She had been letting the sun in through the window since February. In April, she heard the song that they would later refer to as ‘our summer song’. In June, she finished her last exam, gained an unconditional offer to study Economics at Bristol, and passed her driving test.
It was a squat, roseate Prius with bumper stickers that she drove through the sun. The summer song, burned to the disc, was inside the player and the heat lay like hands across her skin. The love in her chest was as fresh as the gum in her teeth. Beneath the fake sunglasses and lashes, a pink light scorched and blackened her blue eyes.
Already there were bruises on the tarmac. The road weaved like body kisses across the green land. The copses and the petrol stations and the rivers and the starlings and the school’s-out and the open swards and the bonfires and the parties and the horses, were all in one heat. It was a world within a world, of clotted cream and fairy lights and kiss chase come of age. It was easy to live, in both senses. As the sun came down she drove from house to house and filled the Prius. Natalia was already outside, her folded arms like a bow about her waist. Jess was in her room, blogging about the future, came downstairs, loud, and took a bottle of squash for mixer.
It went like that most days, but not every day. There were the days inside, inside the back garden, inside the head. Days alone. A few days in Toulouse with her Mum. Days at the window. Days between those too. It was a long time. She didn’t drink as much as the rest, Natalia and Jess… And the rest. She didn’t smoke or go in for any of their other milestones. Mostly she drove. She worked four days a week in a shoe store and that was enough for petrol. Petrol and shoe polish were all she needed to know between the cut grass, the sugared drinks, the smell of perfume on perfume.
But for a thunderstorm it never rained. No clouds and no wind to entice them. It was strange really. She only noticed the oddness of it all after she’d fallen in love with someone she’d never met before, not even glimpsed in a photo. There were a lot of photographs. She grew afraid of it ending, and told him so, but he knew how to please her. It wasn’t so bad at all. She drove him to all the good places, hand on his thigh like it was more than love. He’d smile and say: ‘Again?’ His head would fall back in the rest, grinning, and the car would fly from the camera, through the saccharine air, to some crepuscular haunt by the river, by the train line, some glade. Dragonflies or flies, pine dust, brick dust, always sunshine. Always heat like a burnt-out, assaulted azure. It never left her alone, but she didn’t mind. They were pink and blue.
The weekend before she left for Bristol they drove to the seaside. He sat her on his shoulders. She got sand in her eye and began to cry and the gulls laughed. It was getting darker ever earlier now. Perhaps they shouldn’t have strayed so far. There was something limpid about his skin that she mistrusted. The hotel was too defined. The crocheted blankets, the shade of mold beneath the single-glazed windows, the cleaning woman’s cheeks, seemed all of the same colour. It reminded her of opening her eyes after the sun had lain on the lids too long.
It was a Sunday night. They’d never been naked together beneath a night this dark. Of course that was how it always went now. Admittedly, these days, she liked to think of him as someone else. Not necessarily the face or the body, but the somebody contained. Think of him as someone she met at the start of summer. Who knew why people were made so damn fickle? In this day and age. Not in my day.
He’d asked her once, at the first, lantern-lit afterparty to some prom, whether she was more afraid of dying or getting old, of the pink or the blue. Looking back now, he wished he hadn’t laughed so lightly when she replied: ‘I’m too young to be afraid of anything.’ He should have pressed her. She should have pressed him against her. Well, he prayed she had feared the blue.
Now he listens to the song, wished he’d done something with himself that summer, wished he’d learnt to drive, and taken himself to the seaside.