She was my best friend's best friend, so I really shouldn't have had any association with her in the first place. They were younger and more naïve, but they somehow seemed more cool-especially her. She always, always knew what she was doing, though I could see sometimes in her green-fire eyes that she hated the fact that she was doing it. Self-aware and almost cocky in confidence until you saw she wasn't, she was a flame and I was just a moth that happened to chance its way within her path over and over again and then move away quickly before being burned.
She was adorable, small, with shoulder-length bright red hair that curled and curled and curled and green eyes of fire that threatened to destroy me upon every glance. She wasn't skinny but she shied away from fat and every time I saw her my world completely stopped.
I think I fell in love with her the first time I ever saw her, laughing and looking uncomfortable, unsure of what to do and where to go but able to hide it well. She was a goddess at Twister and unafraid to voice her opinions no matter what the circumstances.
And God, was she beautiful. She was innocently unaware of it, but I noticed.
The second time I met her, I was lost. She wore a fisherman's hat and Audrey-Hepburn-style sunglasses and babbled on about a diminutive actor and I had a girlfriend but God, I was in love.
Third time and I could never get up. We got to talking-really talking-as I stood next to her swing. We talked about clouds and she was brilliant, we talked about people and she was funny, we talked about life and her thoughts mirrored mine.
We grew close that summer, closer faster than I'd ever been with anyone. She could make me laugh so hard and make me reevaluate my position on everything of which I was sure at the same time.
In short, she was amazing.
We grew apart when the summer ended and I could tell I'd hurt her, but I'd almost been on fire and I had to save myself.
We went on, with her blue eyes apparating before my eyelids whenever my eyes closed. I could hear her laughing when I turned out the lights at night and went to sleep. She smiled at me and I smiled at her and we were always okay, but there was nothing but my flame-retardant walls in between us. We conversed casually for a year before we were thrown together violently at Christmastime.
Spurned by our mutual best friend, I went to her and we connected even more completely than before. She echoed all of my opinions, and every once in a while, we argued intellectually. Maybe it was the Christmas backdrop or maybe it was just the fact that it'd been too long since I had clarification that I wasn't crazy, but never had I been so happy as right then.
However, in weeks, the fire continued to grow and the flames began to scare me. I was burning worse than I had before and I was almost consumed by it. Terrified, it all fell apart, and the fire dissolved in between us.
This time, though, the severance wasn't as clean. In extinguishing myself, I'd burned her, and the broken heart with which I left her stayed for too long.
That summer I heard rumors-she was in love, it would never happen, she'd get her second broken heart in a year. I was guilty and sad for her, lugubrious for days because I felt partially responsible. When I saw her again, she seemed all right, but she'd changed. Try as I did, I couldn't figure out a way she'd chance for the worse; she only attracted me more after that. No longer did she hold a grudge against me, instead talking to me, wishing me a happy birthday and yelling at those who bothered me. Her unwavering loyalty amazed me, and whenever I saw her, I was struck with exactly how striking she was. Striking isn't the right word there; I don't think there's a word that could even fit her, and God knows I tried.
I graduated that year, the year of shy grins and inside jokes, and I left for college. I'd like to say that we ended up together, that we were married the day she turned 18, crazy in love forever, but we didn't. Like the coward I was, terrified of the fire, I fled to college and saw her only once more, at her own graduation. I kissed her on the cheek and congratulated her and my mind was shouting "I love you, always have, always will," but I refrained from voicing that part. When she'd ran to greet another old friend, I turned and walked away as soon as I lost sight of her. That was the last time I ever saw the girl who gave me a reason to wake up every morning, the girl who reminded me how to breathe.
Now I'm older, twenty years older, and a spectacular record of failed relationships lay in my wake. Messy breakups and broken hearts don't matter to me; they never did, and they all came about because only one thing ever mattered to me: her. The one woman I could never have, simply because I was too scared to let myself go and be consumed by the fire, was the only one who could ever make me happy.
My mutual friend tells me very little of her nowadays. I know she's a published author and I know she's famous and has attained many awards along with high degrees of critical praise. I know, without his telling me or even reading the book, that it's all deserved. Anything she would have chosen, she would have conquered. She's simply like that.
I know my name was mentioned in a dedication, but my friend wouldn't read it to me, and I was too scared to read it myself. I know that she still cares about me, instinctively, in the way I'll always care about her, and I know she asks about me.
I know she was married for seventeen years to a man who died three years ago. I know he was the man she fell in love with the summer she hated me. I know I could never compete with him. I know she has a daughter and two sons but I don't know their names.
I know I'll never have a chance to be happy unless I pack up my life and go see her.
I know she'd be thrilled to see me. I know it would take little persuasion to convince her to accompany me to dinner. I know, this time, I'd let myself fall.
I know the way to the supermarket by heart, and I know I'm going to ask for boxes. LA, here I come.
She's waiting for me; I know this, and I don't know how, but I don't want to question it. I'm not going to keep her waiting any longer. As amazing a girl she was, I'm positive she's a breathtaking woman.
This time, I'm leaving my fire extinguisher at home. Bring on the flames; I'll embrace them with arms open just the right amount for her to fit there.
I'll burn to ash, and, like she always did, I'll finally allow myself to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, new and more beautiful than ever before. We'll be floating about the ground together, lost in the utter perfection.
The fire is coming; in my peripheral vision, I can barely see it, but I know it's there. I can feel the warmth on my face, and I think it never really went away.
I'm ready this time. Bring it on.