The sun was rising slowly, persistently. Pale light illuminating gentle slopes, peaks casting shadows into the valleys folded around them. A world spread out around her, peaceful and still. A landscape of folded cloth.
Her phone buzzed. “Do you want to talk?”
She retreated beneath the covers, back into darkness. It wasn’t that she wanted to sleep—not that her mind would let her anyway—another day was simply too much to bear. That growing light revealed the mess of sheets around her, the pile of unwashed clothes, the dishes in the corner. She couldn’t clean her room, couldn’t change her clothes, couldn’t even get out of bed.
Better not to try. Better to stay inside—to stay in the dark, where there was nothing to see and no one to see her. She recognized that she was cycling, but that didn’t mean she had the energy or willpower to overcome it.
Her phone buzzed again. A light beneath the covers. “I’m here when you’re ready.”
There was a whole world out there where the sun illuminated beauty as well as pain, cruelty as well as compassion. She wasn’t ready. Not yet. But she held her phone close.
The alley was wide, but few people used it. It may have been because the tall stone buildings on either side kept out the sun most of the day except for around 12 o’clock. That’s where they stood, surrounded by murky shadows while strangers passed by on either end of the manmade ravine.
“Are you sure?” he asked. He bowed his head to look at her, but she wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Are you sure?”
She nodded slowly.
A breath of wind wound its way down the alley and swept up a few of her golden hairs, coaxing them to flutter before her face and land on her moist lips. His dark, gentle hand brushed those strands aside, tucking them behind her ear and letting his palm rest for just a moment on her warm cheek. She might have been blushing, but the half-light around them made her almost expressionless face appear more serene than he had ever seen it.
He felt her jaw tighten.
“Come on. We should be going.”
Her heels clicked on the cement footpath as she walked. But he lingered ever so briefly, saying goodbye to the air where her perfume and his hand still hung.