Almost every word is hollow, filling an empty space with a slight buzz that won’t take a minute to dissipate and only expand the nothingness. Every word without truth and authenticity is empty, and people seem to have lost all sense of truth and authenticity. Goodbyes are the worst. Mumbled over phones, across streets, around corners, from doors, by hospital beds, next to caskets. Goodbyes are overused. And yet one can’t help wanting to say a goodbye every now and then.
Julien Ross was a man of few words, young and fresh out of college. He watched his peers walk around with dreams in their pockets but could not find anything similar in his own. He didn’t know what he wanted from life, if anything at all, except for perhaps a few words. Julian had always been a little odd, a little quiet, a little reserved, a little misunderstood. No one ever understood why, it was never as though he spoke enough to tell anyone who was curious enough to ask. It wasn’t as though he would tell anyone anyway. Julien was secretive, with a life planned out for him by a person he swore day in and day out he loved, a person who wouldn’t let him love any other, or even get close enough to another to love them. He didn’t know if he was full of love or absence.
There wasn’t much for Julien to do in the city of Angels, where people followed their fruitless dreams and made connections with the people that crowded the scenes. But Julien stayed, in a town that wasn’t his own, where no one knew him. If no one knew him then he knew no one, he could keep his promise, even if it perhaps was no longer necessary. He wanted to believe it would always be necessary.
He silently seated himself on the armchair, feeling himself sink into it slightly as he placed his leather-clad feet upon the carpet floor and rested his hands stoically upon his knees. He watched the young woman who watched him back from across the oak desk. Her blue eyes were bright and piercing and her black hair only accentuated the fact. But he kept his green eyes blank and dull and murky, as if there was nothing going on behind them. The woman watched them with the sort of analytical look she did many of her patients. People in therapy often didn’t tell her what they needed her to know but she could usually find something by looking into their eyes. But never with Julien. There was a film over his eyes that clouded her view into his thoughts. Superficially it appeared as though there was absolutely nothing going on inside of his head but she knew what he was like on paper: intelligent, quick-thinking, academic. She couldn’t see any of that in his pale face. “Hello Julien,” She shuffled a set of papers in her hands before stapling them carefully together and sliding them neatly to the edge of her desk. “Hello Doctor. Preston,” It was the only thing she ever heard him say, in a soft voice that shook a little with its lack of practice. It was a soft voice, a nice voice, but he wasn’t comfortable with it and she only wished he would let her know why. “How are you today?” She asked civilly, placing her hands on top of the neon pink notebook that sat before her on her desk. His reply was non-verbal but she understood it plenty well, she had learned to after a few sessions. He drummed his fingers softly on the desk and tilted his head to the side. His straight honey-blonde hair fell across his forehead. He swept it away with the hand that wasn’t occupied by the gentle drumming. She noticed a small scab on his index finger. At first she wasn’t sure why he was in the sessions in the first place if he was unwilling to share information, but she lost track of that eventually. It didn’t bother her any longer; Julien Ross was now her challenge - helping him, she felt, would be helping her. “That’s good,” She smiled softly at him, tone even as she continued to study his aristocratic features for any change, any break in his defense. She though, for a brief moment, that she might have found one, as it looked for a moment as if some of the mist in his irises fazed away. But the moment disappeared as quickly as it came and she was left with no way to know whether it was real or a mere moment of optimistic delusion. “So, is there anything that’s been bothering you specifically?” this question she hadn’t yet figured out his repertoire of answers to, hadn’t figured out whether they were even answers at all.
Then suddenly it seemed she didn’t have to.
“How do you say goodbye, Doctor?” His stoic posture didn’t break, but there were a few minor flinches as his disjointed syllables reached her ears. She still couldn’t help but notice how sweet the tone of his voice was, how nice it would sound if only it was more practised. She wasn’t sure whether prying was worth it but she didn’t know how the conversation could progress if she didn’t pry a little further. “Goodbye? To whom?” He breathed deeply, as if in contemplation. Like he was wondering whether speaking was the right thing to do or not. “Yes,” It seemed he decided against everything he had ever done before. She had heard lots about the man who sat before her, but never that he had said more than a few words to every one of the few people he spoke to “I want to say goodbye to the person I love,” “The person you love?” She didn’t wait for a response and he didn’t appear eagre to relinquish one “A girlfriend?” He didn’t open his mouth again, keeping his chapped lips pressed firmly together, with panic in his eyes that he desperately tried to disguise, like he had betrayed himself. Maybe he had betrayed more than just himself. He shook his head softly. “Not a girlfriend?” She mused, more to herself than him. She picked uper her pen and spun it in her slender hand “family, perhaps?” It wasn’t so much a nod as a slight spasm of the neck but it told her all she needed to know. “A parent,” It wasn’t a question.
“Large Mocha for Lillian,” The teenage barista announced as she placed a to-go cup on the chipped countertop. She picked it up and surveyed the popular shop for a place to sit before spotting a familiar face she couldn’t help but feel herself being drawn towards, as though there were some magnetic pull between them. He was negative and she was positive, completely opposite yet fitting perfectly together. After deciding there were no free tables she wove her way towards him. “Can I sit here?” she asked. As expected, Julien didn’t answer. He waved a scarred hand dismissively at the seat across from him. She wondered if he even knew it was her as he picked up his own cup and sipped the hot drink inside of it. She followed suit, feeling somewhat awkward, and regretted it as soon as she felt the scalding sensation wash over her tongue. She watched his eyes flitter upwards as her phone pinged in her pocket. The corner of his mouth twitched and he trained it back into place. It still seemed something inside of him was telling him that displaying any sense of humanity was traitorous. She watched him over her phone as she checked the text, a message from her husband asking her to pick up some milk on her way home. She sent back a simple “of course” and placed the phone screen-down on the table. “Doctor,” the word was so quiet and the space was so loud she wasn't sure if it was real, but still she listened “Will you come with me?” “What? Where to?” “A-” there was tension in his face, in his furrowed brow, sealed lips, clenched jaw and grinding teeth “a resting place.”
The sky was darkening quickly as the cold air danced about them, driving deep into their bones and sending tremors across their skin, as though a minor earthquake was in motion beneath, their muscles tectonic plates. Julien kept walking, long strides that Lillian had to make a concerted effort to keep up with. It was clear he knew where he was going; he seemed confident in himself. She had never seen him confident in anything. He rounded a corner and stopped short of a wrought iron gate. A church loomed a little to the right, little more than a silhouette as it blocked the feeble light of the moon. He stood where he was for a moment, counting the cars that passed by on the road beside them. It was a quiet road at a quiet time, a toddler could have counted them.
He steeled himself before unlatching the gate and stepping foot onto the dew-laden grass on the other side. She followed unsurely. Her husband would have to wait for that milk. He led her past tombstones in his usual silence. But silence in a dark cemetery became eery, it felt like an omen. She wasn't sure if the goosebumps on her arms were from the cold or the fear she tried without much success to squash. “Here,” he stopped in front of a tombstone, relatively new with a few dying flowers cast before it. He crouched down and looked at the grave, his back turned to Lillian. She couldn't tell what he was thinking. So instead she read the stone aloud. “Angelica Ross, 1964-2016, Loved mother, daughter and lover,” she cautiously put her hand on Julien's shoulder and, when he made no attempt to remove it, she spoke as softly as she could, feeling as though it would be wrong to interrupt the stillness of the dead. “You're mother?” He nodded. “She's been dead for two years?” Another nod. “She died fairly young. Why are you only now saying goodbye?”
He turned to look at her with a look akin to panic in his eyes. Then he made a decision, one he was terrified of making. “It was-” he exhaled and tried again “It was an overdose: heroin,” he cast his eyes around, looking for an escape, but didn't try to run “She fell in love far too easily - with far too much - and all the drugs and men did was hurt her but she was too in love to give them up,” he stopped abruptly, falling from his crouched position to his knees. “She told you not to fall in love? So you wouldn't get hurt?” His nod was tentative but it was confirmation “But that has hurt you more. You've tried so hard not to let yourself fall in love I think you’ve barricaded yourself from humanity, reward, satisfaction, happiness. All these things people live for.” He was silent and still. She watched his back for a moment before noticing a single solitary tear fall to the earth. “What has changed Julien? Why say goodbye now?”
He turned to her with red eyes and an lower lip that quivered ever so slightly. His eyes drifted from her to the gate behind her as he heard it close. She turned slightly to see a young man wearing dark clothes with a fresh bouquet of flowers under his arm walking directly towards them. He approached steadily, reaching them quickly. He didn't stop to say hello as he bent down before the grave they were stood at and replaced the withered flowers with the new ones.
Then he stood and gently placed his arm around Julien's waist. Then Julien finally gave her the answer she needed.
“Because I've finally fallen in love,”