The sun is shining, the birds are singing.
It's already hot, even though the clock's little hand has barely scraped past the eleven mark. My new watch - my first watch, the first I ever owned - lies on my wrist, my sweat trickling between the leather band and my flesh, the watch slipping down to the wide place where my wrist joins my hand. Time, slipping away.
The heat glares off the asphalt. It's too hot to be doing heavy work outdoors. But the moving van's cargo area stands open, and the men are working, they're on the clock and they've got a job to do, and they're doing it.
And the seconds tick past. The minute hand keeps pushing, pushing.
I've been up since seven o'clock. So has he. My mom woke us. He couldn't afford to be late, that morning. Sleeping over was a special privilege last night, because this morning's schedule was strict and there was no room for tardiness. We knew he'd have to be at his house by 8:30.
Now it's two and a half hours later, and the truck is almost loaded. His mom is loading the car with pillows and coolers and stuff for the long ride.
Last night. It was soooo good, last night. We knew it would be the last time.
My mom came to wake us. We had the door closed, of course. So she knocked, and hollered through the old thin wood: "You boys better get up!" Then she left.
My mom had never opened the door on us, not once in all those months. Did she know? I never found out.
After we showered, I watched him get dressed. We were talking, as we always were. But it was hollow, forced conversation that morning, and we knew it. I watched as he pulled on his boxers. The last time I'd see that.
Breakfast must've happened, I guess. I don't remember it now.
Then we walked on down the road to his house. It was morning, that time of renewal, the truth of a new day, promise of a new beginning, God's message to the universe that there are always second chances. It felt old and draggy to me already.
The minute hand keeps pushing, pushing. Now the truck is gone. The house is empty. That house where we sat in his bedroom on rainy afternoons and listened to The White Album over and over. "Back in the USSR". "Blackbird". "Rocky Raccoon". "Birthday". "Happiness is a Warm Gun" (we giggled). "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" (we giggled and giggled).
"Long, Long, Long". "Yer Blues". And, "Cry, Baby, Cry". We never understood them, then. I do, now.
That house where we slept over. Where one winter night I woke up at three o'clock in the morning, sitting in the kitchen in my underwear with a glass of milk in my hand, touching my lips, and I was so damn disoriented for a few seconds, and then I ran upstairs and shook him awake and said, "Guess what? I sleepwalked down to your kitchen just now!", and he just mumbled and went back to sleep. And how we laughed about it the next morning.
The damn minute hand keeps pushing, pushing.
The car is packed. His mom and dad and older sister are claiming their places. Now it's time, it's really time, time isn't gonna stop (no matter how I pray), time is what it's all about now, and time is up. The ref's whistle has blown, and the game is over. Hide-and-seek's finished, all in free. His mom is calling. Like she'd called him in for supper, so many times... or for bedtime: "Come inside, right now! It's getting dark!" "Aww, Mom! It's not fair!"
She's calling him again, and it's not dark, it's noon, the sun is shining, and it's not fair.
There's no long goodbye, when you're a boy. We don't hug. We damn sure don't kiss. I've never kissed him, ever. My lips have touched him, lots of times, but never his mouth. We don't linger, now. "Um, well... so long." "Uh... okay." He turns and runs to the car, like so many times before, after our trips to the pool or the movies. Just like that.
I don't cry. Crying is for lovers parting. Boys can't be lovers. We're best friends. We've been swimming buddies, we've been soccer teammates, we played hide-and-seek in the deep twilight when the fireflies sparkle and fade. Last year, we discovered the big secret together, together; we've been joined in the most intimate connection it's possible for two to make. And we've laughed. Oh man, have we laughed! Now, it was time for a different emotion. But boys don't do that.
He gets in the car, slams the door, fumbles for his window crank. "I'll call ya." "Okay." The engine's already running, and now the car lurches forward, packed to the gills, and he's waving, his whole family is waving at me, and I'm waving back and watching him, and the car swings out the driveway and onto the road, and I can't see anymore, the sun is glaring off the back window, and the car recedes, and then it's gone, and I'm left in the empty driveway next to the empty house and the empty yard in the empty early afternoon, empty.
The minute hand drags, so slowly, so slowly.
I walk home in the early afternoon heat. The towering cumulus clouds are above me, stretching miles and miles into the stratosphere, up there where it's cool and the sky goes indigo. I walk along, my head bowed, watching my sandal-clad feet kick little pebbles along the sidewalk. I'm not looking up. Those clouds will bring rain, sudden and violent, the way it always comes in June.
But the rain is hours away. No rain falls on the pavement now. It's dry. No tears from heaven, yet. And the tears on earth won't come. Boys don't cry. Everyone knows that. No matter if it's your best friend, leaving forever. No matter if you're gonna miss him so bad, so bad. No matter if he's more than your best friend... no matter if he's your......
I reach my house, go inside. My mom doesn't notice how I am. She hands me the sponge brush and the siphon pump and the fish net: "Time to clean the aquarium, honey." Okay. It's something to do.
I retrieve all the fish, put them in the bucket, drain the water, stir the gravel, scrub the algae off the glass, flush and rinse the crud into the basin, flatten the gravel, put the little lighthouse and stuff back inside.
Now, it's time to refill the aquarium. The fish need fresh water, a new clean environment to swim in and to go on being fish. Time of renewal, the truth of a new day, promise of a new beginning. I linger a minute, looking at the empty, empty glass walls. Then I turn on the faucet, and the water flows, and the tears still don't flow, and why can't I fill myself back up?
I finish filling the tank, put the fish back inside, wipe off the wetness. My mom thanks me, turns back to her chores, doesn't notice.
I go outside. Really hot now. The sun is shining, the birds are singing. It's not fair. Will he call? Or is it just something you say? I don't know.
What's all this for, anyway? Why? WHY??
I don't get an answer. So I go off to the corner of the yard, no particular direction. And there in the tall grass along the back wall is my soccer ball. He'd kicked it there last evening, at the end of our one-on-one. Right before it got too dark to go on. And right before my mom called us in. He had the last touch on the ball, the last goal shot. It had his molecules on it, still.
Now, I touch the ball, and I'm touching the last trace he's left me, and now all of a sudden I'm seeing double, my eyes fill up, and my breathing goes ragged and catches in my throat, and I bow my head. And those towering cumulus clouds are still up there, stretching miles and miles into the stratosphere, up there where it's cool and the sky goes indigo.
And my watch slips down my wrist to the wide place where my wrist joins my hand. Time, slipping away, not turning back, not even pausing.
After some unknown length of time, I get to my feet. There's a breeze now, and the sun isn't shining, it's behind those clouds, and the birds are quiet. Better go inside. It's gonna rain.