It was the one of those hot sticky days we got a lot back then. Our backs stuck to wooden benches, our thighs sweaty. When I think about it now, all I see is the warm yellow light that spilled over everything. Our surroundings had been touched by angels. At least that’s how it seemed to me. I sat on his grandfather’s rocking chair on the porch and smoked the cigars that we bought because we'd wanted to try them for the first time, but then we got a taste for them. Our clothes smelled of tobacco. Sand was blowing up from the beach across the road as Sebastian walked up the steps to greet me.
“Let’s never leave here,” Sebastian said, as he approached.
“I wish we never had to,” I sighed.
I felt so much lighter than I had done in months. We had been living in this house for a week; without any mirrors or iPhones or expectations in pursuit of finding our true, unadulterated selves. I wasn’t worrying about what I looked like or what my grades would be or what I’d be doing on this day in five years’ time.
“Let’s not,” he said; his eyes shimmering as he rested his elbows against the wooden railings in front of me.
I smiled and looked at his eyes and then his hands. “Why don’t we go swimming now?”
We walked to the beach in the light sunshine and made small talk about TV shows and mutual acquaintances. I pulled my dress over my head to reveal the pale bikini that I wore nearly every day. Sebastian only took off his shoes because he got sunburnt easily. I ran down to the sea first and then Sebastian followed. We stood at the edge for some time, feeling the sand and the water between our toes and looking to the horizon.
“The world just goes on and on and on and on,” I said. “There’s no stopping it. We’re going to have to leave at the end of the summer and we’ll have to go back-“
“Don’t say it,” he interrupted and ran further into the water, splashing me as he went.
I rolled my eyes then followed. We swam out until we were treading water. I moved closer. He splashed me again. I scowled beneath my fringe which had blown across my face.
“I love you” I said.
“I love you too” he grinned, then ducked his head under the water.
I turned around and looked at the rocks to the other side of the beach. Sebastian rose out of the water.
I had my back to him when I said, “Not like that. More than that. I really love you.”
His voice went cold. “I don’t love you like that. You know that.”
I turned back around and splashed him but his words stung me more than the soreness of salt water in my eyes. Then we swam back to the beach.
That day we walked and walked and walked. We walked for three hours. We walked through towns and forests and more beaches. We walked until I felt ready to open up and reach a new level of unself-conscious honesty. I was hesitant and nervous at first. I told Sebastian of my general disenchantment with my life as it was. Then I felt exhilarated. It felt so wonderful walking barefoot across a beach with messy hair, talking about how crazy I felt.
The sky was dusty grey when we arrived back at the villa, where the shrill ring of the telephone soon pierced through us. Neither of us liked the sound. It reminded us that the world was going on outside of our solitary haven. There were other people always checking up on us; news that we needed to know; a world of troubles beyond the horizon.
Sebastian answered it while I poured us both Diet Cokes and went to get the pack of cigars I had been smoking earlier. When I returned to the hall, Sebastian’s face was white and he was leaning against the wall. He looked frightened; as if something had engulfed him and he would have to spend months struggling to come out of this perpetual state of confused misery. I looked at his eyes; so full of life in the light but now as shadowy as this dusty evening, and that is when I realised that whatever he had just heard was not something I could ever share his pain in. It was something I couldn't comprehend. He would perhaps look to me for comfort, but in this he was ultimately alone. When the voice on the other end finished speaking, Sebastian dropped the phone on the floor and walked, ghostlike into his room, shutting the door behind him. I picked up the phone and put it back on the table.
I paced around outside trying to piece together what I had just witnessed. Whatever Sebastian had heard had ended the wonderment of our retreat. Now I was left with the feeling that we had abdicated our responsibilities somehow by coming here and by wishing that we would never have to return. I turned the possibilities of Sebastian’s news over and over in my mind until I could stand it no longer and knocked on his door. There was no sound, but I opened it.
Sebastian looked at me and his eyes were red. He had been crying. He had been crying a lot; the sort of crying people do when they feel that their world is ending. I sat on the edge of the bed in silence. He rested his head on my lap and I stroked his hair.
Some people say that tragedy can bring people closer together. Perhaps sometimes it does. Tragedy and romance often go hand in hand in literature, but there had never been any real romance between Sebastian and I. It didn't matter that I had wished for more. My juvenile dreams of love felt foolish. We grew apart. The walk that day was the last time we properly talked.
I still feel the ghost of Sebastian in all the places we would hang out together. The bench near the skatepark. The alleyway between our schools. The river we followed to the edge of town. He was my first love. I still think of him from time to time; a tingling memory of youth that never leaves my side.