first kiss. self image. innocence.
“The trees are smiling today,” Evan calls out to Rose as she passes by him in hurry. He felt her coming from a distance. She always does this. Pretending not to see him or recognize him; then freezes turns around, and smiles.
“Benny?” She asks as if she wasn’t sure and that’s how she does it. Playing and teasing.
“You know my name well.” Evan objects with a smile.
“Evan,” Evan repeats.
“Aren’t you a little old for a paper route?” A question she asked many times before.
“Yes. Yes, I am,” Evan answers with a smirk. “Twenty-two is a dreadful age.”
The bullet wound was stitched six months ago but it throbs with recollection and nerve twitch. Evan’s fingers fly off to the sky and gather air into their grasp. The involuntary action has persisted but subsided in degree. Before the physio his hand would fly above his head, now it lifts off only up to three, four inches from his side. Although, at times he still gets these jet moments as his hand flies off to the sky.
“You think you’re going to go back… to school?” Rose asks.
“Nah,” Evan answers without hesitation. He has made up his mind. The paper route leads to some low-paying stationary job where he doesn’t have to use his mind. It’s all the same to him as long as he doesn’t have to subscribe to the rest of the world. The black sheep that walks away from the creep feeder. “The last toss,” the paper lands in the bushes, and Evan grunts. He hates when that happens. He sets the bike on its side and picks up the paper to make another attempt to land it on the doorstep.
Success. Rather eureka and Evan jumps with happiness. Those moments don’t happen often, moments of completely purest joy. “Eureka!” Evan exclaims then joins Rose in laughter. His heart pumps with nerves and happiness. Rose’s laughter is light and melodic… spellbinding. That’s the one exact word that holds Rose’s laughter true. The laughter ruptures through poison and abandoned missions because Evan’s days become mostly dismissed and unproductive. But hearing Rose’s laughter, all with doubt seems to dissolve. Evan, however, wouldn’t dare to utter his affections. The platonic fits them the best.
But enough about Evan’s missed opportunities and adrift life. The unpaved road winds along with tall trees, rustling leaves, and untamed grass. Evan and Rose tunnel through the hurdling and whistling wind. These moments of nature exchange and spontaneity, are all so lovely on a hot summer day.
The bike hits the gravel and Evan chases after Rose down the familiar path between two oak trees, along the roped trail, to the bulldozer rocks.
The paper planes come first as Evan and Rose construct them from the extra papers left from Evan’s route. There is at least one left. As the news doesn’t interest them, paper planes became something of a muse and a habit. Evan follows the plane he folded be taken up by the air and lifted nearing the branches before it freefalls to the shallow barely moving river. A mirror of his image is taken away by the ripples as the paper plane sinks under the water. Then come the bottle cups left behind by others who navigate near the river for late strolls or make-out sessions. Evan doesn’t know anything about it. He has never kissed a girl or anyone for that matter. A mother’s kiss on the cheek never counts. He at least would like to hold someone’s hand.
As soon as the fun ends, they fish the cups out of the water with a butterfly net. The net Rose never forgets to bring with her. She carries it as a weapon and honor. They fill the net with cups and semi-dissolved paper to toss them into the nearest trashcan. Rose’s quite like that, making the space around her slightly nicer, unblemished.
The water laps against the shore breaking the silence. Although it is not quite quiet. The birds flap and sing. The wind still sings its next tune. The chatter of the highway carries a distance. And in the stillness, Evan and Rose, both look at each other. The gaze that for a moment erases time.
‘Cowards lie!’ Evan’s thoughts scream but he doesn’t have the courage to kiss Rose. He also promised himself that he would never lie to Rose. Remaining quiet seems to be the middle ground, neutral land. As soon as he opens his mouth to speak, their voices collide.
“What?!” They both exclaim and then the chuckles follow.
“Paperboy,” Rose teases.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Evan answers proudly but at the same time shyly. The few pennies he earns for the paper route don’t even cover a decent meal for a day. But Evan figures that it’s better than dwelling, or rather rotting, in his dark, depressing, uninviting room; where most of the nights, his exhausted body and mind await the final breath. However, the final breath comes knocking. He keeps on breathing as his lungs are young and strong. His lungs are unwilling to give in anytime soon. He never speaks of this to Rose but he senses that she might know about his darkness and the cloud that keeps on hovering and following.
‘Yeah, that’s me,’ Evan thinks, ‘Paperboy,’ and he blushes worried as to what Rose might think of him. It’s the first time he’s worried about such things. Rather than occupy his mind with such nonsense, he removes his socks and lets his toes and feet breathe. The sun always makes any day that much better; but, the scar on his foot and missing toe keep a constant reminder. ‘Freak accident’, they like to say. They as in them as in the people in town. In moments, Evan forgets about the incident. At this moment, however, he wishes that he had remembered it because his feet are the first to draw Rose’s attention and he blushes more, wrapping his disfigurement inside his hand.
“Does it still ache?” She asks.
“At times,” Evan answers, “but it’s less of an ache and more of a weird sensation.” He continues to clarify and endures the embarrassment, “Although it’s not there anymore, I can still feel as if it was… Does it gross you out?”
“No,” Rose answers casually, “I just try to imagine the pain.”
The bullet that lodged itself into Evan’s foot then ripped his toe off. It was sudden and shocking before the realization settled in. The blood gushed and then everything went dark. The film snapped and the next snippet Evan recalls is lights and muffled voices. But, he’s not in this moment to reminisce about his lost toe. These moments are to be engulfed by Rose’s presence.
The gust of wind makes Rose turn her head swiftly from Evan, guarding her face against the wind’s assault as her hair lifts into chaos and mirage. “What do you think?” She asks.
“I’m not jumping in,” Evan huffs but then smiles. The words of refusal might have sounded a little too harsh. He figures the smile might soften the blow.
But Rose rarely gets phased and she winks in return with a smirk. The smirk melts Evan’s heart and he almost gives in to his urges to kiss her. Rather he blushes and lets his stare fall to the ground. Rose; however, doesn’t allow the opportunity to slip her and presses closer to Evan denying him the moment to recapture his confidence. She has been gathering courage the whole summer to finally brush her fingers along Evan’s hand, then lays her palm on top of his. Evan watches the whole thing unfold stunned and semi-frozen.
The paper route. The distractions. And yet Evan doesn’t know what is important. What holds value. He’s been sleepwalking ever since the accident. Only Rose seems to give him a glimpse of some sort of feeling, purpose, and future.
As usual, he’s distracting his thoughts from what is going on… from Rose… and at the moment when he looks up to meet her eyes, she leans forward and kisses him. The kiss he’s been contemplating for days. And here Rose is, stealing his thunder. But Evan forgets about who’s supposed to do what and gives in to the moment, to their first kiss.
appeared in The Piker Press magazine May 8, 2023
© Jacob Greb — 2022
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