You are forty, and you are going to die in your best friend’s arms. There is nothing he can do about it. He is holding you, and you can see in his face that this is breaking him. You are leaving, and it is breaking him.
You want to tell him something — a secret that you hid so well when you were thirteen that it took you twenty-seven years to find it again.
You can imagine the way he would regret time wasted. The way he would cry and scream, the same way he is right now.
He is a gentle soul, your best friend.
You want to tell him about the warmth around your heart, the jittering in your limbs, the spark in your eyes. You want to wax poetic about the pain in your chest, the longing in your hands, the softness in your smile. You want to hear your name in his voice, sweet and delicate, like your name is his favorite dessert, like he can’t stand to not have the taste of it in his mouth.
You want, you want, you want.
But you know you can’t do that, you don’t have the time, so instead you tell a joke and hope he is able to survive without you.
You are thirteen, and you fight a killer clown and tie. You think you have won, though, so you feel invincible for the rest of the summer. You look at your best friend, and you wonder.
You are fifteen, and your best friend has a growth spurt. For the first time there is a significant difference in your heights, and you can’t figure out how you feel about it.
Your best friend gloats, and he loves to lord his newfound power over you. Sometimes, you think about putting your hand around the back of his neck and dragging him down to your level. Sometimes, you think about pressing a soft kiss to that annoying mouth when you do it.
Sometimes, you are able to ignore the acrid guilt that fantasizing about him creates in your gut.
You are eighteen, and you are so lonely. You are going to college seven hours away from home, and you have no idea what you’re doing.
When you arrive in the dorms, you realize you have no one to call or write letters to. Your mother always makes sure to call you first, and you didn’t really have any friends in high school.
It’s hard to connect with your classmates, and your roommate is never around, so college is just high school all over again with a more flexible schedule. Derry becomes a misty place, unremarkable and unworthy of thought.
You like to take walks around campus and wish you had someone to talk to.
It’s strange. There is no one to miss, but you still feel a gaping hole in your chest where someone should be.
You are thirty, and you are finally getting married. Your bride looks beautiful in her white gown, and you aren’t completely faking your smile as you watch her walk up the aisle.
Around her in the pews are friends and family, mostly hers. Your mother passed away a few years ago, and you have few friends of your own.
As you vow to love her for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part, you think about how comfortable you are with her. She takes care of you in a way you thought you’d lost when your mother died. She remembers what medications you take and what foods you’re allergic to. She never makes you leave your comfort zone.
All she wants is to keep you out of harm’s way. All she wants is for you to be kept safe.
What more could you want in a spouse?
You are forty-one, and you are about to fall asleep in your best friend’s arms. Your whole body hurts, but it’s a good ache. It means you’re finally healing, despite the fact that your physical therapist is ruthless and unforgiving.
Breathing has been difficult since you woke up in the hospital, and your anxiety has somehow managed to get even worse, but here, head pillowed on your best friend’s chest, you feel safe. Secure.
He says something soft and low, and the sound of his voice saying those three words to you still manages to make your heart soar, almost a year after the first time you heard him say it. You mutter back what you hope is an intelligible response.
As you drift off, you feel the pressure of a kiss on the top of your head.
You are happy.