A small apartment – one bedroom, a living room, a small kitchen and a small balcony, it’s at ground level, and there’s a cat sitting on the kitchen window, looking inside through the glass. In the living room, two cats are lounging, one on the back of the sofa, another sitting atop the bookshelf, looking down. A kitten, skinny and dirty, is eating cat food, while the old lady watches over, making sure the other cats don’t take it away. She’d just picked it up, the new addition to her family. She’s already thinking of a name, although she knows not to name them before she knows they’ll survive. But she thinks this one will survive. A ginger cat – called Ginger – is looking around the corner at the kitten, its hairs are still standing; the cat is clearly not amused by the new addition.
She doesn’t care, though, she’s done this before; each new cat causes some commotion, but within a week they all settle. She remembers with a smile the time she brought the dog in. THAT was an interesting week. The dog is gone now, and so are all but one of the cats that were around at the time. She misses the dog, but can’t get a new one, anyway, because she can’t care for it properly. The cats are easy, they don’t need daily walks.
She’s talking to the kitten while it eats, and she thinks, just briefly, how she ended up exactly where she thought she would, but then she forces her mind away from that thought and focuses on the kitten. It’s not that bad; she says to herself, she’s saving another life. Or at least she’s trying to.
She flies alone, with one large suitcase, a backpack and a small bag full of medicine to keep her going. He meets her at the train station and helps her with the bags. For the rest of that week she’s just a tourist, and there’s so much to see, even though she’s seen it before. She goes to the theatre, and watches that show again, waits afterwards and gets an autograph she won’t keep. Every day she goes to a park, and sometimes, if he’s not working, he goes with her. They don’t go out for drinks, although she wants to, because she can’t mix them with the meds. He shows her the city through his eyes, and she loves it. She kisses him goodbye at the train station.
Hours on the train, the view breathtaking, and she tries to stay awake, to take it all in, even though she’s tired and the meds make her groggy. She drifts off, but wakes up again just minutes later, afraid to miss her stop. Another train station, and he’s there, and she smiles upon spotting him. It’s been a long time since she’s seen him last. She spends a week in his world. Sitting through a class, watching him and taking pictures when he doesn’t notice; out for a walk on the countryside, and she feels like she’s in a book, like she’s Catherine and it’s Wuthering Heights. Her time is up too fast. It’s never enough. People always want a little longer. She wants a little longer. She’s not ready to say goodbye, but she has to, once again.
Another plane and she’s back home. They meet her at the airport, all worried, but she’s just fine, only tired. Very, very tired. And sad, because she wants a little longer. A little longer she doesn’t have.
She comes over every day, and they watch a lot of TV together, because it’s part of what they do, and they laugh, and sometimes they cry a little, and talk and talk and talk, for hours at a time, and over the phone and into the night, just like always. When her friend leaves one day, she packs a box full of stuff for her, the autograph, pictures, notes, memories that only the two of them will understand, memories that mean nothing to everyone else. She leaves it with a note, and asks her mom to give it away when it’s the right time.
The following week they hospitalize her, and she knows there’s not much longer. She’s a little sad, because she feels that maybe there was something out there for her, and a little relieved, because there’s a part of her that never believed she’d actually get that something. Because she won’t get old and wrinkled and alone, like she always feared.
They come in, sometimes one by one, sometimes in small groups, and spend time with her. Sometimes she falls asleep while they’re there, and wakes up to find just the one left. She’s always there, and always a comfort. When both of them come in one afternoon, together, she’s so surprised she can’t find her words, just stares at them. She said goodbye, and thought they won’t see her like this, wanted them to remember her still standing, laughing and pretty. But they’re there now, and it makes her happy. Even though it’s the two of them together, and she always thought that would be really awkward. Maybe she’d care about the awkwardness if it were any other situation. She says goodbye again.
On her grave, they write something nice, mention how young she was, quote that poem she liked, don’t mention how she backstabbed, the sins she committed. They’re all there, her parents, her boys, her BFF forever, her few friends, and the people she knew but never really called friends. She’d be surprised to see half of them there, if she were in any condition.
A small apartment – the same small apartment, one bedroom, a living room, a small kitchen, a small balcony – and it’s full of light and colors and music. There’s always music there. He’s sitting on the sofa with his laptop, working. She’s just finished doing the dishes, and she’s on a break before she’ll go to the computer to do some work, or at least look busy. Meanwhile, she lies on the sofa, her head against his thigh, listening to the music and the sound of his fingers on the keyboard. The song changes and he pauses for a moment, because it’s their song.
A white dress, nothing fancy, because it’s only a dinner party, but it’s white and beautiful and she loves it. She picked out the song long ago, long before she thought she’d actually get to use it, and now they’re dancing, and she’s so happy the world might as well blow up around them. It doesn’t, which comes as a slight surprise, because things always go wrong. It’s what they do.
They move out of the city. The beach is not far away, and there’s a view of hills from their bedroom window. Endless hills and orange sunsets, and life isn’t perfect, because it never is, but it’s mostly quiet, which is something she appreciates. There’s a dog and two cats, and the laughter of children in the yard.
Sometimes at night, she’s lying awake, thinking how this came to be, wondering whether it’s all true. There’s a part of her that’s afraid that one of these days she’ll wake up in a white room full of doctors, in a house full of crazy people, and find out this was all a dream, a world she escaped into. But then he rolls over and spoons behind her, and she holds his hand to her chest and thinks that if it’s a dream, it’s the best one, and hopes that it’s real, or that she never wakes up. And in the mornings it’s always okay, because there’s the music, there’s always music, and the kids are fighting, and the dog needs a walk and everyone is waiting for breakfast, and he’s helping her set the table and it’s life, and she loves it.