inspired by “august” written by Taylor Swift
You left the window open on your way out to work. We overslept. Probably my fault; I was the one who threw your phone across the room. “Ten more minutes,” I grumbled at the alarm, and you pulled me in tight. We fell asleep again, and when the sun peaked through the sheer curtains on your bedroom window, you bolted out of bed and dressed like a madman. You knew it was late. I laughed at you when you looped the buttons through the wrong holes on your shirt. Your belly button visible through the folds.
In the mirror, you assessed the bed hair on top of your head. Not much to be done with it. You moved on to fix the buttons on your shirt. White and denim uniform for a retail job. Just a summer thing; you didn’t want to be tied down to one job for the rest of college. Lucky for me, I’ll still be there when you come home for Thanksgiving.
I fell in and out of sleep as you put on deodorant, shoes, and your shell necklace. I pretended not to notice the last one. The window creaked as you opened it to let in the sea breeze. A whispered “see you later,” and the door slammed behind you on the way out.
I could taste the salt air; the room grew sticky with summer heat. I had the day off so I lay there a while, trying to remember the night before, to savor it. An empty bottle of wine rested on the nightstand. We didn’t even bother with glasses, but I think we were almost drunk off the margaritas from dinner. It took me at least five minutes to open it—you didn’t own a corkscrew. Eventually we settled on opening it with a power drill, which shredded the cork to pieces. We drank the whole thing, bits of cork and all.
My clothes lay discarded around the room. I put on my swimsuit and poured a cup of coffee leftover from yesterday. The beach house belonged to your dad, and had room for two, maybe three, people. He had bought it after your mom died, and the two of you used to get out of town for a weekend when things got too suffocating. But it was always short lived. There’s no real way to get out of this town. After your dad remarried, he stopped coming so it became your place. You told me I was the first person to stay over since he left.
I walked out of the beach house and dove into the ocean to wake myself up. Balmy saltwater in August was healing. But there’s no way to get out of this place. Unless you’re lucky, unless you’re rich.
I was neither of those things, but she was. She got out of here on a scholarship, and I guess you did too, but you’re not lucky like she is. A hotshot advertising internship with her department and she sped out of town as fast as she could. Gave you that damn shell necklace and a kiss and split. You were fine for a couple weeks, cheery at work, hanging with the crew whenever you could. By mid-June, the charade was up and we found ourselves alone at the skate park in the rain. You said you always liked me, even in high school. I asked why. We woke up in bed together later.
Then it became a game.
Our friends never caught on. Sneaking glances at work, picking each other up for morning swims, meeting behind the mall on short breaks. I didn’t get it at first. We were always just friends and it was like something came loose this summer. I assumed you did it out of boredom and spite; she hadn’t called, hadn’t come home to see you. But you called it our time, our summer. I believed you.
Mid-August has arrived and she’s headed back. I tried not to count down the days until you both have to go back to school. By September, I’ll be alone in the mall. Probably will pick up smoking on my breaks since you’ll be gone, but I can’t afford to be bitter. Because you’re not mine.
I dried off, got dressed and hopped on my bike. Rode through the streets of pastel storefronts as they wrapped up another summer of tourists. Once I got home, I showered and changed into clean clothes because I couldn’t bear the smell of you on my skin. I won’t say it hurt; there wasn’t really a way to explain it. Staying away for long never worked, though, so I decided to bring you lunch. A few minutes later, I was back on my bike with sandwiches from Al’s. I texted you to meet me out back.
In hindsight I felt like I knew. We were on borrowed time. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I reached the delivery door and she came outside with you.
“Look who came back early,” you said too cheerfully.
I wondered if she knew you’re faking it.
With an apology, I pulled out the sandwiches and offered to pick something up for her. She claimed she’s on her way out. And then she was. A peck on your cheek and she disappeared through the back door. The air was dead still in the alley behind the mall. Your hair was pulled back and you shuffled your Keds-clad feet. I felt frustrated more than embarrassed, and you vice-versa. You couldn’t seem to make eye contact. I gave you the sandwich and we sat on the parking block to eat. Like we’ve always done. All summer.
I could feel you were trying to say something so I jumped the gun.
You shook your head.
“It was our summer and now it’s over. It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry,” you whispered.
I believed you again.
We finished our lunch and you crumpled the deli paper, trying to think of an excuse not to leave me alone.
“But I still—”
“I didn’t want anything more than this,” I said. “It’s all right. Don’t feel like you owe me anything.”
I stood and gave you a hug. Anything more than that felt wrong. With a “see you later,” I pedaled away on my bike without a backward glance. I knew I’d see you again tomorrow, and the day after that. At least for the next week before you headed for the dorms. But I said goodbye now because August was over for us even if it really wasn’t.