The buildings blurred into disembodied shades of blue and gray as Tracey walked, hands shoved in her pockets, head down. She didn’t care, didn’t notice she was headed. The bass and angry lyrics of some song clashed in her headphones. Her throat felt raw. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t sit still. When she reached up to wipe her nose, her hand came away wet, but she didn’t wipe it on her sleeve, just shoved it back in her pocket and kept walking.
The sudden sight of a familiar door stopped her in her tracks, like she’d tried a difficult jump for the first time and crashed into a concrete wall.
Tracey stepped onto the front stoop and ran her finger carefully over the peeling paint. It was almost as if nothing had changed. She’d ring the buzzer and wait, and in a few moments, the door would swing open, and he’d be standing there smiling.
The door flew open, denting the drywall as she rushed up the stairs and down the hall to the last doorway. She dropped her bag on the dirty carpet and stretched up on her tiptoes, feeling for the small panel at the top of the doorframe. Her fingers found it easily, and it slid aside to reveal the cold metal underneath.
He didn’t move the key. As if after all that time, he knew she’d come back eventually.
When the door opened, she couldn’t see for a moment. Tears rose to fill her vision, but she wiped them away and flipped on the lights. The tiny space looked like a small section of Vince’s brain. Projects littered his desk, organized a bit more neatly than usual. The blankets on his bed were rumpled, books and papers scattered across it like an unfinished archaeological dig. She could see the sun shining through the leaves of the plants on his balcony.
Her feet propelled her across the room on instinct; she turned a corner, opened the closet door, and reached up for the string. The tired old lightbulb flicked on, illuminating hoodies and sweatpants and t-shirts. Tracey ran her hand across the clothes, then pulled a happy yellow hoodie off its hanger.
The soft cloth settled over her arms and covered her hands. Her shoes had come off at some point, but she couldn’t remember when. She floated back through the apartment, ghost-like, touching random objects and occasionally stopping to examine one of the sketches tacked to the walls. The couch accepted her as if she’d never left, letting her weight sink into the hollow at one of its corners. She pulled her knees up to her chest and held herself for a while. The room was silent enough that every movement echoed.
Something about the desk snagged her attention. She padded across the space and sat down in the rickety chair Vince had insisted on keeping. It didn’t quite sit up straight, listing to one side as if it was considering whether or not it wanted to dump her on the floor.
She picked through the bits and pieces scattered across the tabletop and turned them over in her hands. The feeling of them was both comforting and sad at the same time. They were blessedly solid, yet pieces of moments that would never be finished.
As she set a gear back down, a scrap of paper covered with handwriting caught her eye. The weathered notebook paper felt good between her fingers, and she tilted it toward the light, trying to make out the words.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, or if I’ll even send it. Either way, I just wanted to let you know you are the boldest, brightest, most amazing person I’ve ever met. It’s like fireworks and all the neon spray paint and the courage of a whole pride of lions were crammed into one person.
Nothing scares you. If there’s a wall taller than you, you’ll find a way to climb it. If there’s something you haven’t tried or a goal you haven’t met yet, you’ll go after it with all your energy.
I wish you every happiness. Go grab that horizon and paint it the way only you can.
Author Notes: One last soundtrack:
If you've followed the story this far, thank you.