“I heard you were back in town,” she says as she closes the car door and steps into the light streaming from the overhead streetlamps. The tiny parking lot is empty apart from his car, parked several lanes away from hers. “What’re you doing here?”

He turns his head from his sprawled position on the back of his car to look at her, the cigarette glowing as it illuminates the smoke encircling his head.

“What’s it look like?” he snaps at her, an unfamiliar edge in his voice. She notices the irony in the words printed on the front of his T-shirt. The blocked white letters and accompanying picture are visible through the riddled darkness: a hand-drawn image of a cigarette covered by a massive X laced with the letters “Not A Cool Way To Die.”

“Care to explain?” she asks, gesturing at his shirt. He looks down, only to be suddenly smacked in the face by the irony.

“Wow,” he murmurs. “Didn’t plan that one.” Apathy resumes its hold on his brain as he leans back once more and stares at the starry sky, the cigarette still clenched between his teeth. With hands in her sweatshirt pockets, the girl also stares skyward.

“How was your trip?”

“Alright,” he responds dryly, clearly uncomfortable discussing his pilgrimage with her.

“Where’d you go?” she inquires, stepping around his blatant signals of annoyance and discomfort.

“Looking for something that wasn’t there.” His words echo across the lot for a moment as he takes a long drag on his cigarette. “What are you doing here?” he finally implores, without surrendering in his staring contest with the Big Dipper.

“I was looking for you.” She stares down at the pavement. “I’ve been driving by every night, hoping I’d eventually find you here.”

He sits up and looks at her as an ambulance’s siren sounds in the distance.

“And what sort of divine premonition told you I’d be here?”

Her answer doesn’t hesitate. “I mean, after you and I — ”

“This was one of my favorite spots to think before I brought you here,” he cuts her off as he takes a final drag on the cigarette between his lips and flings the dying butt into the darkness swirling at his feet. He pulls a cardboard carton and a lighter from his pocket, lights another cigarette, and glances at her. She looks hurt, but manages to cast it aside. Taking a few steps forward, she hops up onto the elevated trunk of the car, sitting next to him. Without a word, she steals the cigarette from between his fingers as it’s in transit to his lips. She takes a long drag, letting the smoke roll past her tongue, and into her lungs before releasing it into the night sky like an offering to Heaven.

“When did you start smoking?” she asks, placing the fag between her lips as he pulls yet another and lights it for himself. The questions hits him and a moment passes before he responds.

“My dad died today.”

The words are simple, yet their weight hangs in the air for a moment. She turns to look at him, watching his face bask in the white light from the streetlights hovering above their heads. He takes a drag and the tip of the cigarette illuminates his sorrow as he prepares to speak.

“He quit smoking the day I was born. And I bought my first pack the day he died. I just sorta liked the irony in that I guess. The idea that for a little while, while we shared a stretch of time together, we were clean.”

The silence resumes its place between them as he angles his head towards the heavens once more. She continues to watch him, trying to formulate some response to his numbly delivered sentiment.

“I’m sorry,” she manages to mumble through the cigarette in her mouth. He turns his head back towards the sky as she stares down the pavement, looking to the small dose of tobacco perched between her lips for inspiration.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he finally says quietly, trying not to break the silence between them.

“What do you mean?” she asks, taking the fag from her mouth, the smoke clouding her face.

“What are you doing here?” He inquires, once again breaking his staring contest with the stars to look upon her face, glowing the in the dim light.

“What are you doing here?” she fires back at him in an attempt to dodge his question.

“Breathing.”

She thinks on this for a moment, carefully arranging her words as she puffs once more on the rolled tobacco resting between her fingertips. The siren in the distance grows slightly louder. A few simple words and some mumbling finally manage to stumble from her mouth before any coherent response presents itself.

“Are you still in love with me?” she finally offers, shattering the silence between them.

“Stop,” he says, attempting to redirect the conversation from the course she’s chosen to follow.

“You asked what I was doing here, and I’m telling you,” she retorts, frustrated by his quit dismissal of the excuse for her presence. “I wanted to see you. You know, try this again…”

“Don’t.”

Silence resumes its place between them. Her dissatisfaction with his single word responses is apparent in the defeated expression on her face. His thoughts race quickly as he attempts to conjure some sort of excuse.

“I’ve been reading a lot lately,” he finally says softly, afraid to damage the quiet between them. “There was this one book, I forget what it’s called, but there was this whole concept where every time you replay a memory in your head, every time you remember something, you’re actually slowly destroying that memory. And after remembering something so many times, eventually, it just isn’t there anymore. All that’s left is what you think you remember.”

She sits and listens patiently, waiting for an opportunity to respond, as the siren grows louder. She can tell he’s clearly drained, ravaged and worn by the emotional stress he’s under.

“All I’m saying,” he continues, “is maybe everything you’re remembering about you and I, maybe it’s only what you think you remember. Maybe, just maybe, all the sunshine and happiness and all the good shit you remember never actually happened.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she retorts, choosing to ignore his attempt at logic. “I just don’t understand why you won’t try again.”

“Because I’ve finally accepted there are some things that just aren’t worth saving,” he says quietly.

“In that case, make sure you remember to forget me.”

Her words sail through the air, sharped by the anger in her voice. She turns and storms to her car, leaving the lot one last time, in a complete and final silence.

He stares after her fading taillights for a minute. Her car pauses at the lot’s exit, as a wailing ambulance speeds by, before she hits the acceleration and disappears into the darkness. His brain registers pain for a brief moment as he takes a final drag on the cigarette and whispers a reply to her unanswered question, an answer never to fall upon her ears.

“Yes.”

joshua chamberlain is a writer and artist based in los angeles.