Harder

By: Robin York

West





When I had to say goodbye at the airport, I thought, This is the last time.

The last time you get to kiss her. The last time you get to touch her.

This is the last time you’re ever going to see her face.

And then, after I turned and left, That was it. It’s over.

I guess I went to the gate. I must have boarded a plane. Someone sat next to me, but I don’t remember if it was a man or a woman, what they looked like. What I do remember is thinking everything would have to get easier from that point forward, because nothing could be harder than walking away from Caroline.

It almost makes me laugh now, if you can call it laughter when it comes with the salt-copper taste of blood at the top of your throat. If it’s still a smile when you have to swallow and swallow around it, unable to get rid of the bitter flavor of your mistakes.

I went home to Silt thinking I was heading into some kind of Wild West showdown. I’d call my dad out onto the public street at high noon and we’d draw our pistols. I’d fire straight and true and take him down, and then… well, that was the part I had to avoid thinking about. That was the part where the screen starts to go dark, the edges drawing in around a black-bordered circle that shrinks until it’s the size of a quarter, a nickel, a pinhole, nothing.

Nothing. That was where I would live after I drove my dad out of my life once and for all. Inside that blackness where the pinhole used to be, where the light had disappeared from, I’d pitch a tent, pull a blanket around me, and endure.

I was the sheriff, right? And he was the bad guy. But after I took him down, my reward would be an eternity of nothing I wanted. Maybe a gold star to pin on my shirt.

I was so sure I was the fucking sheriff, it almost makes me laugh, because what happened when I got home was that everything sucked in a completely different way from how I thought it would.

I did the impossible and walked away from Caroline.

After that, everything in my life that was hard got harder.





Caroline





When West’s ringtone starts playing in my darkened bedroom, it slips into my subconscious, and I have one of those last-second-before-you-wake-up dreams that’s pure sensation – his skin warm against me everywhere, his weight and smell, the muscles in his thighs against the backs of mine, his hand sliding down my stomach. All of that, slow and melting and West, until the song finally manages to pierce through the haze of my sleep and pinch me awake.

I fight my way from under the sheet, turned on and pissed off because I know how this goes. The rock in my stomach, the day ahead during which I’ll try and fail to shake that flood of sense-memory.

I’m going to have to live through it, and then I’m going to lose it, every good memory I have of West, again, when what I want is to drop back into that dream and live there instead.

It sucks. It sucks, and I’m so distracted by the suckage that I’m picking up the phone and swiping at the screen with my thumb before I completely register what’s going on.

West’s ringtone. West is calling me.

West is calling me at one a.m. when I haven’t heard from him in two and a half months.

If he’s drunk-dialing me, I’m going to fly to Oregon and kick him in the nuts.

That’s what I’m thinking when I put the phone to my ear – but it’s not how I feel. I wish it were. I wish I could say Hello? and hear West say Hey, and not feel… I don’t even know. Plugged in. Lit up. Juiced.

I stand in my dark bedroom, aware in every centimeter of my skin that he’s breathing on the other end of the phone, somewhere on the far side of the country.

I have too many memories that start this way. Too many conversations where I told myself I wouldn’t and then I did.

I have this enormous burden of longing and pain, so heavy I can hear it in my voice when I snap, “What do you want?”

“My dad’s dead.”

My head clears in an instant, my attention sharpening to a point.

“He got shot,” West says, “and it’s… it’s a fucking mess, Caro. I know this is – I shouldn’t ask you. I can’t ask you, but I just need to tell you because I can’t fucking —” A crackling whooshing noise interrupts him, the kind of interference that fills your whole head with white sound. I just stand there, waiting for his voice to come back.

I’m pushing the phone so hard against my ear, my breath shallow and fast, aware with the kind of clarity I’ve only found in moments of crisis that it doesn’t even matter. Whatever he says next. It doesn’t matter.

The thing I never understood before West was that there are some people who, when it comes to them, reason and logic are never going to be in charge.

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