October 11, 2004
The air was crisp. I felt it on my lips as I took deep breaths, trying to prove my mom wrong. I didn’t need a coat; plus, it would’ve covered up my brand-new Avril Lavigne shirt. I wasn’t waiting for Halloween like the other kids, I never liked it much. I think I was too self-aware at a mere twelve years old. I didn’t want to pretend to be someone else when I was barely comfortable in my skin, it felt wrong. I had never been comfortable with myself, not until August came along.
I felt a nudge on the nape of my neck, someone’s ice-cold hands balled up and pressed against me. I quickly turned to find my best friend Scout smiling wide and hard, showing all her crooked, little teeth. Her parents didn’t believe in braces; they thought dental work was cosmetic, like plastic surgery. So, when I got my braces the year before she said, “Not sure why you wanna change what God made just fine.”
Scout had the thickest and maybe the only country accent I had ever heard. I spent my whole life in Massachusetts, where country accents were few and far between. I thought about it for a second and even brought the line to my parents like a pile of sand in my hands at the beach. I carried it with me all day, then home to them. My parents brushed it off. “God also made braces,” they’d say.
Leaves crunched under our feet as we made our morning walk to school. It was as if I could feel every vein of the leaves under my feet as we walked. That morning was especially chilly; I could only focus on how I wished I had worn a jacket. I could barely hear Scout. She was on about some boy in class that drove her crazy, however, not in a good way.
“Natalia!” she shouted, seemingly out of nowhere.
I yanked my head around to face her, wondering why she had screamed in my ear. I raised my eyebrows, waiting for her to explain.
“You listenin’ to me?” she asked.
Her top lip was scrunched, along with her eyebrows. “Trying to,” I answered.
I didn’t talk half as much as Scout did; she spoke enough for the both of us. At times, I envied the way she simply didn’t care what people had to say about her bold personality and crooked words. She just existed and it was what I loved most about her. It made me wonder what there was to love about me if I loved so deeply the parts of her that I hadn’t tapped into for myself. We were exact opposites and she seemed to be all the good parts.
“Tryin’ to?” she blurted out. “What’s that ‘sposed tah mean?”
I began walking again. We were going to be late for school if we didn’t move fast. “I’m just cold, Scout. I can only focus on the chatter of my teeth,” I replied.
“Oh, you are so pitiful,” she said dramatically, scoffing and walking ahead of me. “Chop, chop,” she shouted.
I skipped a little to catch up to her.
I felt a release as soon as we stepped foot in the school. I had never been so excited to see those blue- and black-checkered linoleum floors. Scout swiped her bangs from her face and licked her chapped lips and I fixed my shirt that had been blowing up from the wind. We stopped just short of the staircase like we did every day.
Scout raised her eyebrows. “See you at lunch!” she shouted and started sprinting up the stairs to her locker.
Her locker was on the second floor of the school, while mine was on the first floor near the boy’s bathroom. I made my sad little walk to my locker like I did every day. Scout and I thought my locker was in prime positioning near the boys’ bathroom. She thought I would be able to find a crush for the year, but we were dead wrong. I hadn’t seen a single crush-worthy boy in the entire month and a half that we had been in school. It was getting sad. I made my way to my locker only to find it wide open and sprinted over as soon as I noticed. I caught a glimpse of a boy I had never seen walking out of the boys’ bathroom and to my surprise, over to my locker. I peered behind the door of my locker and made eye contact with him but quickly looked away. I had never seen someone so incredibly beautiful, he hurt my eyes, in a good way.
He had green eyes, the ones with specks of gold that shine in any kind of light. His hair was chestnut brown with natural hazel highlights. He looked like he had never been touched, crafted in a factory, and placed right in front of me. He grabbed my locker door and pulled it towards him and peered around it to see my face. He raised his eyebrows and smiled wide, even his teeth were perfect. This is the kind of stuff my grandmother warned me about. She used to tell me my grandad was beautiful, and she could barely believe that he was a real person. She also said that was dangerous and I finally realized why. I backed up to get a better view of him so that I was facing him.
“They were trying to look through your stuff. I made sure no one took anything,” he whispered.
“They?” I asked. It was all that I could get out.
“Some idiots, after they came out of the bathroom,” he responded.
“But you just came out of the bathroom...”
“Yeah, because they left,” he said, still smiling widely.
He had the kind of bright smile that was blinding. I looked down, trying to figure out what to say next. “Thank you,” I mumbled, still not making eye contact with him.
“August,” he said, sticking his hand out for me to shake.
I contemplated for a second, staring at his perfectly long and skinny fingers. I stuck my hand out and shook his, finally looking back up at him. “Natalia Brooks,” I responded, surprised I had given him my full name.
“August Jones,” he said, still holding onto my hand.
I let go of his hand and wiped my hand on my thigh.
“What? I washed my hands, I promise,” he grinned.
I couldn’t help but grin, he was such a welcoming person. I could feel it in his presence, with every word he said, I could see it in his eyes. “I like your name,” I blurted out.
“And I like yours. See you around, Natalia Brooks,” he said, walking off.
He had the confidence of someone who had lived 1,000 lives. He was smooth and sure of himself, and I wanted to mimic his every move. My heart was beating so fast I couldn’t focus on anything else. I barely even noticed that the bell had rung. I was ten minutes late to class.
I didn’t think about anything but August Jones that day at school, hoping to see him in the hallway or at lunch, but I never did.
“Natalia!” Scout snapped.
My eyes got wide as I focused on her.
“What’s goin’ awn with you today?” she forced the words out of her crooked mouth.
I shook my head, still thinking about where August could be if he wasn’t at lunch. I imagined that he was somewhere reading Shakespeare or walking around thinking about his existence, something a normal twelve-year-old wouldn’t even think about doing. I knew he didn’t care about Bosco sticks and chocolate milk or lunch-table arrangements.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the start of the last good day for me and Scout. Our last day in the routine that we had come to know and love, especially me. There was so much of Scout before he showed up, then none. The first sight of him came with the last of Scout. I felt guilt brewing in the pit of my stomach. Guilt from leaving Scout at the sight of something shiny and new, and looking back, I’m not sure I mourned the death of the friendship Scout and I had.
I didn’t see him again until I sat down for my daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the bay window in my kitchen. The bay window was my spot. It was where I did my thinking along with my dog, Moody. The leaves had just fallen and a lot of the trees in my yard were bright orange and red, which I loved. I even picked a few leaves off the trees to stuff into my journal. As I was stuffing almost half a sandwich into my mouth, I looked over at the neighbor’s yard that hadn’t been touched since the Gerbers moved to Arizona. There was movement; someone was raking the yard. I leaned forward to get a glimpse, only to find August Jones. I almost choked on my sandwich, jumping up to sprint to my room before he noticed me. Moody came running and barking after me. I had to call my grandmother.
We talked for hours about everything but mostly about August. I felt comfort in talking to her because she never made me feel like I was too young to love things fiercely. Even in middle school, I could decipher my feelings. I knew what was real and what wasn’t. She told me she would explain the details when I got older, but she was adamant about me not getting lost in him. I wasn’t sure what she meant, especially at twelve years old, but the meaning revealed itself soon enough. I was forever grateful that she didn’t scare me into not loving him.
March 27, 2009
It had been two years since August’s dad died, but it seemed like it just happened. The darkness that loomed over their family stuck like crazy glue. His dad’s passing was hard on everyone, even me. I hated seeing August in so much pain. He could hardly speak for months after the funeral. August and his dad were essentially the same people; they had the same spirit. I loved August’s dad. Being around him felt like time-traveling to the future to see August fully grown and carrying the wonder of the world inside him. He was full of joy and hope for the known and the unknown. His mom lost her glow when his dad died. I could understand why. I couldn’t imagine losing August forever; I would lose my glow too.
After knowing August for five years, it seemed more like we had grown up together, especially after suffering through most of middle and high school by each other’s side. He had a picture of us in a heart-shaped locket around his neck, just like mine. We were never too far apart, not far enough for us to really need the lockets as a reminder of who we were to each other. But I found myself staring at it often, admiring the fact that I had found someone like him, someone to truly know. I picked it up off his chest as he rested on my bed in front of me. He looked at me with absolutely no expression on his face, just to look. He furled his eyebrows. “Why do you always look at it like that?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Because it’s yours,” I explained.
“You have the same one,” he grinned.
“Yes, but this one is yours and I’m happy you have it,” I continued.
He nodded his head and turned to look at my ceiling, which had an abnormally large Elvis poster duct-taped to it.
“I like that I’m always with you, August Jones.”
“I like that I’m always with you too, Natalia Brooks.”
August’s phone started ringing, and he adjusted himself to fish it out of his pockets. “Hello? What? Where’s Eden?” he shouted, sitting up and repositioning himself on the side of my bed, “Okay, yeah.”
I leaned in to hear more of the conversation.
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, hanging up the phone almost immediately.
He looked at me in distress, wrinkling his forehead like he always did. I could tell he had a knot the size of a fist in his throat. I leaned in and hugged him, squeezing him long and hard.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, still pressed against his chest.
His grip on me loosened as he tilted his head up and shook it. I let go and looked at him. “She’s high on God knows what and she wants me to pick Eden up,” he explained.
“I’ll go with you,” I blurted out.
“I can’t let you do that. She’s too unpredictable.”
“Even more reason for me to come,” I said, raising my eyebrows, waiting for him to agree.
He nodded. “Let’s go.”
He got quiet when he was hurt. He’d purse his lips and stare off, like he was upset by absolutely everything. There wasn’t a single person who could let him down. Events, places, periods of time, it was a combination of it all. I had never met someone who could love everything so deeply while hating it all at the same time. His mom used to say that he and his dad were true poets.
I hadn’t spoken to his mom since the funeral when she yelled at me and accused me of prying into their family. August said that she was jealous that I still had a person to call mine, and she didn’t. It didn’t help that August was an extension of his dad. His mom thought I was taking the last of her husband, but I couldn’t blame her for being upset. However, I needed August in the same way that she needed Mr. Jones, and no matter how hard I willed myself to stay away from him, I just couldn’t do it.
The walk to his house was silent, like we were walking through a paused TV screen. I wanted to fix everything for him, and I knew I couldn’t. When we approached his house, his little sister Eden was sitting on the front porch steps waiting patiently with her lime-green-and-white striped backpack strapped to her back. August took off running towards her. I stopped and watched as he ran to her and almost consumed her with his embrace. I remembered seeing his house as a kid before he ever moved in and wondering who painted it such a funky color. It was white with a tiny porch that was burnt orange and a sage-green door. I grew to love his house; it told his story.
The first time I met August at his house, and his black-and-white slip-on vans stepped foot on the chipped, orange, concrete porch, I practically melted. I had never seen someone look like they belonged somewhere so seamlessly. There was a sycamore tree in his front yard too, a great, big one with the greenest leaves that I had ever seen. I always wondered how many families lived in that house, how many sweet kids got to climb that tree and see the world any way they wanted to. I felt comfort knowing that August and I got to do that before everything changed for him. I hoped that I was his sycamore tree, his constant. I hoped he could see the world in me, through me.
I began walking over as August stroked Eden’s curly red hair attentively as she tried to explain what was going on. Eden and I became the only people August could say he had in his corner. I approached them slowly, stopping just in front of Eden.
“Did you eat today?” August asked, almost under his breath in a shaky voice.
Eden shook her head as she looked down at her pale, icy fingers shaking. It was March and neither August nor I knew how long she had been sitting outside waiting for him. I lunged over to her and wrapped my hands around hers and rubbed them to warm them up. She wiggled her hands out of mine and placed one of her hands on the top of my head and the other on my cheek. Her hands were ice cold, but I didn’t mind. She looked at me and smiled wide, with more gums than teeth in her little mouth.
“Hi, Natty,” she said in that sweet little voice, rubbing my head with her thumb and stroking my cheek with her other hand. Natty was her nickname for me and whenever she called me that, I turned to mush; I loved her like she was my sister. She placed her hands back on mine, and I began rubbing her hands again and looked over at August. He looked furious and shook his head at me in disappointment.
“It’s one o’clock in the afternoon,” he said in a shaky voice, lips curling with every word, upset at everything like always. I didn’t blame him; he was the person who least deserved this fate.
He took a deep breath and looked up at the gloomy pre-spring sky. I could feel everything that he was feeling, and I knew if I didn’t say something, he’d go into the house and start yelling at his mom and Eden didn’t need to see that. I released one of my hands from Eden’s and reached out to August, holding eye contact.
“August, let’s go.” I gave him a faint smile, desperately trying to be strong for him. It hurt me to see his family being ripped apart in front of me, in front of him. August’s eyes welled up. “We have a royal dinner to plan,” I continued.
August reached out for my hand and gripped it tight. Eden looked up at me with her big, brown eyes and smiled. “Royal dinner?” she screeched.
“Yes, with magically delicious food followed by a fantastic movie filled with only the most magical people in all the kingdom,” I said to her.
Her eyes lit up as she released my hands and clapped. I released August’s hand and stood up quickly, reaching for Eden’s hand again. She stood up, and we walked towards my house. I turned back around to find August stuck in the same place he was when we walked away.
I knelt over to Eden. “Wait here,” I whispered before walking back to him. I looked at him, stuck and in pain. I knelt and placed one hand on his head and one hand on his cheek, like Eden did to me. I could barely hold back the tears that were begging to be released. “August Jones, we have a royal dinner to plan,” I said sternly.
A tear fell from his eye, and I quickly wiped it with my thumb. He nodded his head and stood up; I pulled him in for a hug, and once again, I was in my favorite spot. I listened to his heart as my head rested on his chest as he rubbed my back. I could tell he was in his favorite spot too.
“You know I’m here, right?”
“I know,” he said; no emotion, no inflection, nothing.
Something was different. There was something about him that was starting to feel jaded. I pulled away from him and looked up to find eyes I had never seen before. There seemed to be a wall between us that he had just built, and I knew it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his situation. I was just collateral damage.
August 22, 2011
For almost a full month, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and the sun wasn’t too bright or too far behind the clouds. It wasn’t too hot, and it wasn’t too cool or windy. Everything was still and all I could do was worry. For the first time since knowing August, it felt like I was dragging him through life. He was usually bubbly and curious and full of wonder, but not since that day. For two years I had only seen snippets of the August that I used to know; it was like I had to knock to enter his thoughts when he used to willingly share everything with me. He was a shadow of who he used to be, but all I knew how to do was love him, so I found a way to cope.
He and Eden stayed with me and my family for almost the entire month of August. His mom was only getting worse, and he didn’t want Eden to see it.
August’s mom came from a family with a history of substance abuse. Her dad was an alcoholic and her mom was addicted to cocaine. When she and August’s dad met, she reinvented herself. It was almost as if love was her new drug of choice. They had an intense, movie-worthy love—August used to talk about it all the time. I used to beg him to let me look through old pictures of his parents. I secretly hoped that August and I would be just like them. Little did I know that August’s dad was the only thing keeping his mom afloat. So, when he died, it was almost as if she morphed back into her old self. Almost two decades clean and it all went down the drain when August’s dad died. She wasn’t addicted to anything specific; she used whatever she could get her hands on. August despised who she had become, who she had returned to.
My parents needed little convincing, but they eventually agreed to let August and Eden stay with us. They knew how hard August’s life had been. Every night for three weeks, August knocked on my door at midnight and slid into bed with me. He’d scooch close to me and laid his head on my chest, and I’d run my fingers through his chestnut brown curls, thinking that I’d want nothing more than the calmness and clarity that he brought me. I was whatever I needed to be when I was with him. Better. Whole. Kind. Loving. Responsible and Intelligent. Whatever I wanted for myself, I was. I loved him so much. I didn’t know what to do with it, where to place it, or how to deal with it. August was more than loving with his actions, but I couldn’t expect too much; he was my best friend, and I couldn’t bear to think about asking for more. The thought of jeopardizing our relationship to live out my fantasies about becoming Natalia Jones made me sick to my stomach.
“Natalia?” he breathed.
“August,” I replied.
He sat up from lying on my chest and I immediately felt empty, even though I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted him so close that we could practically fuse together. He never knew this; on some level, I think he could tell that all that I ever wanted was to be near him.
“Do you have a dream so big, something you feel you can’t tell anyone because they might shoot it down?” he asked.
I was baffled by this question, mostly because he knew everything about me, and I’d never keep anything from him.
“Not really, you know all my dreams, even the dead ones like Juilliard,” I started.
He looked down at his pale hands, taking deep, steady breaths. He nodded his head slowly like he was waiting for me to say something more.
“Do you?” I asked.
He nodded his head and looked back up at me. “To be with you and Eden forever,” he whispered.
“You kind of already have that, don’t you?” I chuckled. His eyebrows furled as he stared at me longer than I’d ever want him to at that moment. I could practically see the lump in his throat.
I nudged him, trying to make light of how he was acting. “August, what’s your deal?”
He shook his head and leaned into me, pushing the both of us back into the same position that we were before we started talking. His head nuzzled into my chest, not feeling quite the same as it did before that conversation. He took a deep breath. “I’m glad we have these lockets,” he said as I slipped my hands into his hair once again. He tilted his head up and kissed my cheek softly.
August’s head was still right under my chin when I woke up; I had fully expected him to be gone like he was every morning. He woke up at the crack of dawn to avoid the possibility of my mom catching him in my room. But there he was, and it felt like something I had dreamt up in middle school, having him close to me all night like that. I hated his situation. I hated that he had to deal with so much, so soon; but I loved having him so close. I scratched his head softly, trying to wake him up. His eyes fluttered open, and he looked up at me with a half-smile. I kissed his forehead and continued to rub his head.
“Are you okay?”
“I am now. I just needed to be close to you, that’s all,” he said.
I didn’t believe him for a second. I knew him better than I knew anyone, and something was wrong. “Anyway,” I started, sitting up and pushing him up with me.
“No, no, no,” he said, rubbing his eyes and sitting up slowly.
“Don’t be dramatic. We have to get up,” I said.
“There is nothing so urgent. We all have the same fate,” he said, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head at me. “Let’s rest,” he proposed.
I started laughing. “That’s morbid, August.” But that was the August I knew, questioning everything and being nauseatingly charming all at the same time.
“It’s the truth,” he smirked.
I shook my head, trying not to get lost in the moment with him. “It’s almost noon. My mom definitely knows you didn’t sleep in your room last night.”
He grinned and nodded his head, as if to say, “You’re absolutely right.”
“...also, I have something planned for Eden today,” I continued.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“She’s been begging me to take her on a picnic,” I explained.
August sighed before quickly nudging his head back into my chest and pushing me back down onto the bed. He climbed on top of me and pinned my arms down. “And what if I don’t let you out of here?” he asked with that big, wide smile of his.
My heart was beating out of my chest. We had always been close, but never close enough for our affection to be confused with anything romantic. “I’ll scream and then my mom will run in here only to find you on top of me,” I said sarcastically, trying to be normal.
He lifted his hands and climbed off me. “Alright, I surrender,” he said, standing up out of my bed and stretching out.
I jumped up after him and leaped into him, with his arms in the air as he stretched; I squeezed him as tight as I could, then ran out of my bedroom to find Eden.
We spent most of the day preparing for the picnic, making finger sandwiches, cutting up fruit, mixing dips for the fruit and the chips. Most of the time, Eden was out back picking flowers for the decorations. I told her I would bring one of my mason jars for the flowers to sit in and we could fill it up with water from the pond. The room was filled with comfortable silence and longing glances transferred back and forth between me and August. We packed everything up into a couple of my lunch boxes from fifth and sixth grade.
“Hey, I remember this lunch box,” August grinned as he held it in his hands like it was an old picture of us. “You were obsessed with Avril Lavigne.” He was laughing.
“Oh, be quiet. She was ahead of her time,” I explained, grabbing the lunch box from his hands and stuffing bags of finger sandwiches into it. I looked up briefly to find August gazing at me; I couldn’t make out his mood. He smiled faintly and turned towards my back door to walk out.
“Eden!” he yelled through the cracked door.
“Yeah!” she yelled back from across the yard, her little voice traveling as far as it could.
The sound of their voices pierced my ears as thoughts of how life could be if everything promised to go smoothly. Thoughts of what could suffocate me. If we dated through college and got engaged at graduation, only to elope on our graduation trip to Prague. If we had a baby a few years after we were established in our careers to lead to a moment that mirrors this exact one, his yelling out to our daughter from our back-porch steps to come inside. I felt a pain shoot through my chest. I had to try to be realistic; I tried to break my heart before August ever could.
August and Eden walked back in, hand in hand, Eden with a big smile on her face and August raising his eyebrows and signaling towards the front door with his head. I nodded and grabbed all the bags, handing one to August. We made our way out to my car. We could’ve walked but Eden was a runner and August liked to keep her close. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, not a gush of wind, and the sun wasn’t too bright; it was the perfect day. Every day was perfect for the entire month that August and Eden stayed with me. I couldn’t help but think that this was an ending. The way the days bled together, how comfortable Eden was getting; I couldn’t help but worry.
“Can we play tag!?” Eden yelled before we made it out of the car and to the picnic area.
“Let’s get set up first, squirt,” August said, turning around to face her in the backseat of the car. Squirt, that was his nickname for her, it had always been. His eyes widened as he waited for Eden to nod to him. Flecks of gold fell from his eyes, and he grinned at her. “Alright, we better hurry then.”
He made his way out of the car and wrapped around to let her out as well. I followed them out of the car with the blanket and one of the bags, watching as they walked ahead of me hand in hand. Eden stopped in her tracks and silently pointed to the ground, then whipped her head back around to me. I stopped as well, waiting for her to say something.
“Here! Natty, we can sit here!” she yelled.
I smiled and started walking up to her. August sat his bag down and grabbed the blanket and the bag from my hands.
I high-fived Eden as we watched August place the blanket on the ground, kneeling to kiss her cheek. Without hesitation, she placed her little hand on my cheek like she always had and whispered, “Natty,” with a faint smile. My eyes began to well up. I smiled at her, then quickly stood up so she wouldn’t see me “sad,” as she would say. I shook my head, then looked up at August who looked concerned.
He mouthed, “You okay?” with a puzzled look on his face.
I nodded and started grabbing the food out of the bags and laying it out on the blanket.
“Can we play tag, please?” Eden said softly.
I turned to her. “You don’t want to put your flowers in water before we play tag?” I asked.
“No, no I wanna play tag!” she yelled.
“Hey, calm down, please,” August said, looking at her sternly.
He turned to me. “You heard the boss,” he said, reaching down for me to grab his hand.
He pulled me up so hard that I fell into him, he caught me, held me by my upper arms, and smiled at me for a long time.
I head-butted him playfully, cutting right through the tension of the moment, and began running full speed through the field. “Tag, you’re it!” I yelled as I ran away. Eden started screaming and ran after me.
“That’s not how you tag people!” August yelled back before running after us.
There was so much about August’s life that I couldn’t grasp. I had a great family and two loving parents, and I never had to worry about another life other than my own. Other than when I came to know August and Eden, I finally had something to truly live for, someone to be good for. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the need to be good for my parents, but they loved me regardless. Being good for August felt like something that I built on my own, a chosen family.
We spent almost an hour running around playing tag. It felt like old times when August and I would sit in the park for hours after school. We’d run and jump and laugh and talk about grasshoppers and frogs and wonder what life would be like. August was always worried that his life would change so quickly that he wouldn’t be able to understand or even grasp the idea that things had changed so dramatically.
I guess all that worrying made his worst fear become his reality. I wished I could apologize for that; I couldn’t fathom what it would feel like to have my worst nightmare become what I knew as daily life. I wanted to fix it. I thought about it endlessly and wondered why emotional work didn’t feel the same as physical work. I wondered why I couldn’t just run a little faster, jump a little higher; I’d do the work for him. I’d use all the strength I had left in my body to move his burdens, and I’d use my last, dying breath to make sure he and Eden never felt pain another day in their lives. I wondered if other people felt this way about someone. I felt like the only person in the world who wanted to pour all of myself into someone else.
Eden plopped down on the picnic blanket and sprawled out on her back, her legs wiggled in agony as her chest inflated and deflated as fast as her little legs were moving before she rested. I ran over to her and started to fall right beside her just as August tapped my shoulder. “You’re it!” he yelled.
I fell next to her and propped myself up on my arms and rested. Her heavy breaths were soothing to me; I looked at her and winked. She sat up quickly, “Once he’s gone, he’s gone! Good luck catching August,” she said before lying back down.
“Yeah!!” August yelled as he ran full speed toward us, falling directly onto my lap. I fell back and he crawled up to see me face to face as he was on top of me. He kissed my forehead and both my cheeks and smiled wide. “How does it feel, losers?” he said, huffing and puffing as he turned towards Eden. I listened to his heart pound in his chest, inflating and deflating on top of mine.
“Not nice, Auggy,” she said, staring up at the sky.
“I’m sorry, squirt,” he said softly, then looked back at me.
“You’re crushing me, you know,” I said to him, almost breathless. His green eyes were practically glowing in the sunlight. I could see specks of hazel and dots of blue. His eyes looked like how they looked when we first met, blue skies and green leaves slowly being overtaken by the orange hues that would soon turn to brown as the leaves fell off the trees. His eyes resembled how the world looked when we first met, mid-fall just before winter came knocking. Everything about him told the story of us. His fingers, eyes, neck, could transport me to a moment in time.
We sat, staring at each other as Eden was consumed by the sky. August used to tell me that she’d ask to go up there all the time and how he would say, “Not just yet.” He said she hadn’t asked to go up there since their dad passed. August smiled faintly and scanned my face with his eyes, then leaned in and kissed me. It was the first time he had ever kissed me. We had never crossed that line; I never knew he wanted to until then. I only knew that we loved each other, and the rest wasn’t important.
“I’m hungry,” Eden said, staring at us as we got lost in our own world. She sat up and started reaching for the food. August and I smiled wide, mid-kiss. He rolled off me and made his way over to Eden. I lay there for a while, thinking. I was surprised Eden hadn’t let out an adolescent “ew!!” at our kiss. It was almost like she expected it or assumed it had already been happening. She seemed to admire us.
“Natty, come on or we’ll eat without you!” Eden shouted as she unwrapped the sandwiches. “I know it’s not nice but I’m so, so hungry,” she pleaded.
I sat up quickly and spun around to them.
There we were, eating an early dinner in the park. It felt like the greatest day of my life, a dream realized. There was only me, August, and Eden, and my heart was so full. It was that month, that August in 2011, the month where only August, Eden, and I existed.
For the first time since knowing August Jones, I knew what it felt like to be afraid of change. For the first time, I was worried that this feeling would be wiped away like crumbs on the kitchen counter. I didn’t want this feeling to be swept up, disposed of.
August 23, 2011
I sprinted to the kitchen with no regard for sound or even thought, or if my parents were sleeping or not. My chest felt empty; it was like I couldn’t run fast enough. I could have run forever without pain or that sharp stabbing in my chest that I usually get when I run too fast or too long. I finally got to the kitchen, stopping short when I saw my parents standing eerily alongside each other, staring back at me.
My mom had that look on her face, the same look she had when she ran over my turtle in the driveway and the same look she gave me not too long ago when she had to tell me that I didn’t get accepted to Juilliard.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I said sternly. I took a few deep breaths. “Where’s August?” I continued, “Eden?”
My mom walked towards me as she opened her arms to embrace me, I jumped back.
“Honey, he left,” she explained.
“Left where? Where did he go? What do you mean?” I stuttered.
The idea that August would go back to his house was out of the question; he never wanted to see his mom again and he talked about getting custody of Eden. My brain started racing, thinking of all the places he could’ve gone, the states he might want to live in.
“You knew he was going to leave?!” I screamed.
“Baby, no we didn’t know,” she pleaded.
My dad stammered for a bit, and my mom turned to him looking almost as angry as I felt.
“You knew?” she asked, scared to figure out the answer.
I looked at my dad, my eyes welling up with tears, my knees so weak they could barely withstand the weight of my body.
My dad nodded slowly. He knew you would try to stop him,” he said. “He had to tell someone.”
“He’s just a kid!” my mom screamed.
I let out a shriek so loud I was sure the neighbors could hear me and ran back to my room.
“Natalia!” my mom yelled.
I slammed my door and fell onto my bed. My mom came soon after. “Sweetie, please,” she said softly.
I couldn’t even speak through my tears and the lump in my throat, so I said nothing.
August 24, 2011
I left my room to pee for the first time since the morning I found out August had left. My mom slept on the floor just outside my bedroom door. It reminded me of a movie I had seen. The couple had gotten into an argument and instead of sleeping on the couch, the guy waited outside their bedroom door. I wished for that to be August too many times to count that night. I would wait for him at his door. I’d wait for him like a rolled-up newspaper, for days and weeks. But I was starting to believe he’d just step over me until I disintegrated with the rain. How could he leave without saying goodbye?
August 25, 2011
I tried calling him, his number was disconnected.
August 26, 2011
My mom kept leaving full meals outside my bedroom door, just in case I decided to eat more than a granola bar. My dad kept buying me Krispy Kreme Donuts and setting them outside my door at night for my midnight snack. He and I used to have movie nights, and we used to drive to Krispy Kreme and get a dozen donuts each. He was trying to apologize, but I only had taste for August. He’s who I wanted to sustain me.
August 27, 2011
He didn’t even leave a note.
August 28, 2011
I had to leave for school, without August. I had to start my adult life after my childhood had ended without the only person that I cared about more than anything. My mom packed my things.
August 31, 2021
I pretended August was a distant memory but sometimes when I didn’t think too hard, his scent would flow back as if his head were resting on my chest like it used to. August lingered; he was there long after he left.
I did everything I told him I would do. I moved to New York City only to live in a box that I pretended was a castle. I wrote in coffee shops and drank at hot bars with people I hardly knew. I had always wanted him to move with me, but he told me he hated the city. I used to go on and on about New York and he’d listen to me like he had never heard a single thing about the city. And once I finished, he’d say, “If it gets cold in New York, call me,” and there were times that I wished I could, too. He claimed it was too hard to have singular thoughts in the city, he always wanted it to be August.
“Brilliant people live in the city,” I argued.
“I am not so brilliant to live in such a crowded area and not be swayed,” he’d respond. He was brilliant though, that statement was brilliant. He never claimed to be wise or know everything and that was the most beautiful thing about him.
I was in awe of everything he said or did; he was more self-aware than I ever was. He was painfully aware of the space he inhabited, careful not to fill any room or relationship with ego. He never abused the space he was given, never played with boundaries. I probably thought about August more than any other twenty-seven-year-old woman ever thinks about someone she knew when she was seventeen, but I really did love him.
I had a meeting at noon, and I vowed not to be late. Since moving to the city, I had been late to every event, meeting, party, even my spin classes. Everyone said I’d get the hang of the subway, but I never did. I was constantly walking up the wrong side of the tracks or going to the Bronx instead of Soho. I was a bad New Yorker.
I was up and out of my apartment by 8:30 A.M., aimlessly walking around the city, tangled up in my headphones. I had just bought “vintage” headphones with a cord because they were trendy again. They were the same headphones I had when I was ten, along with my portable CD player. I went to the same coffee shop every day, but I never did before noon. I liked a good afternoon coffee.
The line was the longest I had ever seen it. Thankfully, there was a café just next door, The Garden. I couldn’t let anything get in the way of me getting to my meeting on time. I swiftly turned away from the door to walk next door, almost bumping into three people in the process. I peered into the window to find a single person ordering a coffee at the counter. I walked in, staring down at my phone, trying to change the music to something that fit the vibe of the café.
There were plants everywhere, hanging from the ceiling and in the windows; it was beautiful. The man who was ordering stepped out of the way, and I moved forward, looking up to see a man who looked strikingly like August Jones. I furled my eyebrows and pulled my headphones out of my ears, not uttering a word. He was breathing slowly and intentionally; I could tell he was just as shocked as I was. He looked about the same. He had a perfectly shaven beard with a mustache and everything. His hair was a chestnut brown the last time I saw him, but it was almost black now. I doubt he dyed it; it probably got darker with age or grew darker from the gloom of the city.
He turned and walked from behind the counter and over to me. I turned to face him and paused, taking time to admire the fact that he still had his locket around his neck. I looked up at him. My head was foggy, overwhelmed by the sight of him. I quickly snatched my purse from my shoulder and sifted through it. When I finally found the remnants of my locket, I held it to him. “The chain broke,” I stuttered.
He nodded and smiled wide. He leaned in to hug me before pausing. “Can I hug you?” he asked.
I nodded quickly, trying to compose myself. He hugged me like he used to, like he wanted me to seep into him and I hugged him with the same intent. He sucked in a breath of air and pulled back. “Natalia Brooks.”
He grabbed my head and kissed my forehead. I didn’t care if he messed up my makeup. Tears rolled down my cheeks. He wiped them away gently with his thumb.
“You work here?” I asked.
“I own it,” he responded.
My eyes widened. I looked around.
“The Garden...” he raised his eyebrows, waiting for me to connect the dots.
“...of Eden?” I asked.
I covered my mouth, thinking of Eden, where she was, how she was doing. “How long have you owned this place?”
“Oh, a few years now,” he explained.
I almost couldn’t breathe. I had been so close to August for so long and never knew.
“I go to Jonas’ next door,” I said.
“Since when?” he asked.
“A few years now.” I smiled faintly, thinking of all the lost time.
He shook his head. “You look beautiful,” he said.
I mouthed “thank you,” not able to get out very many words. I cleared my throat. “Where’s Eden?” I asked.
August took a deep breath and stammered on his words a bit. “CPS wouldn’t let me get guardianship over her; no job, new to the city... nineteen,” he said.
I took a deep breath, hoping, praying that Eden was okay.
“She was adopted by a nice family that let me spend a lot of time with her over the years, he said. “They live just a couple blocks away. They took me in for a while.” He nodded his head toward a table that was out of my immediate vision. I turned and looked at her and backed up to stand alongside August.
She was sitting at a table next to the biggest window in the café. I think she felt us staring because she slowly looked up, tilting her head in confusion. She was beautiful, with pin-straight, fiery red hair that fell just below her shoulders. Everything about her was perfect—her eyebrows, eyes, the freckles on her face. She stood up slowly and walked over to me. She smiled wide before hugging me almost as tight as August had.
“Natty,” she whispered. She pulled back.
“I thought you wouldn’t remember me,” I explained.
“I was seven when we left, not three, and August gave me pictures of you,” she said, letting out a chuckle.
I smiled at him, then back at her. “You’re beautiful,” I started, staring at her in awe of how perfect she was. “You’re seventeen.”
She nodded. “Juilliard next month.”
I almost lost all the breath left in my body. I looked back at August. He nodded, and I looked back at her and embraced her once again. “I thought about you all the time,” I whispered to her.
“What? Not me?” August asked.
I pulled back and turned to him, holding my arm out and inviting him in. He wrapped his long arms around the both of us.
I felt whole again, like August and Eden had breathed life back into me with their mere presence. The tenth anniversary of our picnic had just passed, and I couldn’t help but think that I would never see them again. The month of August almost slipped away, without him, without Eden, without us.
I finally found August.