Death comes between two young lovers.
5:27. I've been staring at that number for about an hour now. I would be surprised if it hasn't been burned into my brain. And I love how the alarm clock company designers choose the most conveniently annoying red color to flash the numbers in my face. But after a staring contest with the unchanging numbers, I turned over.
The leather chair in the corner of my room was empty. Marc was already gone.
Fighting a headache, I rolled off my bed and trudged out of my room and into my bathroom for a shower. I was stiff and numb in the stale cold. I hate mornings.
Dressed, I went downstairs. An unfinished bowl of oatmeal was left on the kitchen counter. The smell of it was enough to spark my appetite, so I cleaned up the kitchen a little and poured myself a bowl.
The banging up above started again. My uncle was up early working on the roof. I don't think he ever slept. I was taking a year off from college, and staying at home with him while I helped with some much needed renovations. His recent knee surgery has made it hard for him to work as much as he used to, so I offered a hand. I was thinking of quitting college altogether, but Uncle Henry would never approve.
I was feeling a little lazy, but knew working would be better than staying in bed. I grabbed my jacket and started off my very early morning.
The clouds were planning something. They crept closer to each other, slowly, darkening in complexion by the minute. Although the breeze gave no scent of rain, the gloomy sky proved its imminence.
I inched toward the edge of the roof and looked down. Barney was looking up at me.
"I'll handle the rest, I think. Thanks, Nat." Uncle Henry told me, dropping a hammer at his feet. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve and squinted over at me.
"Sure?" I asked more on impulse, tossing my gloves into the back of the truck some fifteen feet down. I turned slowly and climbed back toward the highest point on the roof, avoiding areas of missing shingles. I took a swig of Gatorade and checked to see our progress so far. More than half the roof was done. Not bad.
"Yeh." He nodded, kneeling down to pick up some nails left over. I walked over and handed him a towel. "You know I don't wanna make you work. No full-grown man would choose to do this if he didn't have to. Ya know that?" He noted, wiping his neck and glancing up at me skeptically.
"So I'm a full-grown man, am I? I'm glad you waited nineteen years to tell me. Marc will love that." I teased him.
"You two married yet?" He chuckled and rose to his feet, catching his balance and producing keys from his back pocket. He held them out for me. "Tell 'im I said hi."
"Not yet. And thanks, I'll be back early to help you with the rest." I smiled and took the keys, giving him an appreciative hug. I kissed his cheek and patted his shoulder.
"Hurry up and get off my roof, before I make you clean out the garage." I heard him say behind me. I looked over my shoulder and smiled. And he means what he says. I carefully stumbled over to the ladder on the edge of the house and got a safe foothold to descend.
Uncle Henry peered over to make sure I made it down without any broken bones and shook his head at my unscathed success. I jogged across the side of the house to the driveway.
Barney greeted me with a leap at my face. His paws dug into my hip and his tail waved back and forth vigorously. He let out a bark and jumped down to trot around the truck.
I locked up the trunk and made my way to the driver's side. Barney sat in front of the wheel. His tongue hung out from excitement. I ran my hand through the matted fur down his back and tugged a little at his collar. He got up and pressed his wet nose to my leg as I opened up the door. I reached into the passenger seat and grabbed a half-eaten cheeseburger from a McDonald's bag and tossed it on the driveway near him. He stuck his nose on the pavement and gave the burger a sniff before beginning his snack.
I climbed into the car and let the warm air conditioning start up. The engine gave a groan as I gave one last look at Barney and backed out onto the street. He barked once, then retreated back to the yard to watch Uncle Henry.
The wind was beating my face at a comfortable 55 mph down the long, unmarked road leading to Twin Peak Avenue. Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" played quietly from my CD.
It was an unusually warm day for typical south-east Maine. A jacket was only optional, and I was just fine in my shorts.
The enormous pine trees began to hide the small, earthy cabin homes on both sides. With the trees surrounding you on two sides, it was easy to lose track of the time. It was difficult to know if it was day or night with the trees cutting off the sky. It's one thing I didn't quite like about this place. But everything else I loved.
Soon, after only a few minutes, I found myself in the heart of Winthrop. My favorite place. Here, I could find the two people I loved the most in the world. My Uncle and Marc. Even though I have lived here all my life, I doubt I would leave. I don't see any other town or city that could be more comfortable. I can imagine growing old here.
7/11, Super 8 Motel, Kwik Stop Car Wash and Publix brought a little life to the busy intersection. The sight of such common urban attractions in such an isolated part of the country made me laugh sometimes. But Winthrop had its own handful of unique family-run stores. Such as my aunt's floral shop at the very end of the Avenue.
At exactly 1:14, I reached Winthrop High School. I rounded the front and parked in the way back. I sat and let the engine purr while I rolled down my window. I checked the doors for any students and turned up the music. Robert Plant's vocals ran through my mind.
I used to go here, and remember it pretty well. I was one of those people who if you saw in the yearbook, you wouldn’t really know or care who it was. I wasn’t popular, and didn’t care if I was. But when I come here, I get a sense of it as a second home, because of how much time I had spent there.
My eyes closed and I leaned back on the head rest. I didn't protest enough to want to stay awake. I had a few minutes until class ended. I was actually pretty tired.
I think I fell asleep.
"Babe. Nat, babe."
There was a hand on my arm. I took a deep breath and sat up. I opened my eyes to the person I always expect to see. Marc. He was leaning in the driver side window, giving me his same goofy smile.
"I'm a light sleeper." I said, trying not to laugh. I wiped my eyes and yawned. I inhaled the scent of his cheap deodorant that smelled good on him and him only. The outline of his face came into view and warmth seemed to bubble up inside me. Around him, I was always warm.
"Uh huh, just like I'm the King of England." He retorted with harmless sarcasm.
"Come on, Your Majesty, I'm getting hungry." I smiled and patted the passenger seat.
"Are you sure you wanna drive? You look tired. Here, I'll do it." Marc backed up and opened the car door. He smiled again and waited. I hesitated, but climbed out. He was hard to object to.
He wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me against him. My heart missed a beat and I buried my face into his shoulder, holding him in tight hug. I missed him especially this morning. It was hard waking up and not having him there. Marc kissed my forehead and led me over to the passenger side. He lifted me up and squeezed my hand before stealing my seat at the wheel. I leaned my head against the window and watched him.
"Where you wanna go?" He asked, tossing his backpack into the backseat and strapping on his seat belt.
"Wherever you want." I answered, curling up into the seat and watching a group of kids walk down the sidewalk.
" 'Kay." He pulled out of the parking lot and got back onto our main road. "You still okay with going this weekend?"
"I'm already packed."
Marc made a face. "You don't have to... We can just stay home."
"It's your sister, you gotta see her." I told him, watching traffic cross the intersection as we waited at a red light. He looked at me, then back at the road.
"But it's New York. I'd rather stay..." He complained, playing with the radio dials.
"And do what? Sit around the house? Just go and see her concert. She really wants to see you there. We'll come back as soon as we can. Then we can do whatever." I offered, clearly proving a point. He didn't answer, just frowned.
The trip to New York would be by plane. I knew he didn't enjoy planes at all. It was going to be one of the only few times I've left here and I had even less enthusiasm, but I didn't want him to miss a chance to see his younger sister. She was an excellent violinist, a member of an orchestra in her high school band in New York. Marc would often travel to see her performances.
"Thank you." Marc almost whispered. He looked over at me and I could feel his hand touch mine. I intertwined my fingers and nodded. He rubbed my ring between his fingers and I risked a cardiac arrest. I almost went light-headed, but caught myself. I swallowed hard and squeezed his hand, feeling the solid gold throb against my skin. Our engagement rings were linked in a perfect union.
Every time we held hands, I felt our wedding day creep closer. No matter how far away it was. Marc was going to be my husband, if he wasn't already in my mind as one. I have known him for three years, and it was physically impossible to imagine wasting so much time with another person. He was already the person I centered my life around. I don't care if I have to pick him up from high school everyday or live a year earlier than him. Even though we wouldn't marry a day before 21, he had engaged to me a few months ago. Only three more years.
"I hope pizza is okay." Marc said, pulling into the Eden strip mall, in front of the pizza shop.
"Of course." He parked and we headed toward the door.
"Hold on, I left my wallet in my bag, wait a sec." Marc said, walking back outside.
I held the door open for him while he jogged back to my car. I heard a thud sound and looked back. A small girl with a cute ribbon in her hair had fallen down while going through the threshold. I knelt down beside her to see if she was okay. She propped herself up on her knees and looked up at me. Her blue grey eyes locked on with mine.
“Sorry!” She apologized, straightening herself up, wearing a hurt expression on her face. She was probably no older than six or seven. She stepped back and her shoulders feel in embarrassment. I stood back up and smiled at her cute charm.
“No worries. You alright?”
“Mmhm!” The girl looked down at her knees and mirrored my smile. I tried to remember when I was that little. “You’re pretty.” She gushed and took a second to look me over.
“Right back atcha.” I replied, surprised at how sweet of a comment that was, regardless of if I believed her or not. I was serious of mine though, she was pretty in a way a small child was likely to always be. She beamed up at me.
“Bye!” She said and ran past me.
"Nat?" I heard Marc ask over my shoulder and turned around. He looked over at the girl who walked away, and at me with a smile, holding his hand out for me. I took it and followed him inside. We found an empty booth and sat down for some sodas. The waiter came over quickly and took our orders.
"When's the festival again? Next Sunday?" My fiancé asked me curiously, taking a drink of his Coke. The waitress came over to give us our plates of bread sticks.
"Yeah, you wanna go?" I perked up a little at his interest. I had gone with him the past three years. It was a local tradition. Crestpoint Festival is an event where couples and families would take boat rides after the sun went down and watch the fireworks at the nearby port to celebrate the day the town was founded. I loved going and remember going every year for a long time.
"Of course." Marc agreed, looking up at me.
I was able to hold his eye contact for only a few seconds, but had to look away. Even to this day, he had an affect on me. Warmth spread on my cheeks and I returned to nibbling on my pizza. When I see him, I can't help but smile. Not if, but when I marry him, I'm going to be able to see it every morning. Every day. Every night. Whenever I wanted.
"You wanna head home so we can get the car ready? We gotta get up early in the morning to get a seat at the airport." Marc offered unenthusiastically.
"I guess so." I pouted.
I grabbed his hand and he led me out of the restaurant, although I was not eager to leave tomorrow. When we left, the sun was reaching its highest in the sky and the fog of the morning was beginning to disappear. The sky was a mirage of yellows and oranges that was contrasted against the grey clouds as they emptied their rain. The pattering of the raindrops sounded on the tin roof above us. I held on tighter as the cold wrapped around me.
We ran out in the rain to our car that wasn’t far away. I never carried an umbrella, I loved the rain, even if it was only 40 degrees out. I would miss it in New York.
When I got inside, I reached for a towel in the backseat, but was intercepted by a pair of hot lips. Marc kissed me hard. I was surprised for a second, the feeling of my cold lips on his melting ones was nice. When he pulled away, he grabbed the towel I had tried to get and threw it over my face, laughing.
“What was that for?” I breathed, using it to dry off my hair.
“I dunno.” I took it off my face so I could look up at him as he smiled some more.
“Goof.” I said, throwing the towel at him.
One thing about him was that he was always smiling. Gosh, I love him.
Marc pulled out of Eden and we headed on home. The rain continued to drizzle in steady rhythm and the sun crept lower past the pine trees.
I never got tired of this. Waking up, spending everyday doing the same things. I hated change. I would never get tired of spending my time with him, and I hope he felt the same way.
But, no matter how close we are, we never really talked in the car. We are both people who liked silent car rides. I liked to think about anything and everything, and car rides proved to be perfect times to do this. He didn’t mind because he was the same way. We are a quiet, simple couple, and that’s how we like it.
I immediately thought about my uncle, and if he had gotten inside before it started raining. His birthday was coming up and I still needed to buy him something. Maybe I can find something cool in the Big City that he would like, even though I suck at buying gifts.
I felt the car jerk and the slamming of brakes. I was able to see the wet, blurred asphalt of the road for a second. Then nothing.