It was the final summer for our childhood, I suppose. High School had already let out and the graduation thing with caps flying and parents crying was already over. It had been two weeks since and Grace and I thought, for some dumb reason, the public pool would not be packed. It was, of course. It was in that lukewarm water, pressed shoulder to bruising shoulder with other half naked teenagers, that our friendship ended. I lost her forever.
We had waded over to the “6ft deep” end of the pool, trapped in a corner that surprisingly had enough room for us to tread water. The tips of my toes would hit the cement as I struggled to keep afloat when the touch of her own toes brushed my legs.
“Allie? Grace said to me suddenly, pressing her body into mine. At least I thought maybe she was. “You talk to your mama?”
“’Bout what?” I tickled my toes against hers in retaliation and she laughed. Like a songbird. Music.
“You know what dummy. About that art college out in Laguna. You talk to her? She gonna be ok with you leaving?”
“Yeah, I mean… well she has to be. We’ve already been accepted, Gray. If we’re lucky, maybe we can get a dorm together”.
“Yeah…” Grace looked down to stare at her feet wading in the water. I remember, whenever she was nervous, she’d push a really stubborn curl (even when her hair was wet) back behind her right ear, which she did just then. I knew immediately that there was something on her mind and I got that sick feeling in my belly. You know the one, right? It sits there like sour milk or a bad shot of tequila before you have to tell your close minded mama that you’re gay or that you know deep down someone’s about to leave you.
“What Grace.” I said it so stern even I surprised myself. I gripped her shoulders automatically and she flinched. I eased back. “You can tell me Gracie. I won’t be mad, promise”. Lies. I swallowed down the sour milk with disgust, suddenly realizing how bad the pool water reeked of ass and chlorine.
“Al…” She shook off my grip and buried her face into my neck. I remember it bringing the blood right into my cheeks. What a stupid time to feel aroused. I held her tight though and thanked god I wasn’t a man. Through muffled words and hot breath on my skin I heard her say, “I’m not going to Laguna with you, Al”. There went the blood. I went from alive to dead in 10 seconds flat. I pushed her back; hands resumed their spot at her shoulders, and I shook her like a baby doll when a toddler has a tantrum.
“What do you mean, Grace? We were accepted! Where the hell are you going if it’s not to Laguna with me?” I saw anger start to bubble up in her face as I shook her. She shoved me off.
“The fuck are you shaking me for Allie!” Some people turned their heads curiously at the sound of the weird red head and raven hair goddess arguing in the corner of the murky pool. “Art isn’t me, Al” Her voice was strained. I felt bad for reacting the way I had; was, whatever. At least, I did feel bad, but that wasn’t enough to stop me from being a completely irrational jackass at the time. “I only got into Laguna because you fudged my papers. I’ll go there, produce shit and fail” She paused. “It’s not me and I don’t want it, Allie”. That last bit was like a slap in the face. What I heard instead was I don’t want YOU, Allie.
“I’ll help you Grace, it’s no big-“ God… I stammered that out like I had Tourette’s. I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but it sent my body and my words into convulsions.
“No Allie… no. I-I’ve made up my mind. I talked about it with my papa and my mama and I’ve already applied”.
“Applied where, Gray?”
“Army.” I went white. If I was dead before, I was the ghost ready for haunting now.
“What. the. fuck.” Was about all I could muster out of my mouth while I watched Grace climb out of the pool. I hoisted myself out of there as fast as I could, catching her arm in my hands as she made it out the gate and into the surrounding park. “Grace, but why?” I cried. “What am I supposed to do without you? What happens if you’re shot and killed? The fuck Grace. How could you do this to me? We had it all planned!” Grace didn’t even turn around then. She held herself there, sopping wet in her two-piece black bikini. Water pooled around her feet and her hair shook from either being cold or angry. I never found out which. Maybe she was crying.
“You had it all planned!” She yelled and I ignored the curious glares sticking in my back. Then her voice went soft and sweet and sorry. Why was she sorry? Damned if I knew. “Allie, I’m going whether you support me or not”.
“How can I?” I begged her like a fool. Too selfish to let her go, too in love with her to say anymore. Maybe, I thought, if I told her I couldn’t let her do such a stupid thing with her life, she’d come flying into my arms. How wrong I was.
“After all that…” She whispered it. But it came out loud and clear. Before I could stutter out another word, she pulled away from me. I couldn’t move, I remember. I was frozen in place, soaking wet, watching her waddle away from the park and into the neighborhood in which we lived. I think I called out to her, maybe. I don’t know. I don’t even remember walking home. All I remember is falling into my mom’s arms as I sobbed like I had the day I met Grace. Skinned knee trying to Rollerblade in the park where she cleaned the blood away with her water bottle. Later she held my hand down the smallest ramp. I was a kid sure, but I loved her then, too. I crumpled into myself and became a child without her candy. And I lived like that for a while, more than I care to admit. I was mad at the candyman instead the kid who didn’t hold onto their sweet well enough.
Over the years I didn’t even try to call her. She never tried to call me, either. Well, maybe she did but I met a lot of bad people and changed my number too many times to count. But that’s not important. What you need to know is, we never spoke again. We were both fools. Scratch that. I was the fool. I sometimes wonder if she knew I’d purposely travel out of my way to spy on her in the base yard during boot camp until I lost track of her when she was transferred. I still talk to her mama sometimes. She’s a good lady, unlike my own.
And that’s that, really. I mean…she died; yeah. Of course, she did. Everything I screamed at her the day she told me she was joining the army, happened. The whole getting shot and killed, thing. I found out through other friends that Grace had been put on active duty. I wept then. I found out from a letter of condolences and an “invitation” to her funeral that she was gone. I didn’t shed a tear when I read it, strangely. Instead, the wind was knocked out of me and I had to sit down. I debated going, trying to put the distance between us, behind me…but I went. And I wept, finally. I wept for the girl I never stopped loving. But the hell of the whole damn thing is how I recall that day so vividly, gazing at the picture of her in her uniform, sitting on her still white coffin. Her pretty black curl sticking out of her hat defiantly. I wept and I wailed. Because I didn’t know her anymore. I didn’t know the Grace in the picture. I only had her there, in the crummy public pool, mouth against my neck while she tried to tell me she loved me and that she was leaving Chicago, not leaving me. Because I was the biggest dumbass in the world. She loved me. She loved me. And I crushed her. 18-year-old me broke her heart thinking of myself and only myself in a moment that she needed me the most. I could have been there, at her coffin, weeping for the passing of the love of my life. The girl of whom I waited for between the leaves, to tell her how much I loved her, how much I always would when she left again. It wouldn’t hurt any less, hell… but I’d at least have the memories of her soft kisses on my lips, rather than the cold wood under my fingertips.
A short story done in first person reminiscent. Rough and only skimmed for editing a couple times. Apologies for any errors and please enjoy!
© Audrey Rosengreen, 2019