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But Goodbye

This is how the story begins: you and me stealing the car keys, jumping in my dad's sleek black car and shooting down the road. Every afternoon we take his car down this straight black spine of a road that scars the swamp all the way from East Beach to West Beach. This road that slides under trees with Spanish moss clinging to the branches and under a sun burning gold and the glassy blue sky that shows up every day. This road that starts and ends buried in sand.

You and I roll all the windows down, singing loud with the radio. We are two blonde girls looking at each other and not the road. We take these drives with all the windows down, music up so loud you can feel the drums and bass in your chest like a second heartbeat. The road is always empty. Watch us in our sunglasses. Watch our hair that whips around our heads like two yellow flags. The two of us, we are both too young to drive slowly. See how you and I are not talking, but also see how I am looking into your inky blue eyes and singing I want you and you make me complete and don't let go.

When we rattle over bridges I take my hands off the wheel and close my eyes just to see what will happen. We wait for that freefall feeling, for our hearts to catch in our throats, for the shock of the cold blue water. I think how the water will mess with the radio; probably stop it right in the middle of our favorite song. When the fall happens, we will know to be very quiet. We know we will slip away silent and sink like stones, we know God will barely even notice we are gone. Mid-fall I will open my eyes and I will turn to you and say, Jenny, but you will have your eyes shut tight.

I drive you to the airport so you can leave me and go home, and then you will be off to Italy. I do not pay attention to what is happening and I do not realize you are going until you look at me with your eyes and your breath all like that and step away to your plane. I think about waiting and watching your plane take off but my feet don't stop moving. Each step I take makes the necklace you gave me swing back and hit my chest.

Don't ask me how I am calm enough to find my car, pull out of the parking lot without hitting anyone, smile at the woman in the tollbooth with wrinkled hands and long red fingernails and thin blue veins and give her exact change. And I drive slowly. First time I have ever wanted to be way below the speed limit.

I take a detour home through neighborhoods with all the houses the old rich live in with ivy walls and iron gates and elm trees. I drive and watch the white and yellow lines swim past. I watch the road slide by beneath dust and water spots and glowing streaks of bugs on the windshield. Your scent is still creased in the tan leather of the passenger's seat. The streaks don't come off my windshield since you talked about them. I hate every love song in the world and they are all playing on this radio station. I punch my fingers into the buttons but all I get is the spitting crackling static.

After four days I am digging my fingernails into my wrists. I start talking in my sleep again, waking up and breathing your name out loud. I never should have let you sleep in my bed. You left something in the pillows that keeps my eyelashes shut hours after the sun slants through the windows. And that necklace of yours. It twists around my throat at night. It leaves red prints of stars on my neck. And in the mornings it hangs down on that black cord, swings back and hits against my heart.

I spend these days in the sun and the nights open-eyed and awake, watching the sky change colors, thinking about you. I go to the ocean alone and float crucifix-style in the water, feeling the wind on my toes, knees, curled-up fingertips, chest. When I open my eyes the world is gray with glaring sun streaks across.

One night you call. I'm pitching green hickory nuts into the river at low tide, looking at the water creasing through the mud and those little purple flowers and snail shells and the Spanish moss in the wind. You are on the phone, 650 miles away, soon to be 2,000. Fireflies and mosquitoes creep up my knees. I am pulling Spanish moss off the grey oak branches and threading it in my hair. You are saying everything but goodbye.

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