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The Air in Our Lungs
It felt surreal. The trees pierced the sky, and we could still hear the music from prom blasting, now over a mile away. She took my hand, grasping tightly, emphasizing the wiry muscles in her arm, and dragged me towards the forest’s hidden, hospitable hum.
“Wait!” I shouted as a tree root tried to take me down. She stopped, and we slipped off our shoes. She grinned. God, she was so beautiful. Not just attractive. Absolutely unconventionally beautiful – the kind of beautiful that makes you want to hold her hand forever, memorizing every crevice, every scar, every arbitrary freckle on her slender hands. The kind of beautiful that makes you stumble on every word in every sentence; her unassuming beauty muddles your thoughts. The kind of beautiful that makes you want to leave prom to run through the woods, just so you can be alone together.
A smile crept across my face. “Okay,” I said breathlessly, gazing into her thick, marbleized chocolate eyes. Her hand gripped tighter, and we took off. Her layered, pastel pink dress kept tearing on the brush, but she didn’t seem to notice. The ground under our feet disappeared, and we were running on air, free of pain. The air grew thick with every passing moment as the nightly mist began to settle around us. Rain joins the misty air, and our hair began to stick to our too-nice dresses. We’re going to the lake; I realized as we entered a familiar clearing. She slowed and spun around, arms wide, eyes up to the sky. Laughing, I tilted my head back, opened my mouth, and stuck my tongue out, trying to swallow everything. She saw me and cackled, which only intensified my laugh. I want to remember this moment.
The soft scent of petrichor grounds us both to reality, and our laughs slow. She watches me, observant yet delighted. My usually fidgeting hands drop to the side of my long, cobalt dress. We stand yards from each other, but our locked gaze shrinks the space and yards turn into inches. My toes are numb, but my mind and muscles are awake.
I walk slowly over to her. Encasing her hand in mine, I rub my thumb along her veins in a slow, therapeutic manner. The once carefree, gaily air is now weighing down with an unexpected solemnity. Rain drips around our faces and our clothes are soaked, a solid shade darker than they were at the start of the night. Her hand raises slowly to my chin, and she lifts it up, forcing me to look into her eyes again. Warm, sweet, and dark, her pupils envelop the iris in coffee-colored symphonic swirls. She pulls me closer and her lips touch mine and the space between us disappears, but it somehow grows larger than before and this kiss isn’t enough, it’s not enough, it will never be enough. How can we make it enough?
My arms slipped under hers, running my fingers through her slick hair. She pulls her head back, ever so slightly to look me in the eyes.
“Are you sure you want this?” she asks me. Concern flashes over her face, and I find myself nodding. She grasps my wrist.
“Come on!” She pulls me towards the lake, our spot, our cove, our safe haven. I haven’t been here in years. Wisteria and lavender grow around the swimming entrance, welcoming us, and a wave of familiarity washes over me, beauty transcending the ever-present mystery that grows from within the memorable flora. I steal a glance at her delicate, identifiably lilac-scented hands, but the stark discoloration of my limbs catches me off guard. My footsteps slow in surprise.
“Aren’t you freezing?” I ask, staring wide-eyed at my nearly purple limbs. She glances back at my wrist. Her eyes widen, glancing at her own arms, and quickly releases me.
Her arms are beautiful, flawless. Devoid of any cold, purplish tints. She’s perfect. She shakes her head. “I’m fine.”
We reach the lake, our reflections shattered with droplets, like the breaking of glass. She steps in. “Are you coming?”
I inhale. “Does it hurt?”
She hesitates and looks down.
Grimacing, I step in regardless. I want this. I need this. I’ve missed her so much – I can’t go another day without her. “How do we do this?”
A sad smile plays over her face. “Now, we swim.” And with that, she dives in, heading out to the middle of the lake. Shaking my head at her insanity, I follow her. The sharp and stabbing cold keeps me awake. I try to inhale deeply as reality sets in, but I haven’t swum in years and I struggle to breathe with my dress weighing me down. She has no problem swimming, easily making her way to the center of our lake refuge.
I swim up to her side. “What next?”
She bites her lip. “Do you trust me?”
“Of course.” What’s happening?
She reaches over and grabs my wrist, yanking me underwater. My shouts of protests are muffled, and the water consumes me. An aura of light seems to surround her, her underwater words clear as day. “Let the water in.”
Horrified, I stare at her and shake my head vigorously, trying to keep water out. But my time is running up. I try to swim, but she holds me tight.
“Let the water in,” she says again forcefully. I shake my head, but I’m not sure there’s a choice here anymore.
I let the water in, opening up my nose and my mouth, letting my lungs fill like pitchers, except every water droplet pierces my insides, each breath of water more painful than the next, until all of the air is gone from my lungs and it’s over.
The pain stops. Immediately.
Warmth rushes through my veins, and my mauve-colored skin becomes tan again. I look ahead and the once dark lake seems alive with life and light. She hovers, submerged in the water, smiling.