Leaping (August 1998)

This week’s post is the second and final in my two week celebration of graduation. As I was preparing this series of posts, I started to wonder what exactly is it about graduation? Why do I have these snippets of fiction from totally separate projects that share this common theme? They certainly didn’t grow out of some common writing prompt. In fact, they weren’t connected at all until I got the idea to share them here as part of a series. Graduation, at it’s root, is paradox at its best; both an end and a beginning. When I think about it in that context it’s not hard at all to understand why I keep coming back to it. The piece I’m sharing this week explores exactly that juxtaposition. The new and the old. The bitter and the sweet. The now and the not yet. Enjoy!

August 1998

The clock changed from 11:59 to 12:00am. Sam shifted her gaze back to the window. He should be here any minute. In six hours she would be gone. The rain was rhythmic and steady on the tin roof. It ran down the window in uneven streams, glistening in the nearly full moon. Her overnight bag sat in the shadows at the foot of her bed, waiting for just the last few things in the morning; toothbrush, shampoo. The car was packed with the rest of it. Tomorrow night New York would be the view from her window.

There was a pop on the roof. She jumped, startled out of her thoughts, then smiled as her friend Rich stepped off a ladder and walked gingerly across the roof. She quietly slid open the window.

“Look at you, all Dawson Leary – climbing a ladder to my window,” she whispered.

He just rolled his eyes. Rain dripped off his nose. He glanced over his shoulder at the window to her parent’s bedroom. “Let’s go before we wake everyone up.”

“I’ll get my shoes.”

“You don’t need them.” She glanced at his bare feet and rolled up jeans, his long legs folded over on themselves as he crouched outside her window. She missed him already.

She reached out her hand and he helped her out onto the roof and then lowered the window softly behind them. She stopped and stared up at the familiar sky, the rain cool on her face. She blinked away the raindrops.

“It’s a whole different sky over New York.”

She hadn’t realized he was standing so close; their shoulders nearly touching. The hairs on her arm stood up and the back of her neck went tingly.

She nodded, “London too,” she said to him and then took a deep breath and then made her way to the ladder.

“It’s Joey, by the way,” he said from above her as she climbed down the ladder.

“Huh?”

“Your Dawson’s Creek reference earlier, I would be Joey climbing into Dawson’s room. You would be Dawson.”

Sam laughed, “And that sir, has made my night. No matter what else happens, it has been an awesome evening.”

“Why do you say that?” Rich feigned ignorance as he stepped off the bottom of the ladder.

“Richard Coolridge, Scholar of English Lit-ur-rat- ture . . .” Sam said in the bad British accent she always used when referring to him this way “. . . admitting that he watches Dawson’s Creek.”

“I said no such thing.”

“Okay, Joey,” she teased as she opened the back passenger door to the waiting car.

“Took you long enough,” Eric greeted from the drivers seat of his 1986 Volvo.

“Hey, Sam” Corrie said, punching Eric’s arm in playful admonishment.

“Hey guys,” she said as Eric eased the car out of the gravel driveway. At the end of the driveway he turned on his lights and headed towards the river.

The familiar landscape passed in silhouette outside the rain-streaked window. What an amazing year it had been. Corrie’s curly auburn hair in a messy bun on top of her head rose just about the headrest. Sam closed her eyes and could see her friend’s wide smile. She could see them sitting side-by-side at their favorite coffee shop comparing their academic calendars and planning visits. Sam had already marked them in her planner.

Corrie’s hand rested comfortably on Eric’s knee. She remembered when he had moved to town at the beginning of their junior year. The attention he had drawn with his water blue eyes and perfect blondish brown hair. His singular focus on Corrie, much to the dismay of nearly every other female student (and a probably few male students) at Central High; most notably, Sam’s one-time best friend. The drama of all that seemed so far away now.

Sam could see the bridge over the river just ahead. She took a deep breath. Never in her life had she wanted to be in two places at the same time as much as she did in that moment.

She felt Rich’s gaze on her before she even turned to meet it. When she did they held each other’s eyes for moment, before he turned away.

“Looks like the rain just stopped,” Eric said from the front seat.

“Nice,” Rich answered and turned back towards Sam. If he was surprised she was still watching him, it didn’t register on his face. This time he held her gaze.

It wasn’t the first time she had thought about kissing him. But it was the only time she believed she was going to. Her heart pounded. A thousand words danced between their eyes; an understanding of the things unsaid; the importance of their friendship, the impact they had on each other’s lives in the last year. Their selfless hopes for each other; for contentment, adventure, success and love.

They both leaned forward. His lips curled up slightly. The familiar beginning of a smile. Her eyes drifted shut as her head moved slightly right. Then, her whole body jolted forward, then back against the seat.

“Sorry for the abrupt stop guys, I didn’t realize I was quite so close to that tree,” Eric said, “But we’re here!”

The public parking area. The trees that lined it. The short path to the river. It took her a minute to get her bearings. She looked over at Rich, who seemed to be taking it all in as well.

“You guys alive back there,” Eric cajoled.

“Yeah,” Rich said, reaching for the door handle.

“Uh, huh,” Sam echoed.

The rain had left behind a sticky humidity, characteristic of Virginia summers.

“I bet you won’t miss this,” Corrie said rearranging her hair to account for a few stray curls that had escaped down her neck.

Sam shook her head.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I am,” Sam said smiling.

“You’re quiet.”

Sam nodded.

“As long as it’s good quiet.”

Sam thought about the past year. The changes it had brought. The next year and the changes it would bring.

“It is,” she answered and looped her arm through Corrie’s as they wound their way down the river bank.

Eric was the first to arrive at the large rock jutting out over the deepest part of this section of the river, affectionately and descriptively, if not particularly creatively known as Flat Rock. Popular not only for its flatness, but also the conveniently positioned rope swing that originated from a tree just above the rock, making it a perfect platform for entry to the river.

Eric was pulling his shirt over his head before Sam and Corrie even set foot on the rock.

“See you slow pokes down there,” he announced pushing off the ledge, swinging and releasing.

“Does your heart ever stop dropping when you watch that?” Corrie, a rope swing virgin until just a few months ago, asked.

“I always hold my breath until I hear a splash,” Sam admitted.

“Damn the water feels good,” Eric screamed up from the river. “Where are you guys, already? The night’s not getting any longer.”

“See you down there,” Corrie said, reached for the rope and was gone. Seconds later there was a splash.

“So . . .” Rich said from across the rock.

“So . . .” Sam said.

They moved closer to each other, and their eyes locked again for a moment. But there wasn’t the same intensity. It wasn’t the same moment.

“So, tomorrow?” he said.

“Today actually. Next week for you then?”

He nodded then reached out and ruffled her hair. After which he dropped his long hand to the side of her face, leaned in and kissed her forehead.

“How much am I going to miss your face.”

She felt her eyes fill to the brim as she took his hand from her face and squeezed it in hers; then hugged him to her as a tear slid down her check.

When she pulled away, he reached out again and wiped her cheek.

“None of that,” he said with mock sternness, but his own eyes were full as well.

“What is going on? Are you kids making out up there or something? Any day now,” Eric teased from below.

Sam and Rich laughed, first a bit timidly at the near truth of it then more heartily.

Rich just shook his head and smiled. Then he nodded in the direction of the rope swing, “It’s all yours, Dawson.”

She rolled her eyes at his joke and took the familiar rough rope in her hand, just as she had since she was a child. She ran a few steps to the edge of the rock and planted her feet on the large knot as she swung out into the balmy night air.

Then she let go.

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