The Woman was exiting the Springs Marketplace with no souvenirs—because she had already gotten stickers and a postcard of yellow aspens in downtown Colorado Springs—when she locked eyes on this couple embracing for their cliché goodbye and everything felt like a cinematic movie not the cheesy Hallmark sap but the real Oscars-award-winning film and she felt tears settling in her scleras. There was another couple off to the side where the arrivals arrive to the vacant lobby in the process of renovation, the floor ripped up to simple concrete, and this couple were kissing long kisses meant for the bedroom. The Woman’s heart—the ventricles, actually—vibrated in melancholy as she overheard the younger couple whispering I Love You to each other, some melody of a song the Woman hadn’t memorized yet, knowing the Man at the other end of the flight was ready to sing it three weeks into their relationship. The Woman knew this because the Man had texted her the morning after she gave him a letter detailing her appreciation for his patience during their sexual exploration—her hesitance to let his hands trail over her body, her habit to keep her eyes shut as he held her close in bed to not over-process the situation—that he was going to say The L Word before she left for the night, but didn’t know if she’d get scared and might maybe run away. And because the Woman was still unravelling her withdrawal from pure, raw human emotion, intimacy, she knew she wouldn’t have been able to say it back; she wasn’t quite done manipulating him to check off first-time experiences—he was her practice boyfriend, after all. But it had been weeks. He was no longer practice. He was the real thing. The Woman rolled her suitcase through TSA and sat down at a charging booth, lit Twitter-blue waves paling over the unwritten postcard, and it finally hit her, while watching yet another couple walk hand in hand down the ugly brown-speckled carpet, that she loved the Man, she loved that he stayed up with her despite the one-hour difference talking about their future, she loved that even though she hated where they lived, she desperately wanted to return to him, and that had never been a tangible feeling ever in her life, to feel this lichtblaue Blume tangling around the Woman’s striatum, flushing out any other emotion—cranky the flight had been delayed for two hours; hungry for non-airport food; desperate for proper tissues not from a shoddy toilet paper roll—and it was a feeling that permeated deeper through her blood, consumed every thought supposed to exist outside the pen scratching ink on the postcard. You don’t know what absence is until you discover its presence. The whole weekend the Woman and the Man had discussed how many kids they wanted, their names—“Dante Nero,” he suggested, to which she scream-texted “NO”—their dream house, careers, etc. And yet the Woman still couldn’t see the Man’s face in these projections, just a body as a blank canvas that represented no one, and she couldn’t hear his voice or recall his fingerprints grazing over her skin when drawing up real scenarios. Love shouldn’t feel empty, she thought. The projector in the mental theater shot out white light; the reel malfunctioned. No matter how many times the Woman tried to fix the film, the actor wouldn’t show up ready. Forgot his lines. Left the set. There was a little daydream in the Woman’s mind that the Man would be in the DFW baggage claim, cueing all the stale rom-com endings, and the surprise on her face would make up for all the years of returning only to her parents who were obligated to deal with her. She wanted to be someone’s choice. There were words she’d never heard but teenagers had consummated those words quicker than she could’ve imagined. Sometimes she wished the Man had just said it when he planned to, but it would’ve broken his heart to hear her say Thanks or Okay or I’m Not There Yet, So, Okay, Thanks. But why did she so badly want to say it when perhaps she was tricking herself? Just because she was in her first relationship it didn’t mean she’d have to rush everything to make up for lost time. That was precisely her insistence to block out emotions—she’d been hurt before and she refused to ever feel agony again. The Man wasn’t quite worth the pain yet. It was already too much that she wrote the words down to a human rather than a fantasy. After hearing that Gate 8 was accepting Boarding Group 3, the Woman made her way to the crowd leaving/returning home and held the postcard in her hand, the blue ink smeared across the surface and on her right pinky. She studied the last three words above her name. The cursive l looked more like 1, the two o’s merged together too closely. Did her handwriting make it seem like she forced herself to write the sappy ending? Should she find a new card and change the subject, let the ink dry? The last of Group 9 disappeared onto the plane. The Woman untucked the card from her book and stared at the edges, trying to decide if she should keep it. She could start over when it really mattered. When the questions stopped being questions.

E Townsend’s works have appeared in cream city review, Superstition Review, Prime Number Magazine, carte blanche and others. Managing editor at Four Palaces Publishing, she’s also the social media manager at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine and a reader for The Masters Review. A previous nominee for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Essays, and Best of the Net, she is currently tinkering with essays and poems in the Pacific Northwest.