“So it’s not that I’m not glad that you’re coming, I-I just keep wondering why you’re doing it.”
The man paused, searching Lewis’ face before glancing away to stare at the ground. He began to speak, his large blue eyes glazing over as though he were somewhere far away.
“It’s for a lot of reasons, but mainly for my Lizzie. Are you old enough to remember losing anyone in the Sunder?”
“I have flashes of memory, I remember my parent’s faces although it seems like it gets harder every year.”
“Well, I was 22 when it happened, I’m sure any one of these folks could tell you the same story. One moment you’re staring at the love of your life, the next… poof, there’s a brick wall and you’re alone. For me, it was Lizzie.” He said, his voice dropping to a whisper as he said her name.
“You see, I was just about to graduate and I’d been dating her for a few years now. Never met anyone like her before in my life, being around her was like…” His voice trailing off as he glanced around the campfire seemingly searching for his words in the flames.
“Well, have you ever walked in somewhere and smelled fresh baked cookies? Just this pure happiness the moment you walk in. That’s how it felt. Perfect. Well anyways, we were getting ready for a night in, I’d bought this dumb musical about a circus that she loved and she was real excited. I came up to her room, and she was laying on the bed in these black leggings, the soft ones kinda like pajamas and this giant maroon sweatshirt she loved. I mean you shoulda seen her. She just had her hair done, and colored it this auburn honey color that glowed in the string lights we had draped over her bookshelves.” As he spoke about her, his eyes lit up, and a big goofy smile began to spread over his face. He laughed to himself as he mentioned the string lights adding “that was probably a pretty big fire hazard now that I think about it.”
“Anyway, I handed her the DVD and she starts setting it up, but then she says can you go grab my candy, I left it in the other room and I joke with her that she’ll have to get her own candy and she does this adorable Pweeeeassseeeee she’d do, but I didn’t budge” He seems to mimic her voice as he goes, laughing to himself after copying her “please”, his voice a high-pitched singsong.
“ Then she started making this cute pouty smile, her big, brown, puppy dog eyes too much to say no to. So I get up off the bed, walk into the other room, and grab em. Then I’m standing at the door looking at her just as I’m about to go in, and Lizzie sees me holding the candy. She looked up and smiled.” The man stops and catches his breath, and lets out a dreamy sigh as though he could see her smiling even now. The group sat silent, everyone rapt in the story, many of the older faces sharing that far-off look. For a few seconds, he sat quietly smiling to himself before continuing with a chuckle.
“Goddamn, that smile. It-it always started in the middle of her lips, because she’d suck em in like she was trying to fight it and then the sides of her mouth would slide up until this big toothy grin appeared as she crinkled her nose giggling. Man… that smile, it was like, well it was like the first day of spring when it’s cold and overcast but for a second the sun peaks out and that warmth just rolls over ya. That was Lizzie’s smile, always that radiant little sunshine, and it was the last thing I saw bef-before the wall appeared.” He stops, his voice breaking as a small whimper escapes his throat.
Lewis looks away, unsure of what to say but soon sees that the other older members of the crew are also crying. Each staring into the fire as rivers of tears roll down their cheeks. Small sniffles and strained breaths filling the air.
“One minute it’s the love of my life, the next a-a brick wall. I spent three hours smashing the damn thing down screaming, begging, for her to hold on. You can guess my face when all I found was that howling nothing on the other side. For a long time… a real long time I didn’t care about nothing, just felt empty inside. Then y’all come along, talking about finding the source of the Sunder. I get to thinking, if the source is in here with us, then we must’ve been taken, not them right? So I’ve spent every night since I met ya, praying… praying with all my damn might that she’s still out there spreading that sunshine smile. I’ll be damned if I don’t find some way to claw my way out of this hell and back to my Lizzie.” The man stopped, his eyes fixed on Lewis.
The firelight dances on his face, the tears still fresh. A quiet crept forward like a thick blanket until only the crackle of flames and the rustling of leaves filled the night. Each of the team, gathered their things, following some unspoken agreement to head in for the night. Lewis felt their pain, while he could not remember his parents, he still had lived with that hole in his life. All of the survivors knew it, a longing for that which had been stolen. Lewis lay on the ground, staring up at the night sky, and the frozen moon. As he began to drift off he thought to himself. Soon, soon we will be whole again. We just have to push on, not just for us, but for everyone.