This is part one of our new series called “Inspired By Sound,” where writers select a song to use as a muse for their story. This piece by Jamie Hwang takes influence from “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver.
Liam is kicking his right foot into the steps of my front porch when I walk out. The sky is a mix of pink, orange and purple as the sun sets behind the trees. I take a moment to absorb the colors when Liam interrupts my thoughts.
“C’mon, Let’s go! You only have two hours until you have to be back,” he reminds me.
“OK, OK. Let’s go,” I respond, walking a bit faster toward him. “So are you still not telling me where we are going?”
He gives me the look. The here-we-go-again eyes with a grin. “It’s supposed to be a surprise. But it’s really not a big deal, so I can just tell you if you want.”
I smile. “Yeah, so tell me! How do I know to trust you, to keep me safe?” I say playfully.
He gives me the look again. “No, I’m actually just going to leave you in the middle of nowhere and never come back to get you.”
“Will you at least leave me somewhere near a street so I can hitchhike?” I ask. I notice that my laugh is a little louder than usual.
“You’re crazy,” he says shaking his head. “We are going to the abandoned football field I was telling you about. We just gotta walk a little past my house.”
“OK. You lead the way.”
We cross the road back toward Liam’s house, passing three identical wooden houses before we take a right turn onto a road that is unfamiliar to me.
White houses line each side of the street, some big and some small. Somewhere dogs are barking, and behind me, I hear cars rushing past us. At the end of the block, we take a left onto a new road with a small church at the end, barely visible under the dim sunset.
“Look at that house. It’s the Smith’s house. Of course. It’s freaking huge,” he murmurs on the way, vaguely pointing to one of the houses. I don’t say anything. Now we are nearing the church, and I notice a spiral stone maze on the lawn next to it. I try to follow the stones with my eyes when Liam says, “We gotta go over there.” He points at the line of tall bushy trees leading behind the church.
“Where?” I ask, confused. He doesn’t respond and continues to walk in the direction he pointed to. I follow him. I notice the unmowed grass poking at my Vans, but I keep walking.
I can no longer see anything in the darkness. I follow what I assume to be Liam’s shadow in front of me, until he stops at one of the trees. I see a narrow, branchy path next to it, leading away from the church to another place. There are too many leaves covering the view.
We turn onto the path, pushing some branches out of our way as we go deeper into the darkness. I can’t see anything, but I don’t say anything either. Holding my breath to hide my anxiety, I step on a moving ball of mush, and it feels like something just died underneath my foot. I yelp and freeze in my spot.
“Oh my god what was that? There is something under my foot,” I squeak.
“It’s probably just a branch. Don’t worry,” he says calmly.
We walk a couple more steps before he turns right, heading into more bushy trees. Focused on stepping over everything under my feet, I don’t notice him grabbing my hand gently before leading me inside what seems like a forest. I look at our intertwined fingers for a second and try to process it. But my head isn’t working as it should. But I don’t let go.
We continue into the woods for a couple more minutes until we are on a field.
“See over there, by the car? That’s where we’re going,” he says, bringing my attention back to what’s ahead of me. Street lamps light up the field that stretches out for miles of green grass. Trees guard the edges, towering over the field, but pointing to the vast night sky. I’m still lost in everything around me when we are close to the car. There are two picnic tables on one side.
“Can we go sit at the table?” I ask him. “Yeah, sure,” he says. When we sit down, I take out my pack of Camels – I have five cigarettes left. I light one up and hand it over to him. Then I light another one for myself. We smoke in silence for a while, enjoying the tranquility.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks me, studying my face through the smoke he blows out.
“How I should stop smoking these,” I respond, looking down at the cigarette in between my fingers.
“Yeah. It’s a nasty habit. But sometimes you just can’t help it, you know? Gotta do what you gotta do, I guess,” he says.
“True, true.” I say. “Do you want to know something I’ve never told anyone before?”
“Sure,” he responds. Now he looks at me intently.
“My cousin who’s in a coma, you know? I just found out he went to jail years ago. Because his friend framed him or something. I had no idea. No one told me until yesterday,” I say.
“Damn,” he says. “That’s terrible, I’m sorry.” I don’t say anything, but I nod. There is an awkward silence for a moment. “My dad is actually in jail. He has been since I was five,” he continues. At this I look up at him, not knowing how to respond. He never talks about his dad, and I never ask.
“I actually don’t really tell people this either. Obviously it’s not something to brag about,” he lets out a short, but sad, laugh.
I’m not sure what to say. I just flash a smile at him. I didn’t expect him to tell me this, and I don’t know how to react.
“Did you bring sheets?” he asks, changing the subject.
“Yeah. I still can’t believe you thought of coming to a field.” This time he laughs.
“OK, let’s put them down.” He says as he grabs the grey sheets and throws them onto the grass. They somehow automatically flatten onto the grass field, and I just watch.
“I can never tell what you’re thinking,” he says. “Come sit with me.” He pats the empty space next to him.
I cover our legs with the blanket I brought. There is another silence floating around us, and I lie down to look up at the sky. He follows, and now only our heads are on the sheets with our backs touching the grass. A few stars flicker slightly.
“Sometimes I look up and think about how insignificant we are. Like we are just one little speck among billions of other specks in this world,” he says slowly. He has his serious tone on, so I try not to giggle at this deep statement.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I say. “I didn’t realize you can see so many stars out here.”
“Yeah, you can even see the Big Dipper,” he says.
“The Big Dipper? I don’t know anything about constellations.”
“What?” At this, he turns his head towards mine, his face filled with shock. “Wow. OK, let me teach you,” he says. He points to the sky and starts showing me the Big Dipper. I don’t really make out the constellation at first, but after I concentrate, I finally connect the dots in my head.
“Wait, I see it!” I exclaim, with more excitement than I expected to come out of me.
“See? Now you’re learning,” he says calmly.
“You know,” he talks into my hair since my face is beneath his, "I am actually allergic to grass.” “What?” I look up too quickly and almost bump into his chin. He moves his head out of the way right in time. “Wait, are you okay? Why didn’t you tell me earlier?! Why are we here?!”
“Elena, calm down, I’m fine!” he says, laughing.
“This isn’t funny, Liam!” I screech. He is still laughing.
“I’m seriously fine,” he teases. “Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t have told you, but I wanted to see your reaction.” He continues laughing.
“Come on, get up, let’s go.” I pass him his shoes and fold the blanket and sheets. “This was fun, Liam.” I pat his shoulder as if to say good job. I don’t know what I’m doing.
“I know it was. I knew you’d have fun,” he responds. I smile.
We get up and make our way through the trees again and pass the church and the Smiths’ big house. He holds my hand until we get to the main road when we both let go immediately. There is no one on the road. I stop at the halfway point between my house and his.
“Here, you don’t have to walk me back. We’re right here anyways. I’ll text you?” I say.
“You sure? I don’t mind,” he responds.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Thanks for tonight,” I say, smiling at him.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you had a good time,” he says. He leans in to kiss me on my forehead.
“Good night, Liam.”