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I left the house at dusk and watched the bugs hover in the thick mist, illuminated like stars. Sam met me where my dad's bike was chained to a stop sign near the edge of the woods and we walked hand in hand on the old trail. An evening breeze picked its way through tahe overgrown weeds and tossed wet, summer leaves over our muddy feet and between our bodies that brushed against each other as we avoided fallen trees and dark puddles.
It felt a bit like trespassing, and we walked in silence, pretending that we had to hide. Our memories seeped out of the trees like sap and tickled up and down our skin like vines. Our palms shared sweat as we walked.
Two years before, we had walked this path when it was winter, and the trees were bare and the air was hollow. Our hands were frozen beneath our mittens and our breath danced from our lips like stolen smoke. We caught each other’s eyes as we stumbled through new snow and grinned with nervous excitement. Giddy laughter echoed against thick patches of ice.
(Sam) Run! We’re falling behind!
(Me) My toes are actually freezing off! Ugh there’s hair in my mouth…I can’t believe we’re doing this.
Sam’s friends ahead of us caught the sound of my voice and glanced back. I didn’t know if their nervous smiles were from the cold or the crimes that they’d committed and I didn’t look to see if Sam smiled back. I felt his hand slink out of mine.
When I ducked beneath the fraying rope that held the Private Property sign, a red haired girl was pulling her long sleeve t-shirt over her head and had begun to tug at the buttons of her jeans with quickly numbing fingers. A tall, skinny boy in boxers and a fleece hat yanked at her zipper and she screeched playfully and pushed him away. I realized that the boy was Sam. I realized I’d never seen so much of his skin before.
It had been the beauty that drew Sam in: that girl with the mane of hair that she’d dyed a deep, fiery orange; the boy with freckles beneath the glasses that he'd lost when we'd all stripped down to our underwear and threw our clothes into the snow; the early sunset, the terrible lies we told, the blankets that covered glass bottles, the messy kisses, the cigarettes, the bits we can’t remember.
The lake hadn’t frozen yet, and we'd all tripped over each other as we sprinted into the water. The cold was so fierce that it burned through my skin and deep towards my bones, but it was perfect and I let shivering fingers grab my arms and yank me towards the shoreline. The towels were stiff, but our laughter was loud and real and we huddled together for warmth and validation. After the sun had completely left the sky, I found Sam in the backseat of a Volvo with a box of crackers and the red haired girl.
I thought about the days that had passed since that night; the weeks and months and years that I’d let it stay detached from the rest of me. I told myself that the girl who’d gone swimming in winter with a mess of perfect strangers wasn’t the girl I could ever be again. But the images of Sam stayed too close, and the memory seeped into my dreams every so often, taunting me like ice cream in July.
Maybe it was the summer heat, maybe it was the way we each fell deeper and deeper into the memory, hoping to make this moment last longer than it should, but it took us longer to reach the beach than we planned, and mosquitos were beginning to buzz behind our necks. We sat down on the dark, slimy rocks and half heartedly splashed our feet in the warm water. “It’s been nice seeing you this summer.” Sam said, his voice scratchy and timid from our silence. “I’ve missed you.”