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Red. Everything within a 10ft radius of the dirt road was covered in a thick layer of red dust, including the piece of shit car that somehow qualified as my 16th birthday present.
It felt like I’d been on this dirt road for hours, but I knew it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes. Though it was technically morning, the sky was still pitch black, meaning, so was the unpaved road that threatened the already limited life of my shitty tires. Not to mention only one dim, sputtering headlight lighting my uncharted path.
But I knew my way; I remembered my last place of silence. It’d been years since I’d seen that field. Or these hills. Hell, it’d been years since I’d been in this state; since I’d bee home. Of course, there was nothing here for me here since I’d passed that state line so many years ago. Though in hindsight 6 years isn’t all that much. But it’s enough for reality to punch you in the throat and the mind numbing loneliness to set in.
From beside the road, a bark. No doubt the corgi-collie mix that if I remembered correctly, would be tied up 20ft from the road. And two driveways down the path, the turn onto the old, silent property, a "for sale" sign still hammered into the ground, now covered with rogue weeds. I pulled the stubborn wheel to my left and bumped my way of the now grass drive and under the fruitless pear tree that was far from the sapling it had been when I had left it.
I cut the ignition, leaving myself and the too early morning in an inky darkness. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and before I could talk myself out of it, pushed the door open and slammed it closed before breathing in the cool, uncontaminated backcountry air. I pulled my phone from my pocket and turned it on. 36 missed calls from Bear and 20 from Lyric. As well as 59 unread texts from Bear and, drumroll please, 123 from Lyric.
I hadn’t even opened my phone since I’d gotten in the car 1,500 miles ago. A smile curled along my lips. If I ever had anyone, it was them. I opened up the group chat between the three of us and then opened the keyboard that I’d made custom with Bear’s face as the background. I let out a small laugh. That background photo had been taken when we went to the zoo the first month I’d gotten to Ramses, a surprise to help me "adjust" to my new environment. We both knew it was a last resort to pull me out of my head. It had worked. I could still remember the goofy laugh he’d given when I’d surprised him with the camera. I started typing when the memory begun to fade.
Me: I’m finding my silence
The moment the "sent" popped up below my text (a miracle considering I’d just driven 10 miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma) two sets of bubbles popped up. But I didn’t stay to see their responses, instead I shutdown the phone completely and set it on the top of my car. I sighed and turned away from my recent past before walking towards my old one. I placed my hand on the bark that had never been mine and smiled. But my heart pulled me away and I took a step back, my smile fading and the unrecognizable memory turning to the familiar numbing grey of everything else.
Turning away from the now foreign giant, I started down the dirt road that was now more forest than road until it opened to another field. This one showed the remnants of a past filled with a failed farming expedition that I could barely remember anymore. But I tore my eyes from the forgotten farming equipment and shoved away the old memories that threatened to bubble to the surface.
The chill of a new breeze blew my hair in my face as my feet walked towards the waist high grass and I brushed it away. When I got to the edge of the forgotten wild, I didn’t hesitate as I let my inner compass take hold of my legs. 32 steps in (I may have been counting) something scurried from beneath my feet and I flinched but did not falter. 46 steps and I could see were my subconscious had guided me to. 59 steps and I stood at the edge of a 10ft wide circle. I couldn’t conjure of the memory of why, but I remembered that nothing grew past the ankle here.
No matter the reason, I slipped off my pastel pink Converse covered in black outlines of hearts and stars and sat in the middle of the opening. Slowly, I lay back, staring at the yet to disappear stars. Finally quite. But, of course, peace was not to join its familiar as his voice invaded my head.
“This place is beautiful. It’s been so long since we’ve seen it. Feels good to be back.”
I sighed and gave in to my mind’s bait.
“I thought I would find silence here. But I can never escape you can I?”
“I don’t know. Can you?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.”
“I’m just in your head and you know it. If I know the answer then you must as well.”
I sighed again.
“I left you behind. I left you in that parking lot all alone when we were still kids. Why are you still in my head? I thought I’d learned my lesson.”
He laughed and I turned my head to the sound knowing that all I would see was emptiness. And I was greeted with just that.
I could hear the tears in his voice that I knew were mine as he said, “Then why am I here?”
“I don’t know.” I concluded, a tear rolling down my temple when his voice didn’t come again and I closed my eyes, turning my face to the sky again. And when the first rays of the rising sun reached my circle, I opened them again, this time being greeted by the deep chocolate of new eyes staring back.
I had been so lost in my thoughts that I hadn’t heard the fawn approach. She stared at me blatantly, her long eyelashes fluttering as she blinked.
“You alone too?” I asked and one of her small ears twitched to the sound. From a few feet away, a rustle and snort, no doubt her mother. I smiled.
“Just me then?” Her ear twitched again. But her mother interrupted the new silence with a huff. The fawn turned away but when she looked at me again. Anew kind of smile wove its way to my lips.
“It’s been a long time since I was worth disobeying one's mother,” I laughed and this time the muscles in the small thing’s legs and chest twitched in indecision. Just when I thought she’d bound away, she bent down, her cold nose trailing over my lips, along my cheekbone, and arching above my eyebrow, leaving a wet trail of curiosity in her wake. I let my eyes flutter open, not realizing I’d closed them. And she was waiting for me. My smile grew soft, content with the gift she hadn’t known she’d given me.
I opened my mouth to thank her but her mother interrupted me once more with a louder impatient huff. The little fawn didn’t turn away this time, instead searching my graying blue eyes intently.
“Go to your mother,” I whispered, now afraid to spook this moment of peace, ”I would hate to get you into trouble.”
She took a step back. Hesitated. Then stepped forward again. This time, I voluntarily closed my eyes and braced for her cold nose when she bent down. But I was surprised when I felt the warmth of her tongue on my temple and then glide along my hairline before disappearing at the scar from my memories, taking away my tears and leaving behind the sweet remnants of a innocence I’d left behind too long ago.
I opened my eyes, ready to face the same chocolate irises again. But I was greeted only by the oncoming dawn and the sound of the long grass gently parting against the small fawn’s body. I slowly released the air that was burning my lungs and breathed what felt like my first breath in years.
When I’d come back to reality, I finally heard the clumsy approaching footsteps. Though I was curious, I stayed still, suddenly exhausted. It was probably just the neighbor who had seen a ‘hooligan’ enter the property.
“You have a grass snake wrapped around your ankle.”
I was about to tell the voice to go to hell. That I was done being tortured by my own mind. But then I realized, the voice was older, too worn for its owners age. I turned my head, and there he was, standing there in his entirety. Taking up my entire vision just as he had been for years.
He looked tired, a fresh sweep of stubble gliding along his chin and cheeks, purple rimming the underside of his sharp eyes. My mind must have finally broken.
“Do you want a new friend? Because he’s slithering up your pant leg.” I turned away from him and I heard him sigh. And then the sound of his heavy footsteps coming closer, a tug on my ankle and the brush of careful fingertips. Always careful.
I don’t know what he did with the snake, but a moment later he sat down next to me cross legged and rigid. Always rigid.
“Lyric blew up my phone until I thought the world was ending or something.”
I grunted in response.
“She said you disappeared two days ago and then about froze up my phone an hour ago when you said something about silence. I finally just turned off my phone.”
“Seems she was right.”
“Yeah,” he said sadly, “When she said silence this was the only place I could think of.”
I could feel his eyes burning a hole in the side of my face so I spoke up.
“It got too loud. And just like you, this was the only place I could think of.”
He gave a humorless chuckle.
“So you left your boyfriend of five years’ house at 3 a.m. without a word, got in a piece of shit car that was iffy at best when you got it six years ago, with only $300 dollars at most in your pocket, and decided to drive 1,500 miles because you wanted silence?” He paused to stare at me again. But I kept my eyes on the rising dawn above me, refusing to get lost in his eyes again.
“What was so loud in New Jersey anyway?” He asked, his voice softer than the shout it had risen to.
I let the question hang between us for a beat before responding the best I could.
I could practically hear his head snap in my direction.
“You. Your voice anyway. It’s been so loud in my head all these years. I needed peace.” I finally turned to face him. But he was waiting for me and my breath caught in my throat at the pain that I saw reflecting back at me. I knew that emotion all too well. Regret.
We stared at each other in silence until he reached in my direction and I let him trace the scar above my left eyebrow and just below my hairline. The same barrier that seemed to stop the little fawn. The thing that had both ended and started it all.
“I’m sorry Hads. That night was a mistake. I’d take back every word if I could.” I saw the so familiar tears brim his eyes, his conscience locking onto that jagged nightmare of a memory. The same memory that created the scar caused by the rebound of the drivers side door of his old Chevy pickup truck.
I searched his eyes.
“But you can’t. We can’t take back our mistakes. You know that as well as I.” He looked away, a tear finally carving a trail down his face. He didn’t bother to wipe it away and on instinct I did it myself.
“But Josh,” I half whispered before clearing the tears from my voice, “I found it. The silence. The closure. Because here you are. 6 years later, responding to a 4 a.m. text from my best friend about your ex who was crazy enough to drive 1,500 miles just to get some sleep.” I stopped to grab his wrist.
“I found you.”
He stared at me, emotions swimming in the hazy blue as he sorted through my confession. He leaned down, resting his forehead on mine just as we did when we just best friends and just kids. When all it was was just being us. When it didn't matter. Soon my eyes grew heavy and he pulled away, laying beside me.
And we both stared at the now yellow sky as the silence became just silence. And we lay there, together, in the ankle high grass, in the weird circle, in the old field, hidden by a deep tree line, fronted by a meadow, right in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Home.
And finally, with sleep came our silence.