Sean PlattParticipantI didn’t mean to fall in love.
- August 11, 2019 at 9:40 pm
I met Emily in the middle of my freshman year, like a North Star I had to follow. She wanted to be a writer and I would make movies.
We graduate in May. Then we’ll get married. Make films and a family.
I look over and study her puzzled expression, standing beside a small table outside our tent. I follow her gaze to a sign that reads <i>Crazy amazing garlic! You’ll be talking about it for generations, like we’ve been making it.</i>
“Just say it,” I tell her.
She shakes her head and laughs.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“What am I thinking?”
“That it’s a terrible sign.”
“It’s really bad.” She laughs again, playful.
Our gazes are fixed to each other. “You’re a writer, so write something else.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t want to change it.”
Emily turns from the sign as my parents emerge from the tent and pull her into a hug. Makes me feel even stupider for waiting so long to share her. But I’m glad she’s here now. Mom whispers something, and pulls Emily back inside the tent.
Every year’s been harder than the last for a while. Dad blames it on global warming, but I think it’s the universe telling them to move on.
I’m displaying samples when I see one of my old sorta-friends clomping over in his work boots. Same kind he wore the last couple of years before I left Gilroy behind.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” he answers, slapping me gently on the shoulder. It’s good natured, but his sour smile reminds me of why we were only sorta friends.
We used to smoke weed as freshman, but drifted apart after he started constantly bitching about college. Calling it stupid whenever he could.
“So how are things?” Not like I need to ask.
“Farm’s a bunch of bullshit like always. Taxes and insects, you know. Or maybe you don’t anymore.” His laugh rattles at the end. “Pop’s still drinking like it’s free.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I bet you are.” He laughs again.
It’s not his fault. I’d probably be the same if my dad was a drunk and a prepper. If my family kept losing pieces of our land. If no one ever wanted to be around me.
“Besides the farm, how is everything else?”
“Mom died,” he says, his voice like a dial tone.
I feel something in my gut. I want to help, but at the same time I’m dying for him to go away.
Emily peeks out of the tent and I shake my head. She gives me a knowing nod then ducks back in with a smile.
“We might lose the farm,” he says. “The whole thing this time.”
“That’s awful.” I shake my head, grateful that as hard as it is for my parents here, at least they own their property. “We should get together and have coffee while I’m in town. I bet there’s a way to save the farm if we put our heads together and come up with a solution.”
“You go away for a couple of years and come back thinking you know everything?”
“No, I’m sorry … not at all. I’m just trying to help.”
He’s staring, looking like he’s trying to figure out what to say. Some version of <i>I don’t need your pity. </i>But he just shakes his head and walks away instead.
“Who was that?” Emily asks me, coming back out.
“No one you should meet.” I give her a smile and we kiss.
“Eat one of those and kiss me again.” She points to one of our garlicky sausages.
I smile, pop the sample into my mouth, then give her a long kiss while chewing.
“Gross, and yummy,” she says, pulling away with a laugh.
The crowd sprinkles by our booth then thickens throughout the festival’s first hour.
Emily, handing out samples with my parents, finally breaks the silence. “Who wants to tell me a story about Troy that will embarrass the hell out of him?”
Dad raises his hand and I shudder. “How about the time—”
Booming thunder then an ear-splitting toll.
My eyes are on Emily as I untangle her expression, watching it drift from confusion to horror. My gaze falls from her face to her chest to the blood gurgling out of her stomach.
The world blurs around me.
My true love spills to the ground. My parents are on all fours. The crowd is screaming.
“It’s okay,” I say, holding Emily and soothing her whimpers. “I’m calling for help.”
But no one’s picking up as I see a pair of familiar work boots approaching the table.
My heart is pounding. My earlobes are burning. I picture bullets tearing through me, then realize with horror that at least one has ripped through Emily already.
The shooter crouches down and peers under the table.
I’m staring into the dead eyes of my old friend. He gives me a long stare and I spend the next several seconds expecting our deaths. I scoot in front of Emily.
But then the impossible happens and I see those boots running off in the other direction.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“I need an ambulance!” As I’m blubbering I realize my true love is dead.
The phone falls from my hand.
I look around at the devastation: tents askew and tables toppled; friends injured and murdered; my world torn asunder, it’ll never be the same.
Our generations are rotting. Mine’s grown up at the edge of something awful, in the aftermath of 9-11, in a world abundant with technology but barren of empathy. Public shootings are now more common than winning the lottery — is this an epoch of terror?
I squeeze my eyes tight, refuse to see her suffering.
But keeping them closed is meat on the bone of this problem.
I need to open them, then never close them again.20
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