Second Chance

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You told me to give you a second chance, and so I did. We met at dusk on the corner halfway between our houses, like we always used to when we were kids. You were wearing a simple white dress with pale green stripes, and your hair was pulled back into a messy braid. “Next time,” you told me, “I’ll climb in through your window after you text me in the middle of the night about how lonely you are.”
We couldn’t get that particular detail, but you were still determined to cram as many of the things you romanticized into one night. We started out by walking up the sloping road to the park. “Tell me a story,” you said, and so I told you about the spirits that lived inside streetlamps and came out when the mist descended. You had a smile on your lips as you listened. The sound of my voice blended with the singing cicadas until I was no longer sure which was which, and soon the fireflies began to seem like tiny fiery shards of the spirits in the story.
Night fell. We sat immobile on the swings and looked up at the sky, not speaking. You wanted to see the stars, but there was a faint cloud cover, and the sky that was still tinged purple at the edges intermingled with the distant city glow. After a while, you got to your feet and said you were hungry, so we walked back to my house to get the car and drove to the nearest midnight diner. “It’ll have to do even though it isn’t midnight yet,” you said.
We ate smoked salmon sandwiches and potato fries. Your hair was coming out of its braid, and you pulled it loose and twisted it absently around your finger while you talked. I wanted to talk about how the clouds looked like they were resting on a slab of glass in the sky, but you were more interested in the poetry of insomnia, so I nibbled on bread crusts and listened quietly to you instead.
Maybe I would have argued with you once, but you had asked for this to be our second chance.
When we finished our sandwiches, we left our booth and went out into the parking lot. It was almost eleven o’clock. Because you thought maybe the stars would still come out, we got back in the car and drove down to the beach. It was deserted. We took off our shoes and walked side by side, our toes digging into the cool sand. The empty lifeguard chair loomed nearby, and a lone sand castle stood by the water’s edge.
“Let’s run,” you said. And so I chased you down the beach, our feet splashing in the waves. You were giddy with laughter, your hair blown everywhere by the salty breeze. Far, far down the beach, where the rocks bit into the soles of our feet and the weeds began to creep across the sand, we came to a stop, chests heaving for air. The moon had come out and it lit your face from the side so that I could just barely see the curve of your smile.
You kissed me. Your lips were sticky and hungry for mine. “Let’s pretend this is our first kiss,” you whispered, and I tried, but the memory of our real first kiss kept surfacing and reminding me. Reminding me of the days that felt like they were stolen, the moments in the dark when we laughed so hard our heartbeats got mixed together. And I couldn’t help thinking that we were just playacting, following a script that could only imitate the truth of those lost days.
The stars were out by then, so we stayed for a while longer, lying on our backs and tracing the lines of each others’ faces. You kissed my fingers and ran your own across my chin. “Let’s live like this forever,” you said. “Maybe it we run fast enough, the stars won’t go away and the beach will never end.” But we decided that we couldn’t live without the sun, at least not happily, and so we left the beach and drove away.
We drove for a long time, our headlights carving twin paths along the empty road. You rolled down the windows and blasted love songs on the stereo, and we both sang along at the top of our lungs. The wind rushed by and you stood up through the sunroof, head tipped back like you wanted to drink in the moon.
We pulled over on the side of the road and made the short hike to the top of the mountain, which was really more like a large hill dotted with trees. You held my hand on the way up. At the top, you picked a wildflower and braided it into your hair. “It’s not a rose,” you said, “but it’ll do.”
You told me to talk about starlight or heaven or the moon, but my musings weren’t romantic enough for you and we ended up discussing aliens instead. When we made the walk back down, you wanted to go “off the beaten path”, so we pushed our way past tree branches and undergrowth as high as our waists. By the time we made it back to the car it was two AM. You could barely keep your eyes open long enough to tell me to take us to the all-night coffee shop back near home. On the way, you nodded off in the passenger seat, your head against the window. Once I would have stolen glances at you, at your face illuminated by the glow of the headlights and the road. Now I looked out the window instead. Looking at you, at your sleeping face, reminded me of how we had grown apart, of how I wasn’t so sure what lay behind your closed eyes anymore. I felt more alone than a planet that had lost its star, circling out in deep space.
When we reached the coffee shop, I woke you up with a hand on your shoulder and you stared at me with eyes still lost in the world of sleep. I went in to the coffee shop alone and bought two mochas, extra strong, just the way you liked it. We sat parked in the lot and sipped our coffee as you slowly came back to life.
At first you told me you were ready to go home. But as I turned the key in the ignition, you sat up straighter and murmured, “The birds are waking up.” I listened and I heard it, too--the soft chirps of birds hiding in treetops, the beginnings of their scattered songs. The sky was just barely stained a teardrop blue. “The sunrise. Let’s go see the sunrise,” you said.
I drove us out to the highway, where we pulled over on an empty patch of gravel to the side of the road. We sat on the hood and watched the sky gradually lighten to pink. As the last few stars disappeared and the rays of the sun began to glow along the horizon, you looked over at me. You had such a sad look in your eyes as you said, “I won’t be able to love you tomorrow, you know.”
I knew. Tomorrow you would be a different person, shedding your old feelings as quickly as you would shed your sand-caked dress. And I had long since grown tired of waiting for some whim of yours to turn your feelings toward me once again. I no longer loved you, and hadn’t for a long time.
You told me to give you a second chance, and I tried. But there was nothing left anymore. The love I’d had for you had dried up, and our friendship had rusted like the chains of the old swings. This night had been nothing but you and I trying to be children again, trying to fit into the love that almost was, but never quite worked. No matter how hard we tried, I couldn’t love you anew.

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