***You can find Part 1 here. You’re gonna wanna read Part 1 first.
She stayed. They walked around his neighborhood, where he’d lived his whole life, and talked some more. He kicked a rock from sidewalk to sidewalk, across streets and parking lots. She didn’t know what to do with her hands, so she held on to her purse strap.
When it was time for dinner, he steered them back home, his internal familial clock letting him know food was on the table. She sat between his mom and his sister. They were sweet and his dad was quiet. After dinner they stood outside as day turned to dusk and she said, “I really should be going now.” He said, “Yeah,” and before she could walk away he said, “Do you wanna go see that movie tomorrow?” She borrowed his word, “Yeah,” and she smiled.
For three months they talked and took walks and kicked rocks and went to the movies and he wore that gray hoodie. For three months she drove to his small town and he drove to her city apartment. For three months she held onto her purse strap, until one day she found herself holding his hand. For three months he carried around a Coke can, until one day he found himself carrying around her heart. For three months they talked about everything but the future.
Too soon summer was ending and school was starting. When she declared she wasn’t going back to school two days before classes started her mom was worried, to say the least. “First you turned down what could have been a great work experience opportunity and spend a whole summer going to the movies and hanging out in that small town, and now you’re going to throw away your future for a boy? It’s a slippery slope, if you don’t go back to school now you might never go back.”
She sat quietly on the couch, the only place there was to sit quietly in their small living room. “You don’t understand,” she said quietly into her lap, the only place worth speaking to in their small living room.
“I don’t understand?” her mom said sharply, standing over in the dining room/kitchen room brandishing a mixing spoon. “Oh, I understand exactly. I changed my plans for a boy and we all know how that turned out.” She was talking about the girl’s dad, and she waved the mixing spoon around the small dining room/kitchen room, warning her daughter that this small apartment void of any male figure could be her future too. “When I was your age I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. Heck, I thought I knew everything…” her mom continued and the girl kept her eyes on her lap. She pictured his gray hoodie, the taste of Coke on his lips. Then, for the first time in three months, she pictured the future.
“He has cancer,” she told her lap, as if it didn’t already know. Her mom stopped her ranting to ask, “What?”
“He has cancer!” she shouted at her mother, looking up through her tears. “He has cancer and he’s going to die. He’s going to die and I love him. Please don’t make me leave him now. I don’t want to go.”
“Oh, sweetie…” Her mom left the mixing spoon on the dining room table, which until this summer had never been set for more than two people, and joined her daughter on the couch. “Then stay,” she told her daughter’s hair, pulling her close to her. “You don’t have to go. It’s okay. Stay.”
Too soon after she got her mom’s permission to stay, the leaves started to change colors and then they fell. One day they hiked a small mountain and sat at the top, looking out over the small towns and the multi-colored trees. “You know what I’ve never done?” he said. “What?” she asked. She picked up a bright red leaf from the blanket on which they were sitting and twirled it around between her fingers. “I’ve never stayed up all night,” he said.
“Never?” she said.
“Nope. I kinda wanna do that,” he said.
“Then we should do that,” she said.
And they did. They sat on the picnic blanket as day turned to dusk and dusk turned to night. They lay next to each other and looked at the stars. They held hands and talked about everything but the future until night turned to dawn and it was beautiful.
Their days were adventures now. He’d ask her, “You know what I’ve never done?” and she’d ask, “What?” One night, on the swings at the only park in his town they raced each other to the sky. They tired of reaching for something they couldn’t grasped and they slowed to a slight back and forth. “You know what I’ve never done?” he asked. “What?” she said. She turned around and around, twisting the chains of the swing around and around and then let go and spun and spun as he said, “Drink alcohol.” She finished spinning and he said, “I kinda wanna do that.” She smiled, raised her eyebrows, and her eyes twinkled. “Then we should do that.”
They called up his best friends from high school, his friends who didn’t always know what to say, who didn’t know how to not talk about the future, and they hung out in somebody’s basement drinking somebody’s dad’s beer and somebody else’s mom’s wine coolers. She said, “None for me, thanks,” and he smiled at her from under his gray hood, knowing she would always be there to watch out for him.
They played video games and laughed. She sat on the couch and he laid with his head in her lap. “Remember when we climbed up on the roof this summer?” he said a little too loudly and laughed. “Yeah, I remember,” she laughed, too, because he was a little drunk and he’d never seemed so carefree. “Remember how we were wearing nothing but our glasses? Remember that?” Her cheeks turned red and she shushed him before kissing his cheek. “Shh,” she whispered, “that’s a secret!” “That was a nice time,” he said, “when we were wearing nothing but our glasses.” He smiled dreamily and his friends laughed so loud, smacking each other on the back. A high five was attempted and she shook her head. “That was a nice time,” she admitted to herself.
Three days before she sat in her living room and told her mom the truth, three days before her mom gave her permission to stay, she was at his house. They were sitting on the same wooden fence they sat on that first day when Melody fixed her car. They were talking about pets they’d had over the years – he’d had dogs and cats and one time a duck. She’d had hamsters and fish and things small enough to forget about. When it started to get dark, he asked, “Do you want to see my favorite spot?” She said, “Yes,” and they had climbed up to the roof of the house he grew up in.
Behind his house was woods. His street was the last street of the town. The big tree in the front yard and the big tree between his house and Melody’s meant that up there on the roof they felt completely alone. On the couch in somebody’s basement with his head in her lap she remembered how his hoodie felt underneath them and how the stars looked through her glasses when they were all she was wearing. She remembered saying, “I love you,” and remembered hearing him say it, too. She remembered feeling his tears mingling with her own as they kissed. She remembered thinking about the future they’d never talk about. “I don’t want to go,” she had said. “Then stay,” he had whispered. They slept, wrapped in his gray hoodie and when they awoke they watched the sunrise together.
Too soon after they spent a night laughing in somebody’s basement drinking somebody’s dad’s beer, there were days when she would come to visit and they wouldn’t be able to do anything he’d never done before. Too soon his mom would say, “He’s not feeling well, today,” and everybody knew not feeling well was code for dying. Too soon it got too cold and they couldn’t leave the house. Too soon he got too sick and he couldn’t leave his bed. Too soon she was visiting him in the hospital instead of visiting him at home.
At the hospital she sat next to his bed and his family gave them privacy. At the hospital she asked, “You know what I’ve never done?” and he said, “What?” and she said, “Loved somebody as much as I love you.”
At the hospital they talked about his crazy aunt Melody and his pot head cousin. They talked about her old car and how he was thankful it broke down on his street. They talked about the scenic route and how she’d spend the rest of her life avoiding interstates. They talked about the night they wore nothing but their glasses and all of the things he’d never done before but did with her. They talked about the ice cream parlor in the city and their walks around town. They talked about his freckles and how she and her mom were getting along better now. They talked about everything but the future.
At the hospital they couldn’t kiss anymore because he was losing his breath.
At the hospital she read him books and newspapers. At the hospital they visited with his best friends from high school. They talked about basketball games and pranks on teachers and passing their drivers’ test. They talked about birthday parties and prom and graduation and everything but the future.
At the hospital they held hands and he said, “I don’t want to go,” as he failed to hold back tears. She leaned her head on his chest, which was thinner now than it had been two days ago, two weeks ago, two months ago, and she said, “Then stay.”
Too soon he was giving her his gray hoodie. Too soon she wasn’t allowed to visit him anymore. Too soon it was family only. Too soon she was called for one last visit. Too soon she was told she should say goodbye. Too soon their visits moved from the hospital to the cemetery.
She’s wearing his gray hoodie now and sitting in the snow in front of a beautiful piece of stone that says Taylor Pierce, February 17, 1989 – December 12, 2007 Beloved son, beloved friend. He left too soon.
She talks to him about the future now and how it exists without him, even though she never would’ve believed it could. She talks about how much the future hurts. She talks about the good times, too, and she talks about his freckles. Her mom comes over from where she was waiting in the car and says, “Come on, honey, it’s time to go.” Her feet are wet and the tears are freezing on her cheeks and she tells her mom, “I don’t want to go.” She listens hard for his words, for their words, for the words that will give her permission. Then stay. She listens for the words she’s supposed to hear but all she hears is the winter wind in the trees and her mom’s cold breathing. This is the future they never talked about. It’s time to go.