I still remember the moment I first laid eyes on her. I was left without words. As I held that old tattered picture of this mysterious girl in my hand, I was overcome with a flood of emotions I had never felt in my life. They overpowered me like a broken dam bursting at the seams.
It was the summer before my senior year of high school. For the better part of that morning, I’d been helping my grandmother clean out her attic. There wasn’t much to see until I came across a chest. The large, vintage-looking, deep brown chest sat abandoned in the corner, coated with spider webs and dust.
Curious to see if I’d find any hidden treasures, I opened it and started to sift through. Most of it was junk. A few pieces of once colorful jewelry, now dull and lackluster. A few old sequined dresses. My Grandma Rose always had a distinct sense of fashion.
I continued sorting through and at the very bottom, I found her. A single picture of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It was a color photo, but grainy like it had been taken long ago. The edges of the picture were worn and slightly off white. Still, I could imagine how she really looked. I imagined her deep olive skin to be smooth and soft. A single wisp of her chestnut brown hair fell to one side of her face. She had a slightly playful smile. What was she thinking when the photographer snapped the picture?
The sound of nearing footsteps snapped me out of the trance. I caught a whiff of my grandma’s overpowering perfume as she came up behind me and glanced over at the picture.
“Ooh, Aiden, where on earth did you find that?” She laughed and her lungs rattled. “That was your great grandmother’s friend Liliana! Oh dear, she would always tell me these crazy stories. They would go on all sorts of adventures! Liliana was a wild one, very bold. Always turned heads when she entered a room”
“Hmm,” I smiled. “That’s amazing”
I remembered how quickly I finished cleaning up the attic that day, and how I rushed to my computer so I could find out more about her. I found only a single article linked to her. Her obituary. I took a deep shaky breath and started to read it. She died surprisingly young, only 23 years old. I couldn’t find the cause of death. I don’t know if I even wanted to.
As I read through the rest I found out she was an artist. I was able to find a few paintings by her and they were absolutely stunning. They were mostly landscapes, all done in watercolor. I smiled to myself as I thought about her surrounded by a lush garden, painting delicately with her brush, capturing every detail, every color.
I searched for the name of a husband but saw that she was never married. Was she a hopeless romantic? Could no guy catch her attention? Would I have been able to capture her attention? I felt crazy, conjuring up all these hypotheticals, but I couldn’t help it. I somehow felt connected to this picture.
Later that night as I laid restless in bed, I pulled out the photo I had hidden under my pillow. I was able to see the picture from the soft glow of the moon that peaked through my curtains. I ran my finger along that single strand of her hair, almost as if I were pushing it off her face.
Just then I heard my name being called ever so softly. My heart raced as I sat up and looked around the room.
“Aiden?” I heard it again. I stood up and frantically looked around.
“Hello?” I said as I felt a burst of cold hair on the back of my neck.
I turned around and saw her. Liliana was standing there right before me, clear as day. She was wearing the same long yellow dress as in the picture. Even now I can recall the way her beautiful gaze pierced right through me, leaving me breathless. Her big brown eyes glimmered in the moonlight. Her lips were full and pink like bubblegum.
I remember the way my soul lit up when she smiled and how my cheeks grew hot.
“Liliana… “ My words felt stuck like glue in my throat.
“Hi” she softly giggles. Her voice was airy and melodic.
“You’re… so beautiful”
“Oh, thank you hon” She giggles again.
I rushed over to turn on my lamp so I could see her more clearly, nearly stumbling over the clutter on my floor. I blinked, adjusting to the brightness, and when I looked back up and she had disappeared. My heart sank all the way to my stomach. I stayed up until sunrise, praying she’d come back but she didn’t return that night. Or the next.
After that night I never saw her again. I don’t know if I truly even saw her that night, but it felt so real. For months I was unable to sleep for fear that she would come back, but soon after my grandma passed away and the house got sold. It was tough but I got through it. I moved away to college, even got married. She’s an artist. We have a child on the way, a little girl. We’ve decided to name her Liliana.
I never told anyone about what I experienced, or even about the picture. Even though it’s been years now, I keep the photo in my draw beside my bed, hoping she’ll appear one night, if only just for a moment.