I stand in the parking lot, it’s raining, or it was. Now a mist seems to settle over us. It’s an average Wednesday and Brett and I just got out of my car. I got it a year ago, for my Sweet Sixteen. It’s nothing fancy, a red Grand Am. Decent enough, and it runs, which is saying something when you look around our high school parking lot.
I stuff my hands in into my sweatshirt and walk slowly to the front of the building.
That’s when I see her; Anna.
She’s so beautiful, so far from perfection, yet so perfect. She’s pale, especially now in November when the sun is rarely present. Her hair is a light blonde and falling almost to her waist. The rainy weather makes it frizzy though, I’ve noticed, so she pulls it back in various ways, today it’s a braid running down her back. It looks so soft, so silky; I instinctively reach my hand out towards her, forgetting that she’s halfway across the parking lot.
Brett slaps me on the back and I jump back to reality as Anna walks inside, unaware of my watching her.
“Daydreaming again Sam?” he asks me.
I laugh, “Not hardly, waiting for you is all,”
He laughs with me but then gets serious, “I see how you look at her, it’s all or nothing Sam.”
I ignore him, I’m not worried, I am not overly concerned.
Brett’s a good friend, but sometimes he’s too deep. I prefer the guys on my soccer team on a day like today, Brett reads me too well.
Still he presses on, despite my obvious boredom about the topic, “For one time only, make an exception. Anna’s special, so are you.”
I shrug him off and walk away. I’d rather walk alone than with him right now.
Brett doesn’t understand and Brett will never understand.
I can’t do relationships. Every relationship I’ve ever been in has gone bad. And I don’t mean the “we broke up” kind of bad. I mean it’s been hell.
My mom left when I was three, Dad says it’s because she couldn’t handle me, I was so bad. There’s relationship number one ruined-my mom and I.
Dad beats me all the time. Never too hard, but bruises here and there. It’s because I’m not smart enough, not athletic enough, not working enough. It’s because I’ve ruined that relationship too.
I’ve only had one girlfriend, her name was Sara and she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. When I was a freshman I wanted to take her to the Homecoming Dance. She was my age and I worked up the nerve to slip a note in her locker on a Friday after school. The next Monday there was one in mine, it simply said, “Yes,” and that was that, I was taking her to Homecoming.
Dad was drunk the night of Homecoming. I didn’t know that when she insisted to come to my house so Dad could take pictures of the memorable night. I didn’t realize how snobby she’d be when she saw where I lived, how I lived, who I lived with. I didn’t realize how defensive I’d get when she started putting me down in my own living room. Long story short, we never spoke again, and that summer she moved.
So, though relationships don’t work for me, I’ve managed to keep two best friends from kindergarten on up to now; Brett and Anna.
We lived on the same street, so that right away eliminated the awkwardness of having to tell someone where we lived. We were all the same age, and we rode the same bus. We bonded.
Then high school came and Anna got real pretty. She made some friends and started being popular. I don’t care. It’s her life. We were all going to grow apart anyways. She had a boyfriend, DJ that she really liked; I don’t know how or why it ended just that it did. And she had a bruise on her cheek the size of a baseball for the next week.
It’s not that we don’t talk. We do. Just not as much. I don’t care.
When the three of us were ten we built a tree house in Brett’s backyard over the summer. Brett was the only one of us with a tree in our backyard. The tree house is still there and I go up there sometimes to be alone.
It’s where I am now, when I hear the familiar creak of the fourth step and know someone’s coming up. I don’t move though, nothing alarms me anymore.
I see hands grasp the floor of the tree house and hear a grunt as a body lifts itself up.
“Oh, I’m sorry Samuel; I didn’t realize you were up here.”
I shrug nonchalantly.
She sighs and I raise one eyebrow at her, it’s my way of asking what’s on her mind and she knows it.
“You,” she says, sighing again.
I clear my throat, “What about me?”
“You’re so far away,” she says sadly.
I laugh in spite of myself and scoot closer to her, closing the couple feet of space between us, “Not anymore,”
She looks frustrated, but not angry, it’s just sad. Like she’s used to the disappointment. I feel bad but I won’t let it show.
Then a tear trickles down her cheek, “Don’t you feel anymore? Nothing affects you Samuel,”
I look out the window and say, “I’m fine Anna,”
She sees through this and I almost tell her everything; almost. But I don’t, I’ll wrap her up in a package of lies. It’s what she deserves. Her life shouldn’t be weighed down with my problems.
We sit in silence. I don’t know how long, but I’m just sitting there, thinking about my life and remembering Anna when we were little and things weren’t complicated.
She must have been too because suddenly I hear her sniffle and know she’s trying not to cry.
“Oh,” she says, “You’re changing,”
And maybe she doesn’t think I have feelings anymore but that almost breaks my heart, and I almost tell her that we’re always changing, but she looks so fragile that I gently lay my hand on hers. To my surprise she doesn’t move it. We sit in more silence and we do more thinking.
Brett always wants me to admit to someone, maybe to me more than anyone else, that I love Anna. He thinks I’d feel better; lift a weight of my shoulders or something. That’s not it.
It doesn’t bother me to say that this isn’t love. Us sitting up here tonight is anything but love. When you’re in love you talk, you want everyone to know. With Anna and I it’s silent, whatever it is we are feeling isn’t strong enough to make us loud.
I can live with this. With us as just friends, there’s something in between. Friends. It was like a shade of grey. No, I didn’t love Anna, but she was a friend all the same. And that’s okay with me. I don’t care.
I don’t tell her this though. I don’t plan on telling her anything. But then her thumb is tracing circles on my hand and she’s leaning her head on my shoulder and suddenly, my strong feeling of friendship melts away. The rain is pounding hard on the tree house roof and I’m telling Anna everything. How her hair looks in the sun and how dad drinks more now that they laid him off at work. How relationships never work for me, how Brett thinks I love her…
His words swarm my head, “It’s all or nothing,”
Is this all? Is it nothing? No, it’s definitely something. But what?
I’m not worried about it right now. I try to tell myself I am not worried, but it’s a lie. Anna is special and I can’t ruin this.
She drags me out of my thoughts, “If this is love, than we’re going to have to think about the consequences.”
I nod and watch her lips come closer to mine.
It’s cold out and she can’t stop shaking, I can’t stop touching her.
My hands find her cold skin, her cotton tee shirt slides off of her, I’m learning more about Anna now than ever. Like that she kisses extremely well. It’s like she’s hungry, searching for something. She falls into me.
I’ve tried to reach her so many other times. She may not have noticed it, or remembered, but I’ve tried…
She’s always hard to reach, sure she’s open, but she never explains her emotions. It bothers me.
But this time, when kindness falls like rain, it washes her away, and Anna begins to change her mind.
She whispers into my ear, “The seconds that I’m shaking leave me shuddering for days,”
With that, she grabs her shirt and leaves.
I stay up in the tree house though; I stay up there all night and think about what happened. I realize something; I’m not ready for this sort of thing.
Days go by and Anna stays by my side, we become a “thing” an “item” talked about and looked at. It’s like we are on display. I don’t like it. I want to confront Anna but she seems happy. I like her happy…she smiles.
I decided I’m not going to bend, and I’m not going to break, and I’m not going to worry about it anymore. I repeat this to myself, but I don’t know that it helps.
I keep thinking I should be saying, “As long as this is love…”
But I can’t. I can’t say that I think we should talk about it.
I’d like to end it here, end our relationship. End it before I ruin it, I’m not afraid to, I’ve done it before. But something in me stops me every time I want to bring it up. I start thinking about the consequences; I can’t sleep in a quiet room. And Anna’s been with me every night since the night in the tree house. Is a few doubts worth ruining this?
No. I decide it’s not. Anna’s sleeping over once again tonight and she walks into my bedroom with old flannel pajamas. Still, she’s beautiful. She slides in to bed next to me and begins kissing me. I don’t turn her down, I never turn her down. But tonight’s different. I close my eyes and really feel her kisses. I feel her love, her want, her need.
And this time, when kindness falls like rain, it washes me away. Anna begins to change my mind.
I’m in love with her. There’s no doubt in my mind. Every time she sneezes, I believe it’s love. I’m scared for the first time in my life. I’m feeling this more than anything else, and I’m not ready for this sort of thing.
Weeks turn to months, turn to years. Anna and I buy a small house, we are young, nineteen, but that doesn’t matter. We’re better off here than with our parents. I don’t get beat anymore. No one yells at Anna. Our broken lives begin to heal.
Still, Anna has nightmares. She talks in her sleep, it keeps me awake. She begins to toss and turn. I understand every word she says even though it’s nonsense. Her dreams startle me, the way she sounds so scared, I feel like I can’t save her, like a premonition, and I’m not ready for this sort of thing.
Still, even when I hear her coughing in the morning and urge her to go to the doctor’s, she sighs. She is fine she assures me, but I see her getting paler. Still, her kindness moves me along and I push my worries aside.
I push my worries aside until it’s too late.
Anna begins to fade away. Her life is cut short; her breathing is monitored by machines. At twenty years old, Anna is fading. I watch the heart monitor measure her last beats.
All my emotions she had helped me build up, I feel myself hardening again. Her end is chasing me away. Suddenly she disappears and I’m not ready for this sort of thing.