That was the summer I had decided to take a road trip with Leo.
The summer seemed empty: the cafe that occupied me most weekends was closed for mismanagement and I was left with a purposeless summer.
I had a sufficient amount of money saved up in a tiny blue box under my bed. I decided it was more than enough for a teen whose parents still provided both food and shelter, so I was unmotivated to continue working.
I had heard about Leo's summer road trips from friends of friends; I had only known that Leo took his loaded red pickup truck and disappeared for the entirety of the summer. The ambiguity and complete lack of detail lead us to build intricate stories of the boy's adventures on the the road.
He had always intrigued me: tall and skinny with unbrushed brown hair and cat-like eyes. Earrings and effortlessly ripped jeans to go with his worn out combat boots, he strutted around slightly removed, slightly off, slightly mad. He was mysterious and ugly in a way I thought was simply alluring. He had me at first glance.
So, with an empty summer ahead I decided to ask Leo to give me a summer with him.
The idea was enticing yet elusive, it seemed like a fantasy one would prefer to store away because the sheer possibility of its occurrence was frightening. Yet, one summer night when I was sitting silently in my friend's stuffy backyard smoking out a pack of old Marlboros, I realized that it was my last chance to feel something I always wanted but kept stowed away as a beautiful pipe dream. I also realized that it was my last chance because this was Leo's last summer before college. He was older and his autumn was set as well: while I would occupy myself preparing for college, he would begin settling down in his university.
He just ought to have planned the last summer of pure, thoughtless freedom before the oppressive freedom that awaited us all.
Everyone I knew was too perfect. I think that is why I decided to chase after Leo, in many ways he reminded me that there was something outside futile high school affairs that now drove me mad. Everyone acted and everyone acted well. I was completely bored that I started to want nothing at all. I think it was one of the most important things wanting to know Leo had taught me was that it is only after you have had everything you realize how little you really need.
That summer night when Evan and I were watching the night submerge the day with musky waves of wildflowers and garrulous crickets, the overwhelming taste of nicotine on my breath made me get up and straighten out. Evan followed me with his clear blue eyes. I was always slightly scared of them and I felt as if they could see right through me. That is probably why I gave up lying to Evan years ago.
"Where do you think you're going?"
I remained still and watched him put out my cigarette in the ashtray.
"I'm going to go over to Leo's house and ask him to take me on his summer trip."
Evan laughed, and ringing laughter that faded quickly but calmly.
"If you're going to the kitchen, would you get me a Coke?"
He didn't believe me.
I leaned over and pecked him on the forehead.
I put my sneakers on and walked out of Evan's house with his shouts behind me.
"What…where?! Are you serious? You don't know…where?! Seriously?!" He shouted my name but I kept walking.
I knew where Leo lived, but I had absolutely no clue how. It was one of those things that you have in your mind that seems like basic knowledge until you retrieve it and take another look. We both lived in a pretentious neighborhood that was home to most of us. Everyone knew each other and had interweaving connections that got us out of all kinds of trouble.
A couple of blocks over to the west and with nothing in my head but the countdown of steps, I finally saw Leo's old truck parked amongst neat silver sedans.
I slowly walked up the red stairs of Leo's stoop. It hit me then, that I was standing on a stranger's stoop, ready to ask to share a summer. A whole warm lifetime.
This is crazy-no-I wouldn't do it-who did I think I was-honestly-it's a pipe dream-I'll just keep in inside-I couldn't…
I had been pressing the buzzer for a while.
He was standing shirtless and barefoot in his door, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"Wait don't we go to the same school?"
I realized that I was staring at him, scared, and with my mouth slightly open. My head was faint and I felt my whole body all over sudden- sticky and strangely awkward.
"Yeah, um, listen, sorry, it was stupid…"
I couldn't even lie properly.
"Don't believe it, c'mon tell me what's up. And your name…?"
Leo stepped out unto the steps and closed the door behind him. He sat down on the top step and patted the space next to him for me to sit down. I did, and I told him it was Scarlet, at which he exclaimed, "Of course!".
I heard crockets sing somewhere nearby but they sounded different now.
Leo welcomed the silence by offering me a cigarette from behind his ear. We both lit up and took a simultaneous deep breath.
"My mum, she-," Leo paused to hit me on the back gently to stop my violent coughing. I assured him it definitely wasn't my first cigarette. He laughed, "Well, good. My mum, she doesn't like it when I smoke inside the house."
"My mum doesn't even know I smoke. Or maybe she does, she just doesn't say anything." Somehow it seemed even worse that way.
We both finished our cigarettes and with a wave of nausea I said, "Take me along this summer."
I didn't look at him when I said it/ In fact, I didn't look at him at all. I felt his eyes trace me from head to toe and back again.
"Alright?" I said, "alright? Really?"
He chuckled, "Why not, might as well share the road with someone. Just don't be a bitch. I hate bitches."
I grinned widely and swore to be good. "Thanks man, you won't regret it. I can be really great."
"Hah, I can see that. Or, I've heard about it. And you know, I might as well get a friend, I'm nearly twenty for fuck's sakes."
"What should I bring though?"
He grinned at me, "Bring as little as possible. Scar, the less you own the more freedom you have, haven't you ever heard that?"
I thought of the immense amount of stuff I had all over my house.
We talked and smoked into the night. Only after I started shivering intensely did Leo suggest I head home.
"So, best friends?"
I nodded, "Best friends."
I had walked home I went up to my tiny bedroom and threw away most of what I have been collecting pointlessly over the years.
The next morning I woke with a start.
I walked quickly down the blocks to Leo's house. As I turned the corner of his block, I slowed down at the sight of police cars lighting up the windows of his house.
His mother was clutching a policeman's shirt and screaming. The man supported her as he put away his writing pad.
"Leo?" I whispered as I walked closer to his house. "Leo?"
The policeman turned to me, "Honey, did you know Leo?"
"He was my best friend."
His mother put her hand on my shoulder and leaned into me. She was shaking uncontrollably as she nervously pulled on the collar of her robe.
The policeman spoke up, "Leo was in a car accident yesterday. The paramedics could do nothing, I am sorry…"
I turned my head to see his truck standing in the same spot it was in yesterday.
"That can't happen…," I pointed to the truck. "Its still there. It was there yesterday. It hasn't moved a bit. You've found the wrong man…"
"No dear, a drunk driver had swerved into the driver's side where Leo was found. We presume he was just sitting there because the keys were not in the ignition and the seat was reclined."
"He liked to think-he said-he always said the truck helped him think-WHO DID IT?! WHO KILLED MY BABY?!," his mother gasped.
The policeman told us that the suspect is yet to be found, but assured us that he would be arrested as soon as possible.
The police left Leo's mother and I with nothing but a dented truck and cigarette butts on the floor.
I've been seeing Leo in my dreams every night. He never seems sad as he drifts away but there is something in his eyes that makes me go down to his house every morning. I've heard that others were worried about me, but I see no reason to it. Even though my sleeping has been a bit off, I've been eating normally and the psychos my parents try to get me to talk to are unnecessary.
I have been waking up early without intending to, and I sit on the trunk of his car and smoke. I think about our road trip as I flick the cigarette butts on the hoods of other cars.
Every day, Leo and I sit on the hood of his car and talk about our road trip as we flick the cigarette butts on the hoods of shiny silver sedans.
Age 16, Grade 11,
Fiorello H Laguardia High School of Music