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Smoking is a terrible thing. It shrivels up your lungs and sends poison down your throat. Yet, I still placed the ever so addicting cancer stick up to my lips and my hands in my sweater pocket as I waited on the park bench.
Barely anyone visited the park in the dead of winter. Especially in an early Sunday morning like today. But there I sat, my body frozen to the wooden seat. My eyes were fixed on a black crow a couple feet away, as it pecked the ground in the search for food. Weird, I thought, aren’t birds supposed to fly away in the winter?
“Still smoking I see?”
I turned my attention away from the crow to see a familiar face smile at me from a distance. Despite the brittle temperature, her figure was still clad in a dress with a thin jacket draped delicately around her shoulders.
“I really ‘ought to quit.” I replied back, unable to resist a smirk.
She smiled as she joined me on the bench, close enough for me to count her freckles. Twelve, an answer I knew years ago. She turned her face at me, her red curls getting caught on her eye as she smiled back.
“Shame on you Matt” she retorted back “smoking is only for the cool kids, and you sir” her finger jabbed my shoulder playfully, “are most certainly not a cool kid.”
I chuckled, the cigarette still placed on my lips. “I’m cooler than you” I replied, jabbing her right back on the shoulder. Her skin was cold, almost like ice. “Jesus, Kate aren’t you cold?”
“I’m appalled Matthew C. Jones, we’ve been friends for ten ye-”
“Eleven.” I corrected.
Kate rolled her eyes “Kindergarten doesn’t count. I didn’t like you back then.” she sneered back “Anyways, we’ve been friends for an eternity and you still forget that I simply do not get cold?”
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes at her. “Oh I didn’t forget Kaitlyn T. Larson, I just fail to understand your mind set when you wear a dress in twenty degree weather.”
“Twenty-two degrees, mind you.” she smiled cockily as I scoffed.
It was our daily a meetup. A ritual that began roughly since we’ve been in second grade. Rain or snow, school day or weekend, we promised each other to ride our tiny little bikes, or in the case or cars now, to the park and sit on our familiar bench and talk, play, anything really. We’ve been so accustomed to meeting each other every day that we never really discuss it. We simply just do it. It was almost like instinct.
Suddenly just as the cold was going to seep into my bones, I felt a warm tingly feeling as Kate rubbed her head against my shoulder, snuggling her skin into the warmth of my jacket. Unconsciously, I tilted my head slightly onto hers, unable to to hide my grin.
“What color’s the sky today?” she asked softly.
I smiled. I’ve been waiting for her to ask that. You see, it was a daily routine between us. She was colorblind, had been since birth. I wouldn’t have never been friends with Kate if I hadn’t corrected her coloring skills in kindergarten as she ever so confidently colored the sky with a brown crayon. The rest was history after that, every day since then she asked me what color the sky was just to make sure, and today was no different.
“Gray” I said with a frown as I placed my arm around her. “It’s cloudy. Like it’s about to rain.”
My eyes flickered at her face as I noticed her smile disappeared as well. “Oh. That’s too bad.” she replied. “Is it the same gray as the color of Mr. Smith’s hair?”
I cracked a smile, the cigarette arching up in my mouth. “No, not that kind of gray, more like a faded gray, not exactly like the color of steel but not as pure as white, y’know. Also it’s not polite to make fun of the hair color of elders.”
I felt her giggle on my shoulder, as the sweet melody of her laughs dance alonged my ears. “Hey!” she exclaimed. “I just wanna make sure so I don’t make the same mistake in Kindergarten.”
I smirked. “Hey, that mistake gave you a best friend.”
“A best friend who smokes.” she replied.
“A best friend, no less.”
We sat there for a couple minutes. Her head on my shoulder and my arm around her form. All was silent.I was in total bliss, my mind was pleasantly fuzzy as I silently thought to myself that if humans could only live for a couple of minutes, I would have made my choice of time. It was freezing cold outside, and if there had been a jogger, a dog walker, or anyone really outside watching from a distance, they would’ve have thought we’d make a cute teenage couple you would see on television who were so loop de loop in love that it would make you physically sick.
But we weren’t.
No matter how much I wish we were.
A loud ring pierced the silence as we both wrenched apart. Kate checked her phone and inwardly cursed to herself.
“Crap, I’m late.” she said, jumping to her feet and flattening down her dress. “I gotta go.”
“What?” I felt cold again as her warmth no longer radiated my body “Slow down, where are you going?”
Kate smiled as she tugged on her sweater, pushing her a strand of red hair behind her ear. I self consciously swore to myself as I caught myself wishing it was me pushing that strand of hair back instead.
“I’ve got a date.” she chirped.
Suddenly I felt my lungs twist and my throat choke up. Funny, my cigarette isn't lit. I thought.
I swallowed, man did my throat hurt. “Lucky guy.” Man, was I pitiful.
“Yeah right.” Kate sub stepped towards me as I was still seated on the bench. “Matt don’t you dare light that cigarette okay?” her face hovered mine as she smiled. She giggled softly, but enough for my heart to rattle in it’s bones. She bounded back and began walking towards the park’s exit. I watched her go, feeling a hell lot like I was in a romance movie where the sad boy gets left behind as a corny 80s ballad plays in the background to enhance his sad mood.
Kate stopped and turned. If I was a wishful thinker, I would have thought she stopped to come back for me. But I am not.
She blew a kiss from afar and yelled “I’ll see you Matt!” and turned sharply and strided away. Her red hair and yellow dress contrasting the gray and murky surroundings.
I continued to watch her go. The cigarette locked in place between my lips. I felt bad lightening it up because she told me not to, but I couldn’t help it. I rather have my lungs and throat squeezed to death by nicotine than heartbreak.
I leaned back against the hard old wood of the bench, inhaling deeply and releasing a puff of smoke into the cold atmosphere. I noticed the crow I was watching earlier had moved away from the grass and instead was searching for food in the garbage. Pitiful, I thought as I took another drag.
Minutes passed, maybe hours, but I stayed seated on that god forbidden park bench thinking how ironic it was that color-blind people, who saw no shades, light, or hues, were the brightest things that shined on earth.