The anxious tapping of Allie’s foot was the only nearby sound, hindered only by distant suburban traffic. The rhythm of her pounding heart was out of sync with that of her shoe, and so was born a jagged and adrenaline-fuelled song. A new twinge of pain struck her nerves as the old image of a blonde teenage boy flickered in her mind, but it was immediately pushed away. Today is for me, not Rylan, she told herself. A new day.
Just as it had many times before, Allie’s head snapped toward the end of the street as a small black car’s engine purred down Danlen Avenue. Upon inspection, she registered that it was, in fact, Justin, ready to pick her up.
If her heart was fast before, it was rapid now. Here we go, Allie thought, and smiled nervously to herself. She reminded herself that this was a good kind of scared. It meant she was doing the right thing.
Allie was off the front porch and down the path by the time the Sedan came to a stop. “Hey,” Justin greeted and opened his door. He followed Allie around the car to open the passenger door, looking every bit as tense as her.
“Hi,” she said, nodding politely at him, impressed by his chivalry. She stepped into the car. Justin walked back around and sat down next to her.
“You look nice,” he said timidly before turning to the steering wheel.
“Thank you,” Allie replied. A boy had never really complimented her before, she realized. Not like this. She smiled shyly to herself and they were off.
“Did you get your mark back for that justice essay yet?” Justin asked, examining a freshly-picked apple.
“Nah. But to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get it back till January,” replied Allie, leading him around a corner and to the next aisle.
“Forget January. I think next year. Man, Mr. Bowles is so slow at marking.”
“Imagine him coming around to our college dorms handing out essays…” Allie laughed, and so did Justin. Their eyes met as they laughed and, for one blissful moment, they forgot the baskets on their arms, forgot the trees and the apples and the rest of the world.
The moment of camaraderie broke when Allie looked away. Fear had begun to creep into the perfect little world inside that moment and poison it. Laughing with Justin like this rang a sinister bell in the back of her head. A reminder of the last time she felt this way, two autumns ago, in a crowded school cafeteria. With him. Him. Forget him, she told herself. Not everyone’s like him, remember?
If Justin noticed the trepidation in her eyes, he didn’t show it. He watched her shyly as they twisted the vibrant red fruits from their branches.
“Have you done this before?” Allie asked bluntly. Maybe if she knew he was nervous too, she wouldn’t worry so much. “Date, I mean?”
Justin seemed slightly caught off guard by the question. “No,” he muttered, and blushed, examining another apple.
“Me neither,” Allie replied, feeling a little less tense alongside the broken ice.
“Really? You?” Justin blurted, looking embarrassed as soon as it came out of his mouth.
“What? Does that surprise you?” Allie asked, smiling and walking in front of him to try to catch his eye. If she could see Justin’s eyes, she could see him in the way people were meant to be seen.
“Well, yeah,” he said, like it shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Why?” Allie teased.
He hesitated, fighting back a grin on tomato cheeks. It occurred to Allie, seeing him blush, clutch for words, and mentally fawn over her, that Justin was cute. Really cute.
“You’re really trying to fish for compliments, aren’t you?” Justin stared at his foot kicking gently in the grass.
Allie chuckled. “I didn’t have to try that hard. You kind of walked right into that one.”
“Yeah, I kind of did, didn’t I.” A pause. “I just think you’re really cute, that’s all. You’re a catch, Allie. It’s surprising.”
Finally, he looked up at her with caramel eyes through his glasses and a lock of chestnut hair. Allie held his eyes for a moment, a giddy smiling tugging at the corners of her lips, but turned away for a private moment to herself. Was she really a catch? She’d never really thought about it before. It crossed her mind that this magic feeling, this kind of giddy butterfly-filled beginning, must be a piece of what they write all those songs about.
At this thought, Allie felt the strong urge to share more. The one thing that, in between the enchanting moments, still lurked in the back of her mind, like the shadow of a ghost. His ghost.
“I did really like someone once, though,” she said, taking a deep breath. Allie was generally a relatively open person, but this was tough.
“Yeah?” he replied, reaching for an apple higher up, but watching her all the same.
“Yeah. He couldn’t reciprocate it, though. Quite the jerk about it too,” she said. To say this aloud made her heartbeat flutter in a whole new way.
“Idiot,” Justin mumbled to himself, but Allie heard it all the same. Hearing someone else say this, someone that she liked, made the worst parts fade slightly, the shadows nearly overcome by daylight. It was not to woo her, because Allie didn’t think she was meant to hear it. He sounded so sure of it, so passionate that what had been done to her was wrong, that it made her more certain too, and caused something to bloom in her chest. Something remarkably like hope, the thing she’d been chronically lacking for such a long time.
Justin and Allie picked apples quietly for a while, but it wasn’t a heavy silence like there was in the car before. Instead, it was a peaceful hum. The rain had come to wash away Allie’s pain and this is what it sounded like. They traded glances, chuckling when they caught each other staring.
“Dang it,” Allie cursed, checking her watch after some time. She was disappointed. She’d tricked herself into thinking their date would never end, this utopia would be infinite. “We’re out of time.”
Justin looked at her watch as she turned it towards him. “Actually we were out of time five minutes ago. Do you think the orchard police are looking for us?” he joked, and Allie laughed, but his humour was tinged with the same disappointment.
They began to walk in the general direction of the main office, jumping up to look over the trees every once in a while to make sure they were going the right way. It was easy to get lost.
It didn’t take long before Allie had an idea. It excited her, so she divulged it out before her fear could take hold again. “Justin… do you wanna maybe go to dinner now? I know it’s early, but-”
“Yes,” he replied quickly, immediately perking up. “Yeah, I’d love to.”
Justin and Allie left the orchard for a lowkey eat-in restaurant back in town. They spent dinner asking questions about one another and playing Never Have I Ever. They had a heated debate about their favourite superheroes and shared a pizza. As they sat down in the car after dinner, Justin reached for her hand and held it the whole way home. When he dropped her off, he walked around the car and she kissed him over the door. When he put his hand on her neck and kissed her back, it made Allie’s heart sing.
That night, Allie couldn’t sleep. Instead, she stared up at her ceiling with a smile from ear to ear, running through the day over and over in her mind. Laughing at Justin’s jokes again and again and sighing with delight, lost in the world of that kiss, her first one. With every ounce of her being, Allie knew that this was the day she’d been waiting for ever since her heart had been broken. This was the day that would, and had, put it back together.
For the first time, the past was the past.