“Life is bittersweet,” Adriana said as we walked home one afternoon. She paused to pick up a stick then rattled it along the wooden slats of the brightly painted fence. When I didn’t respond, she turned to me. Her eyes were bright and intense.
“Bittersweet?” I echoed.
She cocked her head, her hair falling loosely about her shoulders. I couldn’t help but wonder if it smelled as sweet as I imagined. It was rich and dark like the chocolate waterfall in Willy Wonka. Surely it smelled of cocoa.
“Yes, bittersweet. Do you know what I mean?”
I shook my head.
She turned then; walking along, stick in hand. The clack clack clack of the stick against the fence punctuated her impatience as I pondered over her words. She spoke again. “Well, you know what sweet is, right?”
“Of course.” I did my best to sound confident.
She stopped and gave me a sideways glance. “And bitter, you know what bitter is?”
I knew of the word. I had an idea of what it meant, but not what she meant.
“Like earwax. Earwax is bitter,” she stated when the silence between us had dragged on just long enough.
“Ew! Who would eat ear wax?”
“You, obviously,” she laughed, shaking her head. “How else would you know how bad it tastes?”
She’d caught me, but I wasn’t about to admit it. “That’s just gross.” I stuck my tongue out, hoping for a reaction.
All I got was a twitch at the corner of her lips. She turned away, and I knew I was losing her.
“But I know what you mean.” I blurted. “Bitter is like the white part of an orange.”
She nodded and handed me the stick. I took it, baffled.
“An orange is a perfect example. The pith is bitter, but the orange is sweet.” She pulled a band from her pocket and tied her hair up, revealing the freckled skin of her neck and shoulders. Her skin was like vanilla bean ice cream, porcelain white with a scattering of flakes. ”Life, though, is bitter first. Sweet second. It’s sad, really...”
“What’s sad?” I asked, distracted by the flash of pale skin. She was too much, too intense.
‘That girl is trouble,’ I’d heard the teachers say. Yet, I was drawn to her, drinking in every word, greedily for every morsel of time I could spend in her presence. From the first moment she’d stepped into our class that summer, I couldn’t get enough. The way she spoke, the things she said, the world she let me glimpse through that slightly husky voice of hers.
“Life,” she said. “Life is sad.” She took the stick from me, studying it.
I knew she was reaching out, that she wanted, needed something, and hoped I could give it. I was doomed to disappoint. “I don’t understand."
She broke the branch in half with a resounding crack, and I jumped despite myself. “When you’re born, you come into the world alone, blind, and helpless. The first thing we know of the world is fear.”
She was just a girl, like me. Where did she get this stuff? The most I worried about was just how mad my mom would be at me for taking so long to come home after class.
“Everything in life is just like that,” she said, pausing for emphasis between the last three words. “You study for weeks, days, or hours for a test. And what do you get? One crummy grade. You wait for Christmas, ticking off each day, the anticipation growing, and finally, you sit in a room strewn with wrapping paper, and it’s all over. Gone.”
I shook my head, my throat tightening. I wanted to cry, to protest, to tell her how wrong she was. Part of me knew she wasn't. There was a terrifying truth in what had she said.
“But, what about the presents? Christmas, you get presents, that makes it all worth it.” I finally managed.
“The presents make it all worth it,” she echoed, staring off down the road. She turned and gave me a sad smile. “You’re right Tobi. On Christmas you get presents.”
She walked away then, the jagged end of the broken stick scraping against the fence, leaving a long, scored mark in the paint. I bit my lip. I wanted to tell her to stop. Mr. Henderson had painted the fence just last week.
“I’ve got to go home,” I called out.
Adrianna only raised her hand, a dismissive wave goodbye.
Summer ended, and when school started again, she was gone. I suppose she moved to another school. I thought often on what she'd said, why it had nearly provoked me to tears.
Like Mr. Henderson's fence, she’d left me slightly damaged. Though I'll never know what she was really trying to tell me, what she really wanted to say, she was right. Life is bittersweet, like the memory of a girl, all those summer ago.
* * *
A little bittersweet story about a first crush for my readers on this Valentine's Day.
Thank you so much for reading this collection. I had hoped to save this piece for publication, but also really wanted to put something up this Valentine's Day, and had often considered putting this piece in this collection. So today, I decided to just go through with it.
I haven't submitted a piece to any publications in months. What's the harm in sharing this with my readers here at Wattpad?
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bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...