June 24, 2009

Puddles pooled around my bare feet, and when it did not seem possible, it began to rain harder. Through the downpour I could see Josh, his face contorted as drops ran down his face from his hair, which was plastered to his head. His shirt hung heavy on his shoulders, forming to the planes of his chest. The planes that I had memorized just the month before.

"Tory." His lips formed around my name, sending the whisper through the downpour that now surrounded us.

Shaking my head, I turned to go. If my heart was going to be ripped out of my chest and stomped on, I preferred it to be in the privacy of my own bedroom.

"Wait," Josh shouted, his voice flying to my ears. The familiarity of it weakened my knees. "Oh God, Tory, please wait."

Turning around slowly, I raised my hand subconsciously to my chest, attempting to hold myself together. Josh had taken a step closer so there was now only two squares of sidewalk between us. Looking down at my feet, I watched the rain wash away the last of the nail polish from the pedicure I had before going to the beach with Josh a month ago. Good riddance, I thought, as my heart squeezed underneath my soaked shirt.

"Josh," I said, knowing my quiet voice would find its way through the rain to him. Swallowing hard over the lump in my throat, I opened my mouth to speak again. Before I could, a clap of thunder rattled the windows behind me, causing both Josh and I to jump out of our skin.

Spinning around again, I raced up the steps. As my fingers closed around the door handle, I heard him again.

"That's not what matters," he said urgently, somehow responding to the words I had never spoken aloud.

It stopped me cold, the rain pulling wet strings of hair into my face. I pushed them away with one hand, the other dropping from the door. To the left of my feet, two worms crawled next to each other, making their way towards the soil at the bottom of the steps. As they reached the edge of the cement, the first worm slid over and into the grass, while the second turned and slid back in the direction it had come. With sadness I realized that the first worm had never stopped to consider that maybe it would be taking that jump by itself.

"Then what does?" I shouted back angrily, whirling around to face him.

For the first time, I felt the tears spill over onto my cheeks, heartbreak mixed with rain, as I found the sidewalk empty. My eyes flew around the small front yard as my chest collapsed and I realized Josh was gone. With a sob louder than the thunder, my knees buckled beneath me and I fell to the ground. I hugged myself, rocking back and forth as sobs ripped through my lips.

And though it was not possible, it began to rain harder.

The bus ride to school the next morning was a blur, my mind only catching bits and pieces of the life that managed to carry on around me. Carrie sat next to me in silent understanding, her hand clasped tightly around mine. I allowed my head to drop onto her shoulder, allowed the soothing words that quietly followed. Rain continued to pour, smearing the bus windows with Heaven's tears.

As we pulled into the circle drive in front of the school I saw a familiar gray jacket, one that I could pick out of a sea of thousands. One that made my heart pound furiously, and one that brought the lump back to my throat. Turning away from the window, I found myself looking straight into Carrie's worried eyes.

"Tory," she said, as if she was trying to convince me of something. "You are so much better than him."

Swallowing, I narrowed my eyes. "Who was the one that told me he was something better?" I asked quietly, brushing past her and racing off of the bus.

The rain had let up and couples now gathered around the fountain in the front of the school. Friends sat on the edge, trading music and stories of a big party last night. On a normal day, I would have joined in with the group I knew Carrie was headed to. Glancing over now, I caught Danny waving at me, his knee propping up the book we were reading for English that week. Ignoring him, I sped through the halls to homeroom, settling down and pulling out my calculus textbook. Keeping my eyes averted from the doorway, where I knew Josh would eventually pass by on his way to his own homeroom one door down, I scanned the chapter we were being tested on next hour. The unrecognizable language began to swim in front of me and I quickly swiped under my eyes.

By then, other kids were filing in, shuffling around papers they would pretend to work on as they passed notes and listened to their iPods. Taking a deep breath, I stared intently at the page so no one would come over to talk to me. After a minute, I gave up the charade and dropped my head onto my arms. Sitting up abruptly, I shrugged out of the sweatshirt that still smelled like him, shoving it carelessly into my backpack.

It had become less and less often since the fire, but now was one of those times when I needed my mother. Opening my mind, I attempted to bring her back, if only for a moment, but all I heard were whispered memories. If you ever get your heart broken, she had said on a summer night when I was eleven, I will be here for you, no matter what.

I love you, Mom, I thought, suddenly back in 1997, the year we bought our own fireworks. The five of us, Mom, Dad, and my two sisters, were gathered around the box anxiously, after it had finally gotten dark enough to set the fireworks off. With a shout of excitement, we scrambled for safety as Dad lit the fuse. He just made it to our safety spot on the front porch before there was color, and sparks, and shrieks. In awe, we watched the fireworks jump only a foot off the ground though it had seemed so high, so rebellious.

While the show lasted for a good ten minutes, I remember it seeming like a mere five seconds before, with a final scream, the last firework died out and we were left staring at nothing but ashes.