Now It's Time to Say Goodbye
His back pressed against her chest. She reached out and gently stroked the nape of his neck, moving a hand up to feel the ends of his recently cropped hair. It was six months since they’d first met and now she could sense it all falling apart.
Danny twisted, his body shifting as he continued to dream. Emily moved herself, allowing him to turn over. Now his face was directly beside her. She touched his nose, gently traced patterns on his thin lips.
The more I love you, the more I lose you. She felt it tangibly in this heat, her heart so heavy and slow. She remembered the night they’d first made love, back at his flat in London. ‘I trust you. You’re sweet.’ Those were the five words she’d said as she followed him up to the bedroom. His breath soft and warm against her skin. It would stay with her forever. She was aroused now, just at the memory of his touch. And still he slept on beside her as daylight crept through the room.
It was silly to worry about how she’d cope without him, but it was in her nature to explore those dark things. Nothing lasts for ever – that’s how she’d come to live her life.
One day she’d woken up and thought, ‘I fear you. You’re too intense.’ Maybe she’d known it all along or it was there in the oblique answers she gave when he dared to venture stupid or imagined jealousies. Of course she was right. He wanted to devote his whole life to her and she needed something more rounded. It was an unequal balance that must ultimately drive them apart.
She looked on at his compact frame with regret. She wanted to wake him now, to make love in the morning – her favourite time. But she couldn’t. It would only ensnare them further, make the pain of parting that much harder. She had already made a decision. Now there was only one thing left to do.
Quietly she got up and switched on the computer. It took a few seconds to boot up. She tried to contain the sense of destiny she felt brewing inside her. There was a line from one of her favourite songs playing in her head. ‘You never miss the water until the well runs dry.’ She frowned. She supposed she was about to find out.
It took a moment to get her thoughts in order, but soon she knew what she had to say. Diligently she tapped out the email message, eager to be done with it. All the while she was aware of Danny sleeping beside her. She could’ve reached out and touched him, knelt beside him and whispered the words into his ear. Or gently woken him with kisses and explained it all to his face. But instead she composed the words on to the screen until she had managed to capture everything that needed to be said.
Her fingers hovered over the send button for a second and then she pressed the key. It was done. Now there was no turning back.
Emily got up and set about making breakfast. She looked in the little fridge of her apartment. There were eggs, butter, milk and some bottles of beer they’d bought last night from a local wine store. On the table at the side was a bag of mushrooms. She found a pan and added a little oil. She tossed in the mushrooms and started to beat together a couple of the eggs. From the kitchen window she could see cars moving down the hill towards the harbour. The streets were mostly deserted, save for an old woman pushing a reluctant shopping trolley. She turned to get another egg and found Danny watching her. He was stood in the doorway, rubbing sleep from his eyes. His hair, though shorter now than it used to be, was still mussed up and he sneezed a couple of times – which seemed be a part of his wake up ritual.
‘Mm, morning.’ He kissed her lips and suddenly she was reminded of her earlier fantasy. She looked longingly back to the bedroom, but she felt an obligation to the mushrooms sizzling in the pan.
‘Do you fancy some breakfast?’
‘Sure.’ He smiled and then turned away from her to sneeze again.
It struck Emily then that even long established rituals had no real permanence.
Emily wasn’t sure precisely when she’d made the decision to end it this way, maybe it was an idea that had just blossomed over time. Of course she was fully aware of what she was planning when she’d rung to invite Danny down for the weekend. Even so, the excitement in his voice had caught her off guard. She’d felt a moment of doubt, but of course she should’ve known he’d be excited. He’d been begging to visit for weeks.
From there she’d started planning in earnest. The hardest part was sending the email. After that everything would fall into place. A day together among the rocks and sand of a remote beach, a romantic evening meal and then a late night return to her flat. A chance to consummate their love one final time.
Quit while you’re ahead – that was the only way she could look at it.
‘C’mon Em, you’re daydreaming again. We have to get off in a minute.’
‘Sorry.’ Emily sat up with a start. They were on a bus travelling northwards up the coast. The countryside around them was barren and brown. It hadn’t rained in several weeks. The distant sea was the only water in sight.
Danny squeezed her hand. ‘There’s always so many things going on in that head of yours. I wish I could get inside there and take a look.’
She blushed. ‘Umm, it’s mostly mush. You wouldn’t want to get stuck there.’ She laughed half-heartedly and picked up her bag, preparing to get up.
The bus pulled in by the side of an empty road, allowing them to get off. The coast stretched away in both directions. Ahead was the vast sweep of the ocean. They walked slowly in the heat of the sun, eventually reaching a sheltered cove where scrambling over rocks took them down to a deserted beach.
There was no wind here. Danny pulled off his shirt, exposing his pale flesh to the fierce sun. He reached out to embrace her, massaging her neck with the tips of his fingers. Emily felt her body soften under his tender touch..
‘Later,’ she scolded him, afraid to let her planned routine fall apart so soon.
‘I want you now,’ Danny protested.
‘Work first. Pleasure later.’
Danny laughed. ‘Students aren’t supposed to work … ever.’
‘Well art students are different,’ Emily explained patiently.
She took out pens and paper from her bag and set about the task of sketching his fine body.
He was still for a while, watching her at work, a satisfied smile playing on his lips. Then he flinched, turned away and sneezed.
The first sneeze seemed to set off a chain reaction and he buried his face in his hand, trying to stop the flow.
‘Are you okay?’ Emily asked, setting down her pad for a moment.
Danny sniffed, gave her a bemused smile. ‘Maybe it’s the sand irritating my sinuses. Or probably just that I’m coming down with a cold.’
She resumed her work, shading in the flesh tones with vibrant strokes, filling the space with the ease of a confident craftsmen.
When she was done, she showed it to him. He stared at the pad, holding it up to the light.
‘It’s good. Can I have it?’
Emily paused, the request had caught her off guard. The sketch was for her. But she didn’t know how to tell him that. Right now she couldn’t think of a way to explain.
‘Sure. Eventually. I need to build up a collection for my course work.’
‘Fine.’ He seemed to accept the lie easily enough. He was content to hold her again, stroke her hair lazily, until another sneeze stole up on him.
She watched him, remembering how angelic he’d looked in the dim light of the dawn.
‘What did you dream about last night?’ she asked, suddenly intrigued to know.
‘I don’t know. I can’t remember. I never remember my dreams.’
Did Danny ever dream about her, she wondered. Because Emily had dreamt of a mysterious dark-haired boy with soft brown eyes month’s before she’d met him.
The heat rose up, shimmering the air around them. Emily lay her head against him and dozed in the calm and stillness of the noon. The sea was never far away, lapping the shore with a simple certainty, while seagulls wheeled above them.
That evening she had planned to take Danny to her favourite local restaurant, with a view across the harbour and an intimate ambience of soft candlelight and low music. She had sat there for hours one day, painting a view of the bay and ships floating on a calm sea. It was a hazy dream of pastel colours that captured an air of innocence – something she had often sensed near sunset when the real world receded from her mind and she imagined herself in simpler times.
The restaurant had liked the picture enough to give it pride of place in their dining room. It was an odd pleasure to be confronted by it whenever she ate there. Usually she was reluctant to part with her work, but this seemed to fit the place so perfectly.
She sighed. They would not be eating there tonight. Danny felt feverish and tired, he apologised to her and asked if they could spend the evening back at the flat. She could hardly refuse, the poor man looked so washed out and she supposed nothing should be too predetermined. Nothing that is apart from the email she’d posted that morning. That could never be undone.
She ordered pizza and they sat in the small living room of her flat, listening to music which she had chosen.
‘Why are all your favourite songs so sad?’ Danny asked, curious.
‘I don’t know. Maybe when you’re feeling depressed you can pour all those emotions out into words. It’s a cathartic experience. If you’re happy you probably don’t have time to write songs. Most of the happy songs have silly, trite lyrics.’
‘Hmm, I never thought about it like that.’
Emily was sat on a large lounger chair. Danny rested on the floor beneath her, his head balanced against her legs. He reached out a hand to hold hers, but had to pull away as another sneeze caught him unawares.
‘Huh-cheew! Damnit, sorry…’
‘’s okay. You can’t help that you’ve got a cold.’ Emily watched as he took out a handkerchief and blew his nose fiercely in a vain attempt to unblock his sinuses.
‘I wanted this weekend to be perfect. It’s been three weeks since I last saw you…’ He paused to stifle another sneeze. ‘I miss you so much.’
Emily shivered, wondering how cruel she had become to continue this charade. I don’t know myself anymore. She stared blankly at her hands. They were just instruments, as easy to use for creating art as they were for holding a gun that could kill.
‘I wish you’d come back to London with me,’ Danny mumbled.
‘I can’t silly. I have my course to finish here. You know that.’
He held her hand tightly in his this time. She felt the damp warmth of his skin. Slowly she ran her thumb back and forth across his palm, working a groove into the soft flesh.
There was a knock at the door and she got up to collect the pizza. In the distance she could hear Danny sneezing again.
Poor young man.
Everyone remembers the first time they made love – usually with a mixture of horror, embarrassment and disbelief. Or maybe mordant humour. Did it really happen that way? Where were the starbursts and the melting hearts? Why did it all have to be so awkward and messy?
Emily gave it a moments thought. Now she was privileged to know that this would be their last time. She owed it to Danny to make it good. He was weak and feverish, but somehow she found that attractive. There was no resistance when she took his hand and led him to the bedroom. She placed him on the edge of the bed and instructed him to undress her. Once she was naked she turned her attention on him, unbuttoning the fly on his jeans and pulling down his boxer shorts to reveal the outline of his penis, the light thatch of his pubic hair. She ran her tongue playfully over the tip of his manhood, feeling it twitch and rise. She pursed her lips and drew him in deeper, finding a rhythm that allowed her to take regular breaths. She imagined the look on his face, tried to sketch it out in her mind. He had grown hard inside her mouth and now she worked to bring him to climax, pulling away at the last moment as his seed scattered against her lips.
He kissed her, bemusement and pleasure giving a little colour to his cheeks. They were side by side on the bed. Now it was his turn to reciprocate, his hands exploring the delicate contours of her body. He massaged her breasts, nestled his head below her stomach, lips playing lightly on her skin. She felt her body warming to his touch, yearning for more.
His tongue caressed the soft opening of her sex.
‘I love your smile,’ he whispered, his voice so sweetly congested.
Suddenly she wanted him inside her. She rose over him on the bed, guiding him in with her hand. She was moist already, but still she felt an intense mix of pleasure and pain. That was what she needed, perhaps what she craved for, certainly what she deserved. She placed her lips firmly against his, forced her tongue to enter his mouth.
‘Mmm…’ He sighed awkwardly and then shifted beneath her, pulling away abruptly.
‘Heckshooo!’ He threw a hand up desperately, too late to stop a fine spray catching Emily in its drift.
‘Oh my god Em, I’m so sorry.’
‘Don’t worry,’ she whispered. She was too aroused to care about anything now. She demanded that he press harder, that he should leave some physical mark on her. She sighed as he dug his fingers into her back.
The room seemed to hum to their lovemaking. The world vibrates all the time, she thought, but now I’m a part of it too. All the painting, all the artwork she’d created, was nothing compared to this moment. When Danny came inside her, she felt hot liquid brimming against her thighs. She forced him to stay with her, to keep pushing. For a moment his whole frame went limp and then he tensed, ready to sneeze again. This was the moment, she knew it.
She opened her eyes and watched as Danny was forced to close his. His breath was a rising crescendo of helplessness.
‘Huh… Huh… Huh-schoooo!’
The sneeze was harsh and forceful and the motion pushed her over the edge. Brightness bloomed inside her. She dipped away from the light and hung in a sweet stasis until the room materialised back around her. Gently she lay Danny down on the bed. His lips were slightly parted and he seemed at peace, worn out by the day. She imagined him already asleep, dreaming those secret dreams, but there was still one more sneeze to come, a tiny aftershock that had him rubbing weakly at his nose.
Emily leant over and kissed him.
‘Bless you,’ she whispered.
The station was packed with people returning home from the weekend. Emily watched the crowds, curious to experience some of the other conversations. So many people connected by various relationships. Friends, families, lovers. All at different points in their lives. So much that went on around her was unknown. She felt a tinge of sorrow for events she would never experience.
‘Em, are you okay?’
She looked up to see Danny watching her quizzically. ‘Sorry. I was miles away.’
‘The train’ll be leaving in a couple of minutes.’ Danny had already taken his rucksack inside. Now he stood before her, so pale and vulnerable in the morning light.
This was it – the end. She suddenly felt a desperate need to tell him what she’d done, despite the danger. She knew she might lose her nerve and take back all those words she’d carefully typed. But it couldn’t be helped.
She began to form a confession, but at that precise moment he turned from her to sneeze again.
He grinned sheepishly, dug in his pocket for his handkerchief.
Emily expelled air slowly. The moment had passed.
‘Take care.’ It was all she could think to say now. They kissed a final time. She squeezed him hard against her, anxious to impress one more solid memory in her head.
After the train had left she walked back up the hill to her flat. The rooms seemed empty. She tidied away the remnants of last nights meal. Surrounding her were photographs she’d taken, sketches she’d made – but nothing tangible enough to fill the void she’d been left with. Maybe in time. But right now every minute seemed to last a day.Emily walked to the bedroom, tried to convince herself that she’d done the right thing. She ran a hand across the sheets and then bent over, caught off guard by an unexpected sneeze. She swallowed hard, aware that her throat felt raw and scratchy. A slow realisation dawned inside her. She had to smile at the irony of it all. It seemed Danny had unknowingly left her one final gift, one last thing they would share.