A boy waits in the coffee shop. He is in a navy blue button-up and keeps his hands in his pockets. The girl arrives late—fashionably so. She wears torn-on-purpose jeans. Her hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun. They wait in line. He watches the bare back of her neck and reaches to the strands of hair that fall across it. A lady in a tight black shirt and thin smile takes their orders. She smiles broad, briefly. As they walk away, the girl wonders if the lady’s teeth look like that from bulimia. She turns to the boy and opens her mouth. She closes it again. They sit in a corner, near a large, hazy window. She talks about a film on scientific theories. He promises to look it up. She smiles at him. They are in high school. It is evening in early summer and there is still time.
The girl drives the boy to the Outer Banks or the coast of Florida. They spend a day ignoring phone calls and chasing waves. The girl is pale and the boy rubs sunscreen into her back. School begins. The girl wonders about college and sex and addiction and love. The boy takes the girl with him on Christmas vacation. His parents lecture and ask about college applications and the boy looks away. They look at pictures of the boy, his sister, his parents. The boy wonders if the girl thinks about a future. Snow falls. They wrap themselves in blankets and tangled limbs. Spring approaches. Everything shortens and they think, separately, that things will never stop and soon nothing will be left. They say I love you and believe themselves.
The boy lifts the girl’s suitcases into the back of her car. It is autumn. It is later. The girl’s mascara runs. She unpacks her belongings into a college dorm with a girl who isn’t him. The boy rents an apartment, works as a mechanic, and writes poems. The girl attends classes and listens to teachers talk about quantum physics and start-up businesses. She cuts lit class. It is spring and the girl receives a poem. He wants her. The taxi driver helps with her luggage. The boy waits on the street. Later he says he made a mistake. She says he’s wrong. Sacrifices like this can’t leave people whole, he says. But she says it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t. He reads poems to her every night, runs fingers up her spine and the bare back of her neck, feels the strands of hair fallen there. She tells him she loves his voice. They fight and make love. They don’t keep score.
They take their children to the beach. It’s been one summer or five. She rubs sunscreen into their pale backs and he reads them bedtime stories. Sometimes the girl leaves a book of poems out for him, but she always puts it away again before he sees it. They make sacrifices, say it doesn’t matter. She drops her son off at college. Then her daughter. She tells them take care of yourself, please.
The boy watches her mascara run, remembers kissing the bare back of her neck. At home, the girl reads books on quantum physics. She tells the boy I love you.
Kayli Wren is a seventeen-year-old writer in her senior year at St. Anne's Belfield High School in Virginia. She has previously been published in Teen Ink, anthologies connected with Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center, a local writing community, and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. She was also a recipient of the Arthur C. Greene "Rising Star" Youth Incentive Award for her creative writing. Kayli has been fascinated with the written word since kindergarten and has recently been developing her love for writing both poetry and short stories.