The daisies this year were beautiful. Vibrant, feathery petals had taken over the flower bed, so much that the marigolds didn’t stand a chance. Summer was here. It was the beginning of June in my usually sleepy town. Wealthy people from the city would spend their summers here, making it lively for those warm months.
While I worked behind the counter of the ice cream shop, out-of-towners would come in, speaking of Harvard and Yale. Both colleges I applied to, but fate had other ideas for me. This town I would stay, and the college nearby, while mediocre, kept me close to my family, who were all happy to keep me around.
One day, while scooping ice cream into waffle cones, a group of guys barged in with their bountiful laughter. I let out a soft sigh, remembering other groups of high school and college guys that came through each year. It was going to be a long summer, so I thought. While most of them pushed at each other, made lude jokes, and got samples for every single flavor we had; one guy from the pack came up with a sweet voice and friendly smile. He apologized for his friends. His eyes were a crystal blue, and he was the tallest in the group. My cheeks were burning hot while he watched me fetch spoonful’s of cookie dough ice cream. Noticing my uneasiness, he asked about the cool spots in the area.
“So where can we go swimming around here?”
“Oh, uh, Bakers’ point, it’s about a 15 minute drive West but definitely worth it.” I said quickly, while I knew my face was still red, yet I tried to act as though it wasn’t.
“Very cool. So what is it you do around here?”
Trying to think of something to say other than visit the library, or going to the café with my mom. “Well, there’s the roller derby.” Why did I say that? I had only heard of people going. “Oh also, they have drag races here in town.” Another thing I hadn’t been to. Sweating at the thought of him finding out I’ve never been to either.
“Ah, very country, I like it.” He said with a wink while pushing back his perfectly careless hair. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” I said under my breath, my eyes on the ground as he walked out the door.
As my shift ended, I jumped on my bike and peddled back home. It was warm, and the sugary scent from the ice cream shop clung to me. Looking out at the pond as I was passing by, my front tire sank. I got off to attempt pumping it, kicking myself for not changing the tire before work. The same guy from the shop earlier comes around the corner. Embarrassed that he will notice me, I keep my head down, but the tire won’t fill up.
“Looks like it has a hole somewhere.” He says, standing over me. Closing my eyes, to pretend for a second that I don’t exist. I try my hardest to act normal.
“Yeah, dang, well I don’t live too far.”
“Let me push the bike for you.”
“No, no really, you don’t have to.” My cheeks burning again as I notice his boyish face smiling at me.
We go back and forth a few times before I let in. On our way back to my house, he tells me his name is Kyle, he’s from the city, and visiting with his parents for the summer before he heads to college. His basketball team was in town doing a tournament of some sort, explaining why all the obnoxious guys were in the ice cream shop today.
We arrive at my house, but before I go in, he stops me to ask if we can hangout sometime. Too shocked to say no, I agree to meet him outside the fair tomorrow night, by the pond. My stomach fluttered with excitement. As I said goodbye and walked up to the house, I catch my mom sitting on the front porch, trying to hide her smile as she knits. She looks up to see me glowing. And I can’t help but sit beside her and gush about my walk home.
“Don’t get too ahead of yourself, okay?” She tells me, after I’ve gone into too much detail. “He certainly is cute though.”
I go to bed that night seeing his face in my mind.
The next day went by quickly; my excitement for the evening kept me peppy. My mom and dad joked about my big date, encouraging me to have a good time before I speed off on my bike with a fresh new wheel.
The stars were coming out, and I wondered if I had made a big mistake. He was ten minutes late at this point. I could hear the screaming kids from the fair in the background, while the pond laid still. Crickets and frogs were chirping in the distance when I hear footsteps. My heart beat faster, flattered he was really coming to meet me.
“Hey, sorry I’m late.” Kyle says with a light-hearted smile.
“Oh yeah, its fine, this is a pretty peaceful place to just hangout.”
“Yeah, it seems like it. So you go to the fair?” he says as he points behind him with his thumb over his shoulder.
“I’ve been to that fair every year for the past 18 years, I’ve seen it all already.”
“Oh come on! Lets go on that sling shot ride.” Kyle half heartedly jokes.
“Oh uh, I’ve never been on that one.” My heart pounds faster just thinking of it.
He holds his hand out for me to grab, then with a jovial skip, rushes me to the fair. Two people were in the line for the sling shot ride. I watch the people in front of us buckle in, and get shot up into the sky, while screaming. To my surprise, they come back down, still intact.
Then it’s our turn, and my head gets fuzzy. I sit down, get buckled in, check the latches multiple times, only to still be untrusting of them. Before I know it, we’re up in the sky, as though I could touch the stars themselves. My lungs are out of breath, and when I look over at Kyle, he’s howling with a grin smeared across his face. His hand grasping mine, and for a moment I could believe he would never let go.
Once we were down, my heart was pounding and it filled me with an energy I hadn’t felt since I was a child.
“Okay, that was more fun than I thought.” I said with a tight smile.
“Whoa yeah, I love that thing.”
“So you’ve been on it before?”
“Oh yeah, but it was so much cooler with you.” I blushed, wanting to believe what he said.
We walked around the fair; nostalgia of my childhood memories overwhelmed me to the point of over sharing to Kyle. I went on and told stories of winning the ring toss game, and eating cottage candy to the point of getting sick in the spinning ride, resulting in it closing down for a couple of days. That story made him laugh. Expecting him to get bored, his face kept a wide smile and a look in his eyes I’ve never noticed in anyone else. Embarrassed that I said too much to someone I barley knew, he took my hand in his, with a soft touch, and kept walking me through the fair.
Eventually we tried the water gun game, saw all the barn animals, ate greasy curly fries, and ended up on the Ferris wheel, a much more smooth ride for a look over the town. Kyle kept his arm around me, and with the lights of the fair flashing, he cupped my face in his hand and warmly kissed my lips. That moment I never wanted to forget.
The night was ending; the fair workers started to close the rides and game booths. Kyle offered to walk me home. As my hair swayed in the wind, his hand maneuvered into holding mine. Once we got to my house, he kissed my cheek and said good night, but not before asking to see me again.
I didn’t have it in me to say no to him. Delighted at the thought of another evening with him. To have my heart beating fast with someone new. This gentleman that I never expected, unafraid and able to find the right words at any moment.
A couple of days later, the doorbell rang, and I sprinted downstairs as my dad opened the door for Kyle. They exchanged a few words, then my dad told him to have me back at a decent time, winked at me, and gave me a long hug.
Kyle walked me through town to a park, where he had set up a picnic near a local concert in town; we could still hear the music without the crowd. Strawberries, chocolate, cheeses and crackers laid on a red checkered blanket. He took my hand and sat me down next to him. Keeping me close in his arms. His presents always made me vulnerable and I started a habit of telling him things I had never said out loud.
“My life hasn’t been fun for a long time.” I began.
“So why is that?” he asked.
“After my brother got sick, I don’t know, he couldn’t do anything, and I felt guilty anytime I hung out with friends or went out, or did anything. So I just stopped. Well, until now.” I said as I picked at the cracker in my hand.
“But you can’t live like that. Just because he can’t do things, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. He wouldn’t want that for you.” he said in a comforting tone.
“Yeah. He doesn’t say it but, I can tell when he’s hurt. And after everything he’s been through, I can’t stand him being more sad than he already is.”
“That’s not fair to you though, you know that right?” The sound of a familiar song chimes in the distance. “Come on, let’s dance.” He hops up and pulls me with him, twirls me around, and I’m back in his arms, where I never want to leave.
The next few weeks, we see more of each other. He always had ideas for things to do, and I’m always along for the ride. I hadn’t felt this alive in a long time. Nor had I ever had someone so interested in me. I finally felt as though someone saw me; I didn’t blend into the background as I always had before.
One day as I’m shopping downtown, looking for some candles and maybe a new dress, when out of the corner of my eye is Kyle, with who I assume are his parents. Unsure if I should go say anything. My eyes meet his, and he flashes me a smile and waves. Gaining the courage to say something, I walk up to them.
“Hey, how are you guys?”
Both parents dismissed my greeting and continue to pick over the clothing on the shelves. “So does this come in a small?” His mother asked me.
“Oh, I don’t work here.” I said, as I look at Kyle.
“Hey, so mom this is Sophie, we hangout.”
‘We hangout? Just hangout?’ I thought to myself.
“Oh yes, you do always seem to find someone to hangout with.” she said, like a punch to the gut. My breath left my body. Was this what having a mother-in-law was like?
Kyle choked out a light laugh. His parents took the few souvenirs they had in their hands and went to the cashier.
Kyle looked at me with an apologetic face. “Hey so tonight, I’ll text you. Okay?”
Left shocked as they headed out the door. I couldn’t help my confusion about the whole interaction. Hadn’t he told them about me?
To my surprise, he was waiting for me outside my house when I got home. He noticed I was more quiet than usual. After declining his invitations to the movie later tonight, he wondered what was bothering me.
“It’s just, what am I to you? We only hangout?” I said boldly, letting my hurt heart take over.
“Oh, yeah, I mean, do we need to label anything? We have fun together, and we only have right here, right now. That’s all we will ever really have. So what do we have to prove? We’re beyond that. You’re special to me. And I would hope I was special to you too.”
“Yeah, I mean, you are, but am I… your girlfriend?” I asked while my heart beat out of my chest. Scared of his answer.
“Oh, come on, we don’t need to do this to each other. I like you, okay? I want to spend my time with you, and that means more than being my girlfriend.” His words came out of his brilliant face, while my mind remained confused about what he was trying to say.
“Look, come to the movie with me, it’s better than going home and worrying about if you’re my girlfriend. We can spend the evening together, live our lives. This is what life is. Not trying to define things to show off to everyone else.” He said it with such an energy that I found alluring, but before I could think any longer, he put his arm around my waist, pulled me close, and with a gentle touch, pressed his lips to mine, as his fingers tickled under my shirt and up my back.
And just like that, I was off to the movies with him, but the worry stood still in the back of my mind.
By July, we were spending almost every day together. If I wasn’t at the ice cream shop, he had me wrapped in his arms. We would go swimming, kayaking, hiking, out to the movies or dinner, sometimes both in one night. I filled my days with him intertwined in all of it. If I wasn’t with him, I was thinking of him. His presents was all-consuming. He was full of vivacity, happiness, and living in the moment. I couldn’t get enough of him and understood why he thought how he did. His parents had his whole life planned out for him from the minute he was born, but he wanted to experience what it was to strictly be without a plan.
One sweltering day, Kyle was walking me home from the lake. We were both sun drenched and sleepy. Making our way back to my house, he notices the daisies in the front yard. In full bloom and more vibrant than ever, he plucks a red-orange one, and places it behind my ear, kisses my cheek and travels his lips down to my neck. I close my eyes as I enjoy his warmth.
Then, walking hand in hand, we see my brother sitting on the porch, reading a comic book. We say hi to him, but before we can say much more, my mom calls from the house.
“Sophie, you’re home. Oh, please come look at this!” she says, as I dash into the house. Only to find my mom had finished her months long knitting project. While beautiful, it didn’t warrant the alarm. I hop back out onto the porch and notice my brother and Kyle talking.
“I’ll catch you guys later, okay?” Kyle said as he walked away. Sighing as I was hoping he would stay for dinner, but remembering his comment about family not being his thing.
I could recognize the disappointment on my brother’s face. “That guy is a loser.”
“What?” I said.
“He’s a loser, don’t waste your time.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I know a loser when I see one, that guy, definitely a loser. I don’t want to see you getting wrapped up in his crap.”
“That’s not much to go off of. I mean, what did he say?”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s not worth your time. Make some friends, go have fun with them.”
“I have friends, its just… I haven’t seem them for a while. Anyway, you don’t know him, he’s a sweet guy.”
“Yeah, for now.” He said, then went back to his comic book.
The days came and went so quickly. August always felt like a long Sunday, only one month left before school starts. Kyle had made a few friends in town, so more often we would all hangout as a group. The only thing was, all his friends had girlfriends, and I still wasn’t sure what I was to him. One evening when the sun had gone down, the air was still balmy and rich; we laid under the star filled sky, by the pond, as I cuddled in closer to get another breath of him. Alone for the first time that day. I perched my head on his chest I asked him, “So, what happens when summer is over?”
I could feel him exhale, “I don’t know Sophie, don’t worry about it.”
“I want to know that we’ll still see each other.”
“We can never really know these things. Yeah, we can plan to have you come to the city, but do you really want to spend all your time in your first year of college, going back and forth, worried about how often we’re going to be together? I mean, that sounds like such a hassle.”
Lifting myself up onto my arm now, my face becoming stern. “I would do that for you. I will miss you.”
Kyle smiled sweetly and sat up to wrap his arms around me. “Hey, I’m right here. No need to die twice. Have you heard that saying? If you worry about something, and then that something happens, you put yourself through the pain twice, it’s not worth it. We will worry about it when we need to worry about it, okay? Let’s enjoy what we have. I have you right now, and I think you’re great. You’re funny, and always up for my shenanigans. I love that, really. Not every girl is like that. It’s still summer, lets live it while we still can and think about this stuff when we need to, okay?” He pulls me in close, puts his lips on mine, and once again, I yearn for his arms to never lose me.
The weeks go by, seeing Kyle more sporadically since his friends take up more time, and I try working as much as I can before school starts. For a few days I attempt to get ahold of Kyle, only to get light responses. My heart ached for him. Thinking that we just had different schedules right now, he would find time for me, especially since he’s leaving soon. I even thought he was going to surprise me with some big date, but the surprise never came.
Then one morning in late August, I woke up to a text from one of his friends’ girlfriends. “Hey, I know I shouldn’t get involved, but if you want to say bye to Kyle, now’s your chance.”
My heart stopped. ‘Say goodbye? No, he wasn’t leaving for another week; I thought we had time. No, this isn’t right; maybe his phone broke. Or, he got hurt and couldn’t come see me? Or he’s so heartbroken about leaving he couldn’t face me to say goodbye.’ As these thoughts rush through my mind, I knew I had to go. So I run out the door, still in my pajamas, my hair partially in a bun, grab my bike and pedal as fast as I can.
I stop in front of his rental house. The car is filled with suitcases, and his parents are in the front seat looking at their phones. “Kyle, come on!” His dad yells from the car. Kyle comes running out with his backpack flung over his shoulder. The pain on my face makes him pause as my heart cracks.
“Give me a minute, okay?” He says to his parents, then jogs over to me.
“Be quick!” his dad yells.
As he walks over to me, his eyes stay on the ground, as though he’s being punished. “I didn’t mean to leave like this.”
“You weren’t going to say goodbye? Or text. Or anything?”
“I didn’t know how to tell you goodbye.”
“It takes literally 5 seconds to send a text.” My anger surprising me.
He tries to keep his eyes from meeting mine, his smile long gone. “I’m sorry, okay, I was going back home at some point, you knew that.”
“You live 2 hours away, it’s not across the country. We could have made things work. You could have at least said something.” My voice getting louder now.
“I’m sorry, really I…”
“Son, we got to go now!” His dad yells from the car.
“I have to go. I’ll try to keep in touch, okay? Remember our summer together, remember to have fun sometimes. Hell, maybe next summer…”
“You’ll be in college.” I say, as my breath leaves my lungs. My whole body wanted to sink into a puddle.
While looking me in the eye, he shrugs with a sad puppy face, the one he uses to avoid any guilt, and walks backwards to the car and crawls into it. Watching as they drive away, wishing that he would look back through the rearview window, only for a moment, then I would know some of it was real. That he loved me, he would miss me, that this summer meant something. But he kept his head down, buried in his phone.
I looked over at the rented house that was now hollow of his essence. Just as I was. The first sting of fall was blowing through my hair, and I noticed in the front yard, similar to mine, there was a flower bed of daisies, turning brown and withering away.