His hands brush against my skin. I close my eyes in anticipation. My breath is heavy. Quickly, quickly, I draw in air. Nervous butterflies flutter within me. Still, I open an eye, curious about the delay. Suddenly, a distinctive whistling breaks the silence.
I sigh at the empty sight before me, as a deafening boom resounds from behind. I close my eyes, despite the colors that dotted the night sky. I knit my brow. Surely, it was as beautiful tonight as it was all those years ago.
I sigh, crouching to the ground. I’m alone again. Alone, once more. Alone like I’ve been for so many years now. Burying my hands in my face despite the celebration, I let out another sigh.
In memory of him… In memory of us… I lean back against the cold metal railing, fighting the tears that still threaten to burst free, despite all these years.
Boom. Boom. Boom. The deafening fireworks continue behind me. I suck in a breath. I should go, lest I ruin someone else’s holiday cheer. Rising to my feet, I stagger in the direction of home, my vision still blurry.
Smack. I run into someone.
“I’m sorry.” I quickly mutter, with a bow, and hurry on my way. I should’ve known this would happen.
A hand locks on my wrist. I struggle. I already apologized.
“Sarah?” A voice asked. An all too familiar voice.
No. It couldn’t be. I rub my eyes for a better view.
“It is you!” The voice said, wrapping me in a hug before I could resist.
I turn toward the face, and my breath quickens again. On top of the military garb sits a face that I haven’t seen in so long. Taking advantage of my moment of weakness, my tears break free.
“Why are you crying?” He asked as soon as he withdrew from the hug. His earlier smile had vanished, replaced with obvious alarm and concern.
“I’m fine.” I shake my head. He’d left for so long. Who knew what his life was like these days? In the end, he’d become a stranger. There was no longer a need to elaborate.
“Are you here alone?” The man asks. “Where’s your family?”
“You knew that I never had one.” I say bitterly. There was no one that knew that fact better than him. Him, who grew up in the same orphanage. Him, who once promised to be my family.
“That’s not what I meant.” He answered, reaching out.
“I’m going home.” I say, swatting his hand aside. I wasn’t that naive teenage girl any longer.
“Sarah, wait!” He said, grabbing my hand.
“There’s nothing between us.” I say.
“You’re right.” He answered. “But if you aren’t already taken…”
“You’ve been gone for so long, and now you suddenly want to rekindle our past?” I demand. “Who do you take me for?”
“I thought you’d be married by now!” He answered. “You know that you’re my beloved and best friend.”
“Your beloved and best friend?” I scoff, snatching my wrist from his grip. “So leaving someone hanging like that is how’d you treat your beloved? Well then, I’m sure I’d be happier without you!”
I grit my teeth and turn to leave. Regardless of how I’ve missed him, I had no reason to acknowledge a jerk that thought he could get away with playing with my feelings like that.
“I’d been conscripted!” He shouted, behind me.
I froze, suddenly speechless. He’d been conscripted? To fight in that war? Had he really? Could I trust him? Could I really trust someone who had abandoned me for five years, leaving not even a letter behind?
“I thought I was a goner.” He said, sounding closer. “At the time, I’d been hoping that you would move on.”
“So, you left without a word.” I say, suddenly remembering that he’d been in military garb.
“Yes.” He answered. “But I never expected to find you at the place where we’d last parted. You’re still thinking of me, aren’t you?”
“So what if I am? Romantic relationships aside, you’d been like a little brother to me! Can’t a sister think of her baby brother?” I demanded, turning to face him. I couldn’t let him play with me any longer. I had to show him a strong front. Who knew whether the conscription and uniform were a part of a ruse?
“But I’d never seen you as a sister.” He answered, reaching for my face again. “Am I really too late?”
“If you’d really been a part of that war, how could you have come back fully intact?” I ask, still skeptical, as a catch his gloved hand. At that instant, I’m suddenly aware of the lack of warmth emanating from it. Before he could answer, I pull up his sleeve, revealing metal and wiring.
“I’ve been discharged for losing my limbs.” He answered. “I’ve only just got a hang of these prosthetics, and then I saw the fireworks…”
“You fool!” I shout, punching his chest and burying my face in it. “You should’ve told me from the beginning!”
“I’m sorry.” He replied.
“Did you… You said limbs, right?” I ask, suddenly hesitant. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take tonight.
“Yeah.” He answered, with a smile. “Thank god you hadn’t made me try to run. I would’ve been screwed a hundred times over.”
“Where are you staying these days?” I asked, my heart aching.
“Just the apartments beside the mall. It was close to you and close to the habilitation center.” He answers with that same smile.
“So, it’s along the same route.” I say, waving to stop a cab. Pulling the vehicle’s door open, I help him inside. “I’ll pass through the area on my way back. At least… If nothing else, let me escort you back.”
“Sure.” He answered. “That’d be great.”
“Around the block to the apartments, please.” I say to the driver, as soon as I get into the vehicle.
“Thanks.” He says, with a smile.
“Can I look?” I ask.
With a deep breath, I pull up both his pant legs. My heart aches at the sight. All machinery, encased in a roughly human leg shaped casing.
“How long before you could walk again?” I ask.
“About half a year.” He answered.
“We’re here.” The driver abruptly shouted.
“Thanks.” I say.
Getting out, I run to the other door and pull it open. Helping him out, I walk him to the front door.
“I’ll see you again, right?” He asks.
“Of course.” I answer, kissing him on the cheek. “I’d never abandon my baby brother in his time of need.”
“As something more than a brother?” He asks, hesitatingly.
“Maybe.” I say. “We’ll see.”
“Alright.” He said, with a sigh. “Ten, Tomorrow at the same place?”
“Yeah.” I reply, with a smile. As soon as he leaves, I jog back to the waiting cab, and climb in.
“Two more blocks down, please.” I say, with a sigh as I lean back into the seat.
Looking up at the fireworks, through the window, I smile. Despite everything, I’m glad he’s back. I take a deep breath. This July 4th may just be the most beautiful one yet.
Special Thanks to this prompt from the Promptly Written publication on Medium.
Moody Monday Write a ‘moody’ piece around any or all of the following: — Brooding skies — The weight of unspoken words — A bittersweet memory