Summer in Amber Ch. 06
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We had been driving down the interstate for hours, with nothing but gray roads occupying my vision, and the sound of the radio blaring through the speakers of my dad’s pick up truck keeping me awake. He seemed happier now that we were heading home, singing along to an old Beatles song with all the grace of fingers on a chalk board. I was tempted to ask him to stop, but it was the most transparent I’d seen him in years (to the point where it was a little disturbing actually), and I didn’t want to put a damper on what had been a surprisingly pleasant trip.
A couple weeks had passed since my father and I had had our mini-breakthrough, and things between us had only gotten better. That very same night when I returned from work, he pulled two beers from the fridge and handed me one, and for the first time in our lives we just sat down and talked. In a way it was the most surreal moment of the summer. It was like that single hug I gave him broke through every barrier between us, and before we knew it we were a few beers in and pouring our hearts outs. Naturally we talked at length about my future and school, and I finally admitted to him that I was afraid. But instead of casting those fears aside like I always assumed he would, he assured me with a hearty laugh and a clap on the shoulder with his aged leathery hand.
“You’ll be just fine,” he said, his words slightly slurred with warmth, filling me with a sense of comfort I just then realized I had been craving from him for so long. “You’re a smart kid. Always have been.”
That’s when he proposed the idea that we take a trip down to East Shores University, to see my upcoming home away from home for ourselves. I agreed, though with some reluctance, and he promised he’d make the call to set up an appointment for a tour the next day.
A few more beers in and all talk veered from my future to his past. My dad was more than happy to regale me with the crazy antics of his own youth, many of which I hadn’t heard before, stories of pranks gone wrong and high school brawls, all of which caused me to look at him in a new and brighter light. We really were quite different from each other, I realized then, even more than I had thought, but that night we were closer than ever.
“I miss mom,” I said when it seemed like all conversation had been exhausted. It had been so long since I thought about her. Sometimes it felt like she’d never existed, and this suddenly disturbed me.
“Me too son.” My dad held his head down, trying to hide the tears forming in his eyes. “Me too.”
It turned out a tour of the campus was exactly what both of us needed. My dad finally had a reason to leave the house, and I was forced to come face to face with the future I had wanted to run away from. It did a lot to quell both our anxieties, and I was grateful he had made the suggestion. It helped to see everything in person, to know what to expect when I made the move in just a few short weeks. The guide, a peppy pink-haired senior girl named Janelle who wore her ESU jacket with pride, graciously showed us around and answered all the questions we had. She certainly knew how to talk up the school; by the end I was actually kind of excited to become a part of what she emphasized was the “ESU family.”
“It’s a nice campus,” my dad said as we walked back to the car. The tour had left us thrilled, but tired and ready to go home. “Very spacious.”
“Yeah, I like it. Big, but not too big. Not sure about the dorms though.”
“That’s part of college life Jacob. You’re going to have to get used to sharing.”
“I guess,” I conceded.
It was the one blight on what I thought was a genuinely beautiful campus. The residence hall was no different, at least on the outside, with its freshly painted walls and well kept shrubbery framing its sides, but inside revealed what amounted to a multi-story sardine can, full of long halls and tiny rooms for two. Janelle must have sensed my reservations, because she jumped at the opportunity to sell it to me as best she could. But I still had my reservations.
“You probably won’t be spending too much time in your dorm anyway,” my dad continued. “Plus, you’ve got the coast right down the way, most of the kids will be hanging around there I’m sure. Lots of girls too.”
“What? I’m just saying, you meet a pretty girl, you take her for a midnight stroll down the beach—”
“I get the idea.”
My dad’s sudden interest in my personal life was something I was still getting used to. A couple beers into our talk I had mentioned Miss Amber, though thankfully I was at least sober enough to leave out the details. All he knew was that I was seeing someone, and that’s why I was gone so often. I could tell he was relieved to hear this. He’d never said as much, but it was always obvious to me that he was worried about my lack of a social life, particularly with regards to women, so to hear that I was out there “chasing skirts” as he liked to call it must have been a relief.
“I’m not ankara escort chasing skirts dad,” I’d said. It was one of those times where the generational divide was most stark, where his boomer era crassness rubbed me the wrong way. “That’s not who I am.”
“We’ll see,” he said.
As much as I didn’t appreciate the implication, the seed had been planted, and there was no denying that there would indeed be many sexual opportunities in the coming future. For the first time I would be on my own, discovering who I was, surrounded by girls my age who would be doing the same. And he was right, the nearby beach was an unforeseen advantage in that regard, one which the school was more than happy to remind you of. plastering their website and pamphlets with photos of happy young people frolicking around campfires, the gorgeous waves of Lack Michigan splashing behind them against a setting sun. It was all part of an expert marketing strategy to entice potential future students with the promise of unexpected romance and good times alongside lectures and tests.
The university sat in the center of East Shores, a small but lively Midwestern beach town that, again, according to the website, “prided itself on offering a variety of day and night life activities for students of all backgrounds to enjoy.” Janelle had of course made sure to mention this, all the while smiling and crinkling her nose a bit in such a way that I couldn’t help but find charming. I like your pink hair, I wanted to tell her, but I wasn’t about to start flirting in front of my dad.
“Almost home,” he announced, stirring my attention away from my thoughts and back to the outside world passing us by at a smooth but frustrating slow forty-five miles an hour. The monotony of the interstate had been replaced by the bright bustling lights of city life, of retail stores, restaurants, and modestly sized buildings, all vying for your attention. Knowing we were so close, I could feel the energy in my veins bubble and boil, a combination of excitement and anxiety that compelled me to pull my phone from my pocket and read Miss Amber’s message again.
It’s time. Come over tonight. I promise you won’t regret it 😉
My palms grew slightly sweaty as I remembered the relief I’d felt waking up to that text that morning. Ever since the night of intense pleasure and pain I’d experienced with Miss Amber, the dynamic between us had shifted yet again, just as I had suspected it would, only this time I couldn’t say for the better.
It had started out innocent enough, when she dismissed me from assisting her at the children’s desk. Summer Reading had ended, so I thought nothing of it; it’s not like I hadn’t expected I’d have to go back to my usual duties at some point. But it was the way in which she cast me off that left me slightly disoriented. She was uncharacteristically cold, her words short and to the point, body angled slightly away from me, unwilling or unable to look me directly in the eye.
“Maybe we should do a little celebrating tonight,” I’d said, trying to mask my desperation. “It’s not often we break records.”
Getting kids to sign up for Summer Reading had always been an uphill battle, but that year we had done really well, better than expected, and I had no doubt it was due to Miss Amber. I saw it first hand, over and over again, the way she used her charisma and beauty to draw parents and their children into her web of positivity, a youthful energetic approach that had been missing from the library for so long. Fathers were particularly sensitive to her signals, and she wasn’t above adding the slightest bit of flirtatious edge to her interactions with them to seal the deal, so subtle even the mothers standing by their sides couldn’t detect it. But to me it couldn’t have been more obvious, and I always watched with heightened interest, studying her, admiring the way she so effortlessly made everyone she talked to seem like the most important person in the world. That was worth celebrating, and I had hoped she felt the same.
“About that Jake.” Miss Amber turned in her seat and finally met her gaze with mine, her face blank and serious. “I think we ought to take a break for a while. A little bit of distance could do us both some good.”
That was the last thing I wanted to hear. Suddenly my heart felt like it was being covered in thick black tar, making it harder to breath.
“Are you sure?” I pulled in close and rested my right hand on her left knee. “This isn’t about the other night is it?”
The moment in the shower replayed in my mind, the two of us naked and sore, Miss Amber holding on to me like a buoy in a storm that had left her stranded out at sea, leaving us both alone together with no sense of direction. It was the most intimate we had been with each other; she was so raw and unfiltered and vulnerable, so unlike the woman who had teased and taunted me to her will at the beginning of summer.
Was she ashamed? I thought. Ashamed I had seen her that way? I initially dismissed ankara escort bayan the idea. The Miss Amber I knew didn’t feel shame. But then again, as that night had revealed, how much did I really know her? How much of this person I had stupidly fallen in love with was real, and not an artificial construct, expertly crafted on her part to fulfill my fantasies? That’s when I started staring down into the black hole of doubt, questioning everything that had ever happened between us. Was it any of it real? How could I be sure? The truth was I couldn’t, and that terrified me.
“Of course not,” Miss Amber said matter-of-factly, pressing both of her cool, clammy hands on top of mine. “I just think we need to start getting used to each other’s absence. You’ll be leaving soon, and it’s better to deal with it now before you go off to school.”
“All the more reason we should make the most of the time we have left.” I placed my left hand on top of both of hers, completing the trembling tower of flesh sitting atop her knee. “Please Miss Amber…”
“Hey, don’t you start begging now, you’re better than that.” Her tone was sympathetic and stern as she pulled her hands out from under mine and traced her fingers across my cheek. “Don’t worry, this isn’t goodbye. Not yet. I promise.”
Solace swept across my body like a charm, her magic touch anesthetizing me to the pain of our new circumstances. As long as I had that promise, I was determined to meet her last challenge head on.
“Tell me what I need to do.”
“Nothing,” she said. “Just wait. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.”
I wish I could say that I handled this period of abstinence with grace, but truth be told I was a complete mess. Being away from Miss Amber only made me think about her more. I was like a drug addict suffering from withdrawals, my brain on fire, playing back memories and experiences in a desperate attempt to feel anything even remotely close to that high I felt when I was with her. I did what I could to fill the days with distractions, mostly by getting everything in order for school, which included a lot of shopping for supplies with my dad, too much for my taste, but I was willing to do anything to get my mind off of her, even if it meant braving the mid-August heat. It was the most miserable two weeks of the summer, but I powered through on the hope that it would end. This is the final test, I reassured myself, over and over each and every day. The final trial I need to pass before ascension.
It was always hardest at work, for obvious reasons. Knowing Miss Amber was there, in the library with me, just a few quick steps away, was a form of mental torture I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Of course I missed the sex, the thrill of our carnal conquests, tempting fate every day on that secret hope that we would get caught, and our unique form of chaos would be revealed to the world. But it was so much more than that. I missed being around her, talking to her, touching her, breathing in the same air. I missed Miss Amber, in all her totality. Initially I stood back and watched her from afar, but I soon realized this was only making me feel worse, reminding me of how pathetic I used to be, so I forced myself to stay away and only ventured into the children’s department when I absolutely needed to, and even then I made the conscious decision to evade her as often as possible.
There were a few inevitable moments where our paths crossed, where the demands of our jobs forced us to interact with each other on the barest of frequencies, and it was always intimately uncomfortable in a strangely reassuring way. We could both feel it, a tension that filled the air between us with the knowledge that both of us were denying ourselves that familiar impulse that had initially brought us together. That’s when I knew there was nothing fake about our relationship, as otherworldly as it was, and finally I understood with even greater clarity why she had foisted this emotional and mental torment upon me.
This revelation proved just the morale boost I needed, and very quickly the sense of emptiness and longing that had lingered inside started to fade, growing less intense with each passing day. I still missed being with Miss Amber, deeply and profoundly, but I accepted those feelings, and even began to love them, because their existence was the very proof I needed to know that that summer, with all its crazy twists and turns and unforgettable moments, was real and had been worth it. In a way, the pain of her absence made those precious moments we had together that much more invaluable.
It was then I decided to make the most of the time I had left, starting with the one loose end that needed tying up: Rachel. I felt terrible for having left her hanging in the parking lot, and I wanted to apologize before heading off to college. I of course hoped that she would forgive me and give me another chance, or at the very least agree to be friends, but I was prepared for and willing to accept her rejection without protest. I owed her escort ankara that. And so I spent much of my days at the gym looking for her, searching between sets, waiting to spot her shiny brown bunned up hair out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes I’d even sit outside in the parking lot, on the look out for her bright yellow Ford Fiesta.
It took a while, longer than expected, but just as I was starting to lose hope, our paths collided one late afternoon when I noticed her doing stretches over in the corner by the dumbbells. I took a moment to gather my courage, my heart beating a mile a minute as I approached, and when she noticed she looked up at me and frowned before turning away. Not a good sign, I thought. That’s okay. Just say what needs to be said.
“Hey.” Her response was flat, giving me only a courtesy acknowledgment as she continued stretching her hamstrings. She was wearing that same combination of blue tank top and gray sweatpants from the day we first met, a painful reminder of where things had left off.
“How’ve you been?”
I just stood there awkwardly, watching her, searching for the olive branch I had constructed in my head, but the words were sticking to the roof of my dry mouth. Mercifully she finally she stood up from her mat, meeting me head on.
“Do you want something?” she asked, looking visibly irritated. “I don’t like being interrupted.”
“Yeah, I wanted to talk about what happened.”
“You mean how you ditched me?”
I winced hearing her say it out loud, leaving me even more frozen than I always was, which she must have sensed because she wasted no time taking control of the conversation.
“You really hurt my feelings Jacob. I don’t open myself up to very many guys. Or people for that matter. I thought you might be different. I guess I was wrong.”
“That’s not fair,” I said, sounding more defensive than I intended. “I thought someone needed my help, and I panicked. I’m sorry.”
“All you had to do was tell me. I would’ve understood.”
“I’m not so sure…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Rachel’s gaze was hard, her blue eyes slightly watery with the fear that what I said next would justify her disappointment.
“It was another woman.”
She flinched and looked down to her feet, unwilling to give me the satisfaction of the hurt I’d made her feel. “So what, are you some kind of player?”
Her accusation was so absurd I almost laughed. “What? No, I’ve been seeing her for a while now, way before we met. And it’s not serious.”
“Sure seemed serious.”
“It’s complicated, believe me.”
She looked curious, but unsatisfied with my answer. “So what did that make me?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “We’d only just met. And let’s not forget, you’re the one who made the first move. What was I supposed to do, say no to a pretty girl who asks me out for coffee? That’s never happened.”
I smiled, opening myself in a deliberate attempt at opening her, and sure enough Rachel’s cheeks flushed slightly red, revealing that innocence I found so appealing.
“But the honest to god truth,” I continued, “is that I had a wonderful time getting to know you and I wanted to see you again. Still do.”
I took a few tentative steps toward her, just enough to gauge her reaction, and she stood her ground, looking at me in silence, giving me the chance to finally say what needed to be said.
“Look, this isn’t the way I wanted things to go. You can hate me, that’s fine. I don’t blame you. But I’m new to all this. Girls. Dating. Relationships. All of it. And I fucked up.”
I reached out and gently took her hand in mine, holding the ends of her fingertips, waiting for her to recoil and pull away. But she didn’t.
“I’m sorry for letting you down.”
I held Rachel’s hand for a few seconds, anticipating some sort of response, anything, but she said nothing.
“Anyway, that’s what I came here to say. I needed you to know before I left. I’ll let you get back to your workout.”
I let go of her hand and began to walk away.
“Jacob,” I heard her cry out from behind, and I turned to meet her, our eyes locking.
“Thanks,” she said. “For apologizing. I appreciate it.”
Rachel smiled, and I smiled back, a wordless combination of forgiveness and acceptance that felt freeing, like peeling a bandage off a freshly healed wound. I walked away satisfied, proud even, for taking responsibility and bringing closure to a small corner of my life, even if it hadn’t ended in the way I would’ve preferred. It felt like another life lesson from Miss Amber, one she wasn’t there for but was no less designed. I imagined her watching from afar, like a guardian angel, admiring her creation.
“You’ve been looking at your phone a lot,” my dad said, dragging me back to the present yet again. The outside world had evolved into the quaint, strangely comforting solitude of suburbia. The sun was just starting to set, and the sidewalks were dotted with kids and families, joggers and dog walkers, all returning home from whatever jaunts they used to fill their long summer days with. “You got a date with your lady friend?”
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