“One more step, just one more step and it’s all over,” he says, breathing deeply. His feet are toeing the edge of the 18th floor balcony. His fears of the unknown had held him in this world for so long, but the certainty of yet another tomorrow brings a cold sweat to his brow and desperation to his mind. He leans forward, holding onto the railing, his last grasp on life — all in that railing. His eyes close to the song his heart composes of random beats.
Colors flash behind his closed eyes and laughter fills his brain, bringing a strange calm with it.
I take a deep breath of air that had no place in a polluted city. My eyes pop open in confusion. I am no longer standing on the balcony to my run down one bedroom apartment. Instead of a concrete jungle I am surrounded by lush greenery. It looks to be a park in the suburbs. Out of my curiosity I start to walk around the park when I come across a playground with two small children playing.
“Hehehe, ahh Johnny! Stop it!” someone giggles in the distance. I turn my head towards the sound.
“No, Never! You stole my dino.” I say to a little girl with bright red pigtails.
“Annie?” I question, but she is no longer that little girl. Annie is now Anne, and Anne hasn’t been around lately. I think this must be some other girl who just resembles her.
“Well, you got mud on my new dress!” the little girl counters to him. The little boy refuses to back down as he begins to deploy an arsenal of guilt inducing statements to the little girl. She however, has quite a bit of ammunition hidden up the sleeves of her mud covered dress and begins to match the boy wit for wit.
While watching the children bicker I can’t help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. The children are so much like me and Anne as children, always squabbling and trying to get back at each other. I feel a cold chill run down my spine. The feeling overwhelming me could only be described as the hibbie-jibbies.
“I’m done Annie! We are no longer friends!” the little boy screamed in rage as he looked back at the girl and then continued on.
“Oh Johnny! I’m sorry! Please don’t do that!” The little girl pleaded chasing him his earlier transgressions forgotten.
“Here! Here’s your dino! Please take it. I am sorry!” she said thrusting the plush dinosaur towards him.
I stand frozen in place like a ghost had just appeared in front of me, and I guess I had just a seen ghost. I had seen a ghost from my past. As the little boy had turned, I see a scar marking the boy’s right cheek. I knew it was from a mishap with a glass coffee table and a toddler’s first steps. I knew all of this because as I touched my right cheek I could still feel the smooth uneven skin of my own.
That was when I finally realized that Annie was indeed Anne and Johnny was me.
During this epiphany of John’s the children continued.
“Johnny can we still be friends?” Annie sniffled on the brink of tears her voice shaking. Johnny was clutching the dinosaur to his chest protectively and turned his head away from her. His eyes gleamed with the knowledge that he had the upper hand. You could practically see the evil gears turning in his little head. Johnny turned to respond, but as he saw the single tear that had escaped from Annie’s big blue eyes, he softened.
“Um, uh, I guess so,” came his reply. He was shaky and unsure of why he had been affected so much by a single tear. However his weak response didn’t seem to bother Annie, for she had already launched herself at him before all of the syllables were out.
“Oh Johnny! Yay! I’m so glad you aren’t mad at me! I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t my friend.” Annie rambles on as she sits on Johnny’s lap and she completely forgets her tears. Annie is in her own world as she continues to ramble, and she is oblivious to the blushing, happy, and smiling boy that doubles as her makeshift chair. Johnny is unaware of his jovial state simply glad to see Annie smiling.
I am flabbergasted that I used to look at her that way even when we were so young and innocent. I smile and turn away from the freshly reconciled children. I remember how much I used to love that dinosaur. The only other person who I allowed to touch it was my Mom, and that was only because she had gifted me with it when I had broken my leg climbing a tree in our front yard. I walk down a couple squares of sidewalk when the air starts to shimmer. The blue sky of midday changes to fluorescent lighting as the park becomes a school hallway.
John stood bewildered in the hall of his old junior high.
As I stand in front of a corkboard sporting brightly colored flyers condoning cheesy phrases and club announcements I take in my surroundings. The hall smells of sweaty gym socks and strawberry shampoo. The girls tote floral bags, stuffed “A” cup bras, and poorly applied eyeliner. The boys sport bad haircuts, striped polo shirts and nearly identical Nike trainers. As I take in this generic display of awkward adolescence, the large swarms of tardy children rushing and ducking trying to get to class I notice something or rather someone. Among the chaos I can see two preteens walking together and laughing as they tell kids to hurry to class. They proudly wear a yellow sticker on their IDs that make them exempt from this warning. They both are adorned in various band merchandise, with skinny jeans and broken-in Converse.
Annie’s hair is layered and most of the teachers presume that she had cut it herself. Johnny’s hair is grown out far longer than what most see as socially acceptable. I can still remember my Mom’s distaste and blatant hatred of that haircut. I now can understand why.
“Oh my goodness! Did you see their faces?” Annie full-heartedly laughs, throwing her head back as she pushes back her fringed bangs.
“Yeah, but I still can’t believe they trusted us to be hall monitors together.” Johnny chuckles, as he tries to maintain an aloof yet slightly interested composure about himself.
I laugh as my younger self attempts to appear “cool.”
“Oh, I never did learn, did I?” I sadly smile to myself. Annie looks up at Johnny with a look of complete admiration, while Johnny is completely unaware. The two pre-teens, are the perfect Hallmark picture of young love pushed together without realizing how they look at each other disappear around the corner.
The school hallway then dissipates and transforms into another setting. I feel a slight difference in the aura of this memory. I can feel anxiety and excitement wafting off my younger self, who I can identify as about fourteen or fifteen. It was the year that girls became a thing to me.
Johnny stands wide-eyed and pacing in front of the mirror. His hands are nervously adjusting at the lapels of a tux his mother picked out. Johnny thinks it makes him resemble a stuck-up penguin.
“Hahaha!” Johnny laughed as he imagined a bunch of penguins walking along the edge of an icecap with their beaks turned up towards the sky.
“Johnny, we’ve got ten more minutes or else you’re going to be late picking her up!” Johnny’s dad called. Johnny was quick to snap out of his silly thoughts at his dad’s announcement.
“I’ll be right down!” Johnny calls quickly checking his styled gelled hair, bowtie, and suit. In his nervous haste he rushed out of the bedroom, nearly forgetting something of great importance.
“Oops. I can’t forget that,” Johnny said grabbing a corsage from his dresser. He was slightly out of breath from taking the stairs two at a time both ways. Johnny was determined not to be late.
I followed behind as Johnny left the house, caught a ride in Dad’s old rust bucket honda and pulled up in front of a house that I couldn’t quite place. Johnny got out of Dad’s car, and as we step onto the pavement I notice Johnny’s nerves have returned. His breath is deep and steady as he walks up the drive. Dad was sitting in the car smiling knowingly ear-to-ear. The enjoyment he is taking from his son’s discomfort is quite prominent.
Johnny reaches the cherry red door and freezes mid-air only centimeters from his goal. He looks down at the corsage in his hand, then up to the sky. He takes a deep breath and only then does he gather the courage to knock. The door opens after only two knocks because Mrs. Evans couldn’t contain herself any longer.
Mrs. Evans’ romantic mind goes into overdrive as she witnesses the antics of Johnny’s nerves. She struggles to contain her excitement from seizing open the door, before he has completely collected himself.
“Oh there you are Johnny. My, haven’t you grown, I swear you get taller by the minute don’tcha?” Mrs. Evans fawns over Johnny. Johnny gives her a small awkward smile, helpless against her motherly tone.
“Uh, sure. I guess,” Johnny said uncomfortably and slightly unsure. Johnny takes comfort in the normalcy of her banter and soon his nerves seem to fade. That is until Johnny hears a light clearing of someone’s throat. At this sound Johnny stands, and looks to the top of the stairs and he freezes.
Johnny’s hands fall to his side, the left one still holding the corsage, his jaw is slightly slack, and his eyes wide. The amazement is evident on Johnny’s face and a shy excitement on the face of the angelic beauty descending the stairs. She does so one by one, toe to heel and lightly dragging her hand along the banister. The same banister that I recall sliding down as a child.
A subtle “wow” is heard from Johnny. He is mesmerized, her fiery red hair is pulled back into some intricate updo that he is certain her mother had insisted she do. There are a few curly tendrils that loosely hang down to frame her face. She is wearing an emerald green dress that falls loosely around her knees and is modestly cut. That is one thing that Johnny liked about her, she wasn’t like other girls who thought that the more skin showing the prettier. Of course she didn’t dress like a nun either, but she was fully clothed. When Johnny finally gets the courage to look at her face, he is surprised. He had never seen her wear more than a little bit of eyeliner before, but today is the exception. Her gorgeous blue eyes are lined, the lashes adorning them longer (but not fake), the lids that cover them lightly dusted in gold, her cheeks are rosy, her lips glossed in light pink and her skin seems to glow.
Taking a step back he can barely believe his eyes. This angelic creature is his Annie, but she seems so different. She looks so feminine and beautiful. Of course Annie has always been beautiful to him, but tonight her beauty was like an optical illusion. It had always been there but something had to shift before he could see it clearly, and when it did it’s suddenly obvious.
“Hey,” Annie breathes with a small smile as she stands in front of Johnny.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, hi,” Johnny manages as he jumps out of his trance, obviously frazzled. Mrs. Evans giggles like a demented chipmunk at seeing this. Annie simply chuckles and her smile grows at this.
I can’t help my smile remembering my awe, befuddlement, and nerves from that night.
“Oh uh…yeah, this is for you.” Johnny says remembering the corsage in his left hand and nervously laughs at himself. Annie takes it from him smiling.
“It’s beautiful! Um…would you mind?” Annie asks cueing him to help her with putting it on her wrist. As he does so, he looks her in the eyes and then there is a bright flash.
“Oops. Sorry to ruin the moment, but pictures!” Mrs. Evans announces holding up an ancient Polaroid camera, not looking the least bit guilty. With that the tension and the spell break. Mrs. Evans, being true to her word takes nearly a thousand pictures of the smiling couple, before they escape to the high school dance.
My smile beams wholeheartedly as I watch their escape.
They sit in the backyard of the Evans’ residence. Annie has a mischievous smile on her face and a box behind her back. Johnny is smiling stupidly with a gift bag hidden behind his back.
“On the count of 3! 1…2…3!” Johnny says. “Happy One Year Anniversary!” They exclaimed in unison. They then take the objects from behind their backs and hand them to the other. As Annie throws mountain after mountain of tissue paper out of the bag, Johnny easily opens the box.
“Wow!” he exclaims causing Annie to stop her progress and look up.
“Annie― this is amazing!” Johnny says in awe as he holds the necklace between his fingers.
“It’s not that much. Just promise me you won’t ever take it off,” Annie pleads with her tone tensed seriously.
“I won’t!” responds an equally serious and reassuring Johnny.
At this I reach up and grasp at the hard metal that has never left my neck since that day. My composure betrays me as two tears manage to escape my right eye.
Annie helps Johnny secure the chain with a satisfied smile and returns to her own present!
“Really…? Johnny are you sure?” Annie asks looking down into the bag.
“Yep, plus, he needs a better home. It would be pretty silly if a sixteen-year-old boy kept him.” Johnny says trying to play it off.
“But, he has always been yours; you don’t trust him to anyone,” Annie states.
“Well I trust you.” Johnny says matter-of-factly. Annie grins then finally reaches into the bag and retrieves the plush dinosaur. She holds him to her chest much like Johnny did as a child.
Now there is no way I can hold myself together seeing this tears begin to seep down my cheeks again, but this time my lips are held in a melancholic smile through the tears. My vision becomes blurred from the waterfall spewing from my eyes. When they finally clear, I am in a dank lonely room the floorboards creak in awkward places and the only source of light is from a dust covered window.
Johnny sits in the window seat of the attic. There are dark rings under his eyes; he appears a little skinnier and looks unkempt as he stares out the window. Johnny looks to be now seventeen and he looks worn out.
“Johnny come on, please open up. Or at least say something. Please? I don’t want to leave like this. Please just acknowledge my presence before I’m no longer here.” Annie pleads. Johnny says nothing because though she is present, he is not. Annie begins to cry and then she walks away. Johnny still does nothing.
“What are you doing?! Get up! Follow her! Can’t you see that you’re wasting away without her?! If you don’t go now, you’re just going to go through life for the next six years miserable and depressed and then you’re going to go numb like me!!” I find myself screaming at the younger me, but the teenage phantom in the window can’t hear me. He is barely human now.
Johnny continues to watch as a crying Annie walks out of his life clutching a plush dinosaur.
That was the moment when I realized three things; one, I was standing on the edge of the 18th floor balcony on the cusp of life and death, two, I was no longer numb and I could once again feel happiness, longing and anger. And three, the final and most important, was that I needed to find Annie.
John opened his eyes: a mixture of tears and rain dripped from them, falling together to the street below. His hands were still gripping the railing so tight his knuckles protruded out making them a milky white.Yet the cold metal bar no longer was his only hold on life. Now he had a whole world to hold on to and it revolved around a woman who goes by the name of Anne. With this thought, John climbed back over the railing and into his basic apartment. As he walked past the phone, trying to find a phone-book he heard the beep of a new voicemail.
“Hello John. Sweetheart. I know you’ve been under the weather lately, but an old family friend is flying in soon and they needed a place to stay. So…I uh, gave them your address and they will be there soon. So, uh…call me tomorrow. Bye.” The message ended abruptly. It was obvious that John’s mother was up to something though John’s mind was too preoccupied with its present task to care about her schemes.
Down on the street a redheaded girl exited her cab and exposed herself to the heavens that showered her in its tears. Still she held her anxious smile as she ran through the rain to the 18 story building that held an unsettling air around it. As her tiny figure made its way through the halls, she left hope everywhere dispelling the gloom from every corner. Soon she reached the 18th floor and reached the door at the very end of the hall. The lights flickered just like her confidence causing her lifted fist to stop centimeters from contact with the dirty olive colored door.
Her thoughts spun. Memories of a life she had left behind and her dreams of a future she thought she could never have pushed her forward. A light sound of knuckles tapping the dusty wood barely reached her own ears little less anyone else’s.
So in a final leap of faith she heaved a deep breath.
“You can do this Anne, just one strong knock!” she mutters to herself and Knocked.
Two phonebooks and half an hour later, there was a knock at the door. At first I could barely hear it, the first one was so very faint and almost unsure I thought someone had accidentally hit it with their groceries . When I hear it soon after I get up from my perch on the couch to let in this so called family friend my mother had sent. I finally reach the door after stumbling through the heaps of yearbooks, phone books, and pictures that now litter my living room floor. I turn the knob, opened the door, and freeze at what I see.
Standing there is the reason for my everything, my sorrows, the object of my affections and my only salvation personified. I can’t help but just stand there analyzing every miniscule detail of the petite redhead who stood shivering nervously in front of me. She peeps shyly through her lashes up at me.
“Oh…uh, Annie? I mean Anne. Sorry.” my words haphazardly stumble over and butcher . My shock at her presence is clearly evident.
“I, uh can go.” Anne says gesturing behind her. She took John’s stiff manner as rejection, but she hadn’t expected different. Anne took his mother’s offer on a whim, but something deep inside of her truly wanted to be there.
“If you want?” she questioned and her façade broke as she turned away, a plea in her voice just begging for him to want her.
“Wait! Anne don’t go. Just wait a minute!” I exclaimed. I without thinking reached up to the nape of my neck and unclasp the metal chain from its resting place. Annie paused in her escape, but she still has her back turned to me. With a sense of calm that felt foreign I stalk towards her the chain sliding and weaving through my fingers. When I arrive behind Anne I don’t reach for her and she doesn’t turn.
“This is yours. I’ve never taken it off just like I promised,” I say proudly, as I gently place the necklace around her slender neck and carefully clasp it. Anne then turns toward me slowly, her eyes wide and bewildered.
“You kept it, for all of these years?” Anne says stunned and a small tear forms in her eye.
“Of course, I did. You gave it to me.” I utter shocked that she hadn’t expected me to. Anne, breaks from our shared gaze and starts digging through her bag and hides something behind her back.
“I have something for you too.” She states simply. The object suddenly is no longer obscured. My eyes widen as I analyze the presented object. The soft green fuzz that is thin in some places, due to frequent cuddling over many years. Stiff felt runs in a line down its back in an imitation of scales.
“This is no longer just mine, Anne.” my eyes moving from the stuffed animal up to her beautiful blue eyes, I am pleading with her to understand my words fully. Slowly her lips part revealing the army of small pearls she sports in a large grin, which soon turns into a mischievous smirk.
“I have something else for you.” Anne says her face gleaming and giddiness in her voice. “But first, close your eyes.” I quickly shut my eyes tightly at her request just hoping that she would still be there when I opened them. Suddenly, I could feel she was directly in front of me; her toes the only thing left on the ground as she leaned into me. Our lips collided meeting quickly and lingering.
As John’s large green orbs catapulted open and closed again. His heart thundered as he jumped from the ledge of depression and fell 18 floors into the arms of his personal salvation.
“I Love you, Annie.” he murmured softly.