The mountains sat like resting giants, wide and grey, not slumbering so much as drowsing, as though the heavy clouds above were about to pour and wash their sleep away. The clouds hung low and promising today, the color of dryer lint, thinning the light. Maybe, Maya thought, it would finally rain.
She swerved onto a busy road, pressing the gas as cars rushed around her, and in the tumult she thought she saw him. A lone, tall figure in a sooty jacket, shoulders thrown back as he faced the mountains. But it was just a glimpse, and it wasn’t real.
Still, Maya caught herself glancing into the rearview as she sped away. She forced her gaze back to the mountains, as behind her the space where she thought she’d seen a man grew distant.
Maya locked her doors.
In a few short hours, she’d be at Cherie’s, and the noise of the party would drown out any stray thoughts of him. Until then, she had to focus.
The mountains were lovely, Maya thought. Exquisite. She snuck glances toward them when she should have been watching the road, her eyes skittering down the distant peaks like quick fingers, brushing a wrist, a neck, and wishing for more. The tiny trees were barely visible, their greens and browns all washed into the mountains’ grey. And on the street corner was a man, standing tall, winking as she passed…
Maya shook her head, teeth grit, but after a moment she glanced back. The man on the street corner had a blazer, a groomed beard, and too many years by twenty: it wasn’t him. Silly of her to think it could have been.
But if she allowed her gaze to soften, if she focused on the road, the flying cars, and not on him, it almost seemed like he was beside her. Right beside her, in the car. Turn left, Maya.
Maya shook her head again. God, she didn’t want to see him.
What would Cherie say? It had been months, nearly a year. She should be well over him.
At a stoplight, Maya looked straight ahead, pointedly not checking the women and men crawling over the intersection. She didn’t want to see him, not exactly; she didn’t want him back. But sometimes, at night, before she took the pills, she’d find herself certain that she had one last thing to say.
She sighed. What could she say? What could she ever say that he would want to hear?
The light had turned green, Maya noticed with a start. She jerked forward, before the other cars started honking, and as she drove past the crosswalk she saw, on the curb, a man who could have been wearing a soot-colored jacket, a man who couldn’t possibly be him.
She’d known that it was bad, she thought, speeding away. She’d known long before her friends began to notice the bags beneath her eyes, the pale scratches down her brown skin. She’d known it was getting worse, and she’d been saying she would leave but each time she tried he’d turn up again, around a street corner, turned-up collar framing a wink and a grin. He would hop in the car so fast she’d miss it, beside her in the blink of an eye, cracking jokes, telling her she was beautiful.
One time he’d made her laugh so hard she nearly crashed. That was what she told her friends, when she left the car shaking, nervous tears in her eyes.
She locked her doors again.
She’d known she wasn’t getting out — deep down, she did — and still she wished it had been she who packed him off, not her family and friends, the people who really loved her. There were things rotting on her tongue, still waiting to be said to him. She’d never got the chance.
She never would get it, either, not if she kept her focus now, not if she kept driving. Only she’d just seen him again on the side of the road.
Maya rubbed one eye, then the other, watching the cars on either side of her, the dotted white lines zipping past. It hadn’t been him. Not really.
If it had been him, if she could be sure, maybe she would have stopped and locked her doors and shouted out the window: she was sorry. She was sorry but she couldn’t help it, leaving him, or rather letting him be forced away. Gone. She’d say that she couldn’t take the way his shouts rang in her head long after he’d left and slammed the door behind him. She couldn’t understand why when he hit her there was never a mark, and no one seemed to see him for what he was or what he’d done to her. She didn’t know and didn’t want to know why despite all that, he sometimes struck her as perfect, someone crafted just for her.
When her family made her see, it had seemed — it was — as if he’d disappeared, vanished, like a tidbit of her imagination.
In his aftermath she’d fallen hard, but lately she’d gone off the pills, and now she was seeing him again.
The mountains were bigger and closer, and the road, as it wound upward to meet them, was slowly emptying. And at a curve up ahead stood a man, tall and handsome, with a soot-grey jacket and a knowing smirk.
Maya’s hands tightened on the wheel. Her foot shifted from the gas to the brake, then back again.
About the author: Amber Velez grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and has interned at writing retreats in California and the United Kingdom. Her fiction appears in Broken Pencil Magazine, Silver Blade Magazine, and Theakers Quarterly Fiction, among others. She studies history and engineering (virtually) at MIT.