852 Change, For A Change
“Maybe take a drink with you? Something icey?” Irene suggested. “And if you’re staying long, definitely take a towel. Or it’ll be you drenched in a singlet next.”
“I don’t plan on taking long,” I said, pausing a hand on the doorknob and glancing back at her across the hall still hunkered down in the trenches of burger wrappers and french fry packets. “Hopefully just long enough to come to a decision.”
“In that case, I’ll ready a stretcher,” she said, wolfing down half a burger in one big nonchalant chomp. “I don’t hear from you in ten, I’m assuming heatstroke and wheeling you out.”
“Hey, I’m not that indecisive, y’know?” I tried to claim only to hear the loudest, snarkiest snort back that even had me questioning my own words. “Only on… on occasion, alright?”
“Yes,” Irene said, peeking over the top of her burger bun with a keenly knowing smirk. “On occasion.”
Mmm, yeah, perhaps maybe it really would be better if she got ready with that stretcher. Y’know, just in case.
Heat was hitting me before I even realized I was being cooked. Just only a little, though. From the micro gaps, the narrow slit under the door, I felt a claggy sort of breeze blowing warm, and I haven’t even cracked an actual wedge in the doorway yet.
“Do me a favor, please? Try not to make this one of those occasions, would you?” Irene said, wearing a softer, sincerer expression. “I know I’ve made quite a big show about this whole thing, but take me with a grain of salt. Don’t pressure yourself trying to differentiate the wrong from the right like you always do. Whatever you end up deciding, I’m with you.”
I stared at her, I listened to her, and I couldn’t help but think it a little strange, a little funny… like really funny.
This fanatical demon spent the better part of a week, presumably restless days and grueling hours exhausted setting this whole thing up just perfect, all this effort trying to wake Ria, only to then come and tell me it ain’t no big of a deal at all… that even if I said no… no tears would fall over this spilled ocean of milk here.
I’m not saying she was lying, ain’t also saying that she didn’t mind it either… again, I just thought it was pretty funny.
The moment I twisted the doorknob, I was already spilling into the bedroom, shutting the door behind me. It took a moment, maybe even less than that – the soles of my bare feet felt as if they were on fire, like I had just stepped onto a dry pavement that had been cooked all day by the sun.
Worse still, I could practically feel all the moisture get sucked out of me and rapidly evaporate. I tried to focus on what was ahead of me but struggled hard against the relentless glow of orange scorching my eyes out of all the water they had.
It was like staring straight at a bonfire, one blazing in a pitch-black night, and also a hundred times harsher. That, combined with the sultry air, and heat waves surging at me in incremental ripples had me seriously wishing I did take that icey drink as Irene had heavily advised.
And all this, coming from just one place, from just one person, looking overtly less than peaceful than when I had last seen her just a couple of days ago.
I can barely even remember the last time I’ve seen Ria’s flames this vibrant and strong. She was swirling, smoldering, crimson locks dispersing embers like floating candlelight, the prevalent smell of scorched fabric was just as pesterous as the heat.
That being said, I don’t have a single memory of her ever being this hot. For as long as I’ve known her, for as bright as she became, never once has her flames ever been more but a mild discomfort to the touch. When I lay beside her, when I touch her, I would feel her blaze on my hands as nothing more than a tender, almost comforting warmth.
Just like her presence. Ria in a nutshell.
An annoying comfort.
Now I couldn’t even get within five feet without the worry of scalding myself. Now, her body looked strained and uncomfortable. The expression on her face, a face I got so used to seeing in the bliss of rest, was just as much an agony to stare at as it looked.
For the first time in a long time, Ria was brimming full of life.
And as her flames burn brighter, her heat grow hotter, I could feel the guilt inside me get even bigger.
I accepted her choice already, didn’t I? Already argued, already tried, back and forth and back and forth in an endless circle – and I heard her reasons, I listened to her plead to me. In the end, I left. I lost.
I let her sleep.
So what the hell was I doing watching here? what the hell was I doing hesitating on a choice? You already made that choice, didn’t you?
If you’re a friend to her, if you really cared about her – it’s just as she said to you all that time ago, standing on the edge of that cliff, seeing centuries’ worth of living, of suffering, surface in her usually merry, bubbly voice – leave her alone.
Leave her happy. 𝙗𝒆𝒅𝙣𝙤𝙫𝒆𝙡.𝒄𝒐𝙢
It’s just that easy. C’mon, you did it before.
Just do it again.
Somehow, with slow, tempering steps, I made it close enough to be able to sit right at the very edge of the bed beside her. From there, however, I couldn’t do anything else.
At the very least, that part hasn’t changed.
Just sitting here, just watching, never doing anything more than that, and so long as I keep her happy, then it really will never be anything more than that.
Nothing will change.
I don’t think I even lasted more than five minutes being in the room with her.
Before I knew it, I was struggling against the lack of friction twisting the doorknob with sweaty palms, entering into the hallway once more and basking in the sweet relief of room-temperature, feeling the tingling trickle of sweat running constantly down my neck.
It took time to adjust to the mute colors again, feel the pressure of the floorboards pressing against my numbed soles. I heard a chair scraping somewhere, and even that had me questioning if my eardrums hadn’t yet been disintegrated.
“Here,” I blinked, shambled a little left, and suddenly Irene was inches away in front of me, pressing a cool towel against my forehead and slowly working her way down. “Water? Coke? I’ll get a big cup.”
“I’m fine,” I muttered, tasting dust in my mouth.
“Water, got it,” Irene plopped the towel in my hand, moving in a brisk blur to the kitchen, and upon returning, practically tilted a waterfall of ice into my mouth . “There, better?”
“Better, yeah,” I said, gasping, barely surviving being mini-waterboarded. “Thanks.”
“Another minute, and I was going to drag you out myself,” she said, her eyes shaping in a stern reprimand, and with a quick swipe, promptly resumed dabbing the towel around my face. “So, after that long – I presume you’ve come to a decision? What do you want to do?”
Y’know what’s funny? Honestly, even before I walked in the bedroom, I already made my choice.
Or at least, I thought I did.
I didn’t want to wake her. I had every intention of leaving things be, and leaving her alone. Visiting her was just my attempt to affirm my decision.
That I’m making the right choice.
But now, after seeing her… actually seeing her… and actually thinking about it…
Now I don’t know what I’m thinking anymore.
Just thought that was funny, really…
“Okay,” I said, no longer just sitting and watching for a change. “Let’s go wake her.”