What Lies Amid the Lilacs This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

April 27, 2011
Everything about that house was now a lie. It seemed funny that exactly twenty-four hours ago I had wanted to come here more than anything. I’d wanted to run off the plane, speed to his house, race up the winding gravel driveway, fly through the front door, up the thickly carpeted stairs, and throw myself into the arms of the one person I’d trusted more than almost anyone else in the whole world. But not anymore.
My best friend Sarah greeted me when I got off the plane from my red-eye flight from Paris. My matching luggage set was stowed in the back of her car – my mementos and memories packed neatly next to my hopes and dreams for what was to come. We drove to the nearest McDonald’s drive-through and downed a summer’s worth of missed gossip and french fries. Our sweaty shoulders sticking to the worn leather upholstery, we propped our bare feet up on the dashboard, looked over our pretty pink toes, past the parking lot, and out into the night sky. There, while I was fishing for stars of summer gossip, Sarah had released a slew of information that turned the greasy fries in my stomach to hard, flaming meteor, hurtling toward my heart at a million miles an hour.
Several tense minutes, incriminating photographs, and pitying looks later, I never wanted to go to this house again. But I had to. I mean, I had only been gone for two months and he had cheated on me! The happy smiles over video chat and romantic phone conversations gave me the impression that things were going fine back home. But it had all been a lie. Still, despite what he’d done, no matter how much he’d hurt me, a part of me still wanted to see him, to hold him close, and to hear him tell me he loved me more than anything else in the world.
Now, the next morning, with my car stalling in front of his garage, I looked around this familiar setting. The large, white washed house was the postcard of the perfect American dream. Fringes from the quilted porch swing cushions fluttered in the late summer breeze. Round, blue pebbles lining the flower beds gleamed in the sunlight. The leaves of the lilac bush rustled in the breeze, whispering lies as the occasional petal floated down to litter the sparse green grass bellow. The immaculate front lawn, so trim and perfect, seemed to deny the beer bottles and wasted teens that had been splayed on the grass in the wake of my Bon Voyage party. How many parties, I wondered, had taken place in my absence. How many other girls had lain on those quilted cushions, breathing in the smell of summer honeysuckle. How many other girls had curled up on the deck chair, around the back of the house, their eyes reflecting the dancing flames from the fire as their hearts burned with passion. I knew what would happen if they sat in the striped deck chair on the edge of the fire pit. I knew they would shiver, pretending to be cold, and he would offer them his sweatshirt. They would accept it, the soft, blue cotton, with the quarterback’s name and football number emblazoned on the back. Then, as the night grew colder and cicadas serenaded the night, the mystery girl’s brain would become muddles in a fog of cologne, wood smoke, burnt s’mores, and young love, not knowing – or caring - that she was one of many, many others.
I knew the routine. I’d lived through it time and time again. I’d seen him perform the same campfire courting with the countless girls before me, before us. Back then I’d hovered on the sidelines, waiting. Always waiting. So passive, so timid, so grateful once he’d run out of other girls to toy with, and turned to me: the new girl in town, on the edge of the crowd, tugging on her short skirt and clutching an untouched beer. But that had been one year, two months, and twenty-three days ago, and now I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I’d ignored the occasional hook-up that had snaked through our interwoven fingers and unfolded behind my back. I’d convinced myself it was only my imagination, gripped his hand even tighter, and kept smiling.
Now I was a mix of swirling emotions, and ready to do something. Anything. Shutting off my car, I walked up the front steps, and rang the doorbell. Before the first set of chimes had finished echoing through the empty house I heard footsteps thundering down the stairs. As each footfall grew louder and louder, I grew more and more uncertain of what I had to do. The flower wreath hanging on the front door shook as the door was yanked back with a wild enthusiasm. His happy smiling face filled me with surprising warmth. Catching me up into a hug, he spun me around and around. Lilac bush, fire pit, porch swing – they all blended into one big swirl of color. As the world slid in and out off focus around me I caught myself laughing, gasping for air in our familiar whirl of giddy emotion. He put me back down on the ground and kissed me, sending familiar tingles down my spine. Everything was so easy, felt so safe.
But as I closed my eyes, the pictures I’d seen on Sarah’s phone swam back into my mind. My boyfriend making out with scantily clad girls on the beach . . . in the pool house . . . at a party. Over and over again a parade of soulless, faceless girls had paraded through our relationship. All of them had been more than happy to submit to my boyfriend’s white smile and charming attitude. I know it was terrible, but I doubted what I had been planning to do. This was a warm welcome, to say the least. Maybe he’d changed. Maybe spending the summer at home while I was in Paris had made him realize how much he missed me. It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. The parties, movies, cookouts, make outs . . . maybe all those girls were an attempt to compensate for him missing me. I’d ignored many underlying problems in our relationship, and it had turned out just fine. I mean, I knew we were both happy, and maybe we were still in love. And maybe . . . Maybe . . . It would turn out okay. Should stay? Ignore it? Or . . . or go? And never look back? . . . I didn’t know what to do!
Thoughts and emotions swirled through me. Doubt, self-pity, sadness, anger, frustration, love, longing, familiarity, safety; until one feeling broke through the rest: resolution.
I knew what would make me happy. Maybe not right away, but in the long run I would be happy. I broke away from the kiss. I loved the achingly familiar smell of sweat and sunlight, hair gel and honeysuckle. I opened my eyes. In front of me stood a handsome boy. The love of my life. Behind him the porch swing creaked back and forth, seeming to bear the weight of the many girls who had sat on it in my absence. I pictured their tan, tank top clad shoulders leaning into the cushions as they tossed their hair flirtatiously. Behind me the lilac bushes swayed back and forth in the breeze, whispering to me as their petals floated through the air – soft, silky gems of hope for what could still be. To my right lay a perfectly manicured lawn. Its bright green expanse was a sea filled with millions of blades of grass. Millions of choices. Taking a deep breath I tilted my head back, looked into his big blue eyes – eyes as blue as the clear summer sky above me – and uttered the words that would make or break our relationship, “Baby, I missed you so much . . ."

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