Saying goodbye is the hardest thing to do...
The hot smell of roasted cashew nuts, plantains and corn assailed my senses as I ordered the snow cone from the jovial man behind the stand. He grinned, flashing rows of pearly whites, a sharp contrast to the dark hue of his skin. I envied the Jamaicans and their ability to deal with the heat. It never ceased to amaze me at how cool, collected and happy they were despite the blistering weather.
“Tanks fe de dallar,” he said, pocketing the extra change I had given him. I grinned and nodded, my comprehension of the dialect becoming better with each passing day.
As I walked back to the shore with my precious cargo, being careful not to fall down the tricky slope, I contemplated my decision to follow my parents down here to Montego Bay. Father had finally gotten the contract in New York, which meant a bigger raise and a better life for us. Mom had all but flipped out at the news, calling everyone she knew to brag about it, and despite Dad begging her to keep it on the ‘down low’, no one could get her to shut up. We finally gave up after she threw a farewell barbeque for the neighborhood.
Anyway, this trip was actually something they had planned with one of our closest family friends. Apparently, they had been saving up for this vacation, and with the promotion, it was as good a time as any for all of us to hang out until we went our separate ways. It didn’t bother me so much, to be honest. I wanted to leave that small Mid-Western town in the middle of nowhere. The thought of living in New York, where life moved fast and the energy was contagious, was something I longed for. I wouldn’t miss Duluth at all – well, not really. There was one thing I’d miss more than anything else in the world, and she was waiting for me just a few feet away.
“Took you long enough, Steve,” she said, watching me approach with the sweet treats. She reached out to grab a cone, smiling sweetly at me which, in turn, sent the nervous flutter of butterflies to the pit of my stomach again. Did she really have no idea what she did to me? It was all I could do not to trip over my own feet.
“Yeah, well, you should have gotten it yourself,” I said, mumbling out the words as I sat beside her on the overturned canoe. It was turning out to be another beautiful evening, and after three days on this Island, it was a moment I always looked forward to – the golden sunset.
“I’m a lady,” she was saying, scooping out the side of the cone with a finger to stick it into her mouth. “Ladies don’t buy things when they have their men around.”
I choked on my snow cone and tried to control my racing heartbeat. Her man. How many nights had I longed for her to call me that?
Thanking my good fortune for the rapid loss of light, my blush was hidden from her gaze as she glanced at me. “Did you say something?”
“No,” I replied quickly, licking my dessert much faster, while trying to ignore the tickle of her white dress against my thighs and legs. The wind picked up a little and her long brown hair teased my chin and nose. I wanted to reach out to touch it, to place it gently against my lips, and to tell her how beautiful I thought she was.
Unfortunately, I was still too scared to make that final move.
“Was it fun at Rose Hall today?” she asked, leaning back to stretch out her legs. Beneath the white cloth, they were honey-colored, matching the rest of her exposed arms and neck. She had made me go shopping with her for the sundress yesterday, and after two days of running around in her bikini, the sun had dusted her in a golden hue. Her blue eyes sparkled with excitement as she spoke.
“…can’t believe how huge that house was! Do you really think it’s haunted? I thought I could call the spirits and stuff, but nothing happened. I think I’ll google it when I get back home, and then we could check it out at the library and…”
Her words trailed off, a heavy and tense silence falling between us. We both knew there would be no next time. Once we got off the Island tomorrow, my family would be flying to New York, and she’d be going back to Duluth, Wisconsin.
“We can still email each other,” I offered in a weak attempt at light-hearted banter. I felt miserable inside, knowing that we had merely hours to say our goodbyes. No wonder we spent the entire day together, perhaps subconsciously knowing that we’d never have this opportunity again.
Her voice sounded hoarse, rough with the promise of tears. It was the last thing I wanted her to do. I wanted us to leave on a happy note at least, but how was that to be when I couldn’t even tell her how I really felt?
“You should be sick of me anyway,” I said out loud. “We’ve known each other for like...forever…and besides, Tim will be pretty glad I’m gone. He always said I was a pain in the ass.”
Tim was her boyfriend – a boyfriend I always wanted to strangle whenever I saw him. He was just too perfect, and no matter how hard I tried to find some fault in him, there was simply nothing to loathe him for. He was the most charming and friendly guy you’d ever meet.
And her age-mate too. Yes, I was actually sixteen and she was eighteen. So you see why my chances were all but slim.
“Tim never says that,” she said, sniffling and finally getting to her feet to walk away from me. “He was even sad you were leaving. The dork.”
I watched her silhouette in the silence, broken only by the sounds of the waves softly kissing the shore, and the distant music of a calypso band at the other end of the beach. We were alone in our little paradise, the perfect scenario for—
“You won’t forget me, will you?”
I looked up to see her staring at me. Even in the gloom of dusk, I could see the wet trail of tears running down her cheeks. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her cry, since she was always the one comforting or standing up for me whenever I was picked on. She was the one who came by to visit whenever I was sick, and would be the first to call me on my birthdays to remind me of how ‘old’ I was getting. Sure there were times when she’d act bossy and treat me like a little kid, but she was my confidante, my best friend, and the girl I loved more than anything else in the world.
An inner pep talk for about a second decided it for me.
I rose to my feet and walked up to her, holding my breath as I reached out to pull her gently within my arms. I only had a moment to see her blue eyes widen, her gasp of surprise soon becoming lost within the warmth of our lips. She tasted of strawberry and sugar – of summer and good times, and as my silent tears mingled with hers, I knew this would be a memory I’d cherish for as long as I lived.