This story is one of the March Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
“What are you doin‘?” He was leaning against the gate, brown hair messy as always, eyebrows drawn together above those dreamy eyes in an expression of confusion.
I turned around on my ladder, trying very hard not to fall while holding on to the apple tree next to me. “What does it look like?”
He opened the gate and walked up to me through the garden with his typical, relaxed walk, hands buried in the pockets of his jeans. “Well, to me, it looks like you’re wasting a perfect summer day by spending your time doing boring activities like…” he took one of the apples I had picked and threw it in the air, “apple picking.”
I leaned forward, bringing our faces close together, so close that I could’ve counted the freckles on his cheeks if I hadn’t already known exactly how many there were. “If you think this is so boring, why don’t you suggest something better to do?”
Half an hour later, we were in the car, driving toward the afternoon sun and our destination: the sea. His hands on the steering wheel were already tanned from the days he had spent outside this summer, and they were tapping along to the Lana del Rey song blasting from the radio. “…Kiss me hard before you go, summertime sadness…” How very fitting. That summer, we lived like we could never die, even though we both knew we had no future. His eyes wandered away from the road to meet mine, and he gave me a sad smile, as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. He took my hand and squeezed it gently, a small gesture, but for me it was a promise. A promise that, no matter what happened to him, I would never forget this summer. Would never forget him.
Because even when he’s gone, I will always see him. In the apples I was picking that morning. In the rough waves meeting the shore at the west coast. In every cigarette smoked, a habit he always had wanted to quit. Every guitar would sound like his, the first night he played for me. Every strawberry would taste like the ones we had in our little basket the first time I snuck out of the house to meet him. Every star would shine like they did the first night he kissed me. I would see him in every detail, every song, every person and every place this world could show me, and the thought of that made me extremely cheerful and unbelievably devastated at once.
The car stopped, interrupting my thoughts. “You ready?” His voice was quiet, like always when it was just the two of us. Taking a deep breath in, I swallowed my sadness. We were here right now. That’s all that counts. The sun was blinding me, but I could still make out the cliffs, the sand, and the wild, unforgiving sea in front of us. Our hands were intertwined while we ran towards the place that held so many memories for us. This is where I grew up, where he grew up, at the same time, without knowing it. This is where we met. This is where we made most of our memories. This is paradise for us. He looked at me and laughed, the kind of honest, open laugh not many people could show you. And I promised myself to never forget that laugh.
As I return to the place a year later, I’m alone. This time, I’m not running. This time, no one is holding my hand, no one is kissing me. This time, I can’t see his laugh, because its been 10 months since I last saw it. But I remember how it lit up his face, how you could see it everywhere, in his eyes, his nose, even in the freckles on his cheeks. This time, all I think is: I should’ve made him laugh more.