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As she lay in bed that night, she wondered how a little over two years ago she could have thought that he was only some indie rock guitar player when he was so, so much more.
She skimmed through their memories together to try to put herself to sleep, as she did often. Sometimes they helped, but usually they kept her up.
The first thing she remembered was him coming up to her two weeks before the winter semi her sophomore year, and him asking if he could be lucky enough to go with her. She had never been good at saying no, and after a few seconds of awkwardly staring, she blurted out a confused “sure”. The night of the dance he picked her up in his black jeep with the top down, despite the cold January wind, with a beautiful corsage to give to her. It matched her dress, and she remembered wondering how he knew the exact shade of dark purple her dress was. She reminisced on how perfect the night was, and how she found herself falling for the indie rock guitar boy.
A month later she was at his bands concert, hanging out backstage in a Vampire Weekend t-shirt and black combat boots (a look she never thought she’d have). She didn’t change for him, she remembered, but because she liked his way of life, and she developed it for herself.
She thought of their first kiss, which she had held off for so long. The March night, two months after the winter semi, sitting in the trunk of his Jeep with the roof off listening to The Killers and watching the stars. She saw his soft hair just covering the tips of his dark eyelashes as he leaned in and gently swiped his pink lips across hers. It had been so perfect, and never recreated, but certainly not the only kiss that remained in her remembrance.
Her memory stung with the recognition of his first soft whisper of “I love you”. Side by side they sat on the train tracks far behind her house, and he held her as she cried about her fathers sickness. She remembered his exact words: “I love you. I have since I first saw you, since I first asked you to the dance. Since you muttered ‘sure’, and I knew you didn’t want to. Since we slow danced. Since when I dropped you at your front door and you told me thank you, and you’d definitely call me. Since I laid in bed that night thinking about how perfect you were and how I couldn’t wish enough that I would be lucky enough to be with you. Since that whole night, that whole, entire, perfect night. I love you, I love you, I love you!” Her brain reeled, knowing each word perfectly. How he started off soft, and finished by nearly shouting it. How her heart swelled in happiness and in that moment her father didn’t have cancer, junior year starting in three weeks didn’t matter, all that was important was being with him as long as she could. She couldn’t think of anything more perfect than those eight months together, but she was wrong. It could get more perfect, and it did.
Their first and only fight popped into her head, and she nearly laughed at the stupidity of it all. It didn’t last for even four hours before he drove back to her house, climbed up the tree by her window and nearly fell when he tried knocking on it while holding a pizza box in the other hand. They laughed and laughed until they cried. Then they sat in her room with the lights off, whispering by candlelight, eating pizza and hoping neither of her parents walked in. Her head swarmed with pictures of the face of the indie rock guitar boy illuminated by a dull flickering light that warm October night.
By the time the winter semi of her junior year came, she promised to engrave in her memory the night they shared, and it stayed there, reappearing now. Their dance, his kisses, and how close they came to going all the way in his shed—where they went to hide from his chatty parents after the dance. His dark masculine features softening and respecting her boundaries flowed into her thoughts often, and this night was no exception. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and simply said, “I’ll wait as long as you want, just like I did before we kissed. If you never want to, I won’t ever want to either. I love you, and I love your decisions.” His voice rang in her ears, but she didn’t stop it. She listened to the sweet voice of the guitarist she never expected to fall for dance through her thoughts ever so lightly.
They never did end up making love, she noted for the millionth time, or at least not the kind of love you would think of hearing that phrase. They did, though, made plenty of real love by just being together.
The rest of the winters memories came blissfully and beautifully, with many days just laying in the snow and cuddling with hot chocolate. Over a year together that winter and the lightheartedness of the times spent came back to her, making her smile alone in her dark room.
The memories of the spring came with a pang that she hoped would be gone by this time, but they weren’t. She remembered her fathers cancer getting worse, but it didn’t seem to be all that bad while she filled out college application forms with the boy she loved. They both applied to the same three colleges, and although their parents said it was crazy, hoped to go together. She knew they weren’t the couple to pretend they were going to spend a perfect life together, but she also knew they both had a feeling they’d have a hard time if the day ever came that they had to let each other go.
In late spring, everything she knew and held valuable in her life fell apart.
May 27th to be exact. She recalled their last day together. Sitting on those same train tracks behind her house, laughing and kissing, playing his guitar and listening to The Postal Service, just being happy. Instead of the happiness of this day coming back to her blissfully and beautifully, like the others, it came back severely painful. Tears stung her eyes as she thought about how she danced for him in her dark purple sundress, a color that the two had adopted as theirs. Her head pounded and she became dizzy as his easy, graceful smile blurred across her vision.
Along with his smile, a black jeep, too, swam across her eyes. She blinked it out, not wanting to remember the horror of that black jeep.
Lying alone in her room, she wondered, not for the first time, how she had made it this far without him. The next day was supposed to be their day. Their day to leave high school all behind and start over in some big city. Boston, New York, Chicago… anywhere was theirs. Graduation was the day they started their future together, but instead she had her future ahead of her like a long lonely road, while he had his own future was played out before him, too.
She scratched at the cuts along her arm absently as she wondered, if they had been together, still, what would her life be like? What would happen if she had him there with her right now? Would that have stopped her fathers illness from progressing? Would she be going to college in the fall? Would her life be light, like it had been with him?
Walking numbly and blindly out of her room in her father’s old sweatshirt and a pair of leggings, she pulled on the pair of worn out combat boots that she wore to his first concert and fell into the driver’s seat of her ’98 Volvo. Driving a car had scared her for the past year, but her therapist said that was okay and she would soon get over it. Although it was nearly three in the morning, she knew her mother wouldn’t question where she had gone, she was used to it.
She stared at her GPS blankly before plugging in the address of a place she knew the way to full well—The Coldwater Cemetery—to visit the two men she had loved most in her life.
Her father and the indie rock guitar boy.