The city is quiet and still as I sit on the concrete ground, softly breathing the cold air. I open my eyes. The streetlights drive away the darkness a little bit. No one is around, and I feel alone. I rarely feel alone. My friends and family are usually all around me, and even when they aren’t, I’m with myself, of course.
But there’s a difference between being alone and feeling alone. You can stand in an enormous crowd and feel alone. You can lay in a wet, dark cell all your life and never feel alone.
My knees are drawn to my chest. It’s like knives are slicing through my heart. I didn’t want to leave Ulrich. It was so hard.
My voice rings through my mind when I remember what I said to him.
“I think we’re going in circles...”
I feel alone. I am alone. Aelita and Odd are dating, and they have been since last month. Ulrich is seeing Sissi now that he thinks I don’t love him. Like me, Jeremie is alone.
I was there when Aelita agreed to go out with Odd. We all were. Jeremie couldn’t move, he was frozen, his heart was frozen. Like mine.
That’s something we have in common. But we’re very different. I’m a firebrand, he’s quiet. I like being outside in the fresh air, he’d rather stay inside and work on a new program.
Jeremie reminds me of streetlights, though. Even in the cruelest dilemma as dark as a midnight shadow, he keeps a trace of radiant hope, always trusting that love and joy will break through hatred and sorrow. He is the one that I know will lead us to overcome Xana. I’ve always known.
Whenever we’ve despaired, Jeremie has piloted the way. He never lets us surrender. And he never will.
Light is so common. It’s everywhere; light bulbs, the sun. But when the sun has gone down and the light bulbs are off, and the world is dark while it sleeps, the streetlights come on and they cut through the gloom. They collide with the darkness all night before the sun takes over again.
I look up, brought out of my reverie by the sound of footsteps. It’s Jeremie, wandering down the sidewalk. I guess he’s been crying, because he’s wiping his eyes. I don’t think he sees me.
“Hi,” I say.
He glances down at me before turning away. “Hello, Yumi.”
“Why don’t you sit down?” I gesture to the ground beside me.
“Okay.” He sits down and gazes at the streetlights, as I do. It’s weird that he was crying. I’ve only seen him cry a couple times, and it was always for Aelita. For a while neither of us say anything. Then he breaks the silence. “You like going for late walks too?” He smiles.
I smile as well. “Yes, but I didn’t know you did.”
“Even streetlights break down sometimes.”
That surprises me. It’s as if he knows what I’m thinking. I ask him, “Were you crying a minute ago?”
He stares at the ground. “My dad called earlier tonight. He’s divorcing my mom.” He taps the concrete nervously. “He said they got in an awful fight.” Then he looks into my eyes, into my soul. “Does it hurt? Even if you’re used to it, Yumi?”
His question reaches into my heart and pulls out all the bitter pain that I’ve tried to suppress over the years. But it was something I needed to hear. “Yes. Every time.” I think about all the occasions my parents have clashed. I think of Hiroki and I, holding each other and crying quietly, praying it’s going to end soon.
“I’m scared, Yumi...they’re scaring me. Please don’t let me go. Please, Yumi.”
“I promise I’ll be here for you forever, little brother. I’m never, ever going to leave you.”
“Not even if you get lost?”
“If I got lost you would come with me, then we could find our way out together.”
Before I know it, a tear races down my cheek. I flick it away and say to Jeremie, “But it’s not only the divorce, is it? It’s also Aelita?”
“Yumi...I’m alone. And I feel alone. I can never get her back.”
Ever so softly, I kiss him on his lips. “You’re not alone.”
And he embraces me. “Neither are you,” he answers. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Jeremie.”
As softly as our kiss, the sun touches the sky with a spectrum of breathtaking colors. The streetlights turn off over us.
I don’t know how long we’re there on the cold sidewalk, warmly locked in each others’ arms, watching the sunrise, but I know one thing: although the streetlights are resting right now, they’ll be back later tonight.