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It’s November and the season is changing. Leaves are falling, and sometimes skittering across the grass in front of the wind. The air is cold and getting colder and there’s a bite to it. Fall is here and winter’s not far behind.
I like this change in season, from fall to winter, more than any other. Never really was a California boy. When I smell that crispness in the air, when I shiver and pull my jacket close around me: that’s what enlivens me. Puts a spring in my step and gets my blood moving. Makes me feel true and alive and fiercely happy with the world. No matter what else is going on in my life, when the seasons change and fall descends towards winter, I feel strong and I know everything’s going to be okay.
Know I can handle anything.
The wind shifts and I have to grab onto my cap quick before it gets blown off my head. Refocus a bit. I’m waiting for him. He’s late. Not usual for him, but he’s not been his usual self for a while. I guess nothing’s usual now. We’ve been pulled—yanked, really—out of our own routine and it feels like we’re dancing to someone else’s tune.
There is no usual here.
I try to regain that sense of strength I get from the fall. The park I’m in is pretty big, lots of grass and trees and space. The leaves on all the trees are changing. There’s no one here; the breeze is chilly in the late afternoon and any picnickers, any lovebirds, have long since made for home. Just me here back among the trees, though I can see a few people on the wide paths meandering through the park.
Can’t see the one person I’m looking for, though.
I’m studying the leaves in their piles on the ground. There are an astonishing number of colors, something you don’t notice, unless you take the time to look. I’ve missed this, for so long. No fallen leaves out west, not like this. Yeah, I’m a Texan born and bred, and I lived in California for most of my grown-up life, but I got to live up north for a time, for school, and it was there that I found a piece of myself I never knew about. This utter joy in the rapid seasonal changes, going on before your very eyes. It grounds me, makes me strong.
I’ve missed this.
I’ve missed him. Lately he’s been doing it again, being here-but-not-here. This place isn’t a part of him. It’s not a part of me, either, but the season is and I revel in finding the autumn again when I thought I’d never get it back.
Not him, though. This place seems to have drained him, like a plant kept too long out of the sun. He’s here-but-not-here and he’s killing me. I’m not strong enough for this.
Even with the fall and the air and the leaves, I’m not strong enough for this. They’re not enough to make me strong. Not if I don’t have him.
The leaves crackle behind me and I know he’s here. Late. He doesn’t touch me and I don’t turn around. Instead I say, “You’re breaking them, you know, and they never even did anything to you.”
There’s just silence, there behind me. I turn my head, look back over my shoulder at him, at those eyes as blue as the sky we’re under. Blustery sky, with clouds sliding across it, and there’s a taste of winter in the air. “Poor leaves, they’ve gotta give up their lives to look so pretty for just a little while. Then you come along and step on ‘em when they’re down.”
He’s just watching me. “Okay, I get it,” he says dryly. “Your metaphors are usually a little less heavy-handed than that, you know.”
I shrug and turn my head away once more. “It’s the best I’ve got just now.” It’s funny. If you pay enough attention, you can almost see night as it creeps up along the edges of the sky. We’ve moved past afternoon into dusk now and the sky is an entirely different shade of blue than it was before.
“I’m sorry.” This time his voice is soft, and he sounds sad. He almost always sounds sad now. Just like autumn isn’t enough for me anymore, guess I’m not enough for him anymore. “Would you look at me, please?”
“Will that fix anything?” I try to say it harsh, but it comes out as a whisper. After a second, I turn around. Look at him. I can’t help it.
He shakes his head slightly. “Not fix, no.” He tilts his head, then, lets that blonde hair fall out of his eyes. “Maybe help though?” It’s questioning, unsure, but it’s more than I’ve gotten out of him in weeks. I wonder what he’s asking for, wonder if I know him enough, anymore, to guess. He does this to me, too often. Gives only so much and then pulls away and I’m left with just me.
I should be used to it.
But it’s autumn and with the falling dusk, the breeze has turned sharp, almost biting. The last of the sunlight seems to settle into his golden hair, and his eyes are bluer than the sky ever was. He shivers at the wind, hands jammed into his pockets. His shoulders are hunched and even though he gives me a grin, he looks afraid.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe only I can see it.
I look away for a second, look at the changing, falling leaves. It hurts to breathe sometimes, but you keep on doing it.
I look back at him. “Cold?”
He shivers again, but shakes his head.
“Come here,” I say and when he does, I put my arm across his shoulder, and pull him close. He lets me, and after a moment, rests his head on my shoulder with a sigh.
It’s autumn here in Langley, and the leaves are changing.
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