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The Last Kiss
My life really sucked until I met you. Well, maybe not "sucked", but it definitely wasn't perfect.
I can still remember the first thing you ever said to me. You walked into the room with your curly brown hair tied messily into a ponytail, and you had a pink messenger bag- the one filled with writing- slung over your right shoulder. At the time, I didn't know what the writing was, but later on you told me they were the names of every person you had ever met. You made me sign my name too, but a lot bigger than the others. You told me that secretly, you had been saving that block of clear space for someone like me.
You spotted me sitting at my desk, sketchbook flipped over so that nobody would see my drawings and doodles. I was working on a dragon and now that I think of it, I never finished it. Each time I tried, I remembered the way you walked down the aisle between the desks, snatched up my sketchbook, and began flipping through it with an interested expression as if you owned the thing. You were always a VERY straight forward person. "Hey!" I shouted, leaping up from my chair, ready to grab my sketchbook back, but not sure if that would be rude. I never showed my art to anyone other than my dog. And usually she drooled on them, so I didn't know if she loved them or if she just wanted to eat them. Before you, I didn't take chances. Without you, I might never have.
"Hello to you, too. I'm Andrea. Nice drawings." You tossed the sketchbook back to me, but it fumbled in my hands and fell onto the floor. Red-faced, I bent to pick it up. Avoiding your eyes, I shut it and placed it on my desk. Then you said one last, almost insignificant thing before you kept going towards your desk at the back of the classroom. "Well, see ya, Charlie." But that moment became the most significant thing the world could ever have come up with.
My stomach took a leap when you said my name, Andrea, and never came back. From that point on, I was in love with you. Your voice, your eyes, your special smiles that lit up my world. Even if the smile wasn't for me (which it usually wasn't), I felt the warmth radiating from you.
I didn’t know you existed until you came up to me that morning and I thought you'd moved there that year. I asked around. You will never understand how demoralized I was when I gathered that we'd been going to the same school district for ten years and I hadn't as much as looked at you. How could anyone not notice you? Especially me.
I didn't want to get embarrassed with rejection and I know that that proved me a coward, like many teenage boys. For a year, we swayed away from each other. I still saw you in the hallways with your friends, talking and laughing. Every time I saw you look my way, I had to force myself not to go down on one knee in front of you and beg you to be my girlfriend. That would have been a little over-dramatic. Even for my level of desperation.
My friend, Ryan, saw me staring at you once during lunch. "You LIKE her!" he managed to say between gusts of laughter, "She's a freak, Charlie. She's not even a cute freak. Trust me dude, stay far away." Brock heard this, and leaned over from the other side of Ryan.
“You know, he's right. Dude, you can get any girl in this school. Don’t blow your chances.” He said jokingly. I stopped talking to both of them after that.
One day you came into first period Geometry (the one class we had together because you were at an advanced level), late and crying. The teacher was dropping something off at the office at the time, so Ryan was free to stand up and block your way to your seat. "Well, well. Little Ms. Swanson is late. What should we do to punish you? Hm... I guess we'll have to hear your excuse first. If it's good, we might go easy on you. Right, Charlie?" He still held a grudge. I didn't say a word, but looked down at my desk. I don't know why I was embarrassed, Andrea. I really don't.
"Tell us, Ms. Swanson, what is your excuse?" he taunted again.
You murmured something, tears spilling over the rims of your pretty blue eyes. The normal Andrea would be in Ryan's face, threatening him with a shaking fist and making him wish he had kept his mouth shut. Something had to be very, very wrong, I thought.
"LOUDER, MS. SWANSON!"
I pushed my chair back, the legs screeching loudly in protest against the linoleum. Swiftly, I rose to my feet. My face was burning up in fury, not embarrassment this time. I strode up to you and grabbed your soft hand. "Come on Andrea, let's go," I said angrily. You looked up at me and nodded in agreement through your tears. I turned to Ryan and said, "You're sick. Picking on a girl? Not cool." Then I led you to the school garden outside.
We sat down on a white, wooden bench and I pulled you into a hug, because that felt like the only logical thing to do. You rocked there for half a hour. During that time you managed to tell me that your grandmother had died. You told me all about her and I listened. I cared. You made me believe that I wanted to know your grandmother. I wasn't afraid to make you feel better. I let you sob into my chest and soak my t-shirt- the one that I never washed again. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Corny. But I still have it.) When you stopped crying, you stared at me through eyes that I thought would never be happy again. I couldn't have that. I worked up all my courage- there wasn't a lot in that area- and whispered three words and your name into your ear, "I love you, Andrea Swanson."
You didn't say a word to me. You stared at me and I thought that you didn't feel at all like that about me. I thought you were mortified. Then you did the most amazing thing that had and has ever happened to me in my entire life; you kissed me for the first time. That was our first ever kiss, my first ever kiss, the last kiss that I will ever forget. Because that kiss... it was timeless.
It turns out that you had always loved me. Andrea, I love you every day, even now. We only kissed once on every date; when I left you at your doorstep. I admit, sometimes I got frustrated, but never at you. Now I wish we had done more things together like gone to Paris or to that meteor shower down in Alabama. You would have made those places famous to me, if not for the rest of the world. Because you were never just a meteor or the city of love. You were love itself, crashing into my Earth and setting it ablaze. Just like a meteor.
Once, only once, we had a stupid fight. You said that I should do more volunteer work for the community. “Andrea, I have so much to do without adding more work,” I had said lazily to you. We were doing homework in my living room and I was taking a break. A long one. “Charlie, come on. An hour a week is one step to making the world a better place. I do community work every other day! It would be so much fun to do that together!” You grinned at me and even to this day, I am amazed how I didn't appreciate that grin, one in a million. I must have been ill, or something of the sort, since your grins should have made me weak to my bones. I should have given you the world because of those beautiful smiles.
“That’s you, Andrea, not me,” I had said, briefly glancing up from the TV show I was watching. Your eyes flashed with a different kind of light than I usually saw. “Charlie, please. Think about the world, we could change it, me and you.”
"It takes more than two people to save the world," I grumbled. Oh gosh, Andrea. I was wrong. So, so wrong. It takes but one person to change the world. And you changed it alright.
"Yeah, sure, Charlie. But will you do it?"
"I said no. How about I take you to the movies instead? I'll even buy you the extra butter popcorn you love so much." I was unbelievably stupid. As I write this down, I am smacking my forehead.
You gathered up your books and paper, rushing out the door. I stared after you in shock. I didn't know how much it really compared to back then, but that lost me two whole days with you. Two days.
Slowly, I became angry at you for expecting so much. I thought of myself as... someone who had reached their best already. Someone who couldn't be any better than they already were. But that was you, Andrea. Not me. I went to school the next day and we sat at opposite ends of the lunch room. My new friend, Paul, noticed and asked, “What’s wrong with you and Andrea? Did you have a fight?” Even he knew that we never had fights.
“Yeah. She thinks that I am so lazy. She expects too much from me and wants me to be as good as... as good as. I don't know...”
"Andrea?" Paul asked, glancing in your direction. You were sitting all alone. You didn't have many friends anymore. They were all frauds and left after you became my girlfriend. Nobody messes with you. But I did. I hope you have gotten an idea of how awful I feel about that. I am truly sorry.
"No, Paul, not her. She's good, but she's not that good," I said, my face deadpan serious only because I believed in my words. They were wrong. You are that good. You are better. And I think that Paul knew it. He seems to always be ahead of me by a few days or hours or even years.Then I went on to explain what had happened. Paul eyed me kind of weirdly the entire time I was talking.
“Charlie, she’s right. You should be glad that she thinks you can do so much better. She loves you, man. I thought you loved her too.” Then he got up and goes to sit beside Andrea. I stared at him and got up, furiously dumping the rest of my lunch into a trashcan on my way out of the cafeteria. You and I had science lab next period and we were partners, so for the first time, I ditched class. I went to the same garden that I had cuddled with you on the day of our first kiss and thought. For the first time that I could remember, I just thought for a solid block of time. I thought and thought and thought. I thought about my life, my love, my family, everything. You were included in every category, Andrea. I finally came to a conclusion and a plan.
That Sunday, I went to your church. You were sitting in the last pew with your head bent in prayer. I silently sat down beside you and listened to the preacher. At first, I was uneasy, but then I truly listened. On that day, I got my belief in God. Maybe it was a sign. When everyone stood up to sing, I stood up too. I started to sing and you finally noticed me. I smiled at you and you stopped your singing for a moment, which might have broken my heart. To top everything off, you were the best singer I'd ever met. When you started singing again, it was stronger. After church, I took you to breakfast and asked you if you wanted to go with me to that cat farm and help out there. Your eyes shone even as we were shoveling cat poop. You were always so strong and independent. I bet even those cats loved you. I swear, that little tom kitten had his eyes on you. Don't worry, I had a little chat with him.
The senior prom was coming up two years later and I surprised you in your separate homeroom class with roses. Red for love, I told you later. I asked you in the sincere voice I could manage, "Andrea Swanson, will you got to the prom with me?" You laughed a beautiful laugh that made my spine tingle in excitement.
"Charlie, the one thing I have ever wanted in my whole life was to go to the prom with you. Except, MAYBE, that space shuttle, but I never actually got that one." Everyone in the class laughed and I stood there, watching you being so happy. Then you looked up and saw me still standing there. “Um, Charlie, that meant yes. Unless you wanted to ask Celia, too.” You pointed at your friend who sat beside you. That earned even more laughs and a blush from Celia. I grinned and handed you the flowers, then walked out, too joyous to be embarrassed.
I believed that you wanted that dance so much. It hurts my stomach when I think about how bad you wanted one night of dancing with me. The night of the prom, I put on my black rental tux and you put on that dazzling purple gown. You flew down the stairs like a fairy and pecked a kiss onto my cheek in front of my parents. Your parents were never home, and didn't take care of you. I detested them a little for that. A lot. But my mother, she loved you. She thought you were smart, beautiful, funny, brave, and the daughter she never had. You were all of those things.
You were as gorgeous as every day that night, but you had to be the most beautiful girl in a prom dress. With your smile, you would have been the most beautiful girl even if you had worn a paint-splattered t-shirt and ripped up jeans. That beautiful. You had a red and blue scarf wrapped around your neck and your hair was curled. And your eyes. Oh, your eyes. They were huge with excitement and the blue was darker, sparkling as you looked around your figurative family. My mother took a bunch of pictures of us. Of me and you. I have those pictures. I drew my first drawing of you with those pictures and that drawing was the best thing I have ever createdl. I without you, I might never have become a painter.
I borrowed my dad's blue minivan to drive to the dance. It was raining hard, so I covered us under my mother's pink umbrella, and we ran to the car, together. I opened the passenger seat and smiled at you in the way I reserved only for you.
I drove you only a few feet before I led you out of that car and we ran again through the rain with the umbrella to that tiny gazebo beside the swing-set at the park. I sat you on the bench and took your hand. We sat there for an hour, and I was content with watching you sing in the rain to the little bird who had gotten trapped under the shelter. Then, I found the same courage that overcame me when we sat on that park bench again as you smiled and I pulled out a little box from my pocket. "Andrea," I whispered to you. "Would you marry me?"
You stared at me. And stared at me. And stared at me. I got that same awful sensation that I had on that garden bench. That night was almost like a replay. "Um, you don't have to, though. And of course it would be after graduation and maybe even after college, it's just that I love you so much and-"
You touched your small finger onto my nose, shutting my blabbering up. "Charlie, give me a chance to give you an answer." You paused dramatically and even now I roll my eyes at that. You always could have been an actor, the way you loved drama and making everything picture perfect. You passed that on to me as well. "Yes, Charlie Kingsley, I will marry you. Gladly.After college."
I felt that fire you had set two years ago flare and I pulled you into a big hug. I hugged you so tight and buried my face into your soft, strawberry-scented hair. I cried a little, like you did on the garden bench. I hoped that you didn't n I poured every ounce of my love into that hug.
Then I carried you to the car, you laughing at the gesture. You wanted to drive. You said I was crying too hard, like a girl. I blushed, guessing that you did notice. "No. If I am too cheap to rent a limo, the least I can do is drive my date to the dance." You begged me to let you drive, laughing all the while.
But, no. I was the one who was behind the driver's wheel.
We were only just on the road, you already chattering about how lovely our wedding would be, and how it could be after at least four years of college, when I saw the car sitting on the road with no lights on. In the dark, it was too late to stop, so to avoid crashing into that car, I swerved to the right. Too far to the right. We were going on that forest road, the one in the middle of the oaks. I wanted it to be more magical and thought you would prefer it over the highway. I wonder if it would have been different if I had kept going straight. I didn't see the tree until it was too late. Oh Andrea, I am so sorry. I heard the dreadful scream. Your scream. Windows shattered, I hit my head on the wheel, and I heard a loud thump to my right.
I can still remember the feeling of blood flowing down my face, the intense pain in my head, pain everywhere, but I didn't care about me; I had to see that you were alright. I turned my head to look at you and your eyes were closed. You lay across the seats as still as a log, face as pale as ice on a freshly frozen lake. I thought you were gone and I don't think I’ll never be able to explain the empty feeling that filled me at the thought. In that moment, I wasn’t me.
But it turned out you still had a little life left in you. Through the rain, I heard your soft whisper. "Hold me, Charlie, hold me tight."
I loved you so much. I did as you wanted and you laid your head on my chest. Your curls were matted with blood and your eyes were glazed over. I knew you would never get the thing you had wanted since you met me. You and I would never reach the dance. “Andrea, you will live! Don't...” I said.
“Charlie, I won’t. Trust me, this is the right way, I think. Can you tell my parents that I love them?”
“No. You can’t die. You want this dance so much, you said it was what you had wanted forever and the most.” I believed that. You were so individual, so happy and full of energy. It wasn't possible for you to die.
"You're wrong. All I ever wanted was for you to ask me to be yours and the assurance you wanted to be mine. Charlie, this is the end of our date. Kiss me now, even though it's not on my doorstep. And- and I love you, Charlie."
"That feeling is mutual, Andrea," I said, choking on my tears. I leaned down to kiss you. You kissed back. Our lips were pressed together, and until your last breath, we held onto that kiss. Even when I felt you fading away, I kissed you. But soon, you didn't kiss back. I kept my lips to yours, even though it was just a body; a corpse. It was as creepy as it sounds.You were not really there anymore. Finally, I parted from our last ever kiss.
I knew that my heart had been torn from me. That first moment after the crash, I wasn’t me, but after your death, I definitely was and I felt every drop of pain boiling in my blood. I hated myself. I had killed you. I really wished I would die; that we would be even. I did not pick up my cell phone to call 911, but it turns out that the owner of the other car had. I passed out before the paramedics arrived. I think it was lucky that I was saved, so that when I did die, my death would mean as much as yours. I needed more time to learn everything you knew from birth.
I woke up in the county hospital. The first thing I asked was if you were alright. The young nurse looked so miserable when she had to shake her head. So I closed my eyes and told her exactly how much I loved you. I told her everything I ever knew about you. When I opened my eyes, I found the room half full of nurses. Every one of them was crying. I was too. But only one tear- one tear- escaped from my eye. I didn't cry for you for quite a while after that. I lost faith in everything.
Later, when they gave me even more bad news, I didn't flinch. Not a grimace, not a catch in breath. When the doctor told me I would never walk again, I didn't care. My worst nightmare had already happened and was never going to end.. I think that's what worried my mother and she quit her job, came to sit day and night by my side, sleeping occasionally on the cot that was brought in for her.
They returned your ring to me. The one I had saved five hundred dollars to buy. A year of saving compulsively. My mother was there when they handed it to my frozen figure and she laid her head into my lap and cried in anguish. She had lost an almost-daughter and her son had almost died. She cried both my pain and hers. For that, I am grateful, because I don't know what would have happened to me if that pain had remained.I hugged my mother's head and loved her too. I realized how lucky I was to have her. I asked her to go to the store and buy me a golden chain. For the rest of my days, I will wear that ring on a chain around my neck.
When I left the hospital, you weren't there to hug me and tell you how worried you were. I was alone among my parents and relatives. When your father embraced me and said he was sorry, I knew it was for more than just for us losing you. It was for his treatment towards you, and I knew he forgave me. If someone can forgive me for doing something so awful, I have to forgive them. I didn't forgive myself, though. I never forgave myself. Your father gave me your journal, you know. It was titled with my name. I read some of it every night. That's when I knew you were dead. Not gone. I cried all through it and it hurt me to see your name, my name, and your love for me spelled out. Nobody who could cause so much pain could be completely gone.
Your funeral ceremony was on the day after my release from the hospital. It was awful. Ryan and Brock were there, along with half the school and every one of your friends, your relatives, and your parents' friends. Really, it was the whole town. That huge church... it was full. They had you cremated. It was Paul's idea for the yellow balloons in which your remains were put along with a single yellow rose for each one. Except the one I released. My rose and balloon were red. We threw those balloons to the wind, wanting you to be everywhere, spreading your love. After everyone had said their words to you (I couldn't. It just- it didn't feel right), Ryan came over. "Told you she was bad news, dude. Friends?" and he stuck out his hand.
I couldn't believe his nerve! I stared at his hand, feeling like I was going to throw up, when Paul came to my rescue. He swooped in like Superman and gripped my arm in support as he said, "Shut the h*ll up, Ryan Peterson," he said. "You don't deserve to speak Andrea's name. And you definitely don't deserve Charlie's friendship."
Paul's words didn't seem to affect Ryan until I started to cry. I was proud to cry, proud to have the rights to cry about your death. I am proud to have been your friend. It scared the sucker (Ryan) off, alright. Paul... he is the best friend anyone could ask for, and you can tell because of how he treats me and how he can make me feel better in any situation. Even you dying. He did the impossible. I left the funeral early, having gotten a fever. "Right, Charlie," you must be thinking. Sarcastic as ever. Hah. I've had your voice in my head my whole life and I doubt I would be scared if I heard it once more. I would cherish it.
A few weeks later, I am at Paul's house and I spot a beer in his fridge. 'What if it helps control the pain? It worked for Dad's grandpa,' I told myself and reached to grab one just as Paul walked in. "Charlie, don't. You're not allowed to drink until the doctor gives you the okay. Charlie, are you alright?" I shook my head and Paul pulled over a chair to sit beside me. He gripped my shoulder again in that way he has. He wasn't afraid of hurting me to heal me faster.
"Charlie, you said that you believe in heaven and in God. You don't think that God would do anything that wasn't good enough for a person, do you? Andrea must be living like a queen, laughing with her grandmother up there while she waits for you. But also, imagine if she's seeing you. If she's watching you. Is this the person who you are? The person you want to be for her?" Paul says and I look him in the eye.
"I killed her. It's my fault."
Paul flinched at my words, clearly in pain about how I felt. He loved you, too. You were like his little sister, he told me once. And I was his best friend, blaming myself for everything. His best friend who lost a lot more than the ability to walk. "No, don't say that. Ever. It's nobody's fault. I almost...," he takes a deep breath. "When they announced the accident at the prom... they said a boy and his date had been in a fatal accident. They didn't say who. I panicked and searched all over the place for you, and Madeline left- she was my date if you remember- complaining that I was being stupid. Nothing bad really happened to people that she knew.
"I called your father. His voice was rough like he had been crying. I knew what had happened even before he told me. He said Andrea was dead. I hung up. I didn't want to hear if you were dead as well and I drove to the hospital in the middle of the night, barely making out what was in front of me through the pouring rain. I ran into the hospital, ignoring every shouting nurse. And saw you alive. Charlie, I cried. I cried in happiness and for the pain you had to be feeling. You had lost two people on that night and I had to watch you leave. Now you have to find yourself again. You don't have to feel that you lost anyone."
You know what, Andrea? Paul saved me.
He taught me that love does not have a limit. It lasts through everything. I've lived my life without you, but you were always there. You were the voice that was up there when I married your old friend Celia and you were the voice that laughed at my mistakes and pushed me through the hard times. When Celia and I had our little girl, we named her after you. She is so much like you. You are always in mine and Celia's thoughts.
So, my love, even though the Lord took you away much too soon, I will see you again when I leave this world. And it looks like it won't be too long for an old man like me. I miss you Andrea.
Why do only the best people die young?