The sun beat down from high in the sky, turning Point Clear, Alabama, into a veritable oven.
And any human into a wet, sticky mess, I thought, wiping the sweat from my forehead. Although I’d found that living near the bay had its advantages—the sheer beauty of it, for one—its effect on the weather was not exactly… desirable. During the summer, the air became thick and heavy with moisture, the humidity saturating the air. Afternoon walks left the inhabitants only slightly drier than if they’d taken a swim. Add that to the sweat produced by three hours of grounds work, and I was soaked. My t-shirt clung to my skin uncomfortably, my hair was plastered to my brow, and my sunglasses kept sliding down the bridge of my nose. I’d long since abandoned the baseball cap Mr. Liddel had lent me; within fifteen minutes it had become a sodden mess. My back ached, my muscles burned, and my hand was starting to cramp up from gripping the clippers. With a mighty heave, I tossed the wretched things aside and flopped onto the ground. Slowly, eyes closed, I brought my wrist up to my face. Please… I peeked open one eye. 11:53— thank God. Break time.
I blindly fumbled around in the grass until I felt my water bottle and lunch sack. Grabbing them, I pushed myself up, looked around wearily, and finally- I honestly don't know how- got back into a standing position. I made my way over to a shady oak and leaned up against it, releasing each of my muscles slowly until I had sunk down to ground level. I kicked off my shoes, wriggled my toes in the dirt, and sighed in contentment. Mr. Liddel had given me the option of eating inside with the other groundskeepers, out of the heat, but I had declined. It wasn’t that I disliked them; I just disliked keeping their company. They were too curious, asking too many questions that I simply wasn’t ready to answer yet. I know they were just trying to make small talk. They meant no harm, and all seemed like amicable guys—guys I might want to befriend one day. But not now. It was just… too painful, the wound too raw.
I shook my head vigorously, scolding myself. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t think of what happened. Why had I come here in the first place? To get away from Seattle. There too many reminders there, too many places, things, and people that triggered an onslaught of memories. Alabama had seemed as far away as I could get.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you know where the cotillion is being held?”
I looked up, and swore under my breath. A girl of thirteen or so was standing in front of me, her makeup smeared, dress dirty, and her face the exact image of Samantha’s.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bother, but my date ditched me, and if I don’t get back soon, Gran’ll disown me and… and… and…” The girl paused and sniffled, tears cascading down her face.
“No, no, it’s fine,” I said, a lump building in my throat. “Go down the path ‘til you see the trellis, and take a right.” The girl nodded gratefully, and headed off, wiping her face on the hem of her sleeve. I turned away and shoved my headphones into my ears, turning up the volume as the familiar sense of guilt washed over me. Forbidden tears welled up in my eyes, and I hacked away at the bushes violently, engulfing myself in a mindless, numb rhythm.
Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop…