She had a blue flower wound up through her hair and she smiled at me, as innocent as a child. Her eyes were blue, too, and her hair black; she seemed almost a porcelain doll with her soft, round features and her long eyelashes and her ivory-pale skin. I felt if I but held her than that skin would break, and the veins beneath it, and the bones beneath that would break and tear through the muscle. She looked that fragile, and I knew I mustn't touch her, but I watched, and I sketched her. I would draw her for hours from across a field or a classroom or in the cafeteria, and she would laugh and smile and would stay ignorant of my presence.
Then there was the boy. He was notorious, but flattering, and he smiled at her and touched her hair and laid soft kisses on her hands. His hands touched little more than her fingertips, but I could see that she held that touch high in her mind, and still she smiled at me. I smiled back always, and sketched her, and the boy, too, and her body grew longer and her eyes grew smaller and more scandalous, but always her soft features redeemed her from anything less than innocence. Her small, pink lips and her cheeks tinged rose with the cold of winter, and the cold air only made her look more like the porcelain doll she was, and more breakable, like an icicle. She burned from inside, and her cheeks showed it, and the boy held his hand around her shoulders, keeping her warmer.
The boy left, but she did not cry, and she still smiled at me. Her innocence stayed, shining and silver in the light of the winter sun, cold and distant and attractive. She was like a far-off mountain in that way: shimmering in the distance and frozen, but always pulling explorers like flies to the flame. Her long eyelashes dusted away snow when it sprinkled to her eyelids and I sketched her still, wrapped in a warm coat and in a scarf and mittens. She had mittens like a little girl, and I watched her finely featured hands emerge from them whenever she came inside, and the long, slim, white fingers with lighter fingernails turned pink in the suddenness of the warmth. Her friends were beautiful, but none as she, and I watched her from afar still, in classrooms and in fields and in a crowded cafeteria.
It was spring again, and soon we would all part to follow our different paths in our lives and still, she smiled at me. I watched her, and she watched me as I sketched, and when she moved toward me I had hardly noticed before that light, fragile hand of hers laid itself gently on my sketchbook and gently pulled it from my pencil. "Are these all me?" she asked, flipping through them. "My, you're such an idealist," she said, smiling at me. "Maybe I'll see you again someday. Maybe I'll sit for you." Her eyelids fluttered and I smiled up at her from where I sat.
"I think I'd like that," said I, and she sat down, and ate her fickle lunch beside me. I watched her, her eyelids half-closed in the relaxation of eating food, a dainty sandwich and a cake. It was only a few months left at that time, but we didn't know that, and we lived for then, and only then. Her porcelain doll skin. We celebrated and we laughed and cried, and after that, when all was quiet again, she and I did not part, and I painted her, more than a mere sketch, with her sitting, innocent on my couch, surrounded by dolls. I painted her, and she left one afternoon, and came back the next, and I painted more, and then I realized that she must be a doll. She must be, or she could not sit so still and for so long and with so little life, and I touched her, and she had grown cold, and her eyes had closed, and her hair sat crookedly on her head. Her soft, pale features were still and unbreathing.
I spoke to her mother later and I found out that she'd been dying all along, and that I was invited to the funeral. When I came, I brought the painting, and her mother cried, and I smiled, because I knew I would take her home with me and no one else there would. I would take her home with me, and she would sit on that couch forever and ever and I would be able to sit and stare forever and ever. Her beautiful eyes would always see me, and I could live through what-if's. Her epitaph, though, was as beautiful as she had been:
So like her, it could not be refused.