The question hung in the air more awkwardly than Russell was expecting. He had thought it would be the perfect, smooth segue into confessions of love, lust, desire, and dreams. He had hoped Ainsley would turn to him with her big blue eyes and say something deep and throaty like, "you tell me."
Ainsley watched the sun slink behind the hills of Happy Valley, waving good-bye to the day in large swaths of pink and orange. There was a sad look in her eye that Russell didn't understand. He wanted to ask her about it, to find out where it came from and see if there was anything he could do to fix it, but instead he just leaned against the rail and watched the sunset with her. As the sun slipped from view, Ainsley cleared her throat.
"When's your flight?" she asked.
Russell shook his head. This isn't the conversation he wanted to have. But he answered her question. "Eleven," he said.
"Then that's what's next." Ainsley's voice was cold and matter-of-fact.
"It doesn't have to be what's next." Russell offered.
"But it is," she shot back. "We could stand here and talk and pretend like you're not flying back to California tomorrow but it won't change the fact that tomorrow morning, at eleven o'clock, you're flying back to California."
There was finality in her voice. Russell recognized it. She was shutting down all potential, denying any hope, and doing everything else she had to do to protect herself from the inevitable. He wanted to fight that. He wanted to keep hope alive. He wanted to kiss all her fears away but more than anything . . . he wanted to protect her. He wanted to know she was happy, even if that meant he could never see her happy. Ainsley was so amazing and Russell didn't want to do anything to change that.
So instead of prying, pleading, or making promises he knew he couldn't keep, he kissed her one last time. He kissed on the top of the head and walked away. He looked back only once, as he climbed into his car, to see if she was watching him go.
She wasn't. She couldn't. Even she had wanted to, she couldn't see through her tears. She listened to him start his car. She heard him slam his car door shut. Then she listened as he drove away. Only then would she allow herself to turn around.
Russell was gone and Ainsley was alone.