Tuesday, 30 July 2013

It's a Love Story

There is supposed to be something magical about being eighteen.  I'm not really sure what that is as I study my reflection in the oblong mirror of my parents basement bathroom.  I wonder if people look back on eighteen with the same kind of nostalgia as they do on the comforting smell of their Mother's perfume on a shirt she doesn't wear anymore, or in the way that chocolate ice-cream in a cone tastes better outside on a hot summer day, than it does in the winter. Those are the memories that somehow push past the limits of real life.  I haven't felt the magic of eighteen, it seems more like a roller coaster than anything else.  I reach for my brush, and run it through my long, mousy brown hair that I like to pretend is more of a deep mahogany.  I debate the merits of a ponytail versus just pulling my hair partially back.  I wonder if he'll notice - if it will make him want to kiss me.  I've never been kissed by anyone before.  

I happily remember how Jack smiled at me the other day.  It was from across the room, but it was like I felt him catch my eye, and his looking at me pulled a smile onto his face.  Was that what love felt like? That little blush of excitement deep down in the pit of my stomach?  It was strange, I'd known Jack since the first day of grade ten, and we'd gone out for coffee before - we loved to talk to each other, he saw the world in such a different way, and I liked flirting with him.  It was like I was the only girl in his world when we had coffee together - even though I knew I wasn't.  I didn't know much about his other "girls" unless they were having problems.  But, mostly Jack and I talked, and flirted as if they never existed.  It was special, it was just him and me.  I wasn't sure if I loved him, or liked him or if I was just feeling a little desperate to latch on to some good memories of home.   I would be running away to the real world just as soon as August began to change her emerald greens for the rich rubies and golds of September.  Wasn't the time to fall in love, now or never?

I told my parents I was going for coffee with a friend.  It was easier that way.  I could avoid all of the questions, especially the unasked ones.  It's like once puberty descends on the unsuspecting, all our parents want to know is who their in-laws will be.  Sometimes when I tell them, just coffee with a friend - they don't bother to ask, or worry that I am running off with some boy.  I wish they knew I have better sense than all of that.  Seriously, it isn't my long term goal to be in labor by this time next year - but if I tell them I am going to coffee with a boy, I'm telling you it runs through their minds.  Its taken a good long time to build Jack up to the "friend" status, my parents don't really suspect him any more, but I've been out with him a few times in the last month, which is why I went with "coffee with a friend" - again strategic.  I don't want any limits placed on my time with him.  I like time alone with him, I want to see where it might go.

Ok, so let me tell you the truth about Jack.  To everyone, all of our friends, he and I are just...friends.  There's some history of course, we've been friends for a while, and though we've talked about dating, and our feelings for one another, we have a mutual understanding that a relationship wouldn't really be the best for us.  I feel like it's a mature decision, especially for two kids of eighteen.  It's why he's always dated other girls.  It makes me feel special, like we have this secret, even from the girls he is with.  I like being his sounding board, his outlet.  I am better than just a girlfriend.  I said goodnight to my parents, knowing they would be in bed early, and kissed my daddy's cheek when he gave me the keys to the car.  The sun was just sinking behind the rolling, green dressed hills, the hot breath of summer relaxing into the cool, sweet breeze, and the sound of sprinklers on the lawn in the freshness of twilight, put a smile on my face.

He was already waiting for me at the stone picnic table with the best view of the river. He had that blonde hair, and bronzed skin that reminded me of the hot California boys I adored on TV.  His teeth were a bit crooked, and mentally I thanked his parents for never getting them fixed.  If he had a perfect smile he would be way out of my league.  I feel like someone different when I'm with him.  Someone that no one else knows. 

     "Hey Angel-Face," He smiles as he speaks, drawing out his words with a gentle drawl. It's what he's always called me.
     "Hi," I sit next to him instead of across from him, our backs to the table top facing the deep blue of the churning river.  
     "I got your favorite." He says, pushing the iced coffee toward me.  It was my favorite, my heart fluttered happily.  He remembered.  I smiled at him, enjoying his lingering gaze on me as I sipped my coffee.  
     "So, did you decide when you're leaving?" He asked.
     "My parents want me to wait until the 25th, but I would really like to be there a few days ahead of time.  You know, get my bearings." I stirred the coffee, rumbling the ice against the side of the plastic glass.
     "Why do you want to go all the way to Vancouver? Don't you know it rains there like all the time? Do you even own an umbrella?" He nudges me with his elbow.  I smiled.
     "I can't get a degree in cool around here," I joke back.  I like his easy manner, the way he slung his arm behind me while we sat, but not around me.  
     "Oh, please.  You're looking for your MRS degree, and we both know it." 
     "Hey, if I'm not supposed to accept the first offer I get, I probably better start getting some offers lined up." I bite my lip and raise my eyebrows at him, expectation clear on my face.
     "What if the first offer is the best one?" I like the way he smells, like a guy, I guess, earthy and sun-kissed.  Girls just don't smell that way.  
     "Nothing is off the table." 
     "Well, if that's the case, and you're considering all offers equally, marry me, Angel-Face." I laugh, and lean into his shoulder.
     "What about Lisa?"
     "Oh, well, I'll tell her eventually." He promises with mock-sincerity.  
     "What do you think she'll say?" I ask. Lisa lives in another town, I've never even seen her.  It's better that way I think.  It's more like she doesn't really exist. It helps me believe that I'm the only girl for him. Unattainable and so, irresistible.
     "She'll say that she always knew, you know, deep down like girls do.  Intuition or something, that my heart always belonged to someone else." 

     "You might get slapped." I warn him.  He nods slowly, his lips pursed.
     "I suppose it would be time to take my place among the romantic heroes of our generation.  Getting slapped is a mark of the lover." He moves closer to me, his arm behind us tightening slightly around my shoulders.  The air is cooler, and I pull on the jacket that I remembered to bring.  The lights across the water are just starting to blink on, they aren't needed yet, but I like the dim glow they create, reminding me that night is coming.  When it's just the two of us, it's easy to let the world melt away, easy to believe that we do love each other, and that we'll always be together.  "So, what do you say?" He asks, his voice quiet, close.
     "If I say yes, what then?" I rest my hand over his. This is what we're like when we are together, natural.
     "Well, I'd buy you a little house, and come home to you every night.  I'd make sure it overlooked the river, we could sit outside and look out on it just like this. We will make all the babies you want, as long as they are girls and look like you." I laugh, tucking my knees up to my chest.  
     "But don't you want to run away and see the world?" 
     "Why? I'll never find anything more beautiful than you." I am suddenly aware of how close he is. I've lost my sense of whether he is still teasing, playing along with an unattainable fantasy, or if he's serious.  We aren't supposed to be serious, I'm not used to that. I hop to my feet, reality putting some distance between us.  He's watching me, a bemused smile on his handsome face. 
     "Come on." I say, offering my hand and gesturing to the tree-shaded path.  I love the way the old trees have grown up over the path, like a canopy beneath twinkling stars.  I can see the golden glow of the iron-cast lamps along the path, and it feels magical, like we're in London or Paris instead of plain-old British Columbia.  He takes my hand, and we walk, our fingers linked together, listening to the rumble of the river below us.  
     "You're really going to leave?" He asks.
     "I have to." I say, equally excited and scared by the thought of it.  What if he meant it? What if I didn't have to leave? Face the world? What if I could stay here, with him, forever.  It's tempting. In spite of all of his accolades, I know that he may be the only man ever to think I'm beautiful.  Should a girl snatch that up when she gets the chance? Looking out over the future with nothing but uncertainty, regret isn't something I'd like to have in my repertoire.  I may never meet anyone else - there is always that possibility.  It would be sad, I think, never to have this again.  "Why don't you run away with me? We could build our house on the bank of another river." I say.  I'm not sure when his fingers interlocked with mine, but I wrap my free hand around his arm and lean my head against his shoulder. 
     "But there aren't any other rivers like this one." He says, sweeping his arm out toward it. I know he's right, in one way. The city lights dance on the water, with night closing around us.  It is warm, and the potted flowers smell like summer.  The river, however isn't a friendly one.  It's not the kind that bubbles over little stones, or sings to the trees in the woods.  It's like a beast, deep, dark and lurking.  Moving slowly, to deceive, then powerfully so that there is no escape.  I move away from him, and close my hands around the iron railing, looking down over the deep, mysterious swirling of the water and wonder what secrets it keeps.  I am trying to imprint this moment forever on my memory, but the more I try to compress it, it slips away like sand through my fingers, and I know that I will always be able to recall the river, and will never remember it exactly right. I feel him behind me, close, pressing into my back, his chin leaning against my hair and his arms circle my shoulders.  My heart swells, and my stomach knots.  He shouldn't be this close, he has her, and she would be angry to see us like this.  Then I remember that he and I together is not real, it's just a fantasy and I relax into him.  He doesn't say anything, and neither do I.  It's like we understand somewhere down deep, that this is the last time we will love like this.  Or maybe it's just infatuation, but you'd never say that, you'd never say, it's the last time we will infatuate like this.    

I know that it's getting late. So I push away from the railing and turn back toward the way we came. Reality demands that I work in the morning, that I pack to get ready to leave.  I need to be ready.  But, he stops me, his hand gently on my arm.
     "Tell me why it wouldn't work, Angel-Face." It's a demand from a fantasy.
     "You know why." I say, willing him to be lost in the deep pools of my eyes.  Maybe challenging him to come up with a better answer.  It's a conversation we've had before, and I know that here is where it ends.  But not this time.  He is leaning against the railing, the dark, swirling water behind him and I am caught in his arms.  They are around my waist, not just hugging, but holding.  Not only is he reluctant to let go, I don't want him to let me go. Letting go, means falling into something new.  I don't know if I want the old to end. 
     "I could love you," He says. "I think I could, if you didn't go." My fingers are playing with the zipper on his jacket. He feels solid, warm beneath the material. 
     "I know." I say. His hand brushes over my cheek, and I lift my face to his touch.  I know he's going to kiss me. It's late, and we are pressed together as if by the moment.  He brings my face to his and he kisses me, gently at first and then in a strange desperation to cling to one moment.  I think we both forget about what's real, and live that moment in the fantasy.  When we step away from each other we know it will be finished. All of it, the talk of love and our fantasy, and so we stay there for a while, in each others arms.  But eventually, we move to leave.  We walk back together in silence, and say our goodbyes.

We never talk about that night.  I move on, and he stays, right there, always by the river.

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