Winter Rain, part 38

Keaira is running toward the house on the east trail, a hundred feet away, as I step out of the entrance way—a sleek, white and charcoal form I would recognize anywhere. Her long strides are fluid and graceful, two feet striking separately, then two together, as she bounds up the Hill towards the house. It seems an eternity since we’ve run together, since we’ve shared the wind in our faces, since we’ve raced through the forest on the Hill, or near Home; two forms, moving as one, running, jumping, weaving, playing. Together.

My god, how I would join her now—wipe away the last month, wipe away the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done, to push her away—if only I could.

She stops dead as she sees me. Her white tail, high in the air, dips. I imagine I can see her blue eyes, even from here, calm and steady, with just a hint of mischief. Just a tiny hint of its true measure.

But I know it’s just my imagination.

I hear her laughter in my ears. I feel her hand on mine, in mine; her soft breath on my face, in my ear. I feel her head on my side as we lie together—for warmth, for comfort, for each other.

Warmth and tightness—from the memory, and from her presence now. The feel of her soft skin under my hands, against my tongue; or the feel of her supple muscles and warm fur against me. Her presence beside me, under me, on top of me—with me . . . no fear, no shame.

I want to run to her now. If only I weren’t such a miserable coward.

She counts on me, too, I know. To listen, when no one else will. To hear her, to see her, when everyone else sees just a pawn, or a problem. To accept her, for exactly who she is. To want to be with her, and no one else.

She takes a hesitant step towards me. An opening, if I ever saw one. An invitation. A plea.

If only we could go back, if only we could be just friends again. But I don’t think I can. And I don’t think she can, either.

Her father’s right. She deserves better than me. She deserves someone who would choose her, regardless the cost.

And that is something I just can’t do.

I close my eyes, because I can’t watch, because I can’t bear to see her reaction as I mouth the words, the only ones I dare.

“I’m sorry.”

But they’re just words. In the end, they mean nothing. In the end, I’m no better than anyone else, making choices for her that are hers alone to make.

But what else am I supposed to do?

Eyes down, I turn, and walk down the drive to the car.

I hear no sign that she follows.