My room is dark, cold, and so quiet I can hear my thoughts doing their own thinking. I look at the clock and realize I’ve spent three hours wondering what I should do about Jesse. I don’t know what to make of her. One minute she’s all but stripping me naked, then the next she’s running up the stairs like a bat out of hell! I pull my comforter up a little higher and sigh over my predicament. Or, I consider, maybe it’s her predicament. I know who I am and what I want. Perhaps she doesn’t. My eyes close and my mind drifts backwards….
I kissed a girl for the first time during a game of “spin the bottle” at the age of 12. Jordan, the boy who lived across the street (who, by the way, turns out to be gay, too), thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. I know for a fact that it was the coolest thing I’d done in my whole life. I never looked at Courtney, my best friend, the same way again.
When I told her I thought I was gay she didn’t miss a beat, “Well, I sure hope Jordan Davis is happy with himself because men everywhere are going to die of heart break when this gets out!” We were 14 and our friendship didn’t change at all.
For my 16th birthday, Courtney took me to dinner at a local pizza place and then we went to watch fireworks. Being born on the 4th of July does have its perks. She spread a blanket out on the grass at the top of Sims Hill and we stretched out on our backs, looking up at the sky. The sun started setting and she rolled over onto her side facing me. I closed my eyes, enjoying the breeze, when I felt a hand on my stomach. I looked and Courtney’s face was lowering towards mine.
To say that my heart stopped wouldn’t be the slightest bit of an exaggeration. I stopped breathing, thinking, dreaming, and caring for the length of that kiss. And when she pulled back to look into my eyes, I realized then that I was in love. Totally smitten…taken away…swept off my feet.
Butterflies danced a jig in my belly and the stars in my eyes kept time with the music. I wondered if life would get any better than that night. We lay very still and very close, slyly holding hands through the entire fireworks show. We lay there while the traffic raged around us and dissipated. Before long, the sound of cars was a distant memory and all we could hear were crickets and owls.
The air had gotten a bit nippy and Courtney rolled over to pull me into her. With my head on her chest and my arm draped across her waist, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I listened to the noises of that place I still call “home” and marveled at how different they sound when you’re being held. I fell asleep right there. Court didn’t wake me for at least an hour.
When she took me home that night, before I got out of the car, we kissed again for a long time. Her lips were as soft as fingertips on my own and I was sure nothing in my life would ever feel as hot on my skin as her hands. I was breathless and weightless and carefree as I floated up the stairs and into my bed. I don’t remember the dreams that ran through my mind. But I know that they were wonderful, and mysterious.
I was awakened that morning by the ring of the phone. I remember rolling over with a grunt and putting my pillow over my head. I’d almost fallen back to sleep when I heard Mama coming up the stairs. I don’t remember any of the words she said past the point where she gently and tearfully told me there’d been an accident. Courtney had been in it….and she hadn’t made it out alive.
When a soul shatters like that, there is nothing left to live inside, even if the body is moving on the outside. There is no oxygen in grief. No laughter. There are no smiles. Or silver linings. Grief will take you into the deepest, darkest, furthest point of Hell and leave you there. It’s up to you to decide it’s worth walking the feet off the end of your legs to get back. Or you could choose to just wait out the end of eternity with some peace and quiet in your own little corner of damnation.
Everything from that point up until her wake is a blurred, disjointed, dark mess. Like a camera constantly out of focus, I walked around with my eyes open but I didn’t see anything. Until we arrived at the church and were standing in the double-doors of the sanctuary, that is. Dad draped his arm around me and, in a whisper, asked if I wanted to see her. I think I nodded, but I didn’t take my eyes off the coffin at the end of the isle. My feet never felt an inch of the ground beneath them. For all I know, Daddy could have carried me. But when we reached our destination and it was time to look, I couldn’t do it.
I clenched my hands into fists so tightly my nails made deep cuts in my palms. And my eyes were shut just as hard. Daddy pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me as I buried my face in his chest and let go of the tears. Once I had my breathing under control, I turned only my head to look at her.
Amazingly, and painfully, she was beautiful. I’d always picked on her for how snow-white her skin was at times. She’d burn like bacon if she had a bathing suit on in the sun for more than an hour. And that kept her from doing a lot of things. There were no cuts, scrapes, bruises, or any other signs that she’d been in a car accident. She looked as if she were asleep. I suppose that’s why I felt comfortable leaving my Daddy’s arms to approach her.
I could feel my throat tightening from swallowing a scream, but there were things I wan—needed to say to her. When I touched her hand it was impersonal and stiff. Instead of getting to say all the things I’d planned on saying, I cried silently and whispered through my lips the words etched on my soul, “I have loved you all this time and I will love you for the rest of it. And I will never forgive myself for not taking advantage of the time I was given with you. But I make this vow to you, Court. I will never, ever hesitate to love again. I swear…I swear.”
My eyes fly open and the memory of how cold her hand felt spurs me to action. I hear her voice, “Get the hell up, Mayze. If you want her, go and get her.” When I reach her door, I don’t know what I’m going to say. So I ask Court to help me find words as I knock lightly three times.
I watch the doorknob turn and when the door opens, those mocha eyes are better than a smile, “Jesse, life’s too god damn short…I refuse to force myself to live in hiding.” I sigh and stand up to her, “You can’t get me to go away, Jessica Cooper. I am here and I’m not leaving until you talk to me and tell me what the hell happened.”
I notice she does not make eye contact with me. But with the sexiest sleepy smile I’ve ever seen, she mumbles, “Figures you’d wake me up just to talk, Mayze.”