By Philip Elliott
He kissed me in the labyrinth. That’s not a vague metaphor—it was one of those maze gardens behind a mansion that once belonged to some rich asshole or another. Snow coated everything—this was up near Canada—and the world was white and forever. I know what you’re thinking: The Shining. This isn’t that kind of story. Or maybe it is. The labyrinth was closed, officially, but can a labyrinth ever really be closed? Or open for that matter.
Dylan helped me under the barrier and slipped on the snow when it was his turn. He laughed for a full minute, his slightly overlapping front teeth forming that imperfect smile I adored.
Inside, we had crossed over to another realm. Curved snow-walls towered around us, the resilient green of fir peeking through. There was a smell of absolute freshness in the crisp air. My cheeks tingled from the cold, fingers sore beneath the gloves. But my blood was alive.
“I bet if I ran away in here you’d never find me,” he said and poked my spine.
“What makes you think I’d want to?”
He stuck out his tongue and scratched his neck. I always wondered, whenever he did this, just how long it would take to scratch off the tattoo carved into his skin, a red rose. God knows he’d tried. I hadn’t started that yet.
“I’d want you to,” he said. “I don’t wanna be without you.”
“Then don’t run away.” I kissed his cheek and relished the roughness of his stubble. “And stop scratching.”
He reached for my hand and closed his fingers around it. They were pink as a newborn.
“Your hands,” I said. “Take your gloves back, baby, they must be freezing.”
He shook his head, greasy black hair flopping in front of his eyes. “Nope. I gave them to you. I’m fine.”
I squeezed his hand and felt a surge of appreciation for him. The snow crunched as we ventured deeper into the heart of the maze.
“What age are you?” I said and instantly regretted it, because the silence that had gathered around our slow breaths was perfect.
“Older than you.”
“Why do you never tell me?”
“Why do you always want to know?”
“Because you never tell me.”
He stopped moving and faced me, gazed into my eyes. We were the same height, a fact I found comforting. “Like I said in Fresno when we met, if I answered that truthfully, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I’d believe almost anything.”
He raised an eyebrow and lifted a hand to his neck. I caught it and lowered it back down. “I don’t know what age I am,” he said. I frowned. He smirked. I studied his eyes and found only truth. We resumed walking. There was nothing to say. Time held no meaning in a place like this.
As if to challenge this very thought, he said, “So when are we getting married?”
“Whenever you want, so long as you understand we won’t be having any kids.”
“You don’t wanna be a mom?”
“No, I don’t want to be a mom.”
He searched the sky for something. “We’d be shitty parents anyway.”
He glanced at me and his expression made me laugh. Then he laughed. My heart filled with something warm and nourishing and devastatingly wonderful. Perhaps love. Maybe even hope.
“Race you to the centre,” he said sudden as a storm in summer, and sprinted ahead.
“Wait.” I ran after him, terrified at the thought of being left alone in this endless spiral.
We reached the middle breathless and hot. Dylan’s cheeks glowed red, eyes wild and alive.
“It’s the perfect place,” he said. “Nobody’ll find us in here.” The syringe was already in his hand. That bottomless hunger came rushing back then, and I realised the miracle of those five minutes when I’d forgotten it, lost in the labyrinth.
No, nobody will ever find us in here. I knew happiness when I saw it.