Sunbeams flicker over my eyes through the leaves of the apple tree. They catch eight-year-old Peter’s blond locks scattered over my stomach, and my small body shakes with laughter that I cannot hear. After a few moments, my backyard seems to disintegrate like a painting aflame.
Nearly complete darkness replaces the sunny exterior, its fullness augmented by the twenty-something fifth graders sitting quietly in the blackness. A school lockdown drill. Peter and I are hunched under the teacher’s desk, all squished together. He whispers something in my ear, and I burst into scandalous giggles, only to be quieted by our teacher.
The world recreates itself again, and suddenly I’m thirteen, curled into a fluffy black blanket in my mom’s walk-in closet with my friend Natalie. The door is slightly ajar. Because Peter just left for the bathroom, I remember.
“You don’t even think he’s a little cute?” I ask Nat.
“Peter? Seriously?” she says.
“Oh come on, the way he smiles, and that laugh, and - ”
“Adeline...” she gasps, staring out of the closet. There stands Peter, eyes wide as saucers. He turns on his heel, and runs all the way home. We never speak of it again.
My surroundings change, and Snow Crest Secondary School replaces them. I’m fifteen now. A coarse hand clutches my own, dragging me down the long grey hallway. Peter’s laughter rings out, hindered only by my own nagging.
“Quiet! Someone’s gonna hear you!” I scold. He only laughs louder, amused by my anger. When we reach the end of the hallway, he pulls open the door to the back stairwell. It’s an old stairwell, out of use because nearly all its doors are jammed.
“What - ” I mutter, turning to Peter in confusion, but the look in his eyes cuts me off. The laughter is drained from them, which I didn’t know was possible before this day. He looks at me like I’ve never seen him do before. There’s no mistaking the glint in his eye. It’s longing.
Somehow, I know what he’s asking, be it because of intuition, or instinct, or his memorized psyche in the back of my mind. I clutch my hands at the back of his neck and kiss him hard. Shivers follow his hands down my back. We had touched before, but never like this.
When the stairwell disintegrates, a cozy cafe materializes around me, and with it, Peter. He sits across the table from me but leans over its middle, just as I do, so our noses nearly touch. Our first proper date, later that same day.
“Are you sure I’m not dreaming?” I whisper, smiling in a quiet way. My voice echoes.
“Well then, why don’t you try to wake up?” he teases.
I groan. “Oh, I don’t wanna do that. This is so much better than reality.”
“Please don’t wake up,” he sighs.
My smile widens and my eyes dance over his cheeks, counting his freckles.
The cafe disintegrates. A few magical weeks later, we’re in school and working on an English project with two other students.
“So I guess we should have a slide with…” I squint my eyes, trying to focus over the tingles of delight following Peter’s hand up my spine. I sigh in mock exasperation, unable to keep a grin from my lips. “Later, Peter. As I was saying, with our sources and…” He didn’t listen, of course. His fingers are now at the base of my neck, twirling gently in my crimson curls.
I stand and walk around the small circle, electing to sit across from him. I resist shuddering in the sudden lack of his warmth. “Oh, come on, Addie…”
“We’re supposed to be working,” I say. “Later.” His lip turns down, pouty, and a laugh escapes my lips as he watches them.
The scene changes to three months later, on the floor of my bedroom. Peter sits against the wall below the window, and this time it’s my head in his lap. Evening darkness fills the room, the kind that sneaks up on you when you forget to turn on the lamp. His fingers caress my cheeks, but tears paint them anyway. I just found out I failed a math exam.
“I’ll help you study, okay?” Peter jokes. He was always dreadful in school. I laugh at the thought of him trying to teach me quadratics.
“No thanks,” I say, fighting not to let my voice crack, “I’ve seen enough failures for one day.”
“Ouch,” Peter says, putting a hand to his heart in mock offence. “You’re mean when you’re sad.” I chuckle again.
The painting burns away to reveal another high school hallway, and Peter’s hand in mine again, pulling me along. Two more months have passed. He takes me to a dark and empty classroom and shuts the door behind us.
“What, Peter? What is it?” I ask, giggling. Just inside the door, he puts his arms around my waist, and I rest mine on his shoulders, clutching my hands together behind his head. Peter takes a deep and shaky breath. He looks me in the eye sharply in the very serious way that he did when we first kissed.
“Addie, I love you,” he says, and tugs me into an embrace before he can see the look on my face. A smile splits it from ear to ear and I pull out of the hug enough to brush my lips against his.
“I love you too.”
This time, I can hear the new scene before I see it. Yelling echoes in the air as the school gymnasium, lit by glow sticks and wandering spotlights, takes shape around me. It’s no more than a year later, and I’m sixteen.
“PETER!” I shout, nearly tripping over my heels as I chase him across the room. Many people in the gym turn to look at me in alarm and confusion, but I don’t notice. All I see is my boyfriend’s retreating form across the gym, the back of his head looking caramel in the tinted light.
I only feel confusion, not fear. I don’t know to be afraid yet. At this moment, it’s just one of Peter’s games.
I kick off my strappy grey heels and carry them out the gym door. As soon as I turn the corner, I see Peter speed walking towards the exit of the school, hands in his pockets, trying not to attract attention.
“Peter!” I call, and his ocean eyes pierce mine, a look of desperate fear in his eyes.
I run along the hallway and follow him out the front door. The rain soaks through my skin in an instant, and I shiver. “PETER!” I yell across the parking lot.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” he screams, whipping around at me. I stop suddenly, nearly falling on my face, left speechless and terrified.
His hair, dark in the downpour, drips over his eyes. There’s certainly no laughter left in them now. Only pure anger remains, all-consuming in the ocean blue that’s lost its beauty. Those eyes will haunt me evermore.
A tear trickles down my check, one born of shock, fear, and sadness.
After a moment, even Peter looks surprised by his own ferocity. A shadow of uncertainty passes over his features as he takes in the sight of me. And so, so much shame. His eyes look like goodbye.
But it doesn’t last, and he gets in his car and drives away.