I was outside, walking to the park. I had practically begged my mom to let me go to the park because she argued as to why I needed to go out in the freezing cold weather when I could get sick. I told her that I just needed to go out to get some fresh air, and after my relentless arguing, she finally gave in. I was tired and hungry. My stomach growled because all I had had since the morning was ice cold water. The cold numbed me a little, and when I felt numb, I felt nothing.
I tried sleeping but whenever I closed my eyes I had moments of full consciousness and intensity, when everything would hit me at once. But there were also moments of numbness that radiated through me, my body unwilling to feel anything at all. I wanted my boyfriend, Julian, to return my texts and calls, talk to me, or just show a remote sign of affection. I didn’t know why I was so attached to him even after I fell out of love with him. I thought of how maybe I didn’t want to lose him because he had been my best friend for years, but that was no reason to lead him on. And that certainly wasn’t a reason for him to treat me the way he did—rough and at his disposal. I’d been friends with Eric for seven years now and he had never treated me the way Julian did. So why should I put up with it?
I shook my head to release myself from the cage of my own thoughts. I was already beginning to regret going outside in the first place because of the cold wind that crawled up my spine. My hair was tied up in a ponytail, the wind running through my baby hairs made them dance all over my forehead, but I couldn’t care less about taming them anymore. I rocked back and forth in a constant motion that made me feel nauseous at first, but then it just calmed me.
“Hey,” I looked up to see Eric. His cheeks were colored pink from the chilling cold. I’d sent him a vague text, something along the lines of “i want to talk to you about something. meet me at the park at 5?”.
His presence sparked an instantaneous reaction in me and somehow I couldn’t take it. Tears trickled down my cheeks and I tried to catch my breath from the overwhelming amount of tears I was shedding. He sat on the swing beside me, and said nothing but extended his arm to squeeze my shoulder, keeping his eyes locked on me.
I sighed finally, as if exhausting all the tears in my eyes but knowing full well that they’d come back soon enough.
We locked eyes for a moment and I looked away, suddenly embarrassed.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he whispered gently. He wiped away my tears and somehow his calloused hands felt warm even in the chilling cold.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” I sniffled. When Erin didn’t say anything, I went on. “I think it’s over.”
Eric nodded as if he knew exactly what I meant and I guess he did because he’d been there through every fight, every consolation session, and every time I’d said that I would break up with Julian but didn’t. But this time I was serious.
“You can do this Summer, I know you can,” he said encouragingly, squeezing my shoulder again.
I knew he was right. I could do this.
“It’s getting dark out. Let me walk you home,”
I hang on his words for a while and he suddenly goes quiet.
“You just got here and it’s barely dark,” I motion to the sky that’s turned a crimson color with undertones of blue. He laughs because this was how we normally talked to each other—no filter or anything. He was like family to me, we hated seeing each other sad, but still sucked at consoling one another. It didn’t matter to me though because just his presence was enough to make me feel better.
“You should go easy. Maybe take a shower and then go to sleep early.” he replied.
I want to relent but I know he’s right. Eric’s always right. He’s always been the practical one.
“I promise we can come here again tomorrow, okay? After you take care of your unfinished business,” he speaks softly.
I nod and we get up to leave.
“Just promise me one thing,” he says, suddenly turning back to face me.
“Yeah?” I ask.
I have no idea what he’s going to ask of me. He never asks me anything. It’s usually the other way around.
“Promise me you won’t back out this time,” he looked at me with that same gaze, the one that Julian had shown me before, but it wasn’t daunting nor tired like Julian’s. Instead it was patient and tireless. How could the same gaze deliver such different messages to my heart?
“I promise,” I said and he smiled at me as we continued to walk on.
By the time we reached my house, the red sky had faded into a navy blue. It was dark now and maybe he was right about walking me home after all.
He shot me a “I told you so” look and smiled at me, and despite everything, I smiled back.
The next day
I couldn’t find my voice and my stomach felt heavy, cheeks warm. My heart pounded in my throat, threatening to break out.
“Can I talk to you?” I stepped forward and asked him. His eyes wandered freely over the tiled floors while mine stayed locked on him. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“Please, no,” Julian replied, slightly wincing.
I clenched my jaw.
“Just this once, and then you can ignore me all you want,” I replied wearily.
“Okay, fine.” he answered, closing his eyes as if momentarily regretting his decision.
We headed to the door, and as he slowly walked ahead of me I stared at his back, not knowing what to feel. He was wearing his black sweater, the one that I would always wear. The sweater brought back so many nostalgic memories, memories that I would soon have trouble forgetting.
I rubbed my sweaty palms on my jeans and took a deep breath before following him out. I felt nervous, something that I had never felt in his presence before.
“Julian…” I started, and he returned a languid gaze. A look that had given up, and was near breaking point.
“What do you want to do?” I asked breathlessly as the surge of feelings flowed within me. “About us…” I followed as if he didn’t already know what I meant.
“You know what I want,” he shrugged, his almond brown eyes boring into me.
I clenched my jaw, making it feel sore from the pressure it withheld. I didn’t know what he wanted.
I kept questioning him, deeply wanting him to feel something…anything. But he kept giving me that look. That disapproving look that I’d seen from him and my dad a million times before. One that had already given up.
“I can’t do this anymore.” I blurted out as I opened my eyes, tears forming in them.
I thought that our relationship was worth fighting for, even if I didn’t love him anymore, but now the feelings hit me hard.
He looked at me straight in the eye, and for a split second, I felt nothing. And then he turned around and walked away. I wiped away my tears and hurried to the washroom. I locked myself in a stall and pulled out my cell phone.
“Mom, I’m not feeling well. Can you pick me up?”
Later that day
We were back at the park, Eric and I. This time we were splayed out on the grass laying on our backs, staring at the clouds. Luckily it was a Friday which meant that I had the rest of the weekend to self loathe and sulk.
“You look good today,” Eric said. And I knew he meant it. Even though my eyes were a horrible shade of red and my eye bags were huge, I knew he was somehow still being sincere.
“So you mean I didn’t look good yesterday?” I teased.
“That’s not what I meant—”
“I’m just joking” I managed a smile.
The sky was turning that same shade of crimson again and I knew we would have to go home soon.
I breathed in and out, steadily.
“So did you do it?” he questioned.
Do what? But then I remembered back to the promise I’d made him.
“Good,” he smiled reassuringly. And that was that—he didn’t press on for details or anything.
“So do you think you’ll be okay?” he asked, getting up.
I thought about it for a moment before responding.
“I’m honestly not sure,” I finally said. “I mean I guess it’ll take a while but…yeah I’ll be alright, eventually.”
“And you can always talk to me about it, you know that right?”
I nodded and he offered a hand to get up. I took it and as he pulled me up our faces were only inches apart. If I wanted to I could lean over and kiss him. But I wasn’t going to, obviously.
Because even though we’d met in the sixth grade and I’d had a blaring crush on him for three years after that, those feelings had never been reciprocated and not to mention, that was a while ago.
We both looked away from each other, and laughed awkwardly.
“We should get going,” he took my hand in his as we started walking back up toward my house. His hand felt warm against mine and it made my stomach feel like honey cider vinegar, bittersweet.
But then he pulled away and just like that, the feeling was gone and I desperately wanted it back. But instead of impulsively making a move, I continue walking and match his strides with mine.
“Yeah so uh…about what you said,” I paused to let him say something but continue when he just stares back blankly at me.
“About how I could tell you anything about Julian,”
“Well the thing is, he changed. Small things start seeming off at first. He’d always been a gentleman but then he started getting really annoyed over the smallest things.”
“And you know for the longest time I thought it was my fault, that I should have somehow known that he was going to change. But the thing is, I don’t know if I would have been able to even if I was looking really really closely.” I pushed a strand of my hair behind my ear, self consciously. “The whole thing just reminded me of mom and dad’s divorce. Like how dad would always be tired of mom’s shit but she would never change,” I continued. “I mean mom gets all annoyed and confrontational at even the smallest things nowadays. Like yesterday she didn’t even want me to go to the park, Eric. She’s gone mad.”
Eric laughed half heartedly and I shrugged.
“I don’t know, I guess it just made me extra cautious, you know, like I don’t want to lose the people I love.”
I peered to the side to look at Eric in the eye, only to catch him staring at the ground. I pushed his shoulder playfully, annoyed that he thought that the ground was more interesting than my personal life but when he looked up at me with his big glassy, doe-like eyes I knew I messed up. Tears started to form in them and it felt weird because in all the years I’d known him, I couldn’t remember the last time that I saw him cry. Tears fell down from his cheeks, falling onto his neck and after a few moments of silence, he took a few deep breaths to calm himself down. I wiped his cheeks with my hands like he had just a day ago and squeezed his shoulder. I really did suck at consoling.
“I won’t leave, Summer.” he finally said.
“Eric I know—”
“No, I mean it. I don’t want you to feel that way,” he started at me intently. “I promise I’ll be here. Whenever you need me. Just a phone call or a text away. I’ll be a friend if you want or…” he trailed off. “Whatever it is, I’ll take care of you.”
He said it and somehow I believed it. I was still hurt and wounded and I knew it would take time but I wanted to believe him so badly so I did.
“The sky…” I said, motioning upwards.
Eric followed my gaze and we both started at the sunset that had deep purplish reds and golden orange accents, and for once in a very long time it felt like everything would be okay.
“…it’s turning crimson, again,” I whispered.
Why I Wrote This Piece
I was inspired to write this piece during the Write to Discover program. I wanted to try something different so I chose to deviate from my usual writing genre and go outside of my comfort zone. Through Crimson Sky, I tried to shed a light on the uncertainty of our relationships but also the challenges of navigating the sometimes conflicting parts of our life during our adolescence.