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“Be quick, El. It looks like a storm is brewing out there.”
“I know, Mom,” I yell back, snatching my coat from it’s hook by the door and dashing out.
Wind slaps my brown hair over my face as I climb the hill, oblivious to the storm gathering. Trees thrash below, caught in a silent dance, their orange leaves fluttering in gusts and swirling in tiny whirlwinds.
I stop and stare out, to where my house is just a little blip of light in the gathering twilight. I am on a hilly field, the grass rippling out before me in crashing waves. I close my eyes and twirl, letting the wind push me. I wish… I wish I could erase my mind. Get a clean slate.
Why would he remember me? Not even I can think of a good reason. We used to be friends. Best friends. Then it became something more, and I got scared. I didn’t want things to change between us.
But things did change.
Then he left, traveled the world. And here I am. And now he’s back.
Memories haunt me like ghosts. All the things I did and didn’t do.
I turn away from my house and start walking again, marching farther up the grassy hill. At the top there is an scarred wooden bench that looks like it’s about a thousand years old. I sit, and my fingers trace the hearts and initials carved by past lovers. I close my eyes.
Just for a moment, I imagine I can go back in time. I revisit the worn and tattered moment when he said he loved me. Of course I loved him. But like a friend. Right? Instead of telling him that is ridiculous, in my mind I whisper that I, too, love him.
I open my eyes, surprised to find tears stinging them. This should be a metaphor for everything in my life, I think bitterly. Always too late.
Behind me, the trees howl. It is only the afternoon. My last highschool class of the day just let out. But everyday, since the day he left, I would find myself going to this bench, despite the weather.
I turn to look at the woods behind me. Thunder rumbles in the distance. But even in the twilight, I can see the figure walking down the worn wooded path toward me. His bounce in his walk, his long wool overcoat -- they are all too familiar to me.
My breath catches in my throat. I don’t think he has seen me. I could still run. But I am frozen where I am perched, on the old wooden bench.
In the last feet to the bench, he looks up. I can’t read his expression in the gathering darkness, but he halts mid-stride. We just stare at eachother for several seconds, and then he continues down the path, and sits beside me on the bench. I can’t help myself; my eyes drink him in: his shaggy brown hair and green scarf. I wonder what I look like. Then I remember that I shouldn’t care. I turned him down.
My heart thunders like the sky.
“Hi,” I say, trying to sound off-hand. He is close enough that I don’t have to yell, even though the wind is competing with me for words.
He turns to me. Is he surprised? Sad? Angry? Happy, even? I can’t tell.
Should I say something? Like, “So, how’ve you been?” It sounds weak, even to me. I know -- knew -- him so well before he declared his undying love for me, that we would have laughed outright if I had said that.
I am looking at him again. He is looking at me. This is too dangerous. Soon, I know I will either burst into tears or throw myself into his arms. Neither of those are very flattering. But I need to say something.
“I didn’t know you came to this bench often,” I say. I don’t really know what I am saying.
He laughs. “We always used to meet here, remember?”
“Yeah,” I say. Of course I knew that. How could I forget?
I feel his hand on my shoulder. At the same time, a fat raindrop lands on my cheek, like a tear.
“I need to know, El,” he says. It is more of a yell, really. The rain is falling heavier now. “I still love you. And if you don’t love me… I won’t bother you ever again.”
My mind flashes to all of those times we broke out laughing after a lecture from Professor Picks. The way he slurps his spaghetti, or the way he sticks with track even though we all know he is dreadful at it. How we used to call each other in the middle of the night, and whisper for hours into the darkness.
My hand finds his, and I give it a squeeze. “Yes,” I whisper.
He leans in close. “What? I can’t hear you.”
The thunder is rolling across the sky like a marching band.
“Yes,” I say again, louder. A smile bursts across my face. “I love you.”
He gives a little whoop, and then we both break out laughing. Our hair is wet and plastered to our heads, and rain runs down our faces like tears. Happy tears. I hug him, and then he holds me at arms length, before giving me a slow kiss worthy of Snow White.
I lean into his shoulder as we watch the the storm rage. It is loud, wild and scary, but also reassuring and peaceful. Lightning dances across the sky in jagged swoops, and thunder plays the beat.
It is a perfect storm.