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He wondered if he could stand any more monotony: the pessimism, the depravity of love, laughter, and wonder. It was the same old routine: criticism and hauteur contaminating the atmosphere, trying to define and overwhelm him into despair and bitterness. He needed to get away. He needed something new.
He egressed out onto the all-too-familiar street, headed west, and then went down one unfamiliar to him. With trepidation¸ he received stares, which were not of mere intrigue but of disdain. He was thin, short and fully aware of this as he noticed boys his age of much larger, desirable stature. He knew them from school; they found every opportunity to patronize him, to let him know how much of a poltroon he was, which was funny, for they were never found alone. There was also a clique of girls who were known for their crude and discriminative behavior. He tried to avoid such people, including his family. Sometimes, he gave in and let the insults stifle and depress him. Time was spent in efforts to please everyone; there was no time for anything else. He averted his route down a different street. This one was vacant and peaceful, alleviating him from suppressing thoughts. It was safe: just him, the sun, and the asphalt.
The labyrinth of streets eventually led him to a park. He’d been there before. Yes: it was for a family reunion when he was nine; a picnic with too many unrecognizable faces. He remembered the vast, green lawn, that monumental oak reaching toward the sky. He was unsure if it had changed since then. He just stood there and let the beauty consume him. It was serene, yet he could hear the shouts and laughter of the children of the playground. Why, he asked himself, had he waited so long to come there? It was the perfect escape.
Something caught his eye: a girl. She was walking on the edge of a fountain, mumbling something to herself—poetry, maybe. She held his attention, deep in thought. She sat cross-legged and faced the water. Who was she? What was she thinking? He hadn’t been more intrigued in his life. Like the dork he is, he tripped over himself and fell flat on his face, successfully catching her attention.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay?”
“Um, ah, yeah.” She had beautiful eyes. “He-hello.”
“Hey. Um, are you sure you’re okay? Could I get anything for you? Water? Medication? A trip to the hospital?”
“More comic relief would be nice.”
“What, you think I’m funny? That’s a first.”
“I always seem to offend somebody, and then I feel stupid and mean and—“
“You shouldn’t be afraid to offend anyone.”
“I guess you’re right…Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Well, ha ha, to tell you the truth, I feel like a total idiot.”
“Nah,” she reassured. “I’m not that graceful either. This one time, I walking to class, and someone called my name. I wasn’t looking where I was going and smacked face-first into a fire extinguisher.”
“Ouch,” he laughed, sympathetically.
“Yeah. It wasn’t pretty. I fell back with a nosebleed.”
“At least you ended up okay…” Then, not knowing what to say, “I guess I’ll, uh, get going. Sorry I bothered you.”
“Hey. What makes you think I’m bothered? I like a little company, every once in a while,” she said, sarcastically.
“I’m glad to hear that.” He smiled.
“So, tell me about yourself.” She swung herself back to her original position, listening.
“Um, well…What do you wanna know?
“What…What makes you happy?”
“What makes me happy?....Rain, fireworks, summer.”
“Awesome…Hey, wanna go for a walk?”
“Sure.” They walked and lost track of time learning about each other. She loved reading, writing; thunderstorms, poetry. She also liked to write fiction.
“So, what do you write about?” he asked.
“Whatever I feel like writing at the time. It also depends on inspiration.”
“What inspires you?”
“Oh…sunsets…lightning…you know, inspiring things.”
“Oh, of course.” She laughed at this.
“Hey, look! Swings!” She ran to the swing set, like a kid in a candy shop. “Hahaha…I’m random.”
“Spontaneous…” He said to himself. He noticed the boys playing basketball…What would they say at school if they saw him?
“Well?…Shall we?...Oh, come on! You don’t care about them, do you?” He guessed it was eminent that he was self-conscious. “They just don’t know how to live, let loose. Come on!”
He took the neighboring swing. For a while, he just sat there and watched her. That smile, those eyes: she didn’t have a care in the world. It was like she was flying, the wind tossing her hair. “Now, isn’t this fun? I like to take my shoes off—on a day like this—shut my eyes…You should try it.” He did. There was something about her—like she knew what he would enjoy. That or they had uncanny commonalities.
She reminded him of his grandparents, who had such fervor when it came to living life. They would call his parents tightwads—not out of spite, but out of love, as if they were sympathetically disappointed. He loved visiting them, it never got old: they could always entertain him, playing games, camping out in the yard. He felt more at home than with his own folks, he told her; it was a place where he could be himself.
“Sounds like my kind of people,” she said.
“Oh, definitely. As soon as I move out, I’m hittin’ the road. I can’t wait to ditch this city.”
“Wouldn’t that be marvelous?...To leave it all behind? I love my folks, but—I feel like I need to leave, live on my own.”
“Yeah…I’m sick of them trying to tell me what I should be interested in: read this, learn ballet, don’t hang out with those people, blah, blah, blah. I just wish they let me be my own person, you know?”
“Exactly. My family is so pessimistic about everything I do, so I just don’t tell anyone anything. They’re a bunch of dream-crushers. It gets annoying.”
“Oh, well, I like to do art, you know painting, sculpting. They say I’m not good enough to get accepted into art school. I don’t know, maybe they’re right. I could at least try.”
“Don’t listen to them. I think you should go for it…I’d love to see your work sometime.”
“Okay. I’d like to read some of your stuff as well.”
“That could be arranged,” she said with a smile.
“You think we’ll ever see each other again?” They were lying on their backs, counting shooting stars, listening to the crickets and the cars on the freeway. Never had he known someone like her in this city. She was an enigma, a shooting star herself, someone that made him feel alive.
“‘What’s meant to be will always find a way’,” she said, then pointing upwards, “three.”
“You do have a way with words, don’t you?” He turned his head, looked at her. She was so beautiful in the moonlight. “Oh my gosh!” He started laughing.
“Why are you laughing?” She was puzzled: “What is it?”
“Your name! What is your name?” They died laughing at the fact that it slipped their minds to introduce themselves.
“A perfect stranger,” she said, softly. “Well, if you think of it, we’re not really strangers, are we? Crazy, isn’t it? Ha! This is grand!”
“Grand? What are you talking about? What if I never find you again?” He said. “Please tell me your name.”
“Hey, chill out!... ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’” she teased.
“Yes!” She laughed and went chasing fireflies. He pursued her silhouette, elated. She made him feel like he was seven all over again.
“You’re killing me!” He caught up to her, out of breath. “Please tell me your name! I’d rather not refer to you as ‘the girl I met in the park’.”
“You really want my name?”
“No, I was just kidding you.”
“Oh, you’re so fun to irritate…its June.” She held out her hand.
“Sam,” he said, shaking hers. “You know…If you’re interested in going south, it would be cool for you to accompany me—that is, if you don’t have any plans.”
“When’s your birthday?” They laughed.
“Ah!” she said with a hand to her forehead. “I must be going. Dinner’s in forty minutes.”
“Could I, um, walk you home?” he asked.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll just walk alone.” Sam was crushed as she walked away. Then, unable to keep from laughing, June volte-faced: “Come on!”
Sam gallantly ran up to her, offering his arm. She felt a sense of security and comfort as she embraced him. He wouldn’t run, she thought, she hoped. He respected her quirks, laughed at her jokes. She loved this warmth, having him aside, holding his attention. No other guy has ever looked at her with such intent and told her, straight up, what was on his mind. Girls did, but it was almost always disheartening. It was hard to find friendship.
Her arms never loosened. He found consolation in the silence, in June’s muffled pulse against his arm. He wondered of her present struggles, iniquities.
“Here we are,” June said, hesitantly walking towards the door.
“So, I’ll see you around.”
“Yes, of course…” She smiled. “Hey, hold on.” She quickly went inside. He heard her parents’ voices and quick, rhythmic footsteps. After brief conversation, she returned, paper in hand. “Here’s my number.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Hey, um, what are you doing Thursday night?”
“I have work, but I get off at eight.”
“Oh, alright. See, there’s this coffee shop on 34th…. You do like coffee, right?”
“YES! Haha. That would be great.”
“Alright, cool. Um, where do you work? We could catch the subway or something.”
“It’s this diner five blocks down.”
“Alright, cool…So, I’ll see you, Thursday-- I’ll call you.”
“June?...” She was thinking about Sam at the dining room table. She usually allowed her mind to get lost in some interesting person or concept.
“June, answer your mother,” her father said, half of him annoyed, half of him hoping for this conversation to change subject. Although June’s father was practical, he did want her to be happy, not that her mother didn’t. She just “wanted the best for her”.
“Sorry…What did you say?”
“I was asking if you decided on a college.” She was a bit more annoyed. “Which one have you chosen? Syracuse? NYU? You know, these colleges can’t read your mind.”
“I know, Mom,” she said, respectfully. “…Um, I was thinking that I might not go to college right away…” There was silence, a very uncomfortable silence. Her mother’s disapproval was stifling. Since she could maintain interests, her mother had made sure that June was on The Road to Success. It was very paramount that June studied, practiced, recited, anything that posed opportunities to a “desirable lifestyle”.
“Could I, um, be excused?’
Her mother nodded.
“I expected more from you, June.” Her mother’s voice pierced June’s integrity. “What will you do now?...”
She couldn’t count on her mother to understand—or anyone else, for that matter. It seemed as if she were some sort of iconoclast…Maybe, she was. Maybe, she didn’t care. Once, she had told her mom that she wanted to be a novelist. She’d probably be rejected the first few times, but it didn’t hinder her confidence. Still, her mother didn’t see why her daughter’s ambitions weren’t set on something…promising. June didn’t need a “good-paying job”. Unlike her mother, June wasn’t content with material things…Now, contentment…Contentment was in June’s grasp.