By L.L. Madrid
1998: The year you (the boy) had grown taller than the girl (me) by six inches. How strange it was not looking down at your chestnut cowlick. Change drifted in with the spring breeze.
Ambling through dewed grass, we passed the dugout. We slipped away to a secret place; a van-sized hollow, hidden by a canopy of trees and a chain-link fence that wistful shrubbery clung to. We pretended the hollow was ours alone, despite contradictory evidence: condom wrappers, crushed beer cans, and a crimson bra dangling from a branch above.
We ignored the detritus; it broke the illusion of our specialness. Instead, we focused on the roots that climbed from the earth and shaped immobile waves. We counted the variegated shades of green: twenty-six. Yellow: eight. Brown: fourteen.
You produced the tin that held Camels pilfered from your mother. Back then we were untouched by death. Only the very old died. Secure in the dragging days of youth, we smoked without worry.
You placed the cigarettes between your lips and lit the pair: one match. I was careful to place my lips where yours had been. I was silly with desire.
Today, my soul is calloused with experience.
I took a long drag, exhaling a snake of smoke before remembering to thank you. I was always quick to forget my manners. We were giddy. Senior year was almost over. Soon we’d be in California. You asked me to prom—just as friends.
We’d been that way since eighth grade. Since the day, I showed you that art book in the back of the library, the one with those sketches. The day you shared the comic you made—just for yourself—until you met me. Oh, how I loved…love you.
In the following years, we kissed five times: twice on dares, three for fun. Saw each other naked once: skinny dipping. Ended calls with ‘love you’ eighty-eight times: all when one of us (usually you) was sad. When you asked me to prom—just as friends—I felt happier than I’d ever been before.
We were having our California conversation. We’d meet celebrities; go to clubs with the IDs we procured in a tattoo parlor’s backroom. You didn’t shave for weeks before. You thought the scruff would make you look older, but the patchy beginnings left you looking woefully young. Sending smoke rings through the arching branches, you teased me for choosing Valentine’s for my fake birthday. Hopeless romantic!
You went silent and still as a deer, staring passed the curtain of twenty-six greens, through the wire weave, at two figures on the pitcher’s mound. Coach and Max Lacroix—our town’s golden boy/MVP of everything/future prom king/local celebrity. I watched you watching him. Stretching…sprinting…existing. When you turned back to me, your cheeks reddened, mouth longing. The sun burned into my eyes and I understood.
Just as friends.