Crossroads In Suburbia (Chapter 18)

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18

All Memories Like Ocean Waves

The hours before the exhibition are packed full of running around, balancing frames and prints, shoving things into place, and shouting across the large, gradually more and more clustered hall. 

I’m moving around precariously holding some of Lucas’ photographs I’ve made into prints. One end of the hall is dedicated to him. I carefully and meticulously align his photos, and I re-adjust the description for a few minutes until Marcus is by my side, a hand on my shoulder.

“It looks perfect,” he says quietly. “Don’t worry.”

We both stand there and look at the wall for a moment. 

Rolling waves. A sunset over the sea. A storm coming in over the water from across the horizon. Our shadows highlighted on sand and in the water. Memories of a time long gone, frozen and preserved in time, right in front of me.

I blink several times and look away, turning to face the rest of the exhibition. A food and drink table is being set up, ornate yet resourceful amounts of fruits and cheese and juice being lined up at the entrance. 

A grand piano sits at the corner of the room, and Marcus is eyeing it nervously every few seconds, wiping his palm on his jeans.

“Hey. You’ll do just fine. I appreciate this so much, I really do.” And despite the number of people around the room, I take his hand in mine and I hold it for several moments. “I know this is hard for you. Thank you.”

He nods quickly, then turns to me. “Is your speech ready?”

I swallow nervously, and nod. “It’s the best it can be.”

Everything is set up two hours before the start of the program. Marcus and I wander the halls of the college where it is, and I gesture towards a cafe across the street.

“Urgh, no,” Marcus clutches his stomach. “If I eat anything, I’m gonna throw up.”

“I just want a drink,” I say. “Anything to distract me. I’ll be honest, my heart is going to fall out of my chest.”

Marcus laughs and follows me. “You don’t have to tell me dude.” 

We settle down at a corner booth with two cups of hot chocolate and for a moment he just smiles at me.

“Whatever happens, just know that Lucas would be so, so proud of you, and happy for you.”

“I hope so.” I sigh. “He should’ve won, not me.”

“Don’t put yourself down like that dude. You’re fucking good. And he would’ve wanted you to win.”

“It’s not even about winning anything, you know? It’s…it’s more than that.”

Marcus nods, his eyes meeting mine. “I know.”

I look down at my phone as it vibrates.

“Lucas’ parents will be here in a bit,” I say, and Marcus glances at me.

“It’ll be okay. I’m right here with you.”

We sit resting with each other for only a few minutes longer before Lucas’ parents walk in the door. They’re both dressed in semi formal clothing, and Lucas’ mother is leaning slightly on Lucas’ father’s side.

She comes forward and gives me a big hug before sitting down next to me.

Lucas’ father gives me a firm handshake. The wrinkles under his eyes are far more prominent than before, and there are streaks of gray in his hair.

“Thank you, Isaac,” he says, his voice scratchy. 

I give him the best smile I can muster up.

“This night is for him.”

The exhibition hall is packed full of people two hours later; Marcus stays by my side as people come up to ask questions and I drift from photo to photo. 

My heart is in my throat the entire time, my stomach turning so many knots inside my stomach I’m ready to throw up the hot chocolate from earlier. 

The organiser comes up to me half an hour into the open exhibition.

“It’s time, Isaac,” he says calmly.

I exchange a panicked look with Marcus.

He gives me a hug that lasts for several long seconds, rubbing his hand on my back.

“You’ll do great.”

I straighten my suit and make my way through the crowd, my breathing shallow and cold sweat building on my hands. 

For Lucas.

I get up on the makeshift stage, hands still trembling slightly, and clear my throat.

The crowd is awash with dim light, then cast into semi darkness as the spotlight is shone on me. I meet Marcus’ eyes in the crowd and he gives me a brief nod and a thumbs up.

“Thank you all for coming tonight,” I begin. “My name is Isaac Chen, and I would like to thank the college both for the opportunity to participate in their annual competition and to have a chance and honour to display my work here.” 

There is a smattering of applause and I take a deep breath. The sound of roaring river starts again but I grip the microphone firmly, take another breath, and focus on the room and photos and the people and the night. The sound slowly fades from my ears and I continue.

“As you have probably noticed, the theme for what I submitted into the competition is the beach and the ocean. There are many reasons why I have chosen this theme. I love going down to the beach. It’s one of the places I can think and feel the clearest. It is beautiful, no matter what time of day, what time of year, what weather it is. I spent my childhood growing up next to the ocean. But there is a bigger, more important reason why I chose it.

“…I had a best friend growing up. His name was Lucas Campbell. We would spent hours and hours down by the sea. He had a natural knack for photography that not only surpassed anyone I ever knew, but also a passion and thoughtfulness for life and for the world around him that inspired me for years, and continues to inspire me now. Lucas…Lucas he…” I take a shaking breath. I fix my eyes on Marcus in the crowd again, who gives me a soft, reassuring smile. “He passed away two years ago. 

“For months and months, I’ve grieved him. And I still do. His passing was senseless, should have never ever happened. I was searching and searching for a way, for any way, to honour his memory and his life. To show not just his work but him…as a person, as a friend, to the world. And this competition was a way to honour his memory, to honour him as a friend. Every photograph I took here, when you look at them, think of Lucas. Keep your loved ones close to you. Say I love you often. And be kind to each other, because there’s too much cruelty in the world, and it was ignorance and cruelty that took my best friend away from me. 

“I don’t think I’m angry anymore. What happened was not deliberate, but it was born from a long string of ignorance and carelessness and disregard. Just…be good to each other. Make good art. Appreciate what’s around you. You can see at the back, as well, a row of photos that Lucas took when he was alive. I was with him when he took many of those. Enjoy the exhibition, keep Lucas in mind, and have a wonderful night. And now I’m very happy to invite onto the stage Marcus Anand, for an original piano composition that he has prepared for the night.”

I walk off the stage in a daze, eyes blurry, and nearly walk straight into Marcus making his way up.

He clutches my arms.

“You did great,” he whispers.

“I talked for so long,” I mutter back, still steadying my breath.

“No, it was beautiful.” 

I give him a hug as he makes his way through the crowd and up to the piano.

There’s a few moments of incredible silence as he sits down, rearranges the sheet music, and looks out at the crowd. He relaxes when he sees me, then turns back to the piano.

The music starts off slow and soft, low notes that drum into my heart, my stomach, outlining the grief that is still there, the mourning and guilt that has never quite gone away. Then the notes grow higher, dancing across the octaves. A bittersweet, melodic tune that weaves its way through the crowd, entwining around and between our quickened breaths and thoughts and memories. The low notes maintain a steady, strong pulse as the high notes grow faster, happier, hopeful, twirling and bowing and drifting around us, towards the ceiling, up towards the night sky, to join the glimmering stars in the sea of indigo. Notes that ebb and go like the ocean tides, notes that form a canvas of memories, of mourning but also celebration for a life, of a tentative but strong, unbreakable hope for the future.

The music finishes five minutes later, but I’ve gone many years back and forward and back again. I can barely make out Marcus anymore, as the tears come and won’t stop and the crowd erupts into clapping and cheers. Marcus bows and he jogs towards me, taking my hand and pulling me slightly to the side.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asks gently. 

I try to wipe my eyes but it barely makes a difference.

“That was fucking beautiful,” I say. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Before I can say anything else, Lucas’ parents appear, and so do mine, and so do Marcus’ grandparents.

“That was wonderful, both of you,” Lucas’ mom begins, and she is wiping away tears as well. Her husband’s eyes are red but he smiles and grasps my hands gratefully for a moment, then Marcus’.

My mom hands me a wad of tissues and I take them gratefully. She embraces me in an awkward hug that is slightly cut short as she steps back again, but I nod at her, and at my dad, whose expression is still unreadable, but he gives me a curt nod, then scans the room and the crowds of people looking at the photos.

Marcus’ grandparents are hugging their grandson and kissing him on the forehead and he’s smiling but glancing periodically in my direction and I’m glancing periodically in his.

“I think we both need some fresh air,” I finally say, and the adults nod, letting us out of their embraces.

Marcus and I make our way out of the crowd and out of the back door of the exhibition hall into a cool back alley way. The silence and coolness outside is a shock compared to the commotion and warmth of where we just left.

For a moment we both stand there, and I can barely make out Marcus in the half light.

“Hey,” he says finally, and his voice is shaking a little bit. He steps closer until I can make out his features more clearly, and he looks up at me for a moment. There’s a brief second’s hesitation. My heart stops in my chest as Marcus reaches up at me, his hand on my cheek. 

“Can I?” he asks, and I nod, my breath no longer in my body.

He leans forward and kisses me. My body tenses for a moment, then relaxes to his touch. 

It only lasts a few seconds but a wave of euphoria rushes through me and I blush and pull back, mouth slightly agape and heart racing.

Marcus is watching me nervously, and my gaze meets his. 

“Hey Isaac I… ” he exhales shakily. “I love you. Is that okay?”

I grin and I can’t help but start laughing, and he starts laughing too, and we’re both standing there holding each other and laughing into the night.

“I love you too.”