The fire was dying, and the cold night waited just beyond the rocky shadows. It would wrap its icy arms around Derek if he didn’t sacrifice another log soon.
But Derek was accustomed to the cold and the lonely darkness, and he was ready to face them again. If morning came, he would welcome it. For now, he was content to let the light fade. It was never his to control, at any rate.
Only Erica could guide the light. Only Erica could guide Derek. She had loosed the reins on both, and there was no certainty she’d pick them up again.
Derek took another swig of coffee from his battered tin cup. It was gritty with grounds, cold, bitter, sour. It tasted like life. He would finish it to the last drop, savoring its sharpness and remembering how it felt when it burned hot down his throat.
Somewhere across the desert, a coyote howled. Derek raised his cup to the black sky and nodded his head. They were two forsaken beasts greeting each other across the miles, waiting for the inevitable.
“Derek.” A heavy but gentle hand draped over his shoulder, squeezed.
Derek knew this was coming. He kept his eyes focused on the painting, a desert landscape lit by a campfire. He sipped the last drop of cold coffee from his Styrofoam cup.
“Derek, son,” the doctor tried to turn Derek to face him, but the younger man stood firm. The doctor sighed. “She’s gone, son.”
Still Derek stood motionless, and, finally, the doctor retreated into the white noise of the hospital, beyond the potted plants and grief-filthy upholstered furniture.
Somewhere in the distance, a coyote howled.