She speaks. What will it take to make us listen?
The sun was shining bright without a cloud in the sky. I remember finding it glaringly so until it was reflecting off the pages of her book. Through the windshield, they were casting a warm, almost angelic glow across her face. I remember her face. She looked up from her book and met my eyes. A smirk played across her soft features. I know something you don’t.
Earlier that day, Devin had grabbed his keys and a pack of Lucky Strikes he lifted off his dad from his nightstand, and as we pulled up to the overlook, he shifted his truck into park. I looked out over the dam, hearing the flick-flick of his lighter and a soft inhale. He offered me a cigarette and I took one from the pack. I lit it, inhaled and exhaled, feeling the smoke wash over me as I continued to stare at the water rushing over the edge of the concrete. I started to ask him about what his mom was going to make for dinner, but the purr of an engine made me lose the thought.
“Hey,” Devin knocked me on the shoulder, nodding toward the car, “worried?” He slipped the pack of cigarettes into the center console.
“No, I don’t know her.” I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding and took another drag off my cigarette, relieved my reputation was still intact.
I watched as a beige-colored Buick pulled into the small gravel parking lot, stopping on the other side and facing our white pickup. We could see right through her windshield as she laid the driver’s seatback slightly. My mind went quiet. She picked up a book and stuck her bare feet out the window.
“Smitten there, Lana?” Devin laughed.
“Nah, just watching.” Nonchalantly tapping the butt of my cigarette on the edge of the partially rolled down window, I continued to gaze at her. Her cherry red lipstick wasn’t even the loudest thing about her. Her hair looked smooth, tamed by a gentle curl, and tied back with a white bandana. A lavender-colored spaghetti-strapped tank and what I could only assume were shorts made her look ethereal. Her skin was tan and bare, her calves tapping gently to a beat only she could hear. Her presence seemed so out of place yet woven into the scenery at the same time.
“Hey, are you listening to me?” A hand flew in front of my face. Devin looked at me impatiently.
“I said my mom’s asking if you’ll be over for dinner. She’s making lasagna.”
“Uhm, no,” I halfheartedly answered, looking back towards the Buick, “I’ll head home for dinner tonight.”
“Mama J making anything good, you know?” Devin smirked back. My mom was an awful cook, but she tried now and then. Tonight was another attempt.
“Yeah. Tacos, I think.” I mumbled. Devin followed my eyes again. Sighing as he flicked the butt of his Lucky Strike out the window, he turned back to me.
“You know, you could just stop being a pussy and just go say hello.” He had no time for my awkwardness, and I knew I was going to get shit for this later.
“No, no.” I tore my eyes from the girl and pulled a face, “It’s not like that. I’m just curious.”
“It could be, though.” He made a kissy face, so I punched him in the shoulder. “You gotta get out more, bro.” He rolled up his window, a cheesy grin on his face. I laughed and did the same, thankful that the only thing he could tease me for was my social life, or rather, lack thereof. I glanced back toward the Buick. The girl was gone.
“What the hell?” Immediately concerned, my eyes darted from her car to the woods as a ball started to form in my throat. I spotted a small dot of lavender floating through the trees. I impulsively slammed my hand against the window, staring at the trees in her direction. I felt Devin follow my gaze again, his confusion filling the cab of the truck. I didn’t care. My heart rate slowed slightly from just catching another glimpse of her.
“Jesus, Lana.” He raked a hand through his hair. “Come on, let’s head back.” He shifted into reverse and began pulling out of the parking lot. I felt my body tense. Where was she going?
“I have to go,” I whispered, reaching for the door handle. I couldn’t help it.
“I’ll see you later.”
“What? Where are you going?” He sputtered. “Hold on, Lana, Jesus!” The truck groaned as he threw it into park.
“Lana!” Devin called after me, dumbfounded and pissed I tried to get out of the truck while it was moving. I heard a frustrated “what the fuck” as I leaped from the pickup and jolted into a sprint. “Should I wait?!”
“No!” I yelled back over my shoulder, running toward the section of woods where I last saw the flash of purple. Devin’s truck tires spat up gravel as he pulled back out of the parking lot. I ran toward the bank of the river. The water was rushing down the banks, carried by the momentum from the dam. The late afternoon sunlight sparked off its surface. I didn’t dare yell. I had no idea what I was doing, who this girl was, or if she knew I was following her. I had to catch up to her though. I had to know her name.
I came around the bend near the sand bar, my heart hammering in my chest. I felt the soft soil gouge under my sneakers as I stopped short. She was bending over the water, dipping a mason jar into the gentle current. She carried on as if she hadn’t noticed me yet. That, or she knew I had been following her and was waiting for me. I couldn’t tell.
“Hey there.” Her voice was siren-like as it fell from her lips, the corner of her smile wrapping softly around each syllable. She didn’t look up at me but shifted so I could just see the tips of her fingers dancing in the water. “Curiosity killed the cat, you know.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you, I just — ”
“You didn’t scare me.” She looked up from the water. Her eyes were a dangerous shade of green and her lashes fluttered. “I had a feeling you’d be here.”
“Do I know you from somewhere?” I was utterly confused; how did she know I was going to follow her? She shrugged. The warm wind lifted her curls gently and set them down again on her shoulders. I stared at my feet, embarrassed I had followed an impulse like this. The moss around my sneakers looked soft, little vines of delicate ivy entwined around a tree stump just to my right and the bark smelled like thawing spring. I glanced coyly back at her only to see her back to me as she nearly floated down the river bank.
“Wait!” I threw tree branches out of my way as I chased after her, “Where are you going?”
She broke into a run. The trees slapped my face, the grapevines and swinging branches pulled and snagged my shirt. The soil under my feet squished and suctioned to my shoes, covering the toes in dark stains. She turned slightly and crouched. I nearly tripped over her.
“Do you see this?” She gently held the head of a daisy between her slender fingers. Her voice was barely a whisper as if the breeze could carry the syllables away.
“Her head bends down when the sun sinks behind the pine there.” She looked up at a towering pine just off the edge of the river. The tip brushed against the baby blue and cloudless sky. I met her moss-colored eyes and something in them made my heart beat hard in my chest. There was something in them, a longing or burden of knowledge that looked as if it could jump from her lips at any moment. As if every second I looked into them, the closer I was to understand some old, nostalgic secret of life.
“What’s your name?”
“You aren’t listening to me!” Tears started to form in her eyes, and she dropped the daisy. Its petals started to curl inward, and its head drooped, slowly turning brown and withered. It took all my effort to tear my eyes away from the now-dead flower and look back at her. There was a look in her eyes I couldn’t understand. It was so beyond me. She shook her head and tore the white bandana from her curls, tears now streaming haughtily down her cheeks. Her lip trembled.
“Why did you follow me here? Do you know who I am?” Her eyes flashed as a thick cloud covered the sun.
“N-no, I don’t know. I saw you and I just wanted to know you. Wh-who are you?” I stumbled over my words like a boat through the rapids of a raging river. She looked up into the sun, the cloud that appeared there turned into cotton candy wisps of white. She wiped her tears on her white bandana and took a shaky breath.
“I wanted to go on a walk through the woods. Have you seen the way the water smooths the soil on the banks? Or how the ivy climbs over the pines, just trying to reach the sun?” she smiled, more to herself than to me, “I get so tired. This world wears on me.” She looked at me, and the secret that was behind her eyes was gone.
“Would you like to walk with me?” She offered me her hand.
“Yeah.” I took her hand. They were soft and warm as she laced her fingers between mine. We walked down the edge of the river and she showed me the littlest things around us. There was a ladybug on the underside of a blooming milkweed leaf. The chickadees sang their springtime melody fee bee-fee bee as they sat in the budding crabapple trees. She stopped to take a handful of the soil, it’s wet and musky smell filling my nose. There was so much around us. There was so much more she could have shown me, but she turned to me, her face pale and dark circles forming under eyes.
“I have to go.” She swayed as if she was going to faint, “Please, you can’t follow me here.” She dropped my hand and pressed lightly between her eyes. As if remembering it in her hand, she tied her white bandana around my wrist with a small, tight knot. She looked up at me under her dark lashes, a soft, tired smile gracing her cheek.
“Thank you for listening” She turned away from me before I could say anything, leaning against a huge oak tree as she stumbled farther into the woods. The dark brush seemed to swallow her entirely, and as I looked for her, there was a flash of purple anywhere. I swung my wrist into view, gently feeling the soft fabric of her bandana. I was afraid to untie it. Blue stitching caught my eye on the corner poking out from the knot of fabric. I adjusted it so I could see the whole name that was carefully embroidered into the cloth.
“Terre.” I looked into the woods where she disappeared. I felt the breeze prick my skin sharply as I said her name out loud. The pine scratched the sky in response and the chickadee’s fee bee covered the sound of the current running down the riverbed. Time felt like it stopped. I was left with only her name and the beauty she showed me as I walked back to the parking lot in a daze. The sun had set, and a blinding pair of headlights swung gracelessly into the parking lot as I emerged from the woods, leaves in my hair, muddied shoes, and utterly confused. Devin jumped out of the driver’s side of his white pickup, bombarding me with questions.
“Lana!” he grabbed my shoulders, forcing my eyes to focus on his face, “You’ve been gone for hours! You’re a mess. Who was that?” His eyes burned into mine and I felt a lump form in my throat as I tried to say her name. A chickadee fled from a branch into the wind just behind Devin’s ear, and the breeze blew through my tangled hair earnestly. I saw a flash of purple run through the woods, and her blazing green eyes caught mine for one last time before she disappeared.
“I-I don’t know. I didn’t catch her.”