May in South Eastern Kentucky brought only three things. Scorching humid air, swarms of bugs, and vast boredom brought on by the holy grail of school. Summer.
Though this time, it brought much more than simple boredom.
Her name was Nikki. A cute quirky girl whom joined our class about 100 days in. I'm not sure what it was that first drew me. Maybe it was her short black hair, tan skin, or maybe she was just new and I made her the answer to all my young heart's questions.
No matter the reason, the knots in my stomach were clear, I had to know her. I can never place who said 'hi' first but within a week she owned all my time. Before school, during class, during recess, after school, and every moment in-between. But as the weather warmed and May approached something felt, off.
She'd said her family moved a lot, and that she was never in one school for more than a year. An absent thought in my mind until the air turned hot.
Our relationship stalemated during the waning of April. We talked, hung out, even held hands from time to time but nothing more. I longed for her to be my first kiss, to tell her what I truly felt when we were close.
But neither of those things happened. When the 21st rolled around we said goodbye like we always did. Like we would be here tomorrow, in this same room, following the same schedule, waiting for a moment that will never come. The moment to say 'I love you,'
When my worn out Nike's hit the grass of my front yard I didn't flinch, even though regret came full force down on me. She didn't have a phone so there was no way for me to call her. And even if she did who knows how long she would be in that house.
I went two weeks like this. Waiting for the air to cool and the leaves to change so I could rush those ceramic halls again just to see her name already placed on one of the lockers. Just to be able to see her again.
By July I was virtually soulless taking up poetry in an effort to kill the time. Deep down I thought it would go away, the dulling pain, the dreams, the hope that when the phone rung it was somehow her, even though she had no idea what my number was.
It didn't though, and time didn't make it any easier.
August came to me being numb. Not expecting, or even caring, I treaded the dewed grass onto the bus. The ride took no more than an hour as I, and others filled the halls once again after months.
5th grade is supposed to be the hardest. You know, prep for the big league of middle school as if the GPA you left with meant anything to anyone. I found myself scanning the locker tags on the far wall of the room that looked like all the others. They always did this before classes start, it was the only chance for students to get a grasp on the roster before the day started.
Dead center on the bottom 'Nikki Harlow'
There are words to describe the fire that ignited in my soul. The tsunami of joy that overcome my emotional fatigued body. She was still here! Her family hadn't left, she would still be here, in this school with me. But she wasn't
She never showed up that day, or the day after, and by the end of the week her name was no longer on that bottom center locker. It was just gray.
high school is a joke. Really it is. There is this idea that all the magic happens in high school but I and every other American who has ever been through the system can attest, that's bull shit.
"Michael," I was on my way to third period engineering when a soft voice called for me. I had become the typical skater introvert during the process from middle to high school, even brought over the poetry writing with me. But all and all I looked the same, thin build, pale skin and dark brown hair.
And so did Nikki.
In front of the marron lockers she stood. Crimson streaks intertwined her mahogany hair while her brown Van's shirt hugged her. Paired with her faded skinny jeans it showed that time had only made her more captivating. But there was something else there, something corrosive.
As she smiled up at me I could sense the maelstrom raging around her, raging underneath her alluring hazel eyes.
"it's been a while," she continued because I literally found myself speechless.
"Uh, yeah, yeah it has been,"
"Wait! You remember me don't you?" she snaps playfully.
"I could never forget," I say, only to be cut off by the bell.
"Oh, I guess we should get going huh?" she smiled again giving me a quick hug. "Hey, I have a phone now, here's my number!" she declared pulling an orange sticky note out of her pocket.
"Text me later!" she chirped gliding off into the heard. I only have enough time to wave before she disappeared, leaving my heart in turmoil.
In engineering I just looked over the faded numbers again and again, trying to make sense of it. I deeply cared about Nikki, through and even after that dreaded summer. But I was hardly prepared for her to show up like this.
After class my mind wasn't much clearer so I stood around in the hall well past bell hoping to see her, like it would solve the puzzle. Of course she never showed up. I repeated this process, all the way to the point I was sitting on the bus staring at the tennis courts.
Really having no other option, I put in my ear buds pulling out the faded orange note.
'Hey, its Michael.'
It took her almost no time to respond. 'Hey! :3'
'What's up?' I ask, it was literally the only thing I could think of.
'Not much, wbu?'
Should have expected that much. Closing out of messenger I stare at the home screen of my phone before closing my eyes. I didn't want to have this cliché conversation with her right now, or ever, not after what I had been through. Young or not I still loved her with every ounce in my body, and for her just to show up, it would take a stronger man than I just to act like none of it mattered.
I didn't hear from her for the next two days until my phone vibrated to life as I laid down for bed.
'If you want to cut the shit, I'm game, we have a lot of catching up to do.'
'where have you been?'
'around, mostly in Boone, sorry I couldn't tell you,' she replied.
'Don't be, sorry for the last couple of days it's just been, well, overwhelming. A lot of time has passed since then you know?'
She didn't reply after that, but called as I started to doze off about an hour later.
"Hey, can we talk?" her voice was quite, innocent.
"You never have to ask," I say hearing her smile on the other end.
"There a couple of things I want to get off my chest," she sighed. "but after I do it I want use to get back to square one, and build our relationship like it should have been done years ago,"
There was nothing more I wanted.
"Let's hear it," I say.
"Um, okay first thing I met a guy about a year ago, before I moved back to town. We dated for a bit but you should know he took my virginity, wow I can't believe I actually said it," her voice panicked.
"So?" I question in an attempt to help her regain heart.
"So? You mean you don't care?" she gasped.
"Not in the slightest, you really think that would hamper the last seven years?" I lied, because it did. My stomach churned at the thought of her with someone else, though I don't know why. The whole idea of virginity is stupid but it made it clear I didn't put the brand on her heart that she had on mine.
"You know fuck it. I was going to talk about how much of a broken girl I am and how we should start from square one but I don't want to. Michael Miller I loved you from the day you said Hi. I was nervous and scared, I was wearing some shit pass me down cloths but they're you were, not caring about any of that. I loved you when we talked at lunch, or ran away from everyone during recess so we could talk in peace. I loved you when we held hands after school, even if it was only for a couple of minutes before you got on the bus. I loved you over that summer, and every summer since, and I love you now, I love you, I love you, I love you," her breath became heavy on the other end as I melted.
"I," My voice cracked making me stumble. "I loved, no I love you too, Nikki, and always will,"
Taking a sip of whisky I look out onto the hills from the balcony of my apartment. It was the only time in my day to day life I could get away from it all, actually think and reflect on my catapulting life.
The only time I can think about and wonder how she was doing.
After the night of our confession we hung out and she sported a variety of my shirts and hoodies. But as if we were in 4th grade again summer came, no kiss, no clear bridge from child hood sweethearts to lovers.
We slowly drifted apart the next year and I found out that summer she never finished high school. It was the last thing I ever heard about her, or from her.
I check from time to time on different social media websites to see if she is around, to see how she is doing and if everything in her life turned out alright. But every time I do I find the same page she had in high school, the remnants of our conversation the last updates on her wall.
I loved Nikki in the flesh, and as I sit in the hot May air my heart is still with hers, even as a ghost.