“You arrived at the beginning of summer with one duffle bag,” I said, pulling a hoodie off the back of the sofa in his apartment and holding it close to my face. It smelled amazing. “How did you manage to accumulate all this stuff?”
“Hey, that’s mine.” Brandon snatched his sweatshirt from my hands and tossed it into his open suitcase. “After you watched me unpack my one duffle bag, apparently you didn’t stick around to watch me empty every worldly possession out of the trunk of my car.”
“No, I guess I didn’t.” I flopped down into one of the wicker chairs and tried not to look depressed. From the way he was avoiding my eyes, I got the impression I wasn’t trying hard enough.
“Hey, since you’re here, will you get all the food out of the cupboards and pack them into this box?”
“I thought you had a meal plan at your dorm.” I didn’t get up from the chair.
“The food is for you to take inside and feed it to those bottomless pits you call best friends. I can’t leave it out here, the mice will get into it.”
“There are mice out here?” I pulled my legs up onto the chair.
“Not right now,” Brandon said, patting my head as he walked past me on his way to the bathroom. “If you leave food out here all winter long, believe me, the mice will come.”
“When are you coming home, uh, back. When are you coming back?”
He stopped emptying the drawer in the bathroom into his overnight bag and met my eyes. He cleared his throat. “I dunno.”
“Your dorms are closed over the Thanksgiving break, right.”
“Uh, I guess. I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Are you going back to live with your grandparents?”
“My grandparents will be in Florida by then. They go every winter.”
“You could come here for Thanksgiving.” I picked a piece of lint off my leggings. I hugged my knees to my chest. “And Christmas.”
“Do you think your mom would mind?” His voice was soft.
“Duh, she would love to have you come stay here.” I gulped. “Remember, you’re family now.”
“Family.” He sighed. “I don’t have much family in Michigan anymore, do I?”
“You’ve got us,” I said. We looked at each other across the room. He nodded but didn’t say another word.
He turned back to cleaning out the drawers in the bathroom. When he was done he gathered up all the towels and threw them in the hamper, then went into the bedroom to strip the sheets from the bed.
“You don’t have to do that,” I told him. “I’m used to cleaning up the guest rooms.”
“I’m not a guest, remember?” His voice was husky. “I can at least carry the hamper downstairs and start a load of laundry.”
“Okay,” I squeaked. What I really wanted was to wrap the sheets around me and inhale his scent that clung to every fiber. Maybe I could intercept them before he started the load and carry them up to my room. Okay, now that’s kinda sick. I needed to get away from him.
I hopped off the chair and bounded out the door and down the stairs. I darted in and around the cobblestone paths that led through the rose garden, trying not to think of all the times I’d watched him work back here, keeping this space beautiful. I ran down the hill past the firepits and stumbled through the soft sand on the beach. My feet pounded down the slats of wood that made up the dock, and I collapsed at the end, staring out into the endless pond that was Lake Michigan.
Light waves lapped at the shore and I wondered where the crashing, pounding swells were hiding. Not even the water was cooperating with my mood. Sobs shook my shoulders as tears flowed down my cheeks.
This had been the best summer I’d ever known and now it was ending. I couldn’t say goodbye. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t stand on the front porch and wave as he drove out of my life.
Twenty minutes passed with me sniffling and wiping my cheeks. Finally, I just sat there staring out into the lake. There were no more tears to shed. Summer was over. Brandon was leaving.
Footsteps jostled the dock and I heard them get closer and closer until he was standing behind me. I didn’t turn around. I waited for him to speak. It didn’t take long.
“The sheets wouldn’t all fit in one load, so I left a pile for you beside the washer.”
“Gee thanks,” I grumbled.
“I’ve got all my stuff in the car…”
“Don’t make this any harder than it already is, Brandon. Just go.”
“I’m not leaving without a hug.”
“Then I guess you’re not leaving.”
“Come on, stand up.” His impatience was coming through his attitude.
He crouched down and sat behind me, wrapping his arms around me and just holding me there.
I took a deep breath, inhaling and memorizing his scent.
“It’s only a couple of months,” he whispered.
“That’s not that long.” He pulled me a little tighter. “You’re going to be so busy with school and your winning cross season, and football games, and homework.”
“Gee, I was starting to feel optimistic for a minute there,” I said. “Why’d you have to mention homework?”
He chuckled then was quiet for a few minutes. “Thanks for making this the best summer of my life.”
Brandon kissed the top of my head, stood up, and quickly walked away.
Fresh tears flowed down my face.
Tears flowed down my face as I stumbled up to the house. I had already said goodbye to mom, so all I needed to do was walk over to my Mustang, climb in to the car, and drive away from the bed and breakfast that had been my home for the past three months.
Instead I ducked in the back door and into the mud room where my sheets were already spinning in the washing machine. The little pile of pillow cases and one quilt, and a couple of towels sat in a heap.
I stood there for a moment, then slipped off the Ferris State hoodie I was wearing and dropped it on top of the pile.
Oops, forgot something. Maybe my girls would need to take a road trip to return my missing sweatshirt. Maybe.
I walked back out of the house, climbed into my car, and drove away.
Brandon forgot his sweatshirt. I picked it off the pile of laundry and held it in my arms.
I had stayed out on the dock for another ten minutes and meandered slowly up the hill and through the gardens, so I knew he was long gone.
Maybe I would need to drive down to his college and return it one of these days. For now, I slipped the hoodie over my head and snuggled into it. I also pulled the quilt out from under the other clothes and wrapped it around my shoulders. I hurried up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom and pulled the quilt under my covers where it would stay. I fought the need to take a nap.
Running To You
Click here to read the next chapter in my work-in-progress!