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away

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I went away for a week. One week of relaxing by the pool and playing by the beach.

It’s funny how away can describe a place, and also, at least for me, a state of mind. I was away for a week, physically and also mentally.

I left my phone at home and had no access to email or the Internet. I could have had access if I wanted to but I had absolutely no desire to know what was going on while I was away.

I sat by the pool, read an amazing book and only thought the thoughts that happened to drift through my head. I didn’t take them out and examine them from every angle, as I normally would. I just thought them and left it at that. Some particularly important or meaningful thoughts I tucked in my pocket, to think again when I was no longer away.

There were no grocery stores, no errands, no laundry, no cooking. There were no to-do lists or to-buy lists and no calendars on the wall, filled up with activities. Instead there was the pool, the beach and everything we needed for the day in my little bag. As long as there was sunscreen, a book, a hat, a deck of Uno cards and goggles, we were happy and content and had all we needed.

When we got hungry, we ate, when we got thirsty, we drank, and when we got hot we dipped ourselves in the cool blue water and sighed the deep, contented sighs of being away.

My hair puffed up to twice its regular size and my nose went from white to pink to peeling in three days flat but I didn’t care. There was no one to impress when I was away.

There were moments of simple beauty and the time to appreciate them. Little wet footprints on the bathroom floor, the feeling of toes digging in the soft, golden sand, cold, wiggly bodies wrapped up in huge, fluffy towels, whispers in the dark, birds singing in the morning, and watermelon juice dripping off our chins.

And now I’m back; now I am here instead of away.  And while I have tried and tried, I can’t seem to regain that away mentality when I’m here.  When I’m here there are too many things to do and not enough time to do them.  There is stuff upon stuff upon stuff and things upon things upon things.  I have to cook here and do laundry here and clean here.  And here all those thoughts that I decided not to think when I was away are all creeping up on me, only now I don’ t have any more room in my pockets to hide them away for later.

For one blissful week I was away, but now I’m here.

I wish I could figure out a way to be here and away, all at the same time.

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a question

PROM?

Her hands shook as she dropped the stick and looked down to survey her work. Then she picked it up again and went over the letters one more time, making them just a little bit deeper and darker. As if that would make a difference; as if going over them over and over again would guarantee his answer.

She hung her head and felt the rush of her heart in her chest. What was she doing? Was she crazy? This was never going to work.

But then she remembered the look she saw in his eyes across the table the other night. Every time she would look up from her food she caught him looking at her. She excused herself twice to go to the washroom, sure that he was looking at her because she had chocolate on her face or salad in her teeth. But she didn’t. The only thing looking back at her in the mirror was her, brown eyes, brown hair.  Just her.

He never used to look at her like that.  Back when they were just friends he looked at her the way a friend does; this seemed like something very different.  She wanted it to be something very different.

She slid back into the booth across from him and he smiled at her. Her insides melted. He never used to smile at her like that either.  Maybe Paige was right; maybe he did like her. Well, she knew he liked her, they’d been friends since 5th grade, but maybe he liked her, liked her.

So that night, after he dropped her home she lay awake in bed, tossing and turning. Suddenly it struck her that she should ask him. Everyone else was pairing up, talking about limos and dates and she was tired of being left on the outside, tired of wondering what it would be like to be part of the conversation, tired of waiting for someone else to do the asking.

But she knew she couldn’t just do it the regular way. She couldn’t stand there across from him and say it. She knew she would never be able to say the words. She would need another way.

Over the next couple of days she began to formulate a plan.  A group of them decided to go to the Jays game on Friday, take the train in for the evening game. They’d done it a few times before and she remembered a spot where they would pass by the beach, the sand clear and smooth.

She could write it there. She could picture it in her mind. They would sit together on the train, not difficult to do, Paige would help ensure the right seating arrangements. As they neared the spot she would start a conversation, something mundane, and then, at the right time, point out the window and ask, without ever having to say the words.

PROM?

It had seemed so easy when she was making up the plan but now, as she stood here faced with the reality, she was less certain. What if he laughed? What if he realized it was her asking him and laughed?

No.

Enough.

She was not going to kill herself with the what-ifs. She was going to do it. She was tired of living her life halfway. She knew that the rejection wouldn’t kill her, but the regret of not asking just might.

So with one last look at her handy work she threw the stick back down where she found it and walked back to her car. She quickly pulled her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. If she left now she could just make it back in time for chemistry. Cutting English Lit. was one thing, but if she missed Mr. Ward’s Chemistry class she would hear about it for weeks.  She didn’t really consider it cutting class because her mom knew where she was but she was certain Mr. Ward wouldn’t see it that way.

She hadn’t meant to tell her, but her mom had this way of not asking about things that made you want to tell her everything.  And she knew Jack, had known him from the beginning in fact, so that made it seem so simple to tell her, to try and explain that somewhere along the line her feelings had changed.  It was actually her mom that gave her the idea, told her that if she didn’t think she could say the words that maybe she should write them. She probably meant write them on paper but somehow that didn’t seem to fit.  But writing it in the sand? Perfect.

She could hardly concentrate for the rest of the day.  The clock seemed to be moving too quickly and the closer it got the more nervous she became. Before she knew it they were standing on the platform, the ringing bell announcing the arrival of the train.  She took deep breaths, trying to maintain at least some semblance of calm.  As she promised she would, once they got on the train Paige bossed everyone around and told them where to sit.  This was basically what Paige would do anyway so it didn’t seem that strange to anyone else.  And only those who were looking really closely would notice the wink that passed between them once everyone was settled in their assigned seat.

Jack was next to the window and she was beside him.  Her hands were sweating and she kept rubbing them on her jeans.  He glanced over at her a couple of times, once even asking her if she was okay.

She was blowing this, she just knew it.

She imagined herself being so much cooler in the moment than what was actually happening in reality.  The first two stops went by in a blur as she stared past him out the window.

It was coming.

Two more minutes.

One more minute.

This was it.

For a heartbeat she considered forgetting the whole thing.  She didn’t really want to go to prom anyway.  It was fine, she would stay home and watch movies with her mom.  Sure, that sounded like fun.

No.

She had to do it.  She had to do it or she would always wonder.

“Hey,” her voice cracked but she hoped he didn’t notice.  “Look at that.”

Her finger shook as she pointed out the window to where the word was etched clearly in the sand below.

“That’s cool,” he said and in one terrifying moment she realized he didn’t get it.  He didn’t understand it was from her; that it was for him.  She was going to have to say something, after all the planning she was still going to have to say the words.

Her heart leapt into her throat, she looked down at the floor and clenched her eyes tightly in the hopes of stopping the tears that had suddenly filled her eyes.

This was not at all how it was supposed to go; she was blowing it.

Then she felt someone nudge her leg and she opened her eyes.

His arm was resting on her leg; the word “Yes” written in pen on the palm of his hand. She looked up and met his eyes, and he smiled.

 


Note: Every day on my way to work my train passes by a secluded beach on the lake.  On my ride this morning, the word “PROM?” was written in the sand on that beach.  This story is my fictionalized imagining of the details surrounding how that word ended up scratched in the sand.  I would love to know the real story, but for now this will have to do.

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