Written for Words3
“What is it that you want from me exactly?” Tyler asked, as he stared out at the city below us. The fog that always followed summer rain was pulled over Mill Mountain like a blanket, tucking it in for the night ahead. His face didn’t look quite as old in the angle of the light from the Roanoke Star as it had in the bar. He turned his back on the pulsating streets below us, leaned against the railing, and lit a cigarette.I took a deep breath. The lingering smell of the rain filled my nostrils. I had rehearsed my request in the car during my six hour trip home. The words, that fell out so easily before I saw his face, now felt heavy on my tongue. What came out instead of my script surprised me.
“I want you to forgive me for stealing what happened between us for my novel. Only half of it was mine to tell, but it was hard to separate the details.”
He nodded, but I wasn’t sure if he was listening.
“I didn’t use your name, but our families will know I based the characters off of people we knew,” I continued. I felt my face flush with anger as tears formed behind my eyes. Forgiveness? This man didn’t deserve the power to forgive me after what he had done. It was my story to tell. What the hell was I saying?
“Besides,” I added, “You once told me that you wanted me to tell your story.”
He laughed at this recollection and flicked the ash from his cigarette. “Are you sure I wasn’t drunk or high when I said that?”
“Not entirely,” I admitted.
“Do you remember that night we stayed in a hotel for your seventeenth birthday and lied to your parents? You told them you were at a Fourth of July party with your sister,” he recalled.
“Vaguely. I think they called at midnight and I lied and told them I didn’t know where she was. We had to drive all the way to Salem, meet her, and get her to talk to them on my phone.”
“It was raining that night,” he added. “The roads were wet. That exit ramp to Towers was so slick that your car slid when we got off the interstate. I didn’t think we would make it there safely—much less in time.”
“Why is all of this important?” I asked.
He turned back to face the city. I began, once more, to notice the small craters developing on his cheekbones. Time was taking its toll on the lusty, bold, and dangerous Prince Charming I wrote into my novel. I took a step closer, and I could smell the stale alcohol on his skin. He finally glanced in my direction, and when our eyes met I understood. He would never ask for it, but I was not the only one who needed forgiveness.
“In the three years we were together, that was the only year I remembered your birthday. And, it is the Fourth of July, for God’s sake,” he laughed.
I shrugged. “You aren’t the only one that’s ever forgotten it.”
He put his cigarette out with his foot, and then reached out to take my hands. For a moment, his finger rested gently on my engagement ring.
“This place has always made me restless,” he said. “That is the only thing we ever had in common. I always feel like there is something I should be doing. There is some life I should be living outside of the one I have been given.”
“Have you ever left to try to find it?” I asked.
He let my hands fall from his own. Somewhere in the distance, a siren began wailing through the streets of downtown. A bulb in the fluorescent light from the star flickered.
His head tilted to the ground. Almost inaudibly, he whispered, “I think I keep looking for it in the wrong places.”
I hugged him then, but he didn’t hug me back. The gesture was one I learned to manifest without much emotional investment. As the expectation that he would erupt in anger once anyone he knew read my book and pointed out the similarities between Tyler and the main character faded away, so did the chance that I would feel any deep connection that would change my mind.
Home, like my first love, was a place that could no longer control or contain me. And yet, if I had time to change, so did every setting and every character I ever stole for my work including Roanoke and, of course, Tyler.
“You know I’ll probably never read it, right?” he asked when I pulled away. We began our descent to the parking lot, and the darkness was much more forgiving of the years that transformed our youth into whatever excuse we were for adults.
“You should,” I heard myself saying, looking over my open car door. “It’s not a happy ending, but it is a noble one.”
A crooked smile crept over his face. He winked at me once before climbing into his driver’s seat and heading back down the mountain. I sat in my car for a few moments, breathing deeply. No spoken permission, no forgiveness, no closure. It’s funny how real life never ties itself up as neatly as novels are expected to when a story ends.
Life continues, of course. A book hits the shelves. A broken man buys a jar of moonshine. Meanwhile, the city trembles with the creative force of artists, writers, and thieves—restless, dreaming, and looking for a way to understand every simple, beautiful tragedy under the stars.