Twice a year, the 4H people bus us out of our rundown suburb to show us another way of life full of pollinators and cow manure. That’s where I meet you. Our eighth-grade field trip to the apple orchard and you carry bushel baskets up empty and back full, your jeans worn, seams faded to the color of ocean foam licking down your legs. You get the seal of approval from Vanessa. Just the farm boy, but so hot. Vanessa knows boys and knows hot, and so I know too, by proxy. Maybe your name is Samuel. I bet he’s sixteen, she says, and we robot-nod, filling our baskets fast for the chance to brush against you. In my frenzy, I pick up fruit from the ground. You take a bushel from me; you frown at the wormholes pimpled across my apples.
The wind picks up and Vanessa’s hair whips into all of our faces. Her girl scent smells expensive, learned. You lean in to grab another bushel; Vanessa’s hair spider-traps across your face. This crazy wind. I just can’t control myself! Vanessa retracts her wayward strands, and you say No problem as if hair swallowing excites you, and then the two of you are off in the orchard. Your slurps and wet, wet, wet sounds broadcast beyond full bundles of ripe McIntosh. I bite into a sour Fuji and listen as the 4H lady drones on and on about the dangers of a late spring frost. How can 4H lady not hear you? Vanessa’s shirt buttons misalign for the entire bus ride home to our dilapidated civilization.
At home, I pull out a smooth, pink-veined rock from the pocket of my apple-picking jeans. I’d found it nestled in the root of a Gala tree. It seemed logical at the time, pocketing that rock, imagining handing it to you—Something to remember me by, Samuel—right before I’d lean in, letting you know it was okay to kiss me, to sniff my ordinary girl smell. I’ll rub that rock and dream of you, tonight, every night, Samuel. My decades-old, hand-me-down bed creaks for you.
Back in our pot-holed neighborhood, we ride our bikes until either nightfall or a cowbell or some mother’s screech skittles us back inside. Vanessa toots her clown-y bike horn the whole way home as if her whereabouts need any more press coverage. It’s obvious to everyone that she’s not long for this neighborhood, that someday soon, she’ll look at the skinny streetlights that protect our street and see them for the rusty, dim beacons that they truly are. Watch her as she drives her chrome-wheeled SUV away, Samuel. Your open palms extend to her in a half-wave, half-picture frame, your farm-boy face so special and then—there it is, faded. Out of season. But I’m still here, Samuel. Open your eyes.