When he first kissed me, he said I was mature for my age.
"Like, damn babe, I couldn’t even tell you were only sixteen. You have an old soul."
He was twenty-eight. I’d pulled him from an accident near Winter’s Peak. He’d rammed his BMW into an old Willow. He’d been drunk driving. I’d pulled over, Nirvana blasting out my window. He said I was an angel. Said he was in love with me, then he kissed me.
How could I love anyone but him then? He said he loved my music, my hair. He said I wasn’t like other girls. He said I understood him like nobody else. He said he understood me like no one else could or would. He was my first. I was young enough to think he’d be my only love. Perhaps that’s why he made me his target.
“I would have never guessed you’re a year older than me. We feel so alike. We’d have to have been born the same day.”
I laughed. “My ex said I was ‘mature for my age’. Here you are thinking I’m but a child.”
You grinned. “You are mature. For an eighteen-year-old. Certainly more mature than me.”
“Like that’s very hard.”
We laughed, laughed so very hard atop Winter’s Peak. It was mid-December. We could see the whole city from where we stood. Lovers came to hold each other in the soft snowfall, feel at peace in the embrace of the friendly cold. But how could I let anyone hold me after all that had happened?
“I don’t feel mature,” I said. “I was easily taken advantage of; like a toddler.”
You rubbed your neck, then kissed my forehead gently, like I was delicate porcelain and cold to the touch. Like I would freeze your lips if you put too much pressure.
“Even mature people can get cheated,” you said. “Just look at grandmas.”
“I think grandmas are more wise than mature.”
“Just goes to show that, regardless of any wiseness or maturity, creeps can get anyone, don’t matter who you are.”
To you, I was a goddess, an idol to be revered. You were like me, used and desperate to be loved again. Your father left and your mother said it was your fault, then she disappeared. Any flaws, any lingering sadness in me, you noticed but ignored. You were just a boy, hardly younger by a year, but that felt like a decade in difference. You held my hand as if I were an Angel who could slip back to heaven at any moment. As if I were an imaginary friend you just realized wasn’t real.
He made me drink. He made me smoke. He made me skip class. He told me most girls my age couldn’t handle a relationship with an older man, with him. He said most girls were plastic and fake, all glitter and pink and sparkles with nothing of substance. I hid from him my boyband cassette tapes, my Disney movie CDs, and my Taylor Swift poster. When he said my friends were stupid and childish, I stopped hanging out with them, which at the time I thought was probably for the best because they were starting to grow angry at me for never hanging out with them and never saying why.
I didn’t tell a lot of people about us.
He said my Mom wouldn’t understand our relationship, so I never told her about us. He said my spinster teachers would grow jealous of what we had, so I shouldn’t even hint at it. He said my father would get overprotective of me if he learned about us, because that’s what fathers do so obviously I couldn’t tell him either. Everybody was against us, against our deep, pure true love.
"One day you’ll be eighteen, and those bastards at the top won’t be able to stop our love from blooming."
He said that we’d run away to Idaho and live off the grid, which meant I couldn’t go to college to become a professor like I wanted, but that was fine with him, because what I really wanted deep down was to be a housewife. Because he claimed to know me better than I knew myself. Because I was mature enough to date him but not mature enough to know what I truly wanted out of life.
You never drank. You never smoked. If the whole planet could have seen our love, you’d make sure they did.
“Do you still want to be a professor when you grow up?” you asked as we stared into the cityscape, waiting for the snow to fall. I shrugged my shoulders and inches closer to you.
“I don’t know what or who I am anymore,” I explained. “Everything that I was is filtered through what he said I was.”
“I think you’re beautiful,” he said.
I rolled my eyes and chuckles. “Thanks, but that doesn’t solve an identity crisis.”
“You’ll figure it out,” you said. “Whoever you are—whatever you want to become—I’ll help you get there. Or your friends. Or your mom. Or dad,” you smiled goofily. “Your parents are great by the way. I thought your dad would kill me when I first met him because no way was I good enough for you, but he called me ‘son’ on our first date!”
I giggled, giggled like I hadn’t in a long time, like a girly girl who loved One Direction and Disney movies and Taylor Swift as much as she loved Kiss and Nirvana. I giggled like a glitter-obsessed fake, a mannequin who just became real to learn just how wonderful being alive was.
Then, in late December on Winter’s Peak, he took something precious from me.
We were in his new Cadillac. I’d been in a fight with my mom, and she hit me. I’d run out of the house, and you were there waiting. In the car, I’d covered the welt with eye shadow, and I looked like a vampire from a gothic horror novel. I cried, because I thought I looked ugly, and he patted my head and said I looked devilish.
"You look cute when you’re shaken. You’re fun to mess with."
We sat in the car for a moment. He told me he’d been in a fight with his dad. That he cut him. That he beat him. That he had to run off in his car to escape him like he was a slasher in a horror film. I asked him how much it hurt. He said it made my welt look like an ant bite.
I asked him what would make him feel better. He kissed me and didn’t let go. I pushed back, and he groaned.
"C’mon babe. I thought you were mature for your age."
But I was scared. He knew that I was scared. He pressed on, saying it would make us both feel better. I begged him to be gentle. He grinned.
"I don’t do gentle."
His window had been rolled open. It snowed a bit inside his car. It was there, as snowflakes mixed with my tears, that I realized he didn’t truly love me back.
“Wowie! Look how it snows! It’s beautiful! Almost as beautiful as you!”
I giggled. “You’re such a charmer. It’s why I love you.”
“You say you love me back. I don’t know how. A girl like you could have any guy.”
I kissed your cheek and took your hand in mine.
“I feel the same way,” I said. “You’ll never believe me when I say I love you. I’ll never believe you either.”
You smiled sadly. “I mean it when I say it. I know you do too. But I’ll never fully believe it.”
I nodded, because I knew I wouldn’t either. We looked out into the city, glowing like a chandelier. You should have been my first. My only. But you weren’t. And now another name swivels around my mind and you blend with him despite being his opposite. I love you, but I was blind and heard your voice in his.
You grabbed my hand just as the last flakes of snow fell, like shooting stars converging at the edge of a galaxy’s spiral. A stray tear ran cold down my face. You wiped it off gently your finger.
“Y’know, I don’t want you to feel sad or scared when you’re with me,” you said.
“I don’t want you to feel that way either,” I said.
“I don’t,” you smiled. “I always feel scared that you’ll leave, like my father and mother, but I’m never scared that you’ll hurt me.”
“How can you not feel scared of getting hurt?” I asked.
“Well, I was never hurt like you were, so I don’t know what to be scared of.”
I bit my lip and you wrapped an arm around me. You were covered head to toe in wool, in fuzzy sweaters and stallings and hats you knit yourself. You were like a laundromat in the North Pole, fuzzy and warm, a beacon of heat and comfort in the sharp chill.
“O-One day, one day I hope—” I stumbled, but your attention was locked onto whatever I would say next. I pressed my head to your chest. “One day, I hope you’ll see how much I truly love you. And that I’ll believe you when you say you love me too. One day, I hope we’ll heal.”
I think you stared crying but I couldn’t tell. You held me tighter against you. “One day, I hope we heal too.”
We stood at the edge of the peak. The snow had stopped falling. It was clumped all around us, a blanket of pure white, a plain canvas where we were the only two painted figures. I couldn’t hear his voice in my head. There was still a long way to go before it was washed out completely, but then, just then in that one moment, I felt happy. I felt loved.
I felt safe.