My uncertainty lingered in the silence.
“I’m happy, is all.” I shrugged and looked away. “I’m happy that we said we love each other, even if people say there’s no such thing as love at first sight.”
We both stared forward, silence the only common ground. I kind of wished I hadn’t said it. One thing I’d learned about life was that happiness is subject to ignorance; as soon as you acknowledged it, it’d disappear—like everything else you care about.
David smiled; his own private joke again. “It really bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“I’m just at odds with how I feel and what common sense says—you know, what I should feel.”
David watched the road carefully, his easy smile making me feel silly for having doubts. “You can’t make rules for your heart, Ara. And…if you berate yourself for what you feel, you’ll eventually convince yourself not to feel that anymore. So—” He studied my face for a quick second, then turned his eyes back to the road. “Please just let yourself love me. I love you, and I don’t want to lose your heart to some silly laws made up by man.”
“Then stop trying to make them. If they’ve ever loved before, then they’ll understand and, if not, just let it go. They’ll get it one day.”
I took a long, slow breath. “You’re right, you know, about being aged beyond your years.”
He laughed. “Do you think you can still love me, even if I’m an old man, deep down inside?”
“Maybe. How old are you, anyway? Emily said you’re older than us.”
“Well, we wouldn’t need to gossip if you ever told me anything about yourself.”
He exhaled. “She’s right. Emily. I am older. I’ll be nineteen in November.”
“I uh—” He scratched the back of his head, resting his elbow on the door after, his fist in front of his lips. “I went through a rough patch a few years ago and…I kind of let my grades slip.”
“That was when I left my uncle—to come here.”
“And…why did you leave your uncle?”
“I lost someone.” He swallowed, putting both hands on the steering wheel again. “I’ve been hiding from the world in a way, I guess, ever since. I wanted to pretend I was still seventeen—get back some of the time I lost.”
“I’m really sorry, David.” I wished I could just kiss all his pain away. But grief just didn’t work like that. “So, is that one of your secrets—your dark secrets?” I said playfully.
“Will you tell me something else about you—something I don’t know?”
“Not good enough. You know everything about me; I know nothing about you.”
“And it will stay that way.”
My eyes narrowed and I bit my teeth together, folding my arms again. “Fine. Don’t tell me. But I won’t stop bugging you until you do.”
“Fine,” he scoffed out a chuckling breath, “but I don’t give in easily.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m very stubborn. I don’t give up easily.” There was so much attitude in that delivery, I wondered if perhaps I was capable of normal teenage behaviour.
David’s head rocked from side to side, fluid with annoyance. “You are a wilful creature, Ara-Rose. I swear you will be the death of me.”
“I will if you don’t stop keeping secrets.”
“Ara, be nice,” he said.
I tilted my nose in the air and watched the trees outside, blurring in hues of green and brown as we passed them.
The drive to the lake was relatively short, but the scenery changed so much, from closely gathered houses to a long stretch of highway and finally, a tunnel of trees around a hard-packed dirt road. As the tires crunched on the gravelly shoulder, my blue guitar, which hadn’t shifted the whole drive, clunked noisily—the vibrations drawing gentle hums of odd notes from the strings. I glanced over my shoulder to check on it; still upright, the strap looped safely over the headrest in the backseat.
As I turned back to face the front, David’s gaze quickly shifted from me to the road. “What?” I asked.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” he asked cautiously.
When aren’t I? “No. But I do wish you’d trust me.”
“Believe me, I do trust you. But, to tell you more about myself means letting you into my world, Ara.”
He shut the engine off, the sudden quiet making my ears ring. “My dark world.”
“Oh.” I looked to the front, folding my arms, and left it at that.
David glided along beside me, the guitar slung over his shoulder like a one-strapped backpack, and the picnic basket in hand. The sun filtered down through the tops of the trees in hazy lines of pale yellow and white, highlighting the golden tones in his hair. I just wanted to stop walking right then and run my fingers through it. But I wasn’t sure our relationship was quite on the unguarded-impulse-control level yet.
When we came out to the clearing by the lake, the familiar lemony spice of wet bark and the heavy clay scent of decomposing leaves awakened my senses. A spectacular rainbow of nature greeted us, and I lost myself in the awe of this secret place. With the autumn hovering on the horizon of the approaching months, the deciduous evergreens surrounding the lake began to turn a hundred different colours. An illustration of mottled pinks, yellows and reds emulated off the lake’s reflection, and dust motes settled on the water around the moss—giving it an almost snow-like aspect. Across the lake, at the centre of the tranquil masterpiece, several flocks of colourful birds disappeared into the dense greenery of the island.
“This place is so amazing, David.” And my mood just lifted like an elevator up the Empire State building.
David’s hands circled my waist. He tucked his chin against the curve of my neck and squeezed my ribs. “I can think of something more amazing.”
Aw, how sweet. I smiled, resting my elbows over his. “I like that—the feel of you against me that way.”
David pulled away, but stole my hand as he did, turning me to face him. “Come on, let’s sit down.” He swept his arm outward, presenting a small square patch of grass, flattened by the rug—picnic basket centred, and his iPhone setting the scene with some soft music.
“How did you set that up so fast?” I looked back at David, my eyes quickly darting from where he’d been standing beside me, to the rug, where he laid with his ankles crossed and the cheekiest grin warming his eyes. “I’m sure you’re not human.”
He laughed loudly. “I think you’re the one who’s not human, Ara. I’ve become accustomed to your trips outside your own head now. I set this up while you were lost in thought.”
“I should get that looked at.” I wandered over and sat down in front of him. “Hey, are you getting sick?”
“Ouch.” David jumped back a little when I touched the purple indent under his eye. “You’re freezing,” he said.
He cupped my hands, changing their temperature with the warmth of his breath.
“Did you know—” He closed his hands a little tighter around mine and pressed his nose against my fingers, drawing a deep breath, “—you smell like a freshly baked cake?”
“Yeah.” I gently pulled my hands away, rubbing the moisture from his breath into my skin. “That’s just my body wash.”
“No.” He shook his head, looking up at me. “It’s just you.”
I needed a subject change before those green eyes of his, all kind and smiling, made me lean forward and kiss him. “What’s this song? It has the most heartbreaking melody.”
“It’s called Overcome.” David looked down at his hands. “The one I said I’d play to you.”
The words of the song danced around in my head, lilting softly over the wistful tide of the piano, while David stared into the tree line, his mind a million miles away. I watched his soft, angel-like face for just long enough to see that he was more beautiful than I’d really noticed before. He was always lovely, but with his eyes lost in the splendour of the colourful surroundings, focused and totally unaware that I was staring, I could suddenly see just how out of my league he really was. His features were almost symmetrical, even down to the width of his mouth on both sides and the sharp, heart-shaped curve of his upper lip. There was this undeniable allure about him—something—maybe an energy that just drew me in, making me want to close my eyes and fall against him.
It was too late for me. I’d never be able to go back. Never be able to live without him. ‘Overcome’ was very suitable for how I felt about this boy.
David looked up from his reverie and frowned at my face.
I wiped away my pout, forcing a look of composure, though inside, my heart was breaking. I wondered how I could possibly ever be good enough for him.
“Do you know why they say love is blind?” he asked out of the blue.
“Um…” Okay, that was a strange question. “Because…you can’t see straight when you’re in love?”
He shook his head. “It’s because you don’t need to see to fall in love. It’s purely chemical. You can fall in love with someone before you’ve spoken one word to them, and they don’t have to be perfect, Ara, just perfect for you.”
“What if you’re not from the same species—can you be perfect for each other then?”
“Ara—” he sat up a little. “What do you mean?”
“I mean.” I toyed with the hem of my dress. “You’re…perfect, and I’m…”
He sat back, exhaling through his smile. “That’s what you meant.”
“What did you think I meant?”
“Nothing.” He reached across and took my hand. “Ara. I don’t know where you get this silly idea that we’re not right for each other, but—”
“No, you said you’re not good enough for me.”
I looked down at my pale white fingers wrapped around his golden skin.
“I’ve never loved anyone like this before. Ever. What do you think that means for me, Ara?”
I shrugged, not meeting his eyes, though I could feel them on me.
“You are more than good enough for me—from personality to spirit and all the way to superficial and unimportant qualities.” He laughed. “I mean, you’re the single most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on and, believe me, Ara-Rose, I have seen a lot of girls.”
One shoulder came up to my jaw. “I guess I just don’t see what you see.”
“Then I’m happy to keep saying it until you do.” He touched the backs of his fingers to my cheek. “Just relax into this, okay? We’re together—I’m not going anywhere. Not ever.”
He looked at me for a long moment. “Yeah. But only if you promise to look in the mirror every day and tell yourself you’re beautiful.”
“Good. Hungry?” He jumped up with a movement as light and fluid as a man on the moon.
“Um, yeah, I am, actually.” I hadn’t even noticed it, but my stomach felt like a hollow pit. It might’ve even growled at one point, but I’d been too lost in David’s flawless face to notice. I could’ve starved to death and probably wouldn’t have cared.
“Here.” He handed me a small bunch of grapes and sat across from me, grabbing my guitar.
I picked at the plump, round fruit, while David plucked the strings; the squared tips of his fingers finding the notes so effortlessly, as if he knew every one like his own flesh.
“Do you realise,” I said with my mouth full, “that I’ve never actually heard you play guitar?”
“Yes.” He smiled, keeping his head down, twisting the pegs atop the neck. After a strum and a nod of satisfaction, he started playing.
My eyes tried to close again as the sound touched my heart, but I forced myself to open them and watch the phenomenon that was David’s every note. In comparison to him, my musical ability was substandard, clumsy even. I hated that. “You make me feel like an amateur.”
“Well, I’ve been playing for a very long time.” His laughter sounded like a release of tension, and as I sat back, watching the midday sun beam across his neck, he stopped playing.
He shuffled over and picked a grape off the bunch, then popped it in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “I wanna play you a song.”
“Okay.” I dumped the grapes back in the basket, readjusting my seat. “Do I know it?”
“You might. It’s by Muse.” He propped his left leg up, resting his forearm on his knee, and strummed the guitar. “It’s called Unintended.”