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  • Writer's pictureShelly Desjarlais

White Highlights

These bloodshot eyes grow tired, but I’m afraid of what they might miss if I were to blink. I want to gaze at her profile, to memorize every inch of her face. Those long lashes, the ones she so deftly curled this morning. Her button nose, a replica of her mother’s. Those puffy lips, which used to taste of vanilla and brown sugar. That curved chin—how I want to cradle it in my trembling palm, guiding her mouth to mine…

We rest upon the bed, side by side, saying nothing. The silence between us is louder than sirens. She scrolls through her phone to avoid looking in my direction, yet I can’t look anywhere else. My arm drapes across her supple midsection, feeling the warmth of her against me. I wish to bring it closer, so close that I could assimilate her warmth into my bones. Instead, I watch her chest. I count her breaths as I try to match her rhythm.

In, and out. In, and out…

Do our hearts beat in sync? I guide my hand to her ribcage and let the weight of it rest over her heart. The beats are quicker than they’d seem. The rest of her is doing what it can to hide the unsteady patter, the brokenness of it all. I know because I’m doing the same.

The scent of her shampoo wafts to me. It’s like a flower garden has bloomed. I know the scent well. I wonder if it will bleed into the pillowcase that holds her head. I hope it does. I want the flowers to linger, a reminder of this singular moment in time. I do what I can to commit the details to memory, but I want there to be something tangible, something to cling to when the emptiness consumes me.

I let my fingertips walk across her forearm. It’s covered with the slightest peach fuzz, little blonde hairs that only light can reveal. There’s a tattoo near her wrist, a bird in flight. I trace the delicate lines as if I’m the needle. My heart drops. I know exactly what we’ve become.

We are nothing but the white highlights now, the final moment before the tattoo is done, when an artist inflicts more pain to perfect the beauty of their piece—knowing those last touches may eventually fade.

This may fade, or it may stay. I choose to believe this second will not seep out, but rather live in my skin. I soak in the sound of her, the slow exhales, those pink nails tapping on the phone screen. I keep staring at that gorgeous face. She knows I’m watching her. She avoids me anyway, still glued to the silly pictures on her favorite applications.

A tear suddenly forms in the corner of her eye. I see those baby blues shimmering as the water  pools. It starts to leak out. With quick precision, she reaches up and flicks it away before I have the opportunity to dry her cheek with my kisses. I want to speak, to ask if she is all right, but we both know the answer. All I can do is bring her nearer to me, if that’s even possible.

Everything around us is still. It is soft and quiet. To an outside observer, this is just another day, another afternoon. I hear the clock on my wall ticking, but I try to ignore it. I don’t want to know how fast time is moving. I want to stretch these minutes into days, or better still, forever. But I can’t. I can only absorb it the same way a sponge sucks in the moisture around it, becoming saturated until there’s no room left within me.

Her eyes, like sapphires. Her hair, like fragrant petals. Her body, like smoldering ashes. Her tears, like wild horses tearing me apart. My mind, like a tomb—

That phone of hers makes a noise. It sounds like a bell going off at a concierge desk. That means she has a message, and I know what it is before she bites her lip. Her brow furrows as her eyelids come to a close. I feel my gut flop. It’s time.

She reaches out with one hand and touches my cheek. My eyes threaten to storm, but I won’t allow it. I push it down and gently grip her hand. Finally, her vibrant gaze falls upon me. What is there to say when you are at the end? She merely sighs.

I reluctantly leave the bed, and she follows suit. We stand in the bedroom, feet apart, looking everywhere but at each other. I look at the white walls, the ugly brown carpet we never replaced, the tall windows she painted, and the door that will soon be opened. She keeps looking at her phone as if it might do a trick.

“I should…” she whispers.

“Yeah,” I return.

I know what I want. I want one last kiss, an embrace, to carry me through. Yet, I see the way she takes a tiny, half-step backwards. I watch her tuck her lips inward, holding them safely between her teeth. She folds her arms against her chest rather than opening them to me.

She nods. It is brisk and short, almost businesslike. I swallow the pain as if it’s whiskey and nod in return. She walks by me towards the door. It takes everything in me to stand in place. My thoughts stray to a world where I find the words or the gestures to change her mind, but I realize I’m watching our ship sail. It’s blowing by me, breaking into deeper waters, as she reaches for that doorknob.

“Just so you know,” I hear myself begin, “I—”

“I know.” She stops me.

My tongue is too heavy to respond. She gives me the smallest of smiles before she walks through the doorway. I remain there, staring at a vacant space, until I come back to myself. I walk to the windows and look at the driveway below. A brown sedan, which belongs to her cousin, is waiting at the curb.

She exits the house with her bag. Those steps are brisk and calculated. As she’s about to climb into the car, I see that she’s crying. The car door shuts, and that brown sedan drives off. I wait for the taillights to disappear at the end of our street.

I finally let myself mourn as I lock the last few flashes of us into my brain. Some might not understand why I want to remember this agony. It’s because we can never let go of the most exquisite parts of our lives until they are complete, like how a wound only scars after it has healed.

Standing here, alone in a room that was once overflowing with love, I know that we are complete—white highlights and all.

Based on the Reedsy writing prompt: Set your story over the course of a few minutes; no flashbacks, no flashforwards.

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