Love is when you rip out a piece of your heart and bestow it on someone. Often, they don’t realize it and continue on as if they hadn’t just become one of the most important parts of your life.
This is the conclusion Austin came to as he watched Lily walk by. She seemed so carefree, unaware of her own importance in his life. She was integral to the foundation of his world; without her, everything would crumble, leaving nothing but an endless chasm. He could spend the rest of his life falling without ever having a landmark, something to hold on to. How could she care so little for what he felt?
He immediately rebuked that thought. She wasn’t capable of consciously hurting anyone or anything. That was what made her so perfect….
Lily smiled at Austin. He didn’t know what to do! His heart fluttered in his chest, his stomach dropped, and his mind went blank! Before he knew it, that precious moment had slipped away. The real world melted back into view; rows of clothes replacing the forest glade, car sounds replacing the songbird’s serenade. The run-of-the-mill garage sale seemed like much too ordinary a spot for an angel to reveal herself. All the way home, Austin wondered what was so special about her. Was it her beauty? No, no other beautiful girl had affected him this way. Was it the attention? That was nice, but not quite it. There wasn’t an apparent reason for his feelings; they just were. When he brought it up with his parents, they replied, “7 years old is entirely too young to have a crush. She is probably just really nice.” But he knew better. He knew that what he felt, no matter his age, was real. Somehow, he was connected with Lily.
Unbeknownst to Austin, a smile crept onto his face. Nothing could make his insides sing like thinking about Lily. She opened him up, made him forget all his troubles. Nothing existed at that moment but him and her. Then it was gone…
Austin sighed, another birthday gone. What was the point of being a newly-minted teenager if you didn’t have what mattered most to you? He took one last longing glance out the window before joining the rest of his friends for cake.
Before falling asleep that night, Austin’s thoughts drifted back to Lily. How could she betray him with such cold-hearted resolve? She had already heard that Austin cared about her. Why would she suddenly decide to get involved with James? Admittedly, his momentary success as a football star must have been attractive, but there was more to life than playing a sport. And how could James ignore the blooming relationship between Austin and Lily? Surely it must have been noticeable…
Austin finished his joke, executing the punch line perfectly. On cue, Lily’s eyes lit up. She giggled uncontrollably, making some comment that Austin couldn’t catch. He was too busy soaking her in. Whenever he could make her laugh, he would. Her deep brown eyes would sparkle, her lips would part to reveal perfectly white teeth, and her laugh would come rushing out to meet the world. All too soon, their friend James came and said something to Lily. She nodded and followed James to his seat. “Goodbye, Austin!” He was too high off of her laughter to even notice that she was leaving. He could barely spit out, “Bye” before she was gone.
Tears welled up in Austin’s eyes. It had been six months since Lily and James had started dating. Selfishly, he wanted to point out all of James’ faults to Lily and beg her to break up with him. What a love story that would be! She would obviously come running back to Austin for a shoulder to cry on, and then she would realize that Austin had been there all along. She would look up, her eyes strangely magnified by the tears, and he would wipe away the last drop on her cheek. They would get married, have children, grow old together. They would hold hands as they both breathed their last, and would then face the endless horizon together. Austin’s last thought as he drifted off to sleep was that she deserved all the happiness she could fit into a life; how dare he take any away, even for a second.
Austin started walking towards the drinking fountain. He wasn’t looking for Lily, but seeing her along the way would definitely be a bonus. Abruptly, he stopped. James and Lily were sitting on a bench together, watching the setting sun with heads leaning against each other. They were talking quietly, and Austin’s heart fell. All of a sudden, the reality of the situation came crashing in on him. Whether they were dealing with a problem together, or just enjoying each other’s company, they were together. He wasn’t invited, he wasn’t allowed into her life anymore. It took all of his willpower to stay upright. He knew he had to move on. The idea itself of moving on didn’t sound intimidating, but the trouble came when he had to leave a part of his soul behind, encased in a beautiful, amazing prison.
Austin woke up to the news that James and Lily were in an accident. Apparently, James was fine, but Lily was still in the hospital. She was asking for him! The 20 minutes it took to get ready was gone in a flash. The trip to the hospital was nerve-racking. What did she want? Did she just want someone to stroke her back? Would she tell him she decided to break up with James, and she only cared about Austin?
When he arrived at the hospital, there were solemn faces all around. James’ and Lily’s fathers waited outside, with James sitting dejectedly in between. Austin didn’t waste time saying anything. Inside the room, the mothers waited with Lily. She looked so small and scared, sitting there in her bed. Apart from a few scratches and bruises she didn’t look that bad. She didn’t notice him come in, and he couldn’t seem to break the silence. He was afraid to speak and let reality come flooding back into the still scene.
His indecision was made inconsequential by the doctor’s entrance. The doctor had striking blue eyes and a saddened look on his face. The motion brought Lily’s attention back to the present, and she noticed Austin. She did her best to smile at him, and held out her hand. He shuddered. It was like his worst nightmare combined with his fondest daydreams. After a second, he walked to her side and gently slid his hand in hers. It fit perfectly within his, but was so cold. The doctor waited for a second, and then said, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do. It’s a slow bleed, but I can’t imagine a scenario where you are alive two days from now.”
Lily’s hand clamped down on Austin’s. As the doctor left, Austin turned to Lily. Tears were streaming down her face, tracing the outline of the cuts and bruises. He slowly brought his thumb up to her cheek, then froze. It wasn’t his place to comfort her.
“What’s going on, Lily?”
“James and I were fighting while he was driving, and he stopped too fast. The car behind us hit us, then we slammed into the one ahead of us. My head hit the dashboard, and it caused a hemorrhage in my brain. I guess I don’t have that long.”
At the end of the explanation, she started crying again.
“I’m so sorry; do you want me to get James? Or let your friends know?”
“No, James and I aren’t going to be seeing much of each other anymore. I want to make the most of the rest of my time. Will you stay with me?”
Austin’s stomach turned. He had just gotten used to the idea of moving on, and now he was supposed to comfort the one who he felt had betrayed him the most?
“Of course I will.”
Two hours later, Austin and Lily were laughing and talking as if they were still children. However, the mood grew somber as Lily looked intently at Austin.
“Ask me out.”
“Why? Shouldn’t you be here, just in case there’s something the doctors can do?”
“You heard them, they can’t help.”
“You still haven’t answered my first question.”
Austin’s heart broke for the second time that day. She couldn’t come up with a better reason than, “why not?”
“Lily, will you go on a date with me?”
The heavenly giggle came back, if only for a second.
An hour later, Austin had gotten permission from her parents and the hospital, and had gone home to get ready. He carefully picked out the shirt she had once said she loved, and showered for half an hour. Before leaving, he spent another 30 minutes agonizing over what he would say: what could he say?
Austin held the door open for Lily as she walked out of her house. He thought she looked beautiful, and told her so.
“Thanks. I love that shirt on you.”
“I know. I never forgot.”
She smiled and got into the car.
They spent the rest of the day a lifetime away from their problems. They watched a romantic comedy, got dinner, and walked around town. They both did their best to ignore the gnawing thought that she wouldn’t last through the week. Even in the midst of their faux joy, Austin couldn’t help the returning thoughts of abandonment and betrayal.
She didn’t choose you. She only wants you now because you make her feel like everything is back to normal.
He shook off the thought to see her sniff quietly.
They both grew quiet as the night wore on.
She’s realizing that she made a mistake in spending her last hours with you.
They reached a bench overlooking a park lit by the dying sun.
Why did you agree to this?
Lily leaned her head against Austin’s shoulder and rested for a while.
Don’t lie to her, or yourself.
As the shadows grew longer, Austin could see the 2-dimensional version of him and Lily laid out on the ground before the bench.
This could, and should, never be.
Like a warm portrait, Shadow-Lily and Shadow-Austin seemed so normal.
She chose James.
Lily’s breathing became so slow, she must have fallen asleep.
Ask her, before you lose your chance.
“Lily, did you ever really love me?”
He listened for the gentle whoosh of her breath.
He was alone.
Austin was jolted awake.
“Austin! Wake up already! James and I are going to the movies, do you want to come?”
Austin looked in confusion at a smiling Lily.
“Uh…No, I think…I have something to do.”
Lily and James walked off arm in arm. Austin picked up his bag, heart heavy.
He was still alone.