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Where No One Goes

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Spring is in full force.

I didn’t even know about this place. Until she showed it to me.

It was actually serene. Like, you know those pictures sometimes that people get lucky enough to capture, where the light is shining through the trees in all the right places, and it’s just breezy enough to always hear the sounds of leaves rustling. There’s a secluded, little dirt path that no one ever has the patience to follow all the way to its end, and yet there actually is something there. The kind of scene you’d see on a postcard, or a cheap calendar, but you don’t think might actually exist?

I never would have believed it myself, but yet, here we are.

A creek.

A creek is what’s at the end of that little dirt path.

And she’s hopping along the stones that stretch across it.

She’s really pretty.

I’ve always felt that way about her, as you probably all know.

Not that looks are everything. I mean, they’re definitely not, but…she glows. You know? There’s a radiance about her that I felt the first time I saw her at school.

She hung out with the popular crowd for a while, but, she never looked like she actually belonged with them. She shined in a way they couldn’t.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what it is about her that seemed so…magical? No…um… Mysterious! Not really that word either. Shit…

Majestic? Mystical.

What the hell…

English is confusing. There’s so many words for everything, and when you want to try and pick just one, you can’t figure out which one it is you want.

Whatever.

It doesn’t matter, because now she’s staring at me with questioning eyes.

“Are you just going to sit there and watch me?”

I think I shrugged. Because in all honesty, what else does she want me to do? She brought me here, and I don’t really understand why, but…I guess it is nice.

I love spending time with her. Even if things are still weird between us.

I stand up from the rock I’m sitting on, and step closer to the creek’s watery edge. The sounds of water trickling around stones and rocks are the only real noise here, besides the scurrying leaves that blow gently across the ground.

“Um, well…” I start to say to her, but find myself reaching up to rub the back of my head as I tilt it slightly sideways. I then find myself gazing around slightly, “I don’t know, should we like…climb a tree or something?”

She’s laughing at me now. Not obnoxiously or loudly. Just a gentle sigh of laughter. “I guess if you’re finding yourself adventurous enough you can try. Good luck though, those branches are high.”

I study my surroundings a little more and realize that she’s right. These trees are super tall, for whatever reason, and I don’t see any branches on any of them in which I could physically reach or jump up to grab on to.
I’d rather not take a long fall, either.

I’d already done that months ago, and it wasn’t something I wanted to have to deal with again.

She was there with me. Through a lot of it.

My surgery. My months of physical therapy.

I could tell that for the longest time she felt sad. Guilty maybe even, for what had happened at school that dreadful day.

I had spent even longer trying to convince her that it wasn’t her fault at all.

I don’t know if she ever truly believed me, but she stopped talking about it after a while.

“I call this place The Canopy.”

“The Canopy?”

“Yeah.” She replies, pointing upwards towards the roof of the wood, “Because the tops of the trees are really like a blanket. Only a little light comes through, but it’s just enough, you know?”

She starts to hop along the stones, back to this side of the creek, but her ankle rolls off the side of one of them and she stumbles into the water with a gasp.

It’s instinctive, how quickly I’m beside her, not caring about the fact that the water running along the sides of my shoes are starting to soak through them.

“Are you okay?” I ask her, and I probably sound a bit more panicked than I should, seeing as she’s only stumbled off a stone. I offer a hand to her.

She eyes it, almost warily for a second, before turning her head away, “Fine. I just slipped, is all.”

She doesn’t take my hand, so I awkwardly let it fall back to my own side as I watch her stumble her way out of the creek.

There was a time, once, when she would have taken it. Back before everything got so complicated and messy.

I don’t know how we all did it.

I mean, we’re just kids.

But we managed to turn so much into a disaster.

Friends, family, school, ourselves. We overturned everything good we had going for us. Some of us are still paying the price for it.

There have been nights where I haven’t slept at all. Moments, I’ve lost, rehearsing the same apology over and over in my head. Times where I’ve wanted to bang my head against the wall, to make the thoughts stop. To come to any kind of conclusion, anything at all I could say to her, to make her feel okay with me again. To gain her forgiveness, to make it up to her – what happened that night of the party.

It’s been a long time since that night, but I can replay it in my head as if it were a movie. I remember every person there, every beer I drank, every word I said.

It’s not enough.

I don’t know if it ever will be.

But what I do know is if that night never would have happened, she might have taken my hand today.

“So, do you come here a lot? Or…?” I ponder, rubbing my hands against my jeans as if I’d gotten something foreign or filthy on them.

She’s got a couple of leaves in her hand now. They’re bright green, and they look soft. She twirls one in each hand by the stem, as she gazes at me thoughtfully. “Sort of…I guess. I mean…” she trails off midway through her explanation as she reaches down for another leaf. “This place is special, so I come when I really need to breathe.”

I nod along to her, but, there’s a bit of a burning question I want to ask her.

I can’t decide if it’s important enough to interfere with this moment though, so maybe I can wait.

I don’t want to make her feel weird or anything.

I’m fortunate enough to call her my friend again, and I don’t want to do anything to mess that up.

It took a while.

After everything.

We sat down finally and had a decent talk, albeit, somewhat painful as well.

All of our raging teenage emotions that had been bottled up – and the ones that had come out in all the wrong ways – we talked about.
Jealousy, anger, sadness, torment, the insecurities and the misunderstandings those things had caused.

She’d cried, some. And I’d felt like it, but had willed myself to be the strong one, for her. By the end of it, I’d just felt completely wiped.

But she said she wanted to be friends.

I wanted that too.

Even if I still loved her.

“No one knows about this place, you know?” she states, and my head turns towards her just in time to see her fling the leaves she’d been holding upwards. The stems of all three, wound together, as they copter a couple feet before landing on the rocks. “Not even my dad.”

I almost feel disbelief over this. She never seemed like the type of person who wanted to spend time alone. “Really? Not even Aisha…or…” I trail off and my voice gets a bit quieter, “Ro – “

“No. Not even them.”

I feel just slightly nervous, because that burning question I want to ask her? It seems like now would be the proper time for it.

“So then…” I start, swallowing hard so that I can force it out, “Why me?”

She kneels down to the ground, her fingers sliding over some rocks before thoughtfully picking one up in her hand. She stands, turning towards me now as she steps up close, but she doesn’t stop at me, she steps just past as she gently flings the pebble sideways, and it skips delicately across the shallow water of the creek.

She lets out a long sigh, “I don’t know.”

We both spend a few moments staring at the water as it trickles along the rocky bank.

“I really don’t.” she mutters out, and now her tone just sounds sad, and I really wish I knew why.

We leave shortly after. She swears me to secrecy before we part ways, and I vow that her spot in the woods, her place of privacy, her sacred ground, will never be jeopardized because of me.

+

Summer comes in full swing that year.

The heat is brutal, as it always is in our part of the world. Thankfully, school is out for the meantime, and I was fortunate enough to not have to take summer classes because I straight up busted my ass catching up on all I missed for those months I was in the hospital.

Truly, I was a teenager with no life for a while there.

I figured it’d be worth it now. There’s a reason people say things like ‘work hard now, play later’. I didn’t want to give up summer break for more studying.

Aisha has invited me to a party this week, and I think I’ll probably go.

I made her beg, a little.

After all, what are friends for?

Either way, she’s gotten herself a new boyfriend I guess, and she wants to introduce him to her friends. He goes to a private school or something. I guess they met at the Country Club her mom takes her to all the time.

It’ll be a nice change of scenery.

I ended up arriving too early, but it was fine, because Aisha put me in charge of snacks. It didn’t take long for people to start showing up anyway, and before I knew it, the place was bustling, noisy, and too cramped for me.

It’s not like I was odd one out or anything, I’d seen plenty of people I knew from school and exchanged some conversation with some of them.

I even thought about having a drink or two, but for whatever reason, every time I picked up a beer, I just found myself staring at it for a minute before putting it back down.

Instead I found myself scuffing along the patio outside to get away from the noise. I just needed a little bit of quiet.

I didn’t see what was taking place a few feet away, where everyone’s cars were parked until I leaned against the banister.

In fact, I hadn’t seen her inside at all. Guess I can blame that on the mass amount of people that were bumbling around, but still.

I could pick her out of any crowd, on any given day, at any given time.

I just could.

She was standing by her car talking…or…well something…with a guy. He was someone I’d never seen before. I don’t think he went to the same school as we did.

I wondered silently who he was to her.

And I know, it was probably shitty of me to be watching them at all. It was like eavesdropping in a way, even though I couldn’t exactly hear what they were saying.

It really wasn’t my business. Who she saw. Who she chose to hang out with.

But I couldn’t look away.

Other people came and went from the deck, but I remained. I just felt like I should.

And after what felt like forever, the boy she was talking to seemed to storm off, upset. She called after him. Ethan? Or something? But he kept going. A few seconds later, the tires of his car were screeching and he was speeding off.

And then she was sobbing. A little.

I wanted to go over there. To take her in my arms and tell her it was okay. Whatever it was that happened wouldn’t feel bad forever.

My staring had decided to bite me in the ass. Because she turned and looked in my direction, as if she knew I’d been there the whole time.

And me and all my teenage dumbassery collapsed behind the railing of the deck, as if it would hide me at all.

“I see you over there.”

Yeah, I was busted for sure. Time to apologize, because really it’s not like I’d come out there to spy on her. I seriously hadn’t even known she was at the party at all until I walked outside.
I stood up, because really what defense did I have left?

“Did you enjoy the show?”

The way she’d delivered that last statement, it felt like she was spitting venom at me. Still, I could sense the hurt in her voice.

I held up my hands in defense, “Honestly I didn’t even hear anything, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to like…” I gestured towards her, as if that was going to help things. But words failed me, so instead I sighed, letting my shoulders slump slightly, “I’m just sorry.”

Silence fell between us, but I could tell by her body language she wasn’t upset with me. She seemed to pivot a couple of times on her heel.

I did the only thing I could think to at the moment, “Do you…you know…wanna talk about it?”

She seemed like she was contemplating this for a moment. “No.”

I watched her open her car door, “Not here.”

I felt my head lower in a sort of defeat. Oh well.

At least I’d offered. That’s what a friend does, right?

She started up her car, and I watched for a second as she was seemingly looking down at something. Probably her phone.

I turned on my heel, hoping that whatever it was that was on her mind, she could find peace with it as I contemplated on what I should do with myself next.

Do I go back inside and mingle among the crowd and the body heat? Or should I find a spot elsewhere? The sun hadn’t even set yet, though that time was drawing closer, so I didn’t want to be the kid that left the party before it even got dark outside.

Luckily, I wasn’t going to have to do either of those things. Because she called out to me.

“Are you coming?”

There was only one answer to that question.

The Canopy was a little noisier this time of year, I guess. The loud buzzing of locusts droned about as the evening began to sat in cozily, shining orange sun rays through the tree blanket over us.
For a long time, neither of us said anything. I wondered if she would at all. Maybe she just wanted the company.

We hadn’t seen much of each other since the last time we’d been here. Only in school occasionally. We’d pass each other in the halls. She’d always smile and wave, but I felt like she was still holding something back. Something she didn’t feel like I deserved to have, or something she just didn’t want to give to me.

I had learned to cope with that, even if my insides screamed at me to start conversation with her, or reach out to her, or ask her for more.

We were sitting side by side on a large rock just a few feet away from the creek. She had gathered her knees in her arms and was resting her chin on them.

“His name is Ethan.”

I turned my head to face her. So I had heard her right. Her facial expression looked like a mix of confusion and complication, but I wasn’t going to say anything. After all, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to talk to me about anything.

I just hoped she would.

“He’s Dante’s best friend.”

Ah, Dante. Aisha’s new boyfriend had seemed friendly enough. Though time would tell, as it usually did with most relationships.

“We met back in February at the club, but we didn’t really start talking until a couple months later.”

She picked up her head and stretched her legs out, now allowing them to dangle off the side of the rock.

“He’s something different, you know? I was excited at the thought of dating someone I didn’t see everyday at school, or…” she stopped for a second, lowering her tone slightly, “…during karate lessons.”

Right. Karate.

It’d been a blessing and a curse for most of us.

We didn’t really talk about karate much anymore. All I knew is that she had quit, and I’d been forced to, after my injury. It was a topic I think we both felt better not talking about anymore.
You’d understand, if you knew what we’d went through.

“Have you ever been with someone that like…you know…” she started, trailing off again as she looked straight at me, “You just didn’t feel like it was right? Or…it was missing something? Like…those anxious feelings you get when you’re with someone you really care about?”

Uh, yeah.

That was exactly what the entirety of my relationship with Tory had been. If you could even call what we had a relationship at all. I guess you probably could. Even if it was destined to fail.

I realize she’s waiting for me to answer her. I nod. “Uh huh.” She looks sad a little, which prompts me to immediately add to that, “Not you, though. It wasn’t you…”

I think I might have made things awkward. If she doesn’t feel it, I sure as hell do. I have to turn away from her before I say anything truly stupid. And mentally, I’m cursing myself when she starts talking again.

“Well, it doesn’t matter I guess.” She states, “I think my point was that…if I really cared about Ethan…if what we had was actually special and meant anything to me…why do I not feel more upset that it’s over?”

Girls.

They’re so complicated. I mean, how am I supposed to know how they truly function? Lord knows I’ve tried to comprehend and understand. I don’t even get why my mother acts the way she does sometimes. When you think they’re upset, it turns out they’re not. When you think they’re being serious, sometimes they’re joking. They cry when they’re sad, and they also cry when they’re happy. When they act like nothing’s wrong, there’s probably a lot actually wrong.

It’s just hard.

I lift my eyes to hers again, and shrug ever so slightly, “I mean, maybe you just…” I’m fumbling to try and come up with a response again. “I don’t know…you didn’t really know him that long? Maybe that’s why?”

I can’t believe I’m sitting here with the girl I love, and probably always will – talking about her breakup with another guy.

I mean, I want to be here for her, but is this even a thing? Like…is it normal?

“Maybe that’s part of it.” She finally answers me back, as she faces away from me again. Her hands reach down and grip the edge of the rock as she swings her legs a couple of times.

The soft orange glow between the trees is beginning to fade.

“But I think there has to be more to it.” She then continues, “I mean, even when we kissed, not once did I ever feel that…spark. You know?”

She’s turned to me again, and as much as I hate where this conversation has gone, I still find it in myself to smile slightly and nod at her once more.

I know the spark she’s talking about. I’ve felt it 3 times. Once on the grass by a bench, outside of Golf N Stuff. Once in the school hallway, on a Saturday, though it was just a peck. And then outside by a pool, where one of us was feeling vulnerable, and the other was realizing just how much they missed the other.

The spark that sets your heart on fire. The one that makes your legs feel weak and your breathing fast.

“I don’t know, maybe I’m just hoping for too much.” She says, turning her head once more to face the creek. Her gaze is downcast, and she looks solemn.

I clear my throat, “There’s nothing wrong with wanting sparks. I mean…” I shrug slightly, blinking towards the creek myself, “Yeah it may take a while to find that kind of thing with someone, but…” I turn to her again, “If that’s what you want, then you shouldn’t stop looking for it.”

I hope I’m saying the right things.

Even though it hurts me in ways I didn’t think I could hurt at all, I mean every word.

She’s worthy of sparks.

Whether it’s with me or not, she deserves nothing less.

She hasn’t said anything in a good couple of minutes.

Neither have I.

I really don’t know what else I can say.

But now she’s shuffling a bit, and before I know it, she’s leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder.

“Thank you.” She says thoughtfully, sincerely.

I hope she can’t feel my heart racing. I hope she can’t tell that I’m doing my best not to shake with nerves or anxiety. It’s been a long time since she’s put her head on my shoulder.

I never forgot what it felt like, either.

“Always.” I answer, hoping this moment never ends.

Even though it did.

+

Autumn comes before anyone knows it. I’ve always liked this time of year the best. I prefer to wear hoodies, and like it when the air outside is just enough to chill you, but not freeze you. The leaves change colors, and the sun isn’t so hot.

Even though school is in session, there’s still something nice about these months that lead into snowy winter.

I’m in video chat with Aisha, after school one day, and we’re both having a fit.

Me, because I really don’t want to hear about what her and Dante do on the weekends, and her – because she thinks it’s funny how awkward it makes me feel.

“Seriously how old are you? Twelve??” she asks me, still somewhat laughing.

“Listen there are some things I just don’t want to know! What you and Dante did in the…ugh hot tub last weekend isn’t one of them!” I can feel my face is distorted in slight amusement, but my voice is distressed, “You’re like a sister to me! You can keep those things to yourself!”

“Oh come on, these are things friends talk about!”

Before I can reply to her, another incoming call starts flashing on my screen. I stare at it for a second. The digital melody plays for a moment, before I turn to Aisha again, “Can I call you back later?”

She frowns, but answers quickly, “Sure. I guess. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah.” I answer truthfully, “I’m not trying to blow you off or anything, I just…have another call. I think I should probably take it.”

“Alright. Talk to you later.”

Aisha’s face disappears, and I click on the incoming call. Another screen opens up.

“Hi.” She greets me. Her voice is low, and I can tell immediately something’s wrong.

“Hey. What’s going on?”

She rolls her eyes, “It’s…”

She stops for a second, looking over her shoulder. I can faintly hear the sounds of other voices, but, can’t make out what they’re saying. Her bedroom door is shut, but she continues to stare over her shoulder at it for a moment.

I wait patiently, trying not to let my curiosity or concern get the best of me in that moment.

She finally sighs and turns to the screen again.

“Are you okay?” I ask, hoping she might want to talk about whatever’s troubling her.

“It’s nothing.” She answers, before putting on a very pitiful smile and blinking at me, “How has school been? I know we haven’t really gotten to talk much since – “

She’s interrupted by her bedroom door flying open.

She sits up with a start, but closes her screen a bit. I can’t really see anything now, but I can hear some things.

“Mom, please! I don’t want to get pulled into this!”

I can hear the muffled shouts of her mother yelling something in return.

“Mom, I’m talking with someone right now, can’t you just leave me alone??”

Someone. I guess that’s who I am to her now. Just someone.

I’m as okay with that as I can be.

It’s better than being a no one.

“I told you already that I don’t know about that!”

The screen shakes a couple times, and it’s made apparent that she’s gotten up off of her bed because I can hear her voice growing further away.

There’s the sound of footsteps, then the slamming of a door.

The bed shakes again.

And then she’s back.

I can see that her eyes are watered up, but there’s no evidence that a tear has fallen. Not yet anyway.

“I’m sorry about that.” She states, but her voice is shaky, seemingly on the verge of breaking.

“You don’t have to be sorry.” I reply, sitting up straighter as I lean towards the screen of my laptop, “Is there anything I can do?”

She seems to rock a couple of times, her watery eyes averting from the screen only when it seems like a tear might come out. She inhales deeply, “Can you just…can you meet me at…you know…”

She doesn’t need to say anything else.

I know where to go.

“I’ll be right there.” I tell her.

I barely remember to grab my hoodie before I’m on my feet and out the door.

It’s beautiful out here this time of year, I think to myself as I shuffle through fallen leaves down the little dirt path. So many colors, even if they are just various shades of orange and red.

When I get to the creek, she’s already there, crouched down at the edge of it, seemingly staring at nothing.

When I get closer to her I realize that she’s staring at her reflection in the water, in the smallest of spaces where just enough light is filtering through.

“Hey.” I greet her carefully, as I rub my hands on my jeans before crouching down next to her.

She doesn’t bother looking at me in return. And now I can tell she was crying, at some point or another, between the walk from her house to this place.

She looks so beautiful right now. Leaned over the water, her curls wavering gently with the breeze, her mascara slightly running.

As beautiful as The Canopy is, she looks even more so, sitting underneath it.

“When I was little, I used to always watch my parents and think that I couldn’t wait to get married.” She speaks softly, as the glow from above glistens down, a couple of leaves drifting downward to land peacefully on top of the water.
She takes in a breath, folding her arms over her knees and resting her chin on them, “But now that I’m older…whenever they fight it just makes me feel like it’s not worth it at all.”

I wait for a few seconds, just to see if she’s going to say anything else. It’s always gotten to her – her parent’s fights. Even back when we were still…well…when we were still close like we were, I could always sense how upset she’d feel if there were ever turmoil at home of any kind. She’d get this kind of quiet and sad look on her face. Like she didn’t know what to do, or how to feel.

“Well…you know…this kind of thing just happens sometimes. All relationships have their fights.”

I realize how stupid that must sound. Coming from a teenage boy who has so little experience in relationships as it is. Both of mine ended up a mess, and so maybe I didn’t really have a right to speak about relationships at all.

And what I said was something she probably knew already anyway.

“I guess I just don’t understand how two people who say they’re so in love can be so horrible to one another.”

I nod. Because I guess I never really understood that part of it either. I never really knew my dad.

But my mom had married him for a reason. They’d had a child together because at some point, they must have been in love enough to believe they wanted a family together.

Now all I have are the words of my mom, telling me how bad and horrible he was, and that it’s better that I never really knew him.

And well…I never met her parents, but, I’d like to believe that they won’t end up like mine did.

I notice now, that she’s shivering a bit as the wind blows softly. She must have done what I almost did. Left without a jacket.

So, without really giving it a second thought, I pull my hoodie off from over my head and place it on her back and over her shoulders.

She remains stiff, despite feeling it drape over her.

It takes her a minute, but she does acknowledge it eventually. She pulls it off of her back before slipping it on and cozying into it. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” I reply, now looking down at my reflection as well.

“Do you think we’re destined to turn out like them? Our parents?”

I contemplate her words for a moment, before thoughtfully gazing out at the other side of the creek, “I don’t think we have to.”

I say that, but I’m kind of unsure myself. There are so many examples of people out there who have sworn to never turn into their father or mother, but do anyway.

But surely not all kids are doomed to that, are they?

“I’ve been…talking to Ethan again.” She tells, “A little bit, anyways.”

“Oh.” I reply, because that was the only thing my voice would allow me to say.

But I’m her friend, right? So I should be more supportive. Or something. I guess.

“That’s uh…” I start again, turning towards her, and yeah, she’s looking at me too, her curious eyes studying me. I shrug slightly, “That’s good? I guess?”

She sighs, and turns her head away again, almost as if my reaction let her down, “I don’t know. Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”

I make myself busy by snatching up a rock, hoping to God she doesn’t notice how uncomfortable I’ve just gotten.

I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable.

This is my friend. We haven’t been a thing since…well…it’s been a long time.

And that shouldn’t matter anyway.

But it does.

It matters to me.

And it hurts.

“I realized that maybe I never really gave him a fair chance. That maybe those sparks I was talking about are there. They just hadn’t come out yet.”

I swallow hard, before picking up a stray twig that was nearby. Grasping it in my hand, I silently begin twirling the end of it through the shallow water of the creek.

Ethan was getting a second chance with her.

The girl that I loved.

Even though I never had gotten one.

And I was just going to have to learn to deal with the reality of that.

I didn’t know how I was going to, but I would. If I died trying, I would.

If it made her happy…

I would.

I clear my throat, realizing that everything had been quiet for a while now. I toss the stick to the side somewhere, and stand to my feet. “I um…well…good luck. You know…with that.”

I turn around, walking away from her a bit as I do so.

I don’t know why all of a sudden, things feel so hard. Or why I want to just leave.

I just need a moment to myself, I guess. A moment to truly take in the reality of everything.

Part of me always thought that somewhere, somehow, she’d want to be with me again.

And right now, that thought was fleeting, dying, fading away.

I could hear her slow footsteps coming towards me. The soft crunch of rocks under her shoes as she drew closer. They stopped, and I could feel her standing directly behind me. I was still turned away from her, and no matter how much I felt I should, I couldn’t find the nerve to turn around and look at her right now.

Then, I felt her press against me. Her head leaned onto my back.

Then her arms slid underneath mine, and slowly wrapped their way around me. My body sank further into hers.

I’d waited so long for another chance to hug her. To hold her.

To just simply be with her.

And now in this moment, I can’t will myself to turn around and hug her back. I can’t even look at her.

I feel my eyes get heavy as I gaze down at her hands, clasped around my midsection. And, wordlessly, something within me starts to break. I shakily draw one of my hands over to hers, letting it sink, crawl, downward, until it connects with the softness of her skin.

We stay like that for a while.

Until I feel her touch slip away. Until I feel my hoodie drape over my shoulder.

And she’s walking away.

And I think, maybe, she might have been crying again.

+

Snow days are always fun. There’s no school if you get enough, and you don’t have to worry about dragging yourself out of your warm bed. You stay cozy, and if you’re lucky, your mom may even bring you hot chocolate in bed to get you going.
Ice on the other hand? Well…

I must have busted my ass twice going to get the mail.

Not that it hurt or anything, but there’s a certain level of grace that I like to think I have. A balance that can’t be broken by a patch of stupid ice.

Thankfully, I don’t think anyone saw.

But I suppose when it really came down to it, ice could make even the most majestic of soul’s stumble around like clumsy dumbasses once in a while.

When I walked back into our warm apartment, it took a couple of moments for me to shake the chill off.

I decided to retreat to my room and check out what the rest of my friends might be doing that day. It was a snow day, after all. Shenanigans were bound to come in all ways, shapes, and forms.

It seemed as if Aisha was spending a cozy morning snuggled up with Dante for Netflix and chill.

Moon was out…shopping? In this weather. Well…could be worse, probably.

Dimitri was going full on binge and catching up on Dr. Who, whilst also apparently ordering the new Magic the Gathering deck.

I continued scrolling through a couple of more friends, when my eyes landed on her profile.

It was just a picture of some footsteps in the glistening snow.

I clicked on her page. Her status simply read, “I’ll be in a place where no one goes.”

I hadn’t talked to her hardly at all these past couple of months. Though that didn’t mean I hadn’t wondered how she’d been doing.

The last time we were together, she’d told me she was going to give Ethan another chance, and well…I didn’t want to get in the way of that.

I’d seen him pick her up after school a few times. So I guess it was working out after all.

That’s good, I think.

I just hope she’s happy.

But if she’s going to the Canopy today, there must be something on her mind. After all, she once told me that she goes there when she needs to breathe.

And against my urges, and my curious teenage ways, I probably should leave her alone.

Really, I mean, I should.

She might even be there with Ethan for all I know.

She told me that she’d never shown anyone else that place, but, just maybe she’d shared it with him by now.

Maybe…

I was out the door within another minute.

I walked alongside her set of footprints on what I could only assume was, the little dirt path that would lead me to the creek.

The woods so far felt so naked in comparison to how they usually were. For obvious reasons that it was winter, of course, but, there was still a different air about this place. It was chilling cold, and there were no sounds of breeze, or rustling leaves. No sounds of water trickling from the creek in the distance up the path. Just the creaking of branches, heavy from the snow and ice that sat upon them.

When I stepped into the clearing by the creek, I didn’t see her.

Only an indentation in the ground where the snow was flatter and more disturbed than the rest. Her footprints were all around, and when I finally stepped closer to the indentation, I realized she had made a snow angel.

I smiled a bit, as I stared down at it.

“You didn’t ruin my angel, did you?”

I turned on my heel to see her walking from around the large rock we’d sat on once. She slid slightly as she stumbled to get her footing in the snow. She was wrapped up in a puffy coat with a fur rimmed hood, gloves and some snow boots.

She’d prepared for this way more than I had.

Of course, coming here had kind of been a spur of the moment decision for me.

She shuffled over to me to inspect the white angel she’d left behind, while I shook my head in defense, “I have caused it no harm whatsoever.”

“Hm.” She responded, nodding as she gazed down at it, “You always were thoughtful like that.”

I was gazing at her now, while she stared down at her angel thoughtfully.

She turns her head to look at me now, too, and I can’t help but turn away once our eyes meet.

I can feel her looking at me for a while.

“I think she needs a friend.” She finally states, pointing down towards the winged imprint in the snow.

I snap my eyes back to her, because I know what she’s thinking. “Wha…” I gaze down at the cold snow, then back at her, “Me? I don’t…” I trail off, because her eyes are glistening towards me in a sort of sad way. But her expression is full of expectation.

I nod, “Okay.”

She smiles at me, kind of.

And my hoodie really isn’t enough to shield me from how bitter cold the snow feels on my back when I fall into it.

Lined up beside her angel, I start to sway my arms up and down.

There’s something innocent about an activity like this. Something child-like.

Making snow angels might be a little beyond our teenage years, but she’s enjoying it. And for whatever reason that I can’t seem to grasp or find within myself, so am I.

She was giggling for a second, before she let out a distressed noise. “Oh no!”

I stop my movements instantly and sit up. “What?”

She points somewhere beside me, to my right, and when I look over, I realize why she’s seemingly panicked.

“Oh shit…” I mutter, jumping up to my feet, carefully, so as not to disturb the angel I just laid on the ground.

I stand at her side, gazing down at the damage I’d done.

My angel’s wing had merged with hers. And now they just looked like some kind of larger angel abomination.

I turn to look at her, “I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t realize how close I was.”

She doesn’t say anything right away, and after a couple of seconds she just tilts her head, thoughtfully. “It’s not that bad, actually.”

I can feel the disbelief in my voice as I ask, “Really?” and turn my head to look down upon it again.

In my eyes, it’s definitely a snowy mess. But she’s apparently seeing something in it that I’m not.

“We’ll just call it Siguel.”

Uh…the cold might be getting to her head. Of course I’m not going to say that to her or anything, but…a part of me is beginning to wonder.

“Is that its name or what it is?”

“Its name.”

I shrug slightly. “Sure.”

A more insightful person would have picked up on the meaning of that word much faster than I did. In fact, it would take me weeks before I really figured it out.

I mean, I’m a teenager after all, I don’t always think to read between the lines.

“Do you think it’s safe to walk on this?”

When I turn around, she’s shakily made her way onto the thick ice covering the creek. I know, I know, that it doesn’t pose the threat of say, a frozen lake. I know that it’s just a creek, and if she did fall through, it’d be nothing but a foot of water. There was no real danger, probably.

But seeing her take the risk made me feel fidgety and panicked anyway. “I don’t know.” I state, holding a hand up, but I know my eyes were concerned as I watched her slide a couple of times on the ice. “But you should probably not risk it, just in case.”

“Or…maybe you can come with me?”

“Come with – where are you going?”

She shrugs, turning her gaze to the left first, then the right, then back to me, “Wherever the creek takes me I guess.”

I stare at her silently, my arms slumped at my side, as if I’d already accepted defeat. I knew I wasn’t going to talk her out of following the creek path.

She gave me a moment, before she extended her hand towards my direction. “Come on. Siguel will watch over us.”

My eyes drifted to the strange anomaly on the ground once more. I huffed out a laugh.

And then I stepped forward, reaching up and taking her hand as I stepped onto the icy bed of the creek.

We shuffled a few steps together, hand in hand.

“See?” she laughed a little, turning to me, “It’s like roller skating.”

“Yeah, except when you roller skate, there isn’t a foot of freezing water beneath you.”

She giggled a little, but my thoughts had already began to drift again.

That night, at the roller rink. It should have been her that was there with me. Standing alongside me in her pink dress, and her Molly Ringwald hair. Me in my red jacket.

Instead it had been someone else.

And she had been there with someone else.

I should have told her then. I should have told her many times before that night, that I wanted her to be back by my side. That whatever it was that was keeping us apart, we could work through.
I should have made more of an effort.

She was worth fighting for.

Instead I pretended I was okay. That I was moving on.

When I wasn’t.

She lets out a squeal from beside me, and I feel her weight tugging at mine as I reach over to catch her before she falls. Or at least, I tried.

We tumbled onto the ice together.

Sprawled out on our backs there, together, we laughed.

Somehow I guess, between the laughter and the adrenaline, we chose to stay there. The cold on our backs not near enough to make us want to get up and move.

Instead we stared up at the glistening, ice covered tree branches, tall above our heads. We spent some time making shapes – well, at least trying to – out of the cold breath escaping our mouths. The vivid and visual air danced through the space above us.

We hadn’t made it very far down the creek, but she decided she didn’t want to go any further anyway.

She was cold, and I was even more so.

“Well that wasn’t so bad.” She states, stepping her way off of the icy creek bed and back onto the snow covered ground.

I felt one of my eyebrows raising as I looked at her, and took my turn at stepping off of the ice. “No? You just enjoy falling?”

She laughs only for a second, before reaching down to dust some of the snow off of her legs, “I needed the practice anyway.” She says, and I wait to respond, because I know there’s more to that, “I’m going skiing with Ethan’s family for Christmas break.”

Oh.

Ethan.

That’s right.

For whatever reason, I’d forgotten he existed there for a while.

I do my best to hide the disappointment on my face, and in my voice. I rub the back of my head, taking a couple of steps away from the creek, “Wow, that’s uh…” I let out a breath that I didn’t know I’d been holding, “Family trip. That’s kind of a big deal.”

She tucks her gloved hands into the pockets of her puffy coat and shrugs a little bit, “Kind of. I guess.”

“Are you nervous?”

“I don’t really know how I feel.”

“Hm.” I nod, facing the ground. And that feeling of wanting to leave is with me again.

We’re quiet again.

It’s not like it feels awkward. Not quite.

It’s like…just…nothing.

It feels like nothing.

The quiet, the silence. The white fluffy landscape around us.

There are no feelings right now to feel about any of it.

“Well, I’m cold. I’m going to go.” She states finally. I swear at least 10 minutes had passed where neither of us had said a word. We’d only stood there, scuffed snow under our shoes and gazed around. “Thank you for accompanying me today.”

I want to be upset. Tell her how I really feel. Tell her that she shouldn’t be with Ethan. She should be with me. That I hate being her friend. That I hate the fact that she showed me this place. And I hate that she keeps it between us.

Why?

Why is it “our” thing?

How can it be anything, if there’s no real magic here?

None of this makes any sense to me. None of it’s right.

“I hope you have a great Christmas, Miguel.”

She turns around and leaves me.

I need a minute to myself. To really focus on the words she’d said before she walked away.

It might be silly, and it might be nothing, to you.

But it had been almost a year since I’d heard her say my name.

And to me, that means everything.

+

It’s been over a year now, since she first took me to The Canopy.

The last months of winter had crawled and crept by, and for a while, I thought the snow was going to stay forever.

I swore I wasn’t going to go back there.

Not to the place that let her breathe, but that caused me misery.

It was worth it at first, just to see her. Just to be alone with her. To spend time with her.

But it isn’t worth it anymore.

I’m only a teenager.

I may not be experienced in dating, or girls, and you may laugh at what I call love.

But I’m not stupid.

And I know that the way my body reacts just simply standing near her, and the way I stay up all night thinking about her, and what I could have done differently to keep her, and the way my heart sinks when she says goodbye, or how a simple picture of the woods reminds me of her, and how the smell of my mother’s “Autumn Harvest” I now associate with her scent…

…and even now, as I’m walking along a little dirt path in the woods, my heart is racing what feels like a million miles a minute in anticipation…

It can’t be healthy anymore.

I’ve held on, for long enough.

The thought of moving on is painful.

But I can’t keep this up any longer.

And that’s why I’ve decided to tell her.

That I can’t keep coming back here.

I have to hope that it’s the right thing to do.

This place is just like I remember it the first time. Green leaves fluttering with the breeze, the glow of the sun rays poking through the blanket on top of it all. The sound of the creek, finally free from its icy prison, now trickling over the stones at rocks at its edge.

And she’s there, of course.

Her long, curly brown hair dancing in the gentle current of the wind, as she’s crouched down not far from the creek, staring at the ground, her hand placed on top of it.

She hears me approaching, because she doesn’t look up at me before saying, “Siguel’s gone now.”

Siguel. Yeah, I figured that out one evening when I was sitting at home, recalling the events of our wintery meet up here in this spot.

Sam and Miguel.

Siguel. Our blended snow angel.

What a silly concept.

But she had seemed to like it.

She looks up at me, though she remains crouched, “Maybe next winter, it’ll be back.”

Next winter.

Yeah, maybe.

But, she would have to make it herself.

Cause I wasn’t going to be here this time.

I pivoted my weight from one foot to the other, and I knew then I had began to fidget a little.

Part of my insides were screaming “Do it now. No mercy.
The other part was screaming “If you really go through with this, there’s no looking back. Are you sure?”

“She needs to hear this. What you’ve been through. It’s not fair.”

“She may never want to see you again. Do you want to give that up?”

“Are you alright?”

I blink my eyes and focus on her again. She’s standing up now, brushing her hands together to remove any dirt she may have gotten on them from where she was touching the ground. The ground where Siguel once laid.

I nod, probably too much and too fast in response to her. “I really need to tell you something.”

She steps closer to me, a look of concern and curiosity on her face. She’s all ears.

I swallow. Hard.

I didn’t realize how difficult this might be.

It’s like her bright, beautiful eyes are beaming into my soul.

I open my mouth.

“I love you, you know? I always have. I never stopped.”

Nope. That is not what I rehearsed on my way here. Not even close.

What in the actual hell?

She casts her eyes downward, staring at the rocks beneath her shoes. Her hands she clasps together, locking her fingers up tightly with one another. “I know.”

I really don’t know how to act. She hadn’t even been shocked with what I said, and now she says she knows? Where do I go from here? Where do we go from here?

No. You know what? Scratch the original plan. It’s now or never. This is the moment where I have to show no mercy.

Cause I don’t think I’m going to get this chance again.

I bob on my feet a couple of times and tuck my hands into my back pockets. I look at her. She’s still staring at the ground.

“I’m sorry. I’ve tried.” I say, shaking my head a little as I turn on my heel to start my pacing. It’s the standard for when I’m having a serious talk. “And I know you have someone else now, but I think after having tried for over a year now to move on from you, to forget you, to get past you, I think you’re just going to have to accept it…and so am I…”

I take a deep breath, because it feels like there’s a rock sitting in my throat. It feels like defeat. But I don’t care. I don’t care if this makes me weak in anyone’s eyes. It’s my truth.

I stop my pacing and turn to look at her. She’s looking at me now too.

I shrug, with a bit of a sarcastic huff. “I may never stop loving you, Sam.”

I can’t tell what’s in her eyes right now. All I know is that her gaze has turned dodgy. She’s no longer looking at me, but to the side of me.

I can’t blame her.

I probably wouldn’t be able to look me in the eyes either.

But that rock in my throat? Is gone now.

And I’m feeling a little lighter by the minute. So light in fact that I look down at my feet and bob on them a couple of times again. Maybe I could even fly if I tried.

I haven’t felt this way in a while, so I guess I should probably keep going. She hasn’t said anything. So maybe she just doesn’t want to.

“I can’t come here anymore.” I tell her, and even though I feel a ping of sadness, I also still feel as if I’m being set free. “It’s too hard.”

I walk up to her, and against my better judgement, I place one of my hands over both of her clasped ones.

“But despite that…” I say, leaning down slightly to see if I can catch her eyes. She’s still dodging, but that’s okay. “I am happy that you shared it with me.”

I gaze upward at the beauty of The Canopy overhead. The blanket of green leaves engulfing the sky as if it were giving it a hug so tightly, only a few rays could peek through. Just like I remember it from last Spring.

I gaze back down at the girl standing in front of me. I’ve always been taller than her. It made it difficult for me to ever truly look into her eyes unless she was looking back up at me, but it made her a perfect fit in my arms, for the time that she was mine, anyway.

I step back a little, “I should go.”

She still doesn’t speak, but I wait around a few lingering moments, just in case she wants to.

Apparently not.

So I sigh, giving her arm a bit of a rub, before turning on my heel and away from her. I begin walking away, and I realize this is the first time I’m leaving before her.
I stop again, gazing around at the nature I’m surrounded by. The Canopy really is beautiful, and I hope that it never changes.

I walk again.

I’m getting ready to head out of the clearing, and back out onto the dirt path for the last time, when her voice stops me.

“I broke up with Ethan!”

It sounds pleading, almost. Like she had to get it out before I disappeared around the corner, or someone would lose their life.

I had stopped, of course. At the sound of her voice.

I stare ahead at the dirt path, just mere steps away from me now. It would only take a second to get there. Just one more second, and I’d be out.

But my feet feel heavy, like they’ve got anvils attached to them.

So what? She broke up with Ethan.

What does that have anything to do with me?

Still, she told me for a reason, right?

I stand up straight and turn my head slightly to gaze at her.

She’s staring straight back at me, but she hasn’t moved from the spot where I left her.

She wants me to come back.

I was so close, and now she wants me to come back.

So, I’m turning back now, scuffing down the small hill that leads into The Canopy and out onto the rock bed.

Does she just need someone to comfort her? I mean, I guess one last time couldn’t hurt. I can handle it. Just one more time.

“Well…” I start, gesturing towards her with my hand, “I mean…was it…okay? Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?”

She looks contemplative for a second, before simply shrugging, “It’s okay.”

What? That’s it?

Whatever.

I nod towards her, tucking my hands in my front pockets this time as I gaze down at the rocks.

“No spark. You know?”

I look at her again. She has a bit of a smile on her face, but I’m not really sure how to react to that. So, at the risk of looking like an idiot, I try to mirror that small smile back. “Yeah, I know.”

She then turns a little, before reaching down and running her fingers over some of the rocks at her feet. “I mean, I feel like I gave it a good enough chance this time.”

She stands back up on her feet, her pebble of choice gripped in her fingers as she tosses it a couple of times into the air, before catching it once more.

There is this burning question coming up inside of me that I want to ask her.

But I don’t know if I should or not.

She turns her back to me before walking to the creek’s edge, and flinging the pebble outward. It skips across the surface a couple of times.

I walk to her side, and we both take a moment to stare at the water.

“And you really never brought him to this place?” I ask, suddenly, because I really did want to know. I gaze at her.

She looks back towards me, “I really never did.”

“Hm.” I nod, facing outward towards the water again.

Another couple of moments of silence go by.

And against my better judgement, that burning question decides to come out anyway.

“So…is it okay if I kiss you?”

The soft wind begins to churn, swaying the trees and branches above us, and all around as it whispers across The Canopy.

Maybe it really is magical here. This place where no one goes.

She looks at me again. “Yeah. It is.”