The afternoon sun casts dappled light through the maple leaves, and lights the sidewalk in patches of gold. The buzz of traffic on Oak Street drifts on the wind, with the call of voices from up the street. I am sitting on her porch, and it is just the two of us. No kid sisters, no parents, no football tossing buddies from down the street to make me feel self conscious and act tough. We are ten years old, and the summer is coming to an end.
She sits next to me, our feet dangling off of the porch, swinging back and forth in silence. I look down at her tanned feet, next to my scuffed Keds, and wonder at their daintiness. Her olive brown legs glisten in the sunlight, so skinny, so smooth, they look like they could belong to a doll. Her raven hair blows in the breeze, the curls as messy as my own uncombed mop.
Her Mom invited me over this morning to swim in the pool, as I was riding my bike up and down the sidewalk. It was an unexpected relief from the summer heat, so I slipped my bike into the barn, grabbed my towel and swimsuit, and snuck quickly back to her house, hoping that the other boys wouldn’t see me. As much because I was afraid they’d get invited too, as I was afraid they’d tease me about her.
Now the afternoon has waned, and we sit on the stone ledge of the porch dangling our feet, and finishing the last of the snack that her Mom has set out for us. Her sisters have gone off somewhere, and it is only the two of us. I can’t explain why, but I couldn’t be happier about that. Jeanie is the only one that I want to be with. She is the one that always makes me laugh, the one whose teasing makes me smile, the one whose giggle raises the hair on my arms.
“We’re moving” she says.
“I know, my Mom told me” I answer, trying not to look bothered by the news.
“We’re going to build a new house over on the other side of town”
“yeah” I reply, as I look at the lines of the immunization scar, like a white spider on her brown arm.
“We won’t be that far away. Mom says we may even get another pool.”
“cool” I say, as I scuff my Keds against the bricks, and try not to look into her big brown eyes.
“I’m sure you guys will still come over to visit.”
“Yeah, sure we will” I say trying to sound hopeful.
Silence follows, as we look out at the cars passing in the street.
I start talking in a funny voice, mimicking the fat kid down the street, and she giggles her infectious laugh. The hair on my arms tingle, and I think how much I am going to miss it.
She was the first girl, aside from my sisters, that I ever knew. They have lived two doors down for as long as I can remember. We have played together all our lives, her big sister and her arguing about which one of them would get to marry me when we played house in their finished basement. But there was never any doubt that it was Jeanie whom I wanted to marry. Most of our play dates ended in a spat between the two of them, instigated by Jeanie more often than not, until they were both sent to their rooms, and I walked home alone.
I hear my Mom calling me home for supper, and I know that this is goodbye. It will be months before she moves, and we will see each other, but school is starting in a week, and we will not be alone again. Maybe ever.
As I walk away she calls after me “Promise you’ll come visit?” and I shout back “Sure, I promise.” But I don’t turn around. I don’t want her to see the tears welling in my eyes.
I run up the front steps, and into the downstairs bathroom, where I choke back a few sobs, and wash my face with cold water. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She was supposed to always be next door to me. She was supposed to be the first one I kissed, the first one I took to the movies, the first one I would love.
“Tommy, are you coming?” my Mom yells down the hall, and I shout back “Be there in a minute, I’m just washing up”
Inside my chest I feel a sharp, warm pain that I have never felt before. It hurts, and yet I hope that it never stops, because it means she is still real, and that this moment will never end.
It is not the last time I will feel this pain. In the coming years I will come to know it well, but hers is the first heartache from a girl my age. Like a seed it will bury itself deep within my heart, growing and blossoming through the years as girls will come and go through my life. I will fall for other girls, and my life will become an endless stream of longing after pretty faces. They will have many names, yet she will remain like some mythical ideal of a girl against which they would all be measured. Do they have a sense of humor? Can their laugh give me goosebumps? How deep is the pool of their eyes?
Her family moved across town, but a world away. Her parents no longer ran in the same social circles as my folks, and we’d visit from time to time, but never again would we be as close. We were growing older, and going to different schools. By the time high school rolled around, she was beautiful, and cool, and hung out with the popular kids. I lurked in the corners, trying not to be seen. Just a quiet, shy, kid she’d known forever. One who wouldn’t dare to ask her out. One who would always hide in the shadows, remembering the time when we sat next to each other on her porch, and the world stood still and watched.