This story is by Katie Borley and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’ll love everything about you ‘til my dying breath. Even now I still remember the moment I fell for you, all brown eyes and soft curls and gorgeous freckles. You always hated your freckles, but I loved the way they danced across your skin when you laughed, like stars in the sky. It was years before you fell for me too, but I forgave you eventually. You always were a bit slower than me, of course. But that just gave me more excuses to stay behind after school and help you study. Those were my favorite days back then. Every second I got with you was like winning the lottery.
You got so flustered around me, like you didn’t want me to know just how bad you really were at math – and I was surprised, sure, but it didn’t make me love you any less. But no amount of reassurance from me would get you to believe that.
I showed it in other ways: A kiss pressed to your cheek in the halls, a tight squeeze of your hand as we sat beside each other for assemblies, gently pulling you into my lap when I felt you could use a hug or two. You’d never admit it yourself, but I could tell you lived for those moments. So did I.
Here, in our room, I pull you closer, wrapping my arms around you like you did to me so many times before. Trying to squeeze the sadness out of the both of us. I can almost feel you melting into my grasp. Almost.
Our friends all thought we wouldn’t last through the summer, but we did – several summers, just to spite them. You were always beside me, through every breakdown, every all-nighter, every test, every project. Even when we were stuck in different classes I could still feel you with me.
After school ended for good, I couldn’t wait to move in with you. We practically lived together anyways, but at least now we wouldn’t have to sneak around behind our parents’ backs. Yours never did like me, but I didn’t care.
After barely graduating, you decided you were done with school, and got a job in a factory. It was decent work, although boring as hell. You didn’t seem to mind, though, always coming home with a tired smile on your face. I could see in your eyes you were ready to fall apart but you always managed to pull me into your arms first. You’d stumble through the door and meet my eyes from across the kitchen, staggering towards me like a man in a desert finding a drink of water. I always felt so safe in your arms, like nothing could ever go wrong. I knew that was a fat lie, but in those moments, I didn’t care. Nothing mattered but you.
In our room I stare blankly at the ceiling fan, its warped blades turning lazy, lopsided circles above us. It’s barely enough cool air to keep us from sweating our skin off but I’m afraid if I turn it up any higher it’ll fall right out of the ceiling. I peel off my shirt and help you with yours, pulling you on top of me again, trying to get as close as I can, not wanting to miss a second of this. But I can’t help my mind from drifting off.
No matter what I went through, you were always there. Unlike you, school had come easy to me, and I figured college was where I was meant to be, as so many people had told me over the years. Stubbornly you said you would support any choice I made and refused to influence that decision. I went to a top university a million miles from home based on the words of a bunch of strangers who never really knew me at all. You were the only one to see my hesitation, and you were there to catch me when I fell. Hard.
We decided it would be easier on me if you and I got an apartment off campus. That way I could come home to you every night and fall into your arms and break into a million pieces, a crying wreck about a hundred meaningless problems that all added up to something much bigger and darker inside.
You held me close and spoke softly to me, stroking my hair and murmuring reassurances to me in the night. I do the same to you now, running my fingers through your soft curls and stroking your cheek. A slight smile is stuck on your face, the muscles beneath it becoming rigid. I trace the curve of your closed eyelid gently with the pad of my finger, feeling the long lashes flutter beneath my touch. Tears hang from my own lashes, trailing down my face and mingling with the sweat. I wipe them away with the back of my hand but soon there are more to replace them.
I thought for sure you’d leave me when I started drinking, but you stayed put. Maybe it was because you were afraid to be alone, or maybe it was because you loved me as much as I loved you. I never bothered to find out the real reason because I was just so damn glad you were still there.
You stayed by me through all of it, put up with so much of my shit. I didn’t deserve for anyone to love me that much, especially not you. But I was damn grateful. I promised myself I’d make things right, I’d become the person you deserved to have. Everything could go back to the way it was and I could stop feeling so guilty. But it was too little too late.
Today I’m six months sober. The chip they gave me rests on your back, balancing between your shoulder blades. My minder wanders off as I trace the shapes engraved on it with a fingertip, grazing my hand across your shoulders and down your spine.
Today I’m six months sober and you’re not around to see it. I was so excited to show you my chip that I nearly ran home from class and threw open the door, calling out into the darkness filling the apartment, expecting your warmth to be filling the space but being greeted with nothing. A silent emptiness worked its way into every crevice of our apartment. I told myself you’d gone out for groceries, but my insides told me that wasn’t true. I knew, but I did not want to understand.
I stood in the doorway, watching you lying on the bed, still and quiet. I could almost pretend you were asleep. Almost. Your pill bottles sat on the nightstand beside you, just in front of one of my bottles of liquor. All empty.
I think I always knew this was how our story would end. You loved me too much to let me go and in the end it’s what brought you down. My pain became yours, and you already had so much of your own. I took your love for granted and that’s why today I lie in our bed with your body in my arms and tell you all the things I love and cherish about you and every happy memory with you. Inside my soul is screaming at me, demanding I find a way to go back and save you. Maybe if I’d quit a little sooner… Held you a little longer… Tried a little harder to show you how much I loved you. But deep down I knew I could never have done enough to save you, not on my own.
I suppose I should let go of you now. But I can’t stop relishing the feeling of holding you close. If I have to spend eternity without you beside me, can’t I just spend a little longer with you now? I feel like I’m bargaining with Death. Maybe I can convince Him to take me instead. But I know that’s not what you would have wanted.
All I can think to do now is show you the love I always felt but could never get you to believe. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get everyone else in the world to believe it with as much conviction as I believe it. I’ll scream it from the rooftops, I’ll write pages upon pages about every little detail of you, I’ll spend every waking moment giving you the love you deserve.
And I swear, no matter what, I will love you ‘til my dying breath.