Poems in the sky, written by the sun and the winds. Strokes of a pen manifest as clouds of brilliant orange.
The words flow through the windows in my room and speak to me with their scattered luminescence. There's a message hidden within those stanzas, but I'm not listening, not anymore.
I attempt to wipe the fatigue from my eyes, but it's not like the tears I shed in years past. It sticks with me, shadows me. It's part of me now, one of the few truths unveiled to me thus far.
I can't help but yawn as I stare at the ceiling, looking at nothing. The gilded light streaming across the walls once had a place within my heart, but that was long ago.
Why do I have to feel this way? Like a rabbit with a carrot dangled in front of its face.
The contentment I should possess is arrayed in front of me, glowing with wondrous expectation. Just out of reach, the gold starts to fade as the sun begins its ascent into the sky.
I'll be late if I don't get up now, I tell myself.
The walls of the bathroom display their age like a badge of honor. Chipped paint and dust are a staple of this old house, and they irritate me more than I can describe.
I draw my attention to the window, surveying endless fields of wheat. A tawny ocean that bows only to the authority of the winds of the Great Plains.
Its currents merge, glide across acres and acres, then pull apart in an endless cycle.
I'm getting sidetracked, I need to get ready.
As I brush my teeth, I look through the mirror at the boy standing across from me. Short blonde hair frames his face, while eyes of the bluest blue pass judgment.
His appearance is unremarkable, besides a deep farmer's tan that contrasts a narrow torso with weatherworn arms. He looks tired, exhausted even.
I spit into the sink, leaving the boy in the mirror behind as I exit the bathroom.
Slipping into a t-shirt and jeans, I grab my backpack and descend the stairs quietly, departing the farmhouse through the side door. My pace quickens as I walk along the road.
The sky above still parades traces of gold, mocking me.
On either side, swaths of grain ripple under the influence of the winds. When I was younger, I was convinced there was something in the fields causing all that movement.
A person, a creature, or something else entirely.
To my front, the small road cut into my family's land merges with one of the main thoroughfares leading to town. I check my phone, seeing I'm two minutes late.
Ahead, a solitary figure waits, silhouetted against the rising sun. It turns to me and waves.
"Hey Evan," I say as I approach.
"Howdy," he responds, casual as always. A positive quality of his.
Standing next to him I read his features. Curly brown hair sits tucked underneath a worn baseball cap with the logo of some obscure minor league team on the front.
Green eyes as entrancing as the forests of Appalachia watch me with glee. Evan smiles. White teeth bordered by a thick beard shine in the morning sun.
"You ready to hit the road?" I ask.
"Are you ready? You're the one who's late, as usual," Evan replies, his smile broadening.
"And despite that, you always wait for me," I remind him.
"Damn, I guess you're right. My apologies for putting up with you," Evan says as he starts walking. I hustle to catch up.
As we trot along the side of the road the wind caresses the earth, gently dancing with both the great wheat stalks and the tiniest blades of grass.
The sun reaches out from between the clouds, painting huge expanses in light and dark. Evan and I are deep in conversation; a normal feature of our morning walks.
The discussion turns from school papers to town politics and finally to senior prom. I inform Evan that I'll be staying home.
With no one to go with, and no desire to be a wallflower, it's the sensible choice.
At least, that's what I keep telling myself. But from somewhere deep within my heart comes a nagging feeling I can't shake. I table it for now and return to our conversation.
"What about you?" I ask Evan. "Are you going to take Catherine? You know she wants to go with you."
He's lost in thought for a second, staring at the ground as we walk.
"Nah," he responds. "That's just not for me."
"Why not?" I prod.
Evan looks up at me, the light of morning meeting his eyes.
"I guess I'm looking for something else. And don't ask me what it is, because..." He trails off and is quiet for a moment.
"Because I don't know yet. I'm sorry if that's hard to understand."
"I understand more than you could know," I say.
As we continue walking a rare silence lingers between us. The school lies ahead, situated at the edge of town. Evan begins to whistle to himself; a tune that teeters on the edge of my memory.
He glances fleetingly in my direction, then looks away.
We reach the spot where we typically say our goodbyes, the silence still hovering. Evan turns to face me.
"You know, I really appreciate these talks," he says warmly. "Highlight of my morning."
"Same here," I respond. "It's good to know I have someone I can talk to about anything."
A moment passes. Evan raises his gaze to meet my own. There's an unusual look in his eyes.
"Speaking of, can I ask you a question?"
"Shoot," I say.
"Do you... do you ever feel phony?"
Where did this come from?
"How do you mean?" I ask.
"Like there are two versions of yourself. One exists around other people and the other one, the real one, lives in your head."
"I've never really considered that before..."
...but I guess I do get that feeling sometimes," I answer.
"How do you cope with it?" Evan inquires.
"Honestly, I don't think I've got that figured out yet, sorry," I say.
"Don't worry about it, I haven't either," he assures me, a shallow smile playing across his face.
It seems like Evan wants to say something more, the words locked away behind his lips. He looks eager, but he doesn't let them escape.
With class fast approaching, we say goodbye and go our separate ways.
Hours later, the sun has long since embarked on its descent towards the earth. I stand on the sidewalk on the South side of Mainstreet, in front of the pharmacy.
Across me lies the town Post Office, the spaces between its faded planks like wrinkles on a timeworn face.
I frequently walk the town's streets after school. Better to process the day's events alone than return to my family.
Sunset is near. I exhale. So much to think about and so few answers to satisfy my questions. It feels as though things are coming to a head, but I can't explain why.
Maybe this is what everyone goes through at this stage of life. Maybe not.
My phone buzzes. It's a text from Evan.
"Hey, you got a minute to talk? I've got a table at Anise's if you're in town."
I look to the West. The sun is like a blazing crown atop the horizon. Golden light cascades down Mainstreet and drapes across every building, forceful in its presence yet gentle in its touch.
I raise my hand up, the light trickling through my fingers and hitting my face. I breathe it in.
It's been too long.
Anise's Diner is just around the corner. It's a favorite hangout spot for local youth, so I do what I can to avoid it. No choice this time though.
Evan must need to talk now, otherwise he would wait until our morning walk tomorrow.
I head South, and it's not long before I'm standing in front of the diner; a tall, thin building situated between the florist and the book shop.
Its lavender exterior is matched by wispy clouds above. Large windows surrounded by sapphire blue frames carry flower boxes with freshly planted geraniums, no doubt from next door.
Red and white blossoms appear flawless in the twilight.
Looking through one of the windows I can see Evan sitting near the back of the diner, alone in a booth with a cup of coffee. Appetizing smells and warm light wash over me as I walk inside.
A white and blue checkerboard counter lies to my left. The walls are bright white and filled with memorabilia.
Dollar bills with names written on them cover the space behind the coffee machines, while photos of strangers tell stories I'll likely never hear.
Not wanting to keep Evan waiting, I hurry along past an older couple sitting in the window booth and a middle-aged man perched on one of the chrome barstools. I greet Evan with a nod.
"Hey," he says. "Take a seat."
His manner of speech seems different. Almost... hesitant. Coming from someone who usually exudes confidence, Evan's tone is slightly worrying.
He takes a sip from his coffee and watches me as I sit down. Something in his eyes strikes me. That look, distinct and intense, is the same as from this morning.
"So, what's up?" I ask.
Evan exhales. I think I detect some shakiness in his breath, but I can't be sure. Our gazes meet again, and I find myself mystified.
Something is there, something intangible and commanding. Lurking behind those green irises, it pulls at me like it has its own gravity.
The feeling from within my heart has returned. Somehow, I know I can't run from it this time.
But do I want to keep running? That's a question I've never asked myself before. After all, what good has running done for me? All these years later, and it feels like I'm back where I started.
Maybe it's time I started listening, to the poems in the sky and to this feeling, whatever it is.
No, I know what it is. There's only one thing it can be.
I can't help but smile at Evan as he tries to find the right words. He seems puzzled at first, but then he smiles back at me.