This is an excerpt from a story I was working on for a while. It was never a novel but I was really into this character Max, and kept writing little pieces about him. This is the last one I wrote.
The evening air was cold and crisp on Max’s skin and the way it whistled against his lips like the ghost of something else made his heart ache. He looked out on the choppy waves as he dug his feet deeper into the sand. Max liked the coast. He always had. The coast was liminal.
He brought his last cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with smoke. It was one of life’s cruel tricks that the thing that got him though days such as this was the very vice that could one day kill him.
Cassie was trying to get him to quit. He couldn’t help but find the humor in the fact that the girl who had introduced him to heroin ten years ago was the same girl who was encouraging his sobriety. Quitting heroin had been one of the hardest things in the world. He figured he was allowed one last remaining vice.
No one had forced Cassie to quit. There had been no interventions, no dramatic admission into rehab. The way she told the story, she had gotten bored of the lifestyle and had woken up clean a week later, simple as that. Max had never corrected her, as in a way that was the truth, but he had remembered the nightmares and the cold sweats. He had gone through them himself, a year later.
As a songwriter, Max was very attuned to his emotions. He knew how to articulate them, what chords went with which feelings and how to tie it all together and present it to the world as something beautiful. But as a person, he was very uncomfortable with such intimiate communication. Conveying deep emotion was occasionally very difficult for Max, especially with someone like Cassie. Someone he cared about more than he cared about himself. That was one of the reasons that it had taken him so many years to find the courage to speak aloud those three words that would show her how he felt.
Two years ago to this very day. Cassie had been the first person he had ever said those words to, and Max knew that she had to be the last.
Max reached into his coat pocket and his fingers made contact with a cold metal band. He withdrew it and the ring glistened in the early moonlight. It was simple. With his parents will leaving him their billions, he could have afforded a thousand diamond rings. But this silver band was perfect for Cassie. Especially with the addition of three very important words, engraved on the inside of the band. He smiled and slipped the ring back into the pocket where it had been resting for the past two years.
Max stood up and brushed the sand off of his clothes as he took a final drag of his cigarette. He put it out in the sand, and suddenly he could almost hear Cassie reprimanding him as he quickly located the cigarette butt and deposited it in a nearby trashcan. He glanced back towards the ocean one last time before heading back to his 1990 Lincoln Towncar. It was the same car he had left the city in all those years ago, and it was the same car he stubbornly used to this day. He had worked hard on repairing this car but was ready to give up. In fact, he was going to buy a new car tomorrow with Cassie.
Cassie had been out of town for the past week on her first ever business trip. If Max had been told that this was the life they would end up living, he wouldn’t have believed it. But now Cassie was the owner of a small concert venue in Brooklyn and he was a professional songwriter and musician with one EP under his belt and a studio album on the way.
Professional musician. Max couldn’t help but smile.
He kicked through the sand and made his way towards the parking lot. The moment where he had to finally turn his back on the open coast and face the dense wooded area where he had parked was a claustrophobic one. His heart felt heavy as he unlocked the door to the drivers side of his car and sat down. A wave of uneasiness spread over him, but he brushed it aside. He was okay.
The engine whirred to life and he pressed play on the CD player he had installed in the car all those years ago. Max stubbornly refused to install any kind of iPod adaptor. Cassie accused him of having a steadfast opposition to change. He preferred to think of himself as sentimental.
Max pulled out of the parking spot and drove slowly down the winding road towards the main highway to begin the long drive back into the city. He was a good two hours away, but he liked having the time to think.
His thoughts drifted, as they always tended to, back to Cassie. But this time he thought about the ring that felt like it was a burning a hole through his jacket pocket. Their relationship had been a tumultuous one, and there had been a point where he had moved to a town called Harrisburg in Virginia and fell for a girl named Piper. But it wasn’t ever going to be anyone besides Cassie in the end.
Two years ago they had gotten back together and the next day Max had gone out and bought the ring that he had carried every day since. He had had very little money at the time and had bought a simple silver band. He didn’t know if that was the right thing to do. It felt too simple so he had some words engraved on the inside. He reached inside his pocked and pulled it out.
His fingers had closed around the ring when it happened.
Max never saw the oncoming headlights and he was never prepared for the truck that smashed violently into his car. He never had a chance to react as his car flipped over onto the roadside. He never got a chance to do anything besides lift one hand to shield his face as the other hand clenched tightly around the small silver band that eventually made its way back into Cassie’s possession.
She wore it on a chain around her neck. It was too painful for her to wear it, but sometimes she took it off the chain and examined it carefully, sometimes slipping it onto her finger momentarily, wondering why things had to have happened this way. She had often wondered where a voice went, when it left a body, and it was her theory that it went to the hearts of every life it had touched. The ring had been bent slightly out of shape but the words were apparent and every day she heard them in the ghost of his voice.