Darkness. All I can see is darkness and I can feel the constant beat of my heart. I can see it too, in my eyes, pounding in haziness. Then, there is an irregular beat and my lungs contract, pain slicing through me. I try to take in a breath, but my lungs won’t cooperate. My chest racks as a breath finally enters my body.
I am at peace or would soon be, something tells me. It hurts like hell, but I am calm, or as calm as I could be. I take in another harsh breath, and then everything flashes before me.
I am five years old, standing on a green hill, where the treehouse was built on a giant oak tree. The sky is clear blue, with no clouds in sight, the air fresh with the scent of grass and summer dew. A soft breeze rustles my hair as I stand there looking around, observing the landscape, when I see Amber running towards me, her face split in a wide grin.
“Stop,” I shout, backing away, but I am too late. She crashes into me, sending us tumbling down the hill, getting grass stains on our clothing.
“You’re it,” she says, giggling. “You’re it.”
Amber pokes at my nose as she peers into my eyes.
“Okay,” I say, pushing her off. “As long as we don’t get in trouble.”
She nods furiously, her curly hair bouncing up and down. Amber is only a month older than me, but she acts younger.
I close my eyes and starts to count. The darkness surrounds me, her tinkling laughter sounding in the background.
We are sitting in our treehouse, behind my home, on the little hill that we often played on. The snow drifts down softly, settling on my outstretched hands, melting on my warm skin. I look at Amber, and she meets me with her usual brilliant smile.
“I wish we have snow every day,” she says. Her intense, amber eyes glazed over as she looks out the window, watching the snow drift lazily.
“I think summer is great,” I tell her. “It’s so very pretty.”
She nods, though I can tell she is not listening to me. It’s okay, I tell myself. Let her enjoy her peace.
I snuggle into the blanket again and close my eyes, letting the darkness take over.
“Happy birthday,” I say, giving Amber a little cupcake with a small candle on top. Its little flame flickers, but doesn’t snuff out.
“Thanths,” she replies, taking the baked good. Her nose is clogged up, making her words unclear. I smile anyway because she’s my friend, and I nod.
“No pwobem,” I tease, and she laughs. Her laugh is the same, clear and lovely as a bell.
Her mom comes in and smiles at us, observing us in the corner. I see her out of my peripheral vision, but I choose to ignore her. If she wants to be seen, she would’ve come closer, I reason as I watch Amber stuff her face with the cupcake.
Amber’s mom is tired. I can see that. Her face is lined with crinkles, and her eyes seem so sad. Sometimes I wonder what it is like to be like them, to have a happy family even when they are poor. My mom and dad are always on business trips, leaving me in the giant, lonely mansion with only the staff to take care of me.
Amber gives her mom a bright smile and proceeds to jump up to hug her. I sit there, watching them, feeling empty but happy for her.
It is a rainy day when I turn twelve. The cold, icy April rain stings my skin as I sit in the the mud, shaping a mud pie. I hear the wet, heavy footsteps of Amber even before she reaches me. She doesn’t say anything as we sit there in the rain, side by side.
“Happy birthday,” she finally manages to say. Her warm hand taking mine and tugging it, trying to get my attention. “What’s wrong?”
“They’re never here,” I tell her, frustrated and angry. “They’re never here. Always away. Even on my birthday.”
My voice rises with my emotions and soon I am crying, the warm tears a giant contrast to the freezing rain.
“They promised me,” I whisper; I don’t trust my voice. “They promised me they would be here.”
Amber doesn’t say anything, just taking me and wrapping me in her arms. There is no pity in her gesture, just empathy, and it makes me cry harder, soon falling into the darkness again.
Eliza is our new neighbor, or rather, she is Amber’s, but Amber’s home is like my home. We meet the new kid the afternoon she moves in. She is rather shy. With her honey brown skin and hazel eyes, she is soon going to be a heartthrob.
We tease her, but she doesn’t seem offended, only happy.
“C’mon,” Amber says, grabbing our hands. “Let’s go get ice cream.”
Her excited nature is not something that can be easily looked over. It is palpable, and soon we are bouncing along as well.
“I’m paying,” she announces when we got to the store. She gets us cookie n’ cream, cookie dough, and plain vanilla.
“I love these,” she says, apologetically.
Eliza gives us a shy smile, saying, “It’s alright.”
We eat in comfortable silence, and I am content, sitting there with my best friend and a new one.
“I’m moving,” Amber says the day before we enter high school. Her eyes shimmer with tears, and I try my best to not cry as well. It isn’t shocking news because I have known that for a while now. Her father found a job in the city, and they are moving there.
“I’m going to miss you so much,” she whispers as she pulls me in for a hug. “I’m going to miss you so darn much.”
I stand there, immobile, wishing that this isn’t happening. But it is, and I have no power to stop it.
Amber pulls away, looking at my face, studying it.
“What am I going to do?” I ask, voice cracking. “What would I be without you?”
“A brilliant person,” she replies, suddenly calm and collected, as if she wasn’t crying a minute ago. “You’ll become a better person, and you’ll have Eliza. So, no worries.”
“Dammit, Amber,” I whisper harshly. “Always so optimistic.”
She gives me a sad smile before tugging out a necklace. Getting up on her tiptoes, she snaps the chain in place.
“To remember me by.”
I nod, tears leaking from the corner of my eyes.
“We’ll meet again.”
True to her words, I met her again so many years later. I am in my late thirties when I see her. She is my new employee, and in the beginning, I couldn’t believe my luck.
Amber has the same eyes and heart shaped face, but she is older, worn from life and experience. I learn that she has a small family of three and that her parents passed away four years ago. She is tired, I can tell, but she is happy with her life.
“So,” she says. “Do you have a significant other?”
I shake my head no.
“I’m not interested in one,” I tell her. “I’m happy with friends and family.”
That is a partial truth. I am lonely, but I don’t wish for a lover.
She nods, uncertainty in her eyes, and I feel guilty for omitting the last part.
She figures out that I am unhappy way earlier than I expect.
“It’s nothing,” I try to reassure her.
“It’s not,” she says, eyes burning with righteous anger. “And I am going to help you.”
Again, true to her words, she helps me, though this time in another way. She helps me acquire a family of my own.
The first time I held him in my arms, I can never be prouder. He is perfection, and even though he is not mine biologically, I love him.
Amber leans over the crib, tickling the tiny being inside.
“I told you I was going to help you.”
I get to be a mother, to experience the first step of my child, the first word, the first day of kindergarten, his first graduation, his acceptance into the college he wants. Everything. I experiences everything of parenthood and I love him with all my being. He is my child in all but blood, and that’s alright.
Eliza is the first of us to pass away.
“Lung cancer”, the doctor says, shaking his head.
I am there when she dies, choking out her last words, “Thank you for everything.”
Her husband breaks down crying, and her two sons runs out of the room, pain etched across their young features.
I am there at her funeral, comforting her family with the help of Amber, who remains quiet throughout the event.
“She wouldn’t want us to be sad,” Amber announces to the group before they leave. “She would want us to continue on with our life, remember her best moments, and live as happily as we can.”
We let the Eliza’s ash out together, watching it drift away, into the field filled with flowers and grass and nature.
It all comes back to me, piece by piece, one by one. My parents, my son, my friends, my life. But I am at peace. It’s time for me to go, and they know it.
“Thank you, Amber.”