FORMER FORKS HIGH SCHOOL GYM TO BE DEMOLISHED OVER THE SUMMER
MAR 19, 2010
The Forks High School gym in Clallam County, Washington will be demolished over the summer. The gymnasium was built in 1949 and was expanded in the early 1970s. The building was later abandoned, and a new school and gym were built after it was determined that structural shortcomings would be too costly to repair. While many in the community wanted to save the building for other uses, their efforts have not been successful.
I don't know why the article caught me so off guard. The demolition was inevitable.
It doesn't make fiscal sense to maintain a vacant old building.
That didn't lessen the impact of the article in the Peninsula Daily News on dreary March morning. Nor did it stop the torrent of memories that came flooding back with surprising clarity. Some were inevitable, like those hated days of gym class, trying to fade into the background and escape Coach Clapp's scrutiny. Or the time Rosalie and Jasper were caught smoking cigarettes under the bleachers. Other's made me smile; Emmett bending the basketball hoop our senior year while hot dogging for the cheerleaders.
But the final memory, one of chaffed skin against the red brick wall, and steamed up windows, hurt too much and I slammed it back into my box of memories. The lid didn't have a lock, but I'd become all too adept at keeping it sealed shut.
For a few years, the people of Forks tried to find some use for the old building. Sadly, in a town of three thousand, there simply aren't that many uses for a large multipurpose building with dated fixtures and bad wiring. The gym sat empty for two years, a silent testament to days gone by and generations past. Last summer, the Elks Club expressed interest in converting the gym into their new lodge, even going so far as to draw up design plans. They'd backed out once they realized the town wouldn't grant them a liquor license in such close proximity to the middle and high schools. For a group whose main source of revenue was hosting events where Budweiser and boxed wine flowed freely, a new building wasn't worth the extra space. So they stayed over on Merchant Road, the main place in Forks for weddings and retirement parties, and the gym languished on, locked and abandoned, but never truly forgotten.
It appeared I wasn't the only one seized with a fit of nostalgia, for not ten minutes after I laid down the newspaper, my phone rang.
"Hey Jess," I said. There was no need to look at the caller ID. I was honestly surprised it took her so long to call. She was as inevitably tied to that old building as I was, and we were the first in each other's long line of tangible memories.
It all started the first day of middle school. I'd slipped into the building, part of the flow of students shuffling into the stands for assembly. Being the new girl was bad enough, but being the new girl on the first day of sixth grade was horrible. Everyone was hyper alert; nervous and excited about a new school, new teachers, and new opportunities. I'd tried to blend in and act nonchalant, well aware that kids were whispering about the girl from out of town, the one that had moved back. Being the chief of police's daughter in a small town was hard enough, but the fact that these kids thought they already knew everything about me, and had formed their own opinions (or had been informed by their parents) made me feel like a gold fish in a bowl. I wanted to find an artificial plant to hide behind, the green leaves masking me from scrutiny.
Fate had other plans as Jessica Stanley, in a fit of nerves, threw her Fruit Loops and orange juice up all over my brand new tennis shoes. I'd stood, frozen in horror as the rainbow hued mess soaked into the white canvas, my cheeks burning while everyone laughed. That's when I realized there would never be a time where I went unrecognized or unremembered again.
Fifteen years later, people in Forks still asked me if I liked Fruit Loops. I would always be the girl that Jessica Stanley puked on.
"Do you think they'll allow you to peel up that piece of floor?" she asked by way of greeting. "I can tell you exactly where it happened."
"No thank you. The box you gave me last year impaled with plastic knives was enough. Cereal killer, please."
"It's sad, isn't it? All that history being torn down," she said wistfully. "How many babies were made in that little parking lot back by the emergency exit?"
"At least three that I know of, including me."
"My brother too. And my parents were long past high school when he was born." We'd laughed at that, leaving unspoken other memories too personal to speak aloud.
The parking lot behind the old gym was the Forks version of lover's lane, a dark safe respite away from prying eyes. It was a rite of passage to make out there, and a number of us had done more than that.
With the windshield fogged, the red brick was a warm glow, like a beloved childhood blanket, safe and comforting as we dared to venture out into the uncertainties of the adult world.
"We should do something to send it off," Jessica said. "One last big blow out, you know? Open it up to everyone."
"I don't know if the town would let anything like that happen. They were pretty hard on Mike Newton when he pled the case for the Elks going in there…"
Jessica sighed and ummhmm'd, but I could tell that my logic fell on deaf ears. Once she got an idea in her head, it was only a matter of time before it came true. And with a building full of that much nostalgia, I doubted she would have any trouble finding partners in crime.
I folded up the newspaper, and dropped it in the recycling bin on my way to work, maybe subliminally hoping that placing it out of sight would force the old Gym out of mind as well. I went about my daily routine of work and research. Once a week, I had dinner with my father. I went to yoga, read books, and watched movies. All the mundane tasks that filled up time yet never really stuck out in my mind as being anything different.
As busy as I tried to stay, that Pandora's Box of memories was never far from my mind. I found myself lying in bed at night, recalling my friends and our adventures, which at the ripe old age of seventeen had felt so grand, almost epic. And with the memories of those friends came the memory of my first love, and chances taken by a naïve girl on the brink of adulthood.
While it might have been ridiculous to form the attachment, that old building was a representation of a younger me, and I felt like, when it was gone, the fragment that represented my childhood would be lost with it. Pieces had been falling away for years, small portions here or there, but that gym represented a cornerstone that held together so many other things.
Things that, while long past, I wasn't ready to let go of yet.
The rain pelted me as I ran up the walkway, wind whipping it in strange directions and rendering my umbrella totally useless. Awkwardly balancing a bag of takeout and my mail, I struggled to turn my house key in the old lock and force the door open. Just as the old latch gave, the wind caught the screen, slamming the handle into my back. I stumbled forward into the foyer, scattering mail across the dark glossy hard wood.
"Damn damn damn," I muttered, dropping my umbrella to rub at the sore spot on my tailbone. Droplets of rain showered the floor.
I gingerly bent over to retrieve the stack of rain soaked envelopes. Once upon a time, mail had been a joy. I'd come home to find letters from my mother or cards from friends. Over the years, the joy of surprise had been replaced by the mundane day to day of sales flyers, bills and junk mail. Buy one get one free, You may have already won, and Statement Enclosed, printed on cheap white paper hadreplaced colorful envelopes from Seattle, Tennessee, New York, California, and Florida.
The change had been gradual, until one day there simply was no more.
As I shuffled the mail together, an ecru envelope, thick and heavy, stood out amongst the gaudy print of flyers and an electric bill. Using my index finger, I slid it across the dark wood of the floorboards so it could stand alone. The elegant handwriting and return address was all too familiar, and I instinctively knew what was contained inside.
Without removing my raincoat, I sat down on the floor and picked up the envelope. Slipping my finger slowly under the back flap, I worked the envelope open. The glue gave easily, and I slid out the matching ecru card.
Carlisle and Esme Cullen invite you back
for one final goodbye
as we send the old gym off in style
Saturday, May 15, 2010, 7 PM
proceeds will be donated to the
Forks High School Library
A small RSVP card and envelope were nestled behind the invitation.
"Oh Jess, you couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?" I said as I ran my hand across the embossed typeface. The invitation was classic Esme. Elegant, just the right wording. Regrets only. Like anyone would ever not agree to attend.
But would everyone really come back?
Suddenly, the line 'regrets only' took on an entirely different meaning, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to know.
My father's simple three bedroom house hadn't changed much over the years. It was as much a testament to him as it was the building. People may come and go, but Chief Charlie Swan was a stable, dependable man. One you could always count on. That's probably why no one was surprised when I came back to Forks to live with him instead of staying with the former Renee Hotchkiss, free spirit extraordinaire. When my parents divorced, my mother packed up her little Honda Accord and drove us south to California. We'd bumped around Modesto and Bakersfield for a few years before setting out across the desert to Arizona, where we'd taken up permanent residence. For ten years, I'd shuttled back and forth between the arid Arizona tundra and the lush conifers of the Pacific Northwest. The locations were as much a contrast as my adventurous, devil my care mother and stalwart, pragmatic father; I loved them both, just in very different and selfless ways.
The decision for me to live permanently in Forks had, surprisingly enough, been a joint one. My father wanted me to have the stability of a normal home and friends, something he felt I wasn't likely to get as my mother shuttled from job to job. Most parents would have fought, and over most things, my mom and dad probably did, but they had this uncanny ability to put aside their frustrations when it came to me. That's how I'd come to Washington permanently, staking a claim on the small bedroom at the top of the stairs, and being thrown up on the first day of school.
That sodden mass of wheat and sugar and food die had shown the spotlight on me, one I'd directly tried to shun. It also put me on a collision course with the people that would round out my life for the next six years, and influence it well into my late twenties. Who knew that being ralphed on was the harbinger of greater things?
"Do you have something to change into?" A small dark haired girl had asked me as the laughter died down. Her round grey eyes were kind, and she reached out to swipe gently at my tears. "I have a pair of gym shoes you can wear if you can fit into a size five. I have clean socks too."
"Thank you," I'd snuffled, too embarrassed to look up.
"Don't worry about it, Isabella."
"How do you know my name?"
The small girl just laughed, and slipped her hand in mine. "It's a small town, everyone knows who you are. Get used to it."
"But they don't know me," I'd said in my petulant twelve year old wisdom.
"No, at least not yet," the girl replied. "But you're with Alice Brandon now. People will know you soon enough."
Even as a child, Alice Brandon had been a rallying point, a collector of sorts, piecing together the oddest contingent of friends. Our core group of six had coalesced that year, a motley crew that spanned social groups and interests. While others joined the circle over the years, first as friends, then later as significant others, the core held true. At least until college.
As I opened the trunk of my car to retrieve a garment and overnight bag, I couldn't help but recall how many times Alice, Rosalie Hale and I had gotten ready for events like this together. Wrapped in oversized men's oxford shirts with hot rollers in our hair, we'd tiptoed giggling through Rose's house to pilfer alcohol from her dad's den. There was a small scar on the inside of my forearm, a long faded purple oval, from one of those prep sessions. I'd gone too fast, drinking vodka and cranberry juice on an empty stomach. When the room started spinning, I'd leaned forward against the counter, trying to keep from getting sick. As I lowered my weight, the tender skin just below my elbow pressed directly into the barrel of a curling iron, the hot metal searing an angry red welt into my arm like a brand.
Three boys, all on the brink of manhood, had kissed my burn that night, each one of them promising to make it better. They were all secured in a special place in my memories and my heart. I could remember exactly where in the gym each kiss had happened, what each boy had looked like, and how no other man could ever quite measure up. Particularly to one.
"Are you going to stand out there all day, or are you coming in?" my dad called from the porch.
"I was just waiting for an invitation," I teased, slamming the trunk closed. "Are you always this polite to your dates?"
He laughed and held the door open. "Just you, now get in here."
"Thanks." I hung the garment bag on the coat rack besides the door, and slipped out of my raincoat. My dad eyed the black nylon bag skeptically. "Don't. If you're going to be my date, you are going to look good. Deal with it."
"Fine, you can put me in a monkey suit, but we are still doing dinner the right way," he replied.
"I'd expect nothing less."
We camped out on the floor in the living room, using the battered old coffee table to support our takeout feast. Greasy pizza, my father's favorite beer, and popcorn had been his only mandate, a way to counter balance the 'high falutin shindig' we'd be attending in a few hours.
"How are you feeling about all this?" my dad asked between bites.
"Old," I said, taking another sip of beer. "I remember the first time I had a drink with you, I was so nervous."
"Funny. I meant about tonight."
It was a fair question; one that I'd intentionally avoided thinking about all week. My childhood friends had been part of the definition of who Bella Swan was. For six years our names were most often a mash up, reflecting the blended identity of the individuals to create the whole. Alice/Emmett/Bella went to see a movie, or Jasper/Rose/Edward were kicked out of biology for talking too much. As high school wound down, we'd planned to all go to college together, to continue right on with our plans for world domination.
But, as is often the case, the naïve dreams of youth gave way to more practical matters. Emmett's full ride to UT was a dream come true, one he almost gave up to keep the group together. It was hard to let him go, but we'd pushed him out of the proverbial nest, extracting the promise that he would design all of our houses when he was a famous architect. With his acceptance, the bond that held us all together slowly weakened, and we each began to consider what it would be like to strike out on our own. When Jasper was accepted to Cornell to study philosophy, the proverbial deal was been sealed. We all went in different directions, and thus started the process of slowly growing apart. Weekly calls, cards and emails dwindled to monthly, then even more sporadic. We'd maintained contact through college, but with the demands of the real world and life, our communications became constrained to periodic cards and random group emails. They were like the generic update letters you received from family at the holidays; pages and pages that said a whole lot of nothing at all.
We'd left behind all our dreams and idealistic plans, and in doing so had allowed our connection to fade away. Only in moments where someone noticed the small scar on my arm, or I noticed a box of Fruit Loops on a grocery store shelf did I allow myself to remember and wonder what if?
What if I hadn't wasted all those years? What if he hadn't kissed me goodbye and meant it?
"He's here, you know," my dad said, pulling me back to our tidy little living room.
"Who's here, Dad?"
We both knew I was playing dumb. My dad was the one to hold me that August afternoon as I sobbed. He'd watched me run to the mailbox, looking for letters. They came, but they never said what I wanted to hear.
He shook his head and leaned back against the couch. "Go ahead and hit the shower. I know how you are. And there is more beer in the fridge. Unlike high school, you don't have to sneak it now."
"You knew about that?" I asked as I climbed to my feet.
"Bells, come on, I was a cop before I was a dad," he said. "And you get giggly when you drink. Your mother did too."
I stared down at him, and I realized that the demolition of the gym might be just as hard for me as it was for him. My parents' personal history was tied up in that building too. Charlie Swan and Renee Hotchkiss, Prom King and Queen of 1980. On a drive home from Port Angeles two years later, they'd been desperate for privacy, and had parked my Dad's old Chevy Malibu in that quiet little parking lot behind the gym. By 1985, I was two, they were divorced, and everything had changed.
It wasn't just my Pandora's Box that was open tonight, it was his too. I'd been so focused on my own history; I'd never stopped to think what this mean to him.
"I love you, Dad."
"Of course you do, Bells. I'm the hottest date in town. Now go get ready, we've got a wake to attend."
"Stop fidgeting with your tie!" I said. "You're going to make it crooked."
"I feel like a horse's patoot," my dad mumbled. He'd been running his finger under the collar of his white dress shirt for the last ten minutes. Twice I'd had to smack his hand away as he tried to loosen the perfect Windsor knot.
"No one says patoot anymore, you know that."
"I do, so let me be." He pushed away my hand. "I don't get why I have to wear a tux."
"Because left to your own devices, you would've worn your uniform. Now stop messing with your tie."
"You're bossy, Bells."
"You're crabby, Charlie."
"Don't call me Charlie, young lady."
"Chief Swan! Bella!" I crossed my eyes at my dad, and turned to acknowledge the speaker.
Age is a strange and devious master. When you see someone every day, you don't notice the small changes. They crept in, laugh lines slowly deepening around eyes, hairlines receding as waistlines expand. Take away the everyday point of reference, and the changes hit you in your gut like a sucker punch.
"Hello, Mike. How are you?" My dad said, extending his hand to the boy who'd dumped purple kool-aid down my back in seventh grade, and asked me on my first date at age fifteen.
"Good, sir. Thank you."
The years had been kind to Mike, his boyish charm carrying over well into adulthood. His once spiky blonde hair was tamer now, longer and combed neatly to the side. Interspersed amongst the golden strands were errant strands of gray, which complimented his overall appearance. Looking closer, I could just make out the mark on his earlobe that had once held a fake diamond stud. To people that met him now, they probably thought it was a freckle. Little did they know he'd purloined the earring from his mom's jewelry box. When the piercing got infected, he'd had to take it out. I can still remember the big ring of red, like a bull's-eye against his fair skin.
"This is weird, isn't it?" he asked, smiling at me sadly. "I feel stupid being nostalgic over a place I hated once upon a time."
"Yeah, I know. Jess was joking about rummaging for artifacts tonight. I'd be afraid at what we'd find."
"Oh she's already done that. She and Mrs. Cullen have been busy. Wait 'til you see."
Mike glanced over my shoulder, his hand automatically shooting up to greet someone just out of my line of sight. Charlie took that as his cue. "Come on, Bells, let's get inside. Mike, it was nice to see you."
"Thanks, Chief Swan. Bella, I'll catch up with you later," Mike said, and quickly stepped around us to greet the newest arrivals.
"That boy always bugged me," my dad grumbled. "Such a suck up."
"If I remember correctly, you didn't like anyone that liked me."
"I still don't."
"See, you are crabby, Charlie," I teased. He shook his head and extended his elbow. Once my hand was safely secured in the crook of his arm, we started the slow progression up the walkway towards the red brick building and the ghosts of our collective past.
When it was in use, the glass cases in the gym's entryway had housed trophies and pictures of Forks High School's past glories. I can remember staring up at the 1979 Washington State Baseball Championship picture, and at my father's face, so young and happy. The pictures and trophies had all been moved over to the new gym, but the cases were far from empty. Someone had taken the time to collect memorabilia from each year that had passed through this gym. Prom pictures, news clippings, class photos and other knick knacks clustered together, a silent progression of faces and milestone events. My dad excused himself, heading straight for the farthest case and the earliest photos to look for family members and other acquaintances from days gone by.
My circuit was more random. I slowly moved along the walls, taking in photos without paying attention to the year. I laughed at the styles; hair, clothing, colors and fonts, all enough to indicate the era, but never the actual date.
"Did you see the one of your dad with long hair? I always kind of had a crush on him, but wow, Charlie was hot in the day." A thin arm snaked around my waist. It had been three years since we'd last been together, but it felt like so much longer. "Do you think he'd be offended if I called him a DILF?"
I leaned my head against Alice's head, and laughed. "I always thought Dr. Cullen was the DILF, but if you added Chief to that moniker, he might accept it."
"Didn't you know I chose my friends by how attractive their dad's were?" Alice squeezed me. "I wasn't sure if you'd be here."
"Could you have stayed away?"
"Not a chance. Come on, we have a table inside." Alice tugged gently, leading me into the large main room.
Like every Homecoming dance and Prom ever held in the old gym, the lights were turned down low, and the basketball hoops had been elevated up into the rafters, well out of sight. The stage at the far end was set up to accommodate a DJ's stand, where Erik Yorkie, looking exactly like he did our senior year, stood with one headphone pressed to his ear, his head bopping to an unidentifiable rhythm.
"And here I was thinking how much things had changed."
"It's all that glue he sniffed in middle school. Erik is ageless," Alice said. "When we're all old and wrinkled, he'll still look eighteen."
"And he'll still be a virgin," Jasper called over the din of the music. "With a well preserved, unused dick."
"Sounds like someone else I know," Alice shot back.
I don't know what I'd expected, but it wasn't anything as anti-climactic as the non-event unfolding around me. My best friends from childhood, sitting in the exact same spots where then years ago we'd attended our last prom. While the years might not have been so kind to others, the changes to them were all good ones. Emmett was in the center, his arms casually extended to drape across the chairs next to him. His hair was a little longer but his tie was loud as his t-shirts had been back in the day. Jasper sat on the other side of the table, his feet propped up on the white linen cloth. It didn't matter whether it was jeans or lightweight black wool, the lines of his pants had always fallen perfectly, breaking over legs that had always seemed too long to be real. Next to him, Rose leaned forward, her hands perched on the table, thumbs pressed flat as she held her fingers aloft to form a goal post for Edward to flick a paper football through.
Last, but not least, there was Edward, turning slowly to face me, his face having filled out with time and age, looking the same but incredibly different. They were all the same and yet transformed, as if some strange lens had been fitted over the whole scene, distorting and morphing them into odd approximations of what they'd once been. Or maybe that was my naïve longing to hold on to memories flawed and informed by my own biases.
"Hail, hail, the gang's all here," Emmett sang as he pulled a silver flask out of his suit coat. "I think it's time to start the toasts."
Unscrewing the top, he held it up in my direction. "To blown chunks," he said, and took a sip. It was an old tradition, dating back to our first homecoming. We toasted every dance this way, a tip to the one event that had pulled us all together.
The flask made its way around the table as we each said our line. The silly utterances, spewing and hurling, upchucking and tossing cookies, were the perfect way to set the tone for the evening, and allow us to easily slip back into our old patterns. Relaxed by laughter and liquid courage, we slowly eased past awkward silence into conversation.
When there is so much shared history, even great gaps in time can't suppress common bonds. The banal pleasantries of life and jobs slowly eased in to personal anecdotes, and soon the old stories were flowing free and fast. Two flasks sat in the center of the table, and we made no effort to conceal them.
On a night like this, where half the town was in attendance, and most lost in a haze of old memories and days gone by, I don't think anyone would have cared.
More likely, they would have asked for a sip.
I sat with my arm propped on the table, my head resting against my hand as I listened to my friends tell stories about their lives and careers. Emmett had moved to San Francisco after college, joining a small architecture firm that did environmentally friendly design. Jasper had recently moved to Seattle, where he was teaching philosophy at a local community college and playing acoustic open mic nights. They'd reconnected a few months ago over drinks, and had slowly started to renew their old friendship.
I listened as Alice and Rose peppered in comments here and there, weighing in with their own stories about the places to go in Seattle. Pretty soon Emmett and Rose were trying to one up each other with bad client stories, and she'd whipped out pen to scribble some strange equation on a napkin. They'd been like this back in the day, deconstructing things with logic and numbers to solve a problem. Back then, it had been to one up each other, the pretty girl and the jock, both fighting against the stereotypes other leveled against them. As adults, it was the engineer and the architect, building a better mousetrap in a green, save the world sort of way.
"What about you, Bella? How do you like working at the museum?" Jasper asked. I'd been drumming my fingers on the table, watching the shadows play off the digits as they moved. "Or can you speak through your alcohol induced stupor, lightweight?"
"I'm not a lightweight, I just get quiet when I am drunk," I shot back. "And work is good. I am actually finishing up my first full program right now. Quileute oral tradition."
"All those old ghost stories from Scouts?" It was the first time Edward had addressed my directly. Throughout the conversation, we'd talked around each other, but never directly at. "Werewolves and vampires and shape shifters?"
"Yes, those old ghost stories. I put together a whole series on how the Quileute oral tradition has shaped their current culture. The museum is going to use it for the summer camp program. We're even going to do a bonfire down at First Beach and have some of the elders tell stories."
"Oh God, not First Beach," Jasper protested. "My balls are still blue from that buck dip."
"Brandon made your balls blue long before the buck dip, Slim," Emmett teased him. "I don't even think you owned your own balls back then."
The table erupted in laughter as Emmett and Jasper continued to trade barbs. I glanced back over at Edward. When we made eye contact, he quickly looked away.
Maybe I was wrong, maybe he did remember after all.
The cold water from the sink did little to cool down my skin, my cheeks hot to the touch. Not long after the topic had shifted to sports, I'd excused myself to seek refuge in the bathroom, using the lame excuse of 'breaking the seal' to escape. With the door to the a stall safely closed, I leaned back against the slate blue wall and recalled a clear moonlight night and dares to jump off the cliffs at First Beach. We'd been fueled by liquid courage and confident in our youthful immortality. Just a week away from throwing ourselves to the four winds and college, we jumped out into the night, the six of us holding hands, clothed only in our underwear. We'd emerged from the freezing water high on life, foolishly arrogant, and ready to slay any dragon that stepped in our path.
He'd kissed the scar on my arm that night, the tender skin by my elbow rising in goose flesh that had nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with him. We were young and foolish and didn't consider the ramifications of our actions, and I asked him to take the only thing I had to offer, the only thing that was uniquely mine to give.
I can still remember our awkward laughter as we pulled into the parking lot behind the gym. Edward had turned off the car, one hand on the steering wheel, the other on the gear shift. He wasn't the one with the courage, who had climbed over the center console into the back seat and stretched out on the dark grey leather. But he had followed, and he made good on his promise. There, in that small dark parking lot, with the red brick wrapped around us, in probably the same spot where eighteen years before, I had been conceived, I left behind the girl and became a woman.
There was nothing magic about the moment. It was awkward, a too small back seat for a too tall boy. We'd fumbled and laughed as clothes were shed, hair was caught in a seat belt buckle, and skin stuck to warm leather. But then the laughter had fallen away, replaced by other sounds, some intelligible, others not. There had been pain and exhilaration, awe and amazement as everything just kind of fell into place. The whole night had been just that, the pieces falling into place.
But without the cornerstone, the pieces couldn't hold, and everything quickly fell away.
I'd asked him to be the one because I wanted to leave behind the vestiges of childhood, and move into the world prepared and aware with someone I trusted. Instead, I'd cursed myself, creating an arbitrary yardstick against which all other men would be measured, and would fall ruefully short.
"How are you doing?" my dad asked. His tie was loose now, and I could smell the alcohol on his breath.
"Drinking on school grounds, Chief Swan?"
"The Mayor poured, and I'm not on duty. What's your excuse?"
"I'm your daughter?"
He laughed, and reached out to press his palm against the display case glass. There they were, Prom King and Queen, 1980.
"Nice tux," I teased. "You look great in baby blue."
"Your mom chose it. She actually wanted me to do all white. I think she saw it on The Love Boat."
"That sounds like Renee."
We stood silently, staring at the picture. I'd never seen them together and happy, at least not that I could remember. They were young and in love, and thought they had it all. For a few short years, maybe they truly had.
"I know you," my dad said. "Don't be like me and think too much. Life is short, Bells. Don't be afraid to live."
My throat ached, fire burning down into my chest. I didn't want to lose them again, but I didn't know if I could survive trying and failing.
"I didn't fight. Don't be me, please. If you learn anything from your old man, let it be to fight for what you want."
He kissed the top of my head, and I closed my eyes, breathing deep. "When I am fifty, will you still smell like dial soap and Vitamin R?"
"You know it." He kissed my head once more. "I'm headed back in, the Mayor has a bunch of beer in a cooler under the bleachers. I feel like I am eighteen again. Good thing I'm better looking now."
With my dad gone, my gaze returned to the glass case, and I had to bite my lip to fight back the tears. My parents had been so in love, but Renee's need for change wasn't something my dad could ever meet, and as much as he tried to be the cornerstone, he couldn't hold everything together. I didn't want to be them, to love and lose and not ever be able to fill that space. But somehow that was exactly what I'd done, and I'd never even realized it. Was that the same for my dad too? Had he been set on a path, not realizing what he'd lost until it was already gone, and there was nothing he could do to change it?
How do you recover when you realize your foundation is flawed? Is there a way to rebuild without completely razing everything? Could the pieces be fitted back together?
"Your dad looked good in a ruffled shirt."
My eyes instinctively closed as the fire in my throat raged out of control. Deep down, I knew that I'd been waiting for this moment since the day I saw the article in the paper. We'd never had our closure, choosing instead to sweep everything under the rug and hide behind school and distance and everything else.
"People do crazy things when they think they are in love," I said.
"That they do. They do stupid things too."
I didn't respond. What could I say? That I loved the crazy boy who kissed my burn and encouraged me to take leaps of faith; the same boy who had kissed me goodbye against a red brick wall in the back of this very building so hard that my skin was chaffed for two days? That I realized all too late that I had loved him, and there was nothing I could do to get that wasted time back?
"You look good. I like your hair short." His fingers brushed the nape of my neck, lightly skimming along my spine. I shivered, but didn't pull away. "Listen, Bella, do you think we could go somewhere and talk?"
"I don't know, Edward, it's been a long time."
I wanted to scream yes, please talk to me. Or spin me around and press me against a brick and chaff my skin again. Bite my lip and make me feel, make me bleed. Just make me feel alive, because I felt more alive here than I did anywhere else.
"Please, Bella. Just…there is too much just to let this go unsaid this time."
It was everything I wanted to hear, and everything I was afraid he would say. He was my friend for years, and then for a few brief days he was more than that, and then he was gone. If I grabbed a hold of him now and refused to let go, would he stay, or would he gently shake me loose and disappear into the night? When I smelled salt water would I always think of him, and what my tears had tasted like against his lips, or would this finally set me free, so that I could find a place where I belonged?
The born leader, he took action where all I saw was indecision.
"Here," he said, slipping off his suit jacket and handing it to me. "I'll meet you outside in a minute."
He didn't need to tell me where to go, and there was no way I could say no. As the way it had always been, he simply had to say. I would always follow.
The pavement of the old parking lot had buckled over time. With no one tasked with its upkeep, grass and weeds had forced their way up through the cracks. A small sapling had pushed up through the black top next to the building, the tender first leaves of a new oak a soft green against the darker red of the wall.
Over the years, people had carved their initials in the old brick. Some of them made me laugh. Class of '89 rulez or Banner Sucks Donkey Balls. Others made me smile, like the faded AW+BC, which had a freshline extending straight down two new sets of initials, representing the Cheney twins. LM+TK had the date of their wedding scratched underneath. It felt like the entire town had lived and loved in and around these four walls, and made the loss that much more palpable. This wall and abandoned parking lot were our own versions of an oral history, a testament to the legend of our youth. Where would the next generation go to lay down their own tracks and write their own history? Where would they stand and remember when?
Turning away from the wall, I closed my eyes, breathing deeply in an attempt to push back the flood of memories. The scent was always the same. It reminded me of how clean Forks could smell after the rain, like all the bad things were washed away with the dirt and grime. They'd run off into the sewers, leaving everything pristine and redeemed, almost new again. And when the accumulation was too much, the rain always came back, washing everything clean once more. If I stood out here in the rain, would it wash me clean too? Would I be redeemed? Or would it simply remind me of a boy who smelled and tasted like salt, who had made me laugh until I didn't know how to laugh anymore.
"I have fifteen notebooks," Edward said quietly. I hadn't heard him approach, and spun around to face him, my arms instinctively wrapping around my body. "Fifteen of those old Meade spiral bound notebooks that you used to love, college ruled, filled with letters to you. There was so much I wanted to say, but it never felt like the right time. And I didn't want to send them, because I needed to be there with you. I needed to see your face and know that you really heard me."
"I was a moron. I had less than a week with you, and I threw it all away because I was too scared to work for it. I didn't know how to fail, and you were too important to fail at, so I didn't even try."
He stepped closer, and I backed up. Not out of fear or repulsion, more like a gut reaction. He took another step, and I did too, my back hitting the cool red brick of the gym. I pressed my hands against the rough stone, waiting for what would come next.
"I tried to forget you," Edward said quietly. He'd extended one arm, his hand pressed against the wall to keep me from turning away. "I spent a year chasing women that were the polar opposite of you. And when that wasn't good enough, I tried to find someone just like you. But they were all cheap imitations of the real thing. I tried to make them into you, but I never stopped to understand why. And now that we are here, with all of this, how could I not?"
He raised his free hand, so that the backs of his knuckles skimmed along my cheek. He'd always been gentle, even as a rough and tumble little boy. Esme called him an old soul, wise beyond his years.
"It makes no sense. You aren't the most beautiful girl in the world, and you are horrible at math, but everyone pales in comparison because you are brave and wise and were never afraid to take risks. And I can't stand thinking that we will walk away from this building, and they'll tear it down and we will be gone."
When I finally worked up the courage to look at him, I realized that he wasn't any different than the boy I'd once known; his eyes the same soft green as the leaves of a small sapling that had forced its way up through the ground. If that small oak could find purchase and thrive in such a hostile environment, why couldn't we do the same? It'd germinated here, pushing through and thriving in untenable conditions. With the same tenacity, why couldn't we?
All it took was the decision to try, and not give up.
"Are you trying to lure me into the back seat of your car?" I asked. My words came up choppy, like I'd been running to fast and couldn't catch my breath.
"You were the one that lured, and I haven't had a car with a back seat since then," Edward admitted.
"It's probably a good thing; because in a few weeks, this building won't be around to hide any back seat activity."
"If I remember correctly, I kissed you goodbye here, and it had nothing to do with a back seat," he said.
"Are you going to kiss me goodbye here again?"
His brow furrowed, deepening the laugh lines around his eyes. They hadn't been there ten years ago.
"Bella, if I kiss you again, it's a beginning, not a goodbye."
We stood, nose to nose, as night descended around us, neither talking over moving. There were so many things still to be said, questions unspoken, but somehow I had faith the answers would come in time.
"Bellllllaaaaaaa." Jasper's disembodied voice ripped through the quiet night. Giggles and catcalls followed.
"He always did think he could channel Brando," Edward whispered. "I never had the heart to tell him he's more Vito Corleone than Stanley Kowalski."
He slipped an arm around my shoulders, and pulled me gently away from the wall. Our steps echoed on the fractured pavement as we rounded the building to join our friends.
"So I talked to Mr. Banner," Emmett said. We were all stretched out on the walkway in front of the gym, staring up at the night sky. "I am going to come back up here tomorrow and pull a few things out. I hate to see some of this stuff trashed, you know?"
"Like what?" Alice asked.
"The basketball hoop." We all laughed, knowing full well it wasn't the one he bent. "I want some of the crown molding around the stage too. They don't make shit like that anymore. I can store it at my parent's house until I start building a place of my own."
"You are such the romantic," Rose teased. "Are you going to take the section of bleachers where you boned Lauren Mallory too?"
A chorus of oohhhhs filled the night air, followed by more laughter.
"You know damn well, Rosalie Hale, I only boned one girl under the bleachers, and I think you might know the exact spot too."
Rose flipped him the bird, but Emmett just laughed. "Any time, Hale, any time."
She quickly stood, brushing nonexistent dirt from her dress.
"Where are you going?"
"It's any time, McCarty. What are you going to do about it?" She'd tossed her hair over her shoulder, and started towards her rental car.
Emmett scrambled to his feet, dropping a set of keys on Edward's chest as he passed. "You're on your own, pretty boy. Meet you at the diner for breakfast in the morning."
With that, he took off, jogging down the walkway after Rose. She squealed when he scooped her up and tossed her over his shoulder, but not once did she tell him to put her down.
"God, I'd forgotten how bad those two could be," Alice said, lazily fanning her fingers out against the night sky. "Think anything will come of it?"
"Stranger things have happened," Jasper said. "They'll either tear down the hotel or be engaged in six months. They were always like that."
"Am I missing something?" I asked, watching as the small sedan fishtailed out of the parking lot.
"You're kidding right? Those two?" Alice laughed. "Do you not remember all the rug burns Rose had in high school?"
"I thought those were from wrestling with her brothers!" I protested. I got a handful of grass tossed in my direction.
"Come on, Brandon. Since you've been ditched, I'll give your sorry ass a ride home," Jasper said, extending his hand to Alice.
"I'm not ready to call it a night yet. Are you hungry?"
"It's me you're talking about," he replied. "I'm always hungry. Come on, let's go find some grease."
They took off down the walkway, Alice hip checking him, then running ahead to escape his long reach.
We lay on the pavement for a long time after they left, quietly talking about our lives. I told Edward about the museum and what I did in my free time; I admitted my disastrous dating history and inability to fill the spaces my friends left behind. I told him about how I toyed with going back to school to get my doctorate in anthropology, but I didn't want to miss out on anything at the museum. In turn, he told me about Seattle, how his job at a biotech start up consumed his life, not out of necessity but to keep him sane. We danced gently around the topic of what came next; neither of us willing or able to let the simplicity of the moment go.
At one point, I rolled over onto my side, the cold concrete numbing my limbs to the point of pain. The lights of the parking light shone down on a lone car, a dark SUV with California plates.
"Edward, is that Emmett's car?"
"Yeah." He lifted his head up to glance at the car. "I'll probably have to go pick him up at Rose's hotel in the morning. Why?"
I thought about my dad's comment; about taking a risk and not giving up. In a few weeks, this building and all the memories we'd built here would be gone. That didn't mean that the relationships I'd formed with these people had to be too. I simply had to make the choice to take the leap.
"You know the great thing about jumping off a cliff?" I asked. I didn't look over to see how he took the question.
"It's a lot easier when you are holding hands with five other people."
I stood and slipped my shoes off, walking slowly towards the car.
"Where are you going?" Edward called after me.
I smiled, and kept walking straight ahead. "I thought I might go check out the backseat."
As I leaned against the back of the SUV, the butterflies danced in my stomach, just like they had one summer night ten years ago. The man walking toward me still resembled the boy I'd given everything too, but things were different now. We weren't drunk on our youth and immortality, which made us infinitely less careless with each other's hearts.
There is an old saying – Rome wasn't built in a day. It took time and planning to work out the logistics and draft the design. But, to pick up on another clichéd gem, out of the ashes, we shall rise again.
And we did.
Bleachers and grease, laughter and second visitations to back seats cleared the abandoned foundation of its weeds. And slowly, we started to rebuild, gently laying each displaced brick.
The first six were the most important. I had my dad retrieve them from the gym the day it was pulled down. I'd taken them to a stone mason in Port Angeles, who had been more than happy to help me out. Each brick was unique, pits and scratches and small scars from the demolition riddled each surface. But what is carved on all of them is the same.
One run-on, mashed up word. We always worked best when mashed together. We know that now, and have a better appreciation for it than we did at the tender age of seventeen. We know that it won't be easy, and we have to fight. But if the foundation is strong, it's a lot easier to make the legend live on.
And that is what counts.
Legends of Our Youth