“ I have a surprise for you,” Loren informed me over the phone. The Walgreens parking lot was mostly empty, my feet up on the dash and the latest Eminem song playing in the background. My mom was inside picking up another refill of her favorite prescription.
“Oh, yeah?” The weather was perfect, all blue skies and slight breezes and the most beautiful white clouds. It was the sort of weather that brought smiles to even the most cynical of people. Across the street I saw Tyler and Dakota. I didn’t bother to say hello or call out to them. Tyler and I weren’t particularly close anymore, and I knew that Dakota was one of those people I just didn’t need to waste my time with. He was Lexi’s ex, after all, and now that we were supposedly friends again I didn’t need to push her. Then again, it wasn’t like we ever talked anyway.
“Yes,” Loren teased. “So hurry up and get here.” Glancing over my shoulder, I looked to see if my mom had yet emerged. I told him I’d be there soon. We exchanged our ‘I love yous’ and the line went dead.
With the phone back in my lap, I turned up the radio, content to tap my foot along to some new hit. By the time my mom returned I was more than anxious to reach Loren’s house. It didn’t take long to cross town, thankfully. My mom tried to make small talk, but of course we had nothing to discuss. Her world consisted of diamonds and designers, and mine was filled with nothing but Loren.
I told her I loved her when I got out of the car, although part of me thought it was more out of necessity than emotion. Like one of those things people were just expected to do, so they did it out of habit.
Loren was waiting in his kitchen, leaning against the counter with an open can of Pepsi. “Hi,” he smiled at me. I was always so stricken by him. I was falling, falling, and I didn’t ever want to stop. There was something in him that I very much doubted he even knew was there, and it was so enticing.
I turned my own lips up, mimicking his expression. It was all I needed to do. “Grab a soda,” Loren told me. “We’ve gotta go.”
Loren held my hand but didn’t speak as we walked. It reminded me of those days, so far away now, when he would kiss me on the staircase and then disappear to class, leaving me guessing and wondering what I’d done to deserve such a gift. I didn’t much believe in fate, but I had always questioned whether some things were just meant to be, and everything with Loren felt too perfect.
We went a few blocks before a lone car came into view. Music seeped from the cracks in the door and I could see four bobbing heads. I thought I heard laughter, but the sound was rare in Black Hills. The passenger door opened ad who should stumble out but Kenley Hollander. “Salem!” She launched herself at me. She wore a blue tee and a broad smile, looking innocent enough. It took me a moment to realize that something was off. Her eyes were a little too low, her smile a little too sloppy. “Come on. We’re going to the church.”
My hair caught the wind as I whipped my head to the side to look back at Loren. His brown eyes assured me it would be okay. Even still I longed to have my hand in his once again. Kenley got back into the car, and Loren and I piled into the backseat, along with the two people already there. I did my best to keep my breathing steady.
“Baby, don’t worry,” Loren murmured. The words were meant only for me, but in such close capacity of course everyone had heard.
Kenley turned to look at me from where she sat. “Is this your first time?”
Thankfully Loren answered. “I’ve never smoked this stuff either. But Salem’s never smoked at all.”
My heart suddenly seemed so more direct, as if I could all the individual valves as they crashed into themselves, pumping the blood that now seemed like lead. The redhead driving stopped the car in the lot behind the old, abandoned church. I watched with vague interest as Kenley opened the glove box and pulled put the pipe. I cant remember what it looked like, only the way Kenley’s face lit up, illuminated by the glow of her lighter, and how her eyes shifted as she held in the smoke.
By the time it got to Loren, I had calmed down a bit. It didn’t look that hard, and by the hysterical laughter that had taken over everyone else, it couldn’t really be that bad. At last Loren held the piece up to my lips. I had to cross my eyes to look down at it as he held the flame to it, telling me calmly just to breathe.
The tendrils of smoke snaked their way down my throat, scouring as it clawed its way to my lungs. The fact that everyone was watching me seemed to be the most humorous thing I’d ever seen, and not a moment later I erupted into a fit of giggles.
Loren let out a few short laughs of his own. “Dude. You’re ripped.” The pipe went around a few more times before Kenley declared it cashed, and Loren and I ditched the others. I promised Kenley I’d text her soon as I climbed out of the car into the cool serenity of the sunset.
“Well?” Loren asked. We were walking across the vast field behind the church, but my attention was focused on the sky. It had never really struck me how beautiful it was, the last of the golden lights clinging to the never ending streaks of blues and oranges and pinks. Each shade seemed to be more vibrant than the next.
“It’s nice,” I admitted. “I feel really…like everything else is so far away.”
Loren smiled, coming up and wrapping his arms around my waist. Except you, I added silently. Loren was always right there where I could feel his presence. Even when he was out of sight, I could feel him beside me. Loren’s lips brushed against my cheek. Even that was enough.
“Let’s go to Terris’ house,” Loren said then. I nodded, reaching for his hand, and we started of into the approaching darkness together.
Summer pressed on, and Black Hills returned to its usual way of life. I was hardly aware there was a world around us, for all that existed to me was the lazy days spent with Loren. Laying, talking, smoking all seemed so natural. Like I was drifting through a life that had already been scripted for me. I always knew what the next page held.
My grandparents were plotting a trip to Niagara Falls, and they intended to bring Elena and I along. While the end of August seemed far off, as July came to a close it hit me hoe very son it was. It seemed as if Loren and I had only just begun our journeys when in actuality it had been over three months since the day he’d taken his chance on me. Although I was excited for the latest adventure my family and I would embark upon, I pushed it from my mind for the time being. A week away from Loren was nothing to rejoice over.
That day I was more focused on the sun forcing its way through the grey clouds. My head was in Loren’s lap and I was watching him as he took measured drags of his cigarette. In the front was his dad, muttering to himself as he wove between cars on the freeway.
Loren’s uncle owned a fair amount of land about two hours north of Black Hills, right along a massive, beautiful lake. We’d promised to make it up there once before the end of summer if for no reason besides and insatiable desire to admire the waters.
Neither of us spoke much on the ride up, which was alright with me. Sometimes there was nothing to say. When we arrived, we said our hellos but were quick to disappear into the woods there was something enchanting about it all, the gossamer strands of spider webs and late morning dew still clinging to the air. For a momet I was far away, in a world where no bad could exist.
Loren took me by the hand and led me between the trees, telling me when to watch out and gripping tighter when I stumbled. I laughed a little bit through my heavy breaths. When the woods parted and the beach came into view, I couldn’t help but gasp a little. Crystalline waves crashed into the sand. It was all I could see for miles, a flawless reminder that some things really were endless.
“It’s so beautiful,” I whispered, tilting my head to look over at Loren. He too was staring out, smiling slightly. “I love you, Loren.”
He looked to me for a moment, gazing intently, and then he brought his lips to my own. “I love you too. Now, come on.” Loren stepped away from me, his signature devil grin creeping onto his angel face. I watched in curiosity as he lifted his shirt up over his head and discarded it onto the sand. By the time he’d untied one shoe, I couldn’t stand it. “
“What are you doing?”
Loren didn’t stop, kicking off his second Converse low-top and moving his hands to work at the fastening of his belt. “Going swimming,” he said simply. “And so are you.”
For a few seconds longer, I was frozen in place, but then Loren caught my eye in that way of his that assured me everything would be okay. Never mind that little smirk I’d so come to love. With a smile of my own I reached down to work at my laces.
When I looked back up, it was to see Loren mere inches from me his expression had shifted to a sort of hesitant want, lips parted slightly and eyes wide. His fingertips traced along the hem of my shirt, pushing it up to tease the bare skin of my hips. Without ever tearing his gaze from me he lifted it up over my head and let it fall to the ground.
I was trembling as I undid my belt and let my jeans fall around my knees. As I finished stepping out of them Loren’s eyes raked up ad down my body, raising goose bumps and electrifying parts of me better left unsaid.
When at last I stood before him in only a black lace bra and matching panties, I closed the distance, slid my arms around his neck, and kissed him. Loren held me tightly against his chest, bare skin touching like the explosions of fireworks tease the sky, so that there was no place we weren’t touching. Loren worked his lips against my neck as I closed my eyes and let my nails trail down the exposed skin of his back.
Pulling away, panting, begging for air, the black-haired boy stared at me long an hard. I’d finally come to accept that I would never understand what he was searching so intently for, and that was okay with me. Loren Hale had been a mystery since the first time I’d seen him, and he would remain so for as long as I knew him. Part of loving him was knowing that there was some things about him I’d just never understand.
Wordlessly, Loren took my hand and led me to the water’s edge. I looked on as he tested the dancing liquid, breaking the surface and flinching against the cold as he did. Then he took a breath and ran straight into the waves. I laughed lightly, trying to dodge the icy droplets he’d sent flying. “Baby!” he shouted, shaking water from his thick black hair. “Come on!”
With my own expression of mischief, I stepped into the water. It was quickly replaced with a look of shock. “Holy shit, that’s cold!”
“Stop being a baby,” Loren called. “Get over here before I make you.”
Grinding my teeth, I maneuvered my way around the rocks and weeds, all the while coming close to him. When at last I stood before him, Loren wrapped his arms around me, kissing me upon the forehead.
“You mean the world to me, Salem,” he said softly. I looked up to meet his eyes, immediately trapped in them. “You are so much more than I could have asked for. This connection that we have… that’s what I’ve been missing in my life. I want to feel like this forever.”
Silence was the best response. Loren smiled, and I did too, and everything felt right. Calm. The world stood still, or better yet, revolved around only us. Us and all that we could be, would be. I knew then that whatever trials life held, Loren and I would surpass them all. We’d already come so far.
I thought back then to the girl who had first fallen in love with the dark and lovely Loren Hale. Back then, I had not known a thing about love, what it was or how it felt. The way it made the simple things seem so complex, and the hard ones seem so easy.
Now, I still wasn’t sure what love was. But I knew how it felt to be utterly terrified of losing what I had. I knew how it felt to look out into forever and know that, no matter what it took, it would somehow be mine.
Salem Conners: Thanks for today. It was really, truly beautiful.
July 29, 2010, 11:46 pm.
Loren Hale: Anything for you. I just wanted to show you how much I love you.
July 29, 2010, 11:47 pm.
Salem Conners: I know you love me. And I love you.
July 29, 2010, 11: 48 pm.
Loren Hale: Nothing can change the way I feel about you. It’s you and me, Salem.
July 29, 2010, 11:50 pm.
Salem Conners: Forever and ever. Goodnight baby.
July 29, 2010, 11:51 pm.
Salem is offline.
Melissa Miller: Loren…I really need you right now.
July 30. 2010, 12:03 am.
Loren Hale: Leave me alone, Melissa. Please.
July 30, 2010, 12:05 am.
Melissa Miller: I love you…I’m begging you. I’m so depressed right now. I need you to help me.
July 30, 2010, 12:06 am.
Loren Hale: I have a girlfriend. I don’t want you in my life anymore.
July 30, 2010, 12:07 am.
Melissa Miller: You’re still with that bitch?
July 30, 2010, 12:08 am.
Loren is offline.