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Summer of Sarah

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The summer before sophomore year- a hazy mess of days and nights without a name, with only the heavy sun and Jersey sand in our hair and microwaved food at half-past midnight. There was nothing past the blur of hot, sweaty summer, and nothing before it. Life existed only in seconds, in what was now, in the ability to be. That summer had become a harbor for us, a harbor for the youth fighting the uphill battle against the future- until that horrible future crashed down upon us.
There were no words now left to say. I remember my fingers sliding over whispering strings as I picked out a simple melody and let it fade away, unremembered. I remember my eyes half-closed, hearing you breathing slowly a few feet from my head. I remember our bodies strewn across the barren hardwood floor, radiating heat, smelling of sun-burnt skin and deep-fried boardwalk and endless, endless sea water. Beaded droplets of sweat clung to my neck, my chest, my forehead. I remember an August breeze sauntering through the windows of your dead house.
'I'm sorry,' I whispered, letting the words fall into the wooden acoustics of my nightingale's song.
'I know.'
We let it be still for a few minutes, and I began to play in the rhythm of your breathing. I heard you sigh.
'It's over,' you said.
My guitar stings whistled. 'I know.'
'It's all, all over. It'll never be the same. Everything is dead.'
'We're alive,' I said stupidly, even though I knew that wasn't what you meant.
'I'm not.'
''I'm sorry,' I repeated.
It fell silent again as I let the song fade away and stopped playing.
'Why?' you asked.
'I didn't feel like playing anymore.'
'That's not what I meant.'
'I know.' I tried to think of the words to say. If I had known all the answers, I would have told you it all, right then, on the floor of your parent's barren beach house. But I didn't know, I don't even know now, and so I didn't say anything.
'What are you trying to tell me?' you whispered.
''I'm trying to find an answer.'
I can still hear your sigh. 'Any conclusions?'
''I don't think anyone has ever been able to find an answer to that question.'
It became silent and awkward again. Oppressive silence pounded upon us like summer sun.
'She loved this place,' you said after a few minutes. 'I know it's not mine anymore, but it'll always be hers.'
'When do the new people come?' I asked apathetically. I was never as good with words as you were.
'They're moving all their stuff here the day after tomorrow.'
'...Do they know about Sarah?'
'No. Why should they?'
'I' I don't know.'
'It's not like she'' Your voice cracked. 'It's not like she died here.'
I put my guitar down on the floor and crawled so that I was sitting on my feet. Your round face, rimmed with baby fat, was always so childlike, as though you were an American Girl doll- but not anymore. In the past two weeks, your unworldly features had gone from innocent to bitter. In those two weeks, you had aged years.
'Do you think that' do you think Sarah is the reason your parents sold the house?'
'Of course.' You sighed and rolled over on to your side so that your head was by my knee. I could see your eyes trace the stitching in my jeans.
I slid onto my back to lie down next to you so we were side-by-side in the empty summer-house of your childhood. We had come down there every summer, you and me, since the June before sixth grade. We were down at the beach when your mom found out, eating Italian ice on the boardwalk. She came running to the sandy, splintering wood, barefoot with her hair undone. It was so unlike her. I could see the fear in your eyes as she approached us. You knew already, right then. In one look you knew what had happened.
You cried when you found out, heart-wrenching, uncontrollable sobs. I remember sitting on the pink, quilted bed in the guest bedroom with your head on my lap as you cried, cried for your dead sister, for your parents, for yourself. I didn't know what to do except for let you cry into the fabric of my jeans. I didn't know what to say to you. What does the best friend do?
Nothing. I did nothing. I just sat there and let you cry.
I let you cry when your parents sold the house. I let you cry when we helped pack all the furniture and photographs away. I let you cry every step of the way, until the tears dried up and you just walked around numb. Now there weren't even tears for m to deal with.
We sat that way on the floor for a few minutes, you and I, silent and thinking. Your eyes were rimmed with the pink, fleshy color of uncooked steak, and your nose was pink and raw from rubbing.
'When do your parents want us out of here?' I asked after a few minutes.
'I don't think they care. They just wanna get away from the house, and since we've already packed everything, we can just leave whenever.'
'Do you want to leave now?' I whispered.
You sniffed, and I could see your eyes well up. As you spoke, your voice cracked.
'No,' you said.
'Okay.'
I picked up my guitar, the only thing left in the house besides the two of us. I could see your eyes shut slowly as I began plucking a tune to the rhythm of your breathing. That, at least, was one thing I could do when you didn't cry. I could lie on the floor of your beach house with you and wait until you were ready to leave.
Carefully, quietly I picked out a simple melody on my worn guitar strings and let it fade away, unremembered.





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