Justin Tadlock

Creek Hill

Prologue

A somewhat tall, but not overly, man sat next to a hospital bed. His elbows were propped on his knees with his hands extended to his lowered temples. There was a glowing red tint to his forehead, yet most of his face bore a pasty white complexion. He peeked up just under his left hand’s fingers that lay across his hairline to take in the life of the room.

The heart monitor beeped steadily, showing a pulse somewhere in the seventies. He wasn’t quite sure of the number after the seven because of the stickiness his contacts had from his lack of rest and relaxation. The floor was as clean as one could expect a hospital room’s floor could be. The light of the morning peeking through the blinds seared into the far wall, reflecting just a bit off the ammonia mopped floor. The pink water mug sweated onto the over the bed tray leaving a puddle that formed an almost perfect circle. The lights had been shut off a few hours before. One of the fluorescent bulbs had been flickering anyway.

The sheets were crisp, almost as if the bed were still made, and they had just came straight from the hospital’s laundry room, specially ordered. The man could not tell if they used a particular detergent or any form of dryer sheets when he sucked in a quick breath of air through his nostrils. There was not much time for worrying over such trivial things, he thought. Or was there? She may never wake up. There may be an infinite amount of time to ponder over the choice of the hospital’s linen cleaners.

There may be forever. If there was such a thing.

Could he wait forever? What did it really matter? Was life really worth living without her? He could ask himself a million questions a million times over and would never come to an absolute conclusion. In life, there was always a gray area, a gray area of thought. The human mind cannot calculate the absolutes of black and white, right or wrong. It can only present questions. Some questions would inevitably be moral. Others would linger on the trivial of using Gain or All or some other non name brand laundry detergent. Is there a right and wrong in the universe? Is one decision more right than another? Would it be wrong to leave her bedside and go home to catch up on the dreams he now sorely missed? Maybe life really is about questions, and not particularly about answers. Just as the final destination can never be as sweet as the journey. If she woke and saw him there, by her bedside, her true lover, would it change things? Would she forgive him? Could he forgive himself? Or did it matter? Those were only more questions. And who has an answer to the questions life presents? Is it God? Does he have the answers that man searches for? There’s not a special rule book to guide one through life. What? The Bible? Translated, books left out, interpreted vastly different from one another, the Holy Bible? Why isn’t there a solid rulebook, or just some general guidelines for all situations? It could be that all questions in life are ultimately trivial. Morale could, in actuality be nonexistent. Gray areas, black areas, and white areas may not really be all that different. They’re not very eye pleasing colors anyway.

The man tried to wrap his head around the growing pile of questions that he had wondered into. He was staring at the IV that punctured a vein in her left wrist. The nurse could not find a vein farther up her forearm, and had to place it near the bed-ridden hand. The bag was still nearly full, letting off tiny drips that would circulate into her bloodstream. She looked so peaceful, serene, as if she had never been calm in her life and now was her chance to rest.

The man shuffled in his seat before leaning back to stretch his tired limbs. He pushed his upper back over the edge of the chair and leaned the back of his head closer to the wall to crack the column of bones leading up to his spinal cord. Then came the first sigh of relief he had in over twenty-four hours.

The surgeon tried to tell him the operation was a success and that she should regain consciousness sometime in the next few days, but…

That is always the tricky part. There is always a “but” in life, just as there is always a question that is followed by another question. There is always a gray area. But, there’s a chance she may never wake up.

She may never wake up and not be the same person if she did. She may not forgive him. He may not get the chance to tell her, to tell her he loves her. Life is all about uncertainty, a gray area. That is why ultimate decisions, final outcomes, are not what is important. It is the wait to tell her he loves her. It is the words leaving his mouth. What becomes of it does not matter. Or does it? Would if he was wrong and the destination is actually more important than the long, arduous journey.

She was so peaceful, almost too quite to be sleeping. He wondered if he could just reach his hand over and nudge her shoulder, would she wake up? He had already began to go through his stages of thought and emotion when dealing with life altering situations. He had gone through his anger phase, striking blows to everything near him, which had, at that moment, been his car. He never struck in a violent manner that a wife-beater would use, but in a way that longed for a deeper purpose in life. An answer. He searched for some release that was unknown to him until he reached a mental state beyond anger, a calmness that held its poise somewhere between life and death, the ability to feel and the lack of touch. The knuckles of his right hand still held the shallow cuts and bruises that signified this point of mental un-clarity.

His mind then went into a state of depression. The depression it had held was one of an utter lack of comprehension. There were no questions, just as there would have been no answers if he had them to ask. Depression for the man is a point where he did not have the need for either of them. There was no need to curse a higher power or to throw two arms to the heavens and ask for something he wanted or something he needed. The man was no longer a man. He was nothing. His existence was trivial.

Now he was questioning. Was he in denial? There were questions upon questions that would not be answered. He knew this. Mental un-clarity, did that mean he was in disbelief or still in the late stages of depression? On the other hand, had he entered a new realm of emotion, one in which highly educated psychologists could not coin a term for? He knew he saw her there, lying beneath the crisp sheets. He knew he looked at her from a chair in room 128B. He did not know if she would ever wake, or if she would forgive him. Would she blame him?
He blamed himself.

Chapter 1: Okay Mr. Pudgy, We Can Go Now

It was staring back at him. Pudgy, round. Almost smiling at the six-foot-two frame of Jude Taylor, if such a thing could smile. It overlapped his gold belt buckle just a bit. It was smiling at him. “All these years of improper health and diet. This is your fault,” it would say. Who cares, 27 year old men don’t have rock-solid six-packs.

Except they did.

At least Tim Rosenbaum did. That sorry SOB neighbor of Jude’s. That “Body-for-Life” finalist. He’d stayed with the program now 5 years. Bastard, with his bulging biceps, and his veins that wrapped like vines around the giant trees of the Amazon. Mr. the-whole-town-kisses-my-ass. He didn’t care. Screw him. He was doing alright.

Sure, Jude didn’t own his own collection Porsches, but he managed. Who needed that many cars anyway? He was doing alright. He still got to live on the white-picket fence street, Hillhock Lane. White, yellow, light brown, and brick houses lined the street in perfect-parallel rows down the street rounding off in a cul-de-sac, where his small two-story sat just at the corner. He had a two-car garage, big open windows (enough for his aunts, uncles, little cousins, parents, and grandparent to climb through at the same time), and a pool and hot tub in the backyard. He even had a security system put in. Yes, he was doing alright.

It was still staring at him. He buttoned up his shirt to hide away its smirk. He had to go to lunch with Isabella Moretti-Jones today. God, she was beautiful. Not that high-school-crush kind of beautiful, but that 27-year-old woman kind of beautiful. She didn’t have the shape of a woman who had already popped out two kids, at least as her outward appearance showed. Smooth skin. A nice mixture of Italian and Southern Alabama Caucasian saw to that. God, she was beautiful, with those just-right long legs and almost Coke-bottle curves.

It had been one year since they last met. He was sure she hasn’t changed that much. Maybe she has? No. She couldn’t have. This was his once-a-year meeting with her. All the bad karma that he’d built up in the last year won’t take this one day away from him.

It doesn’t really matter though he thought. It’s not like Isabella and he are going to go sneak back into the band room closet and make out, like they did on a daily-basis 10 years ago. He was married. She was married. Was he happy? Was she happy? Who cares? At least he’d get to see her. His year would be complete. Why’d he let her get away all those years ago?

He knew how to answer that question. Because he couldn’t resist aggressive women, that’s why. One, mainly being, Angela. Angela Bach. She never had that hour-glass figure. She was thick. No, not thick-fat, but thick with a big round bottom that was complimented by more-than-a-handful-sized breasts. She had the most beautiful face in all of his high school. And that hasn’t changed. Not in 10 years. At least the face hasn’t. Her thick has turned into something that isn’t quite as eye-pleasing these days. And she is always, still, the aggressor, just as she had been all those years ago. Angela was the first girl to kiss him like a teenage boy wants to be kissed. She just crawled onto him and gave the 13 year old the make-out session of his life. But, more on Jude’s high school make-out sessions later.

Now, it was time to spray on his Curve, a cologne he had been overusing 10 years now. Maybe it was time for a change. Maybe not, Jude didn’t like change. He had a certain routine that he went through every day. He got up every morning at 6:00. He took a leak. He ate breakfast. He sat at his computer and browsed the internet for 30 minutes. He took a crap. Then he got dressed, brushed his teeth, and headed off to work at 7:30 on the dot. Never fails. Routine is the only way for him to get anything done. So, change is bad. There’s a certain order of things. A certain order to the universe, and he didn’t want to screw with order.

Tie.

He had to find one. Which one? That’s one thing that he desperately needed to organize, or better yet, clean out the rack they droop from. Why did he need 7 different blues, 9 reds, 5 greens, 3 Christmas, 6 Valentine’s Day, or even that Thanksgiving tie? What in the Hell did he have a Thanksgiving tie for? Must’ve been a gift. At least that what he’ll tell people. No way in Hell he was he going to say he had bought it himself. Wait, there’s a magenta. He’d go with that, feeling magenta-esque today. There’s also a pink. He’d have to throw that out when he got around to his reorganizing of the tie rack. Every single tie Jude owned is left hanging in its tied position. He was too lazy to tie them every morning, so he just left them like that.

There it is. A Skittles box. You know, that candy they make you sell for high school clubs and organizations. Those bastard high school teachers could never come up with anything to sell other than Skittles, candy bars, and candles. So, you lugged around chocolate and Skittles all day, selling, or carried around a catalogue with more candles than a person ever knew existed door-to-door, to your grandmothers, aunts and uncles, and other relatives that you only saw for those particular occasions.

A Skittles Box.

But this was a special Skittles box. It no longer held 50 packets of all the colors of the rainbow. It didn’t even have the faint scent of the candy left in it any more. All it held was continuously browning, aging paper, folded in only a way that high school girls can fold. The kind of folds that is beyond the comprehension of high school boys when they try to fold it back up after reading it. Most of the time they were just stuffed into back packs or lockers, but not Jude’s. He managed to fold them back together, to preserve them, in their [un]natural state. He couldn’t look at them now.

What’s up,

N-2-M-H. You know what! You’re a really good kisser. Just thought you should know. I had fun Friday night. Anyways, I’ll talk to you later.

Love,
Angela

ps. Sorry So Sloppy

B(oys) B(ounce) B(etter) B(eneath) B(lankets)

S(afe) S(ex) S(ucks) S(o) S(crew) S(omeone) S(pecial)

He could still remember it by heart. Angela’s first letter. They were in ninth grade. Sure, she wasn’t going to be a great Literature major, but she knew how to write the high school letter. You have your basics, “What’s up,” the header. “N-2-M-H” starting the body. And for all you who don’t get the late 90’s reference, maybe, is it still used today? “Not Too Much Here.” And the multiple postscripts with the single “ps.” It was the standard. And you had to follow the rules. Jude did, however, get a few not-so-standard letters back then. We’ll go through those sometime.

Cappuccino.

Angela and he had bought their first cappucino machine when they first got married, and went through at least ten more since then. He was never a coffee drinker. He couldn’t stand the crap. He had to go with the cappuccino. Of course, they still had to get her a coffee machine. Since then, Jude gradually converted her to the cappuccino-drinking club.

He was going to be late. Too much looking back at Mr. Pudgy. “But he was staring. Smiling. And an evil smile at that.” That’s a good excuse. Jude thought about using the excuse and laughed. Iz’ll understand. Sure she will. She only lives two hours away, and makes the drive down here every fall. He’s just glad she’s moved past the years of bringing her kids. Daddy’s finally got a job in the city, and can keep the kids for a day or two.

Angela and he never had kids. It was part of their arrangement. They both lived much too busy lives. But, the real truth is, they knew they would never be good parents. Hell, they knew they’d never pass as decent parents. Both of them were too self-absorbed and way too materialistic. Not having kids was the only way they’d ever get to stay self-absorbed and materialistic. It’s the only way they’d ever get to have the things they wanted in life. They both had good jobs. She was a manager at a fashion-design company in Montgomery. He was a free-lance writer. He never could hold down a steady job at any one place, other than the local newspaper, which paid next to nothing. That’s the only reason he got up in the mornings, to go to the office. He had been working on the Great American Novel though. But, we won’t get into that just now.

He was going to meet Isabella Moretti-Jones today. If fate had taken a different road she’d be Isabella Moretti-Taylor. She was the type of woman who had to keep her last name. She was proud of her heritage. Her roots. Jude wondered what Wesley thought about that. He wondered if he felt like a smaller man when they were introduced in formal settings. “Mr. Jones and Mrs. Moretti-Jones.” “Mr. and Mrs. Moretti-Jones.” How does a married couple introduce themselves with different last names? It was beyond Jude.

9:45.

There’s no way he could make it. Fifteen minutes to get down to the local “Sandwich House.” Mr. Pudgy was ready to leave, reassuring with a slight moan. It was either that, or he was ready to set Jude back another 15 minutes or so. To be so consistent in his weekday routine, he couldn’t figure out how to get himself going on a Saturday. The whole routine is screwed up. And as stated earlier, he doesn’t want to screw with the order of things. The universe does not take lightly people screwing with her balance.

“Okay Mr. Pudgy, we can go now.” They had to go. They had to go meet those long legs and that smooth skin. It’s only once a year. He needed to get in all the minutes that he could. God knows, they might not be able to keep this up for another 10 years. Old age. “It catches up with you,” is what they say. They were almost hitting thirty and in another ten years, they’ll be hitting that halfway mark. Jude was planning on making it. Screw them. And screw the universe if she doesn’t agree.

Chapter 2: The Tater Creek Intersection

Jude turned right off of Hillhock Lane onto Sweetwater. He didn’t usually drive this direction since the biggest attraction there was Creek Hill High School. Actually, the high school held all grade levels, kindergarten through the 12th grade. There wasn’t enough people in the town to account for separate schools for elementary, middle, and high school. There were, maybe, 800 students that filled the seats in the compact classrooms.

The reason he didn’t go there was mostly his lack of spawn spilling off into the seats. He went there, once a year, and had been for almost 10 years now, to see a varsity football game.

Another right on Tater Creek.

Jude was grinding the petal to the floor, between quick jerks and sudden brakes, grinding to get to Isabella. Jerking to get to that smooth skin. Braking around the curves to see those perfect legs. What is it with men and legs? A man would fall off a building, 7-stories up, peeking around the corner to get a glimpse of a set of great legs. And Isabella Morreti-Jones was no different, except that a man might splat from 14 stories.

The brake lights flashed and then held, still moving forward as the black Nissan Maxima slid across the old pavement, sending pieces of gravel in any direction. Why was there a stop sign here? It made no logical since to Jude, as he always rubbed precious rubber from his tires at the barren intersection.

There were a few things that held some townspeople’s attention down the desolate road that led past the high school. It sat on the corner, adjacent to the sputtering Maxima. That car that hadn’t had an oil change in over a year or a full tank of gas in several years needed badly a little attention from the maniac behind the wheel. It needed passionate warmth from a man who was unwilling to cough up more than a crinkled ten-dollar bill to add to its life expectancy. She moaned as the cheapskate pulled her out farther across the pavement, and sighed before giving way to a few more inches of faded black before coming to a complete halt.

“Damnit!” Jude shoved the gear back into park and turned the key.

Nothing.

Not even the faintest sound was uttered from the lifeless machine. She then let go a pillar of smoke from under her belly, releasing thirteen years worth of an unhealthy, unsteady diet. The gods were cursing him. He flailed his arms up to heaven and then slammed a fist down onto the horn.

The orange-tinted trees echoed the fury of the last solitary cry the Maxima had left in her. In his rush to get to those long legs and that smooth skin he knew, before scrambling around the inside of the car and swimming in his pockets, he had left his cell phone at home. The wind blew the first brown leaves of the season onto that thing adjacent to the car.

That Driveway.

Trees arched over it, running parallel in unison until the light no longer peeked through its dark path. The TATER CREEK CABIN. It was usually rented out to vacationers who thought it’d be relaxing to stay in the serenity of the country for a week or two during the summer. Aside from summer tourists it was typically rented to high schoolers for a night of unadulterated debauchery. He knew the history behind the shabby walls and underneath the creaking floors better than anyone else. This place meant everything to him, more than it ever could to a Yankee sightseer and more than the drunken boys that filled the corners, halls, and staircases, ready to get under a skirt before curfew. It meant heartache, happiness, pain, pleasure. It meant history.

What was he going to do? Not a soul would drive down this road on a Saturday. He knew that because he decided to take a short-cut to get to Isabella on time, and most people avoided the road because of its unevenness and fondness for potholes. Looking at his watch, it was 10:07, he was already late. He had to get a glimpse of those legs. He had to feel the wind and the sudden gasp of air the 14th story diver felt.

He gave way to thoughts of walking down that path that seemed it could suck a man’s soul from his body. He knew the real truth. He couldn’t walk down that path alone. There was no way. Too much history. There were no ghosts, no closet-monsters, no vampiresses, no legends of baby-snatchers, no killer wasps, no man who’d blow your head off for walking in his front yard. There was something worse, something worse than evil itself. History. Nearly ten years of history stood in that house. Another ten years of history like that can almost kill a man. And when I say kill a man, I’m not talking about in the physical sense. I’m talking about in the psychological sense. It’ll make a man think he’s been down to the depths of Hell and then spat back up to lie amongst God’s children.

He and that place had a history.

Jude turned the key once again. Not a sound. The smoke had already died away from under the belly. He should have taken better care of her. He should have gotten the oiled changed this year. He should have bought a new car. He shouldhaveshouldhaveshouldhave…

He stepped out of the car and decided to pop open the hood. Why was he opening the hood? He didn’t know a single thing about a car outside of the mechanics of driving and putting that nozzle in to feed her every now and then. Well, he managed to prop the hood up properly. Staring down her, the black beauty decided to spurt out its last breath of toxins into his face.

Jumping back and raising his hands, once again, “You couldn’t come up with something better than this? I mean, come on! A broke-down car! It’s a bit clichéd don’t you think?”

He kicked the air. There was nothing else to do. He was going to lose precious minutes with a woman he was still secretly in love with. A woman he had only seen once a year for the last ten years now, except on a few rare occasions. A woman he really didn’t know at all. He knew he loved her skin, her legs, and her smile. He remembered he used to love her scent, but even that had faded from his memory. He remembered that he loved her touch and he loved the way she leaned her head on his shoulder sitting on her front porch swing. Ten years. She could’ve been his. He could’ve been hers. But, he couldn’t resist that other girl, that other girl who wouldn’t let him go. Yes, he loved Angela, but the thought of being with Isabella was just too enticing.

Maybe it’s that love that he never had, that makes Isabella all the more alluring, because he never really had her. They dated. They made out. They got drunk together a few times. They had a good time. He was just too scared to do all the right things. He had been corrupted by Angela. He was accustomed to the girl making all the moves. He was used to a girl who would hop on top of him and pressure him into doing things he’d never tell his grandmother. Some of them he wouldn’t even tell his best friend. Isabella was a challenge. She didn’t straddle him on the porch swing. She didn’t whisper dirty-little-nothings in his ear. She might have leaned against him, held his hand, or kiss him (after the first kiss had finally occurred), but she wouldn’t be Angela in a dark-haired, smooth skinned body. She was just Isabella. She knew what she wanted in a man, and Jude wasn’t up for the challenge back then. Ten years.

“Is this punishment for having lustful thoughts?” Jude was on a rage against God.

No answer. No surprise, he thought.

“Fine then! I’ll walk there! I’ll walk to see those long legs and that oh-so-silky smooth skin!”

Jude paused to gather his thoughts, in order to piss off the man upstairs.

“You know what it reminds me of? Do you? That Werther’s Original candy. I’d like to stick one of those in my mouth right now!”

That was the best he could come up with. A writer, ready to write the Great American Novel, and all he could come up with was “that Werther’s Original candy.” He was a little frustrated.

There was no way he was going to miss that meeting with Isabella. He had to walk down that driveway and make it to the Tater Creek Cabin. Hopefully, there were a couple of those tourists still occupying it, so he wouldn’t have to think of what he would do if it was vacant. He would step into that place that held his heartache, his happiness, his pain, and his pleasure. He would travel beneath those arches and let the damned thing take his soul.

Chapter 3: Independent, Free, and Wild

She knew he would be thinking about her. She wrapped her slender tendrils tighter around the steering wheel of her Jeep Grande Cherokee, brand spanking new, right off the lot with seven and a half miles on it. Red and shiny and worth a little bit of money, the kind of thing a woman needs to feel good about herself. Well, maybe not every woman, but Isabella Moretti-Jones needed it. She turned her head to let the air fling her hair back just enough to remind her that this was her reward for leaving her husband, Wesley Jones. Drove right off the lot with his last paycheck, and quite a few before that. Paid for in full. Owner: Isabella Moretti-Jones. Iz.

She felt now more powerful than she had ever felt, those tendrils revealing a tan line so liberating. She thought she might change her name back to Isabella Moretti. Powerful. Independent, but weeping inside. What had she done? Left Wesley? Left little Jack and Antonio. Oh, Antonio was getting so big now. He was in second grade and little Jack just started Kindergarten. She wept, but she had no other choice. She had to leave.

She had already tuned out the Britney Spears songs, and threw on some real music, Alanis Morrisette. She slid the old CD in the player. She needed to feel angry. She needed to feel strong. She needed to feel like that independent rocker chick who could say, “Screw the world,” and get away with it.

She used to be independent and strong. What had happened to her? The last ten years had dwindled away at her. It made her less of a woman. He made her less of a woman. It was 2005. Women were independent now. They were equal now.

Sure, she had stuck to a traditional female role in her career, elementary school teacher. Her life belonged to those kids though. Dean Road Elementary School in Auburn, Alabama, was part of her. She woke up every day with a gloomy brow, but her eyes widened when she drove up to her space in the parking lot. Seeing those skateboarder shoes (which had just recently came in style in Alabama), those flowered dresses, and the ripped jeans on the little bodies of people who have yet became corrupt gave her her only joy. Even her little crumb-snatchers at home couldn’t compare. She didn’t understand this. She wanted to love her children, she did love them, but living in that house…

It made her regret having them, at least with the man she married. No, not the man she married, but the man he had became.

Creek Hill: 13 miles.

Yes, he would be thinking about her, she knew it. What would she tell him? Jude Taylor. She never gave him much thought, except around this time of the year. November 11, was just three weeks away, minus a day. They had to make plans. But what would she say to him? He would ask about Wesley and how the kids are doing. He would look forward to seeing them when they made the trip down with her in three weeks. Would they be with her? Does she want them with her? It was too much to think about now. Well, she had 12 miles now to come up with an answer. Or a cover-up.

The truth could only stay hidden for so long, it always comes out. She decided she’d be up front with him.

What was is about Jude that made her want to be so open with him? Maybe it was that love that never was. No. It couldn’t be that. He was just a really good friend. He had always been someone she could confide in. But, they were not that close. Could she open up to him the way she used to? Would he feel real sympathy for her, or would he be ready to…

No. He he’s not that kind of man.

Isabella was confused. She was confused about her unstable marriage, if there was even a shred of that left. She was confused about her career. How could she teach there every day with her kids there, knowing that she left their father? She was confused about life. Why did it have to be so complicated? Nearing thirty, divorce papers in the mail, white tan line on her dark finger, what kind of a life was that?

9 Miles.

God, what was she doing with her life? It was much simpler back in high school. There, she knew where she stood. She would bring home her report card every six weeks with A’s across the sheet. She would date a few guys, but not get too attached. She didn’t want to be someone’s. She belonged only to herself. She would be class President. She would lead the school Bible club, but not be anti-teenage life. She would be in the Future Business Leaders of America, the Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and every other club the school had. She would sell Skittles, chocolate, and candles. That perfect all-American high school girl. She’d grow up and live in a big house with the perfect husband with lots of perfect children in the suburbs of a toxin-free city and she would present knowledge to small children in just the right amount so as to not overload their minds and they would love her for it. She would have the life she always wanted.

Life doesn’t work like that. It’s funny like that, isn’t it, she thought.

No, life didn’t offer her the perfect husband. His career playing the stock market was failing. What was he thinking, playing the market in Alabama? She didn’t feel loved any longer, not since the downslide in his career. Her children were not perfect either. The little eggs had sprouted into window-breaking-food-dropping-cuss-word-learning-brats. Mostly, they were the run-of-the-mill offspring. The air wasn’t all toxin-free, but it would do. She didn’t get her dream house. Wesley, “saving up,” decided it would be better to rent out an apartment for a few years so they could buy a bigger house than she wanted. She felt that only a few of her elementary school children actually came out a better, brighter student when she shoveled them up to the next grade level.

No. Life didn’t work out like she planned it. Five more miles, and where would she go after that? The hotel she was staying in was becoming expensive. Her sick days at Dean Road Elementary were running out. She’d have to go back to teaching. She’d have to go back to dealing with life. Life, that funny thing. It was that thing that kicked her in the ass and then dropped with an elbow to her rib cage while she was still lying there. Sometimes, it dropped a hand to help her back up, but usually it let go halfway back up. Then it laughed, teasing her. Life, it’s a funny thing isn’t it?

Life wasn’t working on her side. Fate wasn’t. God wasn’t. She needed a reevaluation on that funny thing. She needed to get up herself and kick it in its backside and rub its face in the dirt. Isabella Moretti, an independent woman, kicking life in the ass. Self-determination would be her new motto. There was no reevaluation needed. Right then and there, she decided fate had no part in her life. She wasn’t going to deal with the randomness it threw at her. She would control all consequences in her life from here on in. But, wasn’t she already doing that? Did she not already control her consequences? No, she controlled the choices. She had let fate take care of the rest. No more of that.

Creek Hill exit nearing, the exit ahead sign was glistening from the morning sun. Turning up Alanis, sticking her head out of the window, and a fist in the air, she let out a whoop loud enough for the bypassing interstaters to feel the reverberant tone of an independent woman. Horns honked from two passing cars and a double honk tooted from an 18-wheeler. She let her hair feel the wind long enough for her eyes to water up and brought her head back in.

What was she thinking? A 27 year old woman acting like she was headed down to Panama City for Spring Break. Spring Break, that’s a nice thought. Maybe she’d go next year. It might be liberating. Isabella was in sync with the world again. She was getting back to being Iz. Izzy. Isabella Adriana Moretti.

She rolled up her window and turned the AC to high on the dial. She was giving up her freedom, her independence, her oneness with the world, but the late October heat was still lingering and her back had started to stick to the seat. At least Alanis was still blasting full tune. She might want to turn that down to. She couldn’t be too un-cool rolling into Creek Hill listening to music that died out in the mid-nineties. Well, that, and the fact that near thirty year old women didn’t ride through rattling windows of their old home town. She was still glad she got the entire package with her Jeep, stereo and all.

Creek Hill, home sweet home. All she could think about was high school, the most memorable years of her life. Then, she didn’t have to struggle through homework, eight and a half months pregnant preparing for finals. Then, she didn’t have to grade tests until two in the morning and get back up at six. Maybe she did have to get up at six back then, she had to look presentable by eight o’clock. She thought of the sweet smell of the trees, the burnt smell of the lunchroom cafeteria, her neatly organized locker, and the toilet paper lining the floor of the girl’s restroom. It was all the same to her. It was the best years of her life. She’d give anything to just go back. For one day, she’d give, at least, a finger. Maybe more than that. In high school, she was the queen. She made boys cry and girls talk trash. Teachers loved her. Parents loved her. Guys loved her. Some girls loved her. A lot didn’t. But that was high school. The greatest years of her life.

Jude loved her, but she didn’t know it then. She thought it was just another teen male infatuation, especially since he ran right back to Angela when things got tough.

The first stop light, the only stop light came into view, dangling from the line with a couple of rolls worth of toilet paper flung over it. The light shone through the thin paper just enough let traffic know its color.

Green.

She ripped the pavement with new rubber, just to get the day’s wild thoughts out of her system. She felt like a teen again. Free and wild. Independent. She wore her ripped DKNY’s today. The legs were faded and had a hole over both knees, one small rip and one that hung out and opened like the mouth of Hell. Tattered strings scattered over her sandals, showing her faint orange toenails that complimented her pedal-pushers. She had a tight orange shirt that simply had one line on it, “life is good.” Her dark black hair was let loose and a few strands dangled over her face. She was ready for the world, white-striped finger and all.

The Sandwich House, old Martha would be excited to see her. Benji, the cook, Caroline the head waitress (the only waitress on most days), and Martha’s wild grandchildren would all run straight to her and give her a hug. Okay, maybe not Benji, he wasn’t much for hugging. Plus, he’d be stained with grease from baseball cap down. Isabella could smell the turkey, ham, cheese, and the fries in her nostrils. Just a few miles down the road, she could smell it. Her nostrils were triggered by a lifetime of evenings spent with friends chatting away at the outside picnic tables, by years of horny boys glancing her way and smiling, by Martha stopping from table to table to gossip on the town’s current scandal. She could remember Ed sitting in his corner booth just finishing his three-hour lunch just as the local teens scattered in after seven hours of mind-numbing torture. She thought of the windy afternoons blowing the napkins across the parking lot from the tables. There were so many memories there. So much history.

Jude Taylor asked her out for the first time there. She remembered it like it was yesterday.

“Isabella.”

“Oh, hey Jude.”

“How’s it goin’?”

And all the trivial stuff that came along after that led him up to the question, all the talk of teachers, school, sports, clubs, music, movies, and everything else the frightened 16 year old boy could think of. Until, he finally ran out of trivial stuff to talk about.

“Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and ask you…”

“Ask me what?” She knew what he was going to ask, but she couldn’t help but make it worse for him.

“Do you wanna go out with me sometime?” He lingered over the question and told his knee to stop bouncing.

“I don’t know,” she was just being a bit cruel, but she had to make sure he was really ready to take on the challenge. She wanted to see if he was man enough to take it. “It depends.”

“It depends?”

“Yes. Like, where would you take me? What time would you have me home?” And she drilled him with all the questions that an overprotective father would ask a lustful teen male who stepped in his house ready to take out his little girl.

“I see, you just wanna tease me. Is that it?” He had caught on after a few of the overprotective father lines.

“Okay, I’ll go out with you. Friday night at seven. Be there on time. And practice your answers for the questions I just gave you.” Jude looked a little bewildered at the last statement.

“You’ll have to be prepared for my father.”

Yes, she remembered it just like it was yesterday. She controlled the fate of boys. She controlled the fate of Jude Taylor as he got up from that table and walked back over to his friends.

She knew that he was no longer the boy who asked her out that Tuesday afternoon. He had now become a man. But, they weren’t as close any more. Each year, for the last ten years, he seemed to grow more distant, but that’s life. People grow apart. They had grown apart. She thought that they needed to rekindle their friendship. She needed to renew that lost friendship with a lot of people. She only saw them this one time a year, and they were no longer friends. They were old friends. They were old acquaintances, merely passing by each other, once a year, in the road of life.

Martha was already making her rounds with the Saturday crowd when Isabella pulled up to the Sandwich House, table to table. Ed was peering out of the window in the corner from inside as he always did. He was still on still on his breakfast, two hours now. A few teens had managed to get out of bed early enough to get their bacon sandwiches and coffee, an important remedy for their previous night’s leftovers. Caroline’s shirt was already damp. She had began her shift at six a.m., and leaving the kids at home to watch football with their dad. Martha’s grandchildren, were circling tables with sticks in hand, while one sat sheltered inside with his Game Boy, the other two had now moved up to the early morning teen crowd, too cool to run around any more.

Isabella thought how nice it would be to see Jude sitting there, just like he used to sit and wait for her. She had already decided to let him on her secret of the separation, probable divorce, or whatever it was. She was going to let him know that she was an independent woman now, and she had a shiny new red Jeep to show it. She thought about letting the whole town know. She wouldn’t have to see them for another year anyway. Just hop out of the car and shout it, let the world know. Let the world know that she was, once again, Isabella Adriana Moretti, an independent woman who was free from the conventions of society. She could shout it, “I’M ISABELLA ADRIANA MORETTI! INDEPENDENT! FREE! AND WILD!” Let the whole world know. She could do it, but instead she shut off the engine of her new toy, and stared out at the best years of her life. She was stepping out into the great unknown for the second time in her life. The first time was leaving this place. Now, it was coming back to it, Creek Hill.

Chapter 4: The Last Night of Their Lives

He hit the floor. Bottom first. Head slinging back, hitting the floor. Snot flying out of his nose. Sweat spewing off of his forehead, just like in a bad eighties action flick. And the blood, yes the blood came in massive amounts. It came out just after the mucus snorted out. Jude Taylor was nearly unconscious. He had just taken the kind of blow that every man has to take in his life, the kind of blow that sends him back and tells him that there’s somebody out there that can kick his ass.

Every man needs to be let in on that knowledge at least once in his life. It keeps him from thinking he’s immortal. It reminds him of the antithesis of David’s line in Vanilla Sky, “Isn’t that what being young is all about, believing secretly that you would be the one person in the history of man to live forever?” It reminds that man that he is merely mortal. He’s flesh and blood. He won’t live forever. Every man needs to be let in on that secret once in his life and Jude Taylor was being told that, with a single right straight across the inhalers.

Wesley Jones stood over the eighteen year old Jude Taylor. Now, Wesley was no pushover. He was a good 6’3, solid, with 235 pounds of flesh. He was an all-state wrestler in the heavy-weight class. First in the state. He was the all-state linebacker for the Creek Hill Wildcats, and he rolled over those tiny running-backs who thought they had quick feet. He showed it too. He wore those muscle-revealing sports shirts every day, and he was wearing one now. His bright red tubular almost popped the threads on the thing.

He stood over the not-so-little slain body of Jude, knocked, backside down, to the second-story floor of the Tater Creek Cabin. Jude wasn’t a pushover either. But, Wesley held a good inch or two and 20 pounds of body weight over him.

He had to contemplate, for what seemed a lifetime, whether or not to get up. He could risk being physically punished in a fistfight with the all-state linebacker or he could stay down and risk the same consequences. Only there, he had no advantage. He would probably get a boot to the ribcage, or worse, his blood-filled nostrils.

What about Isabella? Could he risk embarrassment in front of her? Had he already embarrassed himself in front of her? And the entire senior class? His reputation didn’t really matter with the class, he would hang it all out on the line for her.

Isabella was just standing there, trying to run over the whole predicament in her head, during those two seconds Jude got the gut-wrenching news of man’s mortality. She had been holding her breath when she saw Wesley walk up, not being able to warn Jude of the reddening teenager’s presence.

She was trying to take it all in. Jude’s nose pouring. Wesley’s overhand to that nose. Jude’s last words. Her last thoughts about those words. The crowd gathering. The crowd’s gasping and oos and ahs. The drunken dancers, still not realizing the situation, stomping dangerously close to the senior graduate on the floor. She had no words. She had no thoughts. It had all happened so fast. Jude Wesley Fist Nose Blood Floor More Blood Gaping Crowd Dancers Blood.

Why? She managed a thought. Then it turned into why did Wesley do that? Why did Jude tell her what he told her? Why did this get out of hand? How did this get out of hand? And they ran, one after another, little lights flashing on until there was no darkness but a void of light. A void of light so bright, it was worse than darkness. It shone forever. A million lights. A billion lights. Infinity. They went on and on until there were no thoughts that could be picked apart from the others. They were, had become, a great big mass of white.

Wesley Jones stood tall over the body that he had put down with that swift right across the sniffer of Jude Taylor. He had seen it all. He watched. He heard. He had heard Jude’s testimony of love for his girl, and he decided to put it to a stop.

Yes, he heard every word. He heard Jude tell that beautiful skin, that wind-blowable hair, those mini-skirt-revealing legs, his testimony of love. Wesley knew better than to believe that a high school guy could love. He knew what Jude was after, and he was after it with his girl. His decoration, the thing he wore at his side, to show he was the king, the all-state backer and the all-state wrestler. No man was going to take that away from him.

It didn’t take but a few swift steps and he was there. He grabbed Jude by his shirt, just above the shoulder, turned him around, and let the ball on the end of his wrist crack on to the side of that nose with a maddening, “SON OF A BITCH,” as he let his rival smash to the wooded floor.

He had protected what was his. He stood victorious above his enemy with pride and cries from his drunken crew. What he hadn’t counted on was Jude’s decision.

Getting up quickly, never completely off the floor, Jude dove into the midsection of the linebacker, sending him back into a row of snickering girls, spilling the contents of their red cups over the two as they came down to the floor.

It was all over now. Jude had to get in a few hits before the gang came; his backup was outside doing what most guys were doing that night. They were talking their game, trying to get lucky enough to find that one girl, that one girl who just happened to be smashed enough to think they were going to help her out, and make sure she didn’t release her daily salad on anyone. Unfortunately for them, most of them were out by the fire, snuggling up next to the keg in a lawn chair. Or out by the creek managing to convince one of the plowed girls to jump in with him. Wherever they actually were, they didn’t happen to be on the second floor. They didn’t happen to be anywhere near enough to lend a hand when Wesley’s crew ganged up on him.

Isabella had to do something. It was starting to get bad now. Jude was taking his punches to the face of that drunken mass of flesh below him, he just as plastered himself. All she could think of was “STOP!”

There, she said it. Nothing.

The commotion was growing louder, thumping. Beer was being spilt; Johnny Woodard dropped his spit cup onto the heels of an innocently sober Mary Sanford while running to help Wesley, Tim Rosenbaum and Will Oliver followed suit, just as that Boyz-II-Men song, “I’ll Make Love To You” reverberated through the walls. It was quite inappropriate for the occasion. This song is a little played out now, thought Isabella and probably half the crowd of intoxicated high school graduates, if they even thought about it all.

And then it came, “BOOOOOOO!”

The music was quickly changed to some dance mix that they would never remember the next day, or the next night, whenever they crawled out of bed, or out of the bushes, or away from the dimming ashes of the bonfire, or possibly the back seat of someone’s else’s car with a random classmate. A high school boy could only pray.

This was their last night as a class. Soon after they would break apart and go off into the world. Some would go to the nearby community college, others to four-year universities, while many would take jobs down at the sawmill or Sam’s Mart down Grover Street. They were stepping into the great unknown of life, a journey they hadn’t even half prepared for, nor cared to at this point in the night. It was their last night of their lives.

Susan Till was cupping her breasts, wearing only a thong, in the deep end of the creek, while Jeremy Roster and Mike Trenton taunted her, red cups in hand. Greg Houston snuggled up to his girlfriend of three years, Sandy Rowe, she with a red cup of her own, he with a 3-inch tall glass with ice clanking the edges. He liked to think of himself as a sophisticated drinker. Mandy Slade slid her buttocks up and down to the rhythm of the crappy mid-nineties dance music that was the flavor of the week, against Brandon Calder’s crotch, red cup in his hand. Joey Buxton, Adam Chesterfield, and Danny Nisbett, forewent the red cups and took turns doing keg stands, urging others to join in on the fun. Randy Orchard held Mariah Paxton’s hair back as she let go of the day’s salad into the trashcan. Angela Bach was making out with Courtney Emmet’s boyfriend, while Courtney was passed out in an upstairs bedroom with a random guy talking sweet nothings in her ear. She didn’t even know where Jude was, nor did she care. She was beyond inhibitions.

It was the last night of their lives.

And Jude Taylor was on top of Wesley Jones swinging, swinging for his life. He knew that Isabella wasn’t just a great set of legs (even with that mini-skirt trying to prove him wrong), a smile that mesmerized men, or silky smooth skin. She was more than that. She was the girl that he had fallen madly in love with two years before, and he was there to prove to her his love. But, somehow, he ended up just swinging.

Isabella could still hear the words, “I’m in love with you. I always have been. I always will be.”

She didn’t know what to think at that moment. Everything up to that point in Jude’s confession had become a blur. What is love, she thought. What does it mean to be in love? She couldn’t imagine the thought of love. It was so distant to her. She would be eighteen in a month. Love. It was such a funny thing, like life. She didn’t have the words for him. She didn’t even have the thoughts. Her mind couldn’t comprehend those words, I’m in love with you. I always have been. I always will be. She didn’t understand. Was it a ploy? Why now, if he really did love her? Did he even know what love meant? And the thoughts lit up in her brain once again, filling that dark void with another void of brightness.

Jude was still swinging as Johnny pulled back his left hand. Then Tim and Will came. It took all three of them to pull him off. Wesley just lay there, and then he rolled over to his side to let the blood drip from his mouth.

Jude’s heart dropped to his stomach as Isabella ran over to the fallen mass. The gang let him go. They didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to grip the arms of the guy who laid Wesley Jones down like that. All he could do was run out.

He ran through the drunken crowd. He ran down the stairs, past more smashed onlookers. He ran through the door, and around to the side of the house.

It was all over. Falling to his knees he felt them coming on, the tears. In those brief seconds, he realized something other than the mortality of men. He realized that Isabella didn’t love him, and if there was even a hope, a spark, of possible love, he just destroyed it. Why did he keep swinging when he was obviously victorious? Why did he get drunk and declare his undying love to a teenage girl? What good could have came from that?

In moments he had lost everything important to an eighteen year old. He had lost his mortality. He had lost the faint possibility of love. It happened so fast. It was the last night of his life.

He leaned back against the wall of the cabin. The late May night air—humid Alabama air—cleansed Jude’s pours. The sweat rolled down his arms, his back, his face, mixing with the dripping nose blood. And he hadn’t realized it earlier, but Wesley must have gotten a hit in when they were on the floor, his mouth was cut too. The trees were swirling in his eyes, until he squinted to adjust them. The limbs had only been stretching to the northwest by the imperceptible breeze. The smoke from the bonfire blew along with it, he could smell it. Suddenly all of the laughter from the creek and the keg came, screaming to his ears. The night’s fleeting screw-up still unfolding in his mind. Jude reached into his jeans’ pocket, and pulled out a Marlboro. He had to light it.

The only reason he ever brought them was for uncomfortable silences and the windup of the night, when the few party-till-the-break-of-dawners were calming down and conversations turned to politics and religiosity and the meaning of it all. He could remember all of the endless, pointless conversations that came on those 6 a.m. mornings. Is there a God? Of course. What the Hell is Clinton doing? Who cares, the country’s going to Hell anyways. And the conversations went on and on and deeper and deeper until there was no hope of an answer to life’s infinite questions. The only thing that was comprehensible was that the human brain was unable to comprehend the answer. It was beyond the mind’s understanding.

Jude let out a breath of grey, and then puckered his lips a bit more to exhale the remaining smoke. He held his back to let the nosebleed clog in his nostrils. Another puff. He thought of those daybreak conversations. Maybe his mind couldn’t comprehend what had gone on. Obviously, Wesley had overheard him talking to Isabella. That was it. There was no other kind of understanding needed. Why? Why did he say all of those things? Why did he put his heart out there? Why did he say I always will be? He knew nothing about love, or did he? He knew he wanted her. Isabella Adriana Moretti. The girl of his dreams, the girl he could never, in a moment of sobriety, tell how he felt.

“Got another?”

That voice. Her voice.

She sat down beside him as he handed over the pack of smokes. “How’s the nose?”

“What do you care?”

She lit a cancer-stick and inhaled, holding for a moment, and let go. They just sat in silence until they finished. Holding out the pack she offered him another, and took one herself. Time for politics and religiosity. Time for the 6 a.m. conversation, now just after twelve. But, it was more than that. It would be a deeper conversation than that. It was beyond the state of the country and the meaning of life. It was about love…maybe, if he could even call it that.

“I meant what I said before.”

“I know you did Jude…It’s just…We’re so young. We don’t know what love is. At least, I don’t know. You might think you love me, but…”

“I don’t know if it is love. I just know that I feel something that I’ve never felt with anyone else before. It’s more than…It’s more than just an infatuation.”

“And what happens in the morning, when you’re sober? Will you still love me then?”

“Whether or not it’s love, I will still want you. I’ve always wanted you,” Jude couldn’t believe he was actually saying those words. He gave his cigarette another puff and pulled his head from the wall, checking his nose.

“And what about five years from now? Or ten? I can’t even think about where I’ll be then, who I’ll be then, who you’ll be then. We’re not even going to the same college. We’ll be worlds apart.”

“I don’t care about tomorrow or five years from now or ten years. All I care about is now…All I care about is now.”

Isabella puffed her cigarette, “I know you don’t care about tomorrow, but that’s where we’re at. We’re at tomorrow. In six hours our lives will change. We won’t be on the same path anymore. There’s no more high school. It’s over now. Nothing will ever be the same.” She inhaled again, stronger.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. All I know is, without you, none of it will matter.”

“Jude, you say that now. But—”

“But nothing. The future doesn’t matter. We don’t even know if we’ll be here tomorrow, or in a week, or in ten years. We have now, and that’s enough for me.”

“It’s not for me…”

He couldn’t find the words to keep her there with him. Isabella Adriana Moretti was standing up and walking out of his life forever. She was going to walk away and he’d never see her again. It was over. He felt a clump in the back of his throat, and his eyes tried to well up, but he wouldn’t let them.

“Jude.”

“Yeah.”

“We do have the now. We have the rest of the night. We have it to spend as classmates, as friends, and we should make the best of it. Come with me back inside.” She had marked her ground and that would be the end of it. She smothered his love beneath her heel and held out her hand.

One last drag of the Marlboro and he was up. He crushed the butt beneath his sandal, bloody shirt and all, he took her hand. There was nothing left to do. He had fought for his love, and lost. The least he could do was make the best of it.

After all, it was the last night of their lives.

Chapter 5: Going Back

Jude Taylor looked down that path, with its overhanging branches. The leaves had just began to brown and little crunchies scattered themselves along the floor of the tunnel. The sun was just perching in the sky and peeked through a hole here and there to light up the path just enough to see a 30 yards into it.

It was nearing the half hour; there was no way he’d make it to Isabella. He imagined her sitting there alone, eating a turkey club and chatting with Martha. Martha had to be gossiping about the happenings in the small town, giving her an earful. And Jude, he was getting ready to take a path that he hadn’t taken alone in ten years by himself. He had left that place and decided to never set foot in it again, except for once a year, every year, with the others. Now, he had to go back on his decision.

He put a foot on one of the crunchy bits, then another. He felt a longing, a deeper purpose for this trip back into the mouth of Hell, like there was some cosmically imbalanced screw up that sent him here this very day. It could’ve been destiny. It could’ve been mother Universe. Or it could’ve been God telling him that he had to face this, and he had to do it alone, and he had to do it on a sunny day in October.

Another crunch. But why?

He ran through the scenarios in his head. There would be a couple cooped up in the there for a romantic weekend, and they would let him use their cell phone. There would be no couple there, and he would have to learn how to pick a lock, hope for a working phone, and pray that someone would pick him up. The former definitely outweighed the latter.

Another crunch. Another. Crunch. Crunch.

He picked up his steps as he made it farther into the darkness. Getting to Isabella Adriana Moretti-Jones was now his priority. Crunch, crunch. He could see the light, where the yard opens up past the dark driveway. He could see the faint image of the Tater Creek Cabin. It was almost sweet. It was almost breathtaking. But it was mostly heart-pounding and uncontrollable breathing, with the nervous look of a 13 year old boy making his move towards a first kiss, or a 14 year old moving his first hand between the area where fabric meets skin. Jude could sense all of those feeling coming back, the pain, the heartache, the joy, the pleasure.

Light. Crunch. Crunch.

The Tater Creek Cabin was still as beautiful as it had been last year, and every other year for the past 10 years. Most importantly, it was as awe-inspiring as it had been the day after his senior graduation party in the May of 1996. That was the last time he had ever set foot in that yard by himself, and there he was, looking up at all its beauty.

The cabin itself stood a might two stories, and had a basement underneath. It had been built in the late summer of 1945, by Marshall Creek returning from World War II. And Marshall was a master craftsman, by looking at the glorious carpentry he snapped together in this cubby hole beyond the darkness of the arching trees. The porch, lined with waist high railing, ran across the entirety of the front side of the cabin, with steps on the front and both sides. Four pillars held the ceiling overhead. The windows were carved symmetrically, two to a side of the door on the first and second floors. The roof of the front porch served as a balcony for the top floor, where many drunken teen boys had undoubtedly played out pissing competitions, probably not rallied on by the shocked ground floorers. Set behind the cabin itself was Tater Creek. The creek opening up in a small swimming hole just behind the northeast corner was shaded by the trees that hang low over it.

There were no cars parked in the driveway. What a waste of a walk. Why? On all days? He tried the front knob. Not even a centimeter loose to either side. He started down the porch to the side of the cabin. Maybe the back was unlocked. Turning the corner, he stopped. There it was, that spot. The pain and the heartache lie there. His confession of love died there.

Jude could remember the day after his love had been slain. He came back to that cabin for the last time he would ever come back to that cabin alone, and now he had to come back once more. He had to come back, even if he had promised himself that he couldn’t lay his eyes on that spot ever again. Some uncontrollable force had drove him there that day 10 years ago, and it was doing the same now.

That force took his hands ten years ago, stole away with the letters from Isabella Adriana Moretti, and took him here. Those letters were taken from his precious Skittles box, with its sharp corners and its bright colors, with its scent of the rainbow. Destiny took hold of him, a shovel, and one of his mother’s food containers. Jude Taylor’s arms dug a one foot deep hole and placed the letters, inside there plastic container, into it. Then, lighting a Marlboro, he finished the job. He covered up that part of his life, and told himself that he could never go back, even if he was still in love with her.

Now, standing over that spot, eight steps down the side of the house and three steps away from it, he was pondering digging them out. He had not thought of it since that day he buried them, not even on those once a year trips to the cabin with the others. He now had time to contemplate it. Why not do it? They mean nothing now. It’s all in the past. What could it hurt? He ran over the possibility again and again and again.

It was now 10:47. He was forty seven minutes late for his meeting, and he was about to dig out a piece of clear plastic with a red lid. Jude looked around for something to dig the dirt with, finding nothing. He had thought about it too much now; he had to get into that food storage unit. His tie quickly became loose as he ripped it from it neck. Sitting down on his knees, he began clawing at the grass that had grown over, clawing like a lunatic claws for things that aren’t actually there.

This was becoming a chore already. Jude had barely broke ground. Reaching into his pocket, he realized he had left them in the car. He had to get one. The nicotine craving had grown beyond just want, it had transformed into need. Getting up, the twenty seven year old took off running. He ran around the corner of the house, through the front yard, down the hanging arches (forgetting all about his previous fear of their gloom), all the way to his car.

It sat there, at the end of the driveway at an angle, just enough path left open for an incoming car. He reached into the glove compartment after swinging open the door with a madman’s fury, and grabbed the pack, and lit up. He was sweating now. He had forgotten all about making it to his meeting with Isabella. He had given up on the thought altogether, figuring he would end up walking home anyway.

Starting to walk back, he almost didn’t think of an obvious solution to his problem with dirt that had began to grow hard. That lug nut taking off thing, whatever it was called. He knew he could change tires with it. He quickly grabbed it from the trunk and headed back down that dark path blowing smoke back into its face.

The hole dug up easily enough, well, it came undone better than it would have had Jude been bare handing it. He reached into that incision and dusted the brown off the container. It seemed not to have aged; it was just dirty. He lit another cigarette before prying to lid off, and there it was right on top. He had left that letter there, purposely, for the person who happened to find this one day in the far off future. He left it there to let them know he had once been loved. A girl once loved him, and he screwed it up.

He peeled back the browning paper and began to reminisce.

Jude, I have to talk to you, mostly about us. Trust me, you and Angela will not work out. I know this because I know you belong with me. You always have. I never realized it before. I thought you just had an infatuation with me, and I denied you, I denied us love. The other night at Tim’s party my eyes finally opened up and realized that you are the one. The guy I was looking for wasn’t Joey, Derrick, or whoever else I thought I belonged with before. Jude I know that deep down in my heart it’s you that I’m looking for. And I think somewhere inside of you, you have the same feelings for me. I also know that you really like Angela, but I know you don’t love her, and she’s really not your type. After the party, when we sat on the porch swing together, that’s where I want to be in 50 years. I want to sit on a swing, like that, with you watching our grandchildren grow up. If you don’t think that I’m the one for you, then you’ll see one day and I just hope it’s not too late. With Angela, to her you’re just a crush. She enjoys the attention of an older guy. But, I don’t see you that way, for obvious reasons, we are the same age, but also for more than that. When I look at you, I see us. You probably think this letter means nothing, but I’m serious when I say that we belong together. I want you to be the one I grow old with. I want you to be the father of my children. No other girl knows you as I do. I just wanted to let you know how I really felt. I Will Always Love You, Iz

He laughed at the letter. Only a year later, he professed his undying love and she denied him. High school girls, there feelings changed like the weather. He thought it was too bad he never really took her up on her offer. Things could have been so different. Life could have been very different. Why couldn’t he see it then? Why had he been so blind to her love? That high school girl’s feelings did not change overnight. He knew she cried when he told her that he was with Angela at the moment. He knew she wrapped her face in her pillow at home and screamed with pain. She had poured her heart out to him, and he did not accept it.

Her feelings had not changed that year because that is what high school girl’s feeling done, she could not love him. Or she refused to love him. Or did she really not know what love meant? Or didn’t know it’s meaning anymore? Had he been the true cause of her not knowing the meaning of love? He ran through the questions. They had never talked about it, not truly talked. They made references to the letter and his confession of the following year over coffee during their yearly meetings. However, they never touched on the subject fully. They both thought it was too touchy of a subject to bring up. Therefore, they never did.

He crushed his Marlboro into the dirt beside the freshly dug hole. Reaching into his pocket and pulling out the pack, another was lit. Running his hand to the bottom of the container, he grabbed a random piece of paper and began to read.