It was about four o’clock when Karen reached the top of the hill that separated our homes, the overcast sky a blurry grey image behind her. I was sitting down against the lone tree atop the hill, looking up at her as she entered my field of view and for that moment, from that angle, her picturesque form was all I could see. It was enough to make my baggy, half-lidded eyes forget their burden. The minimal light the sun provided us was less than optimal for a picnic, but I didn’t mind and, judging from the painfully wide grin on her face, neither did she. She joined me on my checkered picnic blanket, sitting opposite me, our eyes hardly deviating from each other’s as she did. Despite our excitement, we let the silence linger there for a time, marinating in the bliss of each other’s company and the smells emanating from the picnic basket that separated us. Eventually, I yawned, and the ice broke.
“Gosh you must be so tired!” Karen said sympathetically. “Thank you again for doing this.”
I smiled and shook my head. “It’s no problem at all! Like, literally, it isn’t a problem. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing.”
Karen was now rummaging through her half of the picnic basket, wherein she found a roast beef sandwich and some potato chips. “You must have a pretty boring imagination then,” she said, laughing once. Even when she talked and when she laughed, the smile never left her face and her voice. It gave me the chills, but the happy chills. More like the warms. “It has been kind of a long time since we’ve talked, hasn’t it?”
“Honestly, not really, but it certainly feels like it,” I said. There was nothing particularly funny about the sentence, but we both laughed anyways. Not a strong laugh, just a week chuckle at best; a sort of acknowledgment of the truth of that statement.
Karen took a bite from her sandwich. “Well, we’re almost done with the renovations,” she said, her mouth still full of food. “Then we've got to help our friend move and I should be free more often. Within a few days, I hope. No more than a week.”
I nodded, thinking about what an awfully long time another week sounded like as I began searching through my side of the picnic basket. Within I found my surprisingly warm and good-smelling egg and sausage sandwich, and started eating immediately. “How are those going, anyways? The renovations,” I asked after I had finished chewing.
She shrugged. “They’re alright. Tiring,” she said, picking a dandelion from the grass beside our blanket and examining it. “The house does look nice, though. I was just in the middle of painting Vanessa’s new room before I took a break. It’s a nice blue color, but not too obnoxious or anything.” I nodded along with what she was saying, mostly paying attention, but part of me was just watching her, watching the words tumble from her mouth in anticipation of what she would say next. I didn’t feel like I had much to add to her rambling about renovations, so it wasn’t long before the conversation fell into an empty silence. Karen recognized this, and added, “But enough about that stuff. What’ve you been up to?”
“School. Work. Boring stuff,” I said.
Karen shook her head. “You’re never boring to me,” she said, with a smile and inflection so sincere that I had no choice to believe it. Even then, though, there was an unmistakable distance in her voice and in her eyes, as if she was talking and looking somewhere else even though she was focused on me. I wanted to comment on it, but I shook the thought away, and reminded myself to be happy she was even here.
I reached into the basket and pulled out a bag of potato chips for myself. “Well, school’s as good as school ever is,” I sighed, opening the bag. “Anderson won’t stop gushing over this paper I wrote about Hamlet, which is kind of nice I guess, but he does it in front of the whole class so it’s a bit embarrassing. And then in math I had this test yesterday and it was alright but, well, you know how math is for me.”
“Okay, maybe school’s a little boring,” Karen said, cutting me off. We both laughed out loud at this, but when the joyous sound subsided, silence emerged once more. “So, um. How are things at home?”
Suddenly I felt a little ill - emotionally, not physically. And then I felt really ill over the idea of feeling this way around Karen. This wasn’t how I was supposed to feel around her. “The same,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” Karen said, sympathetically but hurriedly, seemingly realizing her mistake. “We don’t have to talk about that.”
There was silence again, but inside my mind it was nothing but noise as my thoughts raced places I’d rather they not race. I took a deep breath in an effort to silence it, and reminded myself that I was with Karen, and things were a bit better. She made everything a bit better.
“So what about work?” she asked. “How’s that going?”
“Awful,” I deadpanned as I struggled for optimism. She made it easy to find. “But it brings me closer to London, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.”
As soon as I hit the word “London”, the mood was changed entirely. “July really can’t come soon enough!” Karen exclaimed as she moved the picnic basket aside and scooted closer to me. “I’ve been working on this itinerary so that we can get the most out of our time in London but also still just like, hang out. We’re gonna see all of the important landmarks; it’s gonna be so cool! You said you wanted to see Stonehenge the most, right?”
Seeing her so excited shook the negative thoughts away almost completely, and I couldn’t help but smile enthusiastically. “Yeah! I’ve always wanted to see it ever since it was in an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures,” I exclaimed. We both laughed at this.
“You’re a dork,” she said, still laughing.
“And you love me for it,” I insisted.
“Yeah, I guess so,” she teased, and then silence fell, but it was a good silence. Karen repositioned herself so that she was sitting next to me, and leaning back just a bit so that she had to use her arms to support herself. We both stared off into the horizon, facing away from both of our houses, our hands nearly touching - so close that we could we feel each other in that weird way that wasn’t quite physical contact, but it was still enough. After a minute or two I stole a glance at Karen, to see that she was still smiling. It felt good to make somebody smile like that, which made me smile, which made her smile. It was one big cheesy circle of smiles, and I was okay with that. That’s what this little date was for.
“Damn,” Karen said, looking at her watch. I didn’t know how much time had passed. “I have to go,” she said, like I couldn’t already tell.
“Time’s up already?” I sighed.
She nodded sadly. “Yeah, I’m so sorry!” she said, and she meant it. She meant everything she said. “I’ll find time to talk to you soon, I promise!”
She must have been running late, because there was no real time for goodbyes. She bounded down the hill that connected our houses so quickly that it took a moment to register that she was still gone. I supposed it was time I walked down as well.
It was the alarm clock that pulled me out of my daydream. 4:30am, it said. Time to wake up. My exhaustion really hit me as I continued to stare at those words at the bottom of my laptop’s screen: “Karen is offline”. I sighed as I closed the computer, put the crumby remainder of my breakfast sandwich on my bedside table, and got up to start another day, nearly shuddering at the thought. At least she said we’d talk again soon.