The still dark night enveloped us in its somber tranquility. My last words echoed in both our memories, hanging in the air with a bitter resonating aura. She looked down at her shoes and kicked around a cigarette butt. I lit the fresh cigarette she held between her lips and she brushed her hair behind her ears. Her bright green eyes thoughtfully followed the exhaled smoke, searching the abysmal void of the night before us for a response.

Down below at my neighbors’ apartment, the breeze introduced a cheerful yet chillingly solemn symphony of wind chimes. They rang out in the darkness, cutting the silence with their siren song, offering brief respite from the overwhelming tsunami of thoughts roaring in my head. Her smoke wafted in time with the chime’s song, drifting lazily through the leaves and boughs of the trees surrounding my apartment balcony.

Some cars drifted in and out of their assigned spaces in the parking lot below. The drivers of the cars rolling in stepped silently into their dark doorways and slipped with exhausted vigor into deep sleep. Other cars rumbled from the heavy, reverberating thump of high end subwoofers as intoxicated youth shrieked out an excited rebuttal of high pitched laughs and chortles. Drunk also with excited anticipation, they were prepared to heartily embrace whatever adventure the night promised to bring. Young and invincible, they were on their way to test their limits in a world of seemingly limitless possibilities.

I turned my attention away from the world below and back to her. From the darkness, veiled behind a cloud of gray smoke, her emerald eyes pierced through me, past my eyes returning her gaze, down to my every thought and into my very being. They were set ablaze in a shimmering orange glow as she inhaled, again very deeply and steadily, from her cigarette. The weak light illuminated her defined features, pronouncing the tip of her nose and dancing around her soft freckled cheeks. Her lips, pursed around the butt of the cigarette, remained steady and unwavering as she withdrew the butt from her mouth. She didn’t break my gaze as she rolled the cigarette between her thumb and forefinger, smoke pouring from the corners of her red lips.

Here, amidst a world of bustling activity drowned in a void of quiet isolation, we stood. Here I stood with this woman on my balcony, this woman who had inspired me and given me hope when there otherwise was none, with this woman who now responded to my inquiry with a silence so deafening that even the thought of interrupting it left me paralyzed with anxiety. Here we remained in the still unbroken silence, drifting so deep into our own thoughts and reflections that neither of us dared to break free and speak. We puffed at our cigarettes and watched the stars burn brightly above.

The silence stayed as the flames on our cigarettes drifted down to the end and warmed our lips. I opened my mouth and took a breath, prepared to stand up and walk inside, to end the evening without resolution, without satisfaction, prepared let this gnaw at my soul, to spend another sleepless night in wretched agony. She put her hand on my arm and forced me to meet her gaze, emerald eyes shimmering in the dim moonlight.

“Okay,” she said softly.

I held her gaze and nodded my head, prompting her to say more.

“We can get Chinese tonight, and burritos next week.”

I took one last puff of my cigarette, tilted my head back and released a cloud of smoke into the dark evening sky above us before stamping it out into the ashtray at our feet.

“I’ll go get my keys,” I replied, then kissed her freckled cheek and walked inside.

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