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The world was silent as he gazed into her painted brown eyes. Every person around him, drawn to the beautifully detailed sculptures and paintings of landscapes, yet he only wanted to look at her. Her slight smile. Her black hair. Her white knit cap and red scarf. She walked under a starry night, a nebula of colors above. The stars illuminated the world in pink, white, and blue. She walked along a concrete path with the grass and trees, a sea of dark green around her. He wanted to know her. Talk to her about everything. Ask her about her day. He wanted to know her name, her hobbies, her. He looked over at the piece’s information. “A Girl, Wandering - Painted on a starry night when I saw her walk by. I don’t know her but I hope she sees this.” She was real. She was human. She was art.
The museum around him melted away. The sounds of soft footsteps and hushed whispers were drowned out by the sounds of crickets chirping and the autumn night’s breeze. He walked by her, noticing the dropped wallet, quickly picking it up and handing it to her. They traded names and conversations. They walked together, him nervously introducing himself while she listened, a smile on her face. The next day they meet for coffee. He orders. She orders the same. They talk about their favorite movies, about their days, the weather, and everything in between. Their minds are pens, their lips are paper, writing faster than they can think.
Their next date is a picnic in the park, feeding the wandering ducks, eating too much, laughing, and spending their days together. It ends with a smile and a hug, both already looking forward to the next. They go to a museum, losing themselves in painted worlds. But he can’t help looking at her more than any other piece of art there. As they leave into the night she turns and kisses him, blushing darker than her scarf. They stand for a moment, both embarrassed, nervously laughing to break the silence. He looks into her eyes and kisses her back, knowing that she is more than just a girl. He knows that she’s more.
Months and days pass as they get ready to move into their first apartment. They don’t have much. They sleep on the floor with the only furniture being the boxes they used to move. Their first night is hungry, with barely anything to eat. He lies, saying he’s full just so she can have more. It’s cold as the snow gently falls outside of their broken window. But it’s okay. They’re warm in each other’s arms.
Months pass. Things are better. He works a second job so she can go to school. They don’t see each other as much as they’d like but when they do it makes the world feel okay. One night they argue. She yells. He yells back. She yells again. Silence. He stops and laughs. "What?!" loudly escapes her lips.
"We’re fighting about never seeing each other when we’re seeing each other right now." She stops for a moment, looking into the distance, realizing, and laughs with him. She hugs him tight. "I love you" quietly whispers through his lips. The first time they’ve ever said it. A silence stretches between them as she pulls away, looking into his eyes as hers tear up, a smile across her cheeks.
"I love you too."
They adopt a puppy as they move into their first home. He got a promotion and can afford to support both of them with enough left over. They finally have furniture. He doesn’t have to give up his meals anymore. It’s their first night sleeping in a bed in almost a year. They sleep, content.
She graduates. He’s cheering the loudest as they call her name, the proudest one there. That night he kneels. Before he can even open his mouth she tackles him, saying yes through her tears.
Years pass. They live with their dog and little girl. They wake up every morning, still excited to see each other. He surprises her with flowers, makes her dinner, and everything else he can do to show his love for her.
Decades pass. Their daughter is graduated and they’re retired, spending most of their days at home. They sit on the porch every evening, feeding the ducks, overlooking the world. She still smiles at every dumb joke. He still smiles every time he sees her.
A cold comes. She coughs for hours and stays in bed for most of the day. It only gets worse, lying in a hospital, his hand over hers as she struggles to breathe. Nothing helps as she withers away with him beside her. She looks into his eyes, a smile desperately trying to show, using her final breath to say "I love you." She closes her eyes.
"I love you too," whispers through his tears. He holds her hand a moment longer and remembers back to the night they first met. How a dropped wallet changed everything. How a single droplet created a river. He kisses her forehead one last time and stands up, slowly limping away.
Months pass. Their daughter lives with him and helps around the house. They spend their evenings feeding the ducks, chatting their hearts away. She talks about her boyfriend and how excited she is for her new job. He talks about his life, telling every story he can think of. That night he lies in bed for the last time, telling his daughter he loves her. Thoughts rush through his mind. He wishes that he could see her get married. That he could see her happy. That he could see her live one last time. She hugs him tight and those thoughts deafen. He lies there, content. He closes his eyes for the last time.
Somebody bumps into him. He jumps, startled, quickly looking around the museum. His world melts away, coming back to life. The sounds of hushed whispers and footsteps seep back in. He looks at the painting, his eyes, glistening as a tear slowly rolls down his cheek. He stands a moment longer, staring into her eyes. He slowly turns to walk away, looking back one last time at the girl he loved.