Keller walks through the tangle of branches and shrubs ahead of me, swearing as he gets caught on the thorns, and brushing dry leaves off his shoulders. I watch as his blonde head bobs along, progressing slowly in front of me; I follow closely behind. I don’t know why he insists on always walking home through the forest, but, I always let him drag me along. You’d have thought after all the years we’d been walking this way that the forest floor would have shown signs of wear, but it was always a jungle to scrabble through.
I have to cling to his muscular arm as I trip and lurch over fallen logs and clumps of decaying leaves that settle in small piles about my feet. I hate the forest, but, Keller just loves it, and always has. He looks back at me briefly, flashing a smile then returned to playing guide through the mass of branches determined to halt our progress through the undergrowth.
Keller is built to be outdoors – unlike me – which you can just see it in him. He’s not exactly tree height at 5’11” but he has a natural build that makes him stand out. He isn’t bulky or overly large either, but just seems solid, immovable. He’s spent so much time in the sun that his naturally mouse brown has become bleached to more of an ashy blond, and he has the kind of skin that just screams ‘I tan because I surf and do manly things in the wilderness’. All of this is something I have grown used to seeing over the years, the dazzling smile and startlingly green eyes…my best friend in the whole world. Totally solid, dependable, a constant that would never change for as long as my house connected to his in our semi-detached.
I had known him since I was five, and he’s only two months older than me, so he’s been around for most of my life, really.
“Macey,” he begins, and I know what he’s going to say.
Now isn’t the time, even if it’s the only time we can really talk. It’s not the time, I don’t want it to be time. It always happens like this, when you can’t deal with something it springs on you all at once. My heart begins to hammer in my chest and my blood feels like it’s run cold. Then I take a breath, I try to calm myself but to little avail. It creeps along my fingertips, buzzes on my lips, and begins to shift and follow my limbs. The fuzzy, panicked feeling, which turns to a boiling sensation under my skin. It even hurts. My internal panic is becoming real. Sweat starts to form on my brow and in the hollow of my neck, icy cold. I can’t seem to breathe.
“Not now, Keller,” I shoot him a pleading glance, I don’t want to go over it all right now. I can’t deal with it, the memories, the hopes and dreams. They come in flashes, almost overwhelming to remember. I know that I’m having a panic attack but it’s never been quite like this. It’s as if everything I’ve been holding back for the past nine days is just about to explode. All these feelings. They all mean so little in the darkness of the forest.
But, then it is dark, it’s so dark. It can’t be that dark.
He’s moving ahead again, his shoulder’s slumped, his confidence to speak drained. I feel the metaphorical gulf between is widen a fraction.
He’s vanishing out of sight, he’s not even that far away, it shouldn’t be like that. He should be looking at me, it should always be like that. And, I’d see his smiling face.
Except, I don’t, and I can’t move, I can’t breathe, or speak. My eyes fade to grey like the end of a movie, then I’m sure I’m waking up from a bad dream. I can feel the soft pillows under me. They’re softer than I remember. Are they damp from my tears? I’m crying so much, choking sobs, but I can’t feel it. There is nothing but black, I can’t prise my eyelids open to see Keller again. He is gone, but, I can hear him calling, urgently.
Then it’s all gone. Keller, the forest, my bed, my dreams. Me.