There were no sounds to be heard around but their breaths, one was faster than the other- a sign of anxiety. The rain has finally stopped, though a bit drenched; both John and Claire didn’t mind the coldness, for the spaces had been cold between them for a long time now, even before they finally decided to talk- for the last time.
John and Claire had been together for seven years now and as most relationships go, they’ve went to the different stages, like a roller coaster with its ups and downs and different diameters of loops where they felt too much- too much agony or too much joy that no words can ever describe.
But this time; this was the final bit of their downfall and the very beginning of that stage called ‘The Break Up’.
John cleared his throat and removed his gaze from the cloud that was uncovering the sky, revealing the beautiful constellation of stars that he and Claire used to look up to, whenever they’d decide to have an evening out- here in this beach; looking over the night lights of Bristol on the other side of the beach where the pubs and casinos are.
“It’s going to be sunny tomorrow” he started and then shifted his eyes to look at Claire. She was caught wiping a streak of a tear on her cheek.
“Please don’t cry” John said and gave her shoulder a little squeeze
“I thought forever was real” Claire forced a little laugh, “But I guess- it’s all cliché when you’re in love right?” she turned to John
“Claire “, John whispered. Claire wasn’t used to John calling her by her name, it had always been ‘love’ or ‘darl’, his shortened term for darling, or the usual ‘babe’. “None of this was your fault. It’s just that- people fall out of love in the same unexpected way they fall in love.”
Claire didn’t answer; she just shifted her eyes back at the sky to stare at the stars instead. She knew she was just going to cry a bit more if she keeps on staring into the eyes of the person she once loved- and never stopped loving, even until this very moment when they both are aware that it’s going to end.
“We both tried, Claire” John continued, “I know you yourself did the best you can but we both fell short and failed. And I’m so sorry this has to happen- but, Claire, it’s not working out anymore and if we continue this- we’ll only end up”
“Hurting each other” Claire finished, “I know. I know that John. And you know what else?” she forced a smile and by doing so letting a tear escape from the corner of her eye, “I love you so much that I respect your every decision- even if it hurts so fuckin’ bad”
“Claire, please” John said and attempted to catch the tears that are now like stampedes running across Claire’s cheeks.
“It’s okay” she said putting a hand in front of her to stop John from coming closer. “I’m sorry” she sniffed, “So- I guess this is goodbye then, eh John?” she asked, forcing a smile as she looks right to his eyes.
John nodded, “I’ll never forget us, Claire” John whispered as he pulled Claire to give her one last hug. A hug given to people you love, a hug that tightens with each breath of agony hoping that one doesn’t let go.
“After tonight, I won’t bother you anymore- I guess it should be easier that way” John told Claire, not letting go of her yet.
“I guess so. And I think I should get out of your way too, but I’ll always remember you” Claire whispered forcing herself not to cry. “By tomorrow- it will be as if I never existed” she let go and again forced another smile and ran off.
John stood there feeling the emptiness after Claire had finally let go. He can still feel where Claire had been in his arms and her warmth was leaving him, the cold wind replacing. He fell on the sand, he was finally alone- he decided to let himself cry.
John moved the usual the next morning; ate toast, drank his tea and went to college, hoping that even after his break up with Claire last night, he would still see her under the tree in the school yard, reading a book or smoking if only if it feels too cold, hoping that he can start a conversation and start just being friends with her again and nothing more, for he himself knows that he’s not ready to just act like nothing ever happened between them, even if that was a long time ago and just ended last night. He hoped to see her, but he didn’t.
He thought maybe Claire had decided to call sick for the day, not being able to handle how things went yet. John usually worries a lot when he knows that Claire wasn’t feeling okay, he know he will always care about her. So after their first subject, he met with her friends in the cafeteria.
“Hey- have you seen Claire around?” he asked a tall, skinny blonde who was chatting with other girls. She just looked at him confused.
“Excuse me, who?”
“Claire, my girlfriend- I mean, we’re not together anymore but- have you seen her?”
“I’m sorry- I don’t know who you’re talking about” she said and went back to chatting with her friends.
What? John thought. “You’re her friends, right? You go to Psychology class together” he insisted
“I’m sorry but we don’t know who you’re talking about” the other girl said. All of them were looking at him as if he was something disgusting.
“Is this this some kind of joke? Did you guys have a fight or something?”
“How many times do we have to tell you we don’t know anyone named Claire?” the blonde said, “Go look for your imaginary girlfriend somewhere else, wanker!” the blonde said and stood up, walking out the cafeteria with the other girls behind her.
What the fuck? John thought.
“Hey man, what the fuck was that about?” his friend Louis asked, putting an arm over his shoulder.
“Nothing- just blondes being blondes” John said, “I think they had a fight with Claire, so”
“And who- is Claire, by the way?” Louis looked at him confused.
“Fuck you, Louis” John blurted. He couldn’t believe his best friend was playing with him too. He shrugged his arm and walked out.
“I don’t get you man!” Louis shouted over to John across the cafeteria. John replied with a dirty finger.
John felt weird that day. He knew there was something wrong happening and his best friend, Louis was making a joke out of his breakup with Claire.
Maybe he’s just being a nice friend, not wanting to remind me about her. He thought.
He met with Louis by the school gate and apologized. “Sorry man, I was upset earlier”
“Nah- I don’t mind that. How’re ye feeling?” Louis asked, patting his back.
“I wanna see her” John said
“And who is this you want to see?” Louis asked with a sound of mockery, “You never introduced me to any lads yet”
“Shut up” John laughed and slapped Louis’ forehead
“Hey!” Louis cried and laughed too, “So- who is she that you want to see then? Is this the Claire you were in trouble for earlier?” he sneered.
“Stop playing, man” John rolled his eyes. But he saw Louis’ confusion.
“Seriously man, you’ve been acting weird the whole day and who is this Claire?” Louis asked.
“By tomorrow- it will be as if I never existed” Claire’s words seemed to have echoed on his head, giving him chills down his spine.
“Nice try, asshole- just come with me” John shrugged and ignored the voice in his head and pulled Louis along with him going to Claire’s house.
“And where are you taking me exactly?” Louis asked, still worriedly confused about his best friend.
“Shut up” John ignored Louis and continued walking until they reached Claire’s house. He knocked and waited.
“And who are we looking for?” Louis asked again, bothered this time.
Before John could even answer or slap Louis’ forehead, someone answered got the door.
“Yes, may I help you?” Mrs. Evans, Claire’s mother as John have known, asked politely but she seem to look like she doesn’t know the people at her door.
“Hi Mrs. Evans, is Claire here? I need to talk to her” John smiled politely.
“I’m sorry? Yes, I am Mrs. Evans and frankly, I don’t know how you know about that, but there’s no one named Claire in this house, so if you’ll excuse me” she said as she closed the door.
“What?” John blurted and knocked again.
“Yes?” Mrs. Evans asked as she opened the door again
“I’m sorry, I broke up with her but please let me talk to her- please” John begged.
“I told you, young man, whoever you are- that there’s no one named Claire that lives in this house” Mrs. Evans explained again, her voice higher this time.
“Did she run away? Did you have a fight? Where- where can I find her?” John asked.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about. And I never knew anyone named Claire, how many times do I have to tell you- now, if you don’t get off my step, I’ll be calling the police” she said firmly.
John stopped. He can feel Louis pulling him to and went with him.
“What the hell, man? What’s happening to you?” Louis asked, “First the chicks in the cafeteria, now an old woman? And who is Claire- you’ve been mentioning her since this morning”
“By tomorrow- it will be as if I never existed” He heard her voice again and felt shivers. He looked at Louis and he knew that he was being honest. This is not happening. He thought.
“This is not happening” he said.
“What’s happening?” Louis asked but he saw John running back to the way to college.
He went to the tree where he first walked up to her, where Claire usually sits and looked for their initials that they both carved but didn’t find it.
Louis caught up with him, “John- what are you looking for? I’m getting bothered, man”
John walked up to Louis, “You seriously don’t know her? You don’t know who Claire is?”
Louis shook his head sideways, “I don’t know her, man. And I’m worried about you. Maybe you’re just huffed up- the A level test’s coming. Maybe you just need some rest. And whoever this Claire is- no one knows her” Louis tried to explain, his face a worried.
“She’s real! So shut up! Or if she isn’t real then this might probably be a dream and I’ll be waking up soon and see her- so shut up!” John yelled and head back running towards his house and into his room.
He locked himself up and got a shoebox from under his bed. It was full of letters and pictures with him and Claire but as he opens each one and looks at the pictures, one by one, the letters faded and likewise, her images.
“By tomorrow- it will be as if I never existed” He heard her voice again.
“No! This isn’t real! You’re real- you can’t be gone! You can’t!” and fell to his bed crying until he felt tired and fell asleep.
The next morning he did his same routine, this time, his parents didn’t have work so they joined him for breakfast. He felt better- he knew yesterday was just a bad dream.
“Louis called last night” his mom announced as she forked her pancakes.
“Yeah? What did he want?” he asked.
“He just asked if you’re okay, he said- you were anxious, is there anything wrong, hun?” his mother asked as his father put down the paper he was reading a while ago and looked sternly at him.
I’m pretty sure yesterday was just a bad dream, John thought, “Nothing’s wrong, mum” he smiled and forced himself to believe that yesterday was really just a bad dream.
“Well, I asked him what you were anxious about and he said it was about a girl named Claire, you never mentioned anyone to us- so, who is she?” his mom looked at his dad and both looked at him worried.
“This isn’t happening” John said and got up from his chair. Of all people, his parents should know her- for seven years she visited and sometimes has dinner with them. They can’t forget her, but why?
He didn’t go to class that day and they found him by the beach, crying and whispering for Claire to comeback.
For weeks, they have been convincing him that she isn’t real. And that no one knows anyone named Claire Evan’s in Bristol except for the old lady that manages the coin laundry near the local café but John keeps on insisting that she is real.
People began to see John as a lunatic man looking for the imaginary girlfriend he’s lost and they slowly began to avoid him, but his best friend Louis stayed, he couldn’t leave him, he knew that John needs a friend even though he couldn’t understand him, so he stayed there, even with the silence around and the mystery of the situation. He was also the one who suggested to John’s parents that he see a shrink and they gladly took the suggestion. Hoping things will be better soon.
“Tell me your name, your age and whatever else about you” the psychiatrist asked John while he was lying down on a gurney with wires attached to him and certain machines. The psychiatrist takes notes of what she observes from the machines around the room.
“My name is John Duke. I’m twenty. I was born on the twenty first of October in 1992. My father and mother are Jonathan and Lisa Duke and I’m a college student”
“John, do you know why you’re here?” the psychiatrist asked.
John laughed a bit, “People thinks I’m crazy because I know someone they don’t and I know some things they don’t and that these things happened to me but none of them can remember”
“And what are these?”
“I have a girlfriend- an ex, named Claire. We were together for seven years until we broke up three weeks ago and everyone’s saying they never knew her even if I try to tell them what happened all those seven years” he said, “And I don’t think any of these are real if that’s the case- because I know, she is what’s real. I mean- it’s impossible to have just dreamed about something that’s seven years long with all the people around you involved in your life as well as with hers”
“Actually, John- time is vaster in dreams, it stretches longer- a second can be an hour, five minutes can be a day and an hour can be a week, so, if we sleep for about eight hours- it can actually sometimes feel like months. How long more could it have been for those who wake up from a comma?” she laughed lightly.
“So I guess this maybe a dream” John laughed, still lying down with his eyes closed. The psychiatrist didn’t answer, instead asked some more.
“So tell me about this Claire you’re talking about”
“Well, I met her on our first day in college. Unlike the other students who was walking around and making friends, she was just there sitting under a tree, reading a book. She was a mystery and I often see her there and I though she can use a friend so I went up and talk to her. We became friends and she was my best-est friend and I was hers and we fell in love and got together in an unexpected time. The story was pretty funny;
“My mates and I decided to go camping and I took her with us, while the others was preparing the camp, we just had a mad idea of walking around the forest and then we got lost she said she wasn’t scared because I was with her and she knows she’ll be safe with me. I was making fun of being lost forever and she said it was okay, ‘With you, wherever- we can just get lost forever but together’ that’s what she said and I thought it was pretty cute and that’s it, we found the camp back together and really together” he laughed followed by a sob but he stopped himself from crying. He didn’t want to be seen as weak.
“What are your regrets, John?” the psychiatrist asked
“Letting things end, I guess. No, I’m sure. I realized, forever can be possible if one doesn’t give up. If you just try hard enough every day. I wish I didn’t give up. I wish we never ended things- I know I could’ve tried harder but I didn’t, I got tired of the usual coldness, of our usual routine that I gave up. And I wish I didn’t.”
“You know, things can still work. But since, she isn’t real- it can work for other girls out there. You just have to let go of this” the psychiatrist said.
“But she is real. I know. It’s not only my mind that tells me, that reminds me of her- but my heart and my body. I can still feel where her hands have been in mine. How she feels like when I hug her tight and every time I close my eyes, I see her curly brunette hair flowing in the wind, her innocent smile and I can hear how she sometimes laugh like she has hiccups or how I calm down when I hear her sing and how she smells like tulips. I know she’s real. And that’s what I believe.” John said firmly.
The psychiatrist walked up to him and touched his hand. He opened his eyes to look at her. Her grey eyes looking through her glasses over to John and her black hair tied into a bun.
She shook her head sideways in disapproval, “So what do you want to do now?” she asked.
John closed his eyes again, “Wake up and do better”.
All the machines sounded and beeped wildly and then they all stopped at the same time.
He hears another kind of beeping, a familiar sound.