Natalie walked in quiet melancholy. It was autumn, and the leaves were rusty, fallen, and, well, smooshed.
Natalie liked it anyway. Not the leaf smoosh, maybe. She avoided stepping on the damp leaves and tried to just crunch the dry ones instead. Kept her attention for a few minutes, then she was back to sighing at the sky, shaking her head, moving on.
Nobody really likes moving on, do they?
It had been a long time since he had gone. It shouldn’t matter anymore. People didn’t ask, didn’t question. Are you all right? Is everything okay? Can we help? Dinner?
It was easier that way. No more saying no. No more not saying no. It was never the right answer when she wanted it to be. Do you need help? No. Are you okay? Definitely, fine.
What do you do with loss, except put it in a box, smooth it over with your hands, wait for the time when you don’t remember what you put in there.
“Hey.” A heavy arm around her shoulders, making her jump but holding her steady. A warm kiss on the cheek. “Doing all right?”
Natalie didn’t stop walking, and he stayed with her. “Yeah… no. I mean, fine or something. Right?”
Jason smiled and hugged her with the arm. “Or something.”
“It was a day like today when he ran away, you know.” Natalie’s gray eyes focused somewhere far away. “Why do they call it that, running away? It’s not the running part – it’s the not coming back.”
Jason kicked a stick out of the way before she tripped over it. “It’s almost worse, isn’t it? Wondering where they are.”
Natalie didn’t have to ask him worse than what. She leaned her head into his shoulder. “Hard to say. If it were you, I’d rather you were just missing. Maybe I’d find you. Maybe in the checkout line at the grocery store or waiting to make a deposit at the bank.”
Jason threw back his head and laughed. “Darling, if I were close enough for you to find me in those places, I’d come back.”
Natalie looked up at him shyly through her thick lashes. “Maybe it’s a grocery store in Zimbabwe or something.”
Jason hugged her again, tighter. Didn’t really want to let her go, but did when he heard the air squeaking out of her. “I wouldn’t wander off on you, I can promise that much.”
Natalie nodded, staring off again. “Then it would be worse. I’d want to make sure you were resting, to say goodbye.”
“Put me in a box so you can find me later,” Jason teased. Natalie elbowed him. They kept walking, peaceful silence.
“He might still come back,” Natalie offered.
“He might,” Jason agreed.
“He probably won’t,” she added.
“No. Probably not.”
Natalie stopped, and Jason stopped with her. She wrapped her arms around him, under his jacket, rubbed her face against his chest, inhaled. He hugged her back. “I love you,” she told him.
“I love you too,” he promised.
And they walked on.