It's the 25th of spring. My college classes are finally done, and it's time to go set up for my summer job. However, there's a bit of a problem.
I don't want to go.
This isn't because I'm lazy, or because I dislike what I do... no, if it were as simple as that I'd just quit, and find something I'm better suited to.
No, I still love running the small-time beach stand, and I'd probably quit school to run one if it weren't such a seasonal thing... I just want to try someplace different this year, and leave Mineral Town as far behind me as I can...
Hm? Why? Oh, I guess I haven't told you yet, have I? Well, the answer's simple enough... it's all about a girl.
Her name's Popuri, and for a while I thought I was in love with her.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. About five years ago, back when I was still in high school, I got into some trouble. Nothing too bad, and I didn't get the cops called on me or anything, but I did manage to scare my parents half to death.
After that, my dad decided to send me somewhere quiet during my summer vacations, hopefully so I'd stay out of trouble.
And yes, so he'd have more 'alone time' with my mom. Even back then I wasn't that stupid...
So, they sent me to stay with an old friend of my dad's, an innkeeper named Doug in this nowhere place called Mineral Town. He was nice enough, had me work a little to earn my keep, and taught me how to cook a little as well. I found that I liked cooking, and found myself hanging out in the kitchen with Doug's bratty daughter whenever I had a free moment. Soon enough, he just got tired of both of us always being underfoot, and sent us out to wait on tables for him.
It was while I was waiting on tables that I first met her. A bubbly thirteen-year-old girl, just starting to develop as a woman, with curly bubblegum-pink hair, a cutesy little-girl dress, and an attitude to match it, sitting with her older brother and parents at one of the family tables.
From what she told me later, the day she met me was the last time they'd ever eaten as a family. Might explain some of Rick's problem with me... meh. I never stood a chance with Rick. We're the same age, but we've never quite seen eye-to-eye. We're just opposites in terms of personality, I guess. And from day one, he made it clear that he didn't like me.
Anyway, she was nicer to me, and asked me a few questions when she was done eating. I answered, and we actually had quite the conversation. Turns out her dad was going to search the world for a cure to her mother's illness, and that she wanted to see the world as well.
Now, at the time I'd never been that far outside my home town, but to her even that much made me into a seasoned traveler. In her eyes, I was an explorer, an adventurer, some romantic sort of pirate or sailor... when you're only seventeen, and never had a girl look at you twice before, that sort of thing can turn your head, I guess. It certainly did mine...
Well, the summer ended, and I had to go back to school. But when I left, I'd already made the decision to go back. The excuse was that I liked the town, and wanted to relax there when I could.
The reality was that I wanted to talk to her again. Even then, I'd become obsessed with her.
Looking back, it was the biggest mistake I've ever made.
My dad was thrilled that I'd found something to do in the summertime, but didn't want to foot the bill for another seasonal vacation for his no-account son. No problem, I thought; I'd find a job and go there on assignment. I already knew about a seasonal chain of beach stands that had headquarters in my hometown, so I applied there to be a franchisee. The owner was a little worried about me being underage, but when he saw I'd be eighteen about halfway through the next work season, he decided to let it slide. My dad co-signed the loan I needed to build the 'Snack Shack' in Mineral Town, and I had it set up and running the day after I graduated high school.
And guess who my first customer was?
That's right, the same pink-haired girl who'd caught my attention the year before, now in a black corset and red skirt, which she was starting to fill out quite nicely.
It's perfectly normal to tell someone how much they've changed when you haven't seen them in three seasons, right? She was looking really nice, and that's exactly what I told her.
She giggled, thanked me for the compliment, and bought a snow cone off the stand. From then on, she became a regular at my place, buying a quick snack whenever she could and asking me about what my world was like. I told her about the big port in my town, the school I'd just graduated from, the people I'd met, the places I'd been... I really appreciated her company.
Especially since she was my only customer.
I've never minded that, but to be honest my little Snack Shack was losing money. I've been lucky to break even most years. And I couldn't stay there forever. I knew for a fact that my little beach house would be untenable in the cold seasons, and that no one at all would visit when it was snowing.
So, with a bit of reluctance, I went home at summer's end.
That year, I applied to the local community college for a Culinary Arts degree. I'd already known that I wanted to make a living off of cooking, but I also knew that running something bigger than a seasonal fast food chain was going to take skills I hadn't yet learned. The local Ju-Co wasn't exactly the Le Cordon Bleu, but they could still teach me how to cater for parties, how to run a full kitchen, and how to cook consistently for five hundred people or more in a single evening.
It was horrible. Not only was Port Magellan Community College's culinary arts program not Le Cordon Bleu, it was hardly accredited. In fact, I've heard they're about to pull the accreditation, although that might just've been a rumor...
Anyway, I spent my fall, winter, and spring in culinary hell; and then I went to work at my little Snack Shack in the summer. There, Popuri became a relief from the misery of my everyday life, and got me socializing in a way I hardly ever do at home...
But when she got me a new bandanna for my 21st birthday, I began thinking that she was more than a friend. I screwed up, and assumed I had a chance with her...
Unfortunately, that was also the year that it would all come to an end.
That was the year Jack moved into town.
Jack was a regular at my place too, that summer... he didn't have much to spend then, but he'd talk to me, and he'd order something light when he could afford to. I even liked him back then, and I'll admit that he's a pretty stand-up guy. Took over a dilapidated farm all on his own, and even in that first year I could see he'd make something out of it. I even started buying produce right off his farm, although only the local shipper and myself knew about that...
But we got along, and Popuri was there too, and eventually the summer ended, and it was time for me to go.
At this point, I'd better talk about the letters.
Popuri always wrote me when I wasn't in Mineral Town, from the day we met. I'd asked her to, I'll admit, and she was nice enough to oblige. Her letters had kept me afloat in some of the worst moments of my life, and I always savored and cherished them. Even now I keep them in a special box, and carry them around with me.
But after I left Mineral Town two years ago, the letters started to change. Before, they'd always been about what I was doing, where I was going, how I was... always about my life, as if it had ever mattered. But then her letters started mentioning Jack, about how nice he'd been that week, what he'd done for her, what he was doing on that farm of his... I began to hate Jack, in spite of myself, and found myself dreading the letters I'd once loved. It became harder and harder to write a reply that didn't drip with poisonous anger, and to hide my own jealousy for the farmer who'd taken my pink-haired friend away from me.
When I went back last summer, it was even worse. The two of them were inseparable. It was obvious to me that she was in love with him, and that I was just another friend to her. Granted, I'd known it probably wouldn't work between us from the start, but I'd hoped that if I was patient, if I just waited for the right moment to tell her how I felt...
...No, even if I'd told her before that summer, it wouldn't have mattered. I can see that now. Even if I'd been dating her steadily, she still would've fallen for Jack the moment she met him. The two were made for each other, stupid as it sounds. I never stood a chance.
They married right before I left. I attended the wedding, and wished them well. I even meant it. I might hate Jack for having the person I'd wanted for so long, but for her sake I'll hope that the two of them have a long and happy life together.
But as much as I say those things, they don't change how I feel. I still get letters, but now they come with photos of the two of them together. I see her try to milk a cow (getting more on the floor than the bucket), her and Jack in front of their beautiful house, her chasing a chicken desperately while Jack just leans against a wall, laughing.
The two of them against a portrait background, with her visibly pregnant.
That photo's letter told me that she was due in the summer, and that she was looking forward to having me meet her new son when he was born...
...I'm sorry Popuri, but I don't think I can let go of my feelings long enough.
My franchise manager agreed to a relocation, noting that Forget-Me-Not Valley had better beach traffic than Mineral Town, and was still within a day's journey if I ever wished to visit.
And you know what? I just might. But not this year, and probably not the next.
I'll start over, find a better school to attend in the fall, work the valley's beaches in the summertime... I'm sure I'll make some new friends, and have a lot more fun...
And... maybe... I'll find someone nice there. A nice girl I can fall in love with, and who'll fall in love with me in return...
Or maybe not. But either way, I'm not giving up yet. I've still got my life in front of me, and I intend to live it out. I just need a little time to get over her, and I'll be perfectly ok...
...I'm sorry Popuri. I know you're looking forward to seeing me, but I'm afraid that it's not that simple. Not for me, at least...
But one day, I would like to see you again... we'll talk about the good times we've had, I'll show you some photos of the new restaurant I'll be running, I'll give your kids signed kitchenware when my big Food Network series airs.
But right now, I need the time and space to make it happen. And as I burn the cedar box, the one that holds all of your letters and photos, there's only one phrase that comes to mind...
Goodbye, my love...