Salvation by Collier Lumpkin

She had been rubbing at the blisters on her hands when the skies opened late that afternoon, when the tempest started.

She had been rubbing at the blisters on her hands when the skies opened late that afternoon, when the tempest started. Seeing blaze orange life jackets blowing through the air like pumpkins in a late-Fall hurricane, she ran around gathering the very last ones before they were lost for good. He had seemingly come from nowhere, this man walking up the beach towards her, life jackets in his hands. And when she popped out from under the last canoe she had just stored safely away, he had handed her the final oar, and somehow, she just knew. It may have been the way he smiled, or the darkness of his navy eyes. But somehow, somehow she just knew.

She didn’t remember what he was wearing that night. She couldn’t remember what he said as she walked up the steps, their hands intertwined. She couldn’t remember if she was wearing a sweatshirt, or if it had been warm enough that night to go without. She couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like as he said her name, how warm his hands felt as they grazed across her hips. She didn’t remember running her fingers through his hair, or blowing away the smell of campfire from his chest. She didn’t remember untying her shoes, or peeling away her dirty socks. She couldn’t remember how dark it was in his room, if there were stars out that evening, or if the rainstorm blocked out the entire night sky. She couldn’t remember if they could hear the lightning, or if they could only see the golden flashes illuminating the trees around them.

All she could remember were his eyes. And that she felt safe in his glance.

All she could remember was that when it was over, everything had changed.

There were no hopes of grandeur, or opening skies of freedom. There was just that same little girl, lying there on that bed, so clearly aware that she was capable of both devouring, and being devoured. That she was strong enough to say yes, and weak enough to actually go through with it. That there were now parts of her that had only ever been hers before, that she now had to share.

And she never really did like sharing.

He came back to bed, bringing one glass of water for the both of them. She took it, quickly sipping a bit. She had no idea what she was supposed to say. She had no idea how she was supposed to feel. But the water was cold, and asked for nothing in return.

He had promised he would write. She had kissed him goodbye and let her fingers linger on the back of his sweat-drenched t-shirt. That summer had been so hot; they had all gotten used to the slick of sweat collecting on their faces and between their skins. And yet there she stood, once again, staring into the back of a very empty mailbox. It had been nineteen days now, not that anyone was counting. And she had stood in front of this mailbox sixteen times now. And still, there was no letter, no card, no anything. Once, when he tucked the hair behind her ear as he walked away, he had mentioned joining the MI6. “I wanna save the world,” he had said, stroking her face, winking.

Naïvely, she had assumed that would have included her spot in the world as well.

It would be weeks before she stopped checking that box on a daily basis. And months before she stopped thinking about him with each whiff of his cologne, each word uttered by a man with the slightest of British accents. And it would be years before she forgot what it felt like as he squeezed her hand before kissing the very top of her head.

But on her darkest days, she could almost picture him sitting in some booth behind her at a diner in Erie, watching her secretly from afar, silently saving her world.