The sound of slamming doors woke me around three in the morning. Hushed voices followed, like ghosts caught in the wind. The red numbers on my clock glowed harshly in the darkness and the sun was still asleep. I'd never seen the ocean so maddened as it was that night. Save for the restless activity beyond my house, the only other noises were what made the ocean the mystery it was: sad bird songs, left for early morning ears, lapping waves that could have tipped over any small boat, and far off thunder and lightning duos blanketing the ocean sky.
"Mom," I heard her voice and instantly sat up, alert. Though my window was only partially opened, I heard Lexy as clear as if she were right beside me.
I scrambled to my feet and threw my bedroom door open. My parents' soft snores came from their room down the hall, past the two guest rooms, and my bathroom. Boxes still lined the walls, waiting to be unpacked. I walked on the tips of my toes down the winding staircase, raced through the foyer, and escaped into the surprisingly cool night. My breath came out in soft puffs in front of me from the cold front coming in with the storm.
Lexy stood watching her dad hoist her mom into the SUV, while Elena clutched her waist with her face buried in the sweater that she wore. I knew the scene was extremely private. This is what Lexy was so timid about. This is why she pushed everyone away.
"Lexy," I called from my front step before rushing over to her. She turned and surprise registered on her face.
"Is she okay?"
She looked down at Elena and passed a shaking hand through her thick, dark hair. Aloud she said, "We don't know," but she mouthed soon-after, "No."
My shoulders sagged and I understood. This moment could make or break Lexy's world. She'd barely told me how important her relationship with her mother was, but I caught glimpses of it in the stories she told about their fun moments when she was a kid, or most importantly, when she chose her mom over everyone else.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
She shuddered and Elena burrowed deeper into her sisters hug. Lexy looked down and closed her eyes. Only hours before, she had smiled and laughed and held my hand. But now, she looked like someone else.
She looked lost.
The SUV door slammed and I caught sight of Lexy's mother resting against the passenger seat. Her blond hair consisted of thin curls and she was pale. Even from here, I could tell she was asleep. Her dad, a tall man with grey bags under his eyes and a thin mouth that barely resembled Lexy, appeared and gave me a tired look of surprise.
"This is Logan, dad," Lexy muttered, not letting go of Elena.
"Hello Logan," his voice was laced with a Spanish accent and was thicker than I anticipated. "I'm afraid you've caught us at a bad time."
"I'm sorry, sir," I said, not knowing what else to do. I stood apart from the small family, my hands clenching into fists nervously. I was scared for Lexy, for what she was surely going through, even if she smiled and laughed later on.
Mostly however, at the risk of sounding selfish, I was scared for myself. What would I do if Lexy was suddenly gone? Not in the physical sense, but in the emotional sense? What if she never smiled again? What if she never laughed, joked, let moments pass full of comfortable silence, after tonight? What if she never let me in again, shutting herself off from everyone, including me?
What if, what if, what if...
So many, my brain hurt. But not nearly as much as my heart. It ached, yearned, craved in such a way that Ashley, her beautiful face once etched so finely into my mind, was slowly disappearing. The lack of messages and contact from her didn't help. But even so, I was under Lexy's spell.
Mr. Hernandez nodded and hung his head as he entered the car, waiting for his girls to get in. I was still, waiting for Lexy to react. The sky, already dark from the shadow of night, clouded over even more as the storm danced over the horizon and the beach. It was surreal how the neighborhood was so quiet when so much was happening here. While life and death battled over one woman I had yet to meet, neighbors dreamed about their fantasies and their fears.
"We have to go," Lexy whispered, more to Elena than me.
Elena shook her head, wisps of dark hair escaping her loose ponytail.
"El, she needs us."
The young girl pulled herself free from her sister and slowly walked towards the backseat door closest to her. We both watched her young, defeated form, her footsteps barely audible.
The wind began to howl and I could hear the crashing waves' increased intensity on the beach. My loose shirt whipped around me, cool breaths of air caressing my torso.
Lexy looked at me and I met her eyes. They were red and though she wore a sweater, she shivered. The weeds in our yard tickled my toes and I stepped closer to her until my flip-flops slapped on the pavement of her driveway. I stopped just in front of her and reached out a tentative hand.
She didn't take her eyes off mine.
When my hand touched her shoulder, Lexy sighed, like Atlas had passed on his job to her. I felt the weight she carried and I offered her my company. I wanted to, I was telling her, I wanted to hold a half of what she carried. I would do anything to save her from leaving.
I wrapped my hand quickly, but gently, around her neck and pulled her to me. Her body was fragile in my arms as she sobbed and sobbed into my shoulder. I closed my eyes and let her scent invade my nose. I wanted her as close as possible, her heart beating to the same rhythm as mine.
"Alexis," her dad warned.
Then, just as quickly as it had happened, the moment was gone. She pulled back and pushed her hands against my chest, keeping me at arm's length. Her eyes portrayed confusion, her mouth turned downward. Stray tears ran the length of her soft cheekbones, dripping off her jaw.
"I have to go," she said quietly before turning away from me.
I watched her take several steps toward the car. Her steps were sluggish, haphazard.
"Lexy," I said.
I contemplated my next words, knowing that whatever I chose tonight would forever change my friendship with her. The sky opened and droplets of rain warned the world of what was coming, of the change, the evolution that the Earth would undergo. The waters would rise, the sand would shift, and the world would never be the same again.
"I'm coming," I said, walking forward, grabbing her hand, and pulling her into the car beside me.