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You. Me. The Stars. Tonight.
The memory was still a little hazy in my mind. The edges weren’t sharp, but the general picture was there. The maples, elms and pines spread their arms open wide across the russet colored ground. The bench, more than likely constructed of the wood of one of those pines, sat on the edge. And the view—oh, that view. It was the best part. On a clear night, when the stars were almost reachable, twinkling like the moonlight reflecting in his eyes, anything seemed possible. Right there, on that mountain, overlooking everything in the valley and hearing nothing but the breathing of the one whose arms were wrapped around me—there is where I’d choose to be every day.
Unfortunately, you don’t always get what you want. I had to learn that lesson.
I still remember the one night that changed our lives forever. It had been an exhausting week. School hadn’t shown me any mercy, and the chemistry test that I’d had to face had slain my self-confidence in anything math or science related. It was a week when your everyday battles seemed like wars—when you felt completely and utterly inadequate. Just when I was ready to collapse from the mental and emotional exhaustion, I got a text from him. You. Me. The stars. Tonight.
I just sat there on my bed, smiling and forgetting how ugly I’d been feeling five seconds prior. He always knew exactly what I needed. It was like our hearts and minds flowed, threaded and weaved and intertwined together in the most intimate of ways. He read my deepest emotions as if they were plastered on my face like a neon sign, and I somehow was able to do the same with him. Other people noticed, too. Even though we went to school and socialized with people, with us, it was like we were in our own world, on an entirely different level and plane of existence.
I threw on some sweat pants and my Sienna Valley High sweatshirt. I slipped my Vans on, grabbed my car keys, and headed out the door. It was chilly outside, my breath clouding the air in front of me as I walked to my car. We usually planned on being at our place at around eight thirty. It was the perfect time for us because everyone who lived in the houses near our place had all retired for the night, and the temperature was perfect—crisp, but not freezing. We could be out there for hours. I drove up the winding mountain roads, trying to focus on the road when all I could think about was him.
I pulled off the main mountain road and onto a side road, taking that up another five minutes before small houses started spotting the sides of the street. One more left turn and two more right turns took me to a park. And thankfully, no one was there. Well, no one except for him. He stood leaning against a tree trunk, watching me as I pulled my car up next to his. I sucked in a breath as fire started exploding from within my chest and spreading throughout my body at the sight of him. I shut my car door behind me and walked toward him. He stepped away from the tree and met me, instantly pulling me close to him. “Hi, Gemma.”
Just the sound of my name coming from his voice made me want to melt, so I gripped him even tighter to me just in case my legs gave way. “Hi,” was all I could whisper back.
He took a small step back and put his index finger under my chin, lifting my eyes to meet his. He studied my face, my eyes, and all the emotions that were streaming through them at lightning speed. He leaned his face toward mine and kissed me, taking my hand into his at the same time and lacing his fingers through mine. Then stepping away and pulling me along after him, he led me to our bench and sat down, and I followed suit. We were professionals by now. My body relaxed into his, curling up to the contours of his body in all the right places. He wrapped his arms around me and held me close to him. We sat in that perfect silence for a couple minutes, just feeling each other, breathing each other’s air, and looking out over the valley that lay before us. The only lights we had were provided by the moon and the scattered street lights back on the road.
After those moments of silence, he turned to face me. “I’ve missed you, Gemma.”
The words that he breathed into the air stained the air with mint. He’d always had this amazing obsession with spearmint Altoids. I looked at him, reading the emotions in his eyes. They looked sorrowful and pained. Breaking the eye contact, I let my eyes fall and exhaled.
“Where have you been?” he asked. “ You’ve been at Sienna. I’ve seen you around. I just haven’t felt you here. What’s been going on?”
I sighed and took a couple seconds to let his question sink in. Softly and quietly, I said, “I don’t know. Life has been catching up with me. Everything is so stressful, and I feel like…like I’m losing control. Like I’m not enough.”
He said nothing at first, and I didn’t have the courage to look up at him. Suddenly his voice broke the silence. “Gem, you could never not be enough. You are more than enough. You are more than enough for me.”
I fell to pieces in two seconds. The feeling of being loved more than I could express by someone I didn’t deserve, who matched me and completed me in every way, along with all the other feelings that had been plaguing me that week, brought tears to my eyes. I allowed myself to cry in front of him since the only time I truly felt safe was when I was with him. He didn’t shush me or tell me to stop, he just pulled me close to him and held me. When my crying quieted, he kissed the tears that inched down my cheeks and whispered, “You are so beautiful,” into my ears. I wrapped my hand around the back of his neck and pulled his head closer to mine. His lips met mine in a perfect harmony of spirit, soul and body. He respected me, holding me like I was the most delicate thing he’d ever touched.
When our lips parted, I tucked my head into the side of his neck and whispered, “Never leave me.” I sounded so weak—so fragile—but it was how I was around him. He made me weak.
He whispered back, “Never.”
There we sat, on that park bench overlooking the world we hoped so submerge ourselves in—the beauty of nature and the wonder of love. There, no one else existed. It was just he and I, the only two people in the world who mattered in that moment. Life was forced to wait—the demands of every day were put on hold. We lost ourselves in each other’s arms, my heart finding its home in his and his in mine. We kissed and held each other, and I found myself wishing with every ounce of will I had that the night would never end.
When it finally did, though, and we both realized that we had to get home eventually, he walked me to my car and opened my door for me. I told him goodnight and turned to get in my car when he suddenly grabbed my arm. “Wait,” he said, an urgency present in his voice that hadn’t been there before.
I faced him, and with his one arm still grabbing mine, he pulled me a little closer to him. With unwavering eye contact, his forest green eyes pierced through my soul. “Gemma, I love you more than anything.”
I stared back at him for a couple seconds, hearing his words and seeing his feelings in his eyes. I’d seen them all night, but hearing them was a different story entirely. I felt that fire begin to make its way through my body again, and I looked at him with as much love and adoration as I could. “I love you too,” I said, reaching my hand up to his face. “I love you more than I could ever express.”
His eyes closed at my touch, and he reached his hand up to mine. Then, with a pain that was heartbreaking to watch, he let go of me and told me goodnight. I got in my car, shut the door, and drove away with him in my rearview mirror, watching my tail lights disappear.
That was the last time I ever saw him alive.
His grave read “A Lover—A True Friend and Companion. A Light That Will Never Go Out.” It could not be more correct. He illuminated the darkest parts of me—the places I’d kept secret and closed off from view. He made me face them and loved me through it. He had enough strength for the both of us, and at times, I found myself living just to see him the next day. He was the half of me I’d never known was dead. He brought me to life—every part of me. I lived to the fullest when I was with him, every facet of my personality shining the very brightest when he was there. Maybe it’s because he was the only one who really understood me and loved me despite who I am.
I can’t change what happened that night, as much as I wish I could. Trust me, I’ve spent years asking questions and screaming at myself and at God. Why? Why did it have to happen to him?
What actually happened that night was no secret to anyone. It made the newspaper headlines: TEEN KILLED BY DRUNK DRIVER IN SUV. Yeah, it was a drunk driver. Someone irresponsible. Someone with absolutely the most selfish attitude, thinking of only losing himself in liquor, who risked the lives of anyone who might have been on the road that night. He took everyone’s life into his own hands for those minutes when he was behind the wheel.
Why did I make it out alive? What did I do to deserve making it when he didn’t? I wasn’t half the person he was. What did I do? My questions are still unanswered.
Forever in my mind is the one place where we both lived—the one place where we felt the most alive. When I close my eyes, it’s what I see. In the silence of the morning and the still of the night, it’s where my heart takes me. It pulls me like the force of gravity back to where he and I spent those nights just learning to love—learning what it meant to belong to someone.
There, under the stars, in his arms, is where my heart lies. It knows no other home. And on those nights when I feel like life is going to get the best of me, when it’s all I can do to not completely fall apart in my room and scream for the sake of it, it’s his voice I hear in my mind. It calls me back to the moments of peace we shared, when the world was on fire and our hearts were one. I hear his voice—a beckon to remember.
You. Me. The stars. Tonight.