Paper Airplanes


Forgive me, I'm trying to find
My calling, I'm calling at night.

I don't mean to be a bother,
But have you seen this girl?
She's been running through my dreams,
And it's driving me crazy, it seems.
I'm going to ask her to marry me.
-Remembering Sunday, All Time Low


The slight rustling of the leaves of the birch tree outside his window was enough to awaken Gavin from the light slumber. He realized that maybe it was not sleep that he had fallen into, but simply a state of unawareness--sleep just seemed to shy away from him these days. The glowing numbers on the clock appeared to scorch themselves into his eyes as he tried to ignore them. 2:04 am, the clock read. It was like the numbers were yelling at him. Yelling at him to stop thinking about her.

Reluctantly, he got off the bed, trying to find his shoes. He didn't bother trying to get back to sleep because he knew that his attempts would only prove to be fruitless; he had, after all, been trying day-and-night. His legs were shaky, unsteady from lack of use--he had been lying in bed for two days already. Had it just been two days? he wondered to himself. It seemed so much longer than that. Funnily, he recovered his shoes from under the bed, unearthing them from a pile of discarded clothes.

He rammed his feet into the worn out sneakers, not even bothering to put on socks or to tie the laces. The quiet breeze tumbled into the room through the open window, smacking his face with surprising force. This seemed to arouse him, even if just a little. He staggered into the bathroom, flicking on the light. He squinted, adjusting his eyes to the sudden brightness; perhaps he had also been in the darkness for too long.

Gavin caught his reflection in the mirror. His eyes were tired and bloodshot, most probably from dearth of sleep. Dark, purplish rings had surfaced beneath them, and his face had become noticeably sallow. His mahogany hair stuck out in places, some to the right, others to the left. Turning the faucet on, he splashed his face with ice-cold water, wanting to wash away all the confusion, the hurt, the pain of the past three days.

God, Sunday. The memory of Sunday came flooding back to his mind, pushing away all his efforts of forgetting. He dried his face on the frayed towel that he had found hanging at the back of the door, almost as if attempting to wipe away any trace of recollection. As he passed his bedroom, he noticed for the first time that the television was on. There was nothing really behind the screen, just muted static lines in a chaotic mess. He left the room, without even bothering to turn it off.

Unconsciously, his feet led him into the kitchen. He took in the scene: plates piled high in the sink, colorful mugs left on the old Formica table, the light bulb flickering insistently, a cockroach clambering up the wall. As each second that passed, he seemed to grow more and more breathless. Until finally he couldn't take it anymore. God, Sunday, he thought again. It was almost like a box had burst open. Memories of Sunday surged into his head, so strong that he could not hold them back anymore.

It had happened here, here in this grimy, insignificant little kitchen. It was hard to imagine that it had just happened three days ago. It was even harder to imagine that just three days ago, he had told her how he felt.

They had been in this kitchen, laughing, joking around, having breakfast. He had been playing with the eggs on his plate, the eggs that she had cooked--for him. She had been forking into her mouth the waffles that he had made--for her. To anyone else, it was probably a regular Sunday breakfast scene, but to him, it meant infinitely more than that. It felt like his heart was swelling up, swelling up from God knows what.

"You know, Cady, you're not a very good cook," he had commented thoughtfully with a mouthful of eggs.

She had pretended to look offended. "How dare you, you ungrateful piece of…"

"Well, first of all, they taste sort of…bland. Second, they're almost burned to a crisp, and third--" He didn't have the chance to finish because she had tackled him to the ground, sending the utensils to soar across the room.

She was pretty strong for a girl, but he had her pinned down underneath him in a matter of seconds. "Get off me, you skeletal oaf!"

She had been laughingly struggling, as he gazed at her, his breath catching involuntarily. He had gazed at the long tendrils of her red hair, gazed at how they curled at the ends, gazed at her vivid green eyes. His already-swollen heart had felt like it was going to swell up even more until it would explode.

"Cady…"

She had still been laughing. "What, Gavin?"

"Cady, I love you," he had blurted out.

He loved her. Now that he had said it, he realized how true it was. How else was he going to explain how happy he felt whenever they were together or how much he missed her whenever they were apart? What other explanation was there to describe how his heart leapt whenever he saw her or how his heart got stuck in his throat whenever she touched him? He loved her. He loved no one else but her.

She had stopped laughing, all traces of mirth quickly absconding her features. Her eyes the shade of celery had widened, fringed by fear and something else he couldn't put his finger on. "You don't mean that," she had whispered quietly, barely heard even in the deafening silence of the kitchen. Or maybe it was because he himself hadn't wanted to hear it.

He had positioned himself on the floor beside her, his heart thudding crazily underneath his wrinkled yellow shirt. "I mean it, Cady," he had murmured. "I love you." Three words. They were really just three words, and yet when he said them, it felt as if his heartbeats had synchronized themselves to those three simple, unassuming words.

Her eyes sodden with ill-concealed tears, she had stood up clumsily. "I have to go." And with that, she had hurried to the door, leaving him alone, accompanied by nothing but the sound of his quiet but ragged breathing.

He had sat on the floor for who knows how long, burying his head in his folded arms, shielding himself from the world, from the gravity of the words he had said, and from the moment that had already started to change his life.

He had tried calling her the next day, but her sister had told him that she was not home. He had tried calling her again and again, all resulting to the same conclusion. She didn't want to speak with him. Still, he called her again and again, until his fingers grew sore from pushing the same buttons on the phone over and over, until his throat had gone dry from repeating the same words over and over, until his mind had gotten tired from thinking about anything at all.

Gavin found himself kneeling on the floor, on the same spot he had sat on three days ago, defeated. He found that his cheeks were streaked with tears; he hadn't even noticed that he was already crying. He scolded himself. How could a guy like him be crying like this?

But the rational side of himself told him that it was okay to cry. He was only seventeen, for crying out loud. And he had found love--true, irreplaceable love. And he had lost it. Just like that. He exhaled loudly, telling himself that he would not allow this to happen. He was going to hold on to his love like a drowning man would hold on to any floating object for dear life. And nothing would keep him away.

His legs still wobbling a bit, he stood up, balancing himself on his feet. I'm going to do it, he thought. He left the kitchen, opened the front door, and rushed down the street. It was two thirty in the morning, but he didn't care. He was going to look for a way to make this work. Cady's house was only a few blocks away and he decided to walk despite the slight drizzle falling from the empty black sky.

A few minutes later, Gavin found himself in front of the familiar peach-colored house with the neat-looking white picket fence. Even more memories swamped his already-flooded mind. He remembered how he used to wait for Cady in the mornings, and how they would walk to school together, joking and laughing all the way. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the doorbell and pushed the button. From the outside, he heard the shrill ringing, but it was nothing compared to the violent thumping of his heart. This is it, he told himself.

He waited, waited, and waited. But nothing happened. He rang the doorbell again, twice this time. Maybe Cady was still asleep?--two a.m. was, after all, an ungodly time to visit. He waited again, attempting to calm his insides, trying to kill the butterflies in his stomach. She should have been awaken by now, Gavin knew. Cady had always been a light sleeper, the tiniest sound always caused her to stir. Surely, she did not know that he was the one ringing the bell--all the curtains were shut tight.

Not knowing what to do, Gavin bent down to pick up a jagged piece of rock. He threw it at Cady's window, the rock hitting the glass with a firm thud. And still, nothing happened.

By now, Gavin knew--knew with full certainty--that no one was home. Cady wasn't home.

Where was she?

XXX

Earlier…

"Are you sure about this, Cady?" Tiffany asked apprehensively, tugging at the collar of her shirt. She glanced at her watch. 8:47 p.m..

Cady shot her little sister a meaningful look. "Yes. Why wouldn't I be?"

"What about…you know…Gavin?"

"It doesn't matter anymore," Cady said with a wave of her hand. "And besides, we're already here in the plane." It was so easy to say for her, but she always knew that she was good at hiding how she felt. Underneath the indifferent tone of her voice, she was aware that her heart was being wrenched out of its place.

"But you love him," Tiffany reasoned.

Cady stared out the plane windows, at the gloomy landscape that stretched out in front of her. In some bizarre way, it made her feel claustrophobic. "I don't," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. The thought of Sunday morning hovered above her--and although it was a quiet thought, it was something that couldn't be ignored. It seemed that it was all she thought about for every second that had passed since it had happened. She couldn't help thinking about how Gavin had looked that moment, about how his grey eyes had seemed to melt into smoldering puddles, about how his voice had sounded so husky and low when he said her name.

"The plane hasn't started yet. There's still time to turn back."

"There's no reason for us to turn back." Her tone was firm now. "I'm going to study in Italy to be able to help Mom and Dad in running their company. And we would be able to live with them there. This is what they want."

Tiffany looked at her doubtfully. "But what about what you want?"

"This is what I want, Tiff."

"Mom and Dad never forced us to follow them in Italy. They said it was our choice."

"And this is my choice."

"I wish you'd stop lying to yourself."

"I'm not," Cady replied unyieldingly.

"You're just afraid."

Cady glared at her sister. "Afraid of what?" she snapped.

"You're afraid to admit to yourself that you love Gavin as much as he loves you. You're afraid to get hurt again because of what happened last summer with that jerk, Adam. You're afraid because you've found someone who loves you so much that he'd make sacrifices for you--even little ones that make your breath catch and your heart miss a beat--"

"Tiff, quit it."

"Gavin isn't like Adam, Cady. He won't leave you the way Adam did. I just know it."

"Listen to yourself, Tiff. You're fifteen, for crying out loud!" She paused, and added in a softer tone, "You don't know what you're talking about."

Tiffany exhaled noisily, resignation evident in her face. "Look, Cady, are you sure that this is what you want?"

In ways she would never be able to explain, Cady felt a falling sensation--like she was going to leave a big part of herself behind. It took her by surprise because they had only been staying at Washington for a short while and she was already so used to moving in and out of places. She forced a smile on her lips and said, "Yes, this is what I want."

As if on cue, the plane's engine viciously roared to life. In a little while, they were moving, gliding smoothly across the ground, passing by what they could see of Washington through the limited windows of the aircraft. Cady pushed down the shade of her window, not wanting to see what was going on outside. She imagined herself on one of those paper airplanes Gavin loved to produce-- which were always made of crumpled, out-of-date newspapers--flying high up the vast canopy of stars.

Soon, the plane would be streaking past the boundaries of old Washington. Soon, Cady would be in a totally different world. Soon, Gavin would be reduced to nothing but a standstill fragment of her memory.

"Goodbye, Gavin," she whispered, a quiet tear slithering down her smooth cheek. She took a silent but deep breath, hoping in the deeper than deepest part of her forlorn heart that he had heard her.

XXX

"Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. Roberts!" Gavin cried as he knocked on the neighbor's front door. It was still raining and he was exhausted. This was already the sixth house that he had disturbed.

Mrs. Roberts came out a second later, clutching a robe around her frilly oatmeal-colored nightgown, her hair a messy tangle of grayish corkscrews. Her eyes that were bleary and tired gave way to confusion. "Gavin, what in the Lord's name are you doing here at this time of the night?"

"Mrs. Roberts, have you seen the Thompsons? You know, Cady Thompson and her sister? Do you know where they went?"

"I'm sorry, but aren't they home?"

Gavin didn't want the disappointment to show in his face, but it was like his features had minds of their own--twisting themselves into expressions that manifested the growing frustration in his chest. "No, they're not. But thanks, Mrs. Roberts." She closed the door and Gavin felt like he was back to square one. He sighed and decided to move on to the next house.

He rang the bell and a woman in her early forties opened the door. She, like everyone else, wore slippers and sleepy eyes. "Gavin," she said with a hint of surprise in her voice.

"Oh, good evening, Mrs. Whitman."

"I think good morning is more suitable, Gavin. Do you know what time it is? And it's raining quite hard!"

"Uh…yes, it's just that I'm looking for the Thompsons. Do you, by any chance, know where Cady Thompson is, Mrs. Whitman?" The words came out of his mouth in a jumble, tumbling out of his tongue, tripping over each other. They cluttered themselves up in front of his own sleep-depraved eyes and he felt like he had to look away.

"Cady Thompson, the sister of Tiffany Thompson, right?" she inquired.

Gavin nodded. "Yes. Do you know where they are?"

"Yesterday afternoon, my daughter told me that Tiffany was moving to Italy. My daughter mentioned that she said something about studying there."

Gavin stared at her in shock, his jaw becoming slack with disbelief. His shoulders dropped, together with the smattering of hope that had formed in his chest. He shivered under the rain. "That…that can't be." He was not aware of opening his mouth to speak, but he heard it weakly coming out of his mouth.

"I'm sorry, Gavin," Mrs. Whitman said sympathetically, "but that's just what my daughter told me. It might not be true…."

Sloppily, Gavin shook his head. "No, Mrs. Whitman, it's okay. Thank you. And I'm sorry for disturbing you this late. Good night." He noticed that his voice was cracking.

She shot him a concerned look. "Are you sure you're fine?"

"Yes."

"Alright then, good night. You should go home and get some sleep." Mrs. Whitman smiled at him with her perfect white teeth, and softly closed the door.

Gavin just stood there, not knowing what to do. For a moment, it seemed as if he had left his body and he were watching himself through another person's eyes. His hair was drenched, his yellow shirt clung wetly to his skin, his sneakers had become encrusted with mud. Rain was pouring down on him, threatening to overpower the tears that had unconsciously started sheeting down his tired eyes. How stupid he must have looked, searching for a girl who had already left him. Cady didn't love him back.

Cady didn't love him back. He repeated it in his mind over and over again. And surprisingly, with each repetition, the pain grew more intense, gnawing at his insides. Cady didn't love him. There it was again, but Gavin didn't blame her, couldn't bring himself to hate her. He loved her, and that was all there was to it. Nothing more.

For the first time in his life, Gavin felt weary and old, like he had already seen too much of the world. He suddenly wished he were a paper airplane, so easy and so free of complications--that was what he loved about them. He would be able to fly wherever the wind took him; but of course it was all wishful thinking. And wishful thinking never gets you anywhere.

His body was already trembling from the cold that was enveloping him, but he didn't feel it. He only felt the throbbing ache from somewhere in his chest. A stab by a knife would have been a lot less painful, Gavin knew. Somewhere along the way, he had lost his bearings, and now his body felt heavy. Right now all he wanted to do was to lie on the dirty pavement that was decorated with puddles, below his feet.

But he knew Mrs. Whitman must be right. Maybe it was time to go home.