Amber wakes every day at eight with the covers off and the sun draping swaths of light across her skin. She lies still, her eyes taking in the morning but not really seeing. Not yet. Then she shivers and smooths her hands over her arms, trying to coax the goosebumps back down. I nudge Tooley, the cat clinging to life number nine, toward the bed. Go on, Tooley. Tell her. He looks at me with disinterest and licks his back foot before leaping up to nuzzle her. Amber pulls the sheet to her shoulders, curls into herself and scruffs the hair under his chin.
In the kitchen, I wait for the sound of her footsteps. Wait for her yawn as she pours herself cup. At the table, she turns the pages and we scan the headlines. Suicide bomber. Bank closure. Tornado. Playoff game. Tooley winds figure eights around our legs, and Amber giggles when his tail touches that tender spot behind her knees. I smile and move the hair back from her eyes. She looks out the window to the garden, a smile still on her lips and her elbow resting by the headline that asks, "Scientists Hope LHC to Shed Clues on Here After". When she gets up from the table, the word 'hope' leaves a grey streak on the inside of her elbow. She doesn't notice.
But I do.
Today is Thursday, which means Amber has her nine o'clock and her ten forty-five. Lunch with Diane. Workout at the gym before her three fifteen. Then rush hour traffic until home at six.
While she's gone I'll be here, playing mind games on Tooley. Blinking lights on and off. Running circles on the ceiling. He'll jump on the back of the couch and stretch his paws up the wall and howl at me and my laughter will shift the dust on the mantle. When I hear her heels clicking on the tile, I go to the entry table and turn my picture down. She reaches for her bag and stops. Her eyebrows crease. "Tooley," she sighs. "How many times do I have to ask? Please stay off the table." She rights the frame and her fingers hold on a fraction longer than yesterday.
I stand at the door and brace one arm against the wall. It takes all my energy to hold still.
She tucks her purse under her arm, puts on her sunglasses and clicks off the light. Reaching for the door knob, she steps through me, and for a shimmering moment I feel again. Feel the heat in her skin. Feel the drumming of her heart and the electric sparks in her brain.
If I could gasp air, oh, how I'd gasp.
By the time she gets home, I'll no longer feel her warmth. But all day, every day, she'll feel me.
I'm the chill she can't shake.
And all day, every day, I'll be here, waiting for the day she wakes with eyes that finally see.
This work by Amy K. Nichols is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.