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There are many things I associate with you, dear. There are things that remind me of you, and no matter how long it’s been, it still stings. I can’t enjoy them anymore, and it’s because of what we constructed, and of what you tore down.
First, and foremost, is cello, for obvious reasons. Your voice, whenever I hear it, is accompanied by the deep sounds of your most prized instrument. Deep and strong, the sound that first inspired me and captivated me now repulses me. It doesn’t matter what song; it’s the mere thought of the instrument that is immediately linked to your name.
I can remember the first time I saw you play. There was little me, crouched in the corner of the Left Wing hallway, sketchbook open, a blank page waiting for me to decorate. There was you--the bold, vibrant you--who sat on a folding chair, your cello between your legs. Loud sounds. Fast bow strokes. Quick smirk when you saw me looking at you.
My cheeks had blushed so red, and I hadn't realize why, yet. I just buried myself deeper into my drawing and desperately tried to block out the music you were creating with such ease. I didn’t want to be tempted to look again. But I may have slipped a few times. Oops. You were pretty cute, I guess.
The next time, it was because you had figured out that I, too, was a musician. I’m not really sure how you did; you must have been curious about me, because I sure never had the guts to speak to you. It was a Wednesday afternoon, I remember that, and we had snuck into the empty band room in the most hidden corner of the school.
I’d received an invitation in my locker earlier that day, no signature. “Bring your violin,” it said. So I did. And there you were. Hello Jackson.
Gosh, you were even cuter up close. Focus Case, no time for distractions. Be normal. Act normal. Nothing to see here.
“Play something,” you said. I really didn’t know what you wanted to hear, but I also didn’t want to be awkward. I didn’t want to tell you that I’d never played music with someone--not like this.
The first thing that popped into my head was Gram’s favorite song. Rolling rhythms, triplets, accents, ornamentation. It was Irish, that much was clear, but I didn’t even know the name.
You listened for a minute or so, and when I hit the refrain, you raised your bow, cutting it across the strings in quick, choppy slices. Chick-a-cha chick-a-cha chick-a-cha. It complimented my playing beautifully.
I don’t think I ever told you this, but I could have spent hours in that room, playing. I could have played until my fingers were bloody stumps, until my heart was beating so hard it had burst, until my face was as red as a cherry tomato.
Cherry tomatoes. That’s another thing you loved, another thing I associate with you. Your mom grew them in her garden, which was gorgeous, by the way. Tiny, shiny-red, ovalish orbs. They popped so easily between your teeth, tangy juice coating the tongue. You picked a basketful the first time I came over, and cut them into delicately thin slices.
Then you made a batter, relatively watery, and poured it into a pan. Flip. Golden brown crepes. A bit of mozzarella, a sprinkling of tomatoes--and voila. I didn’t have the heart to tell you that I really did hate tomatoes. We ate on the sunny deck, overlooking the garden, and that was the first and only time to date that I actually enjoyed tomatoes.
I remember sitting there, next to you, and wondering what you were thinking. You definitely seemed to genuinely like me, but I was never sure of my instincts when it came to things like this. Last time… well, let’s just say that it really hadn’t worked out. It never seemed to.
You caught me staring at you, again. Then you did that smirk, just like you had when I first saw you playing cello in the hallway. Your golden-brown eyes watched me carefully, as if deciding something deep in the back your mind. Right hand slipped behind my ear, cupping my neck, lips against mine.
And then I was kissing you back. I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t worrying about whether or not this would work out. I wasn’t thinking about last time. I was solely focused on the fact that I was being kissed by you. It was perfect.
That wasn’t our only kiss either, there were so many others. Some intense, some delicate, some sweet. Every day after school, before hopping on your bike, your cello strapped to your back, you would lean over and kiss me, quick and soft. Then I’d watch you pedal away while sitting under my favorite tree.
Another thing I associate with you: my tree. It was tall and sturdy, perfect trunk for sitting against and reading a novel. I would always sit there after talking to you at the end of the school day, contemplating how I got so lucky, feeling so happy and content and worry-free, not caring that things at home weren’t the best and that I was struggling in most of my classes.
Of course, homecoming came around and you asked me--under the tree, in fact. You boasted to people about me, telling them how lucky you were to have me and how wonderful I was. But you never said those things to me, to my face. You never told me exactly what you thought.
Homecoming was supposed to be romantic and sweet and fun. But no. You couldn’t let me have that. You couldn’t let me have just one night.
That would have been too nice.
I felt so beautiful. I’d bought the dress with my own money, the money I’d been saving up for awhile. Mom wasn’t exactly rich, and Dad barely talked to me anymore. It was a dark navy blue, tight bodice and flowy skirt. It hugged me in the right places and made me feel extremely elegant. I couldn’t wait to see your reaction when you saw me. I’d even put effort into doing my makeup.
Your car pulled up. My heart skipped a beat. I tucked my hair behind my ears. You rang the doorbell. Hello, how are you Jackson? Quick smile, a kiss on the cheek, a greeting to my mother. Nice to see you Mrs. M. Ready to go, Casey?
You were silent in the car. Dead silent. You switched on the radio, and I decided to make nothing of it. Maybe you were tired. Maybe you had had a tough day. Maybe.
Our high school’s gym was dark, fairy lights strung around the perimeter, streamers dangling from the ceiling. Another thing to associate. I never went to the gym, I hadn’t had any PE classes yet, but now it was directly connected to you and what you did. Ruined.
Fast songs played first, not ones to slow dance to. We drifted, moving from one of your friend groups to the next, me awkwardly tagging along. I felt wrong. I felt nauseous. I felt out of place. You weren’t looking at me.
A slow song, finally. I can’t remember what it was, but that’s for the best, since I don’t need you spoiling anything else for me. You’ve already made my life hard enough as it is, but I guess it isn’t your fault entirely. It was me, naive little me, that fell in love with you. You couldn’t help that.
Your hands slid around my waist and I draped my arms around your neck. We spun in time to the music, we were right across from another, but you still weren’t looking at me. What? What is it Jackson? Why?
You stop and look at me. I’m not sure what to do, so I hold your hand and watch you, like I normally do. This doesn’t feel electric though, this doesn’t feel right at all. Not like before. My hand’s getting sweaty. What is up with you?
“Case…” you say. I can’t really hear you, but I nod anyway. Yes?
“Case… I just want to be friends. I made a mistake. I don’t want to date you.”
I just want to be friends. I just want to be friends? What? Wait. No. Must’ve heard wrong. You repeat yourself.
Just friends. Just friends. Just friends.
And suddenly there’s bile in my stomach, threatening to come up, and tears blurring the lights, and a tight throat unwilling to speak. Suddenly all I want to do is run away from you and never look back, but I’m stuck here with you. I’m not old enough to drive. I’m not able to leave. I still hear your words bouncing around inside my head and it is hell. Hell, Jackson.
Your perfect eyes glance my way. You want to talk?
No, Jackson, I do not want to talk. I do not want to be near you. I do not want this to be reality. But I do not say these things. No, because Casey is way too nice and afraid of hurting people to speak up and say anything. No, because Casey is still in love with Jackson and she can’t help it, and it hurts more than anything, and she hates that this supposed-to-be-perfect night is now an emotional, complicated, effed-up mess.
I look back at you. “I think I need to vomit,” I say. You look worried, like you know this is your fault. You escort me to the bathroom. So gentlemanly.
But the thing is, Jackson, I only said that because I needed to get away. I do not vomit. I sit in the bathroom stall, locked away from the outside world, and I stuff my fist in my mouth and scream. I scream and scream and scream because THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. It can't be happening.
I come back out eventually and you give me your phone so I can call mom to pick me up. We part ways. If only forever. Except it isn’t. I still see you in school. You still say hi. We are not friends, I cannot be friends with someone who lied about having certain feelings.
That was all we had.
I wish we hadn’t had it at all, because now I’m stuck associating things with you. It’s been so long since I loved you, so long since I cared, and I’m still bound to you in certain ways. I’m still connected even though I rather I wasn’t, still thinking about you even though I wish I didn’t, and still dealing with the aftermath of what you did.
Difficult to trust, now. Difficult to love. Difficult to forget. Difficult to not associate.