American Coming of Age Drama

“I don’t want to go to the river,” I whispered at the note written on crumpled paper: Meet me at 4. Need to talk. 

Tears pricked the back of my eyes. The sinking feeling in my chest had only grown over the last two weeks. You called less and less. My calls went to your voicemail more and more. 

But I drug myself out of bed, put on some makeup and a pair of jean shorts. Mom offered to braid my hair the way you liked it when I told her I was going to our spot, but I blew her off. Sixteen was hard. 

“So tell me about this guy again. Is he the fugitive who stole my best friend’s heart?” I demand while wheeling over to Misty’s cubicle. It’s a lazy Friday afternoon, the office is mostly deserted. She turns and blushes like a school. She holds a finger up to quiet me while finishing her phone call. I dramatically groan and stare at the ceiling as I spin myself in my black office chair. She sets the receiver down, “You’re meeting him tonight, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I am still dying for details,” I lament and start examining the objects on her desk: the little kitty cat sticky note dispenser, the red heeled shoe which acts as a tape dispenser, the crocodile whose mouth is a stapler. She grabs the stapler from my hands while I try to pretend it’s biting her, “Please, please, please, just like one more detail?”

“You know plenty,” she says, feigning professionalism. “You know his name, John, you know his occupation, engineer, you know we’ve been together for three months, and you know that your opinion matters most of all,” she ticks these points off on the princess pink polished fingers of her right hand. Misty spins in her chair and opens an Excel file. She’s pretending to work. 

“John is like…the most generic name ever! Plus, I haven’t even seen a photo!” I complain and return to spinning, but in the opposite direction.

“You don’t need to see a photo to meet him,” she tells her monitor. 

“Why?” I ask the bright, white lights hanging from the ceiling, “Is he, like, super ugly?”

“No,” she says cautiously, drawing out the “O” at the end. 

“Oh my God. He is!” I exclaim and stop spinning so I can pull my chair up close to hers. 

“No, he is not,” she protests. “I just know you and I know you can be a bit….judgey,” she picks her words carefully.

“What could I possibly judge about him?” my heart beats fast in my chest. I can feel deep red coloring my chest. “Hey,” I pull on her shoulder so I can encourage her to face me, “I’m sorry. I want the best for you. I’m excited for date night.” I smile at her. She smiles back and shoos me away so she can finish her work.

I text Charlie when I return to my desk, but Charlie takes both of our sides. He says that I am a bit judgey when it comes to the guys that Misty dates and says that it’s out of love. I decide to live with that response and close out my sales report just as Misty comes prancing to my desk. She is someone who just looks like a Misty with her wild, blonde curls, and black stilettos. Misty works in Accounts Payable which means she doesn’t interact with our clients face to face, but she still wears full business attire every day which some men would find intimidating. However, the second they hear her bubbly laughter and kind voice, any fear melts away.

We walk out to the parking structure together and she hollers, “Hey, 6pm, date night, don’t forget!” I’m laughing as I buckle my seatbelt and start the drive home.

Charlie is in the shower, which on any other Friday would be an enticing proposition, but I have a promise to keep so I just knock three times to let him know I’m home and make my way to the bedroom. He’s picked out a black dress with slits of deep red on the sides. He’s also laid a black cardigan over the dress and placed the gold locket he got me for our fifth anniversary on top of it.

Personally, I’ve always been flattered by my husband who cares enough about fashion to pick out my outfit. In contrast, when I shared this detail of my marriage with Misty, she rolled her eyes and quipped, “Whatever makes you happy, sweetie.” I smile in fondness at the memory of us from three years ago when I was a brand new sales rep and she was walking me through account reconciliation. 

I hear the shower turn off and I quickly change into my outfit. I’m sliding into my heels as I hear the door open and feel the release of steam entering our hallway. I turn and face my husband, watching as he lathers up and shaves. He sprays on some cologne, gels up his hair. “Stop watching me,” he teases. 

“I can’t help it,” I flirt and wrap my arms around his waist, dotting kisses along his bare back. He spins around and kisses me ‘hello,’ before meandering to the bedroom. He slips into jeans and a button down. “Very handsome,” I praise.

“Ditto,” he replies and checks the time. We walk hand in hand out of our home. I listen to Charlie tell me about work. Most of the words about HVAC systems leaving his mouth sound like a foreign language, but I relish in his smile and laughter at jokes only he really gets. We pull into the parking lot of Paradise Found. It’s a niche little restaurant off of the highway. They serve cheap Mexican food-beans, rice, enchiladas, and tacos. But no one comes for the food. They come for entertainment. Paradise Found boasts the only known local cliff divers of Colorado. This makes it an ideal spot for kids birthday parties and the occasional date night. The building is made of a bright red brick. It looks smaller on the outside than it really is.

Charlie holds open the door for me. We are the first to arrive. The restaurant smells divine and I feel myself salivating at the thought of chips and salsa. We are seated. The chips are warm. The salsa is fresh. And that’s when I see you-overdressed in a black suit-Misty on your arm. My chip, laden with juicy tomatoes, drops to the table. 

Summer was ending in Colorado which meant that the heat of the day was sweltering, but cooled quickly in the evening. I wrapped my fingers around the rope, pulling the small wooden plank to us. Our feet slid slightly. You laughed and wrapped your hands around my hips. I pulled away. I didn’t meet your gaze. You reached out a hand and grabbed the plank. You forced a smile.

“You know what they say about the Swing?” I asked you. You just grunted. “This swing set is special. You see, they say that two, star crossed lovers built it during world war two. They’d run down to the river bank and swing together. That was before he shipped off.” I babbled because each word I said prevented another tear from falling. You mounted the swing and began to pump your legs. You soared high above the lazy river. The willow’s branches creaked and swayed along with you. I reached up to touch the soft tendrils of green. I watched you stop pumping your legs—entranced by the way the sunset catches the soft gold highlights in your chestnut hair.

Slowly, you returned to me, but I could tell in your eyes, you didn’t want to. 

You look bewildered. But still, so the same. Same deep black hair, same soft brown eyes, same square jaw. Charlie looks from me, to you, to Misty. He stands and extends a hand to introduce himself. Misty takes a seat and nervously looks to her date for some kind of confirmation he’s here for her. You smile at her, the same smile I traced down by the river on our first date. It’s the same smile I memorized, kissed, and hoped for each time I saw you.

Charlie clears his throat, “Did you guys want to get an appetizer?” He holds up the menu, consulting his options. Misty nods and says something I don’t quite pay attention to about the guacamole. You and I are staring at each other. I’m looking for proof that it's been 10 years-a line, a wrinkle, or a crinkle in your marble face. Nothing. My heartbeat flutters in my chest. My palms have begun to sweat profusely.

I always hated how you did that to me.

“Babe? Babe? Hello?” Charlie is laughing uncomfortably, waving his hand in front of my face.

“Sorry,” I mumble. “The chips and guac sound great,” I try to make the words sound happy. I should be…happy.

When I open my menu, the black letters swirling like alphabet soup. Tears begin to blur my vision and I rack my brain over the details that Misty had bothered to share about her new beau: John. John. John. But you had always gone by JJ in high school. So much so that I hadn’t even really bothered to remember your legal name: John Miller Junior. Your father, John Senior, was a tech guru. Your mother. Your mother was an angel. I have flashes of us eating dinner in the huge dining room where your black lab circles our legs, looking for a treat.

A waiter with a pencil thin mustache derails my train of thought. I consider a margarita while Misty orders hers. You choose a beer. Charlie chooses the same. So I get a soda. Misty also places the chips and guac order. I hide behind my menu. After just a few glances I settle on a shredded chicken burrito. But I don’t lower my shield.

You break the ice, “So how long have you and Misty known each other?” It's the first time I’ve heard your voice in 10 years. 

“Three years,” I say, closing my menu. “And how did you two meet?” I ask while telling myself I can do this. I can be polite. I can be friendly. 

“Online,” you reply. Charlie raises an eyebrow at me. We met at work. It feels more classic than the reality of online dating. We take pride in our story. “And you two?” you wave a chip between the two of us.

“Work,” I boast and grab a chip. I can feel your eyes on me. 

I took my turn next. My bare legs were scratched by the rough wood of the swing. I clutched the worn, spindling rope. I placed my hands right where yours were. I could still feel the lingering warmth of your touch. I pushed my right toe into the sand and began to rise in height. I listened to the birds calling out to their loved ones in delight. When I closed my eyes, I imagined angels dancing in the clouds above me while tears streamed down my face. “Hey! Babe, come down! We need to talk!” you called. I pretended not to hear you.

After a few more big pumps and a little more yelling from you, my tired legs flopped still and I slowly came down from my paradise.

When I tripped on a pinecone, I placed a hand on your shoulder. You pulled away. A small patch of sweat pooled at the base of your back. You looked at me and I decided, in that moment, to commit to memory the way you had three freckles on the bridge of your nose that look like a triangle. “Do you wanna swing again?” I asked while reminiscing on our first time here. You had promised to rescue me if I fell into the water.

“Are you ok,” you asked. I shook my head.

But you didn’t come wrap your arms around me or brush tears from my cheeks. You rolled your eyes, sat down against the tree’s trunk, and played with her hair. You tell me, “You should call your mom for a ride home,” and that’s when it ended.

“Work,” you repeat, crinkling your nose so that the triangle of freckles come together. I nod and anxiously look for the waiter with our food. Misty starts talking to Charlie about books, or dogs, or animals, or something…Your eyes never stop looking into mine. I bite my lips nervously and clear my throat. “No maraschino cherry?” you ask me. The table falls silent. I stab at the ice floating in my drink. “Lilah always used to order a soda with a maraschino cherry,” you say as I stab and stab and stab. The ice sloshes around noisily.“It was so sweet; it made her feel like a real adult,” you continue, leaning into the table so that you, Charlie, and Misty share the inside joke at my expense. I want to scream. Instead, I just take a gulp of my soda. 

“You two know each other?” Misty’s voice has raised an entire octave. I feel Charlie’s hand on my hand. It’s like a life preserver in the giant ocean of my past. 

“Yeah, you could say that,” you lean back in your chair and take a long sip of beer.

“Delilah?” Charlie turns to face me. I stare into his soft, green eyes. My Charlie’s eyes. They have a hint of worry.

I take a deep breath, “We were high school sweethearts.”

“High school sweethearts? I guess you could call it that,” you crinkle your nose again. I could scream! Once again, those stupid three freckles disappear and then return. The waiter swoops in with our food. I reach for my drink and attempt to guzzle my embarrassment away. 

“Well this looks great!” Misty exclaims, attempting to cut the tension. “Thank you for recommending this place,” her eyes dart over to me. I glance at her and then stare at my plate of food. The lights are dimmed in the restaurant, but if we squint, we can still see our food on bright red, yellow, and green plates in the romantic, dim light of the lamp, hung on the wall, to the left of our table.

My eyes flick from my food, to Charlie who’s busy tucking into his meal, to the dark shadows sitting in front of us. They follow the line of your shoulder, down the length of your arm, to the hand which is no doubtedly cupping the knee of Misty. I take a deep breath and turn to face the pool. It has a fake cliff side along one wall, a rushing waterfall, and a crystal clear lake beneath it with just enough room for the divers to swim from their positions back to the corner exits tucked up against the wall. 

A spotlight flicks on. We all playfully shield our eyes. A man in a bright, red speedo takes his position. He dramatically greets us, waves, bows, and takes three steps back so he can make a running start. It’s a cannonball! The audience exclaims in delight as he whoops and hollers. The very front row of tables, down in the pit of the dining room, are splashed. A few ladies chatter and feign displeasure with their dates. The diver rises to the surface and begins the journey to his exit.

Our waiter returns with more liquid courage. The spotlight shifts its focus on to the next diver: a beautiful woman with a long, dark braid down her back. She has on a swimming suit patterned like a flamingo. She prances on the platform before taking her position for a perfect, pencil dive. We all clap. The next divers are a pair. They’re dressed as toucans and even give each other a little peck of adoration, earning ‘aaawwss’ from the audience. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch you giving her a peck. They take two steps from each other and then make the leap, contorting their bodies in the air to make a quick heart. It elicits gasps from the audience.

I poke my burrito, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the size of it. It’s covered in green chile. I love green chile. Another deep breath is exhaled from my nervous mouth. I take a huge gulp of soda and mumble out an excuse to run to the bathroom. Charlie scoots in since I’m by the wall and I need to weave past him. I wave down our server who points to the bathrooms. 

The long, terracotta tunnel he referenced is pretty easy to spot, even if the little black plaques are difficult to see. In the bathroom, all white with a huge painting of Spanish dancers in big, green and blue skirts, is suddenly my sanctuary. Selfishly, I choose the handicap stall and stare at the images of caramel flan, or fried ice cream, or sopapillas designed to entice the diner into saying, “Let’s get dessert!” upon exiting. I could leave. I’m done with my business. But I don’t.

There’s some part of me that wants you to burst through the door proclaiming your love and apologies for leaving me at that stupid, stupid river bank-just so I can finally be the one to rebuke you.

But you don’t.

In fact, the longer I sit here, the stupider I feel. In this gorgeous dress. With this perfect husband. I take a deep breath, literally put on my big girl panties, and wash up.

The face staring at me in the mirror looks just like her-like 16 year old Delilah who called her mom because she needed to be picked up the river where her very first boyfriend broke up with her and shattered her heart. 

April 14, 2023 15:34

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Michał Przywara
20:38 Apr 26, 2023

She definitely didn't forget her first love :) I think you nail that feeling of a sudden event turning the world upside down, when she first sees him at the restaurant. The happy, silly narrator of the first part of the story is hit hard with memories and completely changes. I think that transformation worked out well. "You rolled your eyes, sat down against the tree’s trunk, and played with her hair." - who is "her"? The story sounds like it was a breakup, but this makes it sound like there was already another girl, so infidelity perhaps?...


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Helen A Smith
07:37 Apr 26, 2023

Hi Amanda You gripped my attention in this story. I kept wondering what was going to come next. The gestures between the two friends worked well showing how they related. Even though she’s clearly found happiness in her marriage, the MC’s spun back to re meeting her first love and all that goes with that. I like the way you smoothly go back and forth in the past and present. The tension at the table is drawn well against the background of more pleasurable images. There are a number of interesting questions posed here to keep the reader ...


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Sarah Martyn
18:47 Apr 22, 2023

I love when dialogue feels / sounds natural. Well done there. It didn't feel like an exaggerated script nor too formal. Tension keeps us in the story! If you have some time, I'd love if you read (and gave feedback to) my short story, "Dreaming of Burgers on the Moon". https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/177u86/


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Delbert Griffith
10:52 Apr 22, 2023

I feel like you did a great job of employing the two timelines. Just enough of each as the story progressed, leaving us with a sense of muted heartbreak at the end. Your tone was excellent. I especially liked the beginning scene, with Delilah spinning in her chair, the red shoe tape dispenser, etc. All of this told us so much about each person's personality and their relationship without "telling" us. Great stuff. Masterful, in fact. Sometimes, high school and first loves never leave us, even after we get the perfect mate and a fine life. L...


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Mary Bendickson
22:51 Apr 17, 2023

'You rolled your eyes, sat down against the tree’s trunk, and played with her hair.' Who's hair was he playing with if he didn't touch Delilah? Yeah, 16 is tough no matter how big you get. Those heartbreaks are ones that can mold your life and follow you where ever you go. How is she going to be happy for her best friend being with this guy that broke her heart?


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Michelle Oliver
12:31 Apr 15, 2023

I like the way you have blended two love stories here, a new romance and a teenage heartbreak. A quick fix if you have time. -“She turns and blushes like a school.” I think you need school girl here. -“she needed to be picked up the river where her very first boyfriend broke up…” picked up ‘from’ the river? Throughout this we get hints and feelings of high school, as if even though she is older, high school has never really left. The cute stationary, the outfit picked out for her, blushing like a school girl, a soda (not with a cherry) a...


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