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I can’t focus anymore on this project. I’ve spent too long focusing on it, and everything is just getting jumbled in my brain. I’m looking around aimlessly at my dorm now. Mack is watching a show on her computer, so I don’t want to bug her. I haven’t cleaned out my desk drawers in a while; maybe I will do that. I walk over to my desk and open up the bottom drawer, kneeling down. There are some papers carelessly thrown in there. They look important… I should really be more careful with those. I move them into a pile, but as I remove what looks like an unsigned syllabus, my hand grazes a lilac book. The lilac book from him.
All at once, I can feel a thousand different feelings in my heart as a deep cut is reopened from a simple glance at the book. Feelings that I locked away in the deepest, darkest part of my mind are now being reconsidered. I feel like I am in a gas chamber; the thoughts and feelings are quickly filling my mind, suffocating my sanity as I continue to look at the book. I clutch the book to my heart and unconsciously fall against the desk. I decide to open the book, and onto the floor falls a single dried and pressed rose. Seeing that rose for the first time in half a year only hurts my heart more, and I can feel each individual part of me slowly and painfully breaking once again.
Maybe I should start reading the book. Maybe it will help me get over my heartbreak. Or maybe it will only dig the cut deeper. Either way, I’ve already opened the book, so I might as well read some of it. My eyes fall on a note written in the front of the book, and I start drifting back to when I got the book.
I found the book in an old antique shop in an abandoned town with a boy who used to be mine. The scenes of that week are still vivid in my memory, playing over and over in my mind like my favorite scene from a movie. Only, for six months I had managed to turn off the projector. But now, the reel was playing again, like it hadn’t been turned off.
The day I got the book, it was late fall and fairly cold outside, but when the wind blew, it felt like mid winter. My thoughts changed drastically throughout the day from a foggy mist of confusion and anger to a blissful mist of young love and cheesy excitement.
That morning, I had decided to get in my car and just drive. I was so tired of myself, and I was stressing about so many things. I couldn’t think straight and everything I did was a sloppy entanglement of emotion and sensitivity. Incapable of dealing with myself any longer, I walked out of my dorm building, into my car, and just decided to leave for a bit. I started driving and thinking things through, unaware of my quickly changing scenery. When I finally emerged from my cave inside my mind, I was 347 miles away from campus. Only emerging because of the beeping signal that had started in my car, notifying me of my nearly empty gas tank, I pulled over to a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Routinely, I paid for my gas and put the pump into my car. No one else was at the gas pumps and no cars were in sight, so I decided to walk into the gas station and get directions and snacks. Upon walking into the station, I was greeted by a boy who looked around my age.
His name tag was worn and I could barely make out ‘Jack’. I looked up and met his eyes. He had eyes the color of lightning against a pitch black sky in a summer storm. They pierced his face like a bolt pierces a tree. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a face like his, yet his eyes were so captivating. I couldn’t stop staring at them; they were beautiful. He had lips the color of summer peaches and they looked just as soft. His eyebrows were dark and bushy and they reminded me of the way that storm clouds interject upon a summer blue sky. The boy’s hair was curly and messy, but it made him look even more unique. He was a lot taller than me, almost reaching the ceiling, and looked very strong.
Looking at him made all the clouds in my mind disappear, and all I could think about were those eyes and his perfect face. In that split second our eyes met, my heart had completely fallen for him. Why was I able to fall so fast? Was I that desperate or did my heart just know what it wanted?
“Hey,” he said, looking me right in the eyes. Oh gosh, his voice made me fall even more than his eyes did. His voice was deep and smooth.
“Hi!” I said a bit too excitedly. Looking at him made my world spin, but I couldn’t look away. His spell had already been cast over me; I was a lost cause.
“How are you today?” he asked me, still maintaining eye contact.
“I’m actually feeling alright now. How are you?” I replied without thinking.
“I’m good! What do you mean ‘feeling alright now’?” His face flashed with concern. Goodness, this boy had the ability to make my sentences into confused words just by looking at me. I couldn’t think straight again, but this time it was different. Before, my mind was murky with stress-filled thoughts. Now, my mind was flustered with giddiness and nervous joy.
“Oh nothing, I just had a lot on my mind, so I went on a drive and now I have no idea where I am, but my mind is no longer lost, so that is good I guess,” I said. Darn, even then I was babbling. Of course.
“Well then, let me be the first to welcome you to the town of Everton,” he said, letting a welcoming, soft smile take over his already radiant face. That smile beamed rays of sunshine and I will never forget it until the day I die. That smile could blow away all the storms in my mind. I miss that.
“Thanks,” I said, laughing. “I was thinking I might stay here for a while, away from university. Do you know where I could get a tour or something?”
“Ahh, a UNI student,” he said with a chuckle.
“Why is that funny?” I asked, trying not to sound offended. What did it matter if I was a university student?
“It isn’t, I just thought you looked like a university student, and I was happy to hear I was right,” he said, slightly raising an eyebrow. “Anyways, the town is very small, so you won’t find a tour shop around here. But I could always give you the exclusive Jack Hetzer tour if you would like. It’s a lot more engaging than a normal tour anyways, and I hear that the tour guide is single and in awe of the tourist’s beauty if she wants to get ice cream afterwards,” he had said, raising his eyebrow once again and smirking.
I remember thinking I would die in that moment. His shameless cheesiness was making my heart beat fast. Before I had a second to think about what to say, I replied, “Oh, is that so? I heard that the tourist’s favorite dessert was ice cream!” Wow. So flirty, Allison. Really good job. Why am I like this?
“Great,” he said, still smiling at me. “I’ll go get my stuff and close up and then we can head out.” He walked out from behind the counter and into a back room. My goodness he was tall. Then, I had remembered my car was still getting gas, so I yelled to Jack to let him know I would meet him outside.
When I reached my car, I took out the gas pump and got into the car to start the engine, but nothing happened. I tried again and all of a sudden, the hood started smoking, so I got out, mildly concerned with the amount of smoke pooling out of the car. Just then, Jack came running out with his stuff, looking panicked.
“No! Did you use the 87 gas pump?” What does that have to do with my car smoking? Why does he look like he is about to have a heart attack?
“Yeah, why?” I said, still confused.
“Aghh. That pump hasn’t been used in months because it has been known to carry a lot of electricity on it. When people end up using that pump, it pretty much sends an electrical surge through the car, completely frying it,” he said, covering his face with his hand. He had seemed so disappointed in that moment, but I was the one that had to get my car fixed.
“Oh. Great,” I said, unsure of what else to say. Where am I going to get it fixed? I’m in the middle of nowhere! “Is there somewhere I could get it fixed?” I asked, unsure and slightly embarrassed.
“I’ll fix it for you later today. No one ever comes to the station, so you can leave your car here for the afternoon.” Of course he could fix my car. Of course.
“Are you sure? I’d hate to be a burden,” I said, feeling bad about making him fix my car.
“No, of course not. Just as long as you stay out here and talk to me while I fix it.”
“Deal,” I said, laughing. It seemed like I could have actually gotten something out of this broken car. If only I had known then what I know now. Jack looked at me.
“You are absolutely stunning and I don’t even know your name,” he said. What does that mean? Oh right, my name.
“I’m Allison, but I usually go by Allie,” I said, unsure of what else to say.
“I like Allison. It suits you well,” he said, pausing to look at me. No one ever calls me Allison, but the way it sounded in his voice was amazing. “Are you ok with walking?”
“Of course!” I said, even though it was a bit chilly out.
“Perfect. Let’s get walking then!” he said, smiling at me and holding out his hand. Why did he have to hold out his hand? This trap was perfectly set by the universe. Everything he was doing was making me fall more and more.
I took his hand, not knowing what else to do and we started to walk out to the main road. I started to shiver as gust of wind rushed by. I remember it was so cold that day when the wind blew.
“Are you cold?” asked Jack.
“Very, but I will be alright,” I said, knowing there was nothing I could really do about it. I should have brought a jacket when I left the dorm that day, but I didn’t exactly know at the time that I was going on a road trip so I guess it was just bad planning on my part.
“Here,” he said, taking off his sweatshirt. He gave me his sweatshirt. Why did he do that to me? He didn’t even know me! He held out his sweatshirt for me to take and I cautiously did so. I shouldn’t have. Why did I just go with it? Where was the Allison that I knew? Where was the Allison I am now?
“You didn’t have to, but thank you, Jack,” I said, putting it on. As it went over my head, I caught a scent of him. It was like breathing in heaven. I wish I could relive that first moment I took in his scent. It was still fresh. If I were to smell the sweatshirt now, it would smell of him, but also of salt from tears and… no. Don’t think of that, Allison.
“Are you kidding? I had to! You are my guest and I couldn’t let you suffer. Plus you look about 100 times cuter in it than I do, anyways,” He said, looking me over. Everything he said that day made my heart melt.
I laughed and we walked in silence for a bit. The town was beautifully and drastically different than my campus. Old buildings were quite literally falling apart onto the streets and weeds were sprouted between the cracks of the sidewalks. It was like a town you would see in an old film. It is the town I see in the film of my memory, so I guess in a way, I was right to think that. It looked rich with history and untold stories I wish I knew at the time. Now, in my mind, it looked rich with sorrow and bliss, feelings and tears, pain and laughter. It's now filled with my untold story. The story that pains my heart everyday. I remember Jack’s sweatshirt was incredibly warm, so I wasn’t cold at all walking down the street.
Soon, we had approached a store and stopped in front of it. I looked in and saw a typewriter and some mannequins with delicate, lacy dresses draped carefully onto them, like a spider’s fragile web. How beautiful they were.
“This is the old antique shop. It has anything and everything you could possibly imagine and it has a lot of history in it. Do you want to go in and see?” he said excitedly.
I smiled at his excitement and agreed to go in. He was so thrilled when I said yes; I can remember his expression in that moment so clearly regardless of the time that has past since then.
We walked through the door and I remember being immediately drawn to the bookshelf. Jack followed me.
After a while of my looking, he interjected,“I love reading, too. I think old books are fascinating because they tell the stories that were in people’s hearts before all people could be connected easily through the internet.” He pulled out a beautiful lilac book with a ribbon sticking out of it to mark a place. “This book of poems is especially good and rather special to me. I have a copy of it at my house.”
The book was beautiful. I immediately wanted to know what was inside of it. “If you say it’s good, I will go by your word and buy it so I can read it,” I said.
“No, if you’re going to read it, I will buy it for you, so you will always remember me and Everton,” he paused and smiled at me. He then turned to the back of the store and shouted, “Ron? I’ve got a book I need to check out!”
Suddenly, an older man appeared with a cane. He was relatively short compared to me and he seemed to be confused. Nonetheless, he took the book from Jack’s hands and rung it up.
“Don’t you already have a copy of this, Jason?” Ron said, looking at Jack.
“Yeah,” he chuckled, “and my name is Jack, Ron. Anyway, the book is actually for Allison,” he explained, nodding to me. “Her car broke down, so she is stuck here until I can fix it. She wanted a tour of the town, so I decided to walk with her through the streets.”
“Ah, and Miss Allison, do you like poetry?” Ron looked at me quizzically.
“Yes, I love it! I am actually taking a course in late 18th century poetry at my university right now, and I find it absolutely fascinating,” I said, smiling at the old man. I don’t think he really cared to know about my classes, but I added it in anyway. He look at me and lightly laughed.
“Jason, I think you have found the perfect girl for you. When you would come in here when you were a little kid, all you would talk about is poetry this and poetry that. You would talk my ear off for hours. Do you remember that?” Ron said. Why couldn’t he just remember that his name was Jack, not Jason?
“Yes, I do, Ron,” he said, smiling again.
“Ahh, good times,” Ron said, thinking something to himself. “Well anyway, Miss Allison, I hope you enjoy this book as much as Jason does. He talks about it all the time.” He looked down and pulled out a beautiful rose from under his desk. The rose was a deep red and was by far the most beautiful rose I had ever seen. He handed it to me. “For the girl who’s heart and mind seems to be as beautiful as her face. This is my most beautiful rose from my garden and I’ve been waiting to give it to someone who looked worthy. And by all means, Miss Allison, you deserve this rose.”
I blushed and thanked him. “Of course, Miss Allison. I hope you have a great time here and enjoy your tour,” he said, winking at Jack. Why is he winking?
“Thanks, Ron! I’ll see you again soon!” Jack lead me out the door and we started walking again.
As we started walking, Jack took the book and rose. He gently took off the stem and placed the rose in the space between the cover and first page. Then, he took out a pen from his pocket and wrote something. He gave it back to me and told me not to open it until I missed him. Well Jack, I guess that time is right now then. How could I do this to myself?
I could feel another gust of wind pass, but his sweatshirt was so warm that it didn’t bother me. I still have his sweatshirt in my closet. It hasn’t been washed since I left Everton, which was almost 6 months ago now. I always think about washing it, but then I can never bring myself to do so because I know it will lose Jack’s scent.
Now, a hot tear is running down my face, as I think about when things ended with Jack. I had decided to stay in Everton that entire week, and if I didn’t end things, I think I would have gladly stayed there the rest of my life. I fell quickly for him and him for me. For once, everything seemed perfect. But only in that instant.
I’m trying not to remember the bad part of that week, but I can feel the sadness slowly winning over my brain. The day I brought our fling to an end was a dull day with smoky clouds filling the sky. How perfect it was for what was to follow.
He had convinced me to go hiking with him up a mountain and we were having so much fun. As we neared the top of the mountain, he had picked me up and told me to close my eyes. I reluctantly did so and trusted him to be careful. Why did I trust him to do that? This is all my fault. I set this trap up for myself.
After a while of him walking with me on his back, he carefully set me down and told me to open my eyes. I opened them and looked out. The view was captivating and I immediately was in awe of it. I could see all of Everton and the surrounding mountains. Everything looked so small and intricate. The mountains looked huge compared to the buildings I had passed while walking through the town with Jack. I could see what looked like Ron walking out of the antique shop towards the diner.
“What do you think?” Jack asked me.
“Gorgeous,” I replied, still looking out at the view.
Suddenly, a loud clap filled the air and I was startled by the sound. I am incredibly afraid of thunder and lightning, so instinctively, I had reacted with a jump. As my feet hit the ground, I stumbled on a rock, tripping and falling towards the side of the mountain. I began to slip off the side and in an instant, I was falling.
I don’t know what happened in that moment, but one second I was falling, and the next, I was on the top of the mountain looking at Jack, sliding down where I had previously been falling. I think that he had pushed me to the side to stop me from falling further. But he too lost his footing and started tumbling down the mountain. I remember screaming, but it was too late.
I could already see a deep red liquid flowing from Jack’s head and I knew it was over. He had hit his head on a rock. As quickly and carefully as I could, I ran down the mountain. When I reached him, he had already stopped breathing. He was dead because of me. He saved me. Why did you save me, Jack? If not for me, you would be alive.
Tears were stinging my cheeks and the salty taste of them was infecting my mouth as I stared at Jack. I shouted and shouted for help, but nobody came. I sat for hours, crying and not knowing what to do. I had no phone and no way to reach anyone. I was helpless.
Night had fallen as I reached the bottom of the mountain. I was exhausted physically and mentally as I tried to understand what had just happened. I ran to the fire station and explained to the captain what had happened. They called out a helicopter, but it was no use. He was gone. Forever. Because of me.
I can taste the same saltiness as I did that day sitting here right now as I think about it. I am sorry, Jack. So sorry. I would do anything to see you again.
Looking down at the book, I can see his beautiful penmanship. I finally gather the courage to read his note:
Hey Allison! It has only been a few hours since I met you and I’m already falling for you. You are the most gorgeous girl I have ever met and your smile is brightening my life. I hope I can stay with you for a long time. I don’t know how, but we will work this out. If you are reading this, you are probably back home without me, but just so you know, I will always be here in Everton, waiting for you. Always. ~Jack Hetzer
I feel a sharp pain in my chest as I read the note. I miss him so much. The reason he is gone is me. Every single day, I live with this burden on my shoulders. I can’t help but feel that I killed him. I am the reason things ended the way they did. The worst part is that I can’t do anything about it. As much I was helpless on that mountain, I am still helpless now, but I am weaker than before. Jack? I am weak because of you. I am weak because this truth hurts to carry on my shoulders. I know time will continue and I will get older, but this scar will remain forever on my heart. I am sorry.
I’m crying and shaking now, but I don’t care. I need to release this feeling or I’ll go crazy. How could I let this happen?
Mackenzie looks over at me and asks, “Allie, are you ok? You are crying, oh my goodness! What are you thinking about?”
No one knows about what happened, and I intend to keep it that way. My love and desire to live on died in Everton and I didn’t want to share that experience with anyone when I left. It hurt too much to even think about and, to be completely honest with myself, it still does. It’s like someone is always cutting into my heart slowly and painfully. So it remains my secret. It haunts me everyday, but I can’t escape it. I deserve this for what I’ve done.
“Nothing, I’m fine. I was just thinking about one of those sad dog commercials again.” I lie to Mack. She is no exception to my want for no one to know. This is my burden.
“Wow, Allison, you are so sad sometimes,” she says, laughing.
It hurts that she is laughing right now, but it isn’t her fault. She doesn’t know. I don’t think I can ever love again. It just hurts too much.
“Anyway, why were you so nervous earlier today? It’s not like you have any secrets to hide! You are literally the most honest person I know,” Mackenzie asked.
“I don’t know, the whole idea of having all my secrets exposed just bothers me. And you’re one to talk! You shut down the entire conversation when Tyler asked you what you were hiding!” I caught her. I guess everyone has their own secrets. But there is no way anyone could have a bigger secret than me. No way. She looks back at her computer screen, annoyed that I noticed.
“Whatever. Go back to thinking about your silly dog commercials,” she dismisses me.
No, thank you. I don’t want to think about my ‘silly dog commercials’ again for quite a while. It would save me a lot of hurt.