Posted by: Caitlynn | January 6, 2010

Genre #2 — Coming of Age

Oh, the angst…

(For more information on my Genre Self-Challenge, read previous entry here.)

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“Shale Creek”

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You’re only kids, they said. You don’t know a thing yet…live a little more life before you start acting like you know what you’re talking about. And maybe they were right about us, just being kids, often unaware of what adults find so obvious and apparent. But sometimes I wonder if maybe we knew more back then than we do now.

Back then, I used to see pixies and fairy dust everywhere I looked. I talked to the trees and the brook and the grass as I laid down in it on a warm, sunny Spring afternoon. I talked to my shadow like she was a girl from another realm, waiting for me to come play with her in a world that existed just beyond the sidewalk. As cliché as it sounds, I think I even talked to a few walls in my day. And all of it talked back to me, because back then, all the world had life.

Of course, I talked to quite a few people, too. But my favorite was Levi. We met during the seventh summer of my existence, eighth of his. He was a neighbor boy with a good sense of humor but sad eyes, who liked talking to trees and shadows almost as much as I did. On a standard day, we’d run into the woods and to the old creek, to a spot where shale covered the bottom and shone like magic beneath the water and the sunshine. We’d talk and run around and laugh until our sides were sore, then we’d run back home just before it got dark.

But then, when I was eleven, Levi and his mother moved away. “Don’t cry,” he said, patting my head. I stubbornly insisted that I was fine, but his melancholic sort of smile told me he knew otherwise. And with that, he got into his mother’s car, and they drove off. Maybe it was just my age—the fact that I was transitioning into that adolescent stage of life—but it seemed to me that all the magic left at the same time. It was as though Levi packed it all away in one of those dull brown boxes and stacked it into the moving van with the rest.

For the next few years, life continued on as well as could be expected for someone entering the awkward phase of life known as the “teenage years.” I made friends, I made enemies. Standard stuff. Standard, boring, normal reality. I wrote letters to Levi for a while, but…within a year of his departure, he stopped writing back. Shortly after, so did I.

My freshman year of high school, though, a familiar car drove down the street again, and with it came a familiar friend and his mother. They were moving back into the neighborhood. When my parents told me the news, I was so excited that I burst out the front door and ran down the street to their house, not stopping long enough to hear my father’s warnings or see my mother’s worried expression.

I was out of breath by the time I pounded on the door. His mother answered and recognized me almost instantaneously. “Levi!” she called over her shoulder. “It’s Alice. Come say hello.”

To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe a part of me had hoped to see the twelve-year-old boy who patted my head good-bye four years earlier. I certainly didn’t expect the six-foot, seven-inch giant of a sixteen-year-old who was soon towering over me in the frame of the door.

“Alice,” came a deep voice that unexpectedly gave me goosebumps. “Hey, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I laughed nervously, looking down at my shoes. “It…it has.”

Seeing my reaction, Levi laughed at me, and so I forced myself to look him in the eye. “I’ll get a strain in my neck at this rate,” I thought to myself. “Why do I have to be so short?”

He smiled confidently at me before turning back to his mother. “I’m gonna go take a walk with Alice,” he said, stepping out the door and shutting it just as she agreed.

“Don’t you have to finish unpacking still?” I asked. “There’s plenty of time to catch up later if you’re busy now…”

“Nah,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “The sooner the better. Besides, I wanna see the old creek. I haven’t been there for so long.”

“Right!” I said, my previous excitement suddenly returning. “The creek! I just about stopped going after you left; it just didn’t seem the same anymore. I haven’t seen it in a while, either.”

We walked along the once often-used trails, veering off at the portions that had now become overgrown. Even they had changed so much in four short years. Our conversation was light, but we were laughing again, and I felt relief wash over me. Before long, we could hear the familiar sounds of moving water, and we rushed forward until we saw our much-beloved shale creek.

“Beautiful,” I whispered.

“Yes,” Levi agreed, but when I looked at him, he was staring intently back at me.

I felt strangely uncomfortable again, so I took a few steps toward a large stone and sat down on it, facing the water. “On…on second thought,” I continued, “the water is a lot dirtier than I remember it. Maybe ‘beautiful’ wasn’t quite the right word after all.”

I heard him follow me after a few moments, and he sat down beside me, brushing his shoulder against mine. The goosebumps came again, and I rolled my eyes at myself for reacting this way. And yet, when I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, I was suddenly very conscious of his form. “He’s grown up so much,” I mused to myself. “Not at all like the kid I used to know. He so much more…” My eyes darted away again in mild shame before I could finish my thought, but I soon forced myself to look him in the eye again.

“Levi…” I began, fully intending to start a conversation yet finding myself trailing off. Our eyes locked, and I found myself unable to pull away, even though I wanted to.

His hand grasped mine, and he leaned in to kiss me. “Wait!” I said in alarm, backing away. The hand on my wrist grabbed on tighter, and with his other, he spun my face back towards his and forced our lips to meet. I tried to push away gently, but that only caused him to pull me in more fervently. With one final burst of strength, I kicked him away and caused him to fall into the creek with a loud SPLASH.

“Serves you right!” I shouted as I ran off. But when I looked back at him over my shoulder, sitting there in the murky waters with his head in hands, I could see the reflection of the eight-year-boy I first met all those summers ago. And the seven-year-old girl who never stopped adoring him was moved to pity.

I walked back over to him cautiously, getting ready to bolt if need be. Surprisingly, however, I heard him mumble, “I’m sorry. I’m just…so, so sorry…”

The concerned part of me was quickly taking hold, and I took a few more steps toward my old friend. “Levi?” I prompted worriedly.

He looked up at me, and his eyes were the same sad ones I remembered from before. “I messed it up, didn’t I? The sanctity of our hiding place. And after everything it used to mean to us…to me…”

“Well…it’s okay…” I muttered, only half-convinced myself. “We can always forget about what just happened. Besides, we still have a lot of catching up to do.”

But wherever his thoughts were, they weren’t in the present any longer. “You know,” he said, forcing himself to laugh bitterly, “when we were kids, coming here was the only thing that kept me going sometimes. My mom used to hit me. Being here with you was like a safe haven where no one could touch us.”

I started back in shock. “Wait…what do you mean she hits you?”

Hit,” he corrected. “Past-tense. She can’t do it anymore. I think she’s scared of me now. Besides,” he said, running a hand through his damp hair, “she’s more concerned with her boyfriends nowadays than she is with me.”

I stood there in silence, the water up to my ankles, not knowing what to say.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered again. “I should’ve never acted that way…I should’ve…should’ve never treated you that way…”

I inched closer to him, still a little hesitant, and sat down beside him in the muddy water. “It’s gotten a lot murkier, it seems,” I babbled. Feeling beneath the water, I added, “The shale’s still there, though. Of course it would be.”

“Yeah…” he muttered in response before we fell into another awkward silence.

“Do you think,” I began, but stopped, feeling foolish. He looked up at me curiously. “Well…that is…I wonder if the magic goes away, or if it’s just covered up too. I wonder if it might still be there, underneath all the layers of mud and filth that have gathered up over the years. Even now that I know what I never realized back then…even though things can never be like they once were…I can’t help but hope that…” I pressed my hands to the sides of my head, cutting myself off. “I must sound like an idiot. Here you are, revealing your darkest secrets to me, and all I can talk about is creeks and shale and magic.”

The corner of his mouth turned upward in a sort of half smile, and he shook his head. “Nah, it’s fine.”

I returned a half smile of my own, and we fell into silence again, watching the creek until we convinced ourselves that the water was shimmering.

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Responses

  1. Ah, yes…angst is indeed the word for this. You capture the awkwardness of old friends transitioning VERY well here. ^_^ I’m glad they stayed friends though…would’ve been too sad otherwise. LOL. Good characters in such a short piece!


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