Chapter eight

It was as if the once lost pieces of a puzzle were slowly piecing themselves together, forming a picture that could barely be deciphered yet. That picture lingered in the shadows of my mind, a faint dream whose dark parallel I’d been immersed in for too long.        

Our feet followed a path determined by the finally functioning compass clutched in my hand. We watched in awe as the surroundings slowly shifted from desolation to budding life. The other travel on the road seemed to have reached a dazed standstill; we passed by several groups huddled on the road, watching the life return to the land. 

The charred skeletons of the trees shed their dusty, black coats, and their slender branches gave way to delicate, pale green leaves. Melodic twittering floated from the trees, and small creatures scampered across our paths, hesitant and curious. Vibrant flowers blossomed up in the soft grass, their sweet scent permeating the air. The sky’s smoky mask fell away to reveal a summery blue vista dotted with clouds of wispy cotton. The air adopted a pleasant warmth, contrasting the previous suffocating, wavering heat. 

The vibrancy of life wrapped around us, instilling an undeniable sense of joy. 

I walked alongside Bria, and when I turned to her, she’d undone her braid allowing her auburn waves to cascade around her face. Her eyes were full of the sparkling elation so often found in a child’s eyes. It was a look I’d seen mirrored in Dagan’s eyes when I first agreed to help—one of soul-reviving hope. 

“It’s beautiful.” She uttered the simple words, her voice exuding awe. I could only muster a nod in response. 

The issue remained that there was still one puzzle piece missing. The way I saw it, the life we saw was like the respite that comes after an illness that may or may not return at any given time. It felt like a cure that was nothing more than a trial–a test. What permanence did this hold? Any at all?

Over a few hours, the sky transformed into a breathtaking masterpiece of stunning, soft colors melting and blending into each other. Pocketing the compass, we camped alongside the road, laying out our mats and blankets. Bria knelt to build a fire, and within moments, the flames cast a glow in the inky blackness. 

We ate dinner in the pleasant stillness, quietly discussing the developments we’d observed. But not much time passed before exhaustion overcame us and we laid down to sleep. 

In the silence, I found it harder to sleep than I had imagined. Bria and Dagan did not seem to experience the same difficulty; within moments I could hear the gentle breathing that accompanies sleep. No such state fell over me though, and I eventually couldn’t simply lay there any longer. 

To my right, the forest seemed to call to me. The branches reached out, inviting me in as if they had something to tell me. 

With nothing better to do, I quietly ventured into the arms of the forest. 

The moon was still visible through the web of branches, a luminescent globe casting its glow onto the expectant world down below. The stars scattered across the sky—tiny pinpricks of light—assisting the moon despite their incredible distance from it. 

And still, the trees whispered to me. 

I brushed my fingers along the trunks and let them gently graze the leaves. My feet silently sank into the undergrowth as I walked still deeper into the forest, not yet satisfied. 

My creation was calling out to me. Perhaps it knew me better than I did.”

My creation was calling out to me. Perhaps it knew me better than I did. It was telling me something. Something I needed to hear. And I searched for its words, ignoring the reality that I knew what it was telling me. 

I finally stopped. My pounding heart overwhelmed the silence. I closed my eyes, and a wave of feelings crashed over me. 

“Aaron.” It was a whisper into the empty forest—a call that seemed meant for no one, but someone could hear it. I was sure he could. And suddenly the words were pouring out of me faster than I thought was possible. 

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I never saw that you needed help. I’m sorry that I needed you to be my savior so badly that I never really listened to what you were really trying to say. I’m sorry– I’m sorry for never really forgiving you. I forgive you now. I know you couldn’t help it; you had to go. You did everything you could for me. Sometimes I think– sometimes I think you were an angel sent down for a brief period of time. Because you were so perfect. How could you have been anything else? But that’s selfish, so selfish of me. You were you, and you weren’t only here for me. I wish I could have seen that– I wish I could’ve seen that before it was too late. Before you were gone.” 

I was crying now. Choking the words in between sobs. It was everything I’d thought and never said.

“This story, Aaron. It was for me, but really it was for you. It’s about you. Everything you should’ve been. Everything you wanted to be. Everything– everything you never got to be. And I always– I always blamed you for that. I didn’t have any other way to cope with it. But I see now– I see now that you can’t be my savior. I have to be own savior. And I’m scared, Aaron. I’m scared. How can I do this alone? I never really let you go. I couldn’t. But you need me to let go. I– I need me to let you go. I’m sorry, Aaron. For everything. You helped me more– more than you could know. But you do know. Because wherever you are now– I know you hear me. I know you see me. I love you, Aaron. I’ll never forget you. But I’m letting you go now.” 

The tears were relentless, the pain unbridled. But I was moving on. 

It was the first time I had cried since he died.


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