Clockwise

Photo by Jennifer Stevens : Story by Kayla King

Perry climbed over the garden wall. She never used the gate, loving the way the stone felt solid beneath her hands; always familiar. From her spot on the ledge, the tree seemed skeletal, almost bare. She found him there, surrounded by leaves the color of butter.

“They’re falling too fast,” Thatcher said when Perry waved from the wall. She’d been visiting this way since the early days of their friendship, and Thatcher’s house felt like home.

“I missed you at school today,” Perry said. She felt the handle of the half-broken teacup beneath her knee. Thatcher’s mom had added it to the other pieces plastered into the garden wall when they were little, and it remained Perry’s favorite spot.

“My mom doesn’t know I skipped,” he said, pointing to the backyard. Perry didn’t see her, but nodded. She swung her legs, careful not to disrupt the handle of the teacup beneath her.

“Ever wonder who we’ll be when we’re done with school?” Perry asked. “Like we’ll leave, we’ll love, we’ll become different people.”

Though the early September sun started to set, there was still enough light to see the way Thatcher squinted up at the tree, too much worry in the creases of his forehead. Leaves fell, seasons changed; it never bothered Thatcher.

But Perry understood. Sometime soon, there might be a full season in which everything changed.

“Would it help to pretend the future is a person? I always find talking to hypotheticals like real people much easier,” Thatcher said.

Perry jumped down from the wall to join him beneath the tree.

“Just imagine,” Thatcher said. He always seemed to be imagining other places, thinking about other people. And being friends with him meant dealing with the strange things he did or said, while everyone else just existed. “Future would say something like, Find someone you can share all your truths with. I think that might be love,” he said.

“Or maybe, Love is about being lost,” she said. “People seek happiness and think it’s love.”

Perry wondered if Thatcher would someday leave, and find something better; some place happier.

Maybe everyone tried much too hard to be happy in a world where they should be grateful. Or surprised. Or content.

Sitting here with Thatcher beneath the tree, she felt content.

“I don’t think I’ll be here,” Thatcher said, looking up at the tree like he saw something she couldn’t.

Thatcher’s words chilled Perry more than the wind turning the leaves inside out. She didn’t want him to talk about other places, even imaginary ones, because she couldn’t imagine Thatcher anywhere but here. Even his thoughts being elsewhere made her feel hollow.

She remembered the way Thatcher used to talk about a place he wanted to go, an address just as nonsensical as himself. And she imagined that 65 ½ now, a wrought-iron gate freckled from rust and old age, speaking in creaks.

“We should have tea,” Thatcher said.

Perry felt the future closing around her. She felt it in the way Thatcher needed to understand what might happen in a month or a year from now; seeking some distant happiness.

He walked back toward his house, but Perry didn’t follow. Instead, she stared at the pieces of glass on the garden wall, patterned with flowers and fine filigree. All of it had been whole once, broken by a past event Perry couldn’t remember. But knowing it already happened, that the pieces would remain where they were forever, made her feel better than anything else.

“Perry!” Thatcher called from the backyard minutes later. The way he said her name was nice; simple and honest and real.

“Do we have to?” Perry asked when Thatcher handed her a tea cup. He looked back at her with small eyes, pleading with her.

“Just one,” he said, and she knew it only took him one cup. He was better at reading tea leaves than skylines or wind patterns or even at reading her the past few months.

“No sugar?” Perry asked, sipping on the bitter black tea.

“It’ll ruin the reading. Now think of your question,” Thatcher said. He drank his tea and closed his eyes, savoring the liquid.

The way they talked about the future, finding their fate in tea cups, should’ve unsettled her. But such moments felt like worship: to the stars and their friendship; the profundity eclipsed by the simplicity of being here, now, with the promise of a hundred or so more moments spent just like this.

When she finished her tea, Thatcher took her cup, and swirled the remains three times clockwise, “For future events,” he said, but Perry already knew that. He tipped her cup back on the saucer without a sound, her future in practiced hands.

Perry focused on the way he stood, shifting from one foot to the other, as if the future were there waiting for him.

He dropped her cup without a whisper of what he’d seen, and then smashed his own against the tree.

“Thatcher?” she asked, too afraid to say anything else.

His voice creaked when he said her name, “Perry.”

He knelt to pick up the pieces of the cups before pulling her away from the tree, and she let him, because the ground smelled bitter like the tea. It caught in her throat and took her voice.

***

“The future scares me, too,” he said, brushing a leaf from the garden wall. He examined what was left of the cups, a bucket of mortar at his feet.

Together they pressed the pieces into an empty section of the wall. The small shards felt real in her hand. She knew they would exist one second, one moment from now. And that was enough.


Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on March 29, 2016.