Love had stripped her to the bone.
“Don’t kill us,” she’d said six months earlier during our fallout. Her volume peaked as she panicked. “Aren’t we worth saving?
“Stop,” I said, evading her question.
Liz then wrestled with a fit of sobs before crying out, “I don’t want to forget how we feel.” But she was already forgotten.
She was wounded, bleeding out words, and all I could muster was a bland, “Just leave.”
“Not like this,” she begged, swollen and red from the gush on her face. “Come back to me.” When I didn’t respond, she lowered her head and wept into shaky hands. Suddenly, she shivered in one spasmodic wave before roaring, as if possessed, “Do you want me to forget you forever?”
“Yes,” I said, flatly, like only a mean bastard could.
“What are you running from? Tell me.”
I was out of answers, and my blank stare made her turn around and go for the door. She’d finally had enough. Her fragrant breath filled my nostrils before she disappeared.
~ * ~
Six months later, we were on a plane. She still knew me better than anyone, despite our separation, and her innuendoes were cast to gauge my thoughts. Secretly, I think she hoped I wasn’t resentful anymore.
I was shocked when she said, “Let’s join the mile-high club.” Liz knew it was on my bucket list. Her baby blues were locked on me, and my brow furrowed from being teased with the impossibility of plane sex with a hot girl. I almost missed the fluid coloring that ran through her eyes. I’d forgotten how they were speckled with amber and green, as if brilliant coins or sparkly gems had been thrown into a wintry stream. When she was mad, it was like the sun had burst in her eyes. They were bedazzling. I may not have been in love with her, but she was stunning—blessed with curves delicately accentuated by wavy auburn hair.
It’s every guy’s dream for a girl to suggest that on a plane, but she wasn’t being sincere. Plus, it would have been bad for us. There are few things more destructive than ex sex, so I said, “No. Did you even try to get a refund for this flight?”
Of course not. It was written all over her face as she folded her arms and sulked. Our elbows grazed and we both drooped like shameplants into our seats. We had been on this flight for two hours. Twelve hours left, and we were already at each other’s throats.
She didn’t wait long to make it more awkward. “I absolutely loved you,” she whispered into my ear, “and I would have married you if you hadn’t run like a coward.”
I turned my head sharply toward her again and whispered back in the lowest, raspiest tone I could manage so as not to startle the other passengers, “You sure you want to do this now?” She maintained a blank expression, nervously fluttering her eyelashes, hoping the next words would catapult us into a relationship again. Our time together had been no saga. “It was fake, Liz. We were fake.”
Her lip quivered and I barely heard her say “Ok” as she turned away again and hugged herself tightly. She slumped so hard into her seat that she nearly disappeared into it.
~ * ~
We had met at the university where I studied five days a week, six hours a day. My life was about books back then. To Liz’s credit, she had been brave to approach me, especially since I hadn’t given off any signal or vibe, or followed her to see where she studied, or taken a class because she was in it. I did nothing, but she tried anyway.
I was buried in my studies when her words cut through my trance. “Excuse me, do you want to be friends?” Worst pick-up line ever, yet it worked on me.
Liz was crouched next to my table…barely out of peripheral range. Her crystalline eyes could have made God himself doubt his choice of color for the oceans. She seemed encumbered by an overeager, optimistic anticipation, and her small, pointed nose complemented her geisha lips. At first, I thought she was flexing but after some time it became obvious that her mouth was designed this way. Natural selection has a funny way of making women sexy. She saw the confusion on my face and then giggled while coyly covering her mouth, as if to hide her teeth, though they were bright white and perfectly straight.
“What?” I responded. “Do I know you?”
“Kind of. We’re in the same math class.”
“And the same anthropology class.”
“Oh, I’ve never seen you around,” I said, slightly embarrassed at my oversight.
“Well, I’ve seen you,” she said.
I was unsure where or how to take the conversation, until she said, “You want to go to a movie?”
Accepting the invitation was my first mistake with Liz. At the time, it didn’t feel like a mistake, but that’s the most dangerous kind of relationship…the kind that sneaks up on you. Case in point: She said “I love you” over the phone one evening, months after our first movie. I had gotten myself stuck in a blizzard at a rest stop in North Carolina. One minute we were at a theater, and the next she was surrendering herself to me. She followed up those three damning words with, “I know you can’t say it back, but I do and it’s okay if you don’t.” We didn’t talk long and the signal dropped, so I wasn’t clear as to whether she meant it was okay that I didn’t say it back, or that she knew I didn’t love her. Either way, I didn’t want to say it because I didn’t feel that for her. I was more in like than in love. I mean, I did care, but I also cared about not graduating on time, finding a job, recycling, and the starving children of the world. Everyone outside our intimate life painted us as the perfect couple with realistic and obtainable goals and potential for a harmonious future. Really, we were like an hourglass clock with its layers of sand gradually thinning down to nothing. This timepiece had whittled down to its last grain over the course of two years.
~ * ~
As the hours passed on the plane, the brutality of the journey was taking its toll. Beijing was too many hours away. Liz eventually passed out and slept for most of the flight. She gave up talking to me…no more whispers, no more innuendoes, no chance of checking anything off my bucket list. Being stuck with Liz for the next four days wasn’t comforting, and screeching through the sky at abominable speeds while strapped to a hunk of metal made it worse.
I hated flying. Adrenaline tended to overfeed my imagination, turning gravity into a monstrous octopus whose sole purpose was to snatch planes from the sky and crash them into the water. I hadn’t slept in two days, and the exhaustion of prepping for the trip finally hit me. As the ocean below resonated like a boundless midnight, I thought, If we die today, then we both may go to heaven due to the ironic tragedy of the entire situation…since I would be dying next to the woman who loved me unconditionally, and she would be dying next to the man who would not love her under any condition.