Kristy Williams let out a long sigh, stretching her neck for several seconds to try to get rid of the crick that was tormenting her. Then she got up and walked away from the three guys, who were watching a video on Chad’s phone and laughing. The kids she’d seen earlier were still playing, now having switched their Frisbee for a rubber ball, deriving an almost impossible amount of pleasure from the simple activity of lobbing the spherical object, attempting to catch it, failing, and rushing to retrieve it, only to repeat it all again.
An empty bench seemed to present itself for her to sit on, opposite the kids and overlooking the gentle slopes, the manmade lake with the square stepping stones, and the winding exercise trail that curved out of sight. As if out nowhere, Kristy felt hit by an inundating wave of futility, suddenly so very acutely aware of how the cycle of life was so inherently cyclical in nature from the moment someone came into existence, up until when they lay on their deathbed. Whether it was just at looking at the grand scheme of things—being born and dying, on repeat endlessly—or down at the everyday, mundane level where people ate, got hungry and ate again; did their laundry, then washed the same clothes a week later, it always came down to the same thing: life repeated itself.
“So it goes,” she whispered to herself.
“Indeed,” came Chad’s voice as he bumped shoulders with her. “Vonnegut, huh.”
“Hey, friend,” she replied, turning to look at him. His hands were burrowed deep in his pockets, and he chewed his lower lip, eyes flitting from the romping kids to the general direction where Kristy stood. “How are you?”
“Good. Good. Well, you know, as well as can be expected. You?”
“You know, that’s the sort of question I sometimes have to ask myself,” Kristy said. She stopped for a moment, debating whether or not to clarify on that ambiguous sentence and possibly cause a confrontation between the two of them, or to just leave it at that. It was something she had pondered who knew how many times over the last year, always wondering whether or not to bring it up with Chad, always deciding that putting it off was in the best interest of the both of them. And . . .after all, what was her obsession with defining and even deconstructing everything, down to the their . . . casual relationship. Maybe she could bring it up later. Yes. Later. “Anyways, what’s been up?”
“Oh, you know.” His hands dug deeper into his pockets; it looked to Kristy as if he was trying to burrow into the undiscovered nethers of them. “College. Finals. Two weeks away, and then I’m done with my freshman year. Who’d have thought? So much, so soon.”
She nodded. “It’s like being what I used to call the oldsters when I was in like first grade. They were always reminiscing and talking and just being old people, and I figured that I wouldn’t get there, not ever. But then along came Quador and a whole new realm of worlds, and everything changed. Just like that. Now . . . now I don’t know.” She brushed her hand against Chad’s for emphasis, turning to meet his gaze for the briefest of moments. “I don’t know.” It was as much as she could say without saying it.
“I know, Kristy,” he said. For the first time in what felt like ages, any semblance of the façade or simple evasion Chad had kept up when it came to where the hurt and uncertainty was faded, dropped away as if it never was. He turned his gaze to her, his eyes steady and resolute, staring at her with all the honesty that Kristy believed he was capable of. He squeezed her hand lightly, didn’t let go. “I know you don’t. And I’m sorry, because I’m not sure I do either. But I’d like to think that I can fix this.”
He gestured with his other hand around, a broad, sweeping movement that seemed to signify that, just like it was for her, the not-knowing encompassed something so much grander than either of them. “I will fix it. This. Everything. I promise. But right now, right here . . . on this stone bench in the middle of the town park located in the middle of a country that’s part of a continent that belongs to this planet that’s only part of one of the millions and millions of universes out there that spread out beyond us, can we just . . . I dunno. Be? Just be?”
“Sure, Chad,” Kristy said, squeezing his hand back. “I think I’d like that.”
And so he draped an arm around her shoulder, warm and comforting, and they stared out at the cycle of life playing out before them on the sweeping stage of Earth. And they were. They weren’t family, or lovers, or even really friends right then. They just were.
Eventually, almost reluctantly, Kristy said, “I do have one question, Chad.”
“Can you fix it?” She nearly said this, but realized—perhaps a little selfishly—that that wasn’t the question that needed to be asked, not only because it was more restrictive and exclusive considering the range of emotional problems they both faced, but also if only because she intuitively felt it would ruin their being. “I’m not asking if it’s possible to be fixed, but if you yourself can. Don’t you think that you need . . . well, you know?”
He made a laughing/sighing hybrid noise. “You think I need God. And I’m really trying, Kristy. I really am.”
“I know,” Kristy said, because there wasn’t anything else to say—not out loud, not now—other than that. Because she knew. And she was grateful.