Story 2: We Could Have

The light of the sun began to bleed into the night. It was cold in the car, and I wondered if it were colder outside. The car had been running for hours, but Sarah and I were so preoccupied that I didn’t notice it was on or that the heater was off or that my phone was still playing music. I let go of Sarah’s hand to turn the heater on low. I didn’t want it to be too loud. She grabbed the box of tissues, nearly empty now. Our eyes were red and swollen. We’d been drained dry. My soul felt flushed, and she must have felt the same. We had little else to say.

I sat back to feel the warmth and looked out at the horizon, now a light orange, casting a soft shadow from the mountains onto the lake. The music was soothing, and it healed me as slowly as dawn bled over the sky. Sarah held my hand again, and her cool fingers were smooth against mine. I looked at her, but she was looking forward, just as I’d been. Her gaze was wide, searching for something that might not have been there. She seemed to be looking through the mountains. I looked out again.

“Do you think we could have made it?” Her voice was hoarse and tired and broken.

We could have, I thought. If we were truly honest about how we felt from the beginning, before any of this, we could have avoided digging the hole we were stuck in now. Resentment and mistrust were poisons that killed us slowly, but we could have found a cure sooner. We could have held each other and told each other about all the stupid thoughts we had and all the irrational things we tried to rationalize and all the people whose stories revealed us to ourselves. We could have forgotten about the meteor shower and gone straight to the restaurant. We could have avoided all this if she or I decided that enough was enough, that life as we knew it wasn’t what we were promised in those thoughts and rationalizations and stories.

The sun peeked over the ridge of the mountain and the light hit Sarah’s eyes. They were vibrantly brown. The first time I saw her eyes in this kind of light was the first time I told her I loved her. Could I say it now?

I was drained. But it was satisfying. There had been too much in me for too long that drained was the best I could ask for in that moment. The emptiness granted clarity. That we didn’t stand a chance was always clear. But that we could’ve given ourselves a better one was something that dawned to me now.

The gold of the sun faded slowly from her eyes.

“We could have.”

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