The shock of cold water seemed to seal the heat with in. Leia's body had run into the ocean's forbidding chill, on instinct. There had been no mental prep or conditioning. It was to save herself.
He had walked around the Dodge and waved, in the general direction of the group. He would find her, she thought, and she would be speechless again. Hazel eyes and smiling innocence, knowing her fluttering heart and yet, seeking friendship, that she did not want to extend. Sort of like offering a match stick as kindling for a raging fire.
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"Hey Leia!," Rachel shouted. Her best friend. Her sister for all seasons. The one who had envied her her grades, her body and career. She was more than compensated, Leia thought, when she met Kevin. Kevin, whom Leia had wanted at first sight. Kevin, who saw and understood the shock in her eyes. Kevin, who had gently drawn her attention away from himself, to the man she had married that day. Her husband, who was wonderful and not Kevin.
"Hi Rachel," Leia said, water mixing with her tears, making them even saltier. "Thought you were busy today!"
"We thought we'd be. But then, I hardly see you these days. If I didn't know better, Leia Wills, I'd swear you're ignoring me. But you love me don't you? I told Kevin that I'd rather see you. So he called and cancelled our lunch plans and here we are!"
Leia frowned, heart hammering as she watched Kevin approach them. Rachel had waded into the water too. "You look good. Hi, Kevin!"
Kevin smiled softly, eyes holding hers, " Leia, you look well."
She laughed, shaking her head, fighting bitterness. She looked well? She felt like she was eighty. Weary and too aware. The awareness of hopelessness much too strong. "Thanks, you too."
Rachel looked on frowning at their strange greeting.
Mike jogged toward them, back slapped Kevin and hugged Rachel. "Does my wife forget to invite people home these days?! Where have you guys been? Haven't seen you in months!"
As the three of them talked, Leia had waded further back. They hadn't noticed her moving. Rachel's back toward her, with Kevin's fingers on her skin. Mike engaged them, his volleyball player's physique executing little leaps, and tosses as he enacted a move.
If she could get away. In the truest sense. Not have to go back to that sand and sit watching their happiness and her own pain. She realized how far out she was when the floor no longer met her feet. Leia was a tall woman. The three figures were speck-like, with waving arms. Mike's booming voice reached her, now a mild echo, "Leia, what the hell are you doing?! Get back here!!"
"Never," she whispered to herself. "Not to you. Not to anyone." The waves lapped at her tears now. She continued to swim backwards, and downwards. For moments that stretched eternally. Her strong body wouldn't let her drown. She floated, eyes closed, willing oblivion to creep over.
Something held on, something that was deeper than desperation. Leia opened her eyes, and looked toward the shore. It wasn't visible. Righting herself, taking breaths before the next push of a wave filled her mouth with water, she saw.
Too much water and too much distance.
She sobbed, seeing herself apart and alone for the first time. No Mike, or Kevin or Rachel or family. No one but her in the moment that she decided to let go. Why did Kevin matter so? Who was there now?
A giant wave pushed her down. She sank for a few feet, as she had wanted, at the beginning of this journey of no return. The ocean was a liquid canvas of gray. It matched her hold on life at the moment. A tenuous hold, ready to break. There was no panic. Just questions about why she needed Kevin more than she needed Mike or Rachel. And why she needed to take her life, and not live it. Because of one man in more than six billion people on planet earth.
Her airways protested the water forcing itself through. Her muscles deprived of oxygen, from fighting it; fighting to live or die? It seemed unimportant now, as her mind ventured on journeys of its own.
A motor whirred in the distance, approaching faster. Leia was nearly asleep now, the waves rocking her, the ocean's roar a dim lullaby. As her lungs filled with water, blackness began to creep in. Going from gray to black now. Middle ground couldn't last long at a time like this, she thought dimly, her body twitching in a final fight. Her heart saw no point.
She didn't hear the rescue boat stop above her, nor Kevin's hoarse cry. Mike had jumped in the water and refused to get aboard, until rescuers began to threaten him. It was getting dangerous. The boat passed over the spot she floated in, many feet below.
Many days later, after the memorial service, Rachel and Kevin sat by the ocean where they had last seen her. Rachel sobbed into the now azure sea. "Why Kevin? Why did she do it? I wasn't there for her, was I? Just too wrapped up. She was a sister, I can't understand it."
Kevin rubbed her back. He looked out into the ocean. He'd known of course, that she had wanted him since the first time that she'd seen him. Or really, the first time that she had realized that he was around. Because he'd been around her a long time. He just hadn't expected to see her get married to Mike. He had waited, believing that she would somehow know, magically, that he was the one for her. And she knew magically too, on her wedding day. All through school and high school, she couldn't have known that he had watched her from the sidelines, during games and dances. He had watched her choose her boyfriends, her classes, and schools. He had bought tickets to her graduation. He had watched her as she went from a pig tailed brat to a gorgeous young woman. And she couldn't have known that he had wanted her and loved her through the years. Sweet Rachel, a lovely light by herself, still reminded him of her, and he needed that much at least. He had sought out Rachel, to have a bit of Leia for himself. He loved Rachel, in a steady way. The inferno that whipped inside him at the sight and touch of Leia couldn't have belonged in the realm of the sane.
It was better that she went, he thought. As much as he hadn't been man enough to tell her that he lived for her, since he had first seen her, he couldn't have been man enough to love her from a distance forever. He had hated Mike with a passion, until he had seen him devastated and shocked.
Yes, it was better that she did this.
This way, he thought, no one would get hurt.
Except, that the inferno was a burning ember now, and the pain would become a part of him, more desperation than he had lived with. But nothing he couldn't bear. At least, he had Rachel.
He turned around and kissed Rachel, held her hand, embraced her sorrow and his, and asked, "Will you marry me?"
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