This story is one of the January Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
I hear his footsteps long before I bother to speak. Link has never been a big guy, but his steps have always been loud, and they’re even louder out here in the snow-covered woods.
“You’re following me,” I say without turning around or breaking my stride.
It’s a statement; not a question. Even so, Link answers, “I saw you climb out your window. I figured this might be a good time for us to talk.”
I can’t help it – I roll my eyes. “When you text me repeatedly and I don’t text back, that means I don’t want to talk.”
“The talk isn’t for your benefit; it’s for mine. C’mon, it’s been almost a whole week since you started avoiding me. I can’t go a whole week without talking to Lizzy Larabee.”
“It’s Elizabeth to you. Or better yet – Miss Larabee. You’ve lost all Lizzy privileges.”
I don’t stop walking even as I say this. It’s easy; I’m wearing my winter boots, the ones that come up to my knees. Link, on the other hand, is in the same black tennis shoes he wears every day. I have to glance over my shoulder to see this, though, and he takes it as encouragement.
“Remember last time we were here?” he asks, a little out of breath as he tries to catch up to me.
I walk faster.
“One month, one week, and two days ago,” he says, as if the exact number is supposed to impress me. “We cut eighth period algebra.”
“I remember.” I say this to shut him up, but again, he takes it as encouragement.
“We sat by this very creek and talked about your parents’ split while sharing a bag of mini M&Ms.”
As he speaks, I can’t help glancing to my right at the creek in question, which is barely big enough to qualify as a creek. It’s more like a little stream of water that travels all through the woods. There’s a matching one on my left. When we were little, Link and I wanted to know if they were connected to each other, so we picked one and followed it, but we got distracted before we could find out where it led.
The memory must make me slow down because Link finally catches me. I make myself meet his eyes. They’re even bluer than usual against the white snow around us.
“Do you remember what else happened that day?” I ask. Actually, it comes out sounding more like a challenge. Link must think so too because those blue eyes leave mine, and he shoves his hands in his pockets.
“Yes,” he says, so quietly that I almost don’t hear him.
I fold my arms across my chest, waiting for him to say something else. I don’t know what I expect him to say, or even what I want him to say, but when he doesn’t say anything at all, hot anger bubbles up inside me, a stark contrast to the cold air in my lungs.
“You kissed me.” I hurl these three words at him like they’re an insult. He flinches as if that’s just what they are, and yet he has the nerve to say: “You’re the one who kissed me.”
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. That’s never happened before. I always have words. Especially around Link. I can always talk to him. Or, at least, I could, before one month, one week, and two days ago. That’s when we stopped talking, or rather, when we stopped saying anything; we’ve talked at lunch, we’ve talked on our walks home from school, and we’ve talked through text – but we haven’t actually said anything to each other.
“I didn’t kiss you,” I say. “You kissed me.” Or at least, that’s how I remember it happening. I think.
Link opens his mouth, but then he closes it and shakes his head. “Does it matter?”
I don’t know what to say. Again. And when I can’t find words, Link turns his back on me and walks away.
In that moment, he becomes one more person walking away from me.
But then, after three steps, he turns back around and plops himself down on the ground. In the snow. By the creek. He reaches into his coat pocket and brings out a bag of mini M&Ms, the big bag his mom buys for baking.
“I think we should talk,” he says, holding it out to me. An olive branch. An invitation.
I eye the bag. “You brought candy with you into the woods?”
“I hoped we would need them,” he admits. “I miss talking to you. Really talking.”
I consider him. The M&Ms. The earnestness in those blue eyes.
And then I sit down, because I’ve missed talking to him too.