Standing on his doorstep, waiting, it felt like the whole summer had slipped away on the long drive home.
Summer vacation meant road trips and visiting extended family and friends. It meant sibling squabbles in the backseat over who got to sit next to the window, eating sugary cereal at sunrise on picnic benches and sweaty thighs sticking to vinyl seats. But that summer I had my own portable cassette deck and earphones. I had Depeche Mode and A-Ha. Best of all, I had a mix-tape from Him that was almost worn out by the time we made it back to San Antonio. Over and over I listened, searching for clues about his feelings. We weren’t really dating. He was mysterious and a little bit unpredictable, a repeat student. But his blue eyes held me captive in Creative Writing class, as his words wound their way around my naive heart.
We had kissed.
He lived alone with his dad and never talked about his mom. His dad encouraged our time together, made me feel like the most important person entering his home. My tightly permed curls, big puffy hair bows and white Keds were an uncomfortable contrast to the grey interior of their small apartment that smelled of cigarettes and take-out. Our last conversation played over and over in my mind, our feet dangling over the side of an old community pool, the blue-green water barely covering the peeling bottom. It was home to a swarm of mosquitoes.
“Call me as soon as you get back,” he said. A slanted smile and crooked tooth caught the shadow of a low afternoon sun. “I’ll miss you while you’re gone.”
I could hear his voice in my head as I spent the long drive home wishing for vacation to be over. Leaning against the window, my thoughts vibrated with the road. I sang silently every song on His mix-tape, letting R.E.M., Blue Oyster Cult and the Beatles lull me to sleep.
I didn’t care that he didn’t return my calls, or that his dad sounded so sad on the phone. I was home now. As I drove to his apartment, the feel of cloth seats, the breath of summer air and the grape smell of blooming Mountain Laurel rushing inside my car was a relief.
Surprising him would make our reunion all the sweeter.
Yet, the longer I stood on his doorstep, the shorter my drive felt, until finally his father opened the door. He smiled weakly, and for the first time, did not welcome me inside.
“He isn’t here,” he said.
“Oh,” I said disappointed, “Can you tell me when he’ll be back?”
“I’m so sorry, ” he replied, hands nervously playing with the door handle, “He left to get married, join the military and raise a baby.”
I stared at him in disbelief. The announcement hung in the air, hovering in my silence, as tears welled up in my eyes.
And then, I drove home.