Before she left, she took every opportunity to see him. Not just look at him, but she sought to study him.
On the nights when she would sleep in his bed, which became more frequent as the date on which they would be separated for eight uncertain months crept closer, she tried to memorize him. The few small, brown freckles that spotted his forehead near his hairline. The shape his lips made when they became slightly parted as he fell deeper into sleep. Where his facial hair was able to grow freely and where genetics or hormones stifled the stubble he so wished to grow.
She loved that he didn’t know she looked at him like this. She wasn’t embarrassed that she took advantage of him like this; she just knew that he would never let her look at him like this, so uninterrupted and for no other purpose than just looking, in the daylight. He wouldn’t have thought there was anything to look at.
Sometimes when they would both be trying to slip into sleep, she would open her eyes and catch him looking at her. That made her feel happy and loved, but she didn’t think he studied her like she did him. After all, she was the one leaving.
In these moments she realized how much she loved this boy lying next to her. It was almost as if the innocence and heat that radiated from his body while he slept acted as a cleansing agent for every other passing thought and judgment and worry that ordinarily flooded her head at this time of night. All she could think about in that bed was how much she loved this boy. How much she never wanted to be without him. How much she wished she could stay lying there, looking at him, forever.
Yet, she left. And when she came back, his freckles and lips and facial hair were the same, but he didn’t love her anymore.