there’s nothing much keeping me here —
it’s a quiet place, and quiet places are generally
quiet. but how could I leave,
knowing I could miss my chance?
It’s not an extremely hot day.
The cicadas are buzzing busily, either way, but they keep you occupied as you wait. Your fingers drum impatiently against the knee of your jeans. They’re speckled with paint from when you and he had gone over to paint Mrs. Havisham’s fence — it’d been in a sorry state, its whiteness flaking, and soon what had been a simple fence-painting suddenly became an all-out war of paint. Mrs. Havisham hadn’t minded much, even though the fence had ended up being adorned with dozens of impromptu decorations, one of them being a large, comically-drawn dog that he had named “Redford.”
You still remember the tone of laughter in his voice as he’d leaned over to smear paint onto your cheek. Thinking about it, silly as it seems, still gives you the flutters.
When he’d first moved here, you’d spotted him at the train station with your mother. He’d been silent, evasive, and alone. Armed only with only one suitcase and the tired curiosity that comes with being somewhere new, he’d stalked past you and your mother; she’d been telling you about how Mr. Lowe had heard rumors that he had been sent here by his parents — something about them being on a trip and not taking him along. He’d been shipped off from his home in the city to come here and stay with his grandmother for the summer.
You’d watched him exit the train station, suitcase in tow, and wondered just how horrible he’d been feeling. Mrs. Connors had never mentioned she had a grandson, and you really couldn’t link the kindly old widow to the hunched boy with a frown set on his face even after seeing him. The room with the window facing yours in Mrs. Connors’ house had become occupied shortly after, but he didn’t seem too keen on lifting the blinds past their halfway point.
He didn’t cause much of a stir in town. He read a lot, and often the light in his window didn’t turn off until well past midnight.
The last thing on your mind had been making friends with him. As life would have it, though, there had come a day when your mother had told you to go to the supermarket to fetch groceries, among them fresh eggs. You hadn’t really thought much of it until you’d noticed him browsing the jam section — maybe there weren’t the same things here as in the city? That’s what you’d come up with, anyway. Only a little shaken by his presence, you’d gone about your business, basket in hand.
It’d been fairly peaceful in the supermarket. Mr. Lowe had been out back getting some things from the pantry, and his rat terrier, Lucy, had been sleeping under his desk. (Mr. Lowe had a strict no-animal policy for the supermarket, but somehow Lucy was always squirreled away in some corner, napping her day away, or leashed to the front counter). The fan overhead had been turning softly, and the whooshing sound was useful in keeping your mind away from the shuffling of feet behind you.
You’d been reaching for a carton of eggs when Lucy had decided that it would be a good time to wake up and set her eye on the swinging sleeve of the jean-jacket tied around your waist. You’ve known Lucy since she was a puppy, and she’s not shy in making her intentions known when it comes to play. So she’d gotten up, tugging on her leash, and barked at the top of her lungs. You, egg-carton in hand, had nearly jumped a foot into the air — and then you’d remembered what you were holding.
It had been one of the worst moments of your life, watching the carefully-stacked packages of eggs tittering from side to side, and not being able to stop it because your balance was off as well. Salvation, however, came in the form of two hands, considerably whiter than your own (don’t they get sun in the city?); hands that effectively stopped the disaster of the tower of leaning eggs by providing support.
Lucy had gone silent as you looked up, tying to catch a glimpse of his face underneath the rim of your hat. You pushed it up with the back of one hand, and realized that he’d been sighing in relief. You had been so focused on finding out who he was (his name, finally!) that you didn’t notice the aftershocks of your little jump had unsettled the tiny bags of chocolate sprinkles above the eggs. One of them had wobbled, bent, fallen, and —
His hair had muffled the sound of it landing on his head. It slid down from there, dropped down between you and him, and finally stopped when it hit the floor.
Even now you don’t know what you’d found so funny. But you’d started laughing so hard you could hardly breathe. Maybe it was the expression on his face, caught midway between relief and startled confusion, or the fact that his hazel eyes went so very wide when the bag of chocolate sprinkles made its quick descent. Whichever it had been, your laughter had been contagious, and what had started as a chuckle for him and ended up in the loudest fit of laughter you’ve ever experienced. Mr. Lowe had returned moments later to find you near collapsed.
That’d been the day you and he had become friends, you think.
The sound of the train’s high whistle jolts you from your reminiscing. You all but leap from your seat, stepping into the sunlight and feeling the heat of it on your bare shoulders. The levels of your jitteriness increase exponentially as you watch the dark outline of the train snake across the landscape, black against green, and you find that it can’t arrive fast enough. It’s been so long. How has he changed? Does he still listen to the same bands and read books by the same authors? Does he still like eating peanut butter and banana? Does he still laugh at the garage scene in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World until he’s gasping for breath and he’s flushing like some shy schoolboy?
You want to know. You’ve waited. He’d left — gone, for the city, back to his parents — and now he’s finally back. Finally. You can’t believe there’s so much to tell him. Phone calls can’t show you his face. You can’t hug him or comfort him through the receiver when his father comes down on him like a ton of bricks. You can’t shake his shoulders to emphasize your telling him that he’s not a disappointment or a failure or anything remotely like a letdown.
The heat seems to suffuse around you as the train stops. The engines hiss, steam rises and settles, the plumes of gray from the smokestack dissipate slowly; you’re searching for him through it all, feeling as though the clothes are crawling on your skin.
You don’t recognize him because he’s grown taller, but suddenly he’s standing there, looking around the train station with new eyes and no doubt raising his eyebrows at the renovations. He still has only one stupid suitcase. He’s wearing a white button-down shirt, the sleeves folded at his elbows. A jacket is draped over his left arm. It matches his slacks. He looks so businesslike, you think, even if he’s the same person. His brown hair is not much longer, and it’s as full as ever. He brushes it away from his face as he shields his eyes with a hand against the intrusive noon light.
The only reason he knows you’re coming is because you yell out his name. He thinks you might be an illusion: there you are, as always, in jeans and a wife-beater, with a straw hat. You’re running so fast that the straw hat is pushed back by the wind and it falls back, but the string beneath your chin keeps it around your neck, though now it’s sitting between your shoulders, bopping with the rhythm of your feet. This isn’t a dream. He can see the smile, white and wide, splitting your face, and he drops the suitcase just in time.
God, you really are here — you smell like the sun and warmth, and as he spins you around your hair tickles his arms and he thinks, has it gotten longer since he last saw you? The straw hat scratches at the back of his hand as he sinks a hand into your hair and lets himself drink in the sight of you, still full of simple wisdoms and unbent by the wants of others. You’re lovely.
You pull back from the hug, arms around his waist, and smile at him again.
“Hello,” you say.
It’s easy, uncomplicated and straightforward. Everything you want to greet him with is in that one word, and it’s steeped in the promise of things you’ll tell him later.
“Hello,” he returns, and then moves forward to give you a kiss that’s been four years coming.
He’s home at last.