The fading of love by Rachel Bachy

Among the hustle and bustle of everyday life, there were moments of quiet. Moments filled with a longing sense of emptiness creeping in from each corner of a bedroom. Moments filled with a breach in traffic on a normally busy street as if all of humanity had ceased to exist. Moments filled with the dread of something watching, waiting for you to turn, all to be swept away with the next screech of interruption. We all noticed the quiet, ignored it, pushed it away, but there it lay. Unresting and unrelentless.
It was a cold day in late October when the quiet seemed to grow. One particularly busy street Sarah Harper frequented found itself devoid of noise; the bustle had ceased. She wandered onward, determined to ignore the oddity, in pursuit of a cup of coffee. Her commute, although familiar, lacked its usual urgency. With neither car nor creep she felt exposed in a new capacity. Her security of humanity was now gone. She was left to fend for herself among the quiet.
Her coffee shop, too, felt grimmer than usual. Although, there was one shred of normalcy left, her barista, James, stood aloft at the front counter. Her entrance startled him from his daze, and he looked up at her with his usual friendly smile, “Hey, Sarah, busy day today, huh,” he gestured to the lack of customers in his store, “Could I get you anything?”
She smiled back, grateful for his presence. “Yeah, could I get a latte, please?”
“No problem, may be a bit of a wait, though, I’m swamped.” He joked, turning to make her drink.
With James’s warm smile gone, Sarah felt the cold once more. She took a seat next to the window, staring out at the street devoid of traffic. She told herself not to worry, James was here, it was probably just a slow day. Besides, it was still early. She was certain the day would reach normalcy soon enough.
“Order up!” James said from behind the counter. Sarah stood, walking over to the counter. Each step felt longer than the one before it. That was odd, she thought, maybe she just needed some more caffeine. She took the cup from James, sitting down at the table closest to the counter, hoping to strike up a conversation.
“Do you think it’s weird how few people are out today?” She questioned, sipping her coffee.
James hopped over the counter, “Eh, not really. Maybe it’s some sort of holiday we don’t know about?”
Sarah laughed, her vibrancy renewing, “Yeah, right, they made a new holiday and just forgot to tell us about it!”
“No, no, no. This was a pre-existing holiday. We just never noticed it. And now everyone is staying home.”
“Oh, yes, because that makes so much sense.” Sarah’s nervousness caused by the morning’s oddities diminished in the presence of someone so trusted and kind. She saw James nearly everyday, he was a constant. She bought coffee from him, he joked with her, and the absolute definition of a perfect morning in the mind of Sarah Harper was achieved almost daily. It seemed today would be no different.
That is, until it was time to leave. Her normal schedule allowed half an hour for coffee before she had to move on to her sales associate and bookkeeping position at Third Time's a Charm used-used book store. She liked it well enough, despite the very old book smell. Also, the store usually fell sparse on customers, despite the bargain book deals.
“Oh, no, it’s almost 8! I should be heading out, but thanks for the latte, it was great!” She paused for a second to grab her bag, then looked up at him to clarify, “Not that it’s not always great! I mean, why would I come here if I wasn’t happy with your quality of drink? You know, best cup in the city, is what I always say, uh, anyway, I should be going.”
James just smiled, saying, “Hey, no problem. I’m happy to serve my favorite customer.” He winked at her blush as she exited back onto the not-so populated sidewalk.
Sarah was so thrilled from her latest encounter with James. Her brain spun with thoughts of “my favorite customer” and that wink! So cheeky, James. Her normal 4-block commute to work escaped her as she imagined James’s rosy cheeks, his tousled hair, his apron! She was in love.
The bell chimed from the door as she entered Third Time’s a Charm, startling her out of her daydream. That same bell that greeted her everyday now seemed out of place among the quiet. She tucked that oddity away with the rest of them, attempting to begin a peaceful day of work.
“Meagan? Barbara?” She announced from the front of the store. “Hey! Is anyone here today? You should tell me if you’re going to call off!” Her efforts were denied response. She was left only with the silence that followed.
Ignoring this, too, she got to work. The work of a used-used book saleswoman was never done. She stacked the shelves with the new supply of books, fresh from the closed used book store 2 blocks over. Uncomfortable in the silence, she hummed quietly to herself, but that seemed too loud. She fell fainter and fainter, quieting herself. Soon, she heard only the rustle of paper as she categorized fiction paperback. That, too, she found too costly on her delicate ears. She couldn’t stand the noise. She sat on the floor, unmoving. Soon she heard only her heartbeat and the deafening roar of nothingness.
She sat there, among the books, unmoving. Even her thoughts startled her. The whistle of her breathing became too much. She could not weep, she thought, the noise would be intolerable. So there she sat, unmoving, unthinking, unbeing. Was it her imagination, or could she feel herself fading? Her hands looked fainter, as did the shelf in front of her, the ground. She tried to survey her surroundings, but she was too weak. She realized she wouldn’t be able to get up even if she wanted to. What was happening to her? Was she fading? Was she-
DINGGGGG! The noise broke her from her thoughts. Her head spun with the sound - she was certain she had never heard anything louder in her life. “Sarah!” A voice called from the front of the store, James’s voice. “Sarah! Where are you! I need to talk to you!”
She tried to pry her lips apart to cast out a noise, anything at all, but all she could muster was a measly sigh. She felt heavier than before, as if she had regained her substance. Her energy still depleted, she rest helplessly against the bookshelf. Her fingers tapped the ground with a muffled thud, thud, thud. Despite her hopelessness, she heard footsteps approaching. Growing louder and louder still until she found herself staring at a larger pair of beat up brown boots she knew to belong to James.
“Sarah! There you are! Are you okay? You look so pale, let me help you up,” James sunk to the ground next to her, trying to look at her face. She tried to move her head to view him, but failed miserably. Noticing this, he gently placed two fingers under her chin, lifting her eyes to be level with his. She noted, somewhere in the back of her mind, this was the first time he had ever touched her.
With this touch, she breathed in deeply for the first time in what felt like hours. Her blood rushed heavily through her veins, warming her skin with color. She looked at James, grateful for his being here. But that left one unanswered question - why was he here?
She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. “Have you noticed the shadows?” She looked obviously puzzled, so he repeated, “Sarah, please tell me, have you noticed the shadows?”
She shook her head, that was the best she could do. James’s eyes widened in a way she had never seen before. For once, his confident demeanor fell away; he looked scared. “The shadows. They’re everywhere. And there are no people. You saw that this morning. You were the only one on the streets - the only one anywhere!”
Sarah felt his urgency and thought back to the streets she walked on earlier that day. The shadows? Did she notice any shadows? She thought of the large splotches of missing light which she attributed to clouds or birds or tree branches. Is that what he meant? She shook her head again.
“James.” Her voice was new and not quite whole. “What are you talking about?”
He looked around sporadically before his eyes landed back on her. “Let me show you.” His confidence remustered, he held out his hand for her to take. She grabbed it, feeling more whole than she had that entire day. She finally felt strong enough to rise, with the caveat of James’s constant support. “Hey, no worries, I got you, okay?” He smiled at her, his thousand dollar smile, and she trusted him.
Together, hand in hand, they walked to the store front. In front of the large window overlooking the quiet city street, she looked for what James was talking about. For the shadows. “James, I don’t-”
“Shh. Look.” He pointed to the right of a brightly painted fire hydrant. “With the way the sun is coming in there should only be a shadow to the left of it. But look to the right. There’s one, too.”
“Well, I mean-”
He cut her off. “Look over there. No tree, no cloud, no bird. Why is there a shadow?”
She looked at the spot he was pointing at. It was true. There was a shadow where there shouldn’t be. She felt a chill run through her. She saw it again. And again. Shadows, everywhere. All across the sidewalk, the road. She looked up at James, his big brown eyes looking back at her. For a second, she felt nervous that he, too, could be a shadow. But there he stood warm and solid and unrelentless.
“What are they?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” He squeezed her hand, reminding her he was still there. “But it’s going to be okay.” She trusted him. She took a moment to really look at James. There he was, the barista she knew for almost 3 years, right next to her, holding her hand, a bond she barely knew was there tying them together. She thought of her perfect mornings at the coffee shop. How her days dragged besides those thirty moments of bliss to start her day. She thought of how his hair was catching the sunlight through the window. How the brown tinted gold when the light hit. Wait, now it’s just brown. That’s funny.
She looked at the ground outside. A shadow. James saw, too. She looked back up, catching James’s eye. He whispered, “Back away. Slowly.”
“What, why slowly?” She whispered back.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve seen it in movies?”
She suppressed a giggle. She noticed the shadow grow. Soon, there was a wall outside her window. She felt the weight of a bookcase against her back. Her and James came to a halt at the historic non-fiction.
“Can they get in?” She asked.
He looked at the ground. “Only if you let them in.” He looked back up at her, his confidence wavering. She glimpsed at the ground, afraid. Her worst fears were confirmed. There, on the left most edge of James’s boot, was a shadow. He tried to move his leg out of the darkness, but it didn’t let him. It was stuck there.
“What do we do now?” She asked, as quiet as she could.
He took a deep breath. He looked her square in the eye this time. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next.” His eyes were filling with tears as he spoke. One fell to the ground. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And because of that, I have to tell you something.”
“James, I don’t-”
“No.” He shook his head, adamant. “No. Let me say this. Sarah Harper, you came into my coffee shop every morning for the past three years. You spent almost two-thousand dollars on our talks. And I feel like I haven’t paid my fair share, so here goes.” He took a deep breath, avoiding the shadow creeping across his boot. “You have made every day these past three years worth waking up for. Seeing your smile as you walked through the door made it all worth it. I can’t tell you how much you mean to me because I don’t know if I know it myself. But I know one thing for certain, there’s something so, so special about you.” The shadow’s stretch was nearly complete. He spoke faster. “Sarah, I love you. Please, before I don’t know what happens can we-”
She kissed him. Gently, it’s what he deserved. The shadow finished engulfing James as she moved away from James’s touch. Their hands still entwined, he tried to move away, but she didn’t let him.
“Sarah let go. It’s going to get you, too.”
“So? You’re fine. Besides, I’d rather go into this with you than go in alone.”
He squeezed her hand in understanding. She risked a look at the floor. The shadow grew evermore closer to her, but she knew it was too late. She couldn’t leave James.
“Hey, I think we should maybe sit.” James said. His standard rosiness had been replaced with a newfound flush. Sarah felt dread in the pit of her stomach, but obliged for James’s sake.
They sat. James in his shadow. Sarah in the light. She moved closer to James, shadow be damned. He wrapped an arm slowly around her, holding her close. She could tell he was growing weaker by the second. She was, too.
“I love you, too, if it matters.” She said to James. He smiled, looking down at her beaming face. A beacon of light in this world of shadow. “Which I still think it does.”
“It does.” He whispered. He kissed the top of her head with his last bit of energy. In minutes this is what would happen to her, too. She would begin to lose her strength, her voice, herself. Right now, though, all she could think about was losing James.
“I think I knew I loved you as soon as I walked in your door.” She contemplated, hoping to keep his attention for as long as she could. “You looked like an adonis. I would know, I was studying Grecian history at the time.” She could tell he was smiling, so she went on. “And you asked me, ‘Can I get you started with your favorite drink?’ and I said, ‘Uh, yeah, sure, if you know it’ Like an idiot!” He laughed as well as he could. “But you played it off so cool. You just smiled and said, ‘Mysterious. I like it.’ Then you turned around and made me the best latte I’d ever had in my life.” She looked up at him. He was still fading, but at least he was smiling now.
“I thought you were beautiful,” He whispered, stupid smile still plastered across his face. The arm that weighed on her shoulder began to lighten. She didn’t know how much time she had left. “I still do.” He said, quieter still.
“James.” She whispered, matching him. “What’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know.” He said. “But it’s going to be okay.” He smiled at her as if he were fully convinced. It was going to be okay.
He began to drift further and further into the shadows. His grip lightening into non existence. Sarah would’ve cried if she hadn’t been so weak. In place of James there sit only an empty shadow. Sarah watched herself fade. The strength she had with James now diminished to only a thread of hope that she would see him again. She didn’t how or where or when. But she felt him next to her. Even now when her touch had all but gone, she felt him. She felt his light, his love. Sitting next to her. It was all she had left. She, too, faded, as the rest faded. And then there was quiet. Pure, deafening quiet for no one to hear.