The soft silvery light of the stars did little to reveal the situation. The glowing tip of a cigarette butt clutched between two shaking fingers, sending embers falling to the darkness. They disappeared, swallowed up by the night, grey flakes of ash dancing out of sight.
“You came.” Was all he said, voice raspy, tiered. He never spoke much. He wasn’t the type to explain. Still, I wished he would.
Silence. The heavy rise and fall of his chest beneath his coat. A puff of smoke, swirling, making the stars cough at the heavy scent of his favorite brand. The flash of his wrist, just a peek, but I could catch what was hidden there, beneath tightly wrapped bandages and the barely visible twitch of his lip at their movement.
“I’m glad.” He was tiered, and the words fell past his lips as if he didn’t have the energy to hold them back. Too many nights awake, red rimmed eyes, and black circles hanging like shadows. Hollow cheeks and hollow hopes go hand in hand.
He let the white stub fall to the ground, crushing it beneath his left shoe. The inky black surface gleamed in the light, high quality, but not worth much, or, at least, that’s what he said. Quality and wealth did little to settle the choking loneliness that hung about him like a cloud. Nothing could ease his pain, I knew. Still, faith is a funny thing, and I found myself searching every day for his light.
He sighed, running pale fingers through dark hair. The sides of his face were revealed for a moment, all sharp edges, hard lines. Like someone had taken pen to a blank canvas, drawing the tip across the edge of a ruler. Razor sharp. But when you looked closer you could see the signs.
“It’s nice having someone else.” His words were accented by swirls of fog, kissing his lips in childish delight before fading away. Everything was always fading away from him. People and life alike, a blur around him as he slowly dragged his heavy feet forward, burdened by the weight of a past chained to his shoulders far too long.
Something glinted in his right hand. A quarter. He rolled it across the top of his fingers, and it clicked as it hit his ring. More silence. Another click. A gust of cold wind, sending chills down my spine. I stepped forward, slipping my hand into his and squeezing it hard, to let him know he was solid, that he was there. To tether him down before he floated away like the ash, drifting forever into black oblivion.
“I won’t leave you alone.”
The familiar flicker of his nostrils, the flash of his teeth, the turning up of his lips. He tilted his head upward, towards the moon, the sky, as if in prayer.
The quarter left his hand, upward, glinting in the faded light of the moon on its path forward toward that unknown place, hidden in the next moment, in tomorrow. The gleam caught his face, illuminating the tears pooling in his eyes, dripping down his cheeks and forming damp spots on the ground. He released a single breathe, a sort of chuckle as the coin fell into his palm.
His hand tightened around mine.