Crystal Cierlak Parker

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She moved with the graceful precision of an athlete, determination in every step she took towards the edge. It hadn’t taken long for him to realize that her resolve had more to do with finality than with sight-seeing. There was a melancholy to her cadence, as though she knew the fate before her and with each step she came to accept it. It was not in his nature to understand why someone would have any reason to die.

She first caught his eye at the harbor, the way she watched people with a curiosity similar to his own. He observed. She studied. What was she looking for? He spent a great deal of time observing people, a practice he became quite skilled at, and found that for the most part people were easy to read. Many of those he observed over time kept their insecurities plainly visible, their faces and body language betraying their innermost thoughts. Perhaps that was why he noticed her more than anyone else.

She carried herself with a self-possession unlike anyone he’d ever observed. She gave little away. Her dark, almond-shaped eyes seemed almost too big for her face while her mouth, pink with sharp lines, puckered imperceptibly as she observed those around her. It hadn’t been until he sat unnoticed next to her on the boat that he realized she looked like she didn’t belong. Her face had the seemingly rare quality of being both stunning and unassuming, and he figured she was unaware of the effect it had on others. He often observed how men were affected by beautiful women. Many were intimidated and merely watched from afar while few others had the nerve to approach the object of their desire. Not him. He had sat next to her easily, wanting to do nothing more than be a part of her existence.

It was the way she sat with her hands clasped peacefully in her lap, perfectly still with her too-big brown eyes burning into the horizon of the Pacific that prompted him to speak to her. Her initial irritation surprised him, and though she quickly recovered and was as polite as any stranger could be, it was that first response that intrigued him the most. She was in her own world and he had interrupted, brought her out of her thoughts and placed himself into a small pocket of her existence. When she touched him it was firm and resolute without being tough. Everything about her, from the way she spoke to the strained smiles she pushed into her cheeks, intrigued him. Everyone else was so plain and regular it was no wonder they couldn’t see her; he could see what the others clearly could not.

He followed her, unseen. She climbed the trail slowly, expertly finding her footing along the incline of the dirt trail, shifting the weight of her backpack every so often. Gone was the melancholy, replaced with resolved determination as she climbed towards Potato Harbor. He arrived at the top shortly after she had and for the first time his attention diverted, stolen by the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. He’d been to and seen many places, all manner of grandness and beauty, but it was that spot, tempered with Anne’s graceful stance, that he deemed to be the most beautiful.

He watched curiously for what seemed like hours as she stood still, ensconced at the edge of the cliff like a statue untouched by time. He thought back to where he came from, his own home tethered to this life. He thought of the people who lived around him, those he engaged in conversation with, those he smiled and laughed with, and he could not recall one that compared to his brief exchange with Anne. The idea that her beautiful face and keen attention was concentrated only on him was exciting. She couldn’t possibly tell the difference between the truth and fiction in his plans, or have known that he was there on that boat for a decidedly different purpose. And yet, much to his surprise, she had changed the course of his day.

His mood descended from the light as he watched her take that first step backwards, followed by a second and a third. For a moment he stood dumbstruck, waiting and hoping the conclusion he’d immediately jumped to was false. He had seen in her an unspoken desire to irrevocably change her life, but in the moments of watching her in secret at the foot of the cliff he had forgotten them. It became blindingly obvious that she was having her final moments, her last steps, and he knew that she could not end that way.

Evan’s instincts gnawed him from the inside as he watched her feet move forward instead of backwards, carrying her with increasing speed over the final few feet of the cliff. There was no time to consider the consequences of his actions. She used the force of her motion to launch herself over the edge of the cliff until she was high above the ocean. Her arms stretched out to her arched back, and with her face turned up to the sky she was floating as if suspended in time. Gravity pulled her half the distance between the edge of the cliff to the crest of the water, and without full consideration of what he was about to do, Evan followed her, his own strength and speed propelling him close enough to grab her so that she was tandem in his arms. Seconds later his feet touched the grainy sand of the beach shore and her body fell limp in his arms, her head hanging back in unconsciousness so that her neck stretched out unnaturally from her torso.

He breathed in relief. She was not dead.