Her smile was like the sun, brightening everything around her. Not once, Noah believed, had she ever smiled and someone rejected it. People described it as infectious, but Noah could never see it as that. It was too wrong a word.
Her laughter, as refreshing as dew drops on green leaves. A beautifully musical thing, a sound he could never forget. How could he ever, ever forget that laugh when he was the one who brought it out of her – when she laughed at every joke, every errant hair that fell from his usually perfectly-pomaded hair, every burning ash that fell from the cigarette held between his teeth. He lived for that laughter. She was the one good thing in his life.
He would never forget that day. How could he? Even now he still thought about her, the sting of guilt aching his lungs.
“For fucks sakes, Jimmy.” Noah let out a groan of frustration and collided his fist with the pinball machine Jimmy was glued to, making the machine explode in a dazzle of lights as he promptly destroyed the high score. Jimmy threw his hands up in frustration, squaring up to Noah in an instant, his lips twisting into a sneer.
“What the fuck, Romano?”
“The fuck did you say to her?”
“I told her to go home, Romano. The fuck are you thinkin’, thinkin’ she can fit in with us? I ain’t got no time to be dealin’ with that kumbayah-good-girl shit, man.”
“I go to grab us a drink for five minutes and you convince my girl to leave? I swear to God, Jimmy..” Noah let out a growl, grabbing hold of the lapels of the smaller mans leather jacket, damn near tugging him off his feet. Their friends, suddenly nameless to Noah, suddenly faceless, took a step back. There was a silence between the two before Jimmy finally spoke.
“She ain’t your girl though, is she, Romano? Too much of a candy-ass to even ask her even though you’ve been starin’ at her for weeks. You know she don’t fit in with the rest of us.” The words struck Noah like an arrow right in the chest, sending a chill along his form. With a deep growl emanating from his throat to match that of an animal he suddenly shoved Jimmy back, letting the smaller man stumble into the crowd.
Noah turned and stalked out of the arcade, pulling his pack of smokes from his pocket as he walked and retrieving a lighter. Slamming the door shut behind him he wrested a cigarette free and sparked it up with a flame, inhaling deep lungfuls of the nicotine as he put the packet away, staring out at the darkened highway. They weren’t far from the town, nor the city – lights in both directions, but just distant enough.
It was when he was starting to worry about her that he heard the sobbing from the embankment on the other side of the highway, a little dip that led to open fields. For a moment a strange thought came over him, a fear to the core that perhaps it wasn’t her and instead one of those baby-ghosts everyone spoke about to keep kids from playing on bridges after dark. He hesitated for a moment until a passing car drove by, the bright lights highlighting the dark of her hair and that daisy barrette she wore, specially for him. Specially because he mentioned he liked it the first day they had met, when he offered her a pen in math class.
He was glad he was there for her first day.
Once the car had passed, he flicked his smoke away and scampered over, slowing to a walk once he was close. He’d never been good at being attentive, always playing it cool. So he thought. Shrugging his jacket free from his bulky form, he slung it around the girls shoulders, sitting down on the grass next to her before wrapping an arm around her waist, pulling her close and pressing his lips to her temples, breathing in the soapy scent of her shampoo and that perfume she always wore.
“Is it true?” She finally asked, her voice as sweet as a dove and just as innocent. Noah closed his eyes as he let out a sigh, not wanting to know what came next; but she was her and he knew she would ask. “I’m just a joke to you? This is all a prank?”
“Sarah, no..” He murmured, burying his face against those thick brunette locks before finally lifting his head, and with it, his hand. He secured a crooked finger neatly beneath her chin, raising her gaze to his with a gentle press. “Look..”
“Don’t do this, Noah..” Her voice swelled with tears, just holding them back. “Don’t play with me like this..”
“I ain’t playin’, Sarah.” His thumb brushed over her cheek, wiping away an errant tear. And then he leaned in, his lips pressing against his; softly at first. He could taste the salt on her lips, mixed in with the sweet taste of bubblegum she had been chewing earlier that evening. An intoxicating concoction. His other hand moved to cup her other cheek as she kissed him back unsteadily, her small form trembling against his. Finally he pulled back from their first kiss, staring down at her, his lips tugged into a nervous smile. “I ain’t ever goin’ to play with you, baby. You’re my girl. Or.. ah.. atleast.. I want you to be. Me an’ you. I don’t give a shit what they say. You know that? I don’t care.”
“You didn’t even ask me if I wanted to be your girl.” At this, there was that bright smile, just visible in the darkness. If Noah was less of a man, he’d melt on the spot. He let out a nervous laugh, running one hand through his hair, ruining the neatness of it without a care in a world; a man in love.
“I was under the impression that was what you wanted.”
“Pig.” A small laugh surpassed her lips, before she smacked him lightly on the arm. “But yes. Yes, that’s what I want.” And then she threw her arms around him, the pair of them tumbling into the grass.
Hard to believe that just a year later she would be dead, the bones in her throat snapping as he pressed his hands down against it. It was a nightmare he woke up from every night, the one person he had ever truly loved.
The ‘Miltonville Massacre’, they had dubbed it. Seven dead – six looking as though they had been torn apart by wild animals, and another choked to death, the only one given something peaceful to go on. And another missing, the 8th, never to be seen again except on wanted posters and the side of milk cartons and haunted by his ghosts in lonely hotel rooms, the scent of her sweet perfume and the daisies in her hair torturing him for years to come.
Her touch was electric, running through his veins, bringing him to life.
And every night he felt it, lingering on his skin.
To atone for his sins.