I've loved him for as long as I can remember. We were both five when we first met. Playgrounds are such magical places, and the friendships you make on them are so special. But no one ever tells you that not everything can last. At least, not when you're young.
The day is a hot one, and my mother is sitting on a bench a few feet away from me. I am in the sandbox, playing sand that is cool to the touch. I look up across the small playground and I see a boy, about my size, and he has a popsicle. I realize how hot it is, and I catch myself staring longingly at the sweet, cool relief. Suddenly, he looks up and meets my stare. We just stay still, staring at each other for a while. Then, he turns to a woman who must be his mother. She looks towards me and nods her head. I look away, attempting to focus on the sand. A minute later, a shadow appears across my legs. I look up, and it's him. He stands there with his blue eyes and goofy smile and a popsicle in both hands.
"Hi," he says. I stare at him for a minute, not sure what's happening.
"Hi," I whisper.
"My name's Sam. Wanna popsicle?", he asks eagerly. I wrinkle my forehead for a second, making sure that this isn't a joke. I look back into his eyes which are so full of glee, and I know that he means what he says.
"Sure," I say with more ease. Same smiles and plops down next to me and hands me a popsicle. I immediately bite off the top of it, and I taste its syrup-coated sweetness. It's cold and red and perfect. Just perfect.
We continued our park meetings every week after that. Our mothers got to know each other, and they seemed to enjoy the company as well. We all spent the entire summer that way; laughing and playing in the playground while our mothers chatted about life. Eventually, our friendships grew quite deep. So deep, in fact, that our parents decided to enroll us in kindergarten together at the local elementary school. Sam and I couldn't wait.
It is September, and I meet Sam at the school gate. Our mothers and fathers hug and kiss us and wish us a good day. We turn together, hand in hand, and head off to our classroom. We enter and the teacher welcomes us while commenting on "how cute" we looked. We aren't quite sure what she means, but we just giggle and run to meet the other children. The first day is a happy one, filled with new friends, finger painting, and tentative lessons on the alphabet. All in all, it is perfect. Just perfect.
We would spend our entire elementary years like that. Of course, there would be small arguements, perhaps over who got to use the swings first. But overall, we stayed as close as two peas in a pod. In fact, those were our nicknames. Sam was pea, I was pod, and everyone knew it. While many friendships were broken or fractured, nothing came in between us for too long. Then we reached high school.
It's mid-December, three months into our ninth grade year. Sam and I are best friends, through and through. Everyday we sit together at lunch, and spend every minute outside of class together. Many students claim that we are "dating", but both Sam and I know that we are just very good , I love him, and he loves me, but not in that way. It is fourth period - algebra. I despise math, but Sam is really good at it. He's always helping me with my homework and with questions in class. We're working on some sort of evil equation that I just can't seem to understand. Sam is pouring over his notes, trying to explain how negative exponents work. And then, it happens.
"Wow, Sam, you're really good at this, aren't you?", says an overly silky voice that I can immediately recognize. It is Clara Stablehurst, one of the "popular" girls. Sam looks up from my paper, his hand still on my shoulder.
"Oh, um, thank you," he replies. But Clara isn't finished.
"No, really, you seem to completely understand all of this," Clara says, while flipping her hand towards the white board. I look up at Sam and I notice a hint of a blush coming on. It's only something that I've seen a few times before, and all those times, it was directed at me.
"Would you help me with this problem? I can't seem to figure it out," Clara says while batting her eyelashes. I can hardly keep myself from rolling my eyes. But then, Sam surprises me.
"Sure, that's fine. You don't mind, right Olivia?"
I look up at him, shocked. But I can tell from the way he's looking at me that he really wants this. So, I smile and nod, and soon enough, Sam's hand is no longer on my shoulder, and he is at Clara's desk. While he is looking something up in his notes, Clara shoots me a victorious look, but I simply stick my tongue out at her and go back to my evil equation. Nothing comes in between me and Sam for too long, and Clara simply doesn't understand that. Everything is fine. No, it's perfect. Just perfect.
Looking back, I can see were it all began to go wrong. The second Sam took his hand off my shoulder that day, I should have known that everything would eventually go downhill. Throughout the rest of the year, Sam and I remained close, but there seemed to be an invisible rift that neither one of us wanted to comment on. After the next school year had begun, i could tell he was drifting away from me. I assumed that it was just a phase, and we would be back to being pea and pod in no time. I had not taken puberty into consideration. As is turns out, Sam had changed, and not in the way that I expected. Sure, I knew he had a bit of a crush on Clara, and that it had been around for a while. But I never, ever would have guessed that his feelings for Clara would eventually replace me completely. It wasn't long after our junior year began that he and Clara began to date. I saw less and less of Sam as every day passed. No matter how hard I tried to keep him close, our relationship still seemed to be disintegrating. Our parents didn't understand what was happening, as we had always been so close. They just assumed, like I had once, that it was a passing phase. But in the end, we were all wrong.
It is a month before graduation, and Sam and Clara are still an item. Everyone says how adorable they are, and how they should get married. The thought makes me sick. I've known for a while that my platonic feelings for Sam have grown into romantic feelings. We still see each other around the school halls, but it seems that pea and pod have finally gone their separate ways. I've managed to make a few friends, but none of them measure up to Sam, and I know I probably won't see them again after graduation. I am putting some textbooks into my locker when I feel a familiar presence behind me. I turn around.
"Sam?", I whisper. He smiles that same goofy grin and flashes those blue eyes, and my heart melts.
"Hey you. I haven't seen you in a while," he says. My heart becomes cold again.
"Yes, well, I suppose you're to blame for that," I say. Sam's smile falters and he runs his hand through his hair.
"Yeah, I, uh... I know I haven't been the best friend recently, -"
"Recently?", I snap, "You haven't been the best friend that I knew for years."
He seems extremely hurt, as if he knows exactly what I mean.
"Look, it's just that...you know, we used to be so close, Sam, and I miss that. I miss you," I say, cooling off a bit. His eyes never leave mine.
"I miss you too," he says sadly. I don't hesitate to respond.
"Then why don't we fix that? Let's get together, do something before graduation."
Sam bites his lips, then opens his mouth to respond. But I hear a different voice instead.
"Sam? Sam are you over here? There you are, I've been looking for you everywhere," Clara shouts from across the hall. Sam sighs, and I see my glimmer of hope disappear.
"Sam, come on, we're going to be late!", Clara shouts a little to anxiously. Sam looks at me with regretful eyes.
"I'm sorry, Olivia," he whispers. And with that, he is gone, strolling down the hall with Clara. I am left alone, with only my locker full of books to hide my tears. Nothing would ever be perfect again.
We graduated high school the next month, and despite all of the parties and celebrations, I could only feel sadness. My best friend in the whole world had forgotten me, and I would probably never have another chance to recreate the closeness that we once shared. So, I chose to move on. Yes, I would always love Sam, but I couldn't live my life simply waiting for him to come back to me.I went on to college and after a few years, chose my major, child psychology. Every now and then, I'd receive an email from Sam asking how I was and how my life was turning out. I'd respond with general details and I'd wish him well. He and Clara ended up going to the same college (go figure), and they seemed to be as happy as ever. As the months went by, I grew stronger. I even went out with a few guys. Of course, I couldn't help but think of Sam, but I knew that those thoughts would eventually fade. I would just have to wait. But time doesn't heal all wounds.
A month after the first semester of my fourth year in college, I received a letter. The envelope was a cream color, and my name and address were written in a beautiful script. I opened it up, and after reading the first line, I broke down. It was a wedding invitation. Sam and Clara would be married in a month. I remember my eyes spilling over with silent tears. They would be married in our hometown in a local cathedral. I felt my chest heave and my tears were streaming warm down my face. Everything that I had strived for, every wall that I had put up to protect my heart from memories of Sam came crashing down.
It took me a while to decide if I was going to go to the wedding or not. After various phone calls with my mother, I decided to go. After all, Sam had once been my closest friend, and even if it killed me, I needed to be happy for him. I traveled back to our hometown, and decided to stay with my parents until the whole ordeal was over. Then I'd be back at college and everything would be back to normal. The day of the wedding, however, I received quite the surprise. A phone call. From Sam. He wanted to meet with me, in the playground where we first met. At first, I didn't know what to say. So many words were flying through my mind. Curse words, words of love, words expressing curiosity. Eventually, I just agreed.
So now, I am here, at the playground where all of this began. I feel overwhelmed with memories, and I just wish so desperately that our friendship could have stayed. I check my watch, and it's getting pretty close to the time of the wedding. I start feeling anxious, wondering if this is some sort of sick joke. But then, I see him. The boy - no, wait, man - that has caused me so much grief. He's wearing jeans and a collared shirt. I suppose he didn't want to get his tuxedo dirty. Sam walks up to me, and we stand there in silence. I glance around, and my anxiousness takes over me.
"Well?", I ask, somewhat annoyed. Sam smiles, but says nothing. This only frustrates me further.
"Damnit, Sam, what do you want? It's only a few hours before your wedding, and you're here with me. What is it?", I ask, exasperated. Sam only smiles wider, and suddenly pulls me into a huge bear hug. Once again, Sam has succeeded in shocking me. I didn't realize how much I had missed his touch, but that was beside the point. After a few seconds, I begin to flail my arms, causing him to break the hug.
"What are you doing?," I yell, totally confused. He takes a breath..
"I broke up with Clara."
I am floored. I suddenly feel woozy, but I have to find out what is going on.
"What, today? You broke up with her today?"
"No, not really. More like...a month and a half ago," Sam replies. 'Okay', I think, 'I'm definitely in the Twilight Zone'. And then, I'm filled with anger. Anger that's been suppressed for years. I begin to smack him on the chest, obviously catching him off-guard.
"Sam, what the hell are you talking about? I receive an invitation for your wedding, so I take time out of my schedule to come back here for you, and now you're telling me you didn't have the decency to inform me that you and your blushing bride called it quits? What the hell is the matter with you?!?", I shout. Sam catches my wrists and gently lowers them to my waist.
"Listen, Olivia, just hear me out," he pleads. I scoff at the idea. Sam continues anyway.
"I was engaged to Clara, but like I said, about a month and a half ago, I broke it off. I knew that I was going to marry her for all the wrong reasons. I didn't love her, but I felt like I had been with her so long...I don't know, it just seemed like the logical next step. But I don't love her. So, she moved out and I tried to get on with my life. And that's when I realized the reason I didn't love her. The same reason I never really loved her. You. So I sent out the invitation to you. It's the only one that was ever sent."
I can feel the anger radiating from my body, and I know Sam feels it, too.
"Don't do this to me, Sam. Don't you dare do this to me!," I yell, "Do you have any idea what you've done to me? The kind of pain you've caused me? You were my friend! My best friend! They called us pea and pod for goodness sakes! And you threw it all away for someone you didn't even love? How dare you! Heaven knows I love you, even still, but don't you dare expect me to take you back just like that. You hurt me, Sam. You. Hurt. Me. And, I don't know if I can ever forgive you."
Sam looks at me sadly, but I know he knows that what I've said is the truth. We stand there, together, for a few moments. Him uncomfortable, me seething. After a little while, he takes his turn to talk.
"Olivia, I know what I must have done to you. I know that I can never take it back. and that we are different people now. But, I would love to get to know the person you are now. But only if you want me to. I understand if you never want to see me again. Just tell me what you want, and I'll listen," he says slowly. I stare at him, knowing I should still be furious, but I can feel some of the anger draining out from me. Finally, I sigh, and sit down on a nearby bench. Sam follows suit. We stare out at the playground in silence for a while.
"Why did you send me the invitation instead of just calling?", I asked quietly. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Sam bite his lip.
"I thought it was the only way that you would want to see me. I don't know, it seemed like the best idea at the time," he replied. I look up at him.
"You should know by now that I would have seen you if you had just called. This whole "elaborate scheme" of yours really sucks," I say. Sam cracks a small smile.
I look at him. I really look at him. He has bags under his eyes, and he seems just as tired as I am. Suddenly, I see the little boy that I once knew.
"Do you really love me?", he asks. My eyes grow large.
"How can you even ask me that? You know I do. I always have," I say. Sam smiles.
"I love you, too."
Suddenly, Sam pushes a strand of hair behind my ear. I let myself be comforted by this small gesture. Our eyes lock, and I see my reflection in those beautiful blues. Slowly, ever so slowly, Sam leans near me, and I realize what it happening. I wait a split second, and then grab his cheeks and pull him toward me. I kiss him like I've wanted to for years, and he kisses me back. I feel his smile against my lips. After a moment, we break apart.
"Hi," he says. I feel myself smile.
"I really do love you, Olivia, and I'm so sorry for every ounce of pain I've ever caused you," he says. I kiss his cheek and lean my head on his shoulder. We both look out onto the playground once more, and it now it seems like home.
"Just promise me one thing," I say.
"What is it?", he asks. I take his hand and put in on my shoulder.
"Never leave me again."
Sam doesn't hesitate.
"I promise. You're my best friend, Olivia. I love you," he says. I nestle closer to him.
"I love you, too, Sam. I love you, too."
So here we are, at the scene of the crime, together once more. Yes, we have a long way to go, but I know we can get through everything together. Pea and pod. We're not perfect, but we're on our way.