My breathing was heavy, and I was sweating up a storm. It was hot and humid underneath the trees. I felt like bugs were living on my skin, sucking my blood right out of me. Trevor did not look like he was having nearly as much trouble as I was, and I trailed a good six feet behind him.
“Are you sure you know where you are going?” I asked.
He stopped and turned around. Somehow, even sweaty and tired, he still looked like he could be on the cover of GQ. “Yes, Jenna, I do.”
I caught up to him. “Well, are we almost there?” I didn’t mean to sound whiny, but this was taking a lot longer than Trevor had said.
“Of course, we are. Are you not enjoying this quality time together, just you and me?” He put his backpack against the trunk of a tree and took mine off for me. “You don’t like these beautiful trees and chirping birds and being so close to me,” he whispered, carefully massaging my aching shoulders.
“It’s gorgeous, Trev. I love it and I love you. But can we please dip into the snacks that you brought? Pleeeease?”
He laughed and kissed my temple. “Okay, just a little break. You won’t regret this, though, I promise.”
I believed him. He was always dragging me on adventures: hiking, biking, boating, you name it. Being such an introvert, I was always wary of it at first, but the views were more than worth it. He knew just how to bring me out of my shell and show me the wild and wonderful parts of life. I may have been tired now, but once we got to wherever we were going, I would be thanking Trevor for this trip for weeks. Maybe months. This place was supposed to be particularly special to him, though he would not tell me why.
As we ate our granola bars, Trevor named off various plants and birds to me. I was listening, of course, but I was also taking in all the sights and sounds and smells. A light breeze circled around the two of us, rustling the leaves. A critter was runnign around nearby, crunching leaves under its little feet. Sunlight poked through the tree branches and a sliver cast itself across Trevor’s face and neck. It hit his watch, too, and made it sparkle.
“Are you all set?” he asked, smiling his goofy smile at me.
“Very much so, my love,” I replied. The short break gave me a boost of energy and excitement–although, that could have been because the flavor of my granola bar was sea salt caramel and chocolate. A little sugar rush was much needed.
Trevor had been right about being close. It was only about twenty more minutes before we came to a clearing. Like magic, the trees stopped at an invisible line and the sun shined down on the grassy green clearing dotted with pastel purple flowers that fluttered in the wind. It was breathtaking. So tranquil and idyllic.
“There it is…” Trevor whispered.
At the other end of the clearing, closer to the trees on the other side than to us, was a large structure made of wood, stone, and red bricks turned gray and white from time and weathering. The windows were glassless and there were no doors. I could not see inside, but I could tell that there were probably more than six rooms, even big ones. In fact, you might be able to fit my whole apartment into just a fifth of the building. It was pretty magnificent for being out in the middle of nowhere. I forgot about the long hike and the bugs and the sweat. There was only this house.
“Trev, what is that?”
He could not stop smiling as he said, “That is my grandparents old vacation house. Come on!”
Like a little boy running towards the gates of Disneyland, my boyfriend rushed for the old house. To me, it looked beyond deserted. I could not imagine anyone having lived there in a hundred years. I followed him anyway–I always did.
“What happened here?” I asked him. He was standing in the doorway, almost afraid to go in.
He laid his hands on the wooden doorframe, as if trying to put life back into it. “A fire. When I was nine.”
It explained the accelerated age of the house, for sure, and why Trevor had been so intent on coming here. I knew a lot about him in the present, but his past had never failed to be a dodgy subject. I knew that he had a sister, two years older, and his parents were still happily married. He was born in Oregon, grew up in Wales, and had lived in Seattle sign the age of seventeen. He never opened up about the details, other than raving about the Welsh landscapes. He said one day he would take me there, but we, in his words, had to settle for rural Washington, sometimes Canada. This was the first time I had gotten to see him nostaglic about anything.
I touched his arm. “You okay?”
He stuttered for a moment but replied, “Yeah. I just haven’t been here since then.”
“You were here?” I exclaimed.
He nodded slowly, still only looking into the cold, empty interior. I could tell that he was looking into the past, not seeing the bare walls and floors, but seeing his younger self running from room to room, weaving between the furniture, maybe chasing his sister.
“Are you going to go in?”
“You know, it’s been so long, I don’t know if I can.”
I squeezed by him into the house. Trevor looked almost shocked, as if I had stepped into the past, into his memories. My footsteps echoed, boucing off the walls. If he wasn’t going to wander around, I was. I hoped it would bring him inside so he could face this fear so clearly resonating in him.
“Oh, Mr. Adventure can’t walk into his old stomping grounds? That just doesn’t seem right.” I slowly walked towards him, hoping he would meet me in the middle.
So I brushed the hair from his eyes, the eyes of a lost boy who just found his way home, and I kissed him. Nothing too special, but enough that when I took a step backwards, he came all the the way through the doorway. Probably the most effective way to lure him in, I’d say.
The change was instantaneous. Suddenly there was a warmth within the walls. It did not feel so lonely anymore. He could tell, too. He began telling me where all the old furniture went, the exact placement of the coffee table to the couch, how close the rug came to the walls, how he could peer his head through one doorway and see his mother in the kitchen, baking with his grandmother.
“Oh, it smelled like Christmas! Nonna made the most wonderful gingerbread cookies. It was summer, but she would always make sure we had a little something sweet to sneak to our rooms after going to bed. She used to stand at the counter, mixing everything, not adding in the cinnamon until almost the end–that was her secret–and singing an old Nordic lullaby,” Trevor explained excitedly. He closed his eyes and hummed the tune, mumbling the foreign words to himself. I could almost hear music along with it.
He rambled on about the fire, how it came out of nowhere–“Maybe old wiring, I don’t know”–and how everything was lost. It took too long for anyone to get here to save it. The downside of such a scenic location. His grandmosther had been stuck in the basement at the time, and his grandfather died trying to save her. Neither of them made it. “We couldn’t do anything more than watch it burn.”
“It’s why you came back to Washington, isn’t it? After all that time?” I wondered.
He nodded. “I just hadn’t have the courage to come back until now. Until you.”
“Me?” I was confused. He was the wild one. Any night spend outside of my apartment–off my couch even–was a social win.
“Yes. You remind me of what it was like to be here. To have love, to be loved. To be home. Being with you brings me back to the happiness I felt here.”
It was, by far, the best compliment anyone had ever given me, and I was unbelievably grateful he was sharing this piece of himself with me.
And just like that, I could see it all, too, like Trevor’s memories had come alive. I didn’t need pictures to see what it all was like, his words were enough to paint the scenes for me. I was seeing him as a child, racing around and licking the spoon of gingerbread batter, like they were my own memories.
“Thank you for bringing me here, for letting me see this part of you,” I told him.
Trevor smiled, his eyes bright in the darkened room. “Thank you for bringing me home.”