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The sunset seems to stretch on forever as we walk down to the beach together the next day. The cold sea breeze blows around us and I clutch my camera closer to myself.
“Wow,” Marcus says finally. “Hey, you know what? This would be great for the competition.”
I smirk at him. “I know.”
He sits down on a log close to the sealine and I steady my camera, doing my best to capture the skyline of pinks and purples, the water blending seamlessly into the sky. A seagull soaring and crossing overhead, a graceful silhouette outlined by the evening light.
Ten minutes later I sit back down next to Marcus. We both take our shoes and socks off and place our feet close by the water, letting the cold waves touch our toes every few seconds.
There’s a comfortable silence between us for several moments.
“I just really miss him, Marcus,” I finally say, voice dropping. “I miss him so much.”
He glances up and places a hand gently on my knee.
“I know,” he murmurs back.
“He didn’t deserve what he got.”
“If he can see you now, he’ll be proud you’re getting better.”
I glance back out at the ocean, my heart heavy. I wait for the tears but they don’t come this time. Just a somber calmness.
“I really hope he’s proud of me, wherever he is.”
I continue watching the ocean, shimmering and shifting, stretching forwards towards what might as well be the end of the world. Endless and boundless, I shrink before the lapping, never ending waves.
“Tell me about him,” Marcus says. “If you want to.”
I glance at him. “I do.” I take a deep breath. “He was the sweetest guy. We were friends since kindergarten. I remember he was playing with blocks in the corner and I accidentally knocked his tower over. He didn’t get angry, or anything. He just asked if I could help him rebuild it. And I did. And we just continued to hang out after that. He was always kind of quiet, but the smartest person I ever knew. Read about anything and everything. It always seemed like he knew something about the world that nobody else did. And he was so nice, too, Marcus. Never did say a single mean word about anyone.”
Marcus nods and rubs my knee comfortingly. “I would’ve liked to meet him.”
“You would’ve been great friends with him,” I say.
“I know I would’ve.”
We sit quietly there before the setting sun, and I lean my head on Marcus’ shoulder.
I run up to Marcus after school as he takes his earphones out, eyes lighting up when he sees me.
“What’s up?” Marcus greets.
“I have an idea. For what I’m going to do for the competition.”
Marcus tilts his head slightly and waits for me to continue.
“Lucas and I, we…” I trail off and clear my throat once before continuing. “We used to go down to the beach a lot. It was his favourite place in the world. Favourite place to take pictures too. I’m going to photograph and submit an ocean themed collection. For him.”
Marcus leans forward and gives me a strong hug and I hug back. He buries his face in my neck.
“I’m happy for you,” Marcus says. “And Lucas would be very, very happy.”
I’m crying now, but this time, they’re not tears of grief. Marcus wipes a tear off my cheek and takes my hands in his.
“I’m proud of you,” he says, and I smile back at him.
Chip and his friends leave us alone now. Marcus doesn’t really talk to them anymore. Instead, he spends most of his time with me.
We split our time between the piano practice room and the school library and the skate park and the beach.
Many afternoons are spent skating through the suburban neighbourhoods without a word between us, but we don’t need to talk.
Many afternoons are spent together in the practice room, Marcus playing, me doing homework or editing new photographs I’ve taken.
Many afternoons are spent studying together in the library, in the park, sharing the same piano playlist that now sounds like home.
Many afternoons are spent down by the ocean. Me, taking photographs of the sea and the beach and Marcus too, and Marcus watching me with his vulnerably curious, gentle gaze that hardly ever appears at school or with others.
Many afternoons are spent in therapy. And although there are tears there, and flashbacks so vivid I’m shaking for hours afterwards, the rock bottoms become more infrequent, as the journals the doctor tells me to write in grow and grow. I keep them safely tucked under the bed, not needing to read them over, just needing them to be there. Needing the words on paper, and not endlessly in my head.