Lake Progress- Brittney Dillard
May 7, 2009 § Leave a comment
In every love story written across time, there’s always been a sacred meeting place. It’s a cliché of the genre, but one we never get tired of because just as the characters grow inside of our hearts with the love that consumes them both, that place becomes a magic arena of spellbinding feelings that are all too human. When Romeo first declared his star-crossed love for Juliet, it was beneath a simple balcony that has lived on in our hearts for ages. When the prince kissed Snow White and awakened her from an eternity of slumber, it was in a bright forest haven that became the very center of all our childhood fantasies.
When I shared my first truly heartfelt moment with Rebecca Tidwell, it was at Lake Progress. We were ten, uncertain of what the future held, and pushing on the boundaries of that beautiful thing they call childhood love.
She’d taken my hand at recess that day and told me to meet her there at evening, when the sun had just floated beyond the horizon. I’d told her yes right in front of my friends, of course, not caring about the speculative looks or sing-song teases. Only thinking about the way her brown eyes looked in her wind-chapped face when she’d turned it to me, streaking gentle tears from the harsh winter winds. Only looking at that pair of perfect pink lips, and thinking about how many times I’d tried to work up the nerve to kiss them. How many times had it been at Lake Progress? More times than not, that was for sure. There was always too much going on around us, anywhere else. Too many parents at either of our houses. Too many kids at school.
But Lake Progress was our romantic haven– the place we could go where nobody could get to us. It was Juliet’s balcony. Snow White’s forest haven. The place where, no matter how many times we tried to cuddle but lost our nerve, there was nobody around to notice but her and me.
I was nervous the whole way coming. I shuffled along the deserted streets of Progress, Washington with a billion things going on at once inside my gut, tying my intestines into solid knots and giving me yet another unwanted promise that I’d do something foolish to ruin the evening. What would it be this time? There were lots of ways you could ruin a perfect evening. Missing the girl’s lips, for one thing. Accidentally kissing her in the wrong place, ending up with your kiss on her chin or nose instead of lips.
Everything about love is complicated. It’s like unwritten law. Anyone who believes otherwise should just look at Romeo and Juliet. They both died in the end, didn’t they?
I never would have known that I had made it all the way to Lake Progress if Rebecca hadn’t have called out to me. I’d been looking at the ground, watching my feet as they trudged through the melting snow, trying to steady that hard feeling in the bottom of my stomach. It felt like I’d swallowed lots of milk. Lots and lots of bad, out-dated, curdled milk. All the while trying to gather together a nice, sweep-you-off-your-feet romantic monologue that I was certain to forget.
When she said my name, that about did it. Every romantic word tumbled down into the snow.
“Daniel!” She called from a place next to me but fairly distant. Her voice echoed among the trees, filling the air with the sweet, familiar tone. “Daniel, where are you going? I’m over here!”
My head snapped up to regard her. And there she was, the way I’d always known her and would probably remember her for the rest of my life perching contentedly on that fallen log on the bank of the lake, an expression on her face that said she could remain there forever. The breeze had combed her hair back from her brow. Her cheeks were stung and mildly red, no doubt courtesy of the wind that had spilled her eyes at recess.
My cheeks were red, too. And hot. But it had nothing to do with the wind.
I raised my hand in a wave, trying to hide the uncontrolled blush that had crept to my cheeks. But it was a little too late now, wasn’t it? Dang it. Two minutes into the thing, and I was already screwing up.
* * *
“Oh. Hey, Rebecca,” I croaked miserably, managing to meet her eyes. Managing to smile, too, though it must have looked like I was trying not to cry. “Uhh . . . What’s up?”
She promptly returned the smile, making my heart pitter-patter like a caught plastic bag in the wind. She moved one of her hands next to her and patted the empty space on the log . . . A spot that was maybe a foot and a half in length. Just big enough for the both of us, but not big enough to allow a lot of space. My heart thumped again, this time so dramatically I saw black spots in my vision. Would her shoulder be touching mine? Would the breeze be just enough to waft her sweet fragrance to my nose, the wind just enough to let her hair tickle my face?
“Come and sit down, Daniel. You look lost.”
I smiled. Lost. That was a good word for it. Lost, and hoping to be found again. If I could only do this right. If I could only do this one moment right.
I circled around the lake and made my way toward our au naturale little loveseat. Sometimes she’d joke and say it was made for us. She’d say that God, the Holy Spirit or whoever looked over us all had made that log fall in that very spot, and made it exactly the right size for the both of us. Who says love can’t be written in the stars? “I think this is proof right here,” She’d said, laughing in a way that marked an obvious amusement. Laughing in a way that, no matter how badly we called it a joke, would always hold something just a little bit serious.
We were both really young, but I think we both knew that she did mean it. In a frivolous way, of course; but in a way that would mark Lake Progress for us for a lifetime. Looking at her now, remembering her saying those words, I couldn’t help but feel it too. We did belong together, didn’t we? If not forever, than for the moment. Just for this sweet, isolated little moment.
When I finally sat down next to her on the log, my nervousness caused me to do it a little too hard. I bit my tongue, let out a small curse beneath my breath and instantly came to the conclusion that I’d ruined the entire evening, no matter how hard I’d tried to play it smooth. But when I looked up at her, sure I’d see an expression that showed she was embarrassed or uncomfortable or just slightly unsure, I saw nothing but the side of her face. Her profile. Looking out at the surface of Lake Progress, the way she always did when we came out here on our romantic little adventures.
Looking out with that admiring look in her eyes, as if everything beautiful in life had unfolded right out in front of her.
A small smile touched the corners of my mouth. I wasn’t sure why it was there, but there was something I loved about seeing her do that. It just seemed so . . . Rebecca. Just a mere component to the complicated girl of my childhood dreams.
“See anything interesting?” I asked, trying to play it cool, looking at the ground beneath my feet. For probably the first time, I noticed it was full dark. Just how long had I been walking? Long enough to create and forget two romantic monologues, but there was no telling how much daylight that had taken.
After a second’s worth of hesitation, just long enough to make me feel as if she’d completely ignored me, she turned back to me. She pointed at the lake as she did it, acting as if she didn’t want to divert a single moment of her attention. Look, Daniel, Her posture seemed to say. Look, so I don’t have to tell you.
“The lake. It looks really pretty tonight,” She commented, turning back to look at it as soon as she got the chance. I followed the direction of her gaze, unable to help letting loose a gusty sigh. Not because I didn’t want to look at the lake, but because I’d sort of been hoping she’d lean in, kiss me and get it all over with. I could say she’s never been cruel to me, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. Anticipation is intolerable cruelty.
The moon was a pale yellow globe sitting right in the center of the water, wavering with each ripple the surface traveled in the wind. The water looked pitch-black like tar, ominous, if you really wanted to be honest about it, but that didn’t seem to matter when the moon was hanging out above. There was something about it that made me feel strangely safe; weirdly at home. Something in the shallow craters that reflected neatly off the surface of the water, watching us like guardian eyes.
Rebecca giggled at the moment I thought this. It cut deep into my soul, jolting me out of a daydream that seemed all too willing to suck me in . . . but, perhaps a little more than that, it warmed me. The butterflies took immediate flight in my stomach.
“It looks just like it did that one night. Don’t you remember?” She asked, turning toward me again. Now she was grinning brightly, her deep brown eyes highlighted with the reflection of the guardian moon above us. I could see it everywhere on her face, I thought. Even on her lips . . . which looked so darned tempting.
I managed to snap myself out of it long enough to answer her question. “On what night? Remember what?”
She laughed, again. This time there was no giggle involved; just laughter, the tinkling little peals that always turned my heart into a melting pot. It made me smile again. Save for Rebecca and the spare little adventures with my four best friends, nothing in the world could ever make me smile this much.
“The song, silly! Don’t you remember the song?” She asked, still smiling widely. She grabbed both my hands in hers, something that normally would have turned my stomach over . . . But that didn’t happen, tonight. Tonight, it just felt right.
Tonight, everything felt right.
“It was stuck in your head all day, and you couldn’t stop singing it. Remember?” She asked again, this time pulling on me. I just caught myself from falling off the log, right into her lap.
Another loud, tinkling laugh. “I told you that if we danced to it, it wouldn’t be stuck in your head anymore! And you said it worked.”
I thought on this, briefly. And then, suddenly, it did hit me. I felt a brief stab of anger at myself for not remembering it quicker, but Rebecca didn’t appear offended. Simply amused. If there were such things as miracles working in the air that night, I believe that was one of them; because that moment in our relationship had been the most important one of all. The moment. The moment to best them all; because nothing had ever felt better than the cattails whickering against our legs as we danced to my clumsy, broken hum. Nothing had ever felt as good as to hold her in my arms that tightly and say it was justified, no matter how many times we stepped on each other’s toes and laughed until we got cramps.
By the smile that must have come to my face —and probably the blush, most likely highlighted by the betraying moonlight—Rebecca instantly knew that I remembered. She clutched my hands even tighter, and scooted ever closer next to me on our loveseat from the Gods. It almost knocked me off, but that wouldn’t have mattered. I don’t think I would have even noticed.
“Do you remember now?” She asked eagerly, flapping my hands a little. “Do you remember the song?”
I nodded. Here it was, right on the tip of my tongue again. We might even have to dance the thing back out of my head, if I kept on thinking about it. Pity.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at her face once again. My stomach seemed to have settled, now, and an optimistic part of me thought it was for good. “Yeah, I remember. I don’t remember the name of it . . . But I think it was sung by—”
“Tim McGraw,” Rebecca finished, giving me a lingering, affectionate look before stealing another at the shimmering lake.
It lasted a while. Surprisingly, I no longer cared. Before, I thought it would have meant everything to get to kiss her for the first time in a relationship that felt like it’d gone on forever, but now it didn’t seem to matter as much. The memory had taken it all away. The memory, and that sweet look of combined understanding that had passed between us as we’d both recollected. A short relationship makes kisses—but a long one makes memories.
I was just about to pull loose of her hands when she turned back to me. Once again, the moon shimmered like a silver Goddess in her eyes, but this time her glance was not one of amusement. This time it was serious. Serious, but not hard . . . More as if she were looking inside a crystal ball, and evaluating her distant future.
I normally didn’t mind if she looked at me, but that particular gaze made me uncomfortable. I shifted my eyes.
“What’s the matter?” I asked tentatively.
At my discomfort, the serious look dissolved and she smiled. Her hands tightened on mine, and I was helpless to do anything but look back into her eyes . . . Something that I would never grow to regret, no matter how many years I lived. There’s something about a first crush that’s just . . . powerful. Something about knowing that life could possibly exist just to make us feel this way. This whole.
“Nothing. Nothing’s the matter, really,” She replied, not looking away. Still looking stunned, and oddly reverent. “It’s just your eyes. They’re so . . . Blue. They’re beautiful.”
My heart dropped into my stomach, as relentlessly as a sky diver falling without a parachute. My cheeks bloomed a hot and powerful red, and I was preparing to aim my eyes to the side and mumble some semblance of a well-meant but under-said ‘thank you’ . . . but her next action made it obsolete.
With one last spare smile, she scooted a bit closer to me on the log and leaned her head against my shoulder. Eventually it slipped to my chest, where I at first believed her to be asleep . . . But after a while of listening to her breathing, watching the form of the girl I’d admired since pre-school reclining on my very own body, I realized she wasn’t sleeping at all. Her eyes were positioned upward, studying something above us that could have been the moon . . . maybe even the rustling leaves of cold, ice-buried trees.
But some part of me deep down inside doubted that.
I thought she was looking up at the night sky.
Perhaps looking to see if, as she’d mentioned earlier, true love could really be written in the stars.