She dug her bare feet into the gravel, scrunching the small pebbles between her toes and pushing them in little piles. Her shoes lay forgotten off to the side, abandoned on the grass in favor of feeling the earth beneath her feet.
Smiling a little to herself, she wiggled the naked appendages and then used them to push off the ground. Her hands were slender and ink stained where they curled around the cool metal chain of the swing she was on. The seat itself was wood and double wide and despite her age she looked small and almost forlorn sitting on its rough, paint chipped surface.
It had been four years since she’d been to this specific place. And as she pumped her legs and let the September breeze make streaming, satin ribbons of her hair, she wondered if she was the only one that remembered its significance.
Four years ago was the last time she’d seen him.
If someone had asked her what spurred her to come to the park she wouldn’t have been able to tell them exactly. Only that she’d finally returned to her hometown and the lure was too great to ignore. The air was cold enough that her bare feet were foolish and she would probably get sick but she’d come anyway, shedding her socks and shoes and letting go like she used to - like they used to.
He would be playing in town the next night.
Four years ago they’d both left this place promising to not look back. It was almost ironic that they both came home the same week.
She wouldn’t see him.
Part of her had been tempted to get a ticket to his show. To slip into the back and watch as his fingers danced over the wire strings, as sweat dripped from his forehead and his dreams bled through the music, catching the crowd in his excitement.
That was how she imagined it would be anyway. She’d never actually seen him play anywhere except his room and that had been enthralling enough.
But she was scared to go. Scared to see that he had changed, terrified that he would look at her and not recognize her. She was proud of him, she was even proud of herself, but her insecurities sometimes got the better of her.
Closing her eyes she let her head fall back, her arms extended in front of her, no longer curled loosely, but gripping tightly. White knuckles held firmly while her back arched and she let the motion of the swing carry her. She knew her hair was probably getting dirty, turning its black silk into dusty grey. She didn’t care.
Eventually the rocking rhythm slowed but she didn’t hoist herself up or open her eyes. It was peaceful here and she felt comfortable lost in memories and wishes that were as solid as the oak beneath her and as insubstantial as the smoke of her cigarettes, there for a moment then lost in the atmosphere.
The crunching of gravel warned her that someone was approaching and with a sigh she allowed her lids to open, revealing a pair of stylishly worn boots.
“You are going to get sick out here dressed like that,” an amused voice sounded and with a start her eyes flew upwards - over torn jeans and a warm jacket to a grinning face, older than she remembered but still young and still the same.
She gasped his name and pulled herself up, nearly tipping over backwards on the swing. Her heart did a tiny little hop-skip-stutter, like she had tripped and only just managed to catch herself.
“Shove over,” he instructed from behind her. She couldn’t see him anymore but she shifted to the side anyway and he joined her on the swing, facing the other direction. Squirming a bit he muttered something about not fitting quite as well anymore then leaned back a bit and she did the same, so they could see each other’s faces.
“Hi,” she whispered softly, suddenly shy and at a loss. What was he doing here? How had he found her?
Her puzzlement must have shown on her face though because he answered her unspoken question with a quirk of his lips and the words, “I was walking home to visit my mom and I saw someone in the park. It reminded me of you, and then amazingly it was. I didn’t know you were back.”
She nodded and they fell silent for a moment, rocking slowly back and forth on the swing, lost in their own thoughts. When the silence was finally broken it was by her. In a soft voice, barely a whisper, she said, “You did it.”
“So did you,” was all he replied.
Her gaze met his sharply and he laughed. “What?” he asked, “did you really think I never asked my mom about you? Or read the book you wrote?”
The blush that tinged her cheeks the color of an apple was answer enough.
Tsking softly he tapped her on the nose and said, “You still have the same insecurities I see. I thought I’d rid you of those.”
“It’s been four years,” she admitted, “People change.”
Frowning slightly he shook his head. “Wrong,” he chastised. “Up here,” he pressed their foreheads together then bonked them lightly, making her giggle, “we might change. Our thoughts are influenced by the world around us and our experiences after all. But in here,” he moved away slightly and took her hand, pressing it to his chest, “we are the same.”
“Always so sure,” she mumbled, imagining she could feel the steady thump-thump of his heart through his wool jacket.
“I have to be,” he retorted with an impish grin. “You are unsure enough for the both of us.”
A tiny grin pulled at her lips at his teasing. “I made it though didn’t I? You were there in my head yelling at me whenever I got scared.”
“So were you. Only you were wringing your hands and fretting over me until I just pushed forward to drown your worrying.”
She snorted that time and freed her hand from his grip so she could shove him on the shoulder. “I’m not that bad,” she groused, nose wrinkling. She wouldn’t admit it, but she had worried about him. She still did, daily, hourly. And it felt good to know that he had thought about her.
He hummed a sound of agreement then suddenly stood up and walked around the swing until he was standing in front of her. Holding out a hand he waited for her to grab it then tugged her up, pulling her into a bone-crushing hug. “I missed you,” he whispered into her hair and tears pricked her eyes as she squeezed him back.
“I missed you too. Why on earth did we ever leave?”
“To chase our dreams,” he reminded her.
She was quiet for a moment, hearing the promises they’d made to each other ringing in her ears. Then she asked quietly, “What about now? We did what we set out to do.”
“Now we make new dreams,” He replied firmly, pulling back and pressing a quick kiss to her forehead. “But this time, let’s dream up something we can do together.”
Frowning, little wrinkles appearing on her forehead she asked, “Like what?”
He shrugged, “Who cares?! Dreams can be anything.”
“Okay,” her lips split into a wide grin. “Anything it is. Now let me just go get my shoes on so we can go concoct up some mad schemes without me getting sick and dying.”
His grin matched hers in brightness as he held out his hand and replied, “Deal.”
Instead of shaking his outstretched fingers though, she reached out and entangled the slim digits together, holding tight and promising herself that this time she wouldn’t let go.