Time unfurls before me, like a red-checked picnic blanket lifted high to be spread, like a child spilling a sackful of marbles onto the hard-packed earth. Like I get to choose what happens next.
I go back. Back to the beginning.
The dusky part of evening is my favorite. When it is almost too chill, but you go out to the dock anyway, to listen to the waking-up whispers of the nocturnal lake.
I sit there alone, feeling the night turn purple. Until he comes. Like I knew he would. Like he always does.
“Your favorite kind of night.”
I close my eyes and smile. “Yeah.”
“We had to put Daisy down yesterday.”
I reach out, clasp his hand resting on the dock next to mine. “I’m sorry. That’s rough.”
He looks down at my hand on top of his. Shifts so that my fingers fit between his. “We’ll miss her. She was a good one. Never did break her of the jumping habit, though.”
I laugh. “Remember that first afternoon? We saw her on the side of the road –”
“So bedraggled –”
” — a total mess, but she was so friendly and happy –”
” — all sorts of wagging her muddy tail –”
” — and then she just leapt up –”
“You were in your Sunday-best…”
“My favorite blue dress!”
” — Gone. Forever. Rest in peace, blue dress.”
“I can’t believe you remember it.”
“You kidding? How could I not?”
“Wow. It made that much of an impression on you? At ten years old?”
“Heck, no! It’s just that you’ve told the story about a thousand times –”
He is quiet for a moment. It’s unusual for him.
but I like it. In the silence, I can hear the rocking of gentle lapping waves, slapping at the underside of the dock. A few frogs come out to search the lonely night for lovers.
Finally, his voice breaks into the siren song of the night. “You ever feel like we’ve been doing this forever?”
I don’t know which “this” he is talking about, but… “Yeah.”
His thumb, calloused and rough, moves gentles against my fingers. Swallow hard. Look away. But don’t run away. Because in the end, isn’t the pain of being rejected far sweeter than the pain of holding the words inside until feel ready to burst with the weight of them?
“Look,” I begin.
He looks. No, no, no. Too intense.
“No, don’t actually.”
He obediently turns his face away, but I see the smile tugging at the corners.
“I’m about to do that rambling thing that I do when I’m nervous.”
“Okay. Here it goes.” Deep breath in. “I think I’m a little bit in love with you. Or maybe a lot. What I mean is that I’ve been in love with you since we were ten and you had that really horrible haircut that your mom gave you and I guess it has taken me all these years to realize that the fights over who was a better swimmer and the shared Popsicles and the blueberries we ate while they were still green and got stomachache and the stray kitties we rescued from under the shed and the treehouse that we planned but never built… that was what love looked like in real life even though it was kind of dumb and kind of easy like we were just buddies, until… until I realized I could keep living my whole life this way and never get sick of it, and I know you don’t think of me that way like I’m just an annoying little sister to you and… God, I don’t even know what I’m saying.”
It ends, abruptly. All the words, spent.
I press shaking hands to throbbing temples and shut my eyes tight, trying to block out the world around me.
And when I open them, it is daylight. I’m standing on the dock, trembling fiercely. Hands fisted at my sides. Alone.
Because no matter how many times I relive that night when I wanted to finally tell a friend that I loved him, it doesn’t change the cold hard facts of a speeding truck and a life winked out so fast that you never get a chance to whisper a last goodbye.
So I walk to the shore-end of the dock. Stoop, pull up a fistful of yellow wildflowers. I take them to the water and set them adrift. Breathe deep. Turn around. Walk away.