You’re watching your father’s car roll away from the drive through the slit in your bedroom curtains. He didn’t even know you were home. You’ve been hiding all afternoon. You draw in a determined breath as you clutch your wrists, hiding the mark. You’ve always been so slim, leaving you with that feeling of not yet being complete – a feeling you hid from all but me. Your physical awkwardness is charming to others, yet you’ve always seen it as a source of shame.
The first day we met, I could see you sink into yourself almost immediately, protecting whatever it was that was inside. You spoke with such refined care, as if you were subconsciously spell-checking yourself at all times. I found out later that your politeness had been forced into you from an early age. Not just the ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’s’ that we’re each armed with from the moment language begins to form at our lip – yours was so intense that it became a shield to hide behind. Etiquette was etched into you so hard that today I can almost see the scars of it on your skin. You’re afraid of being found out, of having that paper-thin layer of poise peeled away that would inevitably reveal your true self. Your outer-strength is a white lie that hides your inner fragility. And that’s it. That’s your biggest flaw, that you hide that fragile perfection that makes you so beautiful.
I know you though, and I’m so grateful for the fact. I know that beyond the carefully constructed social life your family and peers create, beyond the politeness, the airs, the graces and the pristine house you live in, that deep down you celebrate the feral – the wild and the free. I know that this presents itself as a need to be outside at every opportunity and it was that need that brought us together.
His car is out of sight now. Quick, gather your things and get out. Grab that glove from your bed. When you find the other one you’re going to want to keep your hands away from the chill. Your heart will be cold enough on its own. That’s right, sneak out of the back door, just like you always have. The woods are only a short walk from that huge garden of yours, that great expanse of strategically placed flora and stone that I was never able to enter. I belonged in the wild, away from your life.
Oh, you’re running? Mind your step, the trees are growing thicker. You don’t want to fall. Surely this is the worst time to draw attention to yourself by doing that? I’m sure you’ll be fine though, this route must be second nature to you now. ‘Second Nature’. That term carries so much weight when linked with you.
Look, you’re nearly there, the river is getting much louder. It was so fast this morning, don’t you think? A bit too fast. You’ve always loved that river though, the way the flatness of the land around it causes it to spill over at the slightest increase in rainfall, turning the floor of the woods into a mirror that makes the trees infinite. You’ve arrived at last, catching your breath as you tread carefully onto the small pier built for fishing, but that you’ve never seen used for purpose.
This is where we stood.
How many times have we met here, spending hours just talking and listening in turn? I think we both lost count at exactly the same moment – the day you opened up to me at last, tears streaming down your cheeks. I held you so tight and felt you relax in a way you’d never relaxed before. But we could only be friends, you made that so clear. Somebody like you just couldn’t be with somebody like me. You never said that exactly, but I knew that’s how you felt. Why did I accept that? Your family had status and that couldn’t be threatened. By letting yourself be your true self for once, you were risking your name, and what was more important than that?
Step just a little further, there’s your glove! It seems so strange now laying there at the edge of the pier, doesn’t it? A lifeless hand clutching onto an already forgotten memory, so close to joining the racing current below. It’s still dry though, at least. You can wear it, untainted. You’ve hidden the evidence by placing your hand through it. You’re safe now.
I’m watching you as you turn away from the river, I know you won’t look back. But is it fear that stops you or shame? Guilt perhaps – three very different things. Who would have thought that just three hours ago I was stood here with you, feeling your heart race as your breath warmed my neck. It was you that kissed first, don’t forget that. It was you that reached your hand under my coat to touch the skin on my back. I was just reciprocating. I could feel your desire. I know I took it too far, but you didn’t need to push me away. Especially here. You knew how fast the water was, how deep it had grown over the course of the winter. But you pushed. After all, pushing away from what you truly wanted had always been in your nature. Second nature? I’m not sure which came first.
I’m gone now though. They’ll find my body eventually. You were too scared to jump in after me and certainly too scared to cry for help. Both gloves are on your hands now, you’re protected again. Nobody will ever know it was you. I just disappeared. You’ll be fine without me. Rebuild that paper-thin shield and move on. Go back to pretending that you’re somebody else. The garden is safer than the wild, after all.