On the day you left, all she could think of was the taste of strawberries.
One day you were there and the next you had disappeared into smoke and fairy stories, just another figment of her wandering memory. One snap of the fingers and all the happily ever afters you’d whispered in her ear were nothing but dust and ashes. And still, all she could think of was the previous week, that dusky sunset, you bringing home strawberries, red and ripe and fresh, just because you knew they were her favourite fruit. All she could think of was you twirling her around the kitchen until she was dizzy and giggling, how you had kissed her strawberry-stained lips and when she said I love you, you had smiled and told her without one hint of hesitation: I love you too. Always.
You promised you’d always come back. Remember that? You said you’d always find your way home into her arms, but you never did learn that it’s not fair to let someone fall in love with you if you’re too busy roaming the golden skies to catch them. You made it your mission to harness the moon, but you never realised that there was a girl who shone just as brightly waiting for you on earth. Darling, no matter how far you wander, the world will never be big enough for you, but you were always enough for her.
There were secrets like grace notes woven into your laughter, and she knew how to close her eyes and hear the music. You, though – you needed to learn how to play it. Did you ever find the right instrument? While you were sliding across the slippery surface of moonbeams, did you ever notice that your laughter was just slightly off-key?
She did. She always did.
On the day you left, she bit into a strawberry and it tasted like tears. She wanted to hate you, don’t you know? While you wove your way in between bleeding planets on wings as light as stardust, she wanted to burn your name from her skin, from her memory. I think she always knew that tears don’t wash away scars as easily as that, but when the rain serenaded her outside her window, all she could think was that it was singing off-key. On the day you left, she promised herself she’d never eat strawberries again.
Oh, darling, what a beautiful mess you left behind. What a beautiful, painful mess.
But you see, her story did not end with you, because one day she learned that there was so much more to life than a heart that never did beat for her.
One day, as you roamed the bitter skies searching for a song you didn’t know how to name, her ribs healed. One day your name faded into another weary tombstone, another constellation etched into the pockmarked sky. She stopped counting the hours since you had left and let them blur into oblivion. She realised that even though you had flown away, the world was still turning and she was still attached to it, and one day she stopped wishing you had taken her with you.
That was the day you came home.
You knocked on her door. When she opened it, you could almost taste the strawberry kisses from so many shattered eternities ago, lingering in the silence.
I’m sorry, you said. I can explain, you said. I love you, you said.
And she said, voice as steady as the earth that grounded her: No. You thought you did.
You see, darling, tears don’t wash away scars, and once a person has been broken, they are the only ones who can put themselves back together again. Perhaps at one time she thought she needed you to write her happily ever after. Perhaps at one time she did.
But there was a girl who waited every night for you to come home, and you chose the moon instead of her.
And one day, so many long and frantic years into the future, someone might ask her what her favourite fruit is.
And darling, there you will still be, eyes dark and crinkled, searching the barren skies while the sun shifts restlessly in the distance. There you will be, asking yourself what you are missing, tallying all the love you lost, wondering whether it was worth it. There you will be, still waltzing through galaxies with the lingering taste of regret and something else you can’t quite name.
And the girl you left behind will look into their eyes, and this is what she will say, the answer to everything you thought you could find in the infinite sky:
Strawberries. I could live the rest of my life on nothing but the taste of strawberries.