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Half a Lie

I woke up from a deep sleep to a beautiful face.
She was unassumingly beautiful, the kind you could blink and miss easily. A gawky tangle of limbs, a crooked nose, pallid skin as if she were carved from a candle with a blunt knife. Eyes blue and distant beneath two panes of glass. She looked plain, awkward, uncomfortable--and yet.
Beautiful.
The unexpectedness of it made it hard to breath for a second.
"Are you ok?"
Her words jolted me out of my thoughts. I mentally shook myself. Why was I writing poetry in my head over Hilde Rivers of all people? I wasn't a romantic. Not at all.
"I'm fine," I muttered, pushing myself up on my elbows and realizing that I was lying on the pavement. "What...?"
"Some kid got you in the head with a ball and you went down." She bit her lip, eyes averted. It should have bothered me, the evasiveness, but my stomach stirred with the intimacy of it. She looked vulnerable. Her teeth dented her lips and my hands itched to reach up, sweep her in, lick into her mouth with my tongue--
What the fuck.
I shook my head.
"I feel really weird," I said, more to myself than to her. Hilde's eyes went wide in alarm. I touched her arm automatically to calm her, and immediately regretted it. An electric thrill unfurled in my fingers, and I snatched them away. "I'm fine though," I amended hastily. "Not concussed. All good here."
But maybe I was concussed, because the next words I spoke slipped out without my consent.
"Thank you, though. For making sure I was ok. Can I get you a coffee as a thank you?"
She beamed.
And that was that.
Falling in love came to me with remarkable ease.
I'd known Hilde for years, but barely. Somehow I had never really noticed this girl on the periphery of my life. Ever since I was eleven we had orbited the same suns-- the same secondary school, sixth form, university. The latter by some blind luck of the universe that pushed us both to Birmingham. To the road where a kid I wished I could thank had knocked me out while she walked home behind me.
She was like one of those rare flowers that bloom for a single night once a year, and I was finally watching her open. I would never have thought something like that before. Love was something I had been skeptical about. Poetry, beauty--these were things for books, not for thoughts about someone as terrifyingly fallible as another human.
(It is possible that these fears were tied to being let down so many times before.)
It was an outpouring, and I could not drink my fill. I wanted to drown in her. Hilde was quiet in all things. She loved to read, and she had a nervous disposition that made me want to curl myself around her until we were close enough to hear each other's thoughts, just to prove that I saw her as all the good things she was. She liked to be in green places, to speak softly in the dark while the rain came down on the roof above. She was warmth and peace and happiness.
There was just one thing.
Sometimes she got a look. It came when she thought I didn't notice her staring at me. Her eyes darkened and went flat. She tried to hide it, but I could feel a strain in her. She was far away, grappling with a beast in her head. I wished I could cut it to pieces for her.
In a way I suppose I did.
I started to get headaches.
Just every few weeks, and then more. And then.
The first time I fainted I was alone. I woke up and for one terrifying second I didn't remember Hilde, not exactly. I remembered spending time with her for months, yes, but it was like watching a movie. I felt nothing for her at all.
The feelings all rushed back after a second. The intensity of our relationship, the realness. But from then on I was terrified. I started filling my journal with all the details of my life, so scared I was of forgetting. If I could not cling to my emotions, my memories, what was secure?
The second time I fainted I was with Hilde. We were in my room, lying in bed. She was brushing out my hair gently, braiding it into thick black coils.
It took only a second for me to go from lying back in bed to starting upright, white-hot pain bursting in my temples. I felt my eyes roll back in my head, and then I was falling, and then there was nothing at all.
I came to with a terrified Hilde hanging over me. It happened again. The gaping absence. And then it all came back and I managed a trembling smile. Relieved that I still had her for now.
"It's like the last time," I murmured to her. "Remember? On the street. I loved you the second I saw you that time. I don't know how. But it's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
But she didn't smile back. The love of my life looked--what? Her mouth was twisted and gaping. Disgusted.
"Fuck," she moaned. "I shouldn't have. I shouldn't--"
"Hey," I said. It was so hard to speak. "It's ok. You didn't do anything. I just... I've been getting headaches. I fainted the other day--"
She let out an appalled hiss at that. She turned away, reached into her bag on the floor and pulled out a small vial of pink liquid. I caught the word "antidote" scrawled on the faded label.
"Drink this," she demanded. Her voice broke. "It'll stop the pain. The fainting. All of it. I didn't realize... I didn't know there were side effects... Please, just drink it."
And because I was hurting, and scared I was dying of a brain tumor, and most of all because I was desperately, desperately in love with this strange and beautiful woman, I downed it in one.
She pressed a kiss to my lips. I could feel her face scrunched and tense against mine, and I drank her in gratefully before she pulled back. The votive candle of a girl glowed with my hands on her face. She was crying. Tears so painful that she didn't make a sound, only trembled.
But.
I found myself caring less and less.
I could still see the past, but I could see the strings, too. Bright red things stitched into all the memories, making me dance, pulling me towards her. I could remember the street, so many months ago. There had been a hand that covered my nose and forced some sweet scented potion down my throat before I fell to the pavement.
I could feel myself ceasing to love her. It felt a little like dying. Not many people fall out of love in the space of a few seconds.
I understood, then. There was no fate, no coincidence, only a witch with a love potion who wanted me to love her.
And the worst part was that I wanted to love her back. I wanted the happiest I had ever been to be real. But my heart was empty.
"Get out." I said. A subsonic whisper that hit her like a shout.
To her credit, she did.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 21st, 2017

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