Disclaimer: I do not own Clearasil (nor do I need it...)
I had known Cage from as far back as I could remember. Every conscious memory I had revolved around him in some way. He made me laugh, cry, run, shout, hide, dance, smile. But he also made me feel. He made me feel happy, upset, angry, confused and most importantly of all, content. And I loved him for it. I liked to think we were inseparable.
I leaned against the park bench I was currently sitting on and began to observe Cage's profile as I had done numerous times in the past. He was lackadaisically perched on the bench, one arm flopped on the back around me, his gaze scanning the people walking by. His hair was incredibly dark which contrasted darkly with his skin tone. His posture was carefree, as if he had all the time in the world to just sit and watch. I always thought Cage would succeed in politics because of the natural leadership quality he exuded. His most inviting feature though were his dark green eyes. I could get lost in those eyes, willingly lost.
"I always knew you had the hots for me."
His gaze, which had now shifted to me, was amused. There was no way I was letting him win this round. I decided to have some fun. Narrowing my eyes, I edged my face slightly closer to his, as if intently looking for something.
"Is that a spot?"
Cage let out a small laugh and entertained a look of disbelief. "On this flawless face? Sweetheart, where exactly were you looking?"
Damn. Not the reaction I was going for. Did I mention he was rather conceited? Perhaps I could still swing this to my advantage. I put on the most serious expression I could muster and patronisingly tilted my head. "You know," I ventured, "If you wanted to borrow my Clearasil, all you had to do was ask."
Cage, completely unfazed, raised a finger and thumb to his chin as if deep in thought. "Hmm, good point. But, ah, what would you then use?"
"I'm sure I would be willing to sacrifice it for a more deserving cause."
He grinned at me, wickedly. "My question still stands."
I got up to leave but I barely took two steps before he tugged me back down and started playing with my hair. Sheesh, mood swings anyone?
He pulled me closer to him and I obeyed, nestling my head beside his neck and hiking my feet up on to the bench. We fell into a comfortable silence, Cage now stroking my hair. He bent his left knee so his left foot could rest on his right knee. He looked completely at ease.
I lost track of how long we sat there, but it wasn't long enough when Cage indicated we leave as traces of the night emerged. We walked in companionable silence as Cage took me home, our steps acting of their own accord, accustomed to the familiar path we so regularly took whilst our thoughts were left free to wander.
Cage turned to me and smiled. "Almost home."
I returned his smile. I was already home.
He broke my heart the next day.
I was pacing my room, checking my phone every couple of seconds for any calls and then checking again to see it had reception. He was supposed to call me, damnit. It had been two hours since Cage's appointment at the hospital. Ha had assured me that it was nothing and that it was just procedure. Procedural, my cute ass. How long does a check-up take anyway?
I checked my phone again, ignoring the fact that I knew full well nothing had changed. Screw it. I grabbed a jacket and set off for his house.
I arrived quicker than I normally did. I tapped my knuckles on the door in quick succession and subsequently placed my hands in the front pocket of my jeans, trying to appear nonchalant. No answer. Cage wasn't home. I dropped the charade and ran a frustrated hand through my hair. It was getting out of hand; I needed to cut it.
I took off once again. My feet led me to the same park bench I had occupied all day yesterday. He wasn't there. I aimlessly roved the city, entering every popular hangout, scanning each face and then double-checking before leaving again. I even entered places I had never heard the name of before. My feet and limbs were beginning to ache from my unsuccessful prowling and my stomach unabashedly let me know that my meagre lunch had not sated it. I was too anxious to care.
By the time the sun was retiring for the day, I had left a total of 26 missed calls on Cage's cell phone and I once again found myself at the park. I positioned my rear on the same bench which I know considered fair to dub as my own and speed dialled Cage again.
"Hey there, you've reached Cage. Yep, the one and only. 'Cos i'm so popular, i'll try and take time out of my busy schedule and get back to-"
I sighed. What are you doing to me Cage? I didn't know what else to do except wait. I placed my hands on the back of my head, entwining my fingers and leaning to rest against the bench. I closed my eyes. Stray tendrils of hair caressed my cheeks and I shivered through my flimsy jacket at the cool breeze. My thoughts were left to reveal themselves and they chose a particularly tender moment...
"Hurry up slowpoke. This is why you should listen to me when I tell you to eat healthier."
I scowled at the back of Cage's head, my breath coming out in short gasps. "Its not my fault this is taking so long." I quickened my pace so I was almost level with him. "Where are we going anyway?"
I noticed he wasn't breathing in the same way I was. He appeared to be at ease as he took long strides, despite the upward slant our walk had begun to take. Why do boys have to walk so fast in the first place? How am I supposed to act like a girl if I have to run and breathe through my mouth?
"You'll have to learn to walk gracefully, darling," my mother's words from this morning echoed through my mind, "so that it comes naturally to you when you're older."
I pouted. "I can walk gace...gace-ly. And Cage says i'm old enough."
She smiled at me. "You're only 9 honey."
I tried to think of a suitable response. "Well... Cage is 10."
She finished brushing my hair into 2 ponytails and bent down so we were at eye-level. "Hence, there's plenty of time for you to learn. Now go on, you don't want to keep him waiting." I nodded and did as she asked.
Cage's voice shook me out of my reverie. I looked around. I was surrounded by trees, not many but enough to provide seclusion. My shoulders slumped and I took a minute to catch my breath. Once I did, I wasn't impressed. "Thats it? I thought it was something cool like- Cage, what are you-"
Cage put a finger to his lips and motioned for me to follow him. He walked towards some bushes, pushed the leaves aside and disappeared from view. Wary of losing sight of him, I followed suit.
I gasped when I saw where he had led me. Cage was standing in a small opening at the edge of the hill, overlooking the rest of the city. The sun had begun to set and was currently directly across from us, winking at us and bathing an orange glow around everything it touched. The view was breathtaking. I walked forward and stood beside Cage. For some reason, I didn't want to move. It felt right just being there, like I had just solved a jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces fit.
Cage turned towards me. "This is our special place. You can't tell anybody about it."
"Okay," I promised. "What if someone finds it?"
"They won't." The conviction in his voice made me turn towards him, his eyes were darker than usual. I believed him.
He walked away a little and crouched down in front of a tree. He took out a penknife and started carving something. I returned my gaze to admire the scenery a little longer before walking over to him. I mimicked his position and sat down beside him. He withdrew his knife so I could see what he had etched on to the tree. Our initials overlapped each other.
"How long would you wait for me?"
I looked at him, not understanding the question. Why would I need to wait for him? Unless he's planning to leave me here. Oh crap. "Are you going somewhere?"
Oh. Cage was waiting patiently for me to answer. I thought about it before replying. I didn't really know this place very well, so if Cage decided to leave, I guess I would just have to wait for him to come back and get me. I trusted him. After all, I would just get lost finding my way back on my own.
"A long time."
I sighed, beginning to wander where he was going with this. How long would I wait? Well, I didn't really have a choice. "Forever."
"Forever is a long time," he uttered. Cage's voice went much quieter and I almost failed to catch his next words. "Are you willing to wait?"
I was beginning to get annoyed. Didn't I already answer this question? "Are you?" I countered.
He looked at me then. I felt as if his eyes were able to see straight through me. I couldn't look away even if I wanted to.
"No." Does that mean he's leaving me? "I'd wait longer."
It took a while for me to interpret those words. I was beyond annoyed now, I was upset and on the verge of tears. I hastily got up and ran back into the forest but my retreat was of no use. Every path looked the same and I was bound to get lost. This was so unfair. I scowled and stomped my way to the nearest tree, flopping down to have the uncomfortable ground poke my behind. I placed my head on top of my knees, giving the rock in my sight my most evilest look, despite my blurry vision. I heard Cage's footsteps become slower as he spotted me and figured I wasn't going anywhere. He approached me and tilted my chin, forcing me to meet his gaze.
His voice became gentle and concerned as he took in the tears that were threatening to spill. "What's wrong?"
I rubbed my eyes. "You're leaving me," I accused.
An emotion passed across Cage's features, one I thought I would never see. He looked... scared. The truth of the statement heightened my own fears. "You're leaving me in this forest, an – and I don't know how to get back or if – if you're ever coming back for me."
The relief he showed then was all too apparent. "I'm not leaving you here." He searched my own eyes, as if willing me to believe him. "What I meant to say was, if I had to, I would be willing to wait forever and longer," he paused, "for you."
The only part of that I was able to make sense of was that he was not leaving me in this forest. I was still confused but my mind was too tired to make anything of it. Cage took my hand and began to lead me back.
I finally let loose a tear.
I jerked awake, taking in my surroundings as I sat upon the bench. Note to self, I thought wryly, do not fall asleep on park bench. The crick in my neck was not welcoming. It took me a while to realize what had woke me up and locate the reason to the vibration in the front pocket of my jacket. I took out my phone and scanned the screen.
I flipped it open instantly without realizing that I had no idea what to say. "Cage..." I cringed. Way to state the obvious.
"Marissa." I tried to decipher something from his tone but couldn't. Well, at least he isn't in mortal danger if he was still capable of mocking me.
That, however, did little to ease my nerves. "Where are you?"
"Where I belong."
I felt like crying again.
"The tree. You should be here." He cut the line.
I got up and began walking to where I knew he was, where I knew I should be, where I should have looked first.
Huh. Well, if this isn't déjà vu...
A replica of the scene from all those years ago was unfolded before me, except this time he was outlined by the moonlight and 10-year old Cage was, well...no longer 10 years old. Cage made no move to acknowledge my presence as my clearly audible footsteps drew nearer and I stood beside him.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
I took in the peacefulness of the city below us and the darkness of the sky that blanketed over it. "It is," I murmured. I turned towards him and my breath caught in my throat. He was looking at me intently, his eyes tracing my every feature as if taking me in for the last time.
"This morning, at the hospital," he paused. I waited patiently for him to continue. "I was diagnosed with cancer..."
Cage's lips continued to move but I failed to hear anything else. My whole body felt numb from shock and I stood there frozen, wanting nothing more but to start screaming and punching things and venting out my frustration.
This wasn't right. This wasn't supposed to happen. Something's gone wrong somewhere. The doctor's diagnosis- it must be incorrect.
He had cancer.
He couldn't have. Because Cage was indestructible. Because Cage could take on anything, especially when the odds were against him. Because Cage was supposed to live on and lead to save a world that so desperately needed saving.
Cage had cancer.
"... long left to live."
I pushed aside the overflowing thoughts in my head long enough to absorb his last words.
I focused in on him, and then wished I hadn't so I wouldn't have seen the pain that was clearly tormenting him. I knew without a doubt that I would have sacrificed everything then to take away that pain.
"A week- at most."
A part of me died with him at that point. I couldn't breathe. Tears streamed down his face, unrestrained, and my own silent tears matched his, as if competing for his sadness. I couldn't take it anymore. I hugged him so hard I was afraid of hurting him. Cage reciprocated with equal force, I couldn't let go. I wouldn't.
There was no reassuring words, no fake smiles, no delusions. There was just us. I cried myself to sleep that night, unaware that Cage wouldn't even survive the week.
I spent the entire following day with Cage, as usual. I was determined to be strong for him. I knew I had to give him up eventually, but I would face that bridge when I came to it. I asked him whether there was anything in particular he wanted to do. He looked at me and said that he had already accomplished what he wanted.
Later that night, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and would fall into a state of semi-consciousness but never fully asleep. I adjusted my position again and then stopped when I felt another pressure on the bed.
I almost had a heart attack.
"Cage?" I pushed back the covers. "Is everything okay?"
I inwardly cursed at my own stupidity. Something must have shown in my expression as Cage flashed me a genuine smile. "Everything's fine. I couldn't sleep."
I laid back next to him and listened to him breathe. "I couldn't sleep either," I confessed. I started to play with his fingers, revelling in his warmth, sleep coming easy to me now that I was in a comfortable position. His breathing slowed.
"Cage?" I whispered.
I was sure he had fallen asleep until he muttered, "hmm?"
"Stay with me?"
I didn't have to wait long for his answer.
Cold. Why was it so cold? I tugged the bed covers closer but it did nothing to provide any warmth. I froze when I realized where the source of the cold was coming from.
I turned my head to look at him.
He looked peaceful. Blissfully unaware. His skin was even paler and his dark lashes created shadows against his cheekbones. I shook him a little. "Cage?" My voice was weak.
There was no response. My hands were cold from his touch. "Cage, wake up. Cage, come on, you have lots to do today. Quit being a lazy bum. Cage..."
"...you said you'll stay with me."
It was too soon. I wasn't ready for this. I laid my head on his chest and closed my eyes. A lone tear trickled down my cheek and found a permanent home on Cage's t-shirt. There was no heartbeat.
Two days. That was all it took for Cage to be taken away from me. I had lay down next to him and fallen asleep once again with no intention of leaving him. I awoke to my mother's screaming. She was surprised at first to find Cage sleeping next to me, but neither of us stirred when she called out to us. She came over and took in Cage's pallid appearance, his ice cold touch, and subsequently took to frantically shaking me when she realized he had no pulse, fearing I had suffered the same fate. At times, I almost wish I had.
I attended Cage's funeral, but I watched from afar. I wasn't willing to provide the showpiece for the onslaught of well-wishers to offer their pity and condolences. I left before the ceremony ended.
Life, for me, was a chore. I adopted a monotonous routine as the days passed by. My mother became increasingly worried about what I was doing to myself and went as far as to suggest counselling. I was a natural liar and reassured her I was fine.
I couldn't bring myself to feel for anyone else what I had felt for Cage. There were some that came close, that perhaps had the situation been different, I could have had something. But I was emotionally devoid and pretty soon that drove them away.
Seven years later, I adopted a beautiful nine year old girl. Her innocence was contagious and she unknowingly returned some semblance of happiness to my day. I tried to provide the best I could for Lucy. I attempted to make homework fun, give her a balanced life and make her think for herself. We invented games around the house and I would give her clues to solve. She had an inquisitive nature.
I watched her grow into an accomplished young woman. She had so many opportunities available to her and many goals which I knew she would achieve. I finally felt I had done something right.
Lucy knocked on her mother's door and waited for a response. None came.
Still sleeping, I see. She nudged it open and peered through, her mother's small frame was clearly visible in bed, peaceful. The morning light was threatening to spill through the closed blinds and Lucy manoeuvred herself to grant it permission.
"Wow, mom, and here I was thinking I was the lazy one." Lucy gazed upon her form and moved closer to the bed. Her mother's hand felt clammy and cold. Lucy's heartbeat sped faster as she searched for her mother's pulse and found none.
There was only one place I truly felt at home. And I knew I would return there. To him.
I was standing on the hill, the same place I had seen him stand so many times before. The setting sun kissed my translucent skin and spread its magic to the rest of the city below me.
And that was when I felt him. His undeniable presence. I remained motionless as he took his rightful place beside me.
I smiled. His voice was soothing and healed the ache in my heart.
Cage placed his arms around my waist. I leaned into his touch, entwining our fingers and closed my eyes.
I breathed him in and revelled in the euphoria surrounding us. "Stay with me?"
I felt him smile, perfectly content. "Always."
I was finally home.