I tossed my school bag to the back seat of my run-down Honda. The car was a hand-me-down from my mom when she upgraded to a new one last year. It had been super reliable for how old it was, but the radio didn't work. That was a major bummer. But not even a broken radio could bring me down on such a beautiful, sunshiny day.
I toggled through the menu on my MP3 player until I found the perfect song for my upbeat mood. My earphones blasted as I drove down the street, admiring the cloudless Newport Beach sky, wisps of hair circling my neck from the breeze through the open window.
It was usually in the sixties this time of year, but I heard it was going to hit eighty this week; pretty nice for November. I could feel the extra warmth already. The sunshine gave me an extra burst of energy, making an already good day seem even better.
It took maybe five minutes to drive to my high school. Traffic lined the web of Southern California freeways every day, but I rarely ventured out that far. I had everything I needed right here in my own little corner of the world.
My poor old car buzzed into the student lot at the back of the school, and I circled around the corner to find a parking spot. Normal teenager clunker-cars, just like mine, studded the rows, but they were interspersed among the typical mix of new convertibles, sports cars, and SUV’s. I wasn't embarrassed by my car; I was glad to even have one. And it wasn’t like anyone gave me a hard time for driving it.
As I pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine, a slow, melancholy song played in my ears. Without thinking twice, I grabbed the headphones and yanked them off immediately. I thought I had removed all the sad stuff a few weeks ago. This day was too cheerful and bright to listen to something so blah.
Plus, I was sort of developing a fear of love songs over the last couple months. I’d always enjoyed all kinds of music, but I’d been having some crazy emotional reactions to it lately. And music wasn’t the only problem. A couple of weeks ago, I felt completely depressed for hours after reading a scene in a book—totally out of character for me. My life was way too great to be sad and moping around for no reason at all.
It was probably just teenage hormones going haywire.
I waved at a few kids I knew talking by their cars and continued to the outdoor quad area covered in grass and leafy trees. It was already full of my classmates, and I greeted a few more as I crossed the sidewalk.
Then I saw him. Justin Crane.
My head darted down and away, hoping he wouldn’t notice me from across the path. It wasn’t like I made a habit of avoiding people at school, but I’d been on a few dates with Justin earlier this year and they didn’t exactly turn out the way I had hoped.
I thought…what was the harm, you know? Maybe it could be fun. But that totally backfired on me. The truth was, I was hesitant to go with him in the first place, but saying no just seemed too…mean.
I should’ve listened to my instincts. Once Justin got the first yes, he couldn’t be stopped. He pursued me like crazy, almost obnoxiously. And his hands really had a problem with wandering. I tried to tell him I only wanted to be friends, but he just wasn’t willing to take no for an answer. The guy had some serious determination; I had to give him that. But it got to the point where I had to be outright rude, and I didn’t like that.
The last week or two it seemed like Justin was finally backing off, but I wasn’t about to give him a chance to change his mind. I hurried through the double glass doors of the school building at the end of the sidewalk and let out a sigh of relief. Justin Crane was safely out of view.
When I approached my locker, I glanced around the hallway to see if Heather was nearby. She was my best friend. We had first period together, so she always came to meet me before class.
When I spotted Heather from across the hall, her lean physique approached my direction with purpose, holding her phone to her ear. That wasn’t an unusual sight; Heather would probably choose to have her phone surgically attached to the side of her head if it was possible—as long as it was also considered fashionable of course. I had a cell phone too—I mean, who didn’t—but mine seemed like a piece of junk compared to hers.
I’d known Heather since second grade, so I was totally comfortable around her, and I spent more time with her than anyone else, besides my mom of course. But, I had a feeling Heather could be a little intimidating to some people. I was a decent height at five feet five inches, but Heather beat me by at least four more inches. And it wasn’t just her height. Even in a crowd, Heather had a way of making sure she was noticed, but not in a bad way. At least, I didn’t think so.
Heather and I had a lot in common, yet somehow we were nothing alike. Maybe that was why we worked so well together. Either way, we'd been friends a long time.
Heather slid the phone in her designer bag and sprung up beside me.
“Hey, Sade!” she said, her face animated, like she had a juicy secret to share. Heather used the mirror in my locker to check her long platinum hair for any imperfections. “So I was just talking to Lindsey,” she went on, “and you will never guess what she said.”
“What?” I asked.
Suddenly, Heather was pulling me down through the crowded corridor of students. Some looked like they were modeling for a designer clothing catalog, kind of like Heather, while the majority were dressed in flip-flops and shorts like they just stepped foot off the beach.
Heather stopped around a quiet corner and brought her perfectly made-up face close to mine, lowering her voice. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to say anything, so you totally didn’t hear this from me.”
“Okay…” I said, confused but intrigued.
“Lindsey heard that, Nick,” she said the name with emphasis, “Christensen, like, has a thing for you, and wants to ask you out on a date or something.” She paused dramatically, waiting for my response.
That was the big news? I did like going on dates—or at least I thought I did—but I wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with another boy just yet. Nick Christensen was definitely cute, there was no question about that, but what if he turned out to be just like Justin Crane? I wasn’t sure if I should be excited about this or cringe and run away.
“Hello?” Heather said. “Did you not just hear me? Nick Christensen wants to hook up with you.”
It took me a second, but I finally responded. “Nick likes me?” I said. “Um, that’s…good, I guess. I mean, he seems like a nice guy.”
Heather clutched my arm, dragging me forward with agitation. “He seems nice? He’s only, like, one of the most gorgeous guys at our school. Seriously, Sadie, could you be any more clueless when it comes to guys? You have boys lining up to drool at your feet and you’re completely oblivious.”
I stopped. “What? No I don’t. And by the way, you get asked out on dates too.”
“Not by guys like Nick Christensen. You could at least try to appreciate how lucky you are.”
I thought about it a second. Maybe Heather had a point. I was lucky to get asked on dates at all, so I should be more excited. I didn’t want to come off as a jerk or something. And there was no way that all the boys in our school could be as bad as Justin Crane, right?
“Wait, so Nick Christensen really wants to ask me out?” I said, trying to mimic Heather’s enthusiasm. “I mean, he is pretty cute. I guess a date with him sounds like fun.”
“Of course it does,” Heather said, like I was ridiculous for thinking otherwise. “He’s totally hot.”
We entered the classroom and sat in our usual seats. Mr. Rivera lectured and scribbled illegibly on the white board as my chin sunk deeper into the palm of my hand. Math first thing in the morning was a bit of a challenge. My mind wandered.
The depressing song I heard in the car started playing through my mind, the chorus repeating in my head over and over again. It was annoying. I should’ve listened to something more cheerful before I turned it off. I straightened in my seat and tried to focus. Even math sounded better right now than that stupid song.
During break I went back to my locker and grabbed a bag of baby carrots. I tossed one in my mouth, but it was bigger than I expected and I struggled to chew as I shut the locker with my elbow.
I almost choked. Nick Christensen was standing right in front of me.
“Oh,” I said, surprised. I threw my hand to my face, covering my mouth full of food, chewing as fast as possible. I practically swallowed the carrot whole.
Nick ran a hand through his chestnut hair, eyes shifting to the floor. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
I tried to smile, hoping I didn’t have any food stuck in my teeth. “It’s okay. You just surprised me.”
I usually didn't get super nervous around boys, at least not in the past, but all of a sudden, I felt strangely uncomfortable.
Nick paused. “So, I was just wondering if maybe you wanted to hang out with me this Saturday?” He fidgeted with a strap on his backpack in this cute, almost endearing sort of way—which was probably the exact opposite thing that Justin Crane would have been doing if I was talking to him right now. It made me feel somehow at ease again. Nick seemed like a really nice guy, and Heather was right…he was pretty nice to look at, too.
But then I remembered I already had plans with my mom that day. My eyebrows wrinkled apologetically. “This Saturday? Actually, I can’t. I told my mom I would help her paint our living room.”
Nick looked away, blue eyes full of disappointment. “Oh. That’s okay.”
I immediately felt bad. I didn’t want him to think I made up some excuse not to go. I really did have plans. Each week my mom had just one or two nights off from the hospital where she worked. That was really our only time to see each other, so we started girls’ night. It had become our weekly tradition. We’d usually do stuff like get take-out and watch chick flicks, but this time my overly-energetic mother talked me into another do-it-yourself project. At least this time it wouldn’t require tearing down any walls.
I wasn’t that excited about painting in the first place, and with Nick looking way cuter than I realized before, I was starting to regret making plans with my mom. But instead of becoming bitter at my mother’s ambition, I quickly thought of a solution that would work for everyone.
The smile returned to my face. “Well, school’s closed Friday for Veteran’s Day. I don’t have plans if you want to do something then.”
“Sure!” Nick’s face brightened. “My uncle works at Disneyland and he could get us in, but that’s kind of an all-day thing, so I don’t know if you would be interested.”
I didn’t have to think about it. “Totally,” I said, touching his arm. “That sounds like fun.”
I loved Disneyland. Growing up in the area, I used to go all the time, but I hadn’t been in a while. That would be something to look forward to.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll come pick you up Friday morning. Would nine work?”
I nodded. “Nine sounds good.”
There was an awkward pause in our conversation. It looked like Nick wanted to say something but couldn’t push out the words. He laughed nervously and scratched his head but still came up with nothing.
“Well…I probably should get to class,” I finally said. “I guess I’ll see you Friday?”
Nick nodded, wearing a semi-goofy grin as I turned to walk away. Without thinking, I found myself glancing back with a flirty wave goodbye. It couldn’t hurt to be a little flirty, right? Nick seemed completely harmless compared to Justin Crane.
Thanks to Nick, I was suddenly in an extra great mood. Even though the whole dating thing secretly freaked me out a little, it still felt good to know that someone like him was interested in me. I just hoped Nick would be okay with just hanging out and having fun together. I wasn’t interested in dealing with the stress of taking things to the next level. The last thing I wanted was to end up like my mom—deserted and alone.
I was in such a good mood that even Chemistry wasn’t that bad today. And when I sat down for lunch next to Heather at our usual outdoor table, I was genuinely excited to tell her about my date.
But before I could even say hello, Heather reached for my arm with raised brows and practically sang as she said, “I heard that somebody has a date this weekend…”
I laughed. “How is it possible that you already know that?”
“Oh please,” Heather said. “You do remember who you’re talking to, right?”
The next thing I knew, Heather was making an announcement to everyone at our table of the news. Nicole, Lindsey, and an entire table full of girls squealed and clapped in unison, causing curious glances from around the lunch area.
After everyone took turns expressing their jealousy and wishing me luck on my date, Heather retold the story of her first kiss on the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland when she was a freshman. She and Lindsey both agreed that this would be a good opportunity for me to finally do the same, especially with Nick Christensen.
Kissing did sound like a lot of fun. Heather had done a lot of kissing since that boat ride and she never ceased to tell me about it. But I didn’t want to just do it for the fun of it. I wanted it to mean something.
I mulled over the idea. Maybe I was building it up to be something bigger than it needed to be. What if, once I finally tried it, it would be a huge disappointment because I made too big a deal out of it? Should I just kiss Nick Christensen on Friday and get the whole thing over with? It might be fun. But, it didn’t seem like a decision I could make in one lunch period. I had to at least get to know the guy before I decided, right? It could wait until Friday.
I left our table to make my usual social rounds, hopping from one group of friends to the next to hang out and chat for a few minutes. I was like my mom in that way. She was friendly and talkative with everyone she met.
At least, I was like that most of the time, especially at school, but lately it felt like I was living a double life. I didn't always enjoy socializing like I used to. There were times I could be in a crowd full of friends and feel utterly alone. When I had the random episodes of depression triggered by music or emotions, it was even worse. Then I was definitely not in the mood to socialize.
But there was no problem today. I was my happy, carefree self, enjoying the laughter and company of friends.
I was still in high spirits when the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. The only classes I had left for the day were my two favorites this semester, Spanish and Photography. As I moved cheerfully down the path outside, I noticed my friend Ariana from the other side of the quad. Her parents were originally from the Dominican Republic, but they moved here from New York a few years ago.
Ariana jumped up and down with a huge smile when she saw me. I loved her enthusiasm. She was one of the most energetic girls at our school. Next thing I knew, she was bounding across the grass in my direction, her curly black hair bouncing back and forth around her face.
“Sadie!” she called happily as she skipped up next to me. When she reached my side, Ariana pulled a handful of my wavy blonde strands in the air and let them fall through her fingers back to my shoulder. “I love your hair today, chica.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That’s a cute shirt.”
Ariana looked down at herself, as if trying to remember what she was wearing, and giggled. “Oh, thanks, it’s new. So I brought you that CD I was telling you about.”
Ariana was always putting together CD's with new music for me to try; mostly salsa type music that I would have a hard time finding on my own. Despite how well I was doing in my Spanish class, I couldn't understand most of the words in the songs, but the beats were infectious.
Ariana rummaged through her backpack and handed me a plastic case.
“Cool,” I said, sliding it atop the Spanish textbook in my arm. “I’m excited to listen to it when I get home.”
“Make sure you listen to track two,” Ariana said with animation. “That’s so totally my favorite this week.”
I started to nod, but a small jolt from behind interrupted my response as somebody bumped into me. I glanced up, taken off guard.
A boy in dark clothes muttered a quick sorry under his breath and continued walking, turning his face only partially towards me. I could’ve sworn a glint of light caught his eye, causing a stream of little green sparkles.
A slight tingling sensation shivered up my arm and I looked down at it instinctively. There was a silvery film with iridescent swirls shimmering just below my elbow. I tried to touch it, but it disappeared. I wasn’t sure if I had imagined it. Maybe the sunlight was playing tricks on my eyes.
My thoughts flew back to the intriguing boy that bumped my arm, but I couldn't see him anymore. He seemed oddly familiar, like something was pulling me after him, drawing me towards him.
“Who was that?” I wondered aloud.
Ariana shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Suddenly, I felt the strangest desire to follow after the mystery person.
“Hey, I have to get going,” I said to Ariana, moving away in a daze.
I wandered quickly through the crowd of students, searching their faces for the boy with the sparkling, familiar eyes. I had no idea why the eyes seemed so familiar, but I felt an unmistakable need to find them. I was sure I followed right in the direction where the boy had hurried away, but it was no use. It was like he had disappeared without a trace. The mysterious green eyes were nowhere to be seen.
A haze circled around me, like I was watching myself from a distance, lost in my dreams. I was just a child again, giggling and playing in the front yard under the afternoon sun. I rode a purple bike with shiny tassels on the handlebars. I remembered the bike. It was a present from my mom for my seventh birthday.
Mom’s searching voice echoed from around the corner like a song. “Sadie-bear…time for dinner.”
I pranced to the front of the house, weightless, as if floating on clouds. Everything was so simple, so happy.
I called out to her, pretending to pout. “Just a few more tries? Please, Mom?”
She nodded and waved, her words muffled. “Okay. Just a few more minutes.” Then she drifted back to the house like an angel.
Mom’s flowers swayed in the sunlight as I launched my bike down the sidewalk. The coastal breeze pushed me gently from behind, and for a moment, I felt invincible. The spokes on the wheels whooshed forward in triumph, ready to explore the world around me.
But suddenly, everything went dark. A clap of thunder roared through the air and I let out a childlike scream. My little body shuttered from the unexpected sound. My eyes jolted towards the sky, finding a swarm of black clouds gathering in swirls over my head, threatening to pour down on me.
A strange sense of fear moved through my limbs, and the bike wobbled back and forth between my knees. The handlebars veered erratically from side to side, until I landed with a gasp in a patch of pointy branches and leaves.
I lay there limp, sniffling as tears welled up in my eyes, until a hand reached down in front of my gaze. I raised my head. The figure of a boy stood over me, face unclear, his identity blurred.
Still, I felt I knew him somehow. My heart knew him.
All of his details were smudged except for the eyes; distinct clear eyes that sparkled like green diamonds. I knew these eyes. They were meant for me.
The gray sky melted away, leaving a halo of white all around us.
Calm wrapped around me like a blanket when I heard his steady voice. “Let me help you.”
He knelt by my side and wiped a tear off my cheek. “Don’t cry. Everything will be all right.”
I felt safe with the faceless boy, at ease. Timidly, I asked for his name.
His strong voice fell quiet like a whisper in the wind. “My name is Rain.”
“Rain?” I pouted. “But I don’t like the rain. It scares me.”
His words danced around my head. “You don’t need to be scared. I’ll protect you.”
I lifted my fingers to his blurry face. “Wait, I remember you now. Diamond-eyes…that’s your name, silly. You must’ve forgotten.”
“Silly, Diamond-eyes,” I said, patting his cheek with my tiny hand. “How could you forget your own name?”
Before he could respond, the touch of his skin dissipated from my fingers like puffs of air, his face beginning to fade.
“Wait,” I called. “Don’t go.”
I tried to reach for him, to hold on to something, but the glowing green eyes flickered and disappeared.
Sound jerked my mind from blissful sleep. I rolled in the crinkled sheets with a groan and slapped my hand against the clock to free myself from the dreaded alarm.
If only I could drift back to serenity in my mind and be with him a little longer. The same familiar boy I’d dreamt about since I was a little girl, whose face I could never quite remember when I woke up. His eyes were the only clear image that remained, two brilliant gemstones that glowed just for me.
It had been a while since I’d dreamt of the green-eyed boy, and as I lay in bed gathering my energy, I couldn’t help but think of the guy who had bumped into me the day before at school. Something about the two seemed similar, connected. Could there be a chance they were the same person? Was he even real? And why was his image stored away in my subconscious?
I always felt strangely sad the mornings I woke from these dreams. It was almost like I missed the green-eyed boy, even though I had no clue who he was.
But the sadness didn't last long; a sleepy smile took its place. I would miss the green-eyed boy and the warmth of my bed, but I had a life full of warmth, and I looked forward to another day of high school. Now I just needed my body to agree with me.
I slid from the fluffy sanctuary and pulled a robe over my tank-top, stumbling blurry-eyed down the hall. As I reached the bathroom door, my mom burst from her room, full of energy—as usual. She was already dressed in casual capris and a bright fuchsia shirt, her dark blonde hair styled in a messy up-do.
She grabbed my face, planting an exaggerated kiss on my cheek. “Morning, Sadie-bear.”
I stared with half-opened eyes. “Mom,” I complained. “It’s too early to be so…perky.”
“Suit yourself,” she said, her cheer unaffected as she skipped away to the other side of the house.
Seriously, I didn’t know where that woman found her energy. Usually, I was sound asleep by the time she got home from her shift at the hospital, yet she always managed to wake up before me.
The hot water rained down my head in the shower as my favorite radio station serenaded me in the background. A new song I liked played through the air and I felt instantly happier and more awake, ready to coast through another sunshiny day.
After the shower, I went straight to the compact stereo on my night stand, so I could finish listening to the song that was playing in the bathroom. The silvery-white CD player was a gift from my mom for my seventeenth birthday. I probably used it more than anything else in the house.
I sang along to the music as I made my bed, prancing around the room and swinging pillows up to the headboard from off the floor. I wasn't over-exuberant about it like girls you would see in movies, jumping around like a rock star, using a brush as a mock microphone, but I did like to sing.
After throwing on some jeans and a lavender blouse, I grabbed a few fun bracelets and slid them over my wrist. I rarely left the house without wearing some kind of bracelet or wrist band, at the very least a watch. It was more for functional purposes than to make a fashion statement. It was just easier to cover up the black birthmark inside my left wrist than to have people doing a double-take whenever they caught a glance of it. Someone even mistook it for a bug once and tried to flick it off my arm.
It was unusual though, so who could blame them. It resembled glass or rock rather than skin, sort of like obsidian. And the tear-shaped mark wasn't exactly small either, probably a good quarter inch through the widest part. The attention it received used to bother me, but it rarely got noticed anymore.
Once I was ready for school, I grabbed my bag and headed down the hall. It didn’t take long to cross to the other side of the quaint, single-story rambler where I’d lived my whole life. It used to be my grandparent’s house, but my mom moved in with them when she was pregnant with me. Then, when I was only four years old, both my grandma and grandpa died in an accident, so it’s just been me and my mom ever since.
When I trotted into the kitchen, the sweet aroma of maple syrup enveloped the room. Mixing bowls and cooking utensils covered the counter tops in disarray as my mother flipped slices of bacon onto a paper towel.
I sat on one of the stools pulled up to the bar-style counter so I could face her while she cooked. “Is there an army coming for breakfast you forgot to tell me about?” I asked.
Mom smirked. “I’m just in the mood to enjoy a nice meal with my daughter. Is that such a crime?” She added a sigh. “It seems like we hardly get to do that anymore.”
My mom dipped a slice of bread into egg batter and eased it onto the griddle, then turned to me with a smile, waving a spatula in the air. “Plus, life’s too short not to enjoy a little French toast every once in a while.”
My mother had a way about her, a positive energy that radiated in all directions. It was contagious.
“I definitely agree,” I said with a chuckle.
She handed me a plate full of scrambled eggs, bacon, and french toast topped with strawberries. My eyes widened at the mountain of food. After a few more circles around the kitchen, Mom joined me with her own plate piled just as high. Good thing this wasn’t a daily ritual.
I ate as much as I could handle, but halfway through the plate of food, I had to stop and grimace. “Whew, I’m stuffed,” I said. “Thanks for breakfast, Mom. It was really good. But seriously, if I eat another bite, I might grow out of my jeans before school starts.”
Mom laughed and grabbed my plate, then walked it over to the sink.
When my eyes followed her around the kitchen, I noticed the clock on the microwave. “Oh, I better get going,” I said, shooting up from my seat to grab my bag. “I don’t want to be late.”
Mom’s voice trailed after me as I hurried from the room. “Okay, sweetheart, have a good day.”
“Love you!” I called as I hurried out the door.
At school, things started out fine, but halfway through the day my classes started to drag. I was dragging too. I couldn’t stop wondering about the faceless boy and the familiar green eyes. I kept expecting—or at least hoping—that I would finally glance up and find him standing right in front of me, so I could make him explain to me why he had been haunting my dreams for the last ten years.
When I met up with Heather at lunch, she could tell that I was distracted and kept asking me what was wrong. And of course I told her it was nothing like fifty times, which wasn’t really true, but what was I supposed to tell her? Oh, I’m just upset because I might be having hallucinations of a boy that probably only exists in my imagination? I loved Heather and told her pretty much everything, but if I told her the truth, she would probably think I was losing my mind.
Heather still didn’t look convinced when I left our table to go to class, but I was actually starting to feel a little bit better. I always looked forward to photography at the end of the day. I thought maybe it would cheer me up and get my mind off things.
I enjoyed photography just like a lot of other things I’d tried in the past, but I didn’t think it was my passion. My mom believed everyone had something they loved so much that it made them feel complete when they found it, like her love for helping people through nursing. I just didn’t know what mine was yet.
Mr. Brown was my photography teacher. He had shaggy brown hair and a full beard hiding half of his face like a mountain man. It was clear he’d found his passion through photography. Each day, he would post a single slide of a photograph up on the screen that he believed possessed an element of excellence.
First he would encourage us to spend several minutes feeling the photograph. Let it speak to you, how does it make you feel, he would say. Once he was satisfied that our emotions had been stirred, he would discuss the technical aspects of the piece, how the artist had acquired the desired effect through camera and lighting adjustments. This day was no exception.
Mr. Brown spoke the name with reverence as he announced, “Today we’re going to view a beautiful piece, courtesy of the great photography legend Ansel Adams.”
He lifted both his arms as he paused for dramatic effect, and then he snapped his finger at Tracy Wang—who Mr. Brown had assigned at the beginning of the year to be in charge of the lights—reminding her to hop from her chair and flip off the switch.
When the room went dark, Mr. Brown made a grand gesture with his hands. “I present to you…” he said as the slide finally illuminated the screen. “Rose and Driftwood…”
Aside from a few hushed snickers at the teacher’s liveliness, we all studied the photograph in the traditional silence.
I examined the black and white photo for a moment, paying attention to the interesting details. It was quite exquisite. The lines in the driftwood made breathtaking patterns of swirls and stripes, appearing almost to shimmer. The tips of the delicate rose petals were kindled with light, revealing intricate veins.
Then, an odd sensation crept over my skin. My heart fluttered, and emotion swelled within my chest. For the first time this year, one of Mr. Brown’s esteemed pieces of art spoke to my soul.
I stared at the screen, forgetting to blink, unable to break my eyes from the image looming over me. My limbs froze. A swirling maze of lines and shadows hypnotized me, deep shadows that overpowered the fragile petals.
Some unseen force mesmerized my mind, bore its weight down and imprisoned me with despair. My heart sank to the depths of my chest with horrible realization. It was me—the rose was like me.
The flower was delicate and untouched. It possessed the potential to inspire, to serve a purpose. Yet there it lay, helpless on a disheveled plank of timber; somber, drifting, and alone. Nature meant it to live with color, swaying in the breeze and surrounded by life. But it did not uplift. It did not bring cheer as it should, drained of all light it once held. Where was the inspired affection? The friendship? The love? There was none. Darkness condemned the innocent to despair.
The world went blank. I lost track of place and time, entranced by the ache inside me. I no longer stared at the rose, but at a blur of shadow and light with no meaning. I longed for something I couldn’t define. A hunger grew inside me no morsel of food could relieve.
Something called to me through the emptiness, beckoning me to come—a silent voice only I could hear—but I was lost. I searched for the voice, I yearned to find it, frantic almost, but I found nothing.
My name echoed over and over.
“Sadie? Earth to Sa-die…” My mind crawled back to awareness. Mr. Brown waved his hand in front of my glazed eyes with a concerned expression. The other students had already dispersed from the room.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
My movements were slow, like wading through a pool of thick mud. I shook off the heaviness and focused my eyes, blinking repeatedly.
“I…uh…I’m fine.” I wasn’t quite ready to stand. “I’m not feeling well,” I added, so he wouldn’t think I was crazy.
“Would you like me to help you to the nurse?” he offered.
My legs trembled as I stood, and I used the chair to steady myself. “No, that’s all right. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m not sure you heard the homework assignment. You looked a little dazed.”
“Homework?” I mumbled. “Sorry, I guess I missed that.”
“No worries. I just suggested that when you’re out taking pictures this week, to remember how Rose and Driftwood made you feel and to find something that captures a similar feeling for you.”
“Okay,” I said, secretly hoping that nothing out there would make me feel the way that photograph did. “Thanks, Mr. Brown. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I slid out the classroom door.
My feet dragged down the pathway, lost in my thoughts. If I could describe myself in terms of music, I would be Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness from my mom’s old Smashing Pumpkins album.
Outside, the blue sky and bright sun were not enough to lift my spirits. I couldn’t snap out of the slump. At least I didn’t have to worry about any more classes today. My brain felt useless. I wobbled through the maze of students to my car with my head hung low. I really hoped I wouldn’t run into any of my friends. I just wanted to be alone.
The steering wheel was hot on my fingers, the air stale from being closed off all day. It was suffocating. I couldn’t breathe. I rolled down the windows and let my head fall back to the seat, taking in a few deep breaths.
My brain felt like it was churning in slow motion. Everything felt muddled. As I drove home I barely noticed the blur of buildings and trees around me. It was a good thing I didn’t live very far. I went through an intersection and realized, after the fact, that I wasn’t sure what color the light had been—green I hoped.
I parked in our driveway with a small shred of relief. The black cloud of depression still hovered over my head as I walked up the drive, but at least I was home.
After fumbling through my keys at the door, I lost my hold and they dropped carelessly to the ground. I picked them up to try again, my upper body like a lead weight as I pulled my torso upright.
I staggered through the door and took in the surroundings of our living room; the eggshell paint on the walls, the old oak TV hutch across from the worn leather couch, the framed picture of my grandparents displayed in the corner bookshelf, a pair of my mom’s shoes on the ground near the doorway. Even though the weight had not lifted, I felt some degree of comfort from the familiar items. My lungs filled with the scent of home, and I slunk back to my room, letting my bag slide through my fingers to the floor near the door.
Logically, it was a bad idea, but I wanted to wallow in the pain.
I selected a CD from my music collection that contained a mix of instrumental pieces. It was mostly new age piano selections, some accompanied by orchestras, and a few songs from movie scores. This probably wasn’t the typical music choice by the average teenager. I doubted any kids from my school had even heard these songs before. But to me they were beautiful and full of passion; which normally I found uplifting, but not today.
I knew it was likely to increase the negative emotions, but I couldn’t restrain myself. I put the CD in the player and rolled onto my bed like a boulder. My shoulders slumped against the mound of pillows in front of the sand-colored head board.
The forlorn notes of Cristofori’s Dream replaced the eerie silence, sending a chill up my neck.
The piano sang in desperation. Lamenting strings pierced the air as if grieving on my behalf. The notes edged through my mind, and I stared across the room, right through the beige wall to the void beyond. My eyes labored through nothingness, searching for the tiniest fragment of hope to no avail.
Finally, I broke down, and tears trickled down my cheeks.
I didn’t understand why I felt this way. I was happy. There wasn’t a single thing wrong in my life that could trigger this kind of emptiness, this feeling of being left behind and abandoned.
That was enough. I pushed myself off the bed and wiped away the tears. This wasn’t me. As much as it hurt, I couldn’t just lie here and rot away in agony. I couldn’t let myself. I needed to be surrounded with something pleasant enough to push out the pain. I needed to go to the ocean.
If there was anything out there that would help clear my head, it was my favorite place in the world…Crystal Cove.
I forced myself out to my car and started the engine. Even though it was out of my way, I turned to meet up with Superior Avenue. It was my favorite street. As my car rolled around the bend and down the steep hill lined with palm trees, I took in the beautiful seascape across my windshield. It was worth adding a few minutes to my drive to gaze out at the ocean and feel the immensity. It felt almost like coming home.
Normally, I cruised along Coast Highway with the windows cracked and the volume turned up, but I just couldn’t feel the sunshine. Even music didn’t help. I would have to wait and hope that the beach would be enough to make the difference.
I’d been to Crystal Cove so many times now that I couldn’t keep track. I’d spent many pleasant summer days there with my mom growing up, and lately I’d go when I wanted to be alone, without the distraction of friends. It wasn't a place where high school kids normally hung out. They were usually found down by Huntington Pier or the River Jetties, where people go to watch the surfers. They're fun places when you're in a social mood, but today I needed to feel close to nature.
Being in such a daze, I didn’t remember to pull my parking pass from the glove box until I’d already pulled up to the parking booth. I had to fumble hastily to find the pass while the attendant watched and waited patiently. I shook my head and apologized repeatedly, finally grabbing the pass and hanging it from the rear view mirror, so she could wave me into the half-empty lot.
In summer, it would’ve been packed from corner to corner. I loved living so close that I could enjoy it the rest of the year without the crowds. I strolled towards the path that led to the beach and glanced around the familiar parking lot. There was already a slight sense of calm surrounding the hills and large homes with Spanish tile roofs. I could tell I made the right choice by coming here.
As I reached the mouth of the path leading to the beach, I felt my pace quicken. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to reach the hidden coastline at the end of the trail.
I finally slowed for a moment when I reached the concrete tunnel that ran under the highway to the other side. It had been a while since I took the time to admire the walls covered in colorful murals. When I was a child, I would stop at each image, enchanted by the artwork depicting flowers or marine life, and force my mom to read each message to me one by one: Don't Pollute, Everyone Needs the Greens, Keep the Earth Clean for You and Me.
With sweet memories slowly lifting my spirits, I continued down the lane past the shuttle stop and the little cottages converted into shops. I was finally close enough to feel the moisture from the sea on my cheeks, to smell the fresh, salty air.
The sun shown bright in the sky, but the breeze from earlier was intermittently turning to gusts of wind. I pulled an elastic band out of my pocket and put my hair in a ponytail to keep it from swirling in my face.
As I reached the edge of the shore, I flipped off my sandals, my steps becoming heavy from the sand's give under my feet and between my toes. The last time I came to this section of the beach, it was crowded with tourists and inlanders. Despite the miles of shoreline at Crystal Cove, all the people had clumped together on one small section of the sand. The crowded air had echoed with screams of children fleeing the breaking waves in delight.
But not today. Today it felt quiet, almost deserted.
Once I made it down to the water, I meandered down the beach to the rockier side of the shore near the tide pools. I found a nice, tranquil spot on the sand and took the beach towel out of my bag, swinging it up to release the folds.
As my arms extended, a rush of wind burst through the air, catching the towel and whipping it back in my face. My eye stung from the unexpected lashing. My hand shot up to my face, and I glanced around the beach, unsure if I should be embarrassed by anyone nearby.
There was an older couple holding hands, their backs to me as they walked opposite my direction, and a mother with two small children building sand castles farther down near the entrance, but no one close enough to notice me.
Then again, I wasn't sure why I would think any stranger here on the beach would be noticing me in the first place.
Once I finally got my towel smoothed out, I lay soaking in the afternoon sun—which would have been relaxing if it weren't for all the wind puffing around me. The corner of the towel flew up and whipped my leg, and I kicked it back to the ground. A few wisps of hair floated from my ponytail, tickling my nose. I repeatedly brushed them away, trying to tuck them tighter under my head, but after several minutes of this, I finally gave up.
I sat upright with a huff, digging sand out of my ear and grumbling under my breath, I don't remember wind being mentioned in the forecast. Was this the time of year for the infamous Santa Ana winds to wreak havoc on our pleasant little town? I couldn't remember.
Despite the growing wind, I wasn't ready to part with the ocean. I was starting to feel a little better, but I hadn’t felt the extra uplift that I needed yet.
I left my bag as an anchor for the towel and walked down to the water to find the tide pools. I'd explored them many times before, observing the funny crabs that scurried through the cracks and crevices. But I must have come during high tide today. Only a small portion of the rock formations were visible.
I waded through the shallow parts, taking deep breaths of cool, salty air and came to a large boulder layered with sediment. The side facing the sand was surrounded by shallow water and angled down towards the ground, making it easy to climb.
I crawled to the top edge that hovered over the ocean and stood looking out at the horizon.
The rise and fall of the waves rolled towards me, the hum growing to a rumble before breaking below my feet. The sea stretched to the edge of the sky, overwhelming, and liberating, and soothing all at once.
I took the ocean for granted before. Growing up, it was a fun place to play, that was it. It still was of course, but it wasn’t until I could drive and started coming here alone that I actually took the time to appreciate it.
The ocean was immense and uncontrollable, but it followed patterns and cycles that were consistent; you could always rely on it to be there. Hidden life thrived beneath its surface, yet it could swallow you up and drag you to your death if given the chance. It was nature’s great paradox.
I closed my eyes and listened to the crashing waves send spray up my ankles. Everything started to feel clearer. In this moment, it didn't matter that I was bursting into tears of depression for no reason, or that I was losing my mind and chasing after green-eyed boys who may or may not actually exist outside my dreams.
Right now, it was just me and the water. I wished I could live on this rock forever.
I’d never questioned my life before. I had countless friends, wonderful memories, a bright future ahead of me…but something didn’t feel right anymore.
Suddenly, my thoughts were snatched away as a blast of wind barreled across my rock.
I gasped, and my eyes popped open. Another burst of howling air exploded, ripping me off balance. I didn't have time to think, only to react. My legs flew out from under me, arms reaching out, but my ocean view became nothing but sky. Gravity yanked me down to the water as a sharp pain pierced my skull. I barely registered the blow before darkness hit.
I sensed danger but couldn't do anything to help myself, stuck in a bad dream I couldn't wake up from. Was I asleep or awake? Dead or alive? Time stood still as strange shapes and shadows flashed before me then turned dark again. The horrible, trapped feeling grew, suffocating.
No light. No air. No escape.
My mother's face appeared through the black. Mom smiled at me, giving me a fleeting moment of hope. She said everything would be all right. Then she swirled and floated away, dispersing into darkness.
I tried to fight it, pulling away from the deep towards light, until finally, the fog grew thin and lifted away. My mother's words began to ring true—I would be all right. Wherever I was going to find myself when I regained consciousness, it was going to be okay.
I sensed the air surrounding me, cool and flowing beneath my legs as my mind worked overtime to pull through the haze. My body dangled limply, but I could feel I was moving. Pleasant warmth wrapped around me like a protective blanket, carrying me to safety.
When I found dry ground beneath me, I tried to breathe, but my lungs seized up in pain, causing me to gasp for air. Intense stinging pulsed through my nose as I sputtered out the choking water.
Finally, my chest relaxed and relief washed over me. My head throbbed, but it was manageable pain because I felt real again. I gained control as I lay on my back in the sand with my eyes closed, devoid of strength. Yes, it was sand beneath me. At least I could figure out that much.
A deep voice crooned in the background, strong and soothing. “Can you hear me? You're going to be okay. You're safe now.”
My eyes fluttered open, searching for the voice, blinking to clear away the fuzzy vision. As I came into focus, two shimmering eyes gazed down at me in concern.
Could it be? I blinked again. Was I hallucinating? They were…they were…the eyes, the ones from my dreams.
There was no question in my mind. They were the glowing green eyes I’d dreamt about since I was a child, so familiar to me it was like I’d known them my entire life, and yet, so intangible that I hardly knew them at all. And now, as if by some wonderful twist of fate, here they were. The eyes from my dreams now hovered over me as I shivered.
As if the toss of the waves hadn't rattled me enough, his penetrating stare sent me into shock. My wide eyes couldn’t break from his. I'd never felt so elated to be driven to delusion. I couldn’t help it; my mouth gaped open, causing me to lose my breath and cough repeatedly.
“Just relax,” he said, with the most soothing, calm voice I’d ever heard. “You should start to feel better in a few minutes.”
I continued to gape at him, utterly speechless. No earthly gemstone compared to the brilliance of the eyes peering down at me. They were like aqua diamonds, brilliant and crystal clear as the waters of a wave-less Caribbean beach, the inner circle surrounded by a deeper ring of emerald and a tiny hint of blue. They glowed, with facets refracting light in every direction.
They were mesmerizing. They didn't seem real. He didn't seem real.
Maybe this wasn't real at all. Maybe it was just a creation in my mind, shielding itself from the pain of a slow, drowning death.
I reached my hand to his face to feel it. Would it float away into the night like my mother's? No, his golden skin remained solid beneath my touch. It was smooth and warm, free from imperfections. Aside from a slight five o’clock shadow along the bottom of his chin, his skin was flawless, almost too perfect.
“Are you real?” I whispered, running my finger down his cheek.
He grinned and chuckled at my expense. His sandy brown hair hung in shaggy waves over the tops of his ears, dripping slightly. I had to resist the urge to run my fingers through the lightly sun-kissed strands. It was hard for me to believe he was really here.
“This is just my imagination, isn't it.” I said.
Then, I frowned as another option came to mind. “Or…am I…dead? Is this heaven?” My voice cracked at the thought, but it was the only place I could imagine feeling this way. There was no trace of my earlier depression. Instead, I was filled with wonder.
“No, no,” he laughed. “I promise I'm real. And you're definitely not dead. You hit your head, but you're going to be fine.” He was amused by my misconceptions.
It seemed too good to be true, but I wanted to believe him with every ounce of my being. His face was clear now, no longer a blurry dream; clear and real and oddly comforting. I felt safe with this stranger, more than I ever had with anyone else. But how could a stranger feel so familiar? It was like I knew him. There was no other way to describe it.
The mysterious boy’s calming presence was almost enough to suppress the sting in my throat, but my face tightened as I tried to swallow.
“Here, drink this,” he said. He held a plastic bottle of water to my mouth, propping my torso up in his lap. “It will soothe the burn.”
His touch sent a shiver up my back. I'd hardly ever felt nervous around any boys I had known, but with him, my stomach wouldn’t stop jumping.
Yet somehow, I was completely at ease and comfortable at the same time.
I sipped at the water, body shaking in the cool air. As if sensing my discomfort, the boy’s torso lunged at a sweatshirt lying next to him on the ground. His movements were agile, barely rocking me in his lap. As soon as I lost sight of his glistening eyes I realized he wasn't wearing a shirt.
Whoa. He was strong. I stared at his suntanned chest. I was usually better controlled around muscles, but in this case, I just kept staring.
He glanced at me from the corner of his eye and turned back to my direction. I'd swear he was holding back a smile. Was he purposely teasing me? My eyes darted away, embarrassed.
He must’ve pulled off the sweater in a hurry because the zipper was still intact. He unzipped it in less than a second with a single fluid maneuver and draped the black hoodie over my body. The warmth of his sweater blocked out the wind against my wet clothes, and I curled under it securely as it eased my shaking limbs.
The sweater looked faded and worn, but the inner lining was soft. A musky scent filled the air around my face where the hood rested on my chest. I took a deep breath, inhaling it discreetly. There was something about a boy’s sweater that was hard to resist.
He wasn't quite a boy, though. Despite his smooth, youthful perfection, he seemed more like a man. Something about him was mature and masculine. He had to be at least a couple years older than me, nineteen or twenty maybe? There was a confidence about him that made me feel safe. As if, no matter what happened, no matter what harm came my way, he could protect me.
I lay there for a moment, allowing my energy to return. The throbbing dulled to a shallow pain around the bump on my head, and my throat became smooth again as I sipped at the water. Even though my strength returned quickly, I was in no hurry to move from the comfort of my rescuer's arms.
I glanced up at his face several times, examining it discreetly. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew him; that I cared for him even. It seemed silly to think this way about someone I'd just met. It wasn't normal or reasonable. But I knew I felt something; I just couldn't explain it.
The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that we had met before. I just couldn’t remember where or when or why. Could he really be the boy from my dreams? But where were those dreams coming from in the first place? I was always a child in those dreams, but I hardly remembered the details of my childhood now. Then the thought occurred to me… maybe they weren’t only dreams; maybe they were memories.
They felt like memories of pleasant, happy feelings that I missed now, that I somehow could feel had left a void in my life when they went away—memories that centered on this mystery person holding me in his arms.
My eyes remained fixed on his face, spellbound, unable to look away. Something inside me feared he would disappear. But then his gaze met mine, and his expression intensified, as if he felt the same way, like he knew me too.
Suddenly, the earth stopped spinning. It was only the two of us moving together through space and time, as if the universe had finally come into balance.
His mouth turned up at the corners, smiling gently through his eyes. He didn't say anything, just looked at me thoughtfully like he knew what I was thinking. His hand brushed along my forehead, smoothing a stray hair through his fingers and back into place.
If I could freeze time, I would choose this moment. Of all the pleasant things I'd experienced in my life, none could compare. There was something unspoken between us, a feeling I couldn't deny, something I couldn't explain. The way he gazed down into my eyes…it almost felt like…he loved me.
But that would be ridiculous. We barely knew each other.
Or did we?
I wasn’t sure of anything at the moment, but there was one thing I did know for sure…I didn't believe in love at first sight. I'd always been a romantic, and I could see how someone might become infatuated by another person and want to spend every waking moment with them…but true love—real, lasting love—came by knowing someone completely and accepting them for who they are.
Yet, somehow in this moment it seemed possible, irrational, but possible. And if there was no such thing as love at first sight like I believed, then that meant only one thing—if he loved me like my heart believed he did…then he did know me.
Now, all I wanted was a chance to know him too.
Suddenly, he turned his face away, breaking his gaze from mine. My heart dropped, and the earth settled back to its normal rotation. I could feel the distance move between us as he mumbled something under his breath. It was hard to make out, but it sounded like he said, remember the code. It didn't really make sense.
The unspoken connection between us was lost. It was a beautiful moment, whatever it was, but it was over. I wouldn't forget it though; I was sure of that. How could I possibly, when it left my heart changed forever?
He sat for a few minutes, staring off at the horizon, but it felt like an eternity. He didn't speak, deep in thought. I wanted to say something, but there weren't any words. Then he turned back to me, his expression resolved.
“Are you feeling better now?” he said in a polite tone.
I hesitated, not wanting anything to change. “Uh, yes, much better.”
“It'll be dark soon. Let me help you up.” He lifted me effortlessly from his protective cradle to stand me upright.
I wasn't ready to leave. I wanted to drop down and cling to his leg, pinning him to the ground. But I ignored the childish impulse and smiled, thanking him.
“How do you feel?” he asked. “Do you think you can walk all right?” For being through such an ordeal, I felt surprisingly well, almost normal—at least physically.
“I'm okay,” I said. I smiled to hide my disappointment. “Thank you so much for helping me. Is there anything I can do to thank you?” I looked up at him hopefully.
“Knowing you're okay is thanks enough,” he said, a wide boyish smile forming on his face, revealing a faint dimple near his left cheek.
A butterfly fluttered in my stomach. His expression was charming and playful compared to his earlier, serious demeanor—as if nothing even happened, as if he was just a sweet guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time to help me out, as if he didn't feel any of the emotions I had felt.
He picked up his t-shirt crumpled on the ground and threw it over his head, then walked a few feet to my bag and rested it on his shoulder.
“Come on,” he said, grabbing my towel to shake off the sand. “I'll walk you to the shuttle.”
I nodded and trotted to his side, unable to suppress my smile when I was near him.
The sun grew low in the sky as we made our way across the shore. A few clouds reflected pink and orange hues around the muted glow of the setting sun.
I tried to think of something to say to break the silence. It was rare for me to be at such a loss for words. I had a feeling he was going to leave soon, but I didn't want him to. I wished there was something I could say to persuade him to stay with me.
I made an attempt at normal conversation. I wasn't sure what else to do.
“Do you go to school around here?” I asked, hoping to find out more about him. I was almost positive he was the boy who bumped into me at school.
“No,” he said.
I sighed. “Oh, for some reason I thought I'd seen you at my school before.”
“I haven't been at any schools recently,” he said without hesitation. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
I was a little perplexed. It had to be him. I would swear on my mother's life. Maybe I was going crazy.
We reached the edge of the beach and continued up the paved path towards the shuttle stop.
“So, if you're not in school, what do you do?” I pressed. “Besides saving damsels in distress from drowning of course…”
He chuckled. “You guessed it actually. Saving beautiful girls from danger is my favorite hobby.”
Was he implying he thought I was beautiful? I felt a tinge of hope. I swayed towards him, my arm brushing against his. “No, really,” I said, feeling flattered. “What else do you do? Besides that…” It was hard not to feel flirtatious, especially when he looked at me with those eyes.
“I work,” he said vaguely, like it was fun for him to withhold as much information from me as possible.
“You work? Wow, that really narrows it down.” My tone was sarcastic, but he was too cute to even pretend to be frustrated with. I couldn't control my smile around him. My cheeks were starting to hurt as we walked up the path.
“It's…complicated,” he finally said.
I wasn't getting anywhere with this conversation, almost like he was purposely hiding something from me. Why was he being so mysterious? The desire to unravel his secrets only multiplied my interest.
“Start with your name then,” I said. “That can’t be complicated.”
I looked him directly in the eye, waiting for his answer, but he didn’t respond. He just smiled this frustrating, devious smile and walked ahead of me to the shuttle stop. I stared at his back in disbelief.
He set my stuff on the bench and motioned to me. “You should sit down. You don't want to exert yourself after a head injury.”
I followed his suggestion and walked toward him, feeling both frustrated and intrigued. He was so impossibly interesting; dauntless and protective, thoughtful and kind—yet completely infuriating. The mystery was too much to resist.
I moved near him and his hand guided me in front of the bench, but I turned to face him instead of sitting down. He immediately shifted back, pulling slightly away. I wasn’t sure if it was the bump on my head suddenly clouding my thoughts, or the romance of being swept away and rescued by a gorgeous, mysterious boy, or this little ache in my heart of forgotten memories and dreams, but something deep inside me drew me towards him.
I wanted to reach out and hold him, but I held the feelings back, unsure if I should act on them. Instead, I stood there unmoving, still gazing up at him. He was tall compared to most high school boys I knew. I searched his face for any sign of reciprocation and moved closer. This time he didn’t move away.
“Thank you again,” I said softly, looking up at him through my lashes.
There was a long, heavy pause as I waited breathlessly for his response. His glowing eyes met mine, and their radiance hypnotized me. I could see nothing else.
Then I felt it again, the unexplainable connection between us. Time slowed around us like a force field pulling us together. I had no desire to resist it; I let the feelings draw me in, and I inched forward, wishing for his lips on mine. His hand lifted gently to my waist, sending a thrill through me in every direction. Never before had I felt the desire to kiss someone so fervently, the divine first kiss I had always dreamed of.
There was no trace of resistance left on his face. He leaned into me and my heart raced. Our faces grew slowly together as I looked from his dazzling eyes to his inviting lips.
Two bright headlights glared around the corner at the top of the hill, cutting through the darkening sky. I flinched, and his gaze broke from mine.
“That's the shuttle,” he said, his tone almost relieved. His hands fell to his sides.
I leapt on my toes to reach his smooth face, pressing my lips to his cheek. He gave me half a smile and took a step back.
“Take care, okay?” His voice was apologetic and genuine with concern as he hurried towards the path.
“Wait, you're not coming?” I blurted. He was leaving now and there was nothing I could do to stop him.
“I'm going to walk. Don't miss the shuttle,” he ordered over his shoulder.
I watched his silhouette disappear in the shadows, and regret washed over me. I had no way to find him again. No phone number, no address, not even his name.
The shuttle pulled around beside me and the door opened. I hesitated, glancing from the bus to the path, struggling with the urge to run after him. But I didn’t chase him. I had the feeling he didn't want to be found.