She was the most beautiful thing I will ever see. At fifteen I knew this. I knew this as soon as I ducked through the trees. I stood there as dusk slipped to dark. I watched her sitting on the bank with her feet in the water.
The air smelled of honeysuckle and dark earth and water over rocks all drenched in the heavy depth of summer. The full moon struck the babbling current. It's reflection small and shattered.
I felt like a creep. I tried to tell myself to go, but there was something else in my head telling me she was there for a reason. She was hiding. She was running. She was in trouble. Slowly the repulsion that something so…
"Are you okay?" I found myself saying fumbling down the rocky embankment.
She looked up at me and smiled a smile that broke my heart. It made me instantly afraid to let it fly away.
The first thing she taught me was loss, and she taught it with a smile.
"Perfect," she said letting each syllable slip from her lips, "Are you?"
Her voice had a soft humming inflection that rang just outside of audibility. It was almost electric.
I never answered her. We just looked at each other.
My older brother taught me a trick before leaving for college a year earlier. We were at a party I was too young for. He handed me beer and said, "You see that chick over there, hottest girl in the room. She walks through this place like she owns it. But that's not how she walks in her bathroom every morning. She's got perfect teeth, perfect rack, perfect hair, but her eyes are spaced out too far and she knows it. If I keep that in mind, that she knows she's not perfect, she gets a lot more approachable. Everyone's human kid, remember that."
It worked for me up until that moment. She was perfect.
"Lait," She smiled even bigger, "you are?"
"Your name? Mine's Lait."
"…Elton." I finally said. I had to pull myself together to catch up, "I Thought you were in trouble, I didn't mean to, you know, I'm sorry, it's just dark, and…"
She had a way of cutting me off without saying a word.
Another pause, "Sit down, please."
I sat down.
"It's been too long." She seemed older when she said this, less possible.
"We've never met."
She looked seventeen, maybe twenty five. Moonlight does things, makes eyes shine. She wore a thin white garment to her knees and a cloth bracelet made of these burnt-orange fibers.
"It's been a long time since I had anyone to talk to," she said, "I mean anyone real. You are real right? I really hope you are." She said it like she meant it.
I didn't know what to say. The crickets shusushed a choir around us, and for the first time on my little walk I wasn't batting mosquitoes off me.
"I'm real enough."
"Yeah," she smiled, "Everything is so heavy here. I've been many places, but nowhere so substantial, so dense."
"Oklahoma summers," I said lamely.
The air was oppressive, but sitting there next to her, as I took my shoes off and slid my feet in the water; it all became richer, sweeter. It seemed to envelope.
Lait's gaze drifted up and out. She stared at the air half way between herself and the moon.
They finished a housing complex on the other side of Hyde Park earlier that summer. The park had a trail that lead into the woods. If you veered right off the trail as it neared the sound of water and went down a ways you'd find old unused train tracks leading onto a rusty trussle crossing a river valley. Though, it was more of a creek.
In that brabble of a creek I was thinking about how I could get in the same classes as her come fall.
"Do you live around here?" I asked picturing her stuff still in boxes in the corner of her room.
"No," She laughed a low quite laugh that seemed distant and not for me, "I live a ways off."
"You don't seem like you're from around here."
"Nope, I'm not either though. I came from everywhere. Colorado, Maine, California, Minnesota, South Dakota… I even lived in Toronto for a couple of months, but I was born and raised mostly in New England…" I decided I couldn't tell if she was listening to me. She was looking at me dead in the eyes. It made me realize how people don't do that sort of thing.
I found myself looking back.
"Hey… uh," I started, but never finished.
I was bolted.
Time slowed down.
Time ticked by.
"You were born in Augustus, Ohio. Your first word was window. Your first dog died in the street. Your father made you dig the grave in a meadow lined with sunflowers next to your house. You were only nine. Howie was almost as big as you and you couldn't lift his body. You had to drag the poor creature in a trash bag, and to this day that haunts you. With everything you hate about your father the most is that he wouldn't share that burden."
She was content at that and I was free to look at the water. I leaned away from her to trace the ripples from a twig breaking water.
"I forgot his name was Howie."
"Your little sister couldn't say doggy."
"Who are you?"
"Lait," she said, "Tonight was a bad night to meet, Elton. I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer. They are calling much too early. Tomorrow night bring music."
I looked back at where she wasn't to question her further. I looked back at the trees behind me. I stood up and called her name. No puff of smoke, no beam of light, no girl in a white dress. I was alone there in those woods.
I ran. I was home by eleven thirty.
I floated through the next day in a haze from what I can remember. I don't recall what level of faith I had that what happened the night before actually happened. I didn't tell anyone. I wouldn't have known what to tell them if I wanted to.
To tell the truth, there weren't many people I could have told.
One thing's for sure, I was there to watch the sun slip through the rusty grates of that train trussle. Then through the trees lining the west bend of the ridge. As dusk settled I doubted what I was doing. What if she does come back? What if there's something wrong with my head? What if she doesn't come back?
I brought an oversized camping backpack with six Beatles CDs, a flannel throw blanket, two bottles of water, four extra D batteries, a flashlight, and my SONY CFD-V17 boom box.
By the way, that boom box was an okay piece of hardware in 1999, and to its credit still sits on my desk as I write this. It plays just fine. Though, the antenna is pretty loose.
I opted for the radio. 103.1 The Eagle.
The Doors rang out with 'Whiskey Bar'. The night shift D.J. had a certain taste in music.
I stacked the CDs together back in the backpack, and used it as a pillow.
The Doors faded to Hendrix. My sisters had group of imaginary friends when she was about six or seven. This seemed an unsettling thing to remember as I sat in the sapphire plane of twilight.
The stars started coming out halfway through 'All Along the Watchtower.'
The moon was a sphere with just a hair shaved off its waning side.
Midriff, nearer the end, the song cut off with a high pitch squeal and faded to white noise.
I shot up and looked around. Fear? Anticipation?
What was I doing in the middle of the woods alone at night?
Growing up with George Romero films gave me an awareness of personal vulnerability. That awareness began edging up my spine. Just as I was about to grab my bag and jet for the trees and higher ground she blew on the back of neck.
"What the Hell!" I screamed, turning around.
"You scared the shit out of me."
She gave me an obviously amused grin.
I laughed. Maybe out of relief or surprise or shattered nerves. I don't know.
"I don't usually scare that easy."
"You brought music?" She asked pointing at the debilitated plastic antennae holder.
"I think you broke it though." I picked it up and spun the tuner knob to varying degrees of static.
"Good thing you brought CDs."
Chapter 2 will continue....