From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship


As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.

A. C. Benson

I sat on the blanket next to Shawn, eating candy corn and staring into the fathoms of the night sky. The stars illuminated the field, casting reassuring shadows of the familiar soccer goalposts and the mighty oak that had resided there for the better part of five generations. The cool November breeze brushed my hair out of my eyes and rustled the leaves up above. Far away a car rumbled along a nearby road, but civilization itself seemed incomparable to the majesty of the stars. They blinked on and off, teasing us with their translucence and the illusion of distance.

The comforting silence was broken by our hushed conversation and rhythmic breathing. We felt the need to speak softly.

“Do you ever think how different things would be if just one moment of your life had gone another way?” Shawn asked.

“All the time. Like if I had just let up for a few minutes in that soccer game. I never would have torn a ligament. Where would I be now? Somewhere with a lot less stress, probably.”

“I wonder if things are meant to be somehow, or if there is any pattern or direction to what we do?”

The wind picked up a little, blowing a scrap of paper in aimless circles. I pulled the blanket closer around us and winced as my leg twisted. I thought of the knee injury I was struggling to overcome, and how my performance as an athlete wasn’t what it used to be. My parents were disappointed in my slow rehabilitation, and that my goals for the soccer season could not be reached. The week ahead of me was going to be filled with make-up tests and assignments, and I had to baby-sit the kids next door on Monday and Tuesday. My neck muscles returned to their familiar crunched-up position, and several chilly minutes ticked by before I again could appreciate the landscape.

Overcome by the importance of the sky, our conversation might have seemed irrelevant. Instead, it matched in feeling and intensity the emotion of the heavens. I became overwhelmed by the need to tell this person who I really was, what I felt and thought and dreamed. I felt important to be the recipient of his similar pondering.

What do you think love is? Shawn wondered. It wasn’t really a question directed at me; it was more a train of thought. “I think it’s the way the night is always there, but sometimes gets overpowered by the sun. Maybe it’s the way you hear music—or feel it, and it becomes the best way to describe yourself. The stars, the ocean, a sunset—is that what love is?”

I didn’t have an answer yet, so I took his hand and was surprised at its warmth. His fingernails were short and a little rough at the corners. I traced my finger over one absentmindedly, until it got caught on my skin, and I pulled my hand away.

I realized quietly that love is giving up a part of yourself and allowing that part to be filled by someone else. It’s when your heart feels bigger than your whole body, because it’s filled with trust and confidence and appreciation of one other special person. It’s being able to communicate without a word and forgive unconditionally.

His blue eyes looked into mine, and he lifted his arms and invited me against him. I didn’t have to tell him what I thought love was; we already knew. I settled into that place of a boy’s body where you are amazed how perfectly you fit against each other. I brushed his sandy hair back and let my eyes fall on the faded scar on his forehead. It was ivory colored and slightly raised to the touch. Perhaps it was the imperfection that made him perfect.

“What is this from?” I asked.

“When I was really young I tripped over my brother and slid down some stairs. I remember I cried for hours even though it was only one stitch. I avoided those stairs like the plague for days.”

The thought of this strong, self-assured person next to me sobbing over a butterfly bandage seemed so intangible that I laughed.

The corner of his mouth pouted as he pointed his finger at me. “What, you never had any scary moments as a kid?”

“Oh, I did, don’t worry. But they were always fear of the repercussions of losing my house key or kicking a soccer ball through the window.”

We laughed together and thought about how a child’s reality differed so much from where we were in life now and how altered reality might be later. I didn’t fear time itself, though. Time could never change emotion, only shape it in patterns and circles.

I pushed my forehead against the scratchiness of his chin, wondering how his facial hair could have such deep undertones of red. He warmed the tip of my nose with his neck. An owl rushed past overhead.

By and by, the peace of the evening alone, as the waning moon watched over his shoulder, replenished both of us. The pressures of school and parents and other such high-school problems diminished in significance. We were both ready to return the privacy to its rightful owners—the stars, the November breeze and the oak’s shadow. Slowly, I pocketed the rest of the candy corn, planning to save it for our next encounter. John folded up the blanket, more neatly than I would have bothered to and I held out my hand to him.

We hesitated when we reached the top of the hill and turned to survey the world we had just left. I was reassured to see it was still there; the crumpled paper caught in the swaying grass, and a few discarded candy corn under the oak looking like psychedelic acorns. I stole a glance at Shawn, who was still holding my hand, with his large fingers wrapped around my ring finger and its neighbor. Life’s daily problems had paled in comparison to his gaze and the starlight. He was also gazing at me, and his eyes still revealed the secrets the stars had shared with us that night.

Paige Melillo

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