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The ascent into paradise was wonderful, dizzying ecstasy; it was bliss in its purest form. It only stands to reason that the fall from paradise was the exact opposite. My rise to paradise began on a trip to Chicago where I met Jesse. It’s safe to say that my on-again/off-again relationship with Daniel completely fled my mind.
To set the scene, begin with a nineteen-year-old girl named Cashmere. I’m Cashmere. I’d been at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa for a year, and my friends and I decided to take a trip to Chicago to celebrate the end of freshman year. Enter Jesse with the black, slightly-swoopy hair and the mesmerizing turquoise eyes. A close-up of me reveals that I’m positively captivated.
One week turned into two weeks, and two weeks turned into a month. Needless to say, I was hooked. I made plans to stay for the remainder of the summer. I suppose I could say fate intervened, but in truth, it was the disease that Alan Canter unleashed upon the world. The summer I had so anticipated turned into a nightmare.
Jesse and I were at the park one day in mid-July, basking in the pleasant heat and the slight breeze. Neither of us spoke of my departure from Chicago that would occur in a month, because speaking it made it seem real. So instead I sat on the merry-go-round and let him spin it faster and faster before jumping on to join me. As the merry-go-round came to a stop, I couldn’t help comparing it to our romance. The ride was dizzying and wonderful, but as most things do, it had to come to a stop sometime.
We both sat in silence, and there was something heavy and somber about the silence, a weight in the air between us that had never been there before. I bit my lip anxiously, wanting to speak, wanting to demand that he promise to never leave. But how could I make him promise such things when I could not make the same promises in return?
“Marry me, Cashmere,” he said finally, turquoise eyes holding me in place.
My heart jumped painfully, but I was sure I had misunderstood him. Certainly if I wanted something badly enough, my mind would conjure little fantasies. Certainly he had not said what my heart wanted him to say. “What?” I said, my voice husky and shaky.
“Cashmere, marry me,” he repeated. “I’ll go back to Iowa with you. This can’t end when the summer does. I won’t let it.”
All my life, I’d been lucky. But not so lucky as to have this angel with luminous blue-green eyes ask to be with me forever, to follow me back home to Waverly. “Yes,” I whisper. “Yes, yes, yes.”
He smiled, and as if that smile wasn’t good enough, he started grinning. Soon we were both laughing and I was in his arms. It was the moment I finally landed in paradise. I’d never known something so beautiful as the place of absolute happiness.
The merry-go-round was slowly turning, although I’m sure it’d stopped a while back. But I was too comfortable in Jesse’s arms to look up. In my state of wonderful happiness, I wondered if the spinning of the merry-go-round was a completion of my analogy. Just as it seemed our romance would come to a stop, it kept going, slow and steady and awe-inspiring.
I suppose my mistake was to not let the outside world coax me from my fantasy land of bliss. I never saw Jesse smile again. Instead, when I finally looked up into the usually-tranquil turquoise eyes, they were horrified.
“What is it?” I asked, puzzled by the expression on his face. Why was he not as happy as I was?
The rocking of the merry-go-round was irregular and odd. I looked past Jesse and met the all-black eyes of a boy of about seventeen or eighteen. His mouth was shiny with blood, and my eyes slowly took in Jesse’s bicep, a crescent of blood dotting his skin. My mind would not process the sight before me.
I will be damned for running. But God help me, I ran for all I was worth. I left Jesse behind and ran like I’d never run before.
I never saw Jesse again.
Two days later, the news of a disease was all over the network. Twitter, Facebook, CNN, newspapers, internet, everywhere. Chicago had been declared lost. I was not in Chicago. I was on my way back to Iowa, the sight of Jesse’s terrified eyes haunting me all the way.
I replayed that day at the park over and over again until it played in my dreams, when I closed my eyes, and every second of the day. All I could think as I stared at the diseased creature in front of me with Jesse’s blood smeared on its mouth was that I had to escape before it was too late. All I could think about was the panic that was rising and tangling about my heart, constricting it. I could not think of helping Jesse, only of self-preservation.
By the looks of it, there was nothing I could have done. No cure for the illness. No help for the diseased. Maybe I did the right thing, but my heart is still crying out for Jesse, telling me I did the wrong thing.
Three years later and I’m still replaying that day. There is no part of the country that has been spared from the disease that hit Chicago first. This crisis has been called the Plague. I don’t really care about the specifics, but the army is directing weapons at the undead creatures that walk about, searching for blood.
Maybe one of them has seen Jesse.