This story is by Stephanie Lloyd and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sun beams danced over my eyes in the single golden stream filtering through partially drawn curtains. Swallowing a sigh that was too deep for eight in the morning, I sat up and swung my legs off the bed, naked limbs brushing the sheets away. I shivered and clutched my arms against the sharp air. Summer was over.
Jason groaned. I patted his head and let my eyes move around the room, committing it to memory – the white washed walls, his family photos, the dark dresser and matching antique vanity covered with my things. In the bathroom just a few steps away, my toiletries occupied the counter. I let all the little details I had grown so accustomed to sink in, because I’d promised myself that this was the last day I would wake up with him.
With his “okay I’m up” groan, Jason rolled and stretched towards me, brushing the bare, cold skin of my back and bringing more shivers. But these weren’t due to the mid-September morning.
“Good morning,” I whispered, turning around and pulling my thick, dark curls into a quick bun.
He blinked and smiled sleepily. “Morning, sunshine. Come back.”
With a tug that didn’t require much effort, I was back in his embrace. His strong arms and chest were surprisingly warm against the chill and I let myself get comfortable. He gently worked the band from my hair and stroked his fingers through the curls as I drifted away…
We’d met a year ago, strolling beneath the same barren trees and crushing brown leaves under our feet. He’d warned me that he was recently heartbroken and not looking for anything serious. I’d giggled and said, “We’ll see.” We walked and crunched leaves for nearly half an hour before I started shivering. He offered me his thick, manly scarf and made me promise to return it on our first date.
“Did you sleep okay?” His deep voice dropped me back into the present, from one fall to the next. “You didn’t talk much last night,” he teased. He always recapped how vocal I was in sleep, unless I said something important.
Something like “I love you”. He never wanted to talk about love.
I nodded. “I slept okay. You?” My fingers stroked over his cheek, covered with a weekend of five o’clock shadows.
He nodded and closed his eyes against reality and fell asleep slowly, his scruffy face against my forehead. I let myself love him just a little more because this had to be the last time.
I lingered for a few minutes before waking Jason with kisses. His breath on my neck stalled the next words on my tongue, but I had to speak up. “We should go. We need to get ready for our hike.”
“Let it get warmer outside first.”
“Let’s just go! Just like we planned,” I insisted, sounding as agitated as I felt.
“Five more minutes, Amira.”
Relenting with a huff, I untangled myself from his limbs and went into the bathroom. A shower would clear the shadows that my plan was already casting on this day. As I gathered all my cosmetics into a neat little pile, I let pathetic, cathartic tears slide down my cheeks.
I didn’t have to do this. I didn’t have to leave him behind and move on forward. I could stay here, lingering somewhere between friendship and sex until he finally acknowledged how perfect we were together. I could stay and wait for him to commit to us.
I shook my head against the weakness, against the love-sick girl inside, against the urge to crawl back into his bed and into him.
Maybe just once more.
I brushed my teeth, washed my face and dropped my shirt – his shirt – on the cold bathroom tiles and slinked back under the covers. Jason blinked, said my name and pulled me down under his warm, perfect body. He kissed me everywhere, slowly, as if he knew. Since last night, I’d indulged the fantasy that he knew this was our last morning and his last chance to do something.
We didn’t leave the house until nearly noon. Checking the time was jarring and added to my anxiety.
“Are we going out for breakfast or should I cook?” he asked lightly.
“It’s too late for breakfast!” I snapped. “What about our plan?”
“We’ll find the pond,” he deadpanned.
“What if we don’t?” Overly worked up, more tears burned a trail up the back of my throat. “What if we never… we never…” I sputtered and sobbed.
“Oh God, Amira, are you okay?” He squeezed me.
“I’m okay.” I started to shrug off his embrace, but he gripped me tighter. With a sniffle, I kissed his chest and felt him relax. “It’s fine, J, I’m just coming up on my period.”
Jason held me at arm’s-length, dark eyes searching mine until he nodded. “Okay.”
I had to be okay, because this was the last time he would really hold me.
We drove towards the sprawling nature park on wide roads, easy chatter falling on a backdrop of soulful jazz. But eventually, I stared outside. Rolling hills were coloured various shades of green and brown and the entire spectrum in between. Dead leaves lay flattened on the country roads. Even so, with the end of summer in the air, the sun peeked from behind white, cotton ball-shaped clouds.
“Earth to Amira. You’re so quiet. Sure this is just your period?”
Jason’s hand caressed mine but I pulled away, earning a suspect glance complete with one dark eyebrow arching in question.
“What’s that about?” he demanded suspiciously. Any sign of waning physical closeness put him on high alert and made him do everything in his power to draw me back, to burrow deep under my skin so that I couldn’t tell where I ended and he began. He was always fine if I didn’t want to talk, but he went into courtship mode if I didn’t want to be touched. I hated it.
It almost never happened. But when it did, I let myself think that this time he’d realize that I could be enough for him.
Why couldn’t he see it?
“Your hand is cold,” I lied with a forced giggle. Jason was focused on the road but he rolled his eyes.
“Something is definitely off today,” he pressed.
Hours before, I had let myself cry as cold water pounded my skin. I’d washed my hair with the strawberry-scented conditioner he loved. Once I’d finished using my feminine things, I’d scraped them into the travel pouches that were always around in case we randomly ran away one weekend. In the empty bedroom, I’d tidied the bed and stuffed a few other possessions into my purple backpack.
The backpack sat in the car’s trunk. My plan was for Jason to either take me back home, or to my parents’ place. I could always get my clothes and other items later in the year. Maybe when snow blanketed the ground.
Jason pulled off the road and into a wide lot. A few other cars were parked but the area was deserted of people. The sun had dipped behind clouds and trees shed long, reaching shadows across the lot. It was eerie. Even the air was crisper than before and I pulled my hoodie tight as we stood to stretch our legs.
“Let me get you the thicker jacket,” Jason offered. Before I could stop him, he flung the trunk open and his dark eyes went vulnerable and confused. “What’s this?”
I made myself face him even though my knees had become jelly. “I want to be your girlfriend.”
He swore. “Why does that matter?”
“It matters to me. If you can’t commit…”
“I won’t just drop you one day. Labeling this won’t change that!”
I shook my head, standing my ground. “But where are we going? You have to want us to… to go somewhere.”
Jason opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it and closed it again, because he didn’t care.
We were moving in opposite directions. I’d always known it. I wanted a wedding and children and a sea-side home. Jason wanted today and maybe tomorrow. Our time together had come to an end. Like leaves tumbling from bare-branched trees, we were falling too.
“Tell me to stay,” I whispered, pleading.
“You know that’s what I want.”
“But for how long?”
“Stop asking me that,” he growled.
Jason covered the space between us with a single stride. I raised my arms, but he clutched my wrists and pinned them to my sides. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, but it wasn’t worth it. Even as his kisses tried to convince me otherwise. Even as I let myself sink into him one final time. It wasn’t enough.
“Stop, Jason.” I pushed away from him.
Brown leaves scattered at our feet and like summer, it was finished.