i: flashlight symphony
16, Parkland High School
Lights dance through the trees outside my window, looking for all the world like the woods have been invaded by aliens. I can see the beams wind through the leaves in arcs, gliding playfully here and there, crossing through each other as they slip silently in the darkness. I know, of course, that there are no aliens here. There’s no sound either, except what there usually is on these nights: the distant babbling of the creek, the occasional call of a night bird, the passing buzz of an insect, the background music of chirping crickets. There seem to be lots of crickets tonight. I watch as the lights tango past the tree line into my yard and find their way to their target: my open window.
As usual, I’m not sleeping. I’m standing here, waiting for those twirling lights, my signal from Jonathan to come out into the woods. Almost silently, I grab my flashlight, slip outside of my bedroom, creep slowly down the hall past my parents’ closed door and down the carpeted stairway. It’s still chilly outside in the early spring, so I wrap a coat around myself before leaving through the garage as always, closing the door as gently as possible. I think my mom knows we do this, but I don’t want any confrontations with my dad. And I sure don’t want any with Jared. I know how he feels about Jonathan.
Jonathan isn’t in my yard. He’s waiting where he always waits, down the path behind my house at the big rock in the woods near Gilmer’s Creek. He sits on the boulder, his two flashlights pointed at the ground in the little clearing, spinning ovals of light slowly on the forest floor. When I see them, I stop and look up at him, and then add my own beam to the whirling white spots, the three flashlights harmonizing as they dance over matted leaves. It makes us both laugh; it always does, this wordless greeting we repeat each time we meet out here, a bit of silliness, like a secret handshake or a code of some kind, something leftover from childhood recess games.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hi,” he answers. “It took you longer to wake up tonight.”
I climb the face of the rock, carefully in the dark, hands and feet instinctively knowing where the holds are. “No,” I say,” I wasn’t asleep. I was just reading and I wanted to finish the chapter.”
I can see his face more clearly now, a small disappointment in his eyes.
“Must have been a good book,” he says.
“Don’t be silly, Jonathan. I came out, didn’t I?”
He watches me as I crest the boulder. He can be so moody sometimes. For a moment, he doesn’t respond, but then he smiles gently. “I know. I’m sorry. I just missed you today is all.”
“You know I had that SAT class after the soccer game,” I say, settling next to him on the rock’s summit.
He shines one of his lights on my face and watches my eyes. He’s told me how he likes the way they sparkle in the beam. I brush my hair away from my face as I watch him watching me. His gaze is different tonight, and I recognize it. I’ve seen this look so many times, this lost, puzzled look, so strange in its complexity. Most of the time it’s when he thinks I’m not looking. I’ll be walking along with him and catch him with a sideways glance, and there it is: like he’s not looking so much at me as into me, as if he’s seeking something there, but I don’t know what he’s looking for. I’ve spent many nights trying to figure out that look, and now, in the silence of the middle of the night, something about it seems very sad.
“Are you all right, Jonathan?” I ask.
“Yeah, fine,” he says, and immediately the look changes to a smile. “Just thinking is all.”
“Mostly about school. I don’t know how I’m going to pass that history final. I missed a whole week when I was sick.”
I touch his arm, returning his smile. “You’ll be fine. You know I’ll help in any way I can, and anyway you’ve always been good in history. Besides,” I add, “you’ve been back in school almost a month. You must have caught up by now.”
An owl sings softly into the night. Jonathan’s face is brighter now and I know that whatever has been on his mind is gone. “Yeah, I guess I’ll be OK. Halloway has just been on my case a bit.” His laugh is almost a sneer. “As if it was my fault I had mono.”
My hand wills itself into his and my head drops into the crease of his shoulder, contrite, embarrassed.
“No,” I say softly, “it was mine.”
“Stop that,” he says, his voice pointed but gentle. “I’m tired of hearing that. You didn’t even know you had it that night at the dance. It’s not your fault.” I try to argue, but his finger on my lips cuts me off.
“No more, OK?”Gently, he cups my chin with his hand to bring my lips toward his. I turn my face toward him again, our eyes locking, breath almost synchronized. I can see the condensation as we exhale, the air mingling, joining, melding, not like the light of the flashlight greeting, joined but still distinct, but something deeper, as if the simple act of breathing is something sensuous and powerful that bonds us, and I know that I will do anything for this boy. For a moment we stay there, inches apart, motionless as I wait for whatever will happen. In his eyes I think I can read, just for a moment, a mixture of passion and confusion, as if he’s telling himself what he ought to do. Then he pulls my lips toward his and they touch gingerly, as if he’s afraid that I’m fragile, or maybe, I suddenly think, as if he is.