I roll my window down just so I can watch Gentry’s hair blow in the wind, from the passenger side of his old Chevy. He smiles, a dimple hidden beneath the honey colored stubble on his face, like he knows I’m watching him.
He reaches for the radio and bumps up the volume and we sing off pitch to Sweet Home Alabama, my bare feet tapping along to the beat on the dashboard. The smell of honeysuckle hangs in the air and it mixes with Gentry’s cologne and the exhaust from the pick-up and it all brings one word to my lips; summer.
I try not to notice the leaves have started to change. I don’t want to see the summer end. I’m not ready to say goodbye to this.
To say goodbye to Gentry.
Gentry grabs my hand to steady me. One foot after another, I balance on the railroad track, only leaning on him because I want to. His fingers are long and warm and I try to memorize the shape of his hand and how mine fits into it.
“I’m gonna miss this smell,” he says. His eyes are hidden beneath the brim of his baseball cap. The shadow it casts makes his jaw line sharp and I have the urge to kiss him there.
But I just breathe in deep instead--Iron, rust, tar, and honeysuckle. I’d miss this smell too if I were the one leaving, but I’m not. I can’t imagine ever leaving Red River. It’s a thought I just can’t have. “You don’t have to go,” I mumble.
If Gentry hears me, he doesn’t show it. He kicks a rock with the toe of his boot and it skitters down the small incline and plops into the river beside us. “You wanna go for a swim?”
Neither of us has a bathing suit, but that’s never stopped us before. The river water is crystal clear and it’s real deep beneath the railroad bridge just a ways up the track. Gentry likes to jump from the bridge, but I’ve never tried. Today I think I will.
“Sure.” I smile at him like he’ll always be mine, and we’ll always have this. And if just for today, I try to believe it.
I didn’t know it was the last time I’d see Gentry. He cut our summer short when he left for California two weeks sooner than he’d promised. I told myself I wasn’t going to think about him after he left, but he’s in me. Like the hot iron of the railroad tracks, the feel of the cool river water on my skin, the sound of Sweet Home Alabama on the radio. There are some things you just can't let go of.
I head down to our spot on the river, wanting solitude, and wanting more than ever not to be alone. I stop short on the river bank, looking up at the boy on the railroad bridge above. My eyes play tricks because I think it’s Gentry, until he jumps and a mess of dark hair plunges into the water.
When he comes back up, he swims to me. I watch, as he climbs up the rocky slope, water dripping from his naked shoulders. “Hi,” he says. Goose bumps cover his chest and arms.
“It’s too cold for a swim.”
The boy laughs. “Yeah. I guess so.” He rubs a hand through his brown hair and then he looks at me in a way that makes my cheeks warm. His eyes are deep, dark brown, set beneath a heavy brow. “I’m Jake.”
I smile, but it feels wrong. It’s too tight on my face. I haven’t smiled like this for anyone but Gentry. “You don’t look like a Jake.” His name should be something more exotic. It’s right on the tip of my tongue but I can’t grasp it. A name I’ve only heard in stories.
He laughs again and my breath catches. “You know, I’ve heard people look like their names, but I never really believed that.”
The wind blows cold and a leaf that’s just started to turn orange falls down and lands between us, floating on the water. Jake bends and picks it up. He hands it to me. “I bet your name is something pretty. Something like Summer.”
The leaf is cool and wet in my hand and I imagine what Jake’s skin feels like. Cool from the river, but warm against my fingertips. He points to a towel hanging from a dogwood branch. “Hand me that, please?”
I move aside so that he can reach it himself. I don’t like the way he makes me feel. Intoxicated, almost. It took me years to feel this way about Gentry. He leans in close to me, so close that I can smell his skin. My eyes close and I expect something like Gentry’s cologne, but that’s not right. The scent isn’t right.
I step back and watch him dry his hair. Something about this boy feels wrong. The way his eyes shine, the way his skin seems to move like it’s part of the river.
“Where’d you say you were from?” I ask.
Jake grins and just beneath his lip I can see his teeth—pointed, sharp. “I didn’t.”
Come back Wednesday for Part 2 by Natalie!
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