She was beautiful. He could tell even back then. There was no-one he would rather look at than her. Her long, blonde hair and beautiful, sparkling eyes enraptured him so, even at that young age. He didn’t really know what these feelings meant, but he knew that he loved her; he loved her dearly; he loved her more than anything or anyone else in his life.
He had no idea how she felt about him. He was too young to understand the feelings rattling around inside his head, so how could he expect to make someone else understand them? His love lived purely in his imagination, and he was happy for it to remain that way. In reality, she was his friend; in his mind, every time he closed his eyes, she was so much more.
His imagination had always been powerful, but it seemed to outdo itself every time she entered his thoughts. As he drifted off to sleep at night, he would close his eyes and picture her face; shortly afterwards he would be involved in some grand adventure either with her, or in an attempt to rescue her. He had fought his way through caves, forests, dungeons, castles and surreal landscapes made of warped shapes and bizarre colours; always, she was there waiting for him at the end, or by his side as he struggled.
One day, the bad news came. “She’s moving away,” they said. “And soon.” He didn’t know what to do with this; he didn’t think he could stop it, but he desperately wanted to. He had no idea how to start, though. He was still too young; too young to understand these confused feelings in his head; too young to understand the emotions welling up inside him. He wanted to talk about it to someone but couldn’t muster up the courage. His love for her was locked away in the deepest, darkest, most private part of his soul, and he couldn’t let anyone in, because he feared that he wouldn’t be able to get them out again afterwards. He relished his inner peace, and resented anyone who tried to defile it without an invitation; he was the one in control of his feelings; he was the one who had to deal with them, always alone.
The fateful day approached, and he began to recognize the growing knot in his stomach as a yearning to be by her side; a longing to be the one she would always come home to; a desire to give her one of the few keys to that deep, dark, secret place within his soul. He knew that he had to tell her how he felt, and he knew that he would only get one chance to do it.
The day arrived. One by one, his classmates bade her farewell, and after what seemed like an eternity, it was his turn. He looked up into those sparkling eyes and she smiled at him the way she always did. He smiled back.
Though they had both only spent a few years together out of their own respectively short times on the planet, he knew she had had a profound effect on him, and he knew that he should say something meaningful at this point.
A tense feeling wrapped around his throat, like a noose trying to choke the life out of him. He tried to speak the words he longed to say — I love you, I’ll miss you, please don’t go — but they wouldn’t come. They stuck in his throat, lodged beneath the invisible force that choked him so.
“Bye,” he said quietly.
“Bye,” she said, smiling.
He wanted so badly to embrace her; to kiss her; to tell her how he felt. But he couldn’t. He smiled at her one last time, turned and walked away, knowing that he would probably never see her again.
He was sad for a long time after that. It felt like a piece of his very self had been ripped out and replaced with nothing but inky blackness. There was a void in his soul where she had once been; he had wanted to let her in, not realising that she was already there. And now she was gone.
The pair exchanged letters for a while; his heart raced every time one of those distinctive coloured envelopes plopped through the letterbox — he swore she either used perfumed envelopes or sprayed them with her favourite scents — and he wrote back as soon as he got some time to himself.
As time passed, though, the letters became less frequent and eventually stopped. His own life was moving on by now; moving too fast for him to keep up with, and certain things from his past started to fall by the wayside. He saw it happening and regretted it, but he knew deep down within his heart that she probably felt the same way too. The black void in his soul started to heal, and he focused on trying to enjoy the present rather than gazing into space reflecting on what once was, and what might of been.
New loves — always unconfessed, assumed to be unrequited — came and went, giving him the familiar feeling of butterflies in the stomach for a few fleeting weeks before disappointment set in. But though the gap she had left deep inside him had mostly healed, he still held a place for her, even though he knew it was futile. She was gone, far away by now, carried away by the winds of change to distant climes, well beyond his reach. The fog of forgotten friendship descended, and he no longer knew where to find her. She was gone.
He opened his eyes slowly. The light of the morning sun was streaming into his room through the window, blasting rays of light through the panes of glass and casting a pattern on the bedspread. It looked like a nice day outside, but he knew that this was all he would see of it.
He had lived a good life. If he could do it all over again, there were some things he would have done differently, but for the most part he had no regrets.
Except when it came to her. If he had confessed his love to her when he had had the chance, how might his life have unfolded? Would it have ended the same way? Would all the other trials had endured and good times he had enjoyed have come about? Or would it have been completely different?
There’s no use wondering now, he thought to himself. It’s much too late for anything but one last glimpse.
He closed his eyes again, and there she was, exactly as he remembered her all those years ago. He gazed into her sparkling eyes. which were now wet with tears.
“I love you,” he said. “I always loved you. And I never stopped loving you. Not for one second.”
“I know,” she whispered, a tear rolling down her cheek, but a cheerful smile still playing across her delicate lips. “I know.”
As the flame within him flickered and dimmed, he smiled to himself. It didn’t matter that it was all in his mind. That was where she had always lived for all these years; that was where she belonged. But it was time to say goodbye.
“I love you,” she whispered.
Then he was gone.