Layla sits on the rocking-chair by the window with a mug of hot tea clasped between her hands. She gazes at the tangled mass of oak boughs that flank her childhood home. Perhaps the slivers of light piercing the overcast sky and glimmering on the red and golden leaves remind her of her one year at boarding school, where she met her two dearest and lifelong friends. She has vague memories of the place, save for one indelible incident.
One night, Layla, Sarah, and Tiffany sat by the window overlooking the school’s garden.
Beyond the garden wall was a ruined house, with a collapsed roof and hollow windows. From their dormitory, they had a clear view into its yard, and the moonlight caught the snarled mess of brambles and briars beside the ramshackle porch.
The girls had been yakking away about everything under the sun when Sarah gasped.
“Look!” She pointed at the adjoining yard.
Their eyes followed Sarah’s finger.
A young man stood in the moonlight. As they watched and wondered who he was, he glanced up, sighting their child faces framed by the window and illuminated by the faint light of their desk lamp.
Night had only just fallen, Layla recalls, because they had not announced lights out yet.
“It was winter,” she mutters, “it must’ve been, because it was full night, and the darkness was crisp and silvery.”
The young man caught their gazes, and Layla’s heart still skips and drops to her feet at the memory of his eyes. They were a bright, cold piercing blue; she recalls nothing of his face, just his eerie, bright eyes. In her mind, he seems to be all light and shadow, like Tiffany’s most celebrated paintings.
Sarah, the first to spot the apparition, was also the first to die.
Tears sting Layla’s eyes as she remembers her young friend taken by death beneath the bloody metal of a car at the bottom of a ravine. Did she lose control of her car? Cool-headed Sarah with steel grit? Layla shakes her head and stifles a sob.
Decades and several husbands later, Tiffany also passed away. Her death was not violent but slow, as the cancer ate away, first at her breast, then at the remains of her meager body.
“Layla,” Tiffany called for her on her deathbed.
Layla, a lump in her throat, bent forward as Tiffany whispered her last words.
“He’s here. I see him.”
“The man with the icy blue eyes; the man from that night.”
A chill ran up her spine and froze all words of comfort, while Tiffany breathed her last.
A sob rises in Layla’s chest.
She misses her friends. One did not live long enough, the other too much. Layla glances down at her wrinkled, twisted fingers cupped around the mug of tea. Her spotted hands tremble from the involuntary spams she has developed of late.
Shaking, she lifts one hand, and with her knobby fingers, wipes the tears streaming down her face.
She longs for her youth, her past, her health. But most of all, she longs for her friends.
Layla turns her gaze back to the window. She shrieks; there beneath the tree stands the man with the piercing blue eyes. He beckons to her.
Layla’s mug of tea rolls to the floor, spilling its contents onto the carpet.