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(by jason.s)
    The houses were painted pink-orange in the sunset, their prim lawns and straight rose beds gently cooling under the turning sky. A certain pensiveness filled the air, as though even the wind itself was holding back in anticipation, barely daring to rustle the aspen leaves. I drove up to the second house on the left: a dark blue two-story ranch with white trim, sparkling blue minivan in the driveway, and an almost obsessively-neatened air to it. It was certainly not a house that would permit my car, flaunting a rainbow bumper sticker, to remain in its presence for too long.

    At last the door opened and Loren stepped out, quickly closing it behind him. Was he embarrassed for his parents to see me? He was dressed quite nicely, in a slick black dress shirt and slacks. "Wow, all that just for me?" I teased as he opened the door.

    "You said I should dress nice for the restaurant," he said, but smiled anyway.

    "Nicely," I corrected, resuming our mutually-annoying game of grammar correcting.

    "Pssht." As he closed the door, I turned on the classical station and pulled away. Was his mother watching us out of the window, or was it just a trick of the light?

    "So anyways," I explained, "this restaurant is really good—"

    "Don't you mean anyway?" Loren interrupted.

    "Oh fine," I laughed. "Anyway, I've only been there once but the service was awesome, and so was the food."


    We drove for a while, admiring the sunset gliding over the hills. The forest around us was dappled with gold and pink light, wildflowers gleaming under the warm pines. At times I would glance toward the passenger seat, trying to keep myself from becoming infatuated with the gentle, curving lips and elegant jaw line I saw there. His green and blue eyes sparkled in the setting sun, pulling me into their depths. I'm over it, I told myself for the nth time, tearing my gaze back to the road. I thought back to all the times I had wondered about him. Could he be at all like me? The mannerisms, the touches, the mild flirting… of course, his Mormon parents had made any speculation moot. The values he had been raised with would surely prevent him from completely accepting me, let alone himself... if I was even correct in my interpretations.

    I was pulled from my reverie just in time to slow down for a red light and turn right.
    "Thinking?" Loren asked.

    "Yeah," I replied simply.

    "I guess you have a lot to think about," he said, "leaving tomorrow."

    "Yup. I'm ready for college though—have been for a while. But it's kind of weird. Thinking that this is the last time I'll see you for... four months."

    Loren merely nodded, finding something interesting to look at on his shoes.

    After another introspective silence, we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, Mandy's. "I hope you like steak," I informed Loren, "because you can't really leave here without trying it."

    "Didn't I tell you I was vegan?" he joked.

    "Oh, funny," I said, punching him in the shoulder.

    We walked into restaurant, greeted by seafood smells and clinking silverware and wine glasses. A waiter with blue eyes and a goatee seated us near the window filled with crimson sky. "Meanwhile," I said in Loren's ear.

    “Oh dear,” he said, rolling his eyes. "Meanwhile" was my code word for when a guy was nearby that shouldn't be missed.

    "It's ever so easy to make you feel awkward," I winked at him.

    "That's just because you're so awkward!" he said back.

    I smiled and picked up the menu. “You order whatever you want, OK?” I told Loren.

    “Well, alright… but I still don’t get why you’re paying for me.”

    “Oh, just a friend treating a friend to a goodbye dinner. You should enjoy it while you can. Who else is this nice?” If only he knew, I thought. But did I really want him to know how I felt about him? There was no way to predict how he would react...
    Loren shrugged and returned to the menu. Suddenly he seemed more subdued. It was obvious from the look he was giving the paper in his hands that he was thinking about a lot more than tonight’s steak. I would have given anything just to peer into his mind and know what conflict was clouding his eyes.

    The waiter returned. After my wink at Loren was returned with an eye roll, I ordered a peppercorn-coated steak, with some French sauce whose name I couldn’t begin to pronounce.

    “I’ll take the same,” Loren told the waiter, who smiled and quickly walked toward the kitchen.

    “Copycat!” I teased. Loren gave the merest of smiles. “Something wrong?” I asked, more seriously.

    “What? Oh, no. Just…thinking,” he replied at length, giving me a half-meaningful glance. I could feel an almost palpable tension emanating from between us, only to be broken when Loren tore his gaze from mine. My heart began to quicken. I had seen something, in his eyes—something struggling to break through.

    But nothing was said. If there was one thing that Loren could not do, it was talk about anything remotely uncomfortable. We sat in silence, watching the city lights outside slowly twinkle into existence as the navy-grey sky continued its lazy descent into night. Loren’s reflection was almost pensive as it was superimposed over the distant river, little boats drifting between his ears like so many fireflies. He flattened his bangs a few times and fiddled with the silverware. At times our glances would meet. Again, I felt that warm tension pulling me, drawing me toward him.

    At last, he broke the silence. “Have… have you ever felt like there’s something you really have to tell someone, but can’t?” By the look on Loren’s face, this had taken a massive effort to say.

    “What do you mean?” I asked. My heart was pounding now. Loren’s eyes were flicking all over, looking for… something.

    “Well, I don’t know. Like when you’re bottled up, and…” he faltered.

    “Go on. Please.” I pleaded, leaning toward him.

    He gave me an almost pained look for a moment. I stared deep into his stare, now unafraid of whatever he might think. What was that in his eyes, struggling to break free? He sighed. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it,” he mumbled, and returned to folding the burgundy napkin in his hands.

    I released my held breath and returned my gaze to the window, leaning back in the booth. Here was one of these moments again. But, as always, Loren was as stolid as a marble statue. Watching outside, I noticed a hint of clouds was starting to form over the horizon, drifting toward the city. I could feel Loren’s eyes on my cheek. The flickering candle at our table was growing warmer, belaying the brooding sky outside. Could this be happening tonight? This was simply supposed to be a goodbye between two friends. I struggled, wondering whether to pursue what I now believed we were both pondering.

    After a while the waiter returned with two large steaming plates. “Smells delicious,” I said, and he smiled.

    “Anything else I can get you?” he asked us both. I glanced at Loren.

    “Um, I think we’re good,” he said.

    We ate in more tense silence. Clouds were now steadily covering the summer dusk, and streaks in the distant sky rained down over the hills.

    After I paid the bill, we stood up and walked toward the door, our belts considerably tighter than when we entered. The sky was dark and grey overhead, a startling contrast to the warm summer we had left. A cool, damp wind was starting to buffet the small trees on the street. We got into the car, still trapped in that almost ominous silence. I kept the radio off.

    “Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked Loren as we drove, concerned.

    “Yeah,” he said, trying to hold a smile. Our eyes met once more. I knew I could not be mistaken now.

    He leaned his head on the window, clear streaks of rain casting melancholy shadows down his face.

    Our drive took us in reverse through the hills and woods we had passed through, now sodden and grey. I hesitated with the steering wheel, wondering if taking a longer route would allow us a chance to talk. But the look on Loren’s face was too hard to read, and I decided to take us directly to his subdivision. I twisted through the orderly streets, finally pulling to the curb once more at his house. The windows were unexpectedly dark, and no blue minivan was sitting in the driveway.

    As I stepped from the car, the wind was howling in the pines, and rain slashed at my face like little daggers. The murkiness above was cold and oppressive, whipping at my tie in the half-night. I went to open Loren’s door and we ran to his house.
    We arrived on the cold porch, and simply stood at the door for an intense moment. Could this really be the last time I saw him? Loren’s clear blue eyes flicked back and forth, struggling. What has he trying so hard to say? At last, our eyes met. And I saw it. It was deep in the sea of his eyes, crashing like the wave from a dam just broken. The wave carried him forward, toward me. He moved closer, and closer; too close—

    Our lips met. The maelstrom around us ceased. This… this wasn’t happening… his lips were so warm… the rain was icy and beautiful, his face so smooth in my hands… the wind whipped us and wrapped us, we were the eye of the storm, and the rain was dripping on the rose thorns and the water was pouring from my eyes as the crescendo in my heart swelled—

    We pulled apart. Neither pulled first. I stood, rooted. We stared in dripping silence, the connection between our eyes stronger than a hundred winds and weaker than a wilting flower. An eternity passed. It slipped through our intertwined fingers, the river that I knew must carry us apart. I struggled to breath… to exist. The thunder cracked softly in the distance. Our arms slid together slowly, but we did not kiss. I held him, rocking him like a stricken child, not bearing to let him go.

    He backed away from me, slow and afraid. His hand found the doorknob. Inch by agonizing inch, he backed through the creaking doorway. I couldn’t move. Our eyes never left the other’s as he was slowly swallowed by the shadowy blue hallway. I watched, paralyzed, as the dark depths hid him from me. A sudden and insensitive gust of wind slammed the door.

    I breathed. Deep, cold breaths. I stood there for a long time.
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