I violently wrenched the steering wheel left and sped down the street, searching for him. The thick Michigan shrubbery tangled itself on the edges of the sidewalks but just looked like blurry sheets of emerald as my car raced past them. Puddles exploded as I drove through them and sprayed the sides of my car and windows.
Where was he?
It had been ten minutes since I got the call. He could’ve been freezing in this rain. He could have been getting pneumonia for god’s sake! The smells of stale air smothered with the tacky pine scent of my air freshener made my head ache, so I reached for the compartment near the cup holders to my right and pulled out my small bottle of Ibuprofen. Expertly maneuvering the child locked cap with my thumb and pointer finger, I tapped out two orange pills and swallowed them dry. I instantly regretted this choice as I felt them slowly descend down my stress tightened throat.
I drove past his house and slowly inched up the street beside it, cautiously scanning the sidewalks. And then I saw him.
I parked my car across the way from him, jogging over, “Hey… Jake.” His cheek was pressed onto the street along with the rest of his front, his back soaked by the pouring rain. I tugged on my hood and tried to lean down as far as I could without putting myself in his exact position. “Whatcha doing, bud?”
Jake closed his eyes and took in a deep breath before answering, “Waiting for the world to end.” I smirked and nudged his arm.
“Well, you’re gonna be waiting a long time then. The end of the world is far away.” I replied, sitting myself on the curb a few inches from his head.
“I don’t think so. It could be tomorrow. It could be today. It could be in a million years. We don’t know a thing. No one knows anything,” he quietly challenged me. I accepted it.
“Wouldn’t you say that’s the best thing, though? Not knowing when everything is just going to cease to exist and doing whatever you can to make your speck of a life important?”
“Why all these questions, Anna?” Jake raised his head and eventually the rest of him, propping himself up next to me.
He laughed and for a second I forgot why we were there. I forgot the fact that he was sick. I forgot my body and mind. I forgot the scenery and how he smelled of wet dog mixed with conditioned leather. I forgot where I was going tomorrow. I forgot it all. And I focused on his teeth. With yellow bases that slowly faded into a natural white and perfect alignment, Jake smiled into the space in front of him and the air became alive. Breathable. I could’ve swallowed buckets.
“I’m going to miss you,” he calmly said with a voice of coolness that set me on fire. I could have told him then. Told him everything that I’d felt for the past three years. I could’ve told him I loved him, but that would’ve been too risky.
I met him on that first day of eighth grade in Intro into Chemistry. Sitting right next to me, I obviously checked him out my first opportunity. No girl found him stunningly attractive those first few days, or even in the following years, because he wasn’t. With an awkwardly bulky body structure that granted him muscle in some places and absolute bone in others, he was disproportional all over. Jake always had a clump of hair right in front of the rest of his greasy, charcoal fringe that went straight up and wouldn’t commit to either side of his otherwise cleanly divided part. Kids made fun of him for it and when we got into high school, his head was shaved so short it left no opportunity for that same clump of hair to shoot up into space.
There is no story about me falling in love with him at first sight. It was a gradual thing, taking place over months and months made up of small moments and inside jokes. Jake sang songs with me from my favorite musicals in the hallways until we got yelled at by teachers because he knew it made me happy. He commented when I got my hair cut or wore a new blouse because he knew it made me happy. He’d go along with my sarcastic banters in class all the time because he knew it made me happy. But little did he know that those things he said and did were not the thing that made me the happiest, he was the one who made me happy.
He always wore blue shirts and I think he was aware that it was flattering to his pale skin and denim eyes. One day when I questioned him on his consistency of attire and basic shades of blue, he only laughed and said he liked to stick with what he knew. So there he went wearing the same few shirts in a rotation that everyone came to know.
Cheekbones high and soaring in the sky, his jawline dipped low and was sharper than most household knives. His cupid’s bow was over exaggerated and tucked itself near his teeth when he smiled, almost disappear entirely.
More importantly, I was fascinated with the way his brain worked. He was a sudoku puzzle I always tried to do in pen but after my first square, I realized that it was so complex pencil was the best option. Jake would say things that made you turn around and laugh at him but minutes later, you would understand his reasoning and question the situation yourself. He was always obsessively competitive and was not above cheating in small games we played in class, constantly talking smack about his opponents. None of his competitive actions were mean or cruel hearted, don’t get me wrong, they were funny coming from him because he was light hearted and never took life too seriously. That was before his grandfather passed.
After that day, Jake was never his same self. He wasn't to any minor acquaintance or teacher, but to his friends, small glints of sadness crept their way into his eyes and motions. He stopped using his hands so much when he talked and he rarely got excited about the latest video game or action movie. I knew something was wrong when he started to trade out his short sleeved blue polos for long sleeve flannels. To anyone else, this was no big deal. He was just a teenage boy changing his style. But when we were studying together in the library one day in April, he reached over to point at my notes and the cuff of his shirt pulled up slightly to reveal a thin, red line that stretched across a thick vein that always surfaced on his skin. My stomach flipped. The days went by and I kept it to myself until he called me one night crying on the phone at three in the morning telling me that his he wanted to do something bad to himself. I drove to his house and helped him outside with his mom, pushing him in the car.
That car ride was awful. The eerie silence that crept between us accompanied by the whimpers of Jake, sprawled out on the back seat and drumming of his mom’s fingers on the wheel. Her silent tears streaked down her cheeks and so did mine. The air conditioning was on and making my moist cheeks cold as well as finding its way into my nightgown whose once bright azure color now seemed dull. When we pulled up to the hospital, Jake’s mom and I pulled him out of the car, his arms draped around both of us. He was tired. He wasn’t dying, he was just tired. Tired of living. Before separated as he went into the examination room and I was sent to the waiting room, he turned to me with puffy eyes and looked me up and down with a weak smile and said, “Blue looks better on you than me.”
I pulled myself back into what was happening.
There we sat, side by side on the curb in the pouring rain. It was tragically romantic and a perfect time to spit out the words I had been chewing day after day. After all, I was moving to Massachusetts the next day so I didn’t have anything to lose. I could have told him everything. But I never did. He had too much to figure out for himself and I did not want to add the burden of myself and my love into his life.
This wasn’t a fairy tale, and I’m sorry you’ve gotten this far and realized that. I enjoy fairy tales as much as the next person, but sometimes that’s not always the way love stories end up. Not everyone lives happily ever after, especially with their first love. However, the first love is an experience everyone goes through. It is needed for us to move on and find our one love.
Not a day goes past where I don’t think about what would have happened if I just told him that I loved him in that pouring rain. Given another chance, I would’ve told him. So now it is up to you. Will you tell your own Jake, or will you forever live in a “what if”?