No one forgets the moment they break, the exact split second their soul splits in two. Even in the days and weeks following, Leo would never get the memory out of his head and dreams. Every time he closed his eyes, he’d see the dreaded scene painted on the back of his eyelids. And every time he saw it, the pain was just as fresh and hit just as hard as the moment he rounded the corner and saw his beautiful Alice, her body crumpled against the rocks, and her empty eyes staring at the sky.
“NO!” It was a wonder how he even got the word out, as it felt like an invisible hand had grabbed his neck and was slowly suffocating him. Iron manacles had roped around his chest and squeezed tighter and tighter. His chest slowly crumpled under the pressure, each rib snapping cleanly and falling into the cavity of his heart… The heart that God, the devil, the sea, Death, Alice, had grabbed with their own bare hands and twisted and pulled and ripped apart into tiny shreds until it was unrecognizable.
Leo slowly walked forward, his feet dragging in the wet sand, and the small crowd gathered around Alice parted respectfully, dipping their heads as he fell to his knees in front of the love of his life. She was beautiful, even in death. Golden hair splayed gracefully across the rocks and the beach. Porcelain cheeks hung onto the last dredges of blood and blush before turning ashen. Blue eyes, framed with lovely long lashes, turned skyward, as if spying a secret in the storm that no one else could see. Yes, she was still beautiful, even in death.
“No!” Leo howled the word, his throat closing as he cursed the god he worshipped, the cliffs he lived on, and the sea he swam in. They had all taken his love, his Alice — the only good thing that happened to him. “No!” Indistinguishable noises escaped the boy of sixteen as he gingerly — lovingly — lifted her body into his arms, and thus revealing the truth: sticky blood matted her blonde locks to the back of her head, her broken bones shifted within her empty sack of a body, and her neck — her beautiful, slender, pale, slice-of-marble neck — bent at an unnatural angle, her head falling into Leo’s soft embrace. “No, Alice, no! Don’t leave me! You can’t! Please!” Blubbers fell off his lips as he hugged her hard, burying his face into her hair and his hands busily trying to revive her, willing her to return to him.
The tears came quick and fast, carving searing trails down his face and mingling with her scarlet blood. They rolled into the ocean that killed her, the ocean that had taken the one good thing that had ever happened to him. He couldn’t see a thing as his chest heaved with screams and sobs, his breathing ragged and his sorrow agonizing. It wasn’t fair.
Time seemed to hang, suspended, while Leo held Alice’s little, broken body, sobbing and shaking heavily. His ears were deaf to the crashing of the waves and the whispers of those behind him; his screams of agony filled his silent reverie. There was no one else in the world except for the two of them on that stormy shore — except one of them wasn’t really there. Shock radiated through Leo’s body, dulling his feelings and senses but magnifying his grief. How could she be really gone? How could she leave this world while she held someone else’s heart, while someone loved her so much? A chasm had opened inside Leo’s chest, and all he wanted was to crawl inside and never come out. How could he possibly face the world after the cataclysmic event that would irrevocably change his life?
When Leo opened his eyes again, he was crushed to discover he was still sopping wet on the beach, clutching Alice’s body; he had been hoping it was all a terrifying dream and that he would wake up next to her beautiful sleeping form. Choking down another scream of agony, he defeatedly leaned forward and carefully used his pinky to slide her eyelids closed. It was the last time he would ever see the aquamarine eyes he knew and loved. Dipping his head, Leo gently pressed his lips to her delicate cheekbone, relishing her touch one last time. “I love you.”
As he drew away, a glint of pearl caught his attention and the sight of a broken pearl necklace scattered across the sand brought a fresh onset of tears. Picking up a pearl and feeling the smoothness underneath his fingertips, Leo remembered the hours he’d spent diving in the ocean, cracking open half a thousand clams to find enough of the little beads to make a necklace. He remembered saying the words I love you as he presented the finished product to her, and he remembered the way her sparkling eyes lit up, the shiny pearls reflected in them. He remembered her arms around his neck and her lips upon his ear and her whispered “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you.” They had sworn to each other that they would love and protect each other forever. Their friends had scoffed at the idea of forever, but they knew the full weight of their words. They knew they belonged together, but fate was a cruel mistress. She had failed to live and love and he had failed to protect. The necklace, once a shining symbol of their unbreakable love, had broken upon a sharp rock and lay scattered in pieces on the bloody beach. Now it was just a cruel reminder of the flimsiness of forever. Still, he gathered up all of the little pearls, cupping them in his hand and squeezing them tight in a fist. It wasn’t fair.
Slumping over her body again, Leo cried out all his pain and frustration, the emotions spilling from the Alice-shaped hole embedded in his heart. He could have cried and cried and cried there forever, but a gentle touch of his elbow made him lift his head. Blinking away his tears, Leo’s vision cleared, and he saw a distraught-looking Marie crouching tentatively beside him, her pretty face blotchy and tear-stained. That’s when he realized how selfish he was; he hadn’t been the only one who had cared for Alice.
No words were exchanged between the two friends, but a mutual understanding came between them as Leo draped his arm around Marie’s shoulder and pulled her close. Their tears mingled and their cries were intertwined, but neither protested as paramedics gingerly took Alice from Leo’s arms. They stayed at the beach long after everyone else left and the rain drizzled to a stop and the waves washed away the last traces of scarlet blood. They just held each other and cried on each other’s shoulders, because they both knew that now, all they had was each other.
Ashley Zhang is a writer with chronic writer’s block. She finds that inspiration strikes at the oddest of times and places, so she can often be found frantically typing ideas on her phone at four in the morning or in the middle of a concert. Besides writing, Ashley enjoys baking and trying to figure out her plans for the future. She cites Lady Gaga, JK Rowling, and Blair Waldorf as her role models, and she thanks them for inspiring her to do anything she puts her mind to.