I laughed loudly as I pushed my way through the brambles. I clumsily lumbered through the woods, paying no attention to where my feet fell. My companions followed behind me. Gabi’s steps were more measured and quietly confident. Kelsey lingered about ten feet behind the two of us. “Are you sure you know where we are going?” she asked.
“Kelsey, this is practically our back yard,” I replied. “Of course we know where we are going.”
“But have you ever been here at night? In the dark?” Gabi and I ignored this question. We had a silent agreement not to upset Kelsey further. “You know these are my favorite pair of jeans…”
It was one of those strange times in Georgia weather when a warm front made the middle of winter feel like a cool fall night. We continued to make our way through the thick of the woods until we found the wide, packed trail that Gabi and I frequented. The full moon illuminated the path, giving it a sort of enchanted appearance. Gabi and I smiled and linked arms. “How far are we going? Shouldn’t we turn around soon? Do you know your neighbors?” Kelsey asked.
I grabbed Kelsey’s hand and drag her down the familiar winding path. “Calm down, Pokey. It’s midnight. Who do you think is out here?” Kelsey didn’t answer but the look on her face revealed her misgivings.
“I can’t believe this may be the last time I ever walk these trails,” Gabi said. Melancholy settled in on the three of us, and even Kelsey managed to momentarily forget her fears.
“You will come back,” I said, though I wasn’t sure. “You have to come back to collect your things from the rental garage, and then you can visit us.”
“Hm,” was Gabi’s answer to my logic.
“Well this is probably our last night together for a bit, so I think we should do something exciting!” I said.
“Right. Because sneaking out of your mom’s house in the middle of the night to stomp through your neighbors’ creepy woods is something we do all the time,” Kelsey said annoyed as she stumbled on a tree root.
Gabi and I laughed. “Don’t be so grumpy, Pokey!” I said.
“Stop calling me that! I’m not that slow…”
The path opened up to a long row of dead grapevines. There was an old street sign where the two path’s met that read “Stomp” on one side and “Grapevine” on the other. “Which way?” Gabi asked.
“Let’s go towards the barn,” I said, formulating a plan. The three of us turned to the right and headed down the open path that apparently used to be the busy Grapevine Highway (or maybe someone just put the sign there; who knows).
“So your parents say you’ll probably settle in Cali?” Kelsey asked Gabi.
“Yeah probably,” Gabi replied shortly the way she had the past month when anyone brought up her impending relocation.
“Well that’s pretty cool. We can come visit you in California and go to Hollywood and Vegas!” Gabi and I didn’t correct Kelsey’s mistake, and we both smiled and nodded, knowing the chances of our sixteen-year-old selves getting the opportunity to visit California on our own were slim to none.
“We’re going to write a lot,” I said. “Gabi and I both want to be writers anyways, so this will be fun.”
“I’ve never had a pen pal,” Gabi said, her voice lightening.
By this time we had reached the barn which was situated catty-corner to a lake. We took a seat on the old wooden swing that faced the lake, and the only sound was the ominous creaking of the swing’s rusty chains. We sat in silence for a moment before Gabi said, “We forgot!”
She jumped out of the swing and walked over to the barn’s side where an old hammer hung on a rusty nail. Above the hammer a cardboard sign was nailed to the wall, reading, “PUT ME BACK!!!” Gabi removed the hammer and laid it under the tarp folded on the ground.
“Nice!” I said. “I wonder how he found it in that rusty sink out back.” Gabi shook her head and the ghost of a smile tickled the edges of her mouth. She was already gone. Already nostalgic.
I quickly left the swing and started heading for the lake. “Ashley?” Kelsey was saying behind me. “What are you….?” But Kelsey quieted when I started unzipping my jacket.
Gabi was laughing. “Are you serious?”
“We HAVE to,” I said, quite convicted.
“IT’S JANUARY!” Kelsey said too loudly. A dog barked somewhere in the distance.
“All the more reason! And we can’t exactly wait until June, now, can we?” I argued slightly exasperated.
“Well you can do that by yourself. I JUST got over a cold. My nose is still a little runny,” she said, sniffing for emphasis.
“Gabi?” I said, unbuttoning my jeans.
“It’s now or never, right?” she said.
We stripped down completely, and took each other’s hands. We were soul mates, in a way. We completely understood one another; trusted one another. And this was it. Tomorrow she would be gone. “Ready?” I asked. Gabi nodded and we began walking towards the dock.
“Oh my God!” Kelsey said. “You guys are really doing this. REALLY?”
We started walking faster, and once our feet hit the wood of the dock, we took off at a run, raising our clasped hands in the air and laughing uncontrollably. Our feet left the edge of the dock, and for a moment we were suspended in the air, but when we crashed into the icy water, our hands broke apart. It was cripplingly cold, my body went into shock, but my mind was awakened; I could not move, but I was suddenly intensely aware of my own body. Slowly my legs began to jog and my arms began to churn. My mind screams I am alive. We are alive,