you hungry?”
“‘Course you are.”, Kurt’s voice interjected and she could picture the frown on his forehead without having to look at him. “Diane, you haven’t had a proper meal in over a week.”
“I’m fine.”, she added quickly to neither of the two in particular.
Will’s eyes narrowed in front of her. “Okay.”, he said cautiously, making it sound like a question rather than a statement. “It’s just, it’s almost lunch time and I have a couple of hours until the next meeting. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you just feel like having coffee together—”
“I’m fine, Will.”, she repeated, suppressing a shiver at the feeling of Kurt’s hand pressing more firmly into her back.
“Diane, what are you doing?”, he whispered, and she shook her head.
“I’m just tired, I think I’d rather head home.”
Will nodded slowly, the motion betraying the concerned glint she saw shooting through his eyes. “Did you drive here? Because I could give you a ride if you want.”
“Will, your arm is broken. And I think a little fresh air wouldn’t hurt anyway.”
“I could go with you. Get you home, take a quick walk through the snow.”
“You hate the snow. Thank you for the offer though, I really appreciate it.”
He nodded again and the look he was still eyeing her with told her that he knew she’d hardly registered what either of them had said. “No need to thank me. I’ll call you, okay?”
She forced a smile and they parted. She didn’t realize she had been holding her breath until the elevator doors closed smoothly in front of her, leaving her alone.
“Don’t even try to lecture me right now, okay?”, she exhaled, her gaze fixated on the lit button of the ground floor.
She felt his hand brushing across her back, up to rest gently come to rest on her shoulder. “I’m not saying anything.”
“Good.”, she said, nodding, her eyes falling closed when he continued.
“The only thing I will say though is, this would have been good for you.”
Diane scoffed, suddenly looking up to face him. “What, going out for coffee and pretending everything’s alright? I think I’m failing to see how that would help me.”
The elevator pinged and she shrugged his hand off her while the doors slid open, rushing out between them as soon as they left enough space between them to let her through, not looking back in the hope that he would follow. It would have been too painful in case he wouldn’t.
She crossed the strangers in the foyer and escaped the building through heavy glass doors, harsh wind wafting through her hair, cold air burning against her dry lips and tired eyes and she stood for a moment, blinking until she took a deep breath and turned on her heels to walk down the street and start her path home.
She had been walking for nearly a minute when she suddenly flinched, looking up at the man who had wrapped his warm hand around her cold fingers.
Her lips parted as she looked at him, the worn leather of his brown jacket now hanging from his shoulders, tiny white flakes glittering on the sleeves. She had not realized that the morning drizzle had magnified to snowflakes again.
They came to a halt at a red light and she was just on the verge of blocking out the few people around them thoroughly enough to raise her voice against all better judgement, when he spoke, slowly and steadily, like a rock in the ocean of loud wind and strange faces and the way it felt like neither of them could have cared less about her.
“I think you know that trying to see that everything’s gonna be alright and holding onto any kind of perspective for hope and change when it shows will probably do a lot more than concentrating on the fact that things aren’t alright for now.”
She scoffed, looking around for a moment to see if people had turned around to the sudden noise she had made. But the young woman in a rosy peacoat next to her was still staring at her cell phone as though nothing has happened, and the elder man who was passing them at the crosswalk was looking straight through her. Like the walls of her bubble had solidified to block any sight or noise to the people around her, while it continued to fill with water that was threatening to drown her, without anyone noticing, not even if she had screamed at the top of her lungs for someone to help.
“You know what I think?”, she asked, her voice raspy, turning to him to let him see her glassy eyes. He looked at her expectantly. He was the only one looking at her. “I think that if the hope that everything’s going to be alright is solely based on make-believe, that makes it a rather bullshit mindset.”
He squeezed her hand, casting her a knowing smile that caused her to arch an eyebrow at him. “I remember a time where you used to believe it.”, he responded and she shook her head, her vision of him now blurry from unshed tears that were stinging in the cold wind, and she looked ahead again.
“I never believed it.”, she whispered, the breaking of her voice so rough that he hardly could have understood her. But he had. “I believed you.”
The traffic light turned green and they walked on in silence.
They passed a couple of blocks, leaving the business district and entering more quiet streets where the falling snow had already started to cover the trees that rimmed the sidewalks.
“Why is no one staring at me?”, Diane broke the silence eventually after a mother with her three children had crossed them without granting her a second look. She was still holding his hand.
“Since when do you want people to stare at you?”
She shook her head, sighing. “I don’t but, I mean, I’m basically talking to myself and no one even seems to notice.”
Kurt shrugged, like the answer was obvious. “Because you’re not talking to yourself.”
Diane huffed out a breath, the heavy exhale pushing a visible cloud of steam out between her red lips. “Well, you’re not here and I’m very much talking to you.”
He remained silent for a while under her gaze, let her watch one of his brows crinkle in thought until he found the right words. “You know those moments where you say something out loud while thinking that it was only a thought in your head?”
“You mean those moments that only happen in the kind of movies you always complained about?”
He smirked, squeezing her hand. “It’s like that. Just the other way around.”
Her brows shot together and she turned her gaze away again. “Okay.”, she said quietly.
“Would you rather have people see you talking to yourself, thinking you’re going crazy?”
“No. I just didn’t think that you could ‘go crazy’ without having the people around you thinking the same.”
“Well…”, he started, waiting a moment to make her look at him again, always able to rely on her impatience. “We choose which battles to fight in silence. If you want to do it alone, they’ll let you.”
She let out a humourless laugh. “Maybe the choice would feel a little more liberating if there was anyone here who seemed willing to fight with me.”
“But that’s because you don’t let anyone know that you might like a little assistance.”
Her lips parted, only to have her front teeth clasp the lower before she looked away again.
“I get along just fine on my own.”, she said bitterly after a couple of seconds of silence.
“Oh, I know that. And I’ll never doubt it. But a little help never hurts and, you know, it certainly wouldn’t kill you to accept some, every once in a while.”
She scoffed again. “You’re one to talk about the things that don’t kill us.”
Kurt’s eyes narrowed, pursing his lips, not sure if he was supposed to laugh or take offense. “Was that a joke?”, he asked and Diane tilted her head as if the task of holding it up had become too much about a week ago.
“I honestly have no idea.”
The stone steps by the front door of their brownstone were covered in one and a half inches of snow when they came home to a voice message from Andrea that Diane promised him to return later, even though she already knew she wouldn’t. She saw one corner of the newspaper peaking out of the snow mantle at the top of the stairs but didn’t care to pick it up.
What she did not see was the red bug parked on the other side of the street, nor the curly-haired woman behind the windshield, holding a cell phone to her ear.
“So, we’re spying on her now?”, she said with a raised eyebrow and Will sighed on the other line.
“I was just worried about her.”
Marissa shrugged. “Whatever you say. Do you want me to go in and check on her?”
“No, I don’t think she’d want that right now. I just needed to know that she got home okay.”
And if you just dared to open your eyes,
You’d see that even in your darkest moments
You’ll never have to be alone