There it is. Her home. I am exhausted as I approach, dragging a firefighter’s ax behind me. This town is filled with creatures and monsters that I had to kill and sneak around to get here. But I’m finally here.
I drop the bloody ax in her driveway, devoid of any car, and knock on her door. I shiver as a breeze blows the ever-present fog into me. It’s chilling. My jacket isn’t thick enough. Hopefully she’s here so I can help her get out.
The door cracks open, still held tight by the door chain. “Hello?” I say into it.
“Hello?” A voice responds. It’s her!
“Lenore!” I exclaim. “God, It’s so good to see you. This place is hell, we have to get out.”
“Maxine?” she asks, “Maxine, I haven’t heard from you in months. Come in.” She pushes the door shut. I hear her unlock the chain, then she opens the door again. “Sorry if the place is a mess, I wasn’t expecting a guest.”
“I don’t blame you,” I respond, “Considering the sorry state of the town. Not a damn person in sight.”
“People have been staying inside,” She tells me.
“I would’ve skipped town, personally.”
She smiles. “Clearly not. You’re here now.”
Lenore guides me to a table, and pulls out a chair for me. I sit down. The house is a bit messy, as she warned, but it’s definitely still cleaner than the rest of the city.
“So what brings you around?” Lenore asks. She’s opened the fridge. “Would you like anything to drink?”
“Lemonade, if you’ve got it. Water if you don’t,” I tell her. Lenore pulls a pitcher out of the fridge, finds a couple of glasses in her cabinets- which are not as organised as I remember- and pours two cups of lemonade. I could smell something burnt, but Lenore was a bad cook.
“I came to find you, Lenore. I regret a lot of things, and leaving you behind was one of them.” Lenore places the cup of lemonade in front of me, and sits next to me. “Mm,” she affirms.
“I know I was… cold, the last few months we were together, Lenore. But I still love you. And I think I realise where I went wrong. I tried to force my desires and dreams onto you. There was only room for you in my future if you fit yourself into it. I never made space for you.”
Lenore nods as I speaks, eyes closed.
“I wanted to say I’m sorry.”
Lenore sighs, then takes a long drink of her lemonade. She puts the glass down once she is satisfied, opens her eyes, and stares at me.
“I know you’re sorry,” she says. “So am I. Not for the same reasons, but I am. Thank you for saying it. I’m… I’m glad to hear it.”
It’s quiet between us for a minute. I don’t know what to say. We can’t just start dating again after all of that.
The burning smell is a bit stronger now, but it reminds me of something. Something dear.
“Hey Lenore,” I begin. “You remember that summer when we made that big bonfire, just the two of us?”
Lenore laughs. “Of course I do.” Her voice is both silky and gruff, a beautiful song of both strings and percussion. “We weren’t allowed to be unsupervised for months.”
I laugh too. “Yeah, that was fun. What year was that, 2008?”
She shakes her head. “That’s when I got my first cell phone. It was earlier. 2007.” She giggled. “I still can’t believe you convinced Mr. McGregor to give you his scrap wood for a year.”
“It might’ve been longer than a year,” I admit, “but I knew how much you loved summer fires. I wanted to give you a big one, the biggest one you’d ever seen.” The scent of fire and ash is strong now, but I think that’s just the strength of the memory.
“I have yet to see a bigger fire, that much is true,” she admits. “Sometimes I still think back to that flame. Big. Beautiful. Burning. It’s my last name. Burns. Of course I like fires.”
I smile and stare at my lemonade. That bonfire is still a memory I hold dear.
“So what else do you want?” Lenore asked.
“What do you mean?” I ask in return.
She sighs. “You never just come by. You never wanted to stay here. You hate being in this town. You had to come back for more than just… this.”
I sigh, too. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and just speak the truth. “Yeah. You’re right. I guess I was hoping you’d lift me up in your arms, spin me around, kiss me, take me back. Make me feel something again.” I look back up at her. There were flames in the kitchen.
Lenore smirks, and snorts. It isn’t really a cruel snort, but the kind that makes me feel like a kid who asked their parent a cute question. “You haven’t felt anything since we broke up?”
I shake my head. “Not really. I was always searching for something to make me feel real. Something to make me feel alive. I always thought I was missing something, and never thought this town could give it to me. I was wrong.”
“So you realised that it was me you were missing?” Lenore says.
I take a sip of the lemonade. Stalling for time. Frustrated for it being said, I sigh. “Yeah. I did. I kept thinking about that bonfire, and I realised the part of the memory that makes me feel something?
“It’s you. I know it’s been 10 years, Lenore, and I know we were just kids, but I love you. I still love you. It took me 10 years to realise what I walked away from, and I can’t believe that it took me that long to come back.”
Lenore’s smirk fades. “So what do you want to do about it, Maxine?”
I stand up. The fire had spread, and it’s surrounding us. I reach out a hand to her. “Come with me, Lenore. Let’s get out of this town. It’s awful. We can go someplace. We can make a life for ourselves.”
Lenore also stands up. She places her palm underneath mine, and slowly curls my fingers closed. “Maxine, I already have a life here. I’ve always had a life here. You did, too.” She lifts her other hand underneath mine. Her hands are warm on my palm.
“I think I still feel something for you, too,” she continues. My heart pounds. “But you should go. You might love me, but you don’t love this town. You can’t have one without the other.” She lifts my fist up to my breast, and places both hands over it.
“You’re a beautiful woman, Maxine.” She smiles at me, an earnest and dear smile. “I wouldn’t mind settling down with you. I think something hoped you would come back. It’s too late now, though. We both have to move on.”
I pull my hand away from my chest and stare at it. My fingers and palm. My nails. My veins.
“You should go, Maxine,” Lenore says.
I turn away from her. “I’m sorry, Lenore. I didn’t need to burden you with this.”
“You weren’t a burden,” Lenore says, “and I still love you.”
Tears fill my eyes, but I don’t look back. I wouldn’t be happy in this town. I couldn’t bear dealing with the struggles I took to even get here. Lenore was right. I needed to move on. If I looked back now, I might run into her arms and beg her to let me stay anyway.
I pick up the ax as I leave. I walk for a few seconds, before the overwhelming emotions are too much. I look back at the house. It’s completely engulfed in flames.