I want to tell you there were butterflies and fireworks and the whole magical deal. And maybe there were. But much like their less figurative counterparts, they were short-lived.
After an impossibly heavy pause - an irritatingly long minute of frozen time and mirrored wide eyes - I finally convinced my mouth to speak.
“Knew I should have popped a mint first, eh?” I joked, and my voice cracked and withered with the attempt. I struggled to remember which muscles it took to conjur up a smile, and presented the best of what my memory returned to me. William remained stone-faced. I thought about telling him I’d meant to aim for his cheek, but the look in his eyes made my courage shrink until it was nearly invisible. “Look, I’m sorry…”
He gave a deep sigh, one that seemed to start from his toes, and then shook his head before turning to leave. He stopped before disappearing around corner of the bar, however, and turned back to face me, to… take me in, I think? He looked me over, head to toe; and I could see a question formulate in his features, brow furrowing and lips pursed, before he finally vanished.
I don’t know why I thought that kissing William Finn would be a good idea. When I later begged a reason from my best friend Mal, she would, naturally, blame it on the fifth - or was it sixth? - cider I’d downed that night. She would also put forth the fact that I had actually tried to look reasonable that night, and looking reasonable apparently had “positively magical” effects on that particular breed of confidence. I, however, was much more apt to convince myself that I was bored. I was lonely. I was out of my bloody mind.
But all of these reasons escaped me completely, when I felt him shove me away with a mortified look in his eyes. I just stood there dumbly, tipsy and confused that anyone would refuse me when I looked this good. But then I watched with intrigue as the initial terror slowly resolved to an odd, contagious kind of concern…
There is a great light, and then greater stillness. She stands a small distance away from him, eyes fixed on his heaving shoulders. He falls to the soaked earth, clutching mud and grass in his strained fingers. He unleashes a scream into the vast air of the field surrounding them, which shivers. The sound of her own heartbeat fills her ears until they burn, and her mind feels simultaneously devoid of and heavy with thought. She doesn’t know what to do. The most horrifying part of it all, however, is that neither does he.
She risks a movement and he looks up at her with wide eyes and cheeks dappled by dirt, like a little boy. He is so young in this moment; so impossibly young. His face is suddenly filled with new sadness and horror as he looks at her.
“I’m so sorry.”
She does not know why the apology is his to give, but she kneels down in front of him and takes him into her arms. He clings to her, buries his face in her shoulder, and apologizes over and over, to which she responds by quietly hushing him. After a long moment, they both settle into a silence that is only amplified by the fullness of the sound of the rain. It is here that the inertia of the situation passes and she begins to feel the fear and confusion and despair fill her fingertips, her cheeks, her chest. She pulls him closer.
“It’s just you and me, now,” she says, and tries to laugh without knowing why. “Just the legendary adventurers known as William Finn and Alison Harvey. The heroes of Italian architecture, the pebbles in Austria’s shoe. Do you remember that, Will?”
He pulls away from her, still holding her by her shoulders, and smiles. He kisses her, and it is not the first time, but it tastes like the very last.