Letters

Every morning, she went out to the shore. The hot sand burned her bare feet as she dashed to the water's edge. Sunrise bathed the beach in hues of red, orange, and gold. It suited her well--the crimson matching her long hair, the orange her favorite dress, and the gold was the same shade as the bracelet he gave her. It'd been three years now since that day. In those years, he'd come home three times for less than three weeks each, and sent her thirty letters to the hundreds she'd lost count of sending. Three times a year, he called her, and three times a year, he answered. The restlessness building inside her was barely caged within her dwindling patience. Deep inside, she knew the light was fading. She clutched the latest letter in her hand and went to the post office to ask about lost mail. Another day without a call or letter. She went on her way to work. The routine emptiness of it all replaced the loneliness with busyness for the first few hours. A flash of her reflection in the golden bracelet at lunch brought all the feelings flooding back. She left work early by pretending to be sick and watched a movie in an empty theater. He took her to the theater a couple of times not long after they started dating. The dates were always few and far between, but his smile tricked her into believing a deeper closeness between them than she ever knew. He was always smiling, always laughing--never opening up to her as she never did to him. They fit well together on paper, like a couple out of a romantic comedy; lacking in depth and never reaching beyond the generic, expected script. Once, on a night when the sky was full of shooting stars, they walked out to the beach and watched them with an old friend of theirs. That friend steered the conversation with ease into the depths of him she wanted to explore and allowed her to descend past his mask's illusion. In some ways, she was glad they weren't alone that night, but jealousy hid underneath that sentiment. Here she was, his girlfriend and longtime friend, and yet that barrier between them could only be temporarily broken by another. She left the theater and went home. Locked up in her bedroom, she read through the thirty letters. Initially, he sent his letters about as frequently as she did, but as time went on, the letters came in less often. Typically, she now received one every three months. She wouldn't mind as much if the letters were longer. Her last three letters were less than a page long. His words were insincere and distant, full of excuses and apologies. 'I'll definitely call more often.' 'I'll try to write more. You know it's hard for me.' 'I'll be back soon. I promise.' Empty words. She thought about throwing all the letters into the sea. Around dusk, she received a phone call. Not from him, but from their friend. "Hey, guess who I just heard from after three months of radio silence." He said. "It wouldn't happen to be my MIA boyfriend who still hasn't called me, would it?" She said back, laughing. She was half-amused and half-angry. "You know him. He only talked to me for ten minutes." "At least you got ten minutes." "True. His minutes are so rare they belong in a museum." He laughed. "I'm sure he'll call you tonight. He says he's coming home soon for three weeks, then he's going back again." "Of course. Bet he won't even stay the full three weeks." She said. "Probably not." He said. "You should tell him to quit that job. He has no life doing that." "I have no life with him doing that either. I don't think he cares." When those words left her lips, they startled her. That was the first time she'd vocalized that fear to anyone. Their friend went quiet for a moment. "Hey, are you okay?" "Yeah, just tired. Long day." She quickly said. "You'll be happy when he's back. He's worth waiting for." He said. "I should go now. Leave the line free, you know?" She couldn't get herself to say what she really thought. That night, she took a long bath and waited until eleven. The house was devoid of sound. She turned in for the night. In her dream, she walked along the beach at night with him. They held hands, but his eyes were always on the waves. A single star fell down to the sea. She made a wish upon it she dare not say aloud. Five AM. She got ready for the day and wrote another letter. Then, she raced down to the shore from her backyard. The world was painted in those same three colors--red, orange, and gold, but the sea was empty. She slipped on her work shoes once she crossed into the street and headed to the post office. As with the sea, there was nothing to find. Work went slowly, but it dulled the pain. She had lunch out at a little place he took her once many years ago. The place was very busy at the time. It was a small town, and most of everything revolved around a few schedules. Most people were on their lunch break. She watched the friends gathered together and the couples making a show of their "closeness". She hated being alone when she was a teenager. She wanted to be attached to somebody. Being alone terrified her. Now, she wondered why. She spun the golden bracelet around her wrist and stared at her distorted reflection. "Hey, did he call?" Their friend sat down at her table. "Nope. Guess he only had ten minutes of time." She shrugged and smiled. The words stung. "I'm sure he'll call you tonight." He said to reassure her. "He told me he'll definitely call you soon." "That's what he always says." She spun the bracelet around once more. "I bet he doesn't even read my letters." "I'm sure he reads them when he has time. He doesn't respond to mine very often either." He said. "I didn't know he wrote you letters." He gave her a half-hearted smile. "About three paragraphs once every three weeks. Tells me about the weather and food, then lots of promises I know he'll break." His words stirred many things inside her, but most of all her growing apathy. She laughed at the two of them. "Sounds like him." That night, though her hope was nearly extinguished, she waited by the phone until three in the morning when she accidentally fell asleep. She was aware she was dreaming as she slept. She saw the two of them as teenagers, sneaking out at night for a secret date under the stars. He held her close and said all the right lines. She was mesmerized by him then, and was already writing a happy ending in her head. At fifteen, eternity seemed easy enough to capture. She sat behind their younger selves and said, "Eternity, huh?" Her alarm didn't wake her. She didn't wake until her boss called her asking where she was. She made up a lie about still feeling "sick" and her medication knocking her out cold. The lie worked well enough, and she was given the option of taking the rest of the day off to rest up. She elected to go in anyway. Rent was coming up soon, and she couldn't afford to miss too much work. She hurried through her morning routine. On her way out the door, she stopped at her desk. She hadn't written him a new letter. At first, she told herself it was alright as she had no time for that today. A second thought followed. 'He doesn't read them anyway.' She briefly watched the empty sea from the road, but didn't go down to the shore. Work couldn't wait for daydreaming. She skipped her visit to the post office. For lunch, she stayed at work. When she went home, she unplugged the phone for an hour. "He's not going to call." She told herself. She couldn't stop staring at the phone. In the end, she plugged it back in and ate dinner by the phone. No one called. She fell asleep beside the phone again. In her dream, she heard the phone ring. Her heart pounded. She picked it up immediately. "Hey, it's been a while." His familiar voice brought her to tears. "Hey." She said, unable to pull anything else out of herself. "Sorry I haven't called. I've been so busy lately. But guess what? I'm coming home soon. We can spend every day together again." "You should stay forever this time." She said as she wiped away her tears. "You know, I just might." He said. She laughed, then cried harder. Then, she collapsed to her knees on the floor, sobbing. "You always say that." When she woke from her dream, it was three in the morning. She wiped her face off and checked her phone messages, already knowing what she'd find. Dazed, she left the house and walked down to the beach. The sand was cold on her feet and the stars cast no array of colors upon her. Shadows disguised her path, but she still knew the way. Her teenage memories of sneaking out led her down to a little place tucked away from the rest of the beach. Standing in the dark, she noticed a shadow moving. The childish part of her wanted to believe her wish came true, but her adult reasoning kept her from revealing herself further. The shadow moved closer. A familiar voice asked, "Who's there?" It was their friend. She relaxed. "It's only me." "What are you doing out this late?" He asked. "Couldn't sleep. Thought I'd get some fresh air." She said. She sat down on the cold sand and watched the waves. He joined her on the sand. "Same. Usually, I only come out here at dawn." "You do? I don't think I've ever seen you here before at that time." She said, surprised. That early in the morning, the beach always looked empty. "You do it too? Never noticed. Haha, but that makes sense, doesn't it? It's not like either of us is paying attention to the beach." He looked out at the waves. She watched the water with him in silence, idly spinning the golden bracelet on her wrist. He turned to her and touched her arm. "It's a bit loose, isn't it? Ever thought of getting it adjusted?" She stopped and felt the weight of the object on her skin. When it was given to her, she cried and smiled, not caring about how it fit or what it looked like. He gave it to her. That was enough to make it irreplaceable. The weight of it always hurt her wrist, but she couldn't bring herself to leave it at home. Gold was never a color she typically wore either, having always preferred silver. The simplistic design didn't suit her, but she didn't care. For him, she'd wear anything. She spun the bracelet around again. "I'm thinking of getting rid of it." She felt his eyes on her and knew exactly what was going through his mind. She allowed the silence between them to confirm the truths he suspected. They returned to watching the waves. "He called me again," He said. "Did he? That's nice." She said. Her right hand caressed the gold dangling from her wrist before she unhooked the bracelet. "He's coming back early. Should be here within the week. Well, so he says." "Maybe you can get him to stay this time." She turned to him and took hold of his wrist. She placed the bracelet on him. A perfect fit. The gold went well with his red and orange jacket. She stood up and dusted herself off. "I don't need this anymore. I think I'm ready." He stared at her in silence, then nodded. In the morning, she made one last trip to meet the dawn at the shore. She wore a new pink dress and her favorite silver necklace out with her tote full of papers. Thirty letters were scattered on the shore, left to the waves to wash away. A final letter, stored in an orange bottle, was thrown out towards the approaching ships. She put on her work shoes and left.
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