Sometimes, I wake in the middle of the night. I am pale and I am weak. The stars shine coldly, and the empty spaces between them mock me. I feel alone and I feel sick and I hold myself and I cry. But I don't cry myself to sleep, I cry for dawn.

I cry because the only thing that banishes the memories is the light of the morning sun. But until sunrise all I can think about is Kay, or sometimes I spend the whole night driving down to Aunt Lisa's.

Aunt Lisa was bedridden. Her maid, Consuella, had every other weekend and the holidays off, so Mom would drive out to La Jolla to visit her sister, and I would invariably go with her (Aunt Lisa caught polio when she was eleven, so both she and my mother had a name for loss).

No sooner would we have the overnight bags carried in through the front door, when Kay would appear, running down that hill, her scrawny limbs so much like my own (but every year, so very different). Breathless, she'd ask "Where's Alex?" Mother, with studied nonchalance, would reply "Oh, he was here a minute ago..." or something to that effect. In the heartbeat that followed, I would manage to drop all the suitcases down the stairs and kamikaze through the screen door. I can see them now, her huge emerald eyes, growing impossibly wider and her small mouth (the only part of her that would ever consent to be serious) twist ever so slightly into a grin.

Generally, we would arrive around lunchtime, but mother insisted on feeding us before reluctantly releasing all hold on us until nightfall. Mercilessly, she'd make us wait while she prepared lunch for Aunt Lisa, Kay and me. The seeds of our impatience yielded a bountiful harvest of chess games, where I would inevitably be massacred by my ruthless playmate. Finally, Kay would stride off whistling "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and help Mother set the table, leaving me to clear the battlefield of my fallen champions and my failed gambits (yet could I truly call that loss?).

Lunchtime was surprise time. Kay always had a surprise. Sometimes it was a riddle, or a new trick (Kay would suddenly announce, around a bite, that she could do a back flip, or a handstand, or whatever. "Don't talk with your mouth full, dear." was mother's standard reply). It might be news of a local art exhibit, a song, a logic trap for mom (where an eleven year old girl learned about Aristotelian syllogisms is beyond me), or a poem for Aunt Lisa. She explained how she got an 'A' in science, measuring the depth of the fault line by dropping a nickel in it. Once she told us the secret name of the sun. Kay's surprises could be anything, but they all had one thing in common. They were all wonderful.

Lunchtime was always followed by, of course, playtime. We must have played every game in the world, save one. Kay refused to play house (I later learned from Aunt Lisa that this was because Kay's mother had died two years before I met her. Kay knew loss. Kay had known loss longer than she had known me). Kay's undisputed favorite game, however, was Dare. And there was no finer place to play it than the secluded, boulder strewn foothills behind Aunt Lisa's house.

Oh- the feats we performed! The risks we took! Eight years have passed, but even from that distance they still make my heart race. I remember death defying leaps from rock to rock, two spies stealing microfilm (cleverly disguised as cigarettes) from the corner store. "I Dare you to crawl into that cave, and look for bones!" Yes, I feel it. We were young. We were immortal.

Then it was nightfall. If Kay couldn't stay for dinner, at lest she was back in time to help clear the table. Autumn nights were spent bundled up next to a roaring fire, with mother's hot buttered cocoa or steaming spiced cider, and Aunt Lisa's bone chilling tales. Springs were spent on the patio in wicker chairs, with lemonade or iced tea, and hushed secrets. Sometimes we would lie on our backs on the lawn, with leaves in our hair and sparkles in our eyes, waiting for falling stars (what did you wish for Kay, why wouldn't you tell me?). Then, I would walk her home in the moonlight, or sometimes (if her father had been drinking) she would sleep in my bed in the spare room. The couch wasn't lumpy at all, on those nights.

Seasons changed, and so did our games. Tag and ditch were forgotten, old games were forsaken, new games were invented, but Dare still reigned. The only challenger worth mentioning was Dare's evil twin brother, Truth. "Truth or Dare?" "Truth." "What do you do when I'm not visiting Aunt Lisa?" "I cry for dawn." (when we were apart, I began to know loss, but Kay knew loss so much more intimately). Dare too, had changed, behaving differently around his sinister twin. On a dare, Kay taught me how to kiss. Breathless, I struggled to comprehend how a mouth so small could hold so much passion. Kay swore to Truth that she'd never kissed a boy before (oh Kay, how can loss be so hateful, if it taught you this?).

Dare led us to the high school's swimming pool one brisk October night. I remember the words "I Dare you to come skinny dipping!" ringing in my ears. I can feel my cheeks burning with blood again. The water so cold, so smooth. I can feel my hair standing on end and the hot, coppery taste of excitement in my mouth. An arm's length away, the full moon showed me a Kay I'd never seen before. So familiar, yet so very different. She wore a corsage upon her breast of lavender, black and blue. I knew every mark that Dare had given her, yet these were strangers. So cold. So smooth. I remember this because it was the first time I ever hated myself.

Kay showed up for breakfast the next morning and her eyes shone like suns. We sat in the backyard, weaving flowers in each others hair and trading tales of how we regained our rooms by stealth and low cunning. "I'm telling ya Kay." I boasted "The floor boards creaked so loud, it sounded like the mountains were splitting- Aunt Lisa and Mom must have been struck deaf not to hear it!" Kay dismissed my tale with a wave of her hand, "My window shrieked," she claimed "Like a witch burning at the stake, yet he slept on..." but when she was helping me wash the dishes, her sweater slipped to reveal a black rose, blooming on her shoulder. That bruise was also a stranger to me, it had not been there last night (so then I knew her father's answer to his loss). On the way home, tears were streaming down my cheeks, and I told my mother I wept for Kay (but I lied, I cried for dawn). I lied to my mother, but I could not lie to myself. My love was a liar, and I was not strong enough to hold the truth. The truth weighed far too much for a weakling like me...

Seasons came and went and with them a garden of bruises and welts. Each one of them left a scar on my soul that would never heal, yet while she would fall into my embrace and let me stroke her wounds and try to kiss them away, she refused to discuss them. Into the stillness of the night, I swore I'd save her from her father. However, it was Kay who released herself in the end.

Consuella, the maid who cared for Aunt Lisa, had to leave for a week once, because her youngest daughter had caught pneumonia. Mother picked me up early from school and we drove out to La Jolla. When we got to Aunt Lisa's, Kay was already there, fixing a pot of broth. At lunch, Kay had an absurd surprise for us. She could speak Spanish, and did an impersonation of the frantic Consuella so perfect that it sent even mother into hysterics (I never learned to speak Spanish, so I couldn't ask Consuella if she knew loss). After lunch I suffered an especially humiliating defeat at chess, and to commemorate the occasion Kay actually sang 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'. Her voice was clear and beautiful, and the hills echoed her proud refran.

There had been a storm the previous night, which had left several consiquences in its wake; it had indirectly caused young Lupe's illness, so it was partially responsible for my unwarranted holiday. Addtionally it left everything slick and there was a mist which covered the town like a dirty secret. It had also left most of the city without power and perhaps as a memento, uprooted a huge tree and dropped it across the fault line.

"The lost gods have left you a bridge from this realm to a higher plane, I Dare you to cross it!" Kay challenged. Feeling strangely uncomfortable with the dead tree, I reminded her that darers did first. With a hasty compliance that only increased my apprehension, Kay sprang up on the bridge. "Don't!" I called, "I Dare you to um, climb back down..." I feebly concluded. "Come." Kay commanded "We shall leave this place together." Then I knew. Don't ask me how I knew, but I did. We both knew. "Don't." I begged. "Please don't." I remember how hollow my voice sounded as Kay started across the bridge. "Please..."

Kay turned back but I'll never forger the look in her eyes or the horrible sound of the tree sliding off the cliff. I couldn't scream as I climbed recklessly down the ledge, or when I slipped and fell right next to her. I wasn't seriously hurt, and Kay was hardly bleeding at all. I still couldn't scream when she held my hand and whispered "Cry.." then she kissed me ever so gently. "Cry for dawn." Not until I returned with the paramedics and found her body was already cold could I scream. Nor could I stop until they sedated me.

Now I know loss. I know loss like an ocean. Of course, before three years had passed I'd found a new best friend and I no longer needed to take sedatives at night. I love her even more now and when the sun rises, I smile. I smile because at night I remember my loss, but when the sun rises I remember that Kay told me the sun's secret name. She said the sun's name was Hope.

From loss I have learned many lessons but most importantly, loss has taught me that time is short, seasons change but only Hope endures. Also, one other thing. Since the day Kay died, no one has been able to beat me at chess.

©1993 Alex Ledante