And Then I Thought Of You- By Michael Saunders

My eyes fluttered open as I laid in my bed, the sun just coming up from the clouds, the rays sneaking through my window and across my floor, coming to wake me up ever so quietly. Feeling the warmth of the sunlight caressing my face, I slowly sat up, stretching as I looked around the room; it was all still dark, with my clothes thrown carelessly across my room, my chair sitting in the middle of the room, my laptop open, but dark. Next to the laptop, there sat a picture sitting in a cork frame- two smiling faces were shown, posing in front of an unknown exhibit at the zoo… and then I thought of you. Getting up, I quickly moved to the picture frame, picking it up, feeling the cork frame that held such a wonderful memory. I remembered that day so vividly- you had been sick in bed with the flu for a week, and despite the constant phone calls, I missed you. When you said you were finally feeling better, I made the hour and 47 minute drive to come visit you the very next day, knocking on your door at 9:30 in the morning, holding a bouquet of lilies- your favorite. I will never forget the expression on your face when you answered the door- a combination of shock, awe, happiness, and confusion as to why I was knocking on your door unannounced so early. I led you to my car- this dinky, rusty 2002 mercedes- and started driving. You asked where we were going, but I wouldn’t tell you. I remember looking at you as I drove along the highway- you had fallen asleep, and the light was hitting your blonde hair just right, so it shined as bright as molten gold- and just smiling to myself; I remember feeling so happy. I softly shook you awake when we arrived at the zoo, and your eyes lit up so bright, I swear I saw fireworks when I looked at you.

As we got out of the car, you grabbed my hand tightly and pulled me along as we hurried through the gates, buying two tickets and heading on inside. I remember spending the entire day in that zoo, but above all the amazing creatures we saw, nothing could compete with how amazing you looked. While you were staring at the monkeys and tigers and otters, your eyes full of childlike wonder, I was too busy staring at you, radiating a happiness I wished to stand in forever. I remember just how excited you got when we finally got to see your favorite animal- the ring-tailed lemur. Whenever I asked why that was your favorite animal, you would always say how you loved how social you were; how they were a female dominant species, and then you would start laughing because of how much you loved their “stink fighting”. God your laugh was always so intoxicating. I swear, when you started laughing, you could somehow make an entire room start laughing with you. When we finally made it to the lemur exhibit, you pulled a stranger just passing by in, asking with the biggest smile if they could take our picture. As they stood there, fumbling around with your phone, one of the younger lemurs became curious and climbed the wire to get a better look. When they said “Cheese!” I couldn’t help but smile, you were beaming so brightly. You squealed when you saw that picture, and after we left the zoo, you immediately had me take you over to a store so you could have the picture printed out and framed. You were so happy.

I opened the bottom drawer in my desk, and after staring at the picture one final time, I closed the drawer, heading towards the bathroom. Turning on the shower, I slowly undressed, trying to keep my mind blank as the water began heating up. I stared at myself in the mirror, taking in my appearance, the steam from the shower creeping up along the edges of the mirror. Before me stood a tall, skinny man. Eyes drooping with bags underneath them- I really haven’t been sleeping well. I felt my face, my dried skin rubbing roughly against my hand, before my arm dropped back to my side as I just stood there, staring into my deep blue eyes, the fog slowly creeping closer and closer inward until my entire reflection was obstructed. I pulled out my phone, bringing up a playlist I had been compiling over the years, before getting in the shower- feeling the warmth of the water begin to wash away my anxieties, my mind finally quieting down as I listened to the water droplets bouncing off my skin. Taking in the steam, I felt it begin to flow through my entire body, the music now playing from my phone washing over me as I stood there, my eyes closed, just swaying to the notes.

Suddenly the song changed, and a shiver crawled down my spine. “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”… and then I thought of you. I thought of the nights we spent, you curled up soundly in my arms, already asleep, as I just stared at you, brushing your messy blonde hair out of your face; your lips barely not touching. I remember sitting on the roof of my car, you right there next to me, as we would just stare up at the summer night sky for hours, just admiring the beauty of nature. I remember that song coming on from my Spotify playlist, and I just turned to you, and said “I love you” for the first time. You stared at me, your brown eyes sparkling so brightly in the moonlight, and smiled so kindly before leaning in and kissing me. I remember your lips touching mine, any and all thoughts I had before that moment leaving me- at that moment, nothing else mattered to me. I pulled you in close, and just held you for what seemed like eternity, before finally climbing back into my car and taking you home- driving along the highway, the moonlight guiding our way, the warm breeze flowing through my car and through your hair. I never wanted to say goodbye when we pulled up to your house, but before I knew it I was walking you to your door, giving you a soft, warm kiss on the lips before heading back to my car. I remember just as I reached my car door, you called out behind me- “Get home safe- I love you so much”. I felt a giant smile stretch across my face, and as I started the car, I popped my head out, staring back at this girl I had fallen so deeply for, looking so beautiful in the glow of the doorway to her house, and whispered back- “I love you too. So fucking much.” I drove away, the sound of my engine echoing throughout the night, my soul dancing to the beat of my heart as I drove off.

I felt my hand reach down for the knob of the shower, quickly turning it as the rushing water became increasing cold. The water droplets began pelting my back, the pins and needles penetrating my skin repeatedly; my mind suddenly becoming more alert and awake. I turned the water off, reaching for my towel hanging up on the rack next to the shower, and stepped out onto my bathmat; feeling the water dripping down my legs, soaking into the soft plush as I began drying off. I walked back over to the mirror, still fogged up from my hot shower, and stared at the cloudy image of myself staring right back at me, penetrating deep into my soul. As the mirror slowly began defogging, I could see my reflection more clearly once more- I looked cleaner at least, with my wet, disheveled hair sticking to my face, but I couldn’t help but still feel the sadness emanating from my eyes. Attempting to ignore this, I reached for my toothbrush, falling into my usual routine as I continued getting ready for the day. After I finished washing up, the steam escaping through the now opened door, I felt my stomach growl as I stepped out of my bathroom and headed over to the kitchen. Absentmindedly I opened up the pantry, grabbing some name brand cereal, pouring it into a bowl I grabbed from my dishwasher- adding just a splash of milk to my would-be meal- and leaned against my island as I began to eat. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I forced myself to eat, just like I’ve done for the past couple of weeks now. As I stood there, my eyes absentmindedly wandering around the room- catching sight of piles of trash that needed to go out, dishes needing to be washed, pots and pans piling up- my eyes caught a glimpse of a small chipped spot on the front corner of the stove… and then I thought of you.

I walked forward, running my fingers over the indent that I could never get rid of- entirely from lack of effort on my part- and was reminded of the day you created that marking. We had just started dating, and I had invited you over to my house to cook for you. I remember scouring the internet, trying to find the perfect recipe to really blow you away. God I wanted to impress you so badly. I’ve never been much of a cook, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I decided on a simple butter and garlic sauce pasta with chicken and green beans, with some toasted bread topped with garlic and cheese to finish the meal. I had been prepping for hours, getting all the ingredients ready, prepping the chicken, and started up the process so it would be done by the time you got there. As the chicken began cooking in the oven, I hopped in the shower, and was just about dressed when I heard a knock at my door. Hurrying to get dressed, I rushed over to the door, opening it to find you standing there, looking so beautiful in your simple white sunflower dress. Your hair was tucked away carefully in a bun, and you were wearing a beautiful necklace with a simple 2D metal lemur, a small hollow heart carved within the center of the figure. “Sorry, I know I’m early, but I thought you might want some help”, you said, blushing and looking down at the floor.

I invited you in, starting the pasta as I swapped the now cooked chicken out for the bread. I asked you to grab some plates as I started quickly cooking the green beans over the stove- within a few minutes the meal was prepared, and I started plating. As the bread finished, I moved a slice onto each of our plates, asking if you could move the wire rack into my sink. I reached to hand you my gloves, the rack just having come out of a 400 degree oven, but it was too late. Next thing I know, the rack had dropped from your hands, bouncing off the corner of the oven and clattering to the floor. Your hands were bright red, and I could tell you were doing your best to stifle your tears. I began profusely apologizing, knowing I should’ve warned you the rack was hot, fetching a washcloth and wrapping it around a small pile of ice-cubes, carefully placing it in your reddened hands. You said you were alright, and despite my concerns we carried on with our date, the washcloth becoming a third wheel for the night. I remember we just sat next to each other, cleaned plates sitting in front of us, the washcloth now wet from the melted ice, my arm holding you close to me, as we watched some silly movie- your choice of course. When it was finally time for you to say goodnight- your parents were expecting you soon and you didn’t want them to worry- I walked you to your car, continuing to apologize when you suddenly silenced me, kissing me tenderly on the lips. It was the first time we had kissed, and I was speechless- any words, any thoughts leaving without a trace. You gave me a wink as you got in your car and drove off, my body feeling like it had ascended and I was walking on clouds.

I felt my fingers leave the stove, tracing the very lips you had kissed, before shaking my head, taking my barely eaten meal and placing it carelessly in the sink- teetering atop a pile of other dishes, begging to be cleaned and put away. I headed back into my room, reaching for the outfit I had set aside, and slowly began getting dressed. First my dress socks and underwear, then my white button-up, followed by my black slacks. I slipped on my black suit jacket and completed the look with a complementary black tie, in a half windsor. After combing and slicking back my hair, I walked back to the mirror, staring at myself in all black one more time… and then I thought of you. As I grabbed my keys, a bouquet of lilies sitting right next to them, I headed over to my car, placing the flowers next to me as I turned the keys and started the engine. I could never forget that night. It was raining. You had come over for dinner, we had pork with rice and corn. You had made brownies for dessert. I started driving. You begged me to watch “Drive Me Crazy” with you, and after I of course caved, we sat down to watch it. I kept driving silently down the road, listening quietly to the wind singing in my ear as I sped along. You had made us some popcorn, and even though I tried making fun of the movie, by the end of it I was completely enthralled. You laughed so hard at how into it I was. I got embarrassed, but you grabbed my face and said- “I love it, and I love you.” I told you I loved you too, and I leaned in and kissed you. I wished I could’ve stopped time and just sat in that moment with you for hours and hours. Listening to the rain pelting the windows outside, I asked you to stay with me for the night. You told me you couldn’t; that you had promised your parents you’d be home tonight, and didn’t want them to worry. I squeezed you as tightly as I could, giving you a kiss and asking you to be safe; to call me when you got home. I remember as you got in your car, you gave me a wink and said that you’d be safe, and drove off into the night.

I stared at my phone for hours that night, waiting for you to call. When I got fed up with waiting, I tried texting you, calling you, but got no reply. Then, at 12:47AM, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I answered it and was met with a soft woman’s voice- your mom. “Hi Noah, it’s Mrs. Lastra. It’s Claire… she was driving home and…”- I could hear her stifling tears- “Claire was driving home when a truck skidded into her lane and struck her car. She… she died instantly.” My mind went blank. My phone dropped out of my hand, a voice faintly calling “Noah? Are you there? Noah?” I focused on the road ahead of me, at last pulling into a parking lot, filled with other cars. Carefully grabbing the bouquet of lilies, I turned off my car and stepped outside, the warm breeze blowing gently against my face as I began walking towards the sea of black ahead of me.

-End

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