Blazing July heat scorches us as we get out of Gabriella’s car and run into a cool, air conditioned apartment. It’s time I’ve moved out of Aunt Kylie and Uncle Doug’s house.
“This is really nice,” she comments, trailing through the living room. It’s small, but it can fit a couch and a TV, and it leads to the open kitchen, furnished with the necessities. It winds out to a small hall that goes to a tiny bathroom, but I don’t need a big bathroom anyway. And the bedroom is still the same size as Harry’s room in my relatives’ place. Overall, it’s not bad. It’s perfect.
A little daydream creeps in, and I can see us in the kitchen, my arms wrapped around her waist as she cooks dinner, the TV blaring quietly with daily news. Spaghetti noodles softly bending as the boiling water overtakes it. Gabriella pulls out a strand and hands it to me. No one can make it better than her.
“It’s perfect,” I whisper.
“Charlie, check out the closet!” It’s snapped, and I must pay attention. “This can fit like, all four seasons of my wardrobe!”
“Nice,” I say behind her. There are several shelves that can definitely fit all four seasons ofmywardrobe. And with plenty of space for someone else’s.
No, I can’t suggest it.
“Do you think this is it?” Gabriella asks, still glancing around. “You could put your pictures here and the bed there-” and she keeps pointing to different spots, listing things I could put there, and I just want her to live with me if she knows where everything can go.
“I like it here. Yeah, I think I’ll take it.”But I want you to be with me, I think.
I have to get a request form after the staff’s lunch break, so Gabriella and I head to the only ice cream shop we’ve always known to cool off. Of course we get something off the walls, like strawberry fudge covered gummy worms and citrus mixed with mint. The server actually recognizes us, so he lets us by with free scoops.
Gabriella seems to be content to be back in a familiar place that we share, smiling and recounting all the wacky flavors we’ve tried. When our cones are gone, I ask about Carson.
“He’s in North Carolina. Didn’t want a long distance relationship, so we broke up.” Her face falls a little. “I thought he’d want to work it out, but…”
“Hey, we don’t have to talk about it.” I reach over to her hand. “You’ll find someone better.”Me.
We go back to the apartment and I take a form. The lady at the front scans me. “You know, we can get it ready for you by next Tuesday. No one’s waiting on this place,” she reveals.
I look at Gabriella. Could I really be ready to move out in less than a week? She grins. “Yeah, I’ll be ready.”
“Great. Just sign here, and here.” I take the pen and I know Gabriella’s smiling at me, proud I’m taking a huge step.
I’m officially growing up.
The money I’ve earned from working these past few months all go into a Target cash register. Gabriella and I have filled up a whole cart with orange towels, decorative plates and silverware, a couple of wooden frames, more kitchen items, bathroom stuff, and bedding. She offers to buy something as a housewarming gift, but I refuse. I just want her with me.
Uncle Doug helps us with moving the big furniture in, the bed and a couch one of his friends gave me, and then about twenty boxes of trinkets. At least three boxes hold my pictures. Every single one of them.
“If you need anything else, call us,” Doug says, and then goes home. If I ever get in trouble, they’re just fifteen minutes across town. I’m not that far away.
Gabriella turns to me. “Let’s get your junk out of the way,” she says with a laugh. We start with the pictures, pick out our favorites, and tack them to the space she wanted them, right next to the window. And I’m brought back to the morning I woke up to her tracing over the outlines, next to the sunlight, and wishing she was still in bed with me.
The rest of them can wait. We tackle my clothes, hang them up, throw them around. Fix the bedspread. Put away towels and shampoo in the bathroom. Place dishes in the cupboard. We seem like a couple, living together for the first time, in love.
The last box is really random stuff, movie stubs from hanging out with Mark and Julie, cartoon clippings, inspiring articles and photos. But at the very bottom, I can vaguely remember, what I left.
Gabriella has reached the bottom.
“What is this?” She glances at me playfully but curiously.
“No, don’t-” Too late. She opens it.
A gasp escapes. “This is beautiful, Charlie.” She holds the necklace up, examines it, and then something else catches her eye. The note. She sets down the necklace and the box, and unfolds it. I step forward slowly, numb that she at last is going to read it.
I wait. I’m within arm length to her, ready to catch her. Her blue eyes well up, maybe more furiously than happy. I’m confused.
“That’s…” She’s upset. I can see it. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“You had Carson. I couldn’t.”
Her hand ascend to her hair and runs through it. “You should’ve told me.”
“What, and be shot down?” My voice rises. “I had no choice! I thought you were done with him!”
“If I had known everything could’ve changed. I only got back with him that weekend,” she reels.
“How would I know? I showed up at the baggage claim looking for you, not you and him.” I have to tone it down. "Seeing you with him, it killed me. You were so happy. I never thought we could be together after him. I knew you took down my letters because you don't want me anymore. You're done using me."
Hurt registers in her face. "I took those letters with me. I read them every morning and every night. Don't you get it? I still needed you. You were off mourning about Crystal, which I understand, but to take a year off for a sister you weren't close with in the first place? I needed you to help me through college. Did you know I went through an eating disorder when I was gone? The girls there are so skinny, they tempted me to diet and I stuck with it. When I heard you were coming back, I had to quit. I had to stay strong. For you.
Everything slows to a screeching halt. She never looked like she was unhealthy. She never cried out to me. But she was strong for me.
Still, I can't help but deliver one final blow. “Why are you so mad, anyway? Shouldn’t you be happy that I love you?”
Silence fall and a tear slips down. “I never thought you’d say it this way.” Gabriella doesn’t look at me when she quietly leaves.
I close my eyes like the door closes. Slow, painful, and regretted.