S E V E N T E E N
"Tell me something you've never told anyone else." Mia whispers in the cover of the dark, humid night. They had made it back to the cabin, deep in the field. They had thrown off their shoes, laying upon the wooden floor in the living room. They had pushed back the furniture, feeling constrained by it. They wanted the coolness of the floor, but at the same time they craved each other's touch. So as Mia whispers her words into the heavy air that filled the cabin, Harry reaches from across the floor and slightly touches the top of her hand with his own. She smiles at his touch, flipping her hand and intertwining her fingers with his.
He yawns lazily as he thinks about what Mia had just said, "Something no one has ever known?" He asks.
"The first girl I kissed, I didn't actually kiss."
"I chickened out."
"She kissed you then?"
"How old were you?'
Mia laughs, "You were young."
"It was just a peck."
"But she told everyone you kissed her."
"Yeah, she did."
They quiet down, the lull of the ceiling fan making Harry doze off for a minute or two. He feels Mia moving on the floor, her hand leaving his for a moment and then coming back as she turns on her side to face him. She props herself up on an elbow and stares at him with her large, oceany eyes. He wondered how he could make out the color of her eyes in that darkness, how he knew that she was looking at him when he wasn't even facing her.
"Will you tell me something that you've never told anyone else?"
She stays quiet for a second before whispering, "I love you."
Harry tilts his head slightly, waiting for his strawberry girl to smile, to giggle, to give any sign that she was joking. But she didn't. She wasn't.
"Yeah?" He tries, clearing his throat.
She comes a bit closer to him, the heat from her body starting to radiate towards Harry, "You told me to tell you something I've never told anyone else."
"You've never told anyone you've loved them?"
She shakes her head.
Silence. Pure silence filled the room. All Harry could hear was a loud buzzing in his ears and the sound of the rain hitting against the window panes. His heart raced, pumping life into the butterflies that started to take over his abdomen. He knew what he had to respond, he knew that he wanted to. He knew that it was right, that for the first time when someone told them they loved him that he believed them. That he wanted to reciprocate it. He had found what he loved, who he loved. He loved Mia with the entirety of his being. As crazy, and foolish, and stupid, and cliche as it may have been he had fallen in a love so pure and so deep that just hearing her say that she loved him brought his crazy, foolish, stupid, cliched daydreams to life. It was no longer a silly fleeting thought that had kept him entrapped in the wonderful dream like state he had been in since he and Mia had met. That world he had imagined had come to life. He was living in it.
Harry smiles, hugging Mia's body to his own. Forgetting that they were both covered in sweat, that the fan barely made any difference in the temperature of the stuffy room. He wanted so badly to stay in this moment. To relish his first real 'I love you'. He just wanted to replay it again and again.
"What?" She says, trying to keep an even voice even though the silence that had filled the room had been totally unnerving.
"Can you say it again?" He asks, his own deep, raspy voice shakily trying to enunciate syllables.
"Say what again?"
He simply looks at her, wondering if she could read the expression upon his face. She giggles nervously when his mossy eyes meet hers, even in the darkness she could see what they held.
She comes closer to him, sliding upon the cool wooden floor. When she's finally nose to nose with him she whispers, "I love you."
Harry wraps his arms around her, planting kisses upon her sticky face, "I love you too, Mia."
He hears her giggle as she tilts her head slightly upwards, reaching for his lips. He looks into her face, knowing, feeling it within his heart. He knew that he had found what he loved.
It was a rhythmic and perfectly routine life that they began to lead. Every day was spent working. Mia within the field, picking, watering, planting. She began caring for the strawberries as her mother once had. She treated every one with a particular tenderness that Harry still had not been able to put into words. He watched as she would place the ripened fruit into straw baskets, ready to be taken to the market in the morning on his way to the bakery. The fall was looming, and the strawberry's season would soon come to close. Yet, the fruit did not want to adhere to the changing season. They kept growing beautifully as if the summer were merely beginning.
"Such incredibly beautiful strawberries." Barbara states as she places them back into the basket Harry had presented her with earlier that morning.
"I know. Best I've ever eaten." Harry replies, smoothing out dough upon a baking pan.
"Remind me to send some cake home with you tonight. Mia adores it after all."
Harry smiles, "Yeah, she does."
"What a lucky girl to have such a beautiful field of strawberries."
"It's almost as if they solely grow for her." Harry replies.
"Well, I've never seen anyone grow such delicious strawberries." Barbra remarks, cutting them up into slices.
"Well, I'll be back. Going to put these on display." Barbra says, grabbing the basket and leaving the kitchen.
Harry watches as Barbra leaves and quickly goes to his bag to pull out his journal. He had spent seemingly endless nights and short, hot, days filling up the pages. It was already more than half way full, some pages tattered, some ink stained, some bent and some illegible. But he had written everyday, every single day. He had written from what they had eaten in the morning to the unintelligible mumbles Mia sputtered in her deep sleep. He was amazed to see that he had filled so many pages, that he had written so much.
But still, the day before yesterday he became inspired once more. He wanted to craft all of these notes finally into a story. And so it began to unfold, the first chapter, the second. It was in its very essence, a story about first love. He was sure that his previous self would have laughed, that he never would have thought of writing a story such as the one he had begun. But he had. He was. This story was finally beginning to take shape, and before he would know it, it would be complete as well.
He thought to himself before fervently writing, about the night before. He and Mia were lying once more on the hardwood floor, looking at the ceiling fan above them. He had just spent two hours writing without pause on the sofa, before Mia turned off the light, closed his journal, and pulled him down onto the floor with her.
She asked, "Why do you write so much?"
"I don't know. I reckon it makes me feel...happy? Alive. I'm not really sure."
"You know, you don't have to make another reality to live in, you have this one."
Harry smiles, "But what happens when it's over, love?"
"What do you mean?"
"What happens when we're old and grey and we don't remember anything that happened?"
She stays quiet for a pause, but then responds, "I don't think I could ever forget you."
"Well, what if I just want to relive every day over and over again?"
"Why don't you live every day to the fullest instead?"
He turned to study her, she was a wise one. Still though, he needed to craft that novel. He needed to write. He needed to have something, anything, to prove that what he had lived was real. He wasn't sure how to explain to her so that she could understand, but something within him simply moved him to let out all that he was thinking. He wanted to write this story.
"I'll tell you what." He says, grasping her small hand in his.
"When I'm done writing it, and before it becomes a top seller, I'll let you do the honors and read it first."
She smiles contentedly, "I guess that'll do."
And so Harry continued writing. As the bread baked and Barbra arranged another beautiful display, he began to write the chapter in which the strawberry girl came into the bakery boys life.
It was only the beginning after all.