This story is by Thomas Pearce and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Daren sat at the kitchen table with his grandfather. His grandmother was at the sink washing up the dishes from dinner, and his siblings sat on the couch with his mother watching television. The quiet symmetry of the running water and the chattered discussion from the living room was normal post-dinner banter for a Sunday night at Daren’s grandparents’ house. Every weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, Daren’s mother would bring him and the other kids over to spend time with their grandparents.
“But we don’t want to go!” Daren’s siblings would protest. “They’re old and boring. There’s nothing to do over there, and they only want to sit around and talk.” They had a point. The only source of modern entertainment at their grandparents’ house was their television, a few decks of cards, and some severely outdated board games.
“You don’t have to like it, but you do have to go,” Daren’s mother would always say. “They love to spend time with you, and you don’t know how much time they have left.” That part always stung. Daren knew that his grandparents were older and that it was important to spend time with them, but often his brother and sisters would only complain louder, denying that it mattered, pretending that they would somehow live forever.
“It’s not like they’re going to die tomorrow,” his little brother, Eric, would say. “We’ve already seen them like at least a million times.”
“You don’t know that,” their mother would retort, verbally punching the kids right in the gut. “You need to make every opportunity count.” Their voices would drop a bit, and that would be that. The kids would pack up into the van, complaining grumpily all the while, Daren’s mother would put on the top 40’s music station to the varied objections of the children, and they would set off for their grandparents’s house.
Unlike his siblings, Daren liked talking with his grandparents. His grandfather had served in World War II, and his grandmother always told stories of his aunts and uncles growing up. While his grandfather usually evaded Daren’s pointed questions by suggesting they do chores around the house or work on the innards of the Cadillac that would someday be his, Daren found that sometimes, every once in a while, his grandfather would open up about a time he flew a B-42 bomber in the Air Force or he worked alongside someone who designed the atomic bomb in his civilian contract work. His grandfather was fascinating.
“Hey, grandpa?” Daren asked. His grandfather looked up from his newspaper.
“Yes, Daren?” his grandfather replied. He peered down at Daren, sixteen years old and still just a boy, over his glasses, his newspaper, and the flower arrangement in the center of the table. “What’s on your mind?”
Daren shifted forward in his chair, leaning over and looking very serious. “How do you know when you’re in love?”
His grandfather blinked, looked around the kitchen for help, and, finding no one in the way of moral support, settled his gaze sidelong at his grandson.
There was a long moment of silence. Daren stared at his grandfather intently while his grandfather considered exactly how to respond between several unnecessary gulps and extended coughs.
“That’s a big question, Daren,” his grandfather finally said. “The birds and the bees are one thing, but…” Daren’s grandfather paused and looked over towards Daren’s grandmother in the kitchen, still washing dishes. “Love is something else entirely.”
Daren furrowed his eyebrows and looked sideways at his grandfather. “What do you mean?”
Daren’s grandfather let out a small cough of surprise and then said, “Oh, well,” he began, clearly flummoxed and uncomfortable breaking the news to his grandson, “Certainly you know about the birds and the bees already, right?”
Daren laughed. “Yes grandpa, I know about the birds and bees.” He emphasized his syllables as though to indicate his maturity. “What I mean is,” Daren grew serious again, “What’s the difference between the ‘birds and the bees’ and ‘love’?” he asked as he gestured with air quotes.
Daren’s grandfather laughed as he settled back into his chair. “You mean, besides the obvious?” he said. “Well to start, love definitely lasts longer than the birds and the bees.”
Daren leaned forward.
“Love’s a part of life, it’s everywhere around us.”
“How do you mean?” Daren asked.
“You know your mom and your brother and sisters and your grandmother and me?”
Daren shook his head in affirmation.
“Well, they love you, and you love them, right?”
“Yeah, of course,” Daren said, a hint of bewilderment in his voice. He wasn’t quite sure where the conversation was going. “But what does that have to do with being in love?” Daren asked.
“Everything,” said his grandfather. “There are different types of love for different types of relationships, and the deepest sort of love is the kind that you feel that keeps you rooted.”
Daren tilted his head. He didn’t quite understand.
“Listen,” continued his grandfather. “Love is a part of life like the seasons are a part of the weather. You go through each one, and at the end of the year, you start right back over. It’s the same way with love.”
“Let me explain,” began his grandfather. “You start with spring, right?”
“In spring, you’ve got the birds and the bees–pun not intended,” said his grandfather.
Daren couldn’t quite stifle a laugh.
“And you’ve got the flowers blooming and you’ve got the beginning of…well, everything. Everything’s new, bright, and shiny. You can’t wait to get outside and spend time discovering everything new and interesting the year has brought.”
“Spring love’s the same,” his grandfather continued. “In spring love, everything is new, undiscovered, raw and unrefined. There’s an electricity to it.”
Daren’s eyes were slightly glazed over, but he nodded as though he understood.
“Sure, the newness might only last for the season, but it has that jolt to it that reminds you that you’re alive.”
Daren nodded enthusiastically. He was familiar with that jolt of life.
“So, then you get into summer,” Daren’s grandfather said. “In summer, it’s hot, but you’re free. You have all the time in the world to explore and to find yourself.”
Daren smiled fondly, remembering last summer where he worked his first job.
“Summer’s all about freedom and taking chances,” his grandfather said.
“With summer love, it’s that same kind of liberation. You make fast friends with those who help you discover who you are, and you fall in love with people who help you discover who you can be.”
Daren’s eyes briefly closed while he nodded, thinking back to summers passed.
“That self-discovery reminds us to keep moving forward, to never settle with what we’ve done or who we’ve been, but to do better and be better.”
Daren leaned back and nodded.
“Fall’s a doozy,” his grandfather said. “Fall’s got shorter and shorter days, and you tend to spend more time indoors, savoring the moments you can get outside. Obviously it’s a point of change,” Daren’s grandfather went on, “because the leaves change color, you begin school again…you see where I’m going?”
“Fall love has that same characteristic. It’s all about the changing patterns of life and people with whom you change. Summer leads you into fall by showing you who you are and could be, but fall’s where the change happens, where the big decisions are made.”
At this point, Daren had his elbows up on the table, his head in his hands, and he nodded almost impercetibly to his grandfather.
“Fall’s where you decide to go steady, to move in together, to start a family…”
Daren bolted up in his chair.
“…eventually,” his grandfather said with a smile.
“Winter is the final season, obviously, and it’s the end of the year. In the winter, the days are short, the weather cold, the trees dead, and your best bet is to stay inside as best you can to make it through to the Spring.”
Daren crossed his arms to warm himself.
“New Year’s Eve comes up and you make resolutions to change, to become better, to turn over a new leaf.”
“We do the same with winter love,” Daren’s grandfather continued. “We hunker down, we prepare for endings and look forward to new beginnings. We figure out what we’re going to do better, and we make plans to move on.”
Daren interrupted his grandfather.
“Wait, do you mean that you’re meant to fall out of love?” Daren asked.
“Well, that’s the thing,” his grandfather replied. “Love is like the seasons, and we go through each of them over and over again, like clockwork.”
Daren furrowed his brow.
“But that means you’re always leaving people behind,” Daren said.
“No,” said his grandfather. “You know you’re in love when you find someone that goes through all the seasons with you,” he settled back into his chair and looked over at his wife, still tending to the dishes, “And comes back out the other side.”