"If Only" a short story by Rebakkah Ruffin

Stella was certain about a lot of things, her death being one of them. It was strange to say the least, knowing exactly how and when you were going to die. For some reason, the cold isolation of knowing this wasn’t the reason Stella felt so alone.  Stella was faced with a decision. A decision that, whether she liked it or not would leave her in a state of turmoil or the one that she loved. Astrid was her name. She looked over to see her lover on the other side of the bed, her peaceful sleep taunting Stella, almost like it was laughing at her. Stella turned over and stared at the clock. The numbers illuminating the dark room. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until the 12:00am appeared on the clock and a defeated sigh escaped her lips.  The black mark on her skin saying ‘12 hours’ pulsed. It glowed. It burned.

She knew this would happen.  

She knew this was coming.

There was a small part of Stella that wished time would slow down. That she could do everything over again. But that wouldn’t be fair now would it? Stella ran her fingers through her hair, tears threatening to escape. She didn't let them. Instead, she whispered to Astrid that she loved her. A delicate kiss placed on her cheek before she slipped out of the bed where death awaited her.

***

A few Hours Later

Saying that Stella leaving her girlfriend without saying goodbye was crappy would be the understatement of the year. The girl moved quietly in the silence refusing to let herself take anything of sentimental value. She couldn’t grow attached. Attached meant that she would want to stay behind. Staying behind meant that Astrid would be put into danger.  Stella didn’t put much in her bag, all of her contents consisted of some snacks and her communicator. She paced around for a few seconds, hoping that she could just snap herself out of this. As if it was a horrific dream, a cruel joke that somebody could be playing on her. But that would be foolish. Foolish is what got her into this mess in the first place.

“Hey.” A voice said, startling Stella.

“Astrid,” Stella scrambled and pushed the bag behind her. She stood, creating an awkward pose as she tried to hide the bag. “I didn’t realize you were up.”

“Yeah, I was going to make breakfast,” Astrid gazed over to see what Stella was hiding. Stella quickly shuffled to block her view, which only made the girl more suspicious. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, of course why wouldn’t it be?” Stella said a little too quickly.

“What are you hiding?”

“Nothing.”

“Stella…”

“It’s nothing!”

But Astrid didn’t buy it. She instead walked closer and tried to grab the bag. Stella tried to stop her but to no avail as Astrid was able to snag the bag causing Stella to almost lose her balance.

“What the hell is this?” Astrid held up the bag, she shook it as her hands trembled. “What the hell is this?”

“I-I’m.”

“Are you seriously leaving? You were just going to run off, not even a goodbye?”

“I can’t. I wanted to-. It-” Stella said softly.

“Wow,” Astrid scoffed. “Nothing to say.”

Stella couldn’t. The words were stuck in her throat. She begged herself to say a sentence, a word, a phrase, something. The words didn’t dare to leave her mouth. She was stuck so she raised her hands to her head , completely forgetting about the cursed number that laid on her skin.

“What is that?”

Stella refused to answer. Instead she held out her arm. Astrid walked closer, horrified as to what was happening.

“How long have you known?”

“A while.”

“Define a while.”

“A year. Possibly longer, I don’t know I’ve lost track.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” Astrid said, tears forming in her eyes.

“You think this was easy for me?”

“You should have told me.”

“I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror and tell myself I was dying. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Get real, Stella, you weren’t going to tell me at all. You were going to let me worry, wondering where the hell my girlfriend was just for me to get a call telling me to come pick up your corpse!”

“You don’t understand.”

“Yeah, I don’t. But you’ve made it clear that you don’t want me to.” Astrid threw the bag down, with force, the floorboard creaking in response. “Leave then.”

Stella’s lips quiffered.

“You wanted to leave so bad so go!” Astrid pointed at the door. “Don’t ever come back!”

Stella pleaded. “Astrid, I-.”

But Astrid didn’t let her finish, she instead reached into her pocket, pulled out a small box and forced it into Stella’s hand. “And take that while you’re at it.” She turned away, tears staining her face as she retreated back into her bedroom.

Stella bit her lip and blinked hardly as she heard the door slam. She slowly opened the box to see a nice ring staring back at her. Laughing at her. Stella closed it and slid it into her pocket. She grabbed the bag, her hands feeling heavy as she opened the front door.  She turned to the side, letting out a small hope that Astrid would come back. But that was foolish and foolish is what got Stella here in the first place.

***

Stella felt numb. She couldn’t go far. She could carry herself down the block to a restaurant, where she slid into the booth. The waitress poured some water into the glass but Stella paid it no mind. She sat there, watching the one hour on her arm pulse away. It burned and she winced. This was really happening. She would die at any moment.

“No Astrid today?” The waitress said setting down a basket of bread.

Stella shook her head.

“Bad fight.”

She nodded.

“It’s okay sugar, you both are young. Y’all got plenty of time, you’ll be back together hugging and kissing in no time.”

“Yeah,” Stella mumbled. “Plenty of time.”

The word stung. Stella sipped the water, her mind beginning to race as she finally let the tears stroll down her face. She sobbed to herself, hoping that in some miraculous way, everything would be able to work out.

“Hey, what’s going on over there?” Someone asked.

Stella turned around and stared out the window. Cars were swarming down the block. They seemed to be heading towards a building. Stella’s heart froze. They were stopping at Astrid’s building. A man got out and started firing down the block making people scatter. Another man could be seen running into the building.  A third guy started shooting at the restaurant, causing the people to scatter.Stella raced out of the booth, leaving everything behind, she pushed people out of the way who were trying to see the commotion. She ran, her body telling her to go back but it only caused her to run faster. She didn’t know how but she was dodging the bullets and the dead bodies that were swarming the streets. Then she felt it. Her. Astrid. She was on the ground and Stella almost lost her breath.

“Astrid!” She yelled.

The world seemed to stop.

Astrid held her hand to her stomach where a huge cut was shown. Stella leaned down.

“Hey, hey it’s okay, I’ve got you.” Stella said softly.

Astrid whimpered. “Stella.”

Stella lifted Astrid in her arms. Police and ambulances were now on the scene. A ambulance official screaming at people to help the ones who were wounded. Stella looked at Astrid, her eyes full of fear. She turned back to the ambulance. And Stella ran. She went as fast as she could, even picking up speed. She would do this right. If this was the way she went out then, so be it. She made it to the official helping the ambulance workers place Astrid on the gurney.  Before one of the workers could even get a chance to ask Stella if she was alright, another loud gun shot rang out. Stella felt something. Something pulse through her skin. She looked down to see a bright red spot slowly forming on her shirt. Another bang. Another red spot. Stella fell down, struggling to breathe, her mind seemed to stop racing.

This was it.

This was it.

Stella could feel herself floating, her soul it was coming out of her body. She could see the workers trying to get Astrid back into the vehicle. There was no point in Astrid coming to her aid. Her body was nothing but a empty vessel. Stella soared into the sky, she should have felt settled but she was only left with guit. She attempted to scream, to plead, but nothing would work. She was truly alone. Stella hugged her knees, watching the land she once knew disappear.

Meanwhile on earth, Astrid scrambled to Stella’s body. The ambulance workers trying to fight her but she didn't care. She shook Stella, pleading for her to awake. And then she felt it. The small box was still with Stella. Astrid didn’t know what to do. She just gripped the box and held the hand of her lover.

If only, life wasn’t so cruel.

If only, Stella said something to her. If only Astrid listened.

But the damage had already been done.