Adam stood a precautionary three feet away from the edge of the grassy hillside. This distrust of heights had very recently snuck up on him; he used to hang his feet over the ledge without a giving a single thought to the consequences of a misplaced step. It was quite the contrary now, as he looked over the edge, he had decided that it was at least a six-story drop to the bottom, riddled with plenty of rugged weeds and stubborn shrubbery to ensure ample amounts of scrapes, gashes, and bruises if you found yourself falling down the steep incline. The thought of it intensified the usual tightness of his chest.
The sunset had already fallen below the mountain range in the distance, but that didn’t bother him. Adam had always preferred the subtle red hue of a post-sunset/pre-nightfall sky to the blinding yellow that the sun was always so eager to offer. The red sunset had fallen onto a nearby mahogany tree and highlighted small withstanding carvings that he had made with her when they were kids.
This hillside was a place where all the neighborhood kids gathered to play and fight despite numerous grim warnings from their parents to avoid the cliff. Not many of them listened. The path they used required a hiking and squeezing through terrain that adults were to unadventurous to take to ensure their children were having no misadventures of their own. The path had become even more overgrown and unnavigable since his generation had abandoned the cliff side haven.
Adam remembered the evenings that he would spend with her on the cliff side alone when all the other kids in the neighborhood had gone home. Memories he had forgotten about, jokes between the two of them, moments of weakness, anger, and sadness; countless occasions came resonating back to him and he smirked when he remembered that they spent more nights together on the hillside while they lived here than nights they didn’t. He was just a boy back then, with short black hair and light skin. He was average height for his age, but was in good shape from playing sports. Adam had always felt as if there was nothing distinctive about his appearance; no freckles, birthmarks, or other physical attributed to separate him from everyone else.
It had become their tradition, even a secret between the two of them. Adam would often leave early and come back when she was alone to avoid explaining their daily routine to their friends, who, as most kids their age would, would give them a hard time about spending so much time together.
It had started by accident one evening when Adam had climbed to the hillside alone. He had just moved into town a few months prior and this hill had become one of his favorite parts of the move. This particular evening, he was surprised to see a young girl he recognized from the neighborhood brigade of kids sitting right next to what he had become to think of as his personal tree.
Adam wasn’t sure how to react that evening. He hadn’t made any friends in his new neighborhood and lacked the courage to walk up to the kids he would see outside every day. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her hair, a deep, soft red with curls running past her shoulders, he might have turned around and left without muttering a single word.
As it was, Adam stood immobilized by the way her curls matched the faint red in the sky. Before long the young girl had turned around and noticed Adam behind her. No syllables came to mind for him to utter, let alone fully formed words or sentences. He unwillingly left any chance of conversation between the two of them up to the red-headed girl.
“Well hi there,” she said, catching Adam off-guard despite the fact that a few sizable moments had passed since they had made eye contact. “I didn’t know anyone else came here.”
Adam wasn’t sure how to respond. Her tone and body language were non-existent and he couldn’t be sure if she was upset that he might have intruded on her what could have been her spot for a lot longer than it was his.
“Yeah, I actually just started a few weeks ago,” he managed to wrench out. “I moved
here not too long ago.”
The young girl smiled, but Adam could barely recognize her expression through the shadows on her face from the sunset behind her. It was hard for Adam to look in her direction without being blinded from the last bit of the day’s sunlight.
“It’s nice isn’t it?” the young girl asked through her smile. “I have been coming here for as long as I can remember. I grew up in this town.”
Adam again found himself at a loss of words. The blinding light was doing its fair share of diverting his focus. To remedy the situation, he began walking towards the girl and took a seat next to her. When he finally found his seat on the cliff side he turned his gaze and was able to focus on reciprocating the conversation.
“I grew up in a bigger city than this one,” he began. “I never really got to see anything like this where I used to live. I doubt there was a spot like this there anyway.” She turned her head away from his direction back towards the sunset when he tried to look at her. When he realized she wasn’t planning on looking back, he matched her gaze and focused on the hills that were fading into a darker green as the sunset made its way down.
“Well you can come and see it every day now,” the girl said to him as she placed a hand on his far shoulder. It felt warm and familiar. He had never liked the old city he used to live in. It was too busy and chaotic for his taste. The slow pace and serenity of this small town was a much better fit. She looked at him intently and gave him his first chance to examine her face.
She had clusters of even spaced subtle red freckles throughout her nose and cheeks. Her teeth were straight, but like most kids their age; they were too big for her face. She wore big squared black glasses that slid down her nose regularly and her lips were the same tone as the freckles that decorated her face, chapped from playing outside in the wind. Her skin was the same tone as his: a light complexion, making the red accents throughout her face apparent. The large square glasses left plenty of room to see her hazel eyes, which were focused right at him.
“Yeah, I can,” Adam murmured under his breath as he returned a small smile. “What is your name anyways?”
“Emily,” she said as she once again turned her face away from Adam, replacing the veil of shadow across her face. “The other boys call me Em.”
“I like Emily. I think I’ll stick with that.” Adam had caught himself leaning forward to get another look at her face when he realized he was dangerous close to losing his balance on the cliff side. “My name is Adam,” he said, finding his balance as he spoke.
Emily brought her half-clenched hand to her mouth as she smiled. “Adam, I like that name too.”
“How old are you Emily?”
“Fourteen. My birthday just passed a few days ago.”
“That means you are older than me.”
“I guess so! How old are you?”
“Thirteen, my birthday is in about a month.”
“Aw, the little baby!” Emily joked as she lightly pinched Adams cheek. “Are you looking forward to your birthday party?”
“You are barely older than me,” Adam said. “I already had a party in my old neighborhood. It doubled as a going away party, so I don’t think I’ll have another one.”
“Why not? Maybe your new friends want to celebrate with you!”
“Well…I haven’t made too many new friends here yet, since school hasn’t started and I haven’t been able to meet anyone. You are actually the first person I have met from this town.”
“Why haven’t you come outside? We are out here every day.”
“I don’t know,” Adam mumbled. “I have been busy unpacking and helping set the…”
“You should come out and meet everyone else tomorrow. We usually team up and play baseball or hike through the hills.”
“That sounds like fun,” Adam said as he smiled. “You guys usually meet up at the bottom of this hill right? You sure they won’t mind?”
“Yep, right at the bottom where you first have to go through to come up here. No I’m sure they won’t. Just a fair warning though, you better get used to losing to a girl in baseball. All the boys have a hard time with it at first.”
Adam laughed and stood up to brush the grass that had collected on his jeans. “I think I will be alright, especially since I was already planning on letting you win anyways.”
The two sat and enjoyed the rich red tint of the fallen sun, occasionally glancing towards the darker, bluer side of the sky to spot a falling star, or what they would later figure out to be airplanes flying at dusk.
“Looks like the sunset is almost gone. I should probably get back home,” Emily said.
“I didn’t realize how late it had gotten. My parents are not going to be happy…”
“Mine either! I have been late a lot lately. How about we meet back up here tomorrow to watch it again? Only this time we will make sure to leave earlier,” Emily said as she headed down the path.
“Sure, as long as we aren’t grounded. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You are going to come tomorrow right? To meet everyone else? Don’t make me go and ring your doorbell.”
Adam smirked, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”
“Good bye Adam, see you tomorrow.”
Adam stayed for another few minutes. “How could I not come?” he smirked to himself.
The morning of anticipation had arrived and Adam found himself walking towards a large group of people he did not know. He scoured the group looking for the red head of Emily to introduce him as he got closer and closer to the edge of the hill.
“Hey there,” a tall, pale boy said. “Are you the one who just moved in?”
“Yeah, just down the street. I have only been here for a little while.”
“Well, what took you so long to come out?”
“What does it matter? I’m sure he doesn’t want to answer a thousand questions,” said a petite blonde girl from the back of the group.”
“I’m not picking on him or anything Elizabeth,” the tall boy. “Anyways, what’s you r name? “
“Oh good, you don’t have the same name as anyone else here. That would have been annoying. I’m James,” he said as he waved to Adam.
“Nice to meet you,” Adam said, returning the wave and looking at the other fifteen people who were standing behind James.
“You are kind of shy aren’t ya?” said a black haired boy who was standing next to Elizabeth.
“What makes you say that?” Adam said, a little annoyed at the boy’s comment.
“You took longer than a month to come out and meet us. I was sure you would never come out at all.”
“Well, sorry to disappoint you. I ran into Emily and she told me to come meet up with everyone. Where is she anyways?” Adam directed the conversation back to James, who he had already decided he liked a lot more than the dark, bold person in the back.”
“She is probably coming late like always. That’s Peter by the way.”
“Have a crush on her already?” Peter asked.
“What do you mean?”
Peter walked up close to Adam and shoved his finger into Adam’s chest. “I said you have only been here a day and you are already crushing on someone?”
Adam was thrown off. “It’s a little fast to crush on someone isn’t it? Why would I have a crush on her anyways…”
“Why wouldn’t someone have a crush on me?” Emily panted as she ran in from behind the crowd. “You met everyone already? Don’t pay attention to Peter. He is an idiot.”
“Way to back your boyfriend up,” Peter said as he walked slowly back to the crowd of kids, who were now engaged in other conversations.
“I haven’t met everyone, but I have met these two.”
Emily went on to name all of the people who were waiting on her arrival. “Now that you know everyone, what are we doing today?”
“I think we decided on baseball today right?” James said.
“Or we could go ride shopping carts again…” Peter chimed in.
“That was a stupid idea last time. It hasn’t gotten any better,” Emily said.
“Let’s just head to the field. We still need to pick captains,” James said quickly, stopping what seemed to be an inevitable battle of words between Emily and Peter. They all started walking together, grouping up in twos and threes to fit on the sidewalk.
“I’m glad you came. You are going to like everyone here. We always have a lot of fun. Sorry about Peter, he can be a little dumb at times.” Elizabeth had followed Adam to the back of the group.
“It’s fine, and thanks. I’m glad I came too. It’s been a while since I’ve played baseball.”
“Have you played on a team?” James asked.
“At my old school I did. I was planning on joining the team when school started.”
“You should, a lot of the boys play for the school. You will know plenty of people there.”
They continued to talk about Adam’s old town and a few of the people Adam would come to know very well. It was only a few blocks to the field.
“Alright let’s break up,” James said.
“Make sure you aren’t on my team Adam,” winked Emily. “I have to make sure you let me when remember?”
“Yeah, I don’t think I am going to let that happen after all. Elizabeth just told me you haven’t lost a game in a couple months. How are you getting so lucky?”
“Who said anything about luck?”
Adam was the first to bat on his team. He walked up to the small hole in the sand that marked home base and Peter lined up with him at the pitcher’s mound. Adam watched the ball release and hit the ball cleanly over the fence. Emily threw up her arms as the ball passed her overhead. Adam looked at her and smiled.
“Yeah, Emily…I’m definitely not going to let you win.”
Adam and Brendon made their way to the usual spot where everyone met up after everyone had a chance to go home and unload their backpacks and folders. It was a sunny day in the middle of May, so Brendon had opted to change into some shorts and a tank top to enjoy the weather. Brendon was taller than Adam by an inch or two, but was noticeably thinner all around. His brown hair was brushed to the side in a messy, impromptu comb-over.
Adam had decided to stick to his jeans and t-shirt, but did pick up a plain black baseball cap and threw it on backwards as he walked out. The hat had kept his grown out hair in place. He had bulked up from playing baseball in high school and from growing a “non-human” appetite, as his friends had branded it. Emily had often gotten annoyed how he could eat whatever he wanted without losing his tone.
“Where is everyone?” Adam asked.
“Probably up in the hill drinking like they have been doing for the past few months,” Brendon answered. “They are up there more often than not nowadays.”
“You would think they would get tired of it after a while.”
“It seems to be all they care about lately. You can’t even suggest doing something without one of them offering to bring alcohol.”
“It’s starting to get old to be honest. At least it isn’t everyone caught up in the mix though,” Adam said as a few of their other friends turned the corner to meet them.
There were three of them. Elizabeth, the kind blonde girl who now had a few of the same classes as Adam, was among them. They were all within a year or so from 17, Adam and Brendon’s age.
“I guess we should go up there, now that we are all here,” Brendon said.
“Do we have to go? Why don’t we just head over to the park or something instead?” one of the boys asked.
“They are still our friends, we shouldn’t just avoid them,” Adam answered.
“I’m not really in the mood to deal with it today…” the boy protested.
“Let’s just head up there. Maybe they are up there waiting for us,” Elizabeth said as she put a hand on Adam’s back. Adam took a keen note of the gesture. Elizabeth always knew how to cheer him up when there was an issue amongst the group or when he was obviously troubled. Lately, Adam had been pretty outspoken about a lot of things his old group of friends were getting into and he often found Elizabeth comforting him when Brendon wasn’t up to the task. They exchanged a subtle smile before Adam gestured for her to go on ahead before him.
They walked up the hillside where their group had been meeting since their elementary days. They began hearing the loud and obnoxious voices of the rest of their gang. Adam was the last in the line as they joined their tipsy friends on the hillside.
“Hey! Just in time, we are about to open the next bottle!” said James, now a tall, lean young adult who many would have pinned as one of the leaders of the group a few years ago. Since half the group started partying and drinking, the usual group of twenty or so neighborhood kids had split in closeness.
None of the freshly arrived took James up on his offer. Each of them mumbling a “No thanks, I’m good,” or a “Not tonight” as they took found a comfortable boulder or trunk to sit down on.
As Adam walked into the fray, his sight was immediately shifted to a red-headed figure behind James. It was Emily, and she was chugging a can of beer from the hand of another old friend of theirs, Peter. Adam never really liked Peter; he was always getting the group to go along with his plans to cause trouble around the neighborhood. When they were younger he had convinced most of their friends to run out to different pay phones in town and hang the phone up while they were still being used. Adam looked away as Emily finished the can and as she turned around and noticed Adam she choked on the last bit of the drink in her throat.
“Careful Em,” Peter said. “Don’t go drinking like a girl now.”
“Shut up Peter, no one asked you to talk,” Emily snapped as she set the can down and found a seat directly across from Adam and Elizabeth, who were sitting next to each other on the same log. Once the noise from Emily and Peter’s scuffle settled down they started their usual routine of picking on and joking about each other as alcohol was passed around for those who chose to drink it. Emily did not take another drink, and
Adam had avoided eye contact with her throughout the length of the evening.
When the street lights came on over the hill everyone began to lift from their spots to leave for the night. This was more out of habit than necessity now that they were older. Adam stayed in his seat and said goodbye as everyone passed by him; he exchanged the customary fist bump with Brendon and Elizabeth leaned over to hug him and he noticed that the hug lingered longer than a standard farewell hug. He stayed and waited for the red sunset to come in over the mountain side.
“Hey.” Adam heard the familiar greeting. It was Emily, here for their usual meeting. “Oh you are here; you wouldn’t even look at me today.”
Adam didn’t say anything. He kept his view on the sunset with his arms in his pocket.
“You could have at least said hi.”
“Emily, you know how I feel about how the half of our group has been acting lately.”
“Then why do you still talk to them?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not the only one doing it. You still talk to everyone else who is. You are even talking to Peter, and you didn’t like Peter to begin with.”
Adam didn’t respond. It bothered him that his other friends were drinking, partying, and getting into trouble, but it tore into him deeper whenever he would see Emily involved.
“Emily, you should know I care about you more than them.”
“Well, we are best friends aren’t we?” Emily said as she wrapped her arms around him.
Adam smirked and turned his head back towards the sunset. Best friends; the brand of their relationship since a few weeks after they met.
“By your choice, not mine.”
“Well, look what a grumpy boyfriend you would be right now if you had it your way.”
“As opposed to the grumpy best friend you love dealing with?”
Emily giggled as she rested her head on his back. “You know I care about you, I told you that already.”
“Oh yeah, I remember clearly,” Adam began and he started chuckling. “I remember I told you that I cared about you about a dozen times before you finally understood that I meant in a ‘more than a best friend’ kind of way. Sometimes I worry about you Emily.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know? It was the same as any other day we come up here,” she said as she shoved his back in, her default reaction when she didn’t have a witty response for someone teasing her. “I hope you remember how I replied as well as you remember how long it took me to understand what you were saying.”
“Don’t remind me,” Adam replied as he put a dramatic hand up to his forehead and pretended to lose strength in his legs.
Emily laughed and caught his weight, “You are my best friend and I feel the same way about you, but you don’t like it when I go out to parties and drink now. You will be even more upset if we got together.” Adam grumbled and picked up his own weight again. He slung his head back to Emily’s shoulder behind him and Emily kissed his cheek, a habit she had picked up ever since Adam confessed. “Besides, Elizabeth seems to be close to you lately. You probably would prefer a girl like her anyways…”
Adam ignored her comment. He looked back to the sunset, which was now deep in its color and casting the final shadows along the hills. He grabbed her arm and pulled her in front of him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. She put her hands on his arm tried to keep poking at the topic of Elizabeth. Each time, he would squeeze just hard enough to make extra air come out mid-sentence and continued to ignore the comments through her laughter.
A few weeks later, Adam walked into the graduation party at James’ house with his hand in his pocket, fiddling with the note he had written for Emily. He looked around to see his close friends gathered together as well as many other people from their year at their high school. Most of them were either holding a red plastic cup of ambiguity or tightly gripped a can or bottle of beer to show off. He had decided to have a drink himself to celebrate with his friends.
“Glad you finally made it,” James snuck up behind him as he finished pouring the contents of a cold, wet can into a plastic red cup of his own. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming.”
“I just got caught up,” Adam said. “Why would I miss one of my best friends graduation party? This is going to be one of the last chances we have to hang out together.”
“I wasn’t sure if you would be okay with the drinking part,” James replied, smacking Adam on the back. “You have been giving us a hard time about it, but it seems like you are over that now.” James pointed to the red cup in Adam’s hand.
“I’m making an exception for our graduation,” Adam said as he lifted the cup up to eye level.
“I like it,” James said. “Glad our little business woman is letting her hair down.”
Adam rolled his eyes at James’ joke. “Where is everyone anyways?”
“Well, everyone is mostly out in the backyard…”
Adam could read the discomfort in his friend’s voice. “Is Brendon out there too?”
“Yeah he is,” James said, pushing Adam towards the door. “Want to head out there?”
“Why are you shoving me out?” Adam said, wearily. “What’s going on?”
“Spit it out, James.”
Adam’s stomach clenched. “Passed out?”
“No…Peter is also upstairs.”
Adam’s fingers began to tremble. He felt cold and furious. He mechanically began his ascent up the stairs into James’ bedroom.
There’s no point in going up there.”
He continued until he found himself holding the doorknob. He knew it wasn’t locked; James’ lock had been broken for at least a year when he had stayed the night at his house. His heart raced and he opened the door swiftly.
“WHAT the hell…” Peter had said. He had jumped off of the bed. His shirt was missing and his pants were unbuttoned and falling off his hips. Underneath him was Emily. Her red hair sprawled around untidily. She had no shirt on and was doing her best to cover the white bra she was wearing. Her skirt was hiked well above her waist lane as she did her best to scramble it back down. When she looked up to see who had barged in, her eyes began to tear. She threw on her white blouse over her skirt and stumbled to him as she pushed Peter aside.
“I didn’t think you were coming Adam…” is all Emily said. Adam could smell the liquor and beer on her breath, bringing him even closer to vomiting.
“What the hell are you doing Adam? Can’t you tell we are busy?” Peter wasn’t drinking heavily tonight. Adam could make out that much. He was buzzed from what he assumed was a few beers. Peter began to walk up to Adam once he had put his shirt back on; he came close enough for Adam to realize that he had put his shirt back on backwards, revealing the white tag below his neckline. The next thing Adam knew, his fist had caught Peter right on the nose. He followed Peter as he fell down and struck him once more in the mouth when he hit the ground.
“ADAM!” Emily had yelled.
James had managed to make his way to the room already and was able to keep Adam from delivering anymore blows to a lethargic Peter. Adam looked down at Peter who was bleeding from his mouth and nose and up to Emily who was sitting on the bed crying. He shoved off James and paced out of the house. Downstairs, he found himself ducking his tears away from the curious crowd of onlookers. His fist and wrist throbbed as he opened the front door and left the party.
He didn’t want to go home this upset. He made his way towards the cliff side where he always went when he was upset. He pushed through the dry shrubs that the group had yet to knock down. He finally made his way to the top and looked up at the dark sky and hills that looked violet in the moonlight. He grabbed his wrist as he fell onto a log near the cliff. He wasn’t there for long when he felt someone’s hand on his shoulder.
Adam jumped at the touch. He hadn’t noticed anyone had walked up here. “I figured I would find you here,” a soft-voice said.
Adam looked up to find Elizabeth’s face. “Were you at the party?”
“Yeah, I was.”
“I’m guessing you know what happened.”
“Well, Peter walked out bleeding all over the place and Emily couldn’t stop crying. I left pretty quickly after that, but I can guess what went down. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
She took a seat next to Adam and put her arms around him.
“Wasn’t prepared for that,” Adam replied, chuckling a little bit.
“Was there something between you and Emily?”
“There was, but there definitely isn’t anymore.”
“You deserve better than that Adam.”
Adam didn’t respond. Her hand had grabbed his and was now holding it tight. He had always felt affectionate towards Elizabeth.
“I wanted to tell you on graduation day, but I never got a chance to say it…” Elizabeth started. “I sort of…like you?”
Adam was caught off-guard and couldn’t help but chuckle at her phrasing. “You like me? Like the third grade kind of like?”
“Shut up Adam. I don’t know how else to say it.”
He noticed the soft blush of her cheeks even in the soft moon light. “Elizabeth…”
“I know. You have feelings for Emily. Everyone knows.”
“Well…that’s news for me.”
“After tonight it’s pretty much confirmed for everyone.”
Adam laughed again. “I guess that’s true.”
“Have you ever had feelings for me?”
“If I am being honest,” Adam started after a few moments, “I have. I just have only seen Emily in that way for a long time.”
Elizabeth smiled and looked away. He looked at the blonde girl who had just confessed to him. He had always been comforted by Elizabeth and they had always had a good time when they were together. They got along well, and Adam couldn’t help but notice how pretty she had grown over the years.
“What if we tried giving us a shot?” Elizabeth asked.
“After everything that happened today? You know about Emily and everything is going to be awkward in the group after today as it is.”
“I don’t really care about that. If they want to make it a big deal let them. It’s completely up to you. I have feelings for you and if you said you have felt something for me…maybe it could work.”
“I don’t want to do that to you. What if it ends up bad for you?” Adam had to fight the urge to just say yes. He wasn’t sure why he wasn’t more against the idea. “I can’t just get together with Elizabeth. I might get hurt in the long run…I’m not even sure what those feelings for her mean,” he thought to himself.
“At least we tried right?”
Adam stood up from the log and walked away from the edge of the cliff. He couldn’t stop smiling at the idea. “Elizabeth, will you be my girlfriend?”
She turned around and smiled. “Will I be your girlfriend? Is this the same guy who made fun of me for saying ‘I like you’ ten minutes ago?”
“Cut me some slack, I’ve never asked this before…” he said putting his arm up behind his head. Before he had a chance to lower it, Elizabeth had made his way to him and leaned her face into his. She left a less than an inch for Adam to travel. He leaned in and coupled his lips to hers. She softly grabbed his swollen hand in hers as they spent the rest of the night at the cliff side, finally leaving when the bright yellow sun had risen.
Adam woke up to his phone alarm’s obnoxious disaster siren. The sun was had risen enough to seep through cracks in the curtain right into his eyes. It was a daily reminder of how he much preferred the soft red it emitted in the evening, but in did help him wake up faster. As he turned off his alarm he looked over to his left and was once again blinded by the reflecting sunlight from her blonde hair. He looked away and rolled out of bed.
“Up already?” Elizabeth mumbled. “You were up late last night. It’s only 7:00 in the morning. Come back to bed.”
Adams eyes had finally adjusted to the light enough to look over at her on his way to the closet. “I have a group presentation before lecture today. We are meeting up to put some final touches on it.” Elizabeth rolled back over as Adam finished tucking his shirt into his slacks.
“What time are you done today?”
“I have to go to work afterwards. The hospital has a lot of procedures planned today, so I won’t be home ‘til around six.” Elizabeth tucked her head deeper into her pillow and curled up tighter in the blanket she was now in sole possession of.
“Don’t pout at me,” Adam said as he walked up to her side of the bed. “I don’t want to go any more than you want me to. Besides don’t you work today?”
“Eleven to five. So I’m going to be here all alone for the most of the morning.”
“Ellie, we both know you are just going to sleep it away,” Adam chuckled. “I have to go. Do you want to go out to dinner when I get back from work today?”
“You aren’t getting off that easy. You’ve been gone this entire week. One dinner together on Friday night isn’t going to cut it. You aren’t allowed to do anything work or school related this whole weekend.”
“Oh I’m not allowed?” Adam laughed, catching her playful humor. “Alright, fine. No work or school stuff this weekend.” Adam knew he couldn’t get away with what he was promising. He would just have to stay up after Elizabeth fell asleep and sneak some work in.
“This isn’t going to be like the last time you made this promise. Where you were answering emails throughout the day and staying up late to finish work. You need a break.”
Adam got a little annoyed. Finishing up a Master’s Degree and working nearly full time at the hospital wasn’t exactly a care-free task. He just couldn’t unplug himself the way she was asking. “I’ll try and finish as much as I can today. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it all and have the entire weekend to spend,” he said as he reached over and kissed her. “I’ll see you tonight alright?”
“You haven’t told me where we are having dinner.”
“I’ll text it to you during the day,” Adam said, tying his tie as he ran out of the door.
Adam had yet to fill out the last round of patient updates before he was able to leave for the day. He might have been able to finish everything properly if he would have been able to get to work on time, but he ended up being the last of ten groups to present for a class that went forty-five minutes over-schedule.
“I’m running behind at work. Finishing as fast as I can…be there soon,” he texted Elizabeth, the time stamp read 6:53. He glanced over at the last message he wrote to her: “Let’s meet up at Little Italy at 6:30.” Little Italy was 20 minutes away from him. He hated himself for picking such a distant location, even if it was her favorite restaurant.
His phone immediately buzzed back, “Okay.” she responded. It took ten long minutes for Adam to finish and he wasted no time racing to Little Italy to meet Elizabeth. When he arrived, her water cup was empty and her usual soft smile was nowhere to be found.
“Hey Ellie. Sorry I’m so late,” he said as he found his seat in the crowded restaurant. The low grumble of conversation and small tinks from the silverware filled the air as he took off his coat and checked his watch, now reading 7:27. Almost an hour late. “Have you ordered yet?”
“Adam what took you so long? I have been sitting here for an hour.”
“I couldn’t leave work without updating patients’ files. I was late as it was since my class ran forty-five minutes after it was supposed to.”
“Same old thing then, huh?”
“I’m afraid so,” Adam said, noticing an above average irritability level. “Are you okay?”
She waited a few moments before responding. “No Adam. You seem to be too busy for anything other than school and work lately, not that it’s your fault. I understand what you are trying to do and how much strain it is putting on you. It’s been an issue for a long time now, and it isn’t going to stop any time soon, is it?
“No, it’s not. It isn’t going to slow down or get any easier any time soon,” he said solemnly. “It isn’t fair to you. I know that. I can’t blow off school or work, the only place I can pull time from is from home.”
“Maybe you should be focusing on those then, without distraction. You don’t have the time to be close to anyone right now. I am going to school too, remember? I also work a job. It may not be as demanding as yours, but I make sure to have time whenever you make your own.”
“Elizabeth…” he muttered. The cold tinks of the silverware and grumble of conversation quieted as he listened. They weren’t spending any time together and weren’t as close as they used to be. He had silently come to terms with this long ago. “You are right. I don’t want to drag you along. It’s been tense between us for a while now and I figured this was inevitable. If you aren’t happy where you are, I understand completely if you want to be somewhere else. It’s going to be hard if you do leave, but you do deserve to be happy.” Adam saw the tears trickling down her face. “Don’t think I don’t care about you Adam. We have been together since we graduated high school. Six years now right?”
“I know,” Adam said, feeling a throb in his own throat. “I hope you know I care about you too.”
They managed to leave the restaurant before they lost a hold on their emotions. On the way home they talked more than they had in the last few months. Adam told Elizabeth about new colleagues he had been hanging out around at the hospital and Elizabeth had updated Adam on the newest developments on her co-workers and their complicated and intricate relationships. Elizabeth packed her stuff that night while Adam had left to take a walk around their city. She left early the following morning.
“Adam, can you cover the patients on East Wing? No one is over there to check on them,” Dr. Freeman, the Resident Doctor of Adam’s group of interns asked.
Adam had just set down a large stack of files he needed to organize before he took his lunch. Normally, he would have asked if there was someone else to cover it, but since it was Dr. Freeman, he figured he could earn a few points and keep his paid internship safe with a little extra work. “Yeah, no problem. I’ll get right over to it.”
“I appreciate it Adam. You have been doing good work around here.”
“Thanks Doctor,” Adam replied, hiding the disappointment of his lost lunch from his face. The rounds took him around an hour to finish. It was around 1’oclock when he was finally able to take his half hour lunch.
Adam went through his email and responded to a few messages as he walked past the hospital’s parking lots and onto the crosswalk. He was headed to an Indian restaurant he frequented during his lunch hour. As he looked up as he was about to cross the street, a streak of long red hair caught his peripherals. He straightened his gaze toward the red and found himself staring at Emily.
She was dressed in short heels and a black office skirt paired with a white, tucked in blouse. She wore a black cardigan and a lanyard was roped across her neck. A small bag with what looked to be an SLR camera was hung from her left shoulder and her right hand was gripping a small notepad.
Emily didn’t notice Adam, who hadn’t moved from the sidewalk until she was halfway across the street. When she across the sidewalk she ran up to him and hugged him, making sure to not stab him with the long lens of the camera. “Adam!”
“Emily? Wow, it’s been such a long time. I thought you were out of town?”
“I was for a couple years. I was in New York. I finished my degree and went over there to do an internship. I just finished and decided to come back here a couple weeks ago.”
“I don’t even know what you do! Are you a hot shot photographer now or something?” he asked pointing to the large SLR camera.
“I’m actually a Journalist. I’m here covering an event at the hospital in the children’s wing.”
“A Journalist? When did you decide to go into that field?”
“Around halfway through college. I just sort of stumbled into the field and fell in love with it. So what are you doing? You seem to be pretty important yourself,” Emily said as she gave him a nudge across the chest, looking down to his button up shirt, tie, and slacks. “I never took you for a suit and tie kind of guy.”
Adam laughed. “I didn’t expect to be either. I am actually doing a paid internship here while I work on my Master’s Degree. My Undergraduate Degree was in Microbiology so it was a good fit. I am looking to eventually be a medical researcher and writer. I have to look the part.”
“Wow, pretty ambitious career choice you got there.”
“Yeah it eats my time pretty dramatically. It’ll be worth it in the end though I hope.”
“I’m sure it will be. It was for me. I went practically two years without having a weekend to myself. I loved all the experience I got from it though. This new job is almost as demanding.”
“Well hopefully you will have some more time to yourself now that you are back.” Adam lost track of what he was saying. “Are you free this weekend at any time? We should go have dinner.”
His stomach dropped as he realized what he had just suggested. He had almost started to rectify his mistake by suggesting lunch instead when she replied. “Sure, I actually have Friday night free. How about then?”
Adam pulled out his phone to look at his calendar: Friday night 5-10, Meeting with Dr. Freeman and other interns. “Sure, how about at six?”
“Sounds good to me. Here take my number so we can decide where at later on. I actually have to get going though. Make sure you call me and let me know where at!”
She scratched her number on a piece of the notepad, ripped it off, and handed it to Adam. “It was really good to see you!”
“You too,” he said as she ran off towards the hospital. He looked at his watch, 15 minutes left for his lunch. “Worth it,” he smiled to himself.
“Wake up Adam. You are going to be late.”
“How is it possible for anyone to wake up earlier than I do,” Adam mumbled as he wrapped a pillow around his head.”
“It’s 6:45, barely earlier than your usual time, plus I have been waking you up at this time for like a month now. Don’t you have to be at your school early?”
“Yeah, but they can wait the fifteen minutes…” An accelerated pillow found its way to Adam head.
“Wake up,” Emily said through squinted eyes, weaponized pillow at the ready.
“Last time we did this you lost.”
“Put the pillow down.”
“Then get up. Let’s have coffee before we have to leave.”
“You are leaving early too?”
“I have an early morning event to cover. News doesn’t sleep in.”
Adam propped himself up out of bed and out of the beam of sunlight that was managing to find his eye. “I have to find better curtains,” he thought to himself.
“French Vanilla or Hazelnut?” Emily asked as she sat on top of Adam. Adam grabbed her waist and threw her back into bed. He kept his arms around her so she couldn’t leave. He looked up to Emily’s hair, which was reflecting the sunlight that broke into Adam’s apartment. It wasn’t the obnoxious yellow he couldn’t stand, but a subtle red.
“French Vanilla,” he said as he got up to get dressed. It took him ten minutes to get to the kitchen.
“No World War 2 siren alarm today?”
“I turn it off when you stay over. Your pillows are alarming enough.”
She nudged him on the shoulder as she handed him his coffee. “What time will you be home today?”
“I should be done early today around five. Want to go out to dinner tonight?”
“I have an event to cover this evening at five. It’s sort of an upper class wine party. I have to go to make contacts.”
“So you will be there all night?”
“Probably. You should come with me to it. I could use a date.”
“I don’t know, it sounds like a stiff crowd.”
“You are a trying to be a medical researcher. This is right up your alley.”
Adam laughed at her sarcasm. “Sure, I’ll go. Where at?”
“I’ll text you the address. Finish your coffee so you aren’t late.”
Adam arrived to the address Emily had messaged him at 5:30.
“Hey there cutie,” Emily greeted him as they met up outside. “I’ve already been inside talking to some people.”
“Yeah, sorry about running late. I was stuck dealing with a stubborn patient. Are these people hard to talk to or…?”
“Compared to the other people who will be here you are early so don’t worry about it. Thank you for coming though.”
They walked inside to the party where the first thing that welcomed Adam was the sound of a string quartet. A gentleman took Adam’s coat and a few steps later a glass of wine was offered to the pair of them.
“Thank you,” Adam said as he took the large glass of wine.
“No thanks, I actually don’t drink.” Adam looked over to Emily. It was the first time they had brought up the topic and Emily smiled at Adam’s surprise. Nevertheless, Adam went on to sip his glass of wine throughout the night.
They only stayed for about an hour, long enough for Emily to meet everyone and introduce herself as a new reporter for the newspaper. Luckily, no one at the party was in the medical field, so he was saved from having to actually communicate with anyone for too long. Adam managed to finish his glass right on time and placed the empty glass down as they walked to Adam’s car.
“Did you drive?” Adam asked.
“I took a cab; I figured I could just go to your place again tonight.”
“Yeah, of course. Wait right here, I’ll pull the car up.”
Adam jumped in the car and drove to the sidewalk to pick up Emily.
“You sure you want to drive after the wine?”
“I don’t really feel anything. I should be fine.” Emily didn’t protest it any further.
“I’m happy you are back, Emily.” “I’m glad to be back.”
“You know, your apartment is kind of expensive. You could save money if you found a roommate.”
Emily looked over to him curiously. “Are you suggesting something?” she asked through squinting eyes.
“I think I could use a roommate too. Any ideas?”
“Are you asking me to move in?” Emily grinned.
“I’m saying you could if you wanted too, you don’t have to feel pressured-“
Emily took off her seatbelt, leaned over, and kissed him. “I’d love too.” Adam let out a sigh of relief and looked down to Emily. He hadn’t felt anywhere near this excited when Elizabeth had moved in.
“So you don’t drink anymore?” Adam asked.
“I haven’t since my first year of college.”
“What made you want to stop?”
“I just got focused on other things. There wasn’t really any time to drink with how busy I was keeping myself. I definitely don’t miss it though. When did you pick it up?”
“My last year of undergraduate studies. It’s only ever been wine and champagne.”
“Wine and champagne? Seventeen year old you would cringe!” Emily joked.
Adam smiled. “Seventeen year old me didn’t know the meaning of stress.” Adam looked at Emily who kept a subtle smile on her face. In the next moment, her smile turned to panic.
“Adam!” she screamed as she pointed out of the windshield.
He had let the car swerve into the opposite lane while looking at Emily. They were now staring a diesel head on, just yards away from each other. Adam slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve out of the way.
When Adam woke up the airbags were deployed and every window on the car except for the backside window was shattered. His head was bleeding and his chest throbbed. He looked to his right and Emily was not in her seat. He shoved his door open and ran in front of the car. Emily was lying on the ground to the left of the scene.
She had a large gash along her forehead and was lying on a blanket of shattered glass. Her arm was wrapped unnaturally behind her, motionless. The diesel driver had not suffered any injury and was already checking her neck for a pulse. The look he gave Adam could only mean there wasn’t one. The driver called 911 in a panic as Adam stood unable to move.
He looked down at Emily and watched the blood as it ran across the ground. It was a deep red. The sunset had just begun to go down. The light shadowed across the wreckage and across Emily. The blood, her red hair, and the sunset blended together as the tears started welling up in his eyes. He went down, wrapped his arms around her, screamed, and then cried.
He did not let go of Emily until a police officer pulled him away. He was forced to recall what had happened for the report, and was asked to blow into a breathalyzer. He was halfway to passing the legal driving limit.
A few weeks after the crash he decided to go visit the place him and Emily met. He took her small notepad with quotes and scribbles that were never used, and a picture of them as kids that she had put up in Adam’s apartment. When he finally made it up the hill he walked to the tree they had carved their names into. He put the picture and the notepad there at the bottom of the same tree and walked within a few feet of the edge of the cliff. He looked on as the red sunset cast its final light over the hillside.
Christian Shepherd is a student, writer and journalist working out of the Inland Empire. “The Red Sunset” is his first published fiction short story. He is currently working on a fiction novel that he hopes to see finished by the end of this year. At the completion of his degree, Christian wants to document the unique stories of the residents of the Inland Empire. He has been published in traditional and online newspaper outlets and online e-sports blogs.