At the Tire Swing

March 10, 2011
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I looked through the front window, into my home, where my family was eating a nice, happy meal without me. They were laughing at something, and my father looked, for once in his life, happy. Sheila had a huge smile on her face, and I could tell it was actually real because she looked… pretty. My heart ached. Sterling looked at me as I stared into the window of my home, from out, looking in. “You okay?” he asked.
I took a shaky breath. “I wouldn’t mind getting lost,” I said, sinking back into the shotgun seat of the Mantis and rebuckling my seatbelt. I looked into his concerned eyes. “C’mon, let’s go have an adventure somewhere.”
We drove around aimlessly, talking and telling stories and wasting entirely too much gas. I would tell him to go left; he would go left. I said to go right; he turned to the right. When I told him to do a doughnut in the middle of a cul-de-sac, he did three of them until a grumpy middle-aged man came running out of his house, shaking his fist. Eventually we drove past a playground that I had never seen before. “Let’s go,” I said excitedly. Sterling obliged with a small smile at my childlike tendencies that only appeared around him, driving into the parking lot and parking across three parking spaces. I giggled at his ‘talent’ and clambered out of the car into the cold, jogging across the snowy ground, past the smallish, fenced-in pool and the old park benches towards the playground. It was pretty basic; a swingset with four swings and two baby swings; a teeter-totter; two metal slides, some monkey bars; one of those weird monkey cage things that had dangerous-looking icicles sticking down from it; and a tire swing. I walked over to the tire swing, my blue boots crunching in the snow. Sterling followed me. I saw down on it, situating my legs in the hole awkwardly. Sterling sat across from me, fit his legs in with mine so our knees were slightly touching. We slowly began to spin.
“How’s your home life been?” he asked after a while.
“All right, I guess.” I didn’t look him in the eyes; I focused on the freezing metal chains that made my hands burn from the cold; they made me wish I had mittens. “It looks like they do better off when I’m not around.”
Sterling watched my face as we slowly spun in the circle; I could feel his eyes on me. I finally looked up at him after we had turned around twice; his eyes were soft and worried. “Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked defensively. “I don’t… I don’t need any sympathy. I can handle myself, okay? I–” My voice betrayed me as it, and I, broke. I looked down at my shoes as a tear fell out of my eye and plopped into my lap.
Sterling put his hand under my chin, lifting my face so I could look in his eyes, his eyes that searching my face, his eyes with unfathomable depths. “It’s okay,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be, but if you need it to be… it’s okay.”
I up looked at Sterling, feeling confused and hurt and worried and actually… happy. Was this what happiness was? Was it a friend holding you up? Was it something more, found in a place that I never wanted to look? “Why do you care?” I asked, my voice breaking again. “I’m just… me.”
“There’s nothing just about you,” he said in a tender voice that made my heart squeeze shut but open up to him simultaneously. “You’re special, Clara. You have a light in you that other people don’t have. And I don’t know why you can’t see it.”
“Because there’s nothing there,” I said. I was angry and frazzled and I didn’t have to have to go through this; not again, and at the very least not now, if ever. All being special meant was having the right anatomy to please a guy, and I wasn’t going to put myself there again. I had had enough. And Sterling could tell.
“Okay,” he said simply. And we fell into a silence. I used my foot to spin the tire swing in the opposite direction, and Sterling did the same. We spun and spun, faster and faster, and my hat flew off but I didn’t care, because I wasn’t in this world anymore. I had lost the world in the blur that moved past me, around me, the world that flew away from me as I looked into the pale green eyes that mirrored my intensity from across the short space. I felt like I was going to be sick until I focused on Sterling’s clear face. We spun in a tight circle, the rusty chains groaning from use, and ice eventually cracked from above and rained down on us. It missed us and slid off my coat, leaving long streaks like tears would, yet we continued to spin in our own little world, one of frozen hands and cold air and intense green eyes.
When Sterling and I walked back to the car, I hopped on the hood and stared up at the stars in the black night and black world that I was now a part of once again. Sterling simply leaned back and sat, being tall enough to reach with his long legs. I looked at him, and before I understood what I was doing or what had happened, he had looked at me with those eyes and we were kissing. It was sweet and short and very warm. I actually felt warm, for the first time since God knew when, maybe since before my mother died. I opened my eyes, and I couldn’t even see mine reflected in his, because Sterling eyes were more alive than any I had ever known, especially my own. I could feel again; I felt the hood of his car beneath me, and I felt warm close to his face. I saw our breath swirling in the air, and I felt the electricity in his sparkling green eyes. “Sterling…” I could see his name in the air, rising up with the stars.
“I know, Clara.” His eyes betrayed a little hurt, but they were still as strong and supportive as ever. “But still… I want to kiss you. One last time.”
His face neared mine, his eyes sure, and the butterflies overtook me. His nose was barely brushing against mine, and he waited there, waited for me to pull away or to tell him no. I felt almost sick and my mind was racing because this was so wrong yet it was completely right and he was in pain yet he was still here and I didn’t know why he was here because it couldn’t have been me, but all of the worry and confusion melted away as his lips met finally mine. He pulled me closer to him and held me close like no one had, and I felt as though he was bringing my soul up from my toes, warming my entire body. It was like I had been lit on fire, but not a destructive one that I so loved. It was a homey fire that belonged in a fireplace to keep your feet and little toes warm and cozy. It was the wool socks that my mom had given me the day before she died. It was like the first cup of green tea I drank with Sterling in the little coffee shop. It was like the heater he had turned on in his basement the first time I had watched a movie at his house. It was the pocket-sized snail hand warmer he had gotten me for Christmas, and the hat that was in my pocket, soaking wet from the snow and dripping tears I wouldn’t let myself cry into the depths of my pocket where they would never be found. I opened my eyes again and looked at him, and emotion was now welling up in the heat. Sterling stared at me, and then stood up and was suddenly not on the car. He picked me up, his hands sure and firm on my waist, and for a moment I thought he wouldn’t let me go. But then he put me down, turned his back on me, and to walk to the car. I got inside the shotgun seat without looking at him and he didn’t look at me, and we drove away from the icy cold playground under the even colder moon, emotion swirling around inside of me, making me as dizzy as I was in the spinning world of a tire swing.

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