Tulips in December

Submitted into Contest #209 in response to: Start your story with someone walking into a gas station.... view prompt

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Fiction Drama Teens & Young Adult

I can hear the engine turn over in the parking lot as the bell on the glass door rings, and this is all so familiar. I let the door swing shut behind me and I am remembering how we used to do this all the time, a hundred years ago—you waiting in the truck with the air conditioning on to relieve you from the mid-July heat, me paying for our gas and slushies. 

“Hey there!”

I try not to feel too annoyed as the kid at the counter comes around to ask me how I’m doing, but we are in a hurry and it’s like he’s never even heard the words “personal space” before.

“Oh, I love blue raspberry,” he informs me as I try to fit a medium lid on your large slushie. “Here,” he says, handing me the right size. 

I don’t look at him; my blond hair hangs in my eyes, freshly dried from the rain that fell two hours ago. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” 

His skinny arms are folded across the chest of his dark uniform, which hangs loosely about him, and he is still smiling at our blue slushies as I fit the lids on. 

“My mom used to hate these things,” he says. “She still does, actually. I love them, but she’s always like, ‘Blue raspberry? Why don’t they just call it sour blueberry or something? Don’t they know there’s no such thing—’”

I am pulling a hundred and fifty dollars out of my jeans and dropping it at his feet because I cannot afford patience right now. 

“Oh. Uh… sorry,” he mutters as the bell on the door rings again. He is scraping the bills off of the white tile floor, and people like him need to learn to be less comfortable. He clearly hasn’t been hit or pushed or told to back the hell off enough times in his life. He’s the sort of person to get into the front seat of an Uber, although I’m sure he has a pair of soft-hearted parents who drive him to work every morning and kiss him on the cheek, so he doesn’t have to worry about that. 

“Hey,” you say. 

I smile and you are smiling too. We sip our slushies as we merge onto the highway, resuming our journey to paradise. 

The day our world fell apart was yesterday. 

At least, that’s the way it seems. I can remember it all in perfect detail, the tears in your viridian eyes and the annihilating sensation of true love being torn away from you. 

When I picked you up for dinner that night, you were happier than you are now. You were wearing a perfect red sundress covered in flowers, vibrant petals of yellow and pink and white, and your face was fresh and beautiful, even with the makeup you think you have to wear, and there were three rings on your left hand. 

I had a ring too, the same one I am wearing now as we hold hands across the centre console. The ring is wrought in the shape of a silver flower, and you gave it to me after I told you how much I loved it, exactly one week before I picked you up in your red dress.

“Jake, will you wear rings with me?”

“Of course I’ll wear rings with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Give me the flower one.”

And so the flower ring was mine, and I wear it everywhere now. If anyone judges me, I’ll just show them a picture of you and tell them, “she gave it to me,” and what will they say to that? You’re the most gorgeous girl in the world, my dear Aleta Colley. 

The others were already at the restaurant when we arrived: my cousin, Jamie, and your best friend, Gabby, were by the doors, laughing about something on Jamie’s phone, while Jamie’s friend Ryan stood leaning against the dark windows to their left. Ryan was dressed in a plain white button-down that he had clearly spent an hour ironing and some brand new jeans and a pair of freshly polished white vans and his face. His face, I could imagine the way it dropped when he realized Jamie was coming. 

“Don’t feel bad,” Jamie told me earlier that day. “He’ll feel awkward for a while and maybe he’ll hate me, but it’s fine. Hopefully he’ll leave Gabby alone after tonight.”

A part of me did feel bad, though. A little. Another part of me knew that some people know how to find beautiful love, and some don’t. I spent months wanting you, remember, and I wanted you quietly. I waited, I was patient, and Ryan was like the overeager kid in the gas station. He was chasing the wrong girl, and he had to slow himself down. 

The two girls working the front desk informed us they were full, but they could have a table for five ready in about twenty minutes, and isn’t that just the saddest thing you’ve ever heard? A table for five. I could almost taste the blood in Ryan’s face.

After dinner, we bid our friends goodbye—Ryan practically sighed with relief once the bills were paid—and I drove you to our favorite cafe downtown. We sat in a booth, my arms around you in the corner, our bags in the other seat across the table, two chocolate milkshakes waiting on the mahogany surface. 

“Jake,” you said. 

“Aleta.”

“I love you.”

“And I love you.”

“And I’ve been missing you.”

I kissed your ear until you pushed me away, giggling, and I told you, “Being alone is so weird, Aleta. I always have my hands in my pockets when I’m at the store or something, and I’m so used to having them in yours.”

“Aww, Jake.”

“But I know I’m only without you physically. And this is growth.”

We’d been spending less time with each other lately, and the time we did have was beautiful. We cherished it, because we knew it mattered now. We would both be starting university in the fall, and we would need time to focus and study, to work hard. 

“Because I don’t want to enjoy you while you last, Jake. I just want to enjoy you. Forever.”

“So do I, Aleta.”

You sat a little straighter in the booth and held my face between your hands. “I’m really proud of us.”

I held your wrists, our noses touching. “Me, too.”

“We’re a lot stronger than we were a small time ago. We’re better at being apart—we’re doing things that seemed impossible a few months ago, and I feel way more ready to talk to my parents about it all. I’m still nervous about what they’ll say, and… I don’t know. I know we should’ve told them way earlier, but—”

And then your mother was settling down in the cushioned seat across the table from us, the metallic sound of change in her purse, the brushing of her wool sweater as she propped her elbows on the table and clasped her hands together. 

“We need to talk.”

Do you remember the tulips I bought for you on your birthday, in December? I mean, everything about that is artificial—everything except for my love, of course. But tulips in December? What a fragile, short-lived gesture.

You accepted them gratefully, but the tulips, of course, did not come naturally. They were either grown somewhere far away, or in a massive, corporate sized greenhouse here in Canada. In December. They were grown for the sole purpose of marketability and, as soon as they were beautiful, ready to sell, began to die. 

We are like those tulips, you and I. Love has never looked so desperate as us on the 17th of July, five hours before your plane was scheduled to leave the airport and deliver you to Switzerland, forever away from me. You had family there, and your dad had found a new job overseas, and—

And I doubted you. This was desperate, it was mad, and as I sat in my truck at the end of your street at five o’clock in the morning, the sun cresting the horizon, my body trembling with anticipation, I began to tell myself that you were not coming after all. Surely, you had realized how crazy this was, how much saner you’d be to just get on that plane and start your new life in Switzerland and forget about Jake Devland, the dream of a boy you lived in for a while. Your dad would start his new job in a few short days and you wouldn’t have to sleep on couches or in hotel rooms with me, and—

But there you were, easing the front door shut behind you, hopping quickly and quietly down the concrete steps you’d been climbing for years, refusing to even glance at the windows you’d been gazing out of every day of your life. No looking back now. 

We didn’t start driving for a while. You threw your duffel bag in the back seat and we just sat there, leant over the centre console, holding each other. I let you cry and shudder and kiss me with your wet lips, telling me you love me. 

And then we left. 

At six o’clock in the morning, the quarry is a dreamscape of emptiness. I have never seen a place so tranquil and pristine, so fit for the setting of not a goodbye but a tragic hello, a hello to a new beginning. 

“Jake,” you say as we walk, hand in hand down the winding roads of pale sand. And then you are shuddering in my arms. “I’m scared.”

“It’s okay,” I say, but maybe this was a mistake. Maybe… but no. No, because when I imagine going to sleep at night, knowing you are across the world forgetting about me, knowing I found you only to lose you, it kills me inside. I need you, and we are exactly where we are meant to be, here on the ghostly shores of paradise. 

You are kissing my bare chest, my arms, and I am staring over your head at the cliffs above, where the train tracks stretch for miles in either direction. The air is still in this isolated place and the water is calm and constant, a single, seductive eye.

I will be constant like that to you. I am calm and strong and it is such a wonderful feeling, to be so certain about someone. We’ve helped each other grow and I am ready to care for you, and so I know we will be okay. We are going to be something to remember, you and I. 

We lay together on our towels, silent for a time with our hands intertwined, and every time we squeeze, it is like saying all of the words in our young, terrified hearts without actually saying them, like eating without eating, infusing the words into our veins through silver needles. 

After some minutes, I prop myself on my elbow and bring your chin up with my two fingers, so our foreheads are together. “How do you feel?”

You smirk, and until this moment I had thought smirking sadly was impossible. “I feel like a criminal,” you say, drawing pensively in the sand, and suddenly you are crying again. “I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.”

“I know,” I say, and I am wishing you’d stop crying, but I understand. 

“I feel like everyone we know would say we’re stupid,” you cry. “There’s no one in my life who would respect me if they knew I was doing this.”

Your skin was bronze, your hair silk, and your eyes two seas as deep and wet and clear as the open water before us as you gazed across its waveless surface.

“It isn’t too late,” I say, and I am praying that you won’t make me bring you back and say goodbye to you. 

You take a quivering breath and release my hands. “We both know that’s not true.”

You are hugging your knees to your chest, and neither of us have a chance to say anything more before we realize that is, in fact, not too late, because there is a voice calling from the railroad tracks above. 

Your body tenses as your head whips around and you gasp, “What the f—? Dad?

On one of my last nights at home, a few days before I moved here and fell in love with you, I fell asleep at the top of the big red slide at Callander Park. I stayed there until morning, comatose, because I didn’t want to see the end of the night. I was moving away in two days and I tried to convince Harrison, who had to work early the next morning, to stay with me. 

“Just drink a few coffees before your shift,” I said. “I’m moving soon, you’ll regret it if you don’t stay.”

But it was just the two of us, no girls or any real excitement, just us and our drugs on the playground, and he left me there.

“You sure you don’t want a ride?”

“Nah, I wanna stay here a bit longer. I can walk.”

So I stayed there, and I was alone when I woke up because I am always striving to make the good times last longer than they should. I’ve always had a hard time accepting that the golden moments are not meant to be forever, and that’s what got us into this mess in the first place.

And this is where we end. We know this, both of us, as I hold you fiercely, your parents descending the rocky slope, bringing the awful truths of reality with them. 

There are a lot of things we should have done differently, a lot of mistakes we’ve made together, but none of it matters anymore. What matters are your tears on my skin and your lips on mine as they watch, because this is the last time.

“Please don’t fight them,” I say. My voice feels choked and distant. “It’s okay, Aleta.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because it is. It’s okay.”

We could never run away. No, we were never going to make it. We are seventeen years old with a total of maybe 16 grand to our names, no plan, no jobs, no—

No. I know you need a life with your family. I know you will need a wedding they can attend, one they approve of. You need guidance and safety and nights of peace where you fall asleep knowing that, yes, you are safe. Maybe you would settle for less, for me, but I no longer want that. 

I want the most for you, which is why I am watching you cry from afar for the first time, something I am not used to doing because, until now, I have always been there to hold you while your tears fall. 

You don’t look back, and I wait until you are over the hill before I collapse to my knees and let my own tears fall. I dig my nails into the dirt and I am shuddering, but I feel sure that we have done the right thing. We will have some time between us now, a few thousand miles, but that’s the beautiful thing about love. I need you, Aleta, and I know you need me too, and so, of course, if God appears to tell me that I have to wait five or six or a hundred years to see you again, I will hate Him for it. 

But I will be here waiting.

August 04, 2023 00:27

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