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Author's note: The inspiration for this novelette was my mother's childhood. She grew up in a small town. When we would visit in the Autumn, I was enchanted with the colors. I also knew that small towns have secrets, so I wrote a secret big enough for a group of innocent kids to enjoy; one that they could keep.
Autumn and I always had a love hate relationship. In the beginning, the leaves: red, orange, yellow, and golden brown fluttered to the damp ground in such a delicate way that it was as if they were putting on a dance recital. Not only was the fantastic array of colors breathtaking, but the weather was gorgeous. It was so beautiful in fact that on some days, it could almost grasp the inhuman quality of perfection. Anyone could feel unstoppable, for the days were anything but monotonous. Happiness became the sound of school buses and racing to be the first out of the school building. But on the other hand, there was the drag of Fall’s end. There was the muddy ground making the leaves stick to my sneakers and wind tugging at my curly brown hair, twisting it in knots. As the season that represented the start of a new school year where anything could happen suddenly begins to draw to a close, people begin to change just as the leaves once did. It truly begins to sink in that school work is not easy; you have to try hard to get above average grades. Exceeding others’ expectations only happens if you can first exceed your own. Slowly, we are all thrust down the long winding road that is the school year, and the season fades into a winter wonderland, then a warm spring, followed by a sweltering summer, as the cycle repeats every year.
We sprinted down the smooth black road and through the muddy trail in the woods, staining our bare feet as we went. The leaves fell softly, getting tangled in our hair and crumbling between our toes. If you thought unstoppable was unreachable think again, for then you didn’t see us. Noa, Ryan, and I were the very definition of “free” and just the sound of the word left its permanent ring in our ears. It was the last day of summer, the day before we entered the appropriately named “shark infested waters” of middle school, and we didn’t know it yet, but it was also one of the last days of our friendship. The expression, “it feels like it was just yesterday,” did not even cut it. In fact, I can still smell Noa’s apple shampoo from when her blond hair caught the breeze and sometimes, if I listen carefully enough, I can hear Ryan laughing sarcastically at my terrible jokes.
“Can we stop,” Ryan panted, almost choking, “I need some rest.” He stumbled over to a rusty old bench, tripping over his own feet.
“You okay, Ry?” Noa snorted, as she pat him on the back, her breathing just as heavy. We all sat on the cold bench giggling for a while from pure exhaustion before eventually, for the first time in years, there was complete silence. That was when Ryan broke down in tears. No, he didn’t just break down. Ryan, courageous, adventurous, strong, and colorful, was hysterical. Noa, who was at the time peeling the lead paint off the bench to occupy herself during the awkward pause, gave me an unforgettable sisterly look that pulled at my heartstrings, as we both put our arms around him and started tearing up as well. We did not need to speak, a glance was the only thing necessary for us to just know. Our eyes, all red and puffy from crying, said what we were always afraid that we would have to say. Noa’s green eyes, Ryan’s blue, and my hazel, all sobbed the same heartbreaking phrase: “goodbye”. At that we went our separate ways. Now any reasonable person would ask “why?” Why couldn’t you stay friends? The answer to that is plain and simple. For years, we knew this day would come, and as we made new friends over those years, we knew that once when we were all in the same school, there was no way in hell that the popular girl, the jock, and the quiet A-plus student would ever be accepted as friends. Just like the leaves in Autumn, my friends were changing, and though I was too stubborn to accept it, I was changing too.
“Everleigh!” my mother’s melodical voice made me groan as I began to roll out of bed, “sweetheart? Are you awake? It’s your first day of middle school!” She was freaking out from too much excitement and this time, she had good reason, for her oldest child, her first baby, was reaching a milestone unlike any other. Yet, somehow, it frustrated me that she was so overjoyed. Did she not know how much pain I was in?
I somehow managed to drag myself to the bathroom and examine myself in the mirror. My eyes were puffy from crying and my hair was completely unmanageable from turning over way too many times in my sleep. Eventually, I twisted the knots of hair into one firm bun on the back of my head and washed my face in hopes that no one would notice how my eyes turned a light greenish color from the million tears I shed. I slipped into my favorite pair of black skinny jeans and a neon blue t-shirt that read “Rose Family Reunion Summer 2011” in bolded letters across the front.
“You done in there, Leigh?” called Peter, my younger brother, banging his fists on the bathroom door impatiently, “Mom says you have to get to school soon!” I grunted sleepily and rolled my eyes, knocking off his baseball cap as I left; he laughed and playfully punched me in the shoulder.
The sky was gray and sad looking, as if it were about to cry. Just then, as my mom pulled up to the school to let me out of her mini van, it hit me. In fact it hit me so hard, that my heart began to ache and my body began to feel weak as if the wind was just knocked out of me. I sat in the car for a few short minutes to think about what was making my heart hurt so much. It was him. Ryan was walking into school from the buses wearing a football jersey, his black hair fresh from a hair cut that he must have gotten last night, and his blue eyes smiling as wide as he was. He and his athletic, sports-crazy friends were loudly chatting about their favorite players and what classes they were in together. It stung like a bee that it would never again be Noa and I that he was joking around with.
When I finally climbed out of the car, apologizing to my mother for making her late to work because of my “rebellious teenage behavior”, it was obvious that Ryan saw me. Though he continued to play around with his buddies, I could see the pain in his eyes and the color drain from his face as he glanced my way. I hurried by him, afraid that I would start to tear up. Speeding through the building, I headed to my locker, where a group of gossiping eighth graders blocked my way.
“Um, excuse me,” I muttered, “can you please move over a little? That’s my locker.” I pointed and gave an awkward smile. They started giggling, whispering in each other’s ears, until one girl caught my eye. This girl was no eighth grader, for this girl was Noa. I almost did not recognize her covered with make-up, heels on her feet, in a short pink flowered shirt, and with her hair so unbelievably perfect, with no wind to mess it up. She gave me a quick sympathetic smile, and the other girls seemed to just catch it, for utter shock was clear as day across their powdered faces.
They gave Noa a questioning look before one of the girls was rude enough to ask, “you know her?”
“Nope,” Noa rolled her eyes, glaring a fake-obnoxious, slightly pitiful look in my direction, “It’s just some loser. Let’s go, girls.” They left as fast as girls can go in sparkly high heels, but that did not change how horrible I felt. No, I did not just feel horrible, I felt absolutely heartbroken and betrayed by someone I thought I knew as well as myself. You see, betrayal is a funny thing. It doesn’t matter how close you were to that person, for betrayal can leave someone broken and scarred. Even though I had said “goodbye” the day before, it did not compare to the horrific “goodbye” that just tore a rip in my soul. Maya Angelou once said, “I have learned that people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When it comes to my first encounter with “The In-crowd”, I knew for a fact, that I would not be forgetting that feeling anytime soon.
We were taught that rain was supposed to be some metaphor for the start of something new. That doesn’t necessarily mean that “new” is good, for I was perfectly happy with the old. It’s like getting a new pair of boots. Your new ones are stiff and hard to get on your feet, yet you are told time and time again that you’ll get used to them. But, you see, you don’t want to get used to them, for you loved your old boots. When it started raining on my way to Homeroom, I could hear the rain outside pouring down on the careless who only dressed in shorts and t-shirts, no sweater, no jacket. Far too many kids in my grade rushed late into the building, dragging in mud and rain water, slipping on the floors to the amusement of the eighth graders who were merciless with their taunting.
When I finally reached my classroom, I headed to the back of the small room, where my new homeroom teacher was assigning seats and taking attendance.
“Ryan Anderson!” the young language arts teacher, who introduced herself as Ms. Kellie, called out in a thick British accent with sleep deprivation and worry in her voice, making it obvious that it was her first year teaching. Ryan proceeded to his new assigned seat, trying so hard to avoid me that it was evident in the way he quickly scurried like a mouse, shielding his face from my view.
Ms. Kellie looked like she was in her early twenties, just out of college. She had wavy, long auburn hair that curled just at her waist to make her model-like figure appear smaller than it was, gentle hazel eyes, and freckles on her checks and nose. Unlike many of the teachers that I had seen as I strode into school, Ms. Kellie had on the appropriate amount of makeup. Her lips were perfectly painted a cherry red, making her tired eyes brighter and her small, pointed nose seem flawless. She called a couple more names, but I suddenly spiraled into utter confusion and humanistic fear, because there was pretty-girl Noa standing at the other side of the room, once more gossiping about who was dating whom.
“Quinoa Archer!” I was instantly thrown back into reality as Ms. Kellie called the name I had once written dozens of times into my diaries as well as pages of memories in my thoughts. Noa raised her hand and walked towards our teacher, smiling as wide as the mouth of the Mississippi River.
“You can call me Quinn, Ms. Kellie,” she giggled, singing the words so innocently, so sweetly, that I thought I would get sick. I bet that you could not have ever predicted what happened next, for even I was caught completely off guard.
“Everleigh Rose!” Ms. Kellie’s voice echoed through my mind, leading me to believe that I was on some kind of prank-related reality television show or worse, in a nightmare. I was just waiting for the host to jump out from behind a desk and yell, “Gotcha!” The sudden surprise startled me into having a reoccurring flashback that took place just a few years ago.
“Tag! You’re it!” Noa jumped out from behind the swing set, laughing hysterically as she tapped my arm, sprinting as fast as an eight-year-old can go. I groaned, wiping sweat off my brow, realizing how fast I would need to go to catch up, then settling to go and try to find Ryan instead. In the distance I could hear his heavy breathing while he ran, and I stood there, waiting for him like a starved predator stalking her prey. He flew past me, but not speedy enough, as I wrestled him to the ground, watching as he gave up to my strength. I managed to chuckle under my breath, “you’re it.” Ryan didn’t mind losing to me though, for at the time, he was a skinny kid, so accepting defeat came easily to him. Along with that, he knew that winning made us more than exultant, and sweet Ryan was always trying to make his best friends happy. Just then, Noa came out of the blue, charging at top speed, piling on top of us, as we all collapsed into one giant heap of second-graders. If only we had known at the time how much this moment in our lives would mean to us four years later. If only, we had stopped to enjoy this small, yet precious piece of time so we would never feel like it had escaped us.
“Everleigh?” Ms. Kellie’s stressed out voice drew me back to reality like a slap in the face, as I leaped to my feet, apologized for daydreaming, and took my newly assigned seat right next to Quinoa “Quinn” Archer. Ms. Kellie just pat me on the back and loudly strode to the front of the classroom in her red, four inch heels that looked stylish with her short-sleeved denim dress, avoiding the occasional paper airplanes being thrown by a few of Ryan’s comedian friends. She gave a huge “thank-god-it’s-over” smile as she handed the attendance sheet to the security guard waiting outside the door. “Hello students,” she squealed in excitement, “welcome to your first year of middle school!” At that exact moment of time, I turned my head to Noa, or “Quinn”, next to me, who in return gave an apologetic turned spiteful look as her In-crowd friends caught her eye. That’s when I knew that Noa, one of my so-called best friends, was never coming back. This “Quinn” girl was here to stay.
If you could take back every insult you ever shouted and go back in time to stop yourself from hurting someone, would you? Would you go back to apologize and tell them that you love them? Would you take back every regret and live your life to the fullest? Would you, for example, take that job offer that you got from your soccer coach, or decide not to skip school the day of your field trip to the aquarium? These are common questions, but every decision makes you who you are. Some people don’t realize that before that make such an at-the-moment, minuscule mistake that can change the course of their lives. If I had a choice, I would take back all the fights, all the tears, and all the pain I had caused, but if I did, I would never be coming to the realization that I am a human being that has done normal, careless wrongs. How would I ever learn if I never accepted the consequences of my actions?
The rest of my first day of middle school was a total blur. Of course I remember homeroom with Ms. Kellie, and eating lunch with a bunch of nerdy kids who got stuck at the same table because they didn’t have many other friends. Everything else was jumbled up in my head, for my mind was in the clouds a large majority of the day, so as the final bell rang at its high pitch, I raced out the classroom to my locker. Then I hopped onto the bus, where I sat next to a sleeping girl in my grade who passed out as soon as she sat down, leaving me to constantly have to push her snoring head off my shoulder.
As soon as I was let off at the bus stop right outside my house, I ran to the door, kicking off my sandals and dropping off my red and black checkered backpack on the stoop. Quickly, I happened to glance at the movers across the street who were hoisting furniture onto their shoulders and dropping off ten boxes at a time. It reminded me of when Ryan moved into the yellow house down the street, so with that thought drifting around in my mind, one that I thought I should have forgotten, I took off.
Just yesterday, I felt the same feeling of freedom in my veins. I ran barefoot, hearing the breeze try to push against me as I broke through its tough force field with my adrenaline-powered speed. Years and years of racing down the hill through the woods left the soles of my feet strong and unbreakable, the pine cones never leaving a trace of anything but dirt. CRUNCH! The leaves crumbled effortlessly.; I was so fast that I swore the wind was cursing my name, for I had beaten it countless times, and it was angry. Even though the woods still smelled of rain from the morning, it did not bother me as much as it usually did. I needed it to distract me from my thoughts. For freedom was all I yearned for when I went down this winding path, and it greeted me like an old pal. Coming into my view was the rusty old bench, and there sat Ryan in the exact same position as he was in yesterday.
“Everleigh?” Ryan whispered questioningly, as if he thought I was just a figment of his imagination. I smiled and started running towards him, but then I stopped short, remembering once more how he was not supposed to be my best friend anymore. He stood up and instead came to me, his eyes more sad now than confused.
“I...I miss you, Everleigh,” he said more seriously, trying to hide the fact that he voice was beginning to crack as it always did when he was upset, “I miss us.” If you didn’t know Ryan, you would not how much he was hurting inside when he said things like that. You did not know how much he had to go through with his parents both serving overseas in the military, being practically raised by his mother’s parents, and his grandfather constantly bashing his father. On the outside, he appeared strong and confident, but only if you were his best friend, only if you were me or Noa, you knew how easy it was for him to feel that terrible. I reached out and grabbed his trembling hands, and told him what I should have said years ago.
“Ryan Demetri Anderson,” I began, looking straight into his tear-filled blue eyes, “you are the strongest, bravest, sweetest, most amazing human being that I have ever met. Do not ever forget that.” I put my arms around him and started choking up as well. Even if Noa had left our friendship so quickly, I could not bear to leave Ryan.
“Come sit with me and the guys tomorrow at lunch, Everleigh,” Ryan pleaded, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. I nodded in agreement, sincerity still streaming down my face, and he gave me a huge white-toothed grin that brightened up his whole face, right up to when he got a text message on his cell phone. “Sorry,” he said, looking annoyed,” my sister just texted me saying that Gramps is pretty mad that I didn’t clean my room. He’s blaming it on Dad not being here to tell me to do it. Ugh.” I chuckled under my breath. I gave him a warm hug as a goodbye for today. We both went our separate ways as soon as we sprinted out of the woods, returning to our homes at the opposite ends of Gourd Street.
When I returned home, my mother was waiting outside with open arms and an excited smile across her face, wanting to hear all about my first day. I just shrugged and said, “it was fine.” There was nothing my mom could do to get anymore out of me about how my day went, and she knew this, for her expression changed as I gave my short, three word answer. She quickly decided to change the subject.
“I bought some flowers for the new neighbors,” my mom grinned, “would you and Peter mind taking them across the street and introducing yourself?” I nodded, less than enthusiastic about the idea.
My whole life I had grown up across from the same brick house and saw its backyard every time I went over to Noa’s house, who’s backyard was separated from it by just an iron fence. After the elderly Chinese woman who had lived there passed away at the beginning of the summer, she left her property to her grandson in her will, and he was moving in from England over the last few days.
Peter and I skipped across the street, as I took a deep breath, and rang the doorbell. DING DONG DING DING! A tall, handsome Chinese man in a suit who looked like he was in his mid-twenties answered the door.
“Hello, kids, how may I help you?” the man asked in a charming British accent, smiling warmly and adjusting his purple tie. A young woman wearing yoga pants revealing a baby bump, a tank top bearing the Union Jack, black rimmed glasses, and long auburn hair in a high ponytail joined him at the door.
“Ms. Kellie?” I asked, surprised,”um, hi. Welcome to the Gourd Street Neighborhood.” The couple chuckled, and the man put his arm around Ms. Kellie’s waist.
“Everleigh, right?” Ms. Kellie laughed as I nodded respectively, “It’s okay sweetheart! You can call me Olivia when we are outside of school, seeing that we are neighbors now. This is my husband, Mr. Chang, but you can call him Jason.” She no longer seemed stressed from the hectic mess that was her first day teaching. I instantly brightened up, seeing how the young couple were so happy and light-hearted, while the world seemed so dark around them.
“Married? For real? You don’t even have the same last names, and aren’t you a little young?” Peter asked rudely, causing me to put my hand over his mouth and elbow him in the ribs. I was pretty sure at that point that my little brother just blew any chance we had of making a good impression. Ms. Kellie just laughed and looked up to stare lovingly into Jason’s eyes.
“It’s a long story, darlings,” she said, “a very long story of sacrifice for love. I would love for you to stop by one day to hear it, but it is getting dark.” The two of them giggled and Jason passionately kissed Ms. Kellie on the cheek. Peter gave a disgusted look, and waved goodbye.
“I would love to hear it, Ms. Kel...I mean Olivia,” I smiled, and said goodbye to Jason, for I would see Ms. Kellie tomorrow. All I could think about was how one day, I would want to be just as happy with someone just as Ms. Kellie seemed to be with Jason. When love shows up at my doorstep, I will gladly answer with my head held high, no matter if I am ready or not, and plan to have no regrets whatsoever.
I always had a hard time making friends. No one close to me was ever sure why, for many times I was told that I, Everleigh Mariah Rose, was an outgoing person, fun to be around. It could have been my shyness around people that I had never met; maybe it was because I was never as beautiful as girls like Noa and her so-called friends. Whatever the reason, I was glad that Ryan asked me to come meet his friends, for I needed someone to help me come out of my comfort zone and force me to meet new people. It was time for me to break down the walls that trapped me in and become a friend to more people like I was with Noa and Ryan up until a few days ago. Friendship would soon become my top priority, and I was ready to gradually pursue it.
It was the second day of middle school, and the world seemed to be bright and cheery, the sun smiling down at me. Ms. Kellie, looking like a model as usual, had complete control of Homeroom today, seeming brighter and giving me a huge grin once I stepped into her classroom. Ryan gave me a fist-bump or a hug every time I passed him in the hallway, telling me constantly how excited he was that I was sitting with him and his other friends at lunch.
As soon as lunchtime came around the corner, I was the first person out the door and the first person, ultimately, in the cafeteria. Ryan and his friends all entered with the rest of the crowd, arguing about who had the best baseball stats last season. I skipped over to them, and they all must have known who I was, for they pushed Ryan to the front of their group before taking their seats at the long, rectangular lunch table.
“Hi Ryan!” I glowed with excitement to be invited into their selective group even for just one lunch period.
“Hey Everleigh!” He grinned, then turned around to face the loud boys who were cracking up at each others jokes, “Everyone, this is Everleigh.”
“We know!” Laughed a loud Latino boy sitting at the other side of the table, “you haven’t stopped talking about her since this morning.” Ryan blushed then gave me a quick, embarrassed glance before introducing the rest of the bunch.
“Everleigh, this is my main man, Sean Archer,” Ryan paused then whispered in my ear, ”he’s Noa’s second cousin.” I nodded, putting out my hand to greet Sean, who had the same blond hair and green eyes as Noa, but with a smaller, flatter nose.
“Hey beautiful,” Sean flirted, shaking my hand gently then kissing it, making me blush so that my cheeks were a bright cherry red. Ryan rolled his eyes and pushed Sean out of the way, muttering “player” under his breath.
Ryan put his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. “This here, is Ivan Olszewski,” he said, motioning with his head to a skinny, shy Polish boy on his left. Ivan was very cute, having straight blond hair with natural brown/black highlights and huge, beautiful blue eyes that glistened every time he looked your way, yet he never spoke a word. The table on the right was filled with girls, all staring longingly at him and sighing every time he looked over.
“This is Christopher “Chris” Smith and Josiah Williams,” Ryan smiled, introducing two brown haired, brown-eyed boys that looked like they could be brothers. I was confused to why Ryan was smiling when he introduced Chris and Josiah, but only after a mere thirty seconds did I understand.
“Nice to meet you, Everleigh,” Chris said loudly, shaking my hand so hard, that I had trouble standing up straight.
“Yeah, nice to meet you, Everleigh,” Josiah said just as loud, shaking my hand just as hard. I giggled, realizing that Chris had an overly enthusiastic admirer. Ryan chuckled once more then turned to introduce me to the three other boys at the end of the table.
“Over here,” he said, walking around the table,”is Lanny Barrow, Angelo Rodriguez, and Gabriel “Gabe” Goldstein.” Lanny was Jamaican, with smooth dark skin, gentle-looking hazel eyes, and a strong accent. When I reached out to shake his hand, he gave me a welcoming fist-bump instead. Angelo was the black-haired, brown-eyed Latino boy who had made Ryan blush. He gave me a pat on the back and jokingly whispered in my ear, “Ryan’s loco ‘bout you, chica,” as I moved on to talk to the next boy. Gabe was an average sized kid with curly dark brown hair, brown eyes, and those glasses that changed to dark depending on the light. He said “hello” and gave a huge toothy grin. Right next to Gabe sat a short Filipino boy that Ryan did not even need to introduce, for this kid talked enough for both of them.
“Hey Everleigh! My name is John Paul Matapang and when I was a baby I moved from the Philippines; isn’t that cool? Heck, why am I asking? I know it’s cool. You know it’s cool. Hey, how ‘bout we go out? I’ve never had a girlfriend before accept this girl named Kimberly from the Philippines when I went over the summer, but I don’t that really counts ‘cause she asked me out and that is not how it works, right? Well, I guess I can work but it was sorta embarrassing when I told the guys that a girl asked me out. So what do ‘ya think?” I had never heard anyone talk as fast and as much at a time until I met John Paul. Infact, I must have left my mouth dropped wide open, for Ryan had to nudge me in the shoulder and tell me that it was rude to give an expression like that. Anyway, taking in all the warm, welcoming greetings that I had gotten from the guys, I sat down next to Ryan and Sean, began to eat my lunch, and joked around with the boys who would soon become the best friends I would ever have.
“Hey, Everleigh, you should come play with us in the Gourd Street Lot,” Chris brought up casually, taking another huge bite of his turkey sandwich. Josiah, for the first time since he moved to our New Jersey town in third grade, froze. He did not even dare to copy Chris’s words. All the boys turned their heads, mouths open in Chris’s direction. Even Ryan put his hand on his forehead in utter shock.
“Yo guys, it could work,” Angelo declared in Chris’s defense. At this point, I was far more than confused. What the heck was the “Gourd Street Lot”? Why was it such a huge deal if I went there? “Play” what? All the boys, lost in their own thoughts, turned to face me and sighed.
Ryan muttered under his breath, “She’s practically one of us, now. We should tell her.” The guys all looked at eachother then turned, each smiling at me as I gave an unsure expression, not sure if I was supposed to be worried, or relieved.
“Better yet,” Sean grinned mysteriously, “Let’s show her.”
Happiness. What does this three syllable word truly mean? The dictionary defines “happiness” as a noun meaning “a state of well being and contentment; joy”. If I could write the dictionary, my definition would be more simple, more beautiful. Happiness, you see, is making people laugh. It is telling someone they look great in their new shirt and smiling at a stranger when you pass them in the hallway. Happiness is the smell of fresh cut grass, the chilly thickness of fall air, and holding that special someone’s hand as you take a leap of faith. It can also be racing through the woods barefoot or playing a game of baseball with your friends after school. Happiness can define a lifestyle.
The moment the last bell rang, Sean, Ivan, Chris, Josiah, Lanny, Angelo, Gabe, John Paul, Ryan, and I raced out of our classrooms to our lockers, running over all the students that dared to get in our way. I could not erase the idea of this “Gourd Street Lot” from my mind the rest of the day. Ryan had promised that I could come with them as soon as the bus let off at my stop, and he would personally escort me from my house to the mysterious destination. When I flew onto the bus, I sat in the back next to him and Sean in a three-seater, ready to ask a million questions due to my being impatient.
“So, what is The Gourd Street Lot?” I pleaded, making Ryan roll his eyes sarcastically. Sean laughed then scooted so close to me that I could hear almost feel his heart beat.
“The Gourd Street Lot,” he said softly, as if he was a storyteller for centuries, “is the very reason to our existence. We spent a lifetime there and continue to write the book that is its brilliant, intriguing history. The Gourd Street Lot? It is happiness....just like you.” Sean winked, making my cheeks, for almost the third time these last few days, blush brilliantly. Ryan elbowed him in the shoulder as Lanny, sitting in the row behind us, began to laugh hysterically, peaking his head over the seat.
“Smooth, Mon.” he joked, as we all burst into a giggling fit. Sean laughed along for a few seconds, then rolled his eyes. The girls in the rows in front and the seats next to us weren’t laughing, instead batting their eyes flirtatiously and cooing about how “romantic” he was. However, as soon as shy, good-looking Ivan, surrounded by another mass of girls, filed onto the bus just as it was about to leave, they all quickly turned to flirt with him instead.
As soon as the bus came to my stop, Sean and Ryan got off with me. I ran down the driveway, dropped off our backpacks and shoes, then hurried back to the mailbox where they each held their own baseball glove, suddenly having solemn looks across their faces. They were more than solemn about stressing the significance of this event.
“You can borrow my glove if you need one,” Sean laughed, seeing my expression.
“The guys should all be there already,” Ryan said, looking at the clock on his cell phone. We fearlessly ran down Gourd Street, through the deepest parts of the woods, then crossed a bridge created of wooden planks from Home Depot, fallen branches, and wrapped with old tree roots, over a tiny creek. The mud seemed to pull us down as we ran, gripping our feet, but that did not bother us, for we were always stronger. Eventually, we came to a dry dirt clearing in the middle of the woods that was spotted with clumps of grass and the occasional pebbles. There stood each and every one of the boys, running freely, loudly joking around, and carrying baseball gloves, bats. As we walked towards them, the sounds drew to but a murmur and the quiet chirps of crickets among the trees. Chris, sensing the awkward that was hid behind the seriousness, decided to break the silence.
“So, are we gonna play or not?” he questioned in his booming voice.
“Yeah, are we gonna play or not?” Josiah copied, picking up a baseball from the ground and throwing it to Ryan, who caught it so fast that the sound of it hitting his glove echoed through the woods. The boys all smiled, running to their positions, and laying out paper bag bases. I was never more excited in my life. I turned to face Sean, ready to have my own spot in their sacred Gourd Street Lot.
“Um, well, we have all the positions filled...in fact we have enough so each kid can bat then go back to their position,” Sean thought out loud, putting his arm around my waist and leading me to the pitcher’s mound, “but you can pitch for me today, so I get to bat.” He put the ball in my hand and gave me a look that said he trusted me, as he jogged back to sit on a wooden bench used as a makeshift dugout. I took a look around to see what I had going for me. Catching, was Ryan, who was already taking out his anger by hurling insults a mile a minute to Sean, who was getting ready to bat for the first time. Playing first base, there was quick, always ready Angelo, who was already throwing the ball back and forth with Gabe, who played second. Quiet Ivan, playing third, was stretching, combing his his hair to perfection every time there was a gust of autumn wind. Little John Paul was on his toes getting ready to play shortstop, talking to all-star, plays-every-position Lanny who was currently in center field, speaking so extremely fast that he sounded like a buzzing bee. Chris was stretching out in right field, and Josiah was stretching in left field, constantly looking over to see what stretch he was doing.
“Want to do some practice throws?” Ryan shouted, interrupting my train of thought. I nodded, and took my position on the mound. ‘It can’t be that difficult,’ I thought, ‘I have watched Peter do this hundreds of times during the Little League season.’ With a deep breath and the universe on my side, I threw a pitch so close to perfection that even John Paul’s droning voice silenced; everyone including myself was in awe of my throw. Ryan took off his mask, giving me a huge smile. Sean ran to give me a high five.
We would meet in the Gourd Street Lot everyday after school to play baseball for the rest of the year. The boys were like my brothers and I was their sister. Rain, snow, and heat waves never held us back from meeting, for without saying it out loud, we all knew that inside, we all needed something to hold on to that would never abandon us. That “something” was the Gourd Street Lot. It was there when Ryan’s parents came home from Iraq in November, and it was there when they left again. When I was hurt once more by the crude stares and names thrown at me by Noa’s friends, the In-crowd, it was there. It was there when Gabe had to move to California when his mother got a new job, and it was there when Angelo’s father got laid off from his job. It made us happy.
Love is the most powerful thing on Earth. I’m sure you heard that millions of times and thought every single time you heard it about how corny the phrase was. But did you ever stop yourself from thinking that silly thought and realized how true it was? Young love is a beautiful thing, it is a sacred thing that can never be taken back. Once you truly love someone, a part of your heart is devoted to loving them forever, no matter if you broke up or not. Whoever said that when you are a teenager you cannot actually fall in love was pretty stupid. Anyone can fall in love heart first. (If you fall in love head first, it is not love.) We all want to fall in love whether we admit it out loud or to ourselves, and when your soul mate comes around you cannot tell at first. Love is not at first sight so when you finally open yourself up to someone, a part of you stays with them forever just as a part of them is tucked away in your heart.
There was always something about Spring that made me appreciate life. The butterflies fluttering to a rhythm all their own, the sweet smell of fresh cut grass, and the lightness of the air as the sun beat down on my face was unmatchable to that of any other season. I fell into what I considered love during the spring of my first year of middle school, in the seventh grade. It was the Saturday night of Peter’s first spring Little League practice under the lights, around dinnertime, so I was home alone, hungry, and bored out of my mind. That was when I got a text from Sean that read, “meet me @ gourd strt lot ;).” That make me giggle, as I started to get butterflies in my stomach, making it hard to breath without sighing as one does when feeling like they’re in love. Over the past few months, I can admit that I had developed a little crush on Sean. I wouldn’t even dare to tell Ryan, for both of them were my best friends and I did not want to mess up another friendship like the one I had with Noa. But, on the other hand, it was obvious Sean liked me back, for he flirted every chance he got since we met in the cafeteria during the first week of school. I always heard Noa’s friends gossiping about us during homeroom every time Ms. Kellie turned away; they were aways saying mean things about me but they did occasionally bring up how Sean and I would make a cute couple. It was quite often that I caught myself doodling “SEA (Sean Edward Archer) + EMR (Everleigh Mariah Rose)” in hearts all over the inside back covers of my notebooks as I daydreamed the day away. Ms. Kellie always understood, casually tapping me on the back to get my attention during class as she cruised through the room.
Locking the door on my way out of the house, I ran to the Gourd Street Lot as I had done countless times, with my heart beating wildly. When I came to the Lot, the sun was just beginning to set and the sky was a brilliant shade of pinkish orange. The air was cool and tasted like springtime. Sean was sitting criss-cross on a blanket, drinking orange soda, waiting for me and twiddling his thumbs.
“My mom said that this would be romantic,” he said, seeing the surprised look across my face.
“It’s amazing, Sean,” I grinned, “wow. You did this for me?” He nodded, seeming proud of himself that I liked the small picnic he set up for me. I sat next to him on the blanket and drank the soda he brought, eating the PB&Js that his mom made for us. Eventually Sean laid down on the blanket, motioning for me to do the same.
“It’s really pretty here at night,” Sean began, looking up at the stars that were beginning to twinkle as the sky grew darker, “I used to come here a lot when I was younger, just to stare at the night sky. When I met Ryan in the woods one day, I discovered that this was his special place too, so when we formed our group, this was the place we chose to hangout. You ever wonder why it’s called the Gourd Street Lot? See the pile of bricks over there?” I nodded, listening with great curiosity. “They used to be scattered all over the place. This area is where a house off Gourd Street must have once stood.”
“Sean, um, I have to tell you something,” I blushed, combing my hair out of my face with my nervous, shaking fingers. He turned on his side, but his hand on my check and mouthed ‘I know,’ and right then, was my very first kiss. He turned onto his back again, reaching for my hand, closing his eyes, and so I did the same. A million happy thoughts raced through my mind all at the same time, bursting so instantaneously that I could not help but start cracking up in a hysterical giggling fit. Sean could not help but laugh along, sounding almost relieved that I did not freak out. We talked for another hour and before then, I didn’t realize how sweet Sean could be. By the end of our evening, I liked him even more. Eventually it was time to go so he kissed me on the cheek, we hugged, said goodbye, and went our separate ways as soon as we reached Gourd Street.
I reached my house and felt around in my pocket. My key was missing and I left my cell phone on the kitchen counter! I kicked the door angrily then, annoyed, I sat in the dry grass near the street with my feet on the sidewalk to wait for someone to come home. Across the street, Jason pulled into his driveway, stepped out of his car and spotted me sitting by myself in the darkness.
“Are you okay, Everleigh?” he yelled across, concerned.
“Just lost my key, that’s all.” I responded, frustration evident in the tone of my voice.
Jason pulled his suitcase out of the back of his car then said soothingly, “how about you come inside to call your parents’ cell phones?” I nodded happily and ran across the street.
The Kellie-Chang house was everything to be expected from a young couple. It was extraordinarily modern, with bright colors filling the rooms with sunshine even though the moon was outside. Their kitchen, where I went to make my phone calls was covered with pictures of maps painted on the walls, the tables, the chairs, and even the pots. The idea would have seemed ugly if written down on paper but the true decor was more beautifully astonishing than any one person could imagine without seeing it themself.
When I walked in, a now extremely pregnant Ms. Kellie was there to help me use their old-fashioned telephone with no hesitation, accept when putting down her bowl of cookie dough ice cream. Jason left to change out of his fancy work clothes, leaving us alone.
“My mom says that she’ll be home in a few minutes. Thanks for let’n me use your phone, Olivia.” I grinned thankfully.
“No problem,” Ms. Kellie smiled back, “how about you stay here until your mom shows up?” I nodded appreciatively as she poured me a cup of tea from the pot she had on the stove top. That’s when I sat back and reexamined my picnic with Sean. Once more I had a fluttering in my stomach that warmed my heart.
“Olivia,” I asked,”will you tell me the story about how you met Jason? I remember you saying when I welcomed you to the neighborhood that you would tell me sometime.” She chuckled and came to sit next to me on the white couch in their living room.
“I was in the 10th grade level when I first met Jason,” she began, and I leaned in closer to catch every detail. Ms. Kellie looked like she was in some sort of trance as she told her story. “I was on a plane to China in an exchange student program and I sat right next to him, who was at the time, a freshman at the University of Cambridge going to visit relatives in Beijing. We talked nonstop the entire trip and by the end we knew everything about each other. To think, too! We had so much in common! Jason and I both wanted to travel the world, we both had a love for poetry, we both wanted to marry for love, we both wanted a big family, and we both were wise for our age. When the plane pulled into the airport, that was when we knew that we were soul mates. After spending a month in China together, disregarding our previous plans to which the trip was originally intended, we flew back to the U.K.. Jason finished up college, I finished high school, and in my senior year we got married. I went to college, Jason went to medical school, then, when we found out that his grandmother living in the United States had passed away leaving everything to him, her only grandchild, in her will, we spent a whole year traveling the world. Then, when we decided that we wanted to raise a family, we decided to settle down in Jason’s grandmother’s old house. I got a teaching job, and Jason got a high paying job as a neurosurgeon at the local hospital, which was fantastic considering he promised me at least three children when we were living a month in Spain.
Everleigh, I want you to remember my story and I hope you one day find love like I have. No, I am not saying that you should marry right out of high school or have a baby when you are twenty-four years old. I am saying that you are in charge of your own destiny, so love with all your being if you think that you have found the one worth fighting for. My love was not that easy, for there is always something to fight for. I had to make so many sacrifices but it was worth it in the end. My parents, you see, do not speak to me anymore and my sister, Alice, only started talking to me again last year. They think tradition is more important than love, and they surely do not believe in young love. Keep your head up high, Everleigh, and you will find someone just as I found Jason.” My mouth was practically hanging open with new-found acceptance for a way of life that I had never dreamed of. Ms. Kellie laughed at my expression as Jason came from behind the corner and it was obvious that he was listening in. He stared lovingly into her eyes and gave her another quick peck on the cheek.
For the sake of this story, I shall exaggerate that at that exact moment, the phone began to ring off the hook. Jason picked it up and his grin dropped to a look of shock, concern, and confusion. DING DONG DING DING! DING DONG DING DING! The doorbell was being pressed numerous times over and over again. Seeing that Jason was on the phone and Ms. Kellie could barely get up off the couch by herself, I raced to the door. With a turn of a doorknob, I opened it to the unexpected. Ryan stood in front of me, a river of tears running down his face. He was choking from crying so hard and his voice was cracking as he spoke.
“Your. Mom. Told. Me. You. Were. Wait’n. Here.” He could barely finish his sentences as he put his arms around me, sobbing uncontrollably. I could see my mom pulling into our driveway across the street. Jason joined us outside at the doorstep.
“Everleigh, darling,” he spoke soothingly, trying to fight back tears, “you guys should go home.”
“Jason!” I almost screamed to hear myself over Ryan, “What the heck is going on?”
Jason reached out to hold my hand through Ryan who was still gasping for a breath, “Sean’s in the hospital. He has been hit by a car.”
When someone we love passes away, there is never any comprehension to why. We find ourselves asking the same questions over and over again. Why did they die and why did they leave us? How dare they! Well, in truth, those questions are entirely too selfish. These people, these souls were human beings with a life and secrets that they kept to themselves. They were people with thoughts and opinions just like us. These people had dreams, they could have even been in love.
The waiting room at the hospital was packed. Sean’s parents were there, along with Ryan with his grandfather, Me with my mom, and all the boys in our group were there with a parent. We were told that Sean was in a coma and his injuries were severe. I couldn’t come to terms with what happened. ‘He couldn’t have been hit by a car. I was just lying next to him. He kissed me.’ I felt my fingers, numb from fear, touch my lips gently in disbelief. My thoughts were swarming around in my mind, giving me a massive headache. Ivan suddenly got up out of the chair, went down on his knees, and began to pray. Chris pat him on the back and dropped to his knees as well, followed by Josiah like always. Angelo attempted to crack a joke, but was silenced by his own heart breaking, as he turned to face me.
“I was there,” he starting choking up, “If I had just pushed him out of the way!” Angelo went through billions of options for what he could have done, acting like it was his fault. “I met him at his house when he came back. Sean told me all about the special night you had, and we were walking to go hang out at John Paul’s house when...” he couldn’t finish his sentence. Lanny put his arm on Angelo’s shoulder, comforting him as he rambled on. The nurse slowly inched closer and closer to Sean’s parents, and the room was in absolute silence. Everyone still swears to this day that they heard each other’s hearts beating in a fast-paced unity. The nurse whispered to his parents showing no expression, no evident sympathy. Mrs. Archer sunk to her knees, her eyes filling up with an ocean of tears. That was when I knew. Sean: smart, funny, handsome, and charming. Sean the living, breathing human being with thoughts, emotions, and dreams was gone. I have never felt more emotional pain in my entire life. It felt like someone stuck a dagger through my heart then pulled it out again. The rest was a total blur, for I was inside my own worst nightmare. I very much remember Ryan crying in my arms as we both collapsed onto the hospital floor and his grandfather saying the most horrible words that he possibly could.
“If your father was here, he wouldn’t let you cry like a little girl over such a foolish thing!” He shouted, pulling Ryan from my grasp and slapping him across the face. Ryan pulled himself away from his grandfather, fought back tears, and used all his strength to stand up for himself.
“Don’t you ever talk about my father like that again! He risks his life in Iraq everyday for you and he is definitely a greater man then you will ever be! Along with that, what the hell do you mean, “foolish”? Sean was my best friend!” Ryan bolted out of the emergency room, furious. Sean’s father, Mr. Archer, was shaking as he pointed to the door.
“You should leave,” he said to Ryan’s grandfather, and he that was exactly what did.
I always hated funeral homes. They reeked of flowers and desperation. Not only that, but you could hear the droning cries of past mourners echo through the halls. It was hard not to sob along with them, in fact, it was hard enough not to break down in general. The worst part of all about the funeral home was the sea of people dressed in black. Of course, I was the only one not in that eerie color. Instead, I wore the dark purple, lacey dress that I wore to our school’s formal dance, the one Sean told me I looked pretty in. He would have chuckled to see me sticking out like a sore thumb as usual. It hurt to think about him laughing again, so instead I began to people-watch.
Everyone was there. There were the boys, some kids in Sean’s classes, and then there was Sean’s family, including Noa, who I had forgotten was his cousin. I took a deep breath then began to make my way over to her. Ryan, who had been living at my house since he could not bare to stay with his grandfather, saw which way I was going and followed right behind me. She was shocked at first but then her eyes, sore from crying, began to fill up with tears once more. I burst into tears as well, while Ryan stood strong as we all embraced each other like the best friends we once were. There were no apologies, no arguments, nothing. We had no need to speak one word, for we knew each other well enough to know when each other was in emotional distress. Ryan, Noa, and I sat together, being each other’s shoulder to cry on when needed. Suddenly, right before the service began, my phone vibrated so I picked up.
“Hey darling, this is Jason. We are at the hospital and Olivia wants to talk to you.” I could hear Jason’s accent cracking with joy as he passed the phone to Ms. Kellie.
“Oh Everleigh! I gave birth!” She erupted into a mix of happy sobbing and laughter. “I was just calling to tell you what we named her! Annabel Lee Everette Chang. Her middle name is after you because I wanted her to be named for the bravest young lady that I have ever known, and her first name...well, Jason and I are suckers for Poe.”
“Congratulations!” I squealed even though inside, my heart ached that they named their baby the name of the dead lover in Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest poem. Then again, the poem was a way for Poe to come to terms with why the real Annabel Lee, his wife Virginia, was taken from him after battling with the “red death” (tuberculosis). I could still not come to terms with why Sean had been taken for me, and the poem echoed through my mind every time the priest spoke during the service, until it drove me mad.
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;--
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
“Welcome friends, family to mourn the death of Sean Edward Archer and, of course, celebrate his short life as well.” The priest’s voice boomed, giving me a massive headache. I spun into a half-conscious mindset, I grieved with such a heartache that the tears that ran down my cheeks were the only sign of how much pain I was in.
She was a child and I was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love--
I and my Annabel Lee--
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
The priest’s words became a blur and the pain inside my heart began to spread throughout my body. Inside my head, I was making selfish excuses to why he was gone, and my heart began to beat faster. It was like I had no more control and I felt trapped, while tears streamed down my face.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud by night
Chilling my Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
I regained control of my fingers and slowly squeezed Ryan’s hand. He took one look at me and mouthed ‘you’re bright red’ as he rested my head on his shoulder. I felt as if I could explode with all the emotion bubbling up inside of me, and I began to realize that “Annabel Lee” was more relevant that I had originally thought.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me:--
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of a cloud, chilling
And killing my Annabel Lee.
Was I going insane? I was beginning to believe that like the poem, the angels in Heaven were jealous of Sean and I; that was why he was taken from me. How selfish was I to actually think that! I was beginning to be eaten alive by the beast created of my own grief.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we--
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:--
Yes, it was quite simple to imagine that Sean’s soul and mine would never be apart for the same reasons. Slowly, my body began to be put back in my control, and I could tell in the tone of the priest’s voice that the service was coming to a conclusion. In silence, we all took the car ride, making our way to the graveyard. Noa and Ryan never left my side, for I was still shaking and could barely walk.
After the final prayer was said, I took off my heels and pulled my hair out of the ponytail holder. With one look, the boys knew what I was doing, and so did Noa, even though she knew nothing of the Gourd Street Lot, for that was was where I bolted off to. I was in tears the whole run, even with the dirt between my toes and the breeze knotting up my hair. It made me miss the glory days of Summer, the chilly Autumn, and Sean. Once we reached the Gourd Street Lot, everyone was in utter silence except me. I fell to my knees in pain, sobbing hysterically. John Paul pulled a wooden plank out of the rubble and stuck it in the ground, surrounding it with rocks to make it stable. Chris took out his pocket knife from his boot, and so did Josiah, but he gave Josiah the honors. He came over to me and carefully lead me to the plank. Josiah put the knife in my hand and held it with me, for I was shaking too violently to hold a knife on my own. He slowly starting carving words into the plank using my hand. I looked up to see what he carved and gasped, for my heart skipped a beat due to a glimpse of joy. The words read “The Sean Edward Archer Lot”, and under it, it read “aka the S.E.A.”. Instead of the Gourd Street Lot, it now had a proper name, the S.E.A., which would also serve as a kind of memorial. It suddenly hit me, the last verse of “Annabel Lee”.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea--
In her tomb by the side of the sea.
And that is where my darling Sean will always be. His ghost will be laughing at our jokes and playing baseball after school. He will be there, always, by the side of the S.E.A..
I’m assuming that by now, you want me to tell you how absolutely wonderful everything plays out. It’s a love story, right? Well, it’s not. Instead, it is a story of hurt, loss, and self redemption with love being a nice accomplice. Like the leaves, we all changed through the seasons, and we were all greatly affected by Sean’s death. Now, here is where we get to that well anticipated happy ending. But, before I do, let me remind you of one of the most important rules you can live by. Never forget, for to forget is the most horrible crime of all.
John Paul Matapang moved back to the Philippines after high school and became a fairly successful day-time talk show host. Years later, he married Kimberly, the first girl ever who had asked him out, and they had two little boys together. Lanny Barrow became an entrepreneur, starting the first restaurant on Gourd Street with a baseball theme called none other then, “The Gourd Street Lot.” Josiah Williams went on to play minor league ball after high school and spent five well-deserved years in the major league before retiring from his baseball career to open up a sports equipment store with Christopher Smith. After years of following after him, Chris ended up admiring Josiah instead, for he was the only one to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a baseball player, even for just a couple of years. Ivan Olszewski did male modeling jobs all over the world before landing a huge deal with a Parisian fashion company that eventually made him their CEO. No one is quite sure what Angelo Rodriguez did with the rest of his life. All we know is that he always came to our class reunions with the same sense of humor and a smile every year, even though he never mentioned what his life was like. Gabriel Goldstein moved back into town during senior year a changed man, experimenting with drugs and alcohol; he stayed that way for years, spending a majority of his life in rehab or jail before turning his life around. Of course, my courageous Ryan became our town’s hardest working police officer, determined to never let another pedestrian get hit by a drunk driver in our beautiful New Jersey town. We married after college and had five wonderful children: two lovely daughters and three energetic sons, the eldest of which we named Sean. I became a stay-at-home mom and a substitute teacher when the school district was in need of one. Ryan and I kept in touch with Noa, who moved to New York City for school, and ended up with a career on Broadway. She settled down there and after a series of events had a daughter who every Summer, came to spend a month with us on Gourd Street while Noa began a new show. Olivia and Jason had identical twin boys, Mason and Reid, a little over two years after Annabel Lee. The Chang kids grew up across the street for as long as I could remember, and I was always their favorite babysitter. Ironically, Anna became a babysitter for my kids years later.
You see, everything that has a beginning must have an end. Now that my son is starting his first year of middle school, it is time to finally have some closure. As I did many years ago, I throw off my shoes and begin to bolt down the street. It is harder to run now so I begin to do more of a jog, and the soles of my feet can feel the sharp pebbles. When I come to the small clearing I start to hear a group of kids laughing so I hide behind a large tree trunk. The kids, all ages, are playing baseball as we did long ago, and it breaks my heart. Slowly, I begin to leave, when I hear someone calling the name I have learned to go by.
“Mom?” My son, Sean, begins to jog over to me, and some of the kids begin to groan. They mutter things like, “Now it’s not a secret anymore.”
“What are you doing at the S.E.A.?” Sean says accusingly as if I followed him. My oldest daughter, Avery, goes to stand behind him, thinking that she was going to get yelled at for sneaking out of the house while grounded. I come out from behind the tree and with a deep breath, motion for all the kids to join in a circle as I sit on a rock right beside the sign I once carved into, giving Avery an ashamed look that barked ‘I’ll deal with you later’.
“Kids, I am going to tell you the story of this lot but you have to swear not to tell it to anyone unless they are invited to this sacred place.” They all leaned in, curiosity turning the wheels in their minds. “Mr. Barrow? Lanny Barrow Jr., right?” The boy nodded shyly. “Your father was one of the first, as was my husband and I. Now, kids, this was once called the Gourd Street Lot. Its name changed just as the leaves in the fall, as we changed that year, and as you will change too. Kids, it is okay to change, but never forget who you once were and never lose touch of what you are inside.” I turned to face Sean and Avery, tears welling up in my eyes, “now, you two especially, don’t you ever forget that.” As I began to tell the story, I looked across the lot to see the three ghosts of Ryan, Noa, and I from the summer before my first year of middle school that I missed with all my heart, joined with the ghost of the first Sean, running through the woods barefoot without a care in the world. I saw the ghost of my carefree self stop for a second, and see what I had become. From the look in her eyes, she was proud, and that made me smile, for I was proud too.