Learning to Live

A young man and woman join in an unlikely relationship to discover the life they've been missing. With very different perspectives and ways of life, they continually learn from each other while making a team that can stand up against every intimidating pressure that society can place on them.

He sits on the top of the playground, his feet on a railing and his back against a pole. His dark jacket is smokey in the dusk, and his breath dissipates into the starry sky like a stream of thoughts lost to the infinite mystery.

His head is down, but he can feel the stars watching him, and he can sense the dark grasses moving beneath soft footsteps. He does not look up as she speaks.

"Hey...That was very brave what you did back there."

He only shakes his head as if to toss the hair from his eyes. The playground is frosty, and he can feel the cold through his jeans like a grounding touch of reality.

"Why don't you come back?" she asks.

He gives a bitter laugh and straightens up. "I rather think I burned that bridge behind me." His shoes hit the landing as he slides from the railing, but he is not coming down to meet her. Instead, he grips the railing with white fingers, places a shoe on the frosty metal bar, and stands up, using a pole to steady himself.

"You should at least come down," she says. "You could fall. It's rather slippery."

"Why should I? What's the point?"

She is hurt, but his recklessness causes her to speak with worry. "Come down! You're going to fall."

He takes a few steps along the railing, his arms out to either side, and his eyes gazing across the night sky as if completely unaware of the body's risk.

He ignores her, and steps across a gap to another railing. She takes a breath of exasperation, but stands rigidly on the grass with folded arms. She is not leaving.

He glances at her as he takes another step, and he is moved to speak. "Why are you here?" He sounds irritated.

Her anger is hidden as her voice wavers with concern. "I am concerned about you! Now come down."

"You don't even know me."

These coarse words inflict further pain, and her eyes fill with emotion. "Well..." she swallows, "I thought maybe you'd want someone to talk to."

"Yes. And a great conversation we're having." But as his bitter words join the night air, even he realizes his cruelty. He tries to follow it with some sort of apology, but she cannot let him.

"Well sorry! I hadn't realized you wanted to be a miserable loner, playing by yourself on the kiddy playground at night!"

"Hey now," he tries, but she is too hurt to take his sympathy.

"No!" she says. "Have it your way. I'm going back to the party. You obviously don't need any company. You obviously think you're too good for me. So I'll just go back to that party where I came from! That party you so despise. Maybe I can get plastered and have sex with a stranger!"

He blinks as if slapped across the face. Then he hops down to the platform, looks at her wild eyed face, and begins to laugh. He looks up at the sky and lets it all out. His anger, his fear, and his misery expels into the night until tears are running down his face.

Finally he returns his eyes to the girl, his voice now gentle. "You're so sweet," he says. "Willing to sacrifice yourself to prove a point. And I hear you. I know why you would say such a thing."

"What are you talking about? You're weird," she says. But her heart is not in the words, and her enthrallment is more powerful than her confusion.

"You want me to see that you're more than just some girl. So you threaten to be less than just some girl."

She is still stunned by his sudden laughter and shaken up by his wild emotions, but his gentle voice gives her courage. "So what's it to you? You don't seem to care if I go back to the party or not."

"I do care. I do."

She finds a pleasant surprise in these words, but she remains silent, hoping he will say more.

"But I know you wouldn't do such a thing," he says. "If I told you to leave, you'd go find your own playground to sit on."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He sat down on the rocking bridge with his legs dangling between the chains of the railing. "You don't belong at that party as much as I do. The only difference is that you don't want to be alone. So you show up and act like they want you to. I show up and..."

"Crash the party?"

"You could say that."

She laughs and takes a few steps across the wood chips. Her shoes crunch, a wind tugs at her hair, and she pulls her blanket tighter around her shoulders. She pauses at the steps of the jungle gym. "Mind if I come sit with you?"

There's a silence as they both wonder about the other. Then he says, "Careful. It's slippery."

She smiles in the dark and springs up the steps to join him.

They sit in silence for a lengthy moment. He is silent and thoughtful, his mind elsewhere, his spirit still alone. She is silent, her every sense waiting patiently for him to include her.

"So why did you even come to the party?" she asks.

"Hmm?" he asks, turning his head to look closely at her. He doesn't seem at all afraid or uncomfortable, but she can hardly hold his gaze.

"Why..." she begins, but he stops her.

"I was foolish," he announces. "I thought I could change somebody. I thought I could save them from their terrible fate." His voice is full of bitter mockery. He shakes his head. "And right about now she is likely proving to the world that she is less than just some girl."

"So," she says boldly, "you're not as cold and true as you seem to be."

He gives the whisper of a laugh and begins to swing his dangling legs. "I am not cold. I just shiver sometimes from this twisted world of lies and deception."

She laughs outright at this. "That certainly sounds rather cold!"


"You know, there are lots of good people out there too."

"Yes. I am sure there are. It's just that...instead of doing good, I continually find myself fighting the bad. I don't know. I need to get out of this town. See the world."

"Yes. So...do you have any friends?"

He laughs and pushes her shoulder. She leans back and looks at the stars. "Of course. I have a life other than this night," he says.

"Okay. Do you have a girlfriend?"

He shakes his head in the same way one would roll their eyes. "Aren't you straight to the point. No, I do not."

"How come?"

"Because I haven't fallen in love yet."

She blinks at the stars. "You're not going to have any relationships until you fall in love? That seems rather...I don't know."

"It's not a rule I have. It's just...the way it's gone so far."

"So what are your friends like?"

He sighs. "They're good people."

"Do they understand you?"

"Why would you ask that?"

"Well, you seem rather impossible to understand. I'm just wondering, if they had been at that party, would they be surprised at what you did?"

He plays idly with the chains that hang from the railing. "They would understand if they really thought about it. But in the moment, they would act as they were supposed to act at a party. So they would have tried to stop me. Wouldn't want me to cause a scene. Maybe embarrass them."

She takes a breath, still lying back with her feet dangling beside his. "So what are your plans for the rest of the night?"

"I am not sure." He sighs. "Maybe I'll climb Mt. Tanner."

"In the dark? By yourself?"

"Well, I suppose you could come if you want."

She sits up. "You're serious?"

"Yeah. Why? You think that's not an acceptable thing to do?"

"Well...I don't know. People don't normally climb mountains at night cause they feel like it."

"If I feel like it, I do it. You coming or not?"

She pauses. "It's quite the climb."

He gets to his feet and hops over the railing of the bridge. He lands on the ground and looks up at her. He pulls on her shoe. "Well? I'm leaving."

She stands up. "Well...I'm coming. So wait for me."

"Hold on. You have to jump the railing too."

She pauses further. "I do?"

"Yep. It's the only way. Otherwise, I'll be gone before you get to the ground."

She leans over the railing and looks at the dark ground. "You're going to get me killed."

"Killed? No. Quite the opposite. If you jump the railing, you'll feel alive."

She smiles, takes a breath, and surprises herself in one moment of courage. The night seems to intensify, the air becomes alive, and her body flies over the railing and down to meet the earth.

"How was that?" he asks, after she straightens up.

"Exhilarating..." She brushes the hair from her eyes. "Now let's go climb a mountain."

The End

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