We step out into the twilight. The fresh, warm air feels like a kiss, and the tension begins to leave my body palpably. The evening birds are singing the end of the day songs, and I can smell the greenness, which is a welcome relief after the sterile, metallic interior of the ship.
“Ahhh,” I sigh, spreading my arms out to the side, literally embracing the feeling of the forest. I let my head fall back for a moment and I gaze upwards, through the opening in the tree tops at the velvety lilac sky. The faintest hint of stars is appearing. After a second, I feel Merryt looking at me. I glance over, and he looks startled at my notice. His expression is hard to read.
“What?” We both say at once.
“You were looking at me!” Our words overlap again. I laugh.
“It feels like I’ve been gone a long time,” I say, wistfully.
“That doesn’t even make sense. You weren’t gone anywhere!” He looks at me like I might be on fire or something.
I shrug. “It felt like I was. I just felt like…” I trail off. How can I explain that I felt like the Earth was infinitely beyond my grasp, and like I was suddenly welcomed back to the rainforest, like it loved me back like I love it?
“Let’s walk. It’s a beautiful evening. This is the best time to be out in the rainforest.”
Without a word, he falls into step beside me. We walk quietly through the woods, following a trail I’ve used more than a few times, as the clearing where his ship currently resides is a good place to have bonfires and things. Fireflies and dusty-winged moths flit across the path and around us. Under the canopy of trees, the darkness is gentle. The night sounds are soothing-the rustle of broad leaves as we move between them, the occasional echoing trill of one bird to another.
We get to the edge of the village, and turn towards my house. The white cobbled streets and smooth sidewalks seem to glow softly in the rising moon, which is fat and almost full. There are lights on in a few of the houses, and I can hear music from down towards the town square and CiCi’s house. My own house is dark. I pause at the mailbox, peeking inside. Nothing. Merryt walks with me to my front step, and when we reach my green front door, he stops as I step onto the stoop. I turn and look at him. His eyes are dark wells, very serious. A lock of his hair falls across his clear, high forehead, and I catch myself wanting to reach out and brush it back. Stop it, Tmonk-Tmonk. That would be weird.
I start to thank him for walking back with me, and he shakes his head, bringing the heels of his palms to his eyes and pressing them there for a second.
He then drops his hands and says gruffly, “Well, you’re home.” He stuffs his hands into his pockets, and turns to walk away.
“Thank you…” I say, hating how small my voice suddenly sounds.
He half turns back and says, “I didn’t do anything. You could have made it back on your own.”
A little stung by his blunt, careless tone, I say, ‘Well, I appreciate it anyway. Um…well, goodnight then. I’ll see you later.”
He stops again, almost at the mailbox now. “Maybe.” Then he’s off, walking swiftly into the darkening street, towards the edge of the woods.
I hover on my stoop for a moment, indecisive. Should I go after him? Why? What do I even want to accomplish? Did I think he was going to, like, kiss me goodnight or something, after this ghastly day? Seriously, Tmonk-Tmonk? You got a man killed today, and you want a teenage love story? No. I didn’t get anyone killed. And I didn’t want anything, I just- I guess I didn’t expect that abrupt non-goodbye. Again.
His form has completely been swallowed up by the shadows at the edge of the woods, but still I stand there, looking in that direction. Go after him. No, that’s pathetic. Go after him. Why do I even care? Can’t I just put this nightmare behind me? After another moment of lingering, I turn and go inside.
When at last I stand in front of the tall, thin mirror mounted on the back of my bathroom door, undressing to take a ridiculously hot bath, I see that my upper arms are ringed in bruises. My knees are slightly purple too, and my face is pale and looks like it’s all staring eyes. I turn away hastily, tossing my clothes onto the floor. The bath is so hot it almost burns me, but it brings the sense of energetic purging that I desperately desire. A while later, I fall into bed, my wet hair still wound up in a towel. I lie sprawled on my back, on top of the covers, too hot from the water to even consider getting under the blankets. I stare at my ceiling in the dark, listening to the music still emanating from down the street. Then I slap my hand up to my collarbones and neck. The necklace I always wear, two iridescent quartz crystals on a long chain, that Veta used to wear, isn’t there. I bound out of bed, and rifle through my clothes. It’s nowhere to be found. I try to remember the last time I remember feeling it around my neck, and I can’t. Great. I’ll have to search the trails tomorrow. I push the idea that it might be on Merryt’s ship out of my head. I’m not going back there. I slouch back to bed, dejected. Physical exhaustion wins out over mental frenzy, and I’m gone, but nightmarish repeats of the scene in the cantina await me in my sleep. At several points I jolt awake, disoriented, sure that I’m back in the impersonal apartment, with a strong sense of someone carefully pulling a sheet up to cover my shoulders, and clicking off the light before quietly leaving the room. Each time, I emerge from sleep just enough to recognize the pattern of the street light on my own ceiling before fitfully returning to unrestful dreams.
To Be Continued.
This concludes Part One of To Be Continued. I know it was a short snippet this time, but fear not; Part Two will begin next week.