Red copper leaves drifted down from the sky, encircling the path in the woods we made for ourselves. We could see puffs of air when we spoke. I left my jacket in your car because I had fooled myself into believing autumn wasn’t quite over yet – the sun was shining over our heads, after all, and the day had an appealing glow to it – but the air was cool.
The woods, at first glance, appeared a glorious fall wonderland, but very quickly on our walk did I feel its brisk embrace tickle my shoulders, the shivers sending goosebumps to the surface of my fragile skin. I almost asked you if we could turn around and go back to get my jacket from your car.
But I didn’t want to be that girl, and in the big scheme of things it seemed a trifle matter. We walked on in silence – past the trees that were shedding beautiful colors, the snap of twigs underneath our shoes the only sound filling empty space. The narrow pathway ahead of us came to a fork – one path continuing forward, the other leading to a little alcove bordering the edge of the pond. A bench meant for two sat unoccupied by the water, as if awaiting the arrival of two stray wanderers, inviting them to rest a while. I lingered behind a few paces, waiting for you to decide which direction was more appealing. Your blue eyes met mine briefly, and in that millisecond I heard you whisper an unspoken question – Where do you want to go? I couldn’t make up my mind so I shrugged, forcing the initiative on you. After a moment’s hesitation, you took a few steps forward. I assumed we’d continue our walk down the narrow pathway, when suddenly you veered right and disappeared into the hidden alcove.
The view from the bench had its own sort of breathtaking beauty, one that could be admired without having to comment. The afternoon glimmer of sunlight made the pond water appear frosted over, the leaves fell in perfect symphony, floating like lily pads beneath our feet. How can nature be so majestic? I thought. How does every aspect of this woods – the trees, the water, the light – work together so simplistically to paint such a pretty picture? I could tell you felt the same way, were wondering the same things.
I pulled the frayed ends of my sweater over my cold hands so you wouldn’t see me shivering. When the sound of silence between us had stretched out for too long, we finally started talking about the scenery and how gorgeous it was, then the conversation drifted to topics like school and the stress of college application deadlines and how society places too much on the shoulders of 17 year olds. Behind every word lingered the topic of a separate conversation, one we’d tried hard to avoid. It almost seemed too ironic, to address our delicate state of nature sitting in the heart of one – where the leaves were dying and falling off trees.
That day in the woods, it became clear to me that things were changing beyond our control. There were things I wanted to say, and maybe you had things to say to me, too, but I think the uncomfortable tension that hung, thick as fog, in the air between us spoke volumes.
Sitting next to you on the bench, I realized that we wouldn’t be able to relive the past anymore – time was pushing forward and the vividness of the memories we shared were quickly fading, like the colors of the leaves that stuck to the soles of our shoes. I think you felt it too.
But a part of me resisted the idea of letting go, believed in the hope that we could remain a constant even if the world around us was incessantly changing. An urge to look into your blue eyes and see the emotions written there overcame me as a strong gust of wind blew in across the pond, making the trees shake violently like a clustered group of frightened children. Then the sky opened and gave way to gray clouds that released a massive fury of rain. Without a word, you got up from the bench, throwing the hood of your sweatshirt over your face as you exited the alcove to shelter yourself from the rain. You glanced back once, to make sure I was coming, and then started jogging down the slippery path.
And all I could think, as I watched the woods transform from red to brown in a matter of minutes, was that I wished I never left my jacket in your car.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.