A lone figure stood under the tree, a single tear seeping out from under his eyelid and sliding over his cheek as he sank his teeth into his lower lip. “Why?” he choked out, his hands balling into fists as he began trembling, his slight frame shaking as he lowered his head, hiding his face from view as the tears fell in torrents down his cheeks. “Why’d you leave me here!?” he screamed out, his fingers tangling into his silver-blond hair as he dropped to his knees, his forehead touching the dirt as he doubled over.
“Why would you do this to me?” he begged, tears choking his voice as he raised his head, his entire body shaking visibly now as he stared at the barest hint of blue sky through the dense mesh of leaves over his head. Slowly, he ran his hand under his nose, brushing aside his tears and taking a deep breath before lying on the ground. “D’you … d’you remember where we met?” he whispered, his voice cracking as he spoke to the empty park.
“We met right here,” he said, a faint smile brightening his lips as he stared blankly at the leaves that shifted over his head, rustling softly as the wind blew over his hair.
“Hey there,” there was a soft voice that shook him out of his reverie as he blinked and stared blankly at the petite female in front of him. “Can I … help you?” he said, his voice careful as he looked her over. “I was going to ask you the same thing,” she grinned, pulling a limp-looking bag towards her and pulling out what looked vaguely like a bottle of iced tea. “Want one?” she said, her head tilting as she held it out to him. “Take it, mister,” she said teasingly, tossing the bottle towards him as she pulled a second one out of her bag. “I’m Ally, by the way,” she said before taking a long swig from the second bottle of tea.
“Jim,” he said quietly, opening the bottle and spinning the cap between two fingers as he watched her lean back against the trunk of the tree. “You’re going to get dirt all over yourself,” Jim pointed out, unable to stop his lips from curving into a smile as she stiffened and yanked herself away from the thick bark. “Thanks,” she said; her voice playfully sarcastic as she dusted herself off as best as she could before scooting closer to him and folding her legs neatly beneath her.
“What’re you doing here by yourself?” she asked; her voice softening as she looked up at him, her fingers nervously pulling at the grass beside her. “My brother used to bring me to climb this tree when we were younger … it was a little smaller, but we used to reach the top before our parents would come searching for us.” Jim didn’t have a clue as to why he was spilling his guts to this girl … to this stranger he hadn’t even known five minutes ago. “Where’s your brother now?” Ally prodded him softly, and Jim forced the tears away as he looked at her.
“He’s dead …”
“I’m sorry,” Jim’s head shot up to look at the mousy-haired girl as she looked down into her lap. “What about you?” he asked, motioning with his chin to the bag she was carrying. Ally let out a bark of humourless laughter as she pushed the sack-like object aside.
“I came to visit my mum …” she said, and there was something about the way she spoke that broke Jim’s heart into two. “I’m so sorry … I don’t know what came over me … I shouldn’t have … s-shouldn’t have …” Ally seemed to choke on her words as her dark eyes widening and as she stared wildly around the park, her expression growing mortified.
“It’s okay,” Jim said softly, putting an arm on her shoulder before letting a laugh slip out of his lips. “I’m just as guilty as you are then,” he smiled, his chest growing light as she replied with a small grin of her own. “Criminals in a world of crime,” she said softly, her words making Jim choke out a laugh. “Well … mister Jim, it was nice meeting you, but I’ve got to go …” Jim let out a pathetic whine at her words, spurring her on to laugh even harder as she got off and dusted herself off.
“Bye,” Jim called as he waved her away, his eyes lighter and his face almost serene as he lay back onto the ground and peered back into the sunlight that shone down between the leaves.
A cold drop hit Jim’s cheek as he opened his eyes, the happiness draining out of his soul as he stared at the greying sky. “We met right here, Ally,” he whispered to himself again as he reached a hand to touch the bark that had smoothened out over the years. His eyes roved over the wood, searching almost desperately before he sat up weakly, his eyes tearing over once more as he ignored the flecks of rain that splattered down on his hair through the leaves. He trailed his pianists’ fingers over the deep indentations in the wood, a flicker of a smile passing over his lips before it faded once again.
Tears raced down his cheeks, hot and burning his skin and in complete contrast with the cold water that ran off his hair and down his neck.
__ + __
Jim laughed as he pulled the girl through the park, his shaggy hair falling into his eyes as he brushed it aside roughly, running his hand through the blond locks to keep them off his forehead as he grinned at the girl behind him. “Where’re we going? Jim, tell me!” she whined playfully as she followed him, her eyes bright even in the darkness of the night. “It’s a surprise, now come on!” he laughed, tugging on her wrist and all but dragging her across the grass as they finally reached the tree.
“It better be a nice surprise,” Ally panted warningly, her brown eyes warming slightly before Jim reached behind a thick root and pulled out a small basket. “Ta-da!” Ally giggled at his antics before taking the mug of warm tea from him. “Enjoy, milady,” Jim said teasingly as he sipped out of a similar mug.
The sky turned slowly from the prettiest shade of midnight blue, to an inky darkness that made Ally shiver despite the fact that the night was warm. “Cold?” Jim asked softly as he wrapped an arm around the girl, pulling her closer to him as she nodded shyly. “We’ve just got one last thing to do,” Jim said as Ally pulled herself away from him. “And what might that be?” the chocolate-haired girl stared at him, her eyes darkening with curiosity as he pulled a knife from his pocket.
Ten minutes later, Ally was giggling uncontrollably as she rolled over in the grass. “I feel like a teenager,” she choked out through her giggles as she gasped for breath desperately, holding one of Jim’s hands in a death grip as he pulled away from the tree trunk.
__ + __
“Well, and that ends our night of juvenile escapades, milady,” Jim said as he rose and offered her a hand. Ally took the limb gingerly in her own, her smile wide and threatening to turn into laughter as she groaned at the pinch of pain from her side. “And that’s what you get for laughing at a man’s honest attempt,” Jim teased her lightly as he lopped an arm over her shoulder and lead her out of the park.
The man continued teasing her as they walked down the sidewalk, Ally pouting playfully at his words as he continued throwing jibes at her. When they finally reached a small, well-kept house, Jim stopped and turned to the female beside him. “And this is where the Jim express drops you off,” he said as he shot her a million-dollar smile.
“I had a really nice time …” Ally said shyly as she smiled up at the man, thankful for the darkness that kept her blushing cheeks from being seen. “I had a great time too,” Jim smiled before wrapping both his arms tenderly around the female, pulling her into a hug and resting his cheek on her head as he felt her thin arms encircle his waist.
“Err … well, goodnight,” Jim said, clearing his throat as he pulled away gently, a blush covering his face as blood rushed to his cheeks.
“I’ll … see you around,” Ally said, stuttering slightly as she waved a goodbye to the man.
The rain soaked through Jim’s clothes as he continued staring blankly at the letters that had been carved into the tree. The skin around his eyes were puffy and his nose and cheeks were flushed from the tears he’d shed. He could hardly feel the icy liquid as it dripped over his skin, the chill hardly reaching him as he closed his eyes, his eyelashes thick and dark more so in the rain as he keened forward, his forehead hitting the trunk of the tree roughly as he winced.
He watched as the girl ‘oohed’ and ‘ah-ed’ over the vast number of instruments that littered the small house, brushing off his apologies as she ran her hands over a few. Ally’s eyebrow quirked up slight as she showed him her dust-covered fingers, giggling as she watched him stumble over his words in a hurried attempt to explain the mess.
“Do you play?” Ally asked as she slid open the cover of the piano, noting that it was only instrument to have been cleaned rather well, despite the finger-marks that decorated the otherwise spotless keys. “Of course,” she heard Jim snort before he sat at the piano, patting the seat beside him as he placed his fingers on the keys, pausing for a moment before starting off with a melody that had Ally melting beside him.
He seemed so relaxed, Ally realised as she looked away from his hands, and to his face. Well, at least, he had been. His cheeks were puffed out in concentration, and his eyes were narrowed as he flipped the position of his hands, before his expression smoothened out as he returned to the original position, his eyes flicking up to meet hers as he gave her a soft smile, his lips curving as a small dimple formed in his cheek.
“Why didn’t you tell me anything?” he whispered; his voice hoarse and weak as his lips trembled. He hated secrets and he hated being lied to. The image of her pale, sickly face had been etched into his memory, and as far as he was concerned, there hadn’t been any reason to hide the truth from him, because he was bound to find it out in the end.
Jim slammed a fist against the wood, ignoring the splinters that embedded themselves in his skin; the small, sharp edges digging into his flesh and finding purchase there. There were more tears rolling down his cheeks again, and part of him sneered at the fact that he had shed any tears at all.
Jim raced through the crowds of people, his hands pushing people aside roughly as he reached the front desk, the woman glaring at his frantic words before motioning down the hall, her expression softening slightly. “Thank you,” he said hurriedly before catching sight of a pale, unconscious brunette that was being wheeled into a room.
“And you are?” a snarky-voiced woman asked as she scribbled onto her clipboard, her eyes not moving for even a minute before she stopped, flicking her eyes to the unconscious girl before resuming scribbling onto the form. “My name is Jim …” the blond-haired man said, watching as the woman froze before looking up at him.
“I have to ask you a few questions,” she said, her voice turning gentler as she led Jim to the plastic chair at the edge of the room. Jim watched worriedly, slight irritation and impatience filling him as he watched the woman take a deep breath, almost as if she were reassuring herself about something.
“She has cancer,”
Jim had never known that three words could have changed his life. If someone had told him that a few weeks ago, he’d have slapped them playfully and told them that it was wishful thinking. He’d never have realised how much three simple words could have made him go so completely mad, how three simply words that could have been told to anyone, could have made him freeze, his heartbeat stuttering for a moment before speeding up as his throat constricted.
“She’s been coming for regular treatment, and it was working, but something happened recently, and …” the woman stopped, Jim recognising the tell-tale signs of tears filling her blue eyes as he tried not to egg her on. “It’s been downhill from there,” the woman said, choking the words out before covering her cheeks with a palm, warding away the tears before telling Jim that she’d be awake in a bit.
“You’re welcome to stay, but she’s always expressed a dislike for people watching her when she’s unconscious,” the woman said before excusing herself from the room, her voice still choked and her eyes still watery.
The warm taste of blood filled his mouth, and Jim opened his eyes, not realising that he’d screwed them shut nor realising that he’d been pushing his head into tree with enough force to make the bruise on his forehead bleed. The rain was still thundering down on him, but the sound was almost muted, he mused as he pulled away from the tree, the lack of tears leaving him feeling empty as he sat back limply.
He moved his head aside, spitting the thick liquid out of his mouth and staring blankly as the dull green grass was stained a dark crimson. The liquid remained on the grass for a few seconds spreading over the ground before it was diluted into nothingness by the rain that poured over him.
Jim took a shaky breath, his lips shaking slightly as he raised his eyes to the sky, ignoring the sting as the rain hit the cuts on his forehead, before running down his face. A small smile lifted the corners of his lips as he remembered the first time she’d asked him to dance in the rain with him. He’d told her that all she’d get in return was a cold, but despite all the words that had left his lips that day, he’d taken her hand and danced with her.
That was the first time he’d realising that the feeling of the rain on his skin was like forgiveness wrapping its arms around him. It was like everything he’d ever done in his life was leaving him, dribbling over his skin and onto the ground with every drop of rain that touched his skin. It had been worth it, he remembered, even the cold that had stayed with him for weeks after that. She’d gone back to the hospital after that episode, but he couldn’t bring himself to yell at her, not when she’d already lost everything else.
Jim had been let into the room by a silent nurse, the woman patting him on the back sympathetically as she left the room. He approached the sleeping girl silently, moving carefully despite the bouquet of lilies in his hands to sit on the plastic chair, content with just looking at her pale cheeks. “Jim?” his attention was snapped back to her eyes when she smiled weakly, her voice hoarse and scratchy as he put the flowers on the bedside table, reaching over her to stare right into her eyes as he brushed a hand over her cheekbone.
“No talking,” he reminded her quietly, returning her smile with a sad curve of his lips before he sat back down. He pulled the chair closer to her bed as she pushed her head against the pillows, the beanie that covered her head a deep, thick grey that contrasted violently with the spotlessly white sheets. Jim rested his chin on the side of her bed as he tapped out the melody to her favourite song on her wrist.
He tried to ignore the way his fingers seemed to touch her bone, and he had to take a few moments before could look up at her. There was a soft smile on her lips as she looked at him, her dark eyes staring right into his soul through his eyes as she let her eyes slip shut. “Ally?” he said, his voice filled with worry as he wrapped his fingers around her wrist. Jim’s eyes were wild and his voice continued rising in volume until she opened her eyes, Ally glaring at him playfully before snuggling back under the covers, her movements slow and weak despite her warm smile.
Suddenly, the girl moved quicker than he’d ever seen her, gasping at the strain as she reached for her sketch pad, and the marker that had been hidden in a corner of her bed.
Jim simply shook his head at the two words she’d scribbled down, Ally pouting as she narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s nothing, Ally,” he said, his voice almost a mumble as he turned his gaze to his sneakers.
I’m still here.
Tears lined Jim’s eyes as he read the three words she’s written this time. “I don’t know what I’ll do without you,” he whispered, his voice filled with the tears he refused to show. His attention was drawn to the numerous monitors that had been set up around her, one showing her heart-rate, another one her blood pressure and a few more that were simply showing moving graphs.
Pain ripped through him as he looked at the girl, his dark eyes tracing her figure and committing it to memory as he put a hand on hers, sending her one last look before he watched her eyes slip shut. “I love you,” he whispered softly, running a hand across her cheek and brushing the pad of his thumb over her skin as she smiled gently.
Maybe he’d been expecting it, or maybe he’d just known it all along. When the heart-monitor went flat, Jim simply stared, the wild bustle of the doctors and nurses around him were barely audible as he brushed his thumb over her cheek one last time before he raised one of her hands to his face. He pressed his lips to the knuckles softly before placing her hand back onto the bed and rising.
He completely ignored the doctor who called back desperately for him, opting instead to simply walk out of the room, his expression smooth and unmarred despite the cracks that formed on his heart.
This time, when Jim opened his eyes, he found himself on his back, the rain beating down on his abdomen roughly as he looked up at the sky. A smile wormed itself onto his lips as he leaned back onto the muddy ground, ignoring the thick muck that caked into his hair. He rolled his head slightly, resting one of his cheeks on the dirt as he looked at the marble stone in the ground. “I’ll always love you, Ally,” he whispered as he reached a hand out to place it on the cold, wet stone.
When Jim left the park hours later, he was covered in dirt. His clothes were soaked, and his silver-blond hair was caked with drying mud as he shrugged in the sunlight. He took one look back at the marble headstone, the picture of the smiling girl looking right at him as his eyes caught sight of the words right below her name. A smile grazed his lips as he left, his dark eyes slipping shut as he took a deep breath before turning away from the stone.
“Forever and Always, Ally”