I am part of an online writing group and once a week we do a short piece based on a writing prompt.
This weeks topic was: Write a short 1st person story about your first love, or about a characters 1st love.
Seattle is a city on the water. Stretches of time are defined either by every shade of green that you can name or every shade of gray. Days are either six and a half hours long or sixteen. It is the summer of 1987, the air is crystal clear, there is an ever-present cooling breeze, sunshine and Ben.
“Hey, my dad would like to meet you,” says Ben as a greeting.
“Uh, ok?” I respond. I’m confused. I’m not sure why Ben’s dad wants to meet me. I know that this means that Ben has talked about me to his dad which surprises me, since Ben and I aren’t really dating. It’s been a year of near misses, awkward attraction all lightly varnished with sorrow.
I met Ben the first week of High School at a get to know you dance. He was leaning against the wall to the gymnasium next to his best friend who was taller and larger than he was. There was a gaggle of girls gathered near and around them both. Ben’s blond 80’s streaks in his already blond hair that was styled to hang over his wire rimmed glasses ala WHAM, and the ease that he seemed to feel in his long, lean, racer bicycling frame attracted me more than his best friend Adrian’s classical good looks. But I am a knee jerk reactionist, and find myself steering clear of things that other people seem to like so much. Already, I am laced with suspicion.
This is my fourth city and seventh house in 14 years, I was the new kid again, but it’s high school so many of us were new to each other. Seattle doesn’t seem as tough a nut to crack as Washington D.C was. I was at the dance with my new best friend Elena whom I met on the bus on the way to the first day of school.
“I think he’s looking at you,” says Elena.
“Really?” I say, even though I could both see and feel his blue eyes flickering across me. I was trying to play it cool. He kept looking at me over the top of his glasses and then down to the pack that had surrounded him. He had both a loose grin and an element of melancholy.
“It’s weirding me out a little,” I admitted. I was not popular in D.C and as a result do not expect to be so here. I am a tall, short purple-haired, black clothes wearing, bookish, writer type that hangs out with the smokers but doesn’t smoke and I also happen to play on the soccer team much to everyone’s confusion.
Elena and I watched as another girl that we also met the first day Meredith, caught Ben’s attention. She’s cute and a matching blond with blond streaks, a Cyndi Lauper type, everything that I wasn’t. He left the dance with her. I was disappointed, but not surprised. Later he told me that he looked for me, that he spent days trying to run into me, but by the time we made contact again, especially with him being a sophomore and me a freshman I had already started dating someone else.
Now, it is the summer, and that someone else that I was dating has left. I’m taking classes at summer school in an attempt to graduate early. This means that next year Ben and I will both be junior’s. His house is not far from where I go to class and we have been hanging out in the afternoons, just as friends. They are lazy days filled with biology, American history, and parks by the lake.
“We are going strawberry picking, will you come?” He asks.
I have no idea what it actually entails to go strawberry picking but it is just the kind of thing that Ben would ask me to do.
“Sure, of course. What time?”
I figure that my Goth clothes are probably not appropriate for this activity and I arrive at his house in a white button down tank top, shorts and my Birkenstocks. He takes one look at me and says, “You can’t wear that.” I look down confused. “White, for strawberry picking? Are you crazy? Come on, I’ll give you a tee-shirt.” We go up to his room. It’s the first time I’ve been in it. It’s clean and sparsely decorated. The bed is made, even though it is early, the comforter is blue, and it smells like wood polish, and warm, sleepy Ben. He hands me a teal tee-shirt, which I fight not to point out is just as likely to stain as my white one.
“This should fit,” Ben says. I look at the tee-shirt in my hands, I can feel something else happening in the room. Suddenly, he clears his throat, “Right, sorry,” and he leaves the room so I can change. I put the tee-shirt on the bed and turn my back to the door. My skin has come alive and I can even feel the hairs on my arms stirring. Slowly, I unbutton my top and place it on the bed, and then I pull the boy smelling tee-shirt over my head, praying that it will fit, it does if a little snug across my breasts, which I expected. I sit on the edge of the bed and wait for him to come back in. He knocks, before he opens the door.
“It fits, good.” He sits next to me. “My dad should be here any second.”
“Ok,” I say, wondering where my famously acerbic tongue has gone.
I look up at him and smile and even though I know its coming, I’m not nervous just warm. He leans down and kisses me, softer than I expected. He still has his braces on, soon to be off, he has generous lips and is gentle, which I assume is from lots of practice. He smells like his house and I just want curl up in this moment. As soon as the kiss breaks he says, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Don’t be sorry.”
“But what was I supposed to do, I finally have Jennifer Dillon here in my bed.” A horn honks and Ben says, “Must be my Dad,” grabs me by the hand and we go to the car. On the ride to the farm I turn the phrase, ‘I finally have Jennifer Dillon here in my bed,’ over and over in my mind. The idea that I am a high value object of some desire is new to me, the fact that it is something that he has wanted and that he imagined that moment before it happened is startling. I don’t think of myself as someone that other people think about when I’m not there. He is sitting on my left holding my hand, smiling, happy and proud.
When we arrive at the farm, get our baskets and head out to the plants, I am surprised at how many other people are out picking. I shouldn’t be, it’s sunny and the height of the season. Seattleites grab every moment to enjoy the sun, saving those memories to warm the short gray days of winter. The fragrant smell of the berries clings to the air hovering just two feet above the plants. The bees buzz around lazy, and heavy with their pollen. The mountains are crystal clear in the distance. We are picking plenty of berries but eating just as many. Ben keeps popping perfectly ripe ones into my mouth and at last I understand why a white shirt was a bad choice, I might actually have been better off in my Goth gear. He grins at me, “I guess this is what they meant by Strawberry Fields Forever.” He is grinning because he knows that I hate the Beatles, he loves to quote lyrics and he knows that he is right.
We get strawberry ice cream and head back into Seattle, I watch the field fade from view and know somehow that this moment is singular, to be captured, blazed into my memory, forever fresh knowing that the scent of being loved and cherished lives in a small, red, seed covered berry tasting of Seattle and summer love even if nothing else is real.