The only thing I can think is: What if I never see her again?
What if I never get to look into her warm green eyes and see how much she cares for me? Never run my fingers through her silky hair or feel it draped across my chest. Never kiss her mouth and relish her lingering taste on my lips.
I cup her face in my hands, trying to memorize exactly how her skin feels against mine. I close my eyes, locking it all away as I lean in and press my lips one last time to her forehead. I inhale deeply not knowing how long it’ll be until I can breathe her scent again. I wish I could hold it in my lungs forever. But I can’t. I pull back, turning away quickly. I can’t look at the expression on her face because I know it’ll mirror mine. I can’t…I can’t see her as destroyed as I am.
“Benji, wait,” she calls. My feet immediately obey, halting abruptly.
I turn back in time to catch her as she throws herself into my arms, her legs wrapping securely around my waist. Our bodies fit together like they were made for one another.
“I love you Benjamin Borelli,” she murmurs. “And I always will. Even when my heart no longer beats, it will still be filled with love for you.”
I believe every single word she says because I feel the same about her. What we have is once in a lifetime. It’ll never fade. Never die. It’s forever. And I know I have to keep my promise. I will come back and hold her in my arms again.
She traces the symbol for infinity over my heart. “Yours for eternity,” she adds, before sliding down the length of my body. As I watch her retreating form, I place my palm over my chest and repeat her words.
“Yours for eternity.”
On my eighth birthday, Benjamin Borelli went missing for nearly two hours. And though it had only been two hours, the wait for him to come home was excruciating.
His mother hadn’t realized he was gone until I sent my dad for him. I refused to blow out the candles on my cake without him. Who knows how long it would’ve taken her otherwise? I remember the look on Dad’s face when he came back empty handed.
The candles had melted all over the icing and were winking out, one at a time. Daddy couldn’t seem to look at me. He pulled Mommy to the side of the room and whispered in her ear. Her hand went to her mouth and her eyes met mine. It was the first time I had seen my mom scared, which scared me.
“Where’s Benji?” I asked as I hopped down from the table.
Daddy looked at Mommy with a tortured expression. It made my heart beat fast and my palms go sweaty.
“We don’t know, Briar. His mommy is looking for him,” Mom said. Her voice was quiet and she talked slower than usual. “You don’t know where he might have gone, do you?”
“Is he in the tree house?”
Daddy shook his head. “No, honey, I already looked.”
I peered out the window at the small house next door and squinted up to Benji’s bedroom, directly across from mine. I noticed a piece of paper attached to the clothesline we used to send each other secret messages. The wind was threatening to rip it from the clothespin before I had a chance to read it. I ran upstairs as fast as my legs could carry me. Throwing the window open, I worked hand over hand, yanking the pulley system Benji had installed. Once the paper was close enough, I snatched it from the clip and dropped down below the window to read it.
His writing was small and precise. I might be late, but don’t worry, I won’t miss your birthday. –B. I folded the paper in my hand and held it to my chest. He was fine. Maybe he went to the store to get me a present. That must be what he was up to.
I stopped outside of the dining room when I heard hushed voices. “I don’t know what she’ll do if something happened to him,” Mommy whispered.
They were quiet for a long time. I counted my heartbeats. When I reached ten, I was about to go in. Then Mom added, “He’s her best friend, Corbin.”
“I know,” he rasped.
Mommy sighed and began crying softly. “It’ll be all right, Pine. I’m sure he’s fine.”
I leaned against the wall separating me from my mom and listened to her cry. I wanted to tell her it really was all right. That Benji was probably at the store, but my stomach hurt and my face felt hot. What if I was wrong? What if Benji wasn’t okay?
I peeked around the corner and Daddy smiled weakly at me. “Hey kid. Come here.” He opened his arms and I ran to him. He put me on his lap and I buried my face in his chest. His cologne was strong there, but comforting, familiar. I decided I wouldn’t move until Benji came home. It was my penance, suffocating in Old Spice. I twisted my fingers into Daddy’s dark hair, a soothing habit, and chewed on the collar of my dress.
Mommy moved from the living room to the kitchen, back and forth with nervous energy, cleaning and straightening. It’s what she has always done when she’s upset. I guess she figured if she’s going to pace, she might as well make it useful.
I sat perfectly still inside the warmth of Daddy’s embrace, my eyes following her every movement. His big hands slid over my hair soothingly as he reassured me in a hushed voice. “Everything will be all right.”
And that has always been the difference between Mom and Dad. She’s a doer, perpetually in motion. He’s a soother, calm and patient. These are both perfectly fine traits. It’s just, sometimes, one works better for me than the other.
As the sun set and the crickets began their nightly song, a lump rose in my throat. Benji had left on foot, at least Daddy assumed so since the bikes were still in the garage. But even so, he should have been back by now. He had been gone for hours. The clock ticked ominously, as if each second that went by pulled Benji farther and farther away from me. I just wanted to know where he was and that he was safe.
“Briar, let’s go get you in a bath,” Mommy said. I shook my head and pressed my face into Daddy, trying to make myself invisible. How could she think about things like baths and cleaning when my heart was hurting? “Honey, it’s late. We need to get you ready for bed.” I clung to Daddy as tightly as I could. I didn’t want to sleep. I just wanted Benji back.
A light tap sounded on the screen door and we looked up to see Benji’s dirty face pressed against the partition, a box tucked under his arm. I felt Daddy’s body relax. Mommy gasped. I slid off Daddy’s lap, and opened the door. With a dimpled smile, Benji offered me the box wrapped in old yellowed newspaper. I took it from his hand, swung my arm back, and let it fly, punching Benji in the eye. The present fell to the rug at our feet.
“Briar!” Mommy yelled in shock. Daddy grabbed my arm as I lifted it to strike Benji again. But Benji, he just rubbed his eye with filthy fingers, leaving brown streaks across his cheekbone. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t flinch or recoil from my anger. He did nothing but stare at me with wide eyes.
“Why did you do that?” Daddy asked me, his voice rough.
“He scared me,” I screamed. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at my best friend. His feet were bare and caked in dirt, his toes scraped and lightly bleeding. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, Benjamin Borelli! Or I’ll…I’ll…” I thrust myself forward out of my father’s arms and into Benji’s, pulling him into a hug so quickly, so tightly, I felt the air rush out of his lungs. He immediately hugged me back just as tightly, his sweaty head resting against my cheek.
“Benji, you need to go home, honey,” Mommy said to him, her voice gentle. “Your momma’s been looking for you. Nobody knew you were leaving.”
Daddy pulled me away from Benji like prying tangled plastic wrap apart. “Next time, tell somebody where you’re going,” he chided.
Benji nodded with glossy eyes. “I tried to wake her up, but she wouldn’t, and Grandpa had to work at the store today. I didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry.” He looked at me as one tear fell and slid down his cheek, streaking a clean path through the dirt. “I’m sorry,” he said again, picking up the gift from where it had fallen. He handed it back to me, determined for me to accept it.
“Let me get you some cake to take home,” Mommy said, her voice sounding as if she were choking on her words.
“We’ll have Briar run it over in a bit. You go on now, Benji,” Daddy instructed. “Let your mom know you’re all right.”
Benji turned to leave and I took his hand. “Thank you for being okay,” I whispered. He squeezed my fingers, the warm pressure of his skin comforting.
I went from room to room, watching him through the windows until he disappeared inside his house, safe and sound. And then I opened his present. It was a plastic Sleeping Beauty doll—my namesake—to add to my collection. It must have cost him all of his chore money.
Two things occurred to me that day. There were scarier things than the monsters I feared lived in my closet. When you love someone, they can hurt and terrify you more than anything else in the world. And secondly, I loved Benjamin Borelli with all my heart.
© Cheryl McIntyre