This is the continuation of my series about removing a character named Heather from my novel, Such a Dreamer, during rewrites. You can read the previous post here.
In this fifth and final installment of “Death of a Character,” Heather and Dane go their separate ways:
Heather would be moving to California with or without Dane. That fact alone was enough to hurt him. He knew he had to stay. It’s where his future awaited. He knew it as much as she knew her future was in California. So, they both had their minds set…but it didn’t make it easy. One thing they both agreed upon was that both of their journeys would involve many great sacrifices. And even if they were truly soul mates, separating was the only sensible thing to do.
Oddly, the next few weeks before Heather left, were not awkward. She stayed at the apartment most of the time. Dane helped her pack and prepare for the trip. They still enjoyed their time together, and continued to make love, even more passionately than before. Many times during those weeks, Dane wondered if declaring his love for her would have changed anything. Or if her confession of love for him would have made a difference. All that time they were together in a numb, shared union of bliss, and they never used the simple phrase: “I love you.”
Why is that? Dane wondered. Are we too young, too scared, too unsure about our future?
Her parents wanted to take her to the airport, so there would be no Casablanca goodbyes. Those last moments before she left seemed to Dane like the Mexican standoff at the O.K. Corral. Each of them waiting for the other to change their mind.
She wore a bright, lime green shirt with snug white shorts. Her hair was held back with a new white scrunchy. The vivid colors she wore contrasted the tense atmosphere controlled by their torn, confused desires.
After a long, timeless embrace, they forced smiles upon their faces. Smiles countered with watery eyes. She promised to write and keep in touch. He told her to call him when she got settled in.
She agreed and said, “I’ll be seeing you.”
To which, Dane replied, “Take care of yourself.”
She gave him a quick kiss, turned, and walked out of his life.
Just like they never said “I love you,” they never said “Goodbye” either. Dane wondered if it was to protect a pathway back to each other. A “Goodbye” would have seemed too painful and permanent.
Dane stood at his window and watched her walk to her car. For some reason, he could not find the strength to escort her down and see her off like he should have. Again, it would feel too permanent. All of his losses seemed permanent.
After her car pulled away, Dane retreated back to their bed, pulled the blankets over his head and stayed there most of the day, his face buried in her pillow inhaling the remnants of the Channel perfume and scented shampoo she used. The following day was much the same, a day off spent wallowing in self-pity as he explored the rest of the bed sheets for scents of Heather. Her body lotion, her hand cream, and the incredible natural scent her body emitted. If only he could bottle it up, he could keep her with him. She never really needed the help of perfumes or sprays—her God-created aroma drove Dane fucking wild.
He went to work in a zombie state. His nights were miserable, lonely exorcisms of the memories of making love to her. In the mornings between the state of being asleep and fully awake, Dane would often dream or fantasize of her, masturbating to her fleeting fragrances, and, once spent, he would come to the full and conscious realization that she was gone.
He knew Heather’s aroma would eventually fade away completely, but more than three weeks had passed before he finally forced himself to wash those sheets. By that time, their texture became something like cardboard and Dane developed a rash. The chore of washing them was more than doing laundry, it represented something far more significant. Dane had to wash Heather from his mind and move on. At least that’s what he needed others to believe.
He continued to find reminders of Heather like the rare abandoned article of her clothing he would stumble across and press against his face hoping to reinvigorate his soul. The buried photo or memorabilia of their time together he would uncover and then reminisce over.
Hell, he still found strands of her long, silky brown hair jammed deep in the bristles of a hairbrush or curled between kitchen appliances or hidden under a rug. Dane did not attempt to dispose of them, he left them there, hoping that maybe she would someday come back to gather them up herself.