Read on Wattpad or onsite.
“Let’s find a better place to sit.” Marcus walks up to where I’m waiting after school, taking one earphone out.
We follow each other to the grass at the back of the park, where I drop my stuff in the grass next to a towering oak tree. I get out my laptop as Marcus sits down with a loud exhale next to me.
I open up Photoshop where half a dozen of the best photos from the weekend are lined up on one side.
“Hold on.” Marcus places a hand quickly on my wrist, and then retrieves it as I look up, startled. “I want to say sorry for how I reacted yesterday.”
“What do you mean?”
He sighs and takes a deep breath. “At the counsellor’s. I must’ve seemed pissed off.”
I hold my breath as I sit there and listen. Marcus doesn’t meet my gaze, only stares down at the grass and breaks some of the stalks between his fingers.
“I didn’t mean to be rude, and I’m not mad at you, alright? I was just – caught off guard.” Marcus says slowly and I exhale, staring pointedly at my laptop and not moving a muscle.
After a few moments of silence Marcus sighs, leaning back and looking slightly off into the distance.
I try to concentrate but finally give up and close my laptop. “You okay?”
Marcus looks up, briefly surprised, before shrugging and throwing the ripped grass back onto the ground again and leaning back onto his hands.
“Yeah doing better in some ways.” He hesitates for several moments, then continues carefully. “I can talk to you about this, right?”
“Sure.” I’m no longer thinking about the photos, or anything else.
“A few years ago, I had uh – kinda breakdown. Had to take a year off to sort through some shit. Pretty public, though nobody brings it up anymore. I think people expected that I moved on or something, since I never bring it up anymore. I wanna show them that I moved on.”
Marcus lies down on the grass, staring up into the light blue sky, hands crossed behind his head. His expression is unreadable.
“But you haven’t.”
“I think in a lot of ways, what happened, it kinda recreated everything, you know? And I don’t know how to undo it.” Marcus exhales softly, and I sit and wait for more, but there is only a gentle silence between us, broken only by the sound of a dog barking and kids playing in the distance.
“I know,” I begin. “I understand.” I stare down at the grass, uncertain of what else to say. My heart beats a little too quickly and I tug nervously at my shoelaces.
Marcus leans up a little until his gaze meets mine, and he nods shortly. “I have a feeling you do.” He shrugs and sits back up again, placing his hands in his lap. “You okay?”
There’s that familiar lump in my throat, the tightening of my chest, and I tear an entire handful of grass from the ground. “I’m fine.” I quickly turn back to my laptop and turn it on again. “We gotta finish this.”
Marcus sits there searchingly for a bit longer, playing with his hands. “I know you might not wanna talk. Hell, I haven’t wanted to talk about stuff to people I know for ages. But I just want to say that, you know, anytime, I’ll be open to listening.” He takes a deep breath, then smiles. “Right, gotta finish this, huh?”
I relax and turn my laptop to face Marcus, turning up the brightness on the screen. “Which do you like best?”
We spend the next two hours sprawled in the grass as he directs me on what he wants from the photos I took of him. I don’t ask any questions, only quietly follow the instructions with expertise speed and proficiency.
At some point in the afternoon as I begin to lose track of time, Marcus places his hand on my laptop and pushes it down.
“Hey. I wanna thank you, for helping me out. It means a lot.”
“You know, some of my friends and I are having a barbeque at the beach in a week. It’ll be cool if you came along. Just for some fun and drinks.”
I blink and swallow nervously. Marcus’ hopeful eyes remain on me and I take a deep breath.
“Yeah. Yeah okay.”
Marcus grins. “Good.”
I skate up to the coastal road and skid to a stop, crossing it with my board underneath my arms. I hear them before I see them outlined in the evening sunlight, loud cheers and swearing and laughter and volleyball hitting skin and sand. The smell of burnt barbeque and alcohol drifts towards me as I scan the crowd for a familiar shape.
Marcus is sprawled in a chair chatting with a taller boy with a flock of red hair.
“Hey! Isaac!” Marcus waves me over.
I lean my skateboard against a tree and make my way through the sand. Barely anyone pays attention to me, but I still pull my body closer to myself, squeezing through sweaty, mostly shirtless bodies.
“Chip, this is Isaac. New kid.”
Chip nods nonchalantly at me, balancing a beer between two fingers. “I remember you. Quiet one.” He grins and laughs and Marcus chuckles.
I laugh along with them but it almost has to be forced out of my body.
“Beer?” Marcus cracks a can open and holds it out to me.
I take it and swallow a gulp of the bitter liquid as Chip gives me a final glance, then gets up and heads to the volleyball game.
“I don’t really know anyone here,” I admit, sitting next to Marcus, who leans close and grasps me by the shoulder, his breath smelling like beer and soda.
“Then go talk to them, dummy,” he jokes with a big smile. He pulls me up a moment later and we walk around, Marcus listing off his friends like clockwork. They’re all mostly tall, confident guys with bright smiles who barely acknowledge me for more than a minute or two, preoccupied with each other and greasy food and drinks and the ever intense volleyball game.
I make some small talk but most of them trail off into nothing as I excuse myself to the edge of the beach where it’s quieter, pulling out my phone and steadying it on my knee, pointing it at the sunset over the water.
The salty tang of the air and the rush of wind pulls me back and suddenly I’m lying down, sand running through my fingers, Lucas’ smile flashing in my vision. I shake my head violently and I’m back here, my phone having fallen out of my hand. I shakily pick it up again and wipe it against my pants, hugging my legs and letting the cold water lap at my feet.
“Hey, what’re you doing down here then?”
I look up as Marcus flops down next to me. He hands me half of his burger and I take it, finishing it with little to no appetite. I barely taste a thing as it goes down.
The sun sets slowly in the distance, washing the skyline with shades of orange and yellow. There is a moment of quiet between us.
“I’m glad you came along,” he says.
“Are you?” I ask only half jokingly. “I just feel like I’m intruding.”
“Nah, you’re not.” He leans back and stares steadily ahead. “I’m happy you’re here.”
I run my fingers through the sand and I let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding. I turn to Marcus for a moment, and his face outlined by the last sunlight on the skyline.
The setting sun washes us both in pastel colours and I will the ocean waves to say what I cannot place, cannot even begin to articulate in my mind.
The moment is as fragile as glass and even breathing feels like it’ll disturb it, shatter it.
If I could, I’d take a picture of everything these days. Just so I can keep them, just so I can control these moments. If I could, I’d stop time.
“I never told you what the photography you did for me was for,” Marcus says after several moments pass between us.
I raise an eyebrow and turn curiously towards him.
“Promise me you won’t laugh at me. None of my friends even know,” Marcus says, lowering his voice.
I roll my eyes. “I won’t.”
“I’m serious.” Marcus takes a deep breath. “They’re for a piano recital I’m having. Supposed to make pamphlets to advertise them and I used some of the photos. I’m a finalist in a, this regional competition.”
I stare at Marcus for several moments processing what he says. “What – how’s that something to laugh at?”
Marcus shrugs. “I mean I know it isn’t.”
“Honestly that’s amazing. You should’ve told me.”
Marcus pauses for a second. “I want you to come, if you can.”
“Yeah…yeah of course. When is it?”
“Next Friday evening. Don’t tell anyone else though. This – I know it’s nothing bad. I just.” He takes a deep breath. “You know how it is.”
“I mean, I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to,” I answer, slightly bemused. “How long have you been playing?”
“Two years. Started a little after that uh – year off I had. I didn’t let anyone know then. Just felt like my little thing, something I could call my own, you know? Then it just – never came up and I don’t know, I still haven’t told anyone.”
“I’ll be there.” I say, with a finality.
Marcus smiles. “Thank you.” He takes a deep breath. “I think you’re a cool person Isaac. If that means anything.”
The quiet between us is calm and content and I smile inadvertently down at my shoes.
I close my eyes for a moment and there’s Lucas’ laughter, the cold of the ocean water as he splashes around me. I exhale and open my eyes again at the now darkening horizon.
“You know you’ll be alright.” Marcus says quietly, not quite meeting my gaze.
“I know.” My breath catches for a moment.